You may not recognize the name, “The Cotswolds”, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen the photos of charming stone cottages along cobblestone streets surrounded by green, rolling hills dotted with sheep.
This is quintessential rural England. Here the pace of life is slower, every building has a story, and you only need to walk a few paces to find a country pub. (Planning a visit to England? Read about the 5 Cotswold Villages You Must Visit!)
It was this backdrop that framed a three day walk in October. My brother, Erik, joined me. With the help of Macs Adventures (which I highly recommend!), our lodging was booked and route mapped. Over time we would walk through a dozen different villages, take endless photos of sheep, slog through the mud, and constantly be awed by the scenery. To see what our walk was like, watch the short, five minute video below.
Getting to the Cotswolds
Located in West England, the Cotswolds is a large area stretching 90 miles South to West and 25 miles across. According to the Cotswold District Council there are 113 towns and villages. The total area covers 797 square miles and includes five different counties.
The Cotswolds is located about 100 miles West of London which you can see in the first map below. The Cotswold map shows our walking route and cities of each overnight stay.
Getting from London to the Cotswolds can be achieved by car or train. Erik and I opted to take a train so we didn’t have to worry about parking or moving a car during our walking tour. There are trains available throughout the day from London’s Paddington Station. And for most destinations in this region, the train ride should last just one to two hours.
Once in the Cotswolds, taxi services are available to move between villages, but must be ordered in advance, and can be pricey. Ask the staff at your Bed & Breakfast for assistance with ordering a taxi should you need it. Rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are not available in this area.
How To Prepare For Walking the Cotswold Way
There are many companies, including Mac’s Adventures, that can provide a walking route through the Cotswolds, based on your interests and fitness level. We opted for one of the shortest options--just three days--but for those interested in walking the entire 100 mile trail known as The Cotswold Way, that is possible as well.
So start by assessing the amount of time available and your fitness level. Keep in mind you’ll need to to arrive in London, transfer to the Cotswolds and then back again. Also, if you’re coming from a long distance, it’s best to give yourself time to adjust to the new time zone. Walking ten miles a day while still jet-lagged can be tough (I speak from experience!).
Next, start walking and hiking at home. To prepare I walked an hour a day, three days a week and hiked on the weekends. Choose trails with plenty of hills to be truly ready. And ideally, start this training six months before arriving in England.
Finally, most companies that organize your route can also book your accommodations and move your luggage each day. So each morning you’ll set your suitcase in the designated spot, walk with just a day pack, and when you arrive in the new town your luggage and room will be waiting. How perfect!
What To Wear For Walking
The most important piece of advice I can give anyone walking in the Cotswolds is bring comfortable, waterproof hiking boots! If that is the only thing you remember reading this article, then I’ve been successful. Both Erik and I were continually grateful for dry feet. And be sure those boots have been broken in during your training walks and hikes. I chose a pair of Salomon’s women’s boots and highly recommend them. But whatever you select, just be sure they are waterproof. This will cost extra, but it’s worth every penny. Warm socks are also a must.
Next, pack light layers. The weather while we walked ranged from the mid 50’s to mid 60’s, so I wore a short-sleeved shirt, long sleeved shirt and a rain jacket. For bottoms I selected a light-weight Columbia hiking pant. Moisture-wicking material is ideal. Both my brother and I frequently took layers off and on as the weather changed throughout the day. I’ve provided a list of links below to all the clothing I selected and a few other related items.
Salomon Women's Waterproof Hiking Boots
Salomon Men's Waterproof Hiking Boots
Columbia hat for hiking and outdoors
I also wore a wide-brimmed hat that I found helpful when it was sunny or rainy. And again, since it was a moisture-wicking material, it dried quickly.
In my daypack I had our map for the day, a re-useable water bottle, tissues, a small first aid kit, cell phone and snacks. And of course, as a blogger, I always travel with my camera, the Sony Mirrorless a6000--which I highly recommend! I bought the Osprey daypack specifically for this trip and was very happy with it.
Day One–Moreton-in-Marsh to Bourton-on-the-Water
Each day began with a hearty breakfast, packing, placing our luggage in the designated spot, and then setting out for our 8-12 miles of walking.
We started on day one in the market town of Moreton-in-Marsh which dates back to the 13th century. Soon we left the town and spent the next few hours weaving in and out of fields and pastures in the countryside.
I’ll admit that navigating through the countryside wasn’t easy. To me and Erik, all fields and pastures look alike and the markings for The Cotswold Way are very small. However, through a combination of our printed directions, the Macs Adventure app and Google Maps, we always made our way back to the designated trail. (Be sure to have access to data on your cell phone. While we tried to use the app and maps off-line when possible, it helped to turn data on when we were lost.)
Our first stop for the day was in the tiny village of Broadwell at the Fox Inn. It wasn’t lunch time yet so we just enjoyed some snacks and conversation with other walkers. (I was pleased to discover that there were enough pubs and restaurants along the trail so that finding a bathroom was always possible.)
Then we were back on the trail for a while until arriving in Stow-on-the-Wold for lunch. (I just love the names of villages in this part of England!) This charming town was founded by the Normans in 1330 as a marketplace.
We opted for lunch at The Porch House which is believed to be England’s oldest inn, dating back to 947 AD. After lunch we enjoyed a brief stroll through the lovely town of Stow-on-the-Wold, and then resumed our walk on the trail.
We soon found ourselves walking through a former estate. Up on the hill was a large mansion reminiscent of Downton Abbey, but the trail wound downhill through the former stables, cow sheds, coach house and livestock pastures. These structures have been sold off as individual residences or other private properties. We enjoyed a quick chat with one of the residents and then admired the very wooly sheep in the nearby pasture.
A quick note about gates found at the entrances and exits of most fields and pastures along the Cotswold Way. These are all privately owned, but public passage is permitted for walkers. However, it’s important to open and securely close each and every gate so that livestock do not wander off. These gates also became a source of entertainment for me and Erik since no two gates had the same latches (okay, I'm exagerating, but only just a bit). In a few cases, trail markers can be found on these gates which help confirm that you are on the right route.
It soon began to rain and the weather became much cooler. Our hiking boots were now sticking in the mud. Erik and I were getting very tired, so we were happy to arrive in Upper Slaughter, which we knew was close to our final destination.
After a chilly and damp final mile we arrived in the town of Bourton-on-the-Water where we would be staying for the night. One of the joys of this walking experience was arriving in the late afternoon to a new Bed & Breakfast. Each one we stayed at was warm, welcoming and comfortable. In the U.S. I’ve rarely stayed in these types of accommodations, but here they were so perfectly English and really made our trip memorable.
Each evening we rested, found a local place for dinner and fell asleep early after a long day of exercise and fresh air. The evenings were also an opportunity to dry-out damp clothing or rinse out the mud.
Day Two–Bourton-on-the-Water to Winchcombe
On our second day we started the morning by exploring Bourton-on-the-Water. This town is known as the Venice of the Cotswolds since a shallow waterway called the Windrush River runs through the center and five stone bridges intersect it.
Finally, it was time to head to the trail. Unfortunately, we were soon lost and experienced our longest diversion of the three days. Erik found us a logging trail that eventually led to a road which soon intersected our trail.
Naunton was the first tiny village we arrived in on day two. The local church sanctuary was open so we took this opportunity for a brief rest. I was impressed by how many Cotswolds village churches were left open for walkers and visitors to browse or use as respite. Some even provided historical information about the church and the surrounding area.
We continued on the trail to the next village of Guiting Power. After our long diversion and an impending storm, we decided to make this our final stop of the day. So we found a pub called The Farmer’s Arms and grabbed lunch.
I should mention that all of our lunches along the trail included local beer because that’s simply what is done in this part of the world. So let me give a quick primer on pub beer in England. There are typically two options--draft or tap. The draft beers are very local, served slightly chilled or room temperature, and have less carbonation than beers on tap. The beers on tap may be from more distant locations in the UK, or even other countries, and are served very cold and with more carbonation. I found most of the beers on tap to be comparable to how beer is served in the U.S. It took me a while to adjust to the draft beers, but I really enjoyed them after a few days.
The owner of the Farmer’s Arms was kind enough to provide us a list of local taxi companies. We called one which took us to the town of Winchcombe and our bed and breakfast for the night. As the rain came down in torrents, we knew we had made the right decision to end day two early.
Day Three–Winchombe to Broadway
This would be our longest and toughest day. But it would also deliver some of our favorite moments--funny how that works sometimes.
So we left Winchombe behind and started walking through more fields and pastures, many of them filled with sheep. Over the course of three days we often entertained ourselves with pictures of sheep. (I’ll spare you the dozens of sheep pics and just share one which you can see above.)
Very soon we came upon a historic site called Hailes Abbey and decided to check it out. If you are ever in this area as a walker or tourist, definitely pay a visit to the abbey. Hailes Abbey was founded in 1246 by the Earl of Cornwall and destroyed by King Henry VIII in 1539. Not much is left today, but the story of what took place here over three hundred years is fascinating. There’s a small fee to see the ruins which includes a well-done audio guide.
We could have spent much more time at the abbey, but we had many miles to hike, so we continued on the trail. Eventually we arrived in Stanton where we had hoped to sit down for lunch. Unfortunately, the only open restaurant had closed their kitchen at 2 p.m. and we had arrived at 2:10.
(Note: It’s an option to purchase a sack lunch from your bed and breakfast each day instead of eating in pubs or restaurants along the way. This needs to be arranged the night prior. This is a good alternative if you don’t want to stop for too long, or aren’t sure when you’ll arrive in a village.)
If you’ve ever trained for a long-distance event like a marathon, you’ll know that many people describe “hitting a wall”--a moment when you think you just can’t go on and seriously consider quitting. Stanton was that wall for me and Erik. We had a glass of cider and a bag of chips in place of lunch, and then marched our way out of town hungry and cranky.
The next mile was a long and slow ascent, and I was becoming increasingly annoyed. Fortunately, Erik forged ahead and repeatedly assured me that we were almost at the top (he was lying most of the time, but his strategy did pull me through this rough spot).
After the last hill we knew we were less than two miles away from our final destination. We distracted ourselves with the gorgeous views and pretty soon we could see the homes of Broadway.
All of our bed and breakfasts were lovely, but the final one, Olive Branch, was our favorite. To arrive on our last day, seriously tired and sore, and be greeted by the lovely owner, Pam, was perfect. I would return to England just to stay here again.
After a shower and a nap, Erik and I were going to head out for dinner, but were encouraged by Pam to enjoy a glass of prosecco with her and the other guests in the living room. Everyone was welcoming and fun. I could not imagine a better end to our third day.
Broadway--known as the jewel of the Cotswolds--is a lovely town, and large enough to offer a wide selection of restaurants. We had a tasty dinner of burgers, then enjoyed a wine bar, and finally passed out from exhaustion. This town also offers great shopping which we took advantage of the next morning.
A Few Final Tips for Walks in the Cotswolds
Both Erik and I had an amazing time walking in the Cotswolds and would highly recommend this experience! In hindsight, there are a few things we would have done differently, so I’ve shared those, and more general tips as well.
First, allow enough time to adjust to the time change before starting the walk. Next time I would arrive a day earlier in the area to enjoy one of the larger villages. Or, spend an additional day in London.
Next, if walking 8-12 miles a day seems too long (like it did to us sometimes), then work with your tour company to select shorter routes. Companies like Mac’s Adventures can customize any itinerary. A shorter walk may be physically easier and provide more time to explore the villages in the afternoon. We typically arrived in the village just as shops were closing and left before they opened in the morning.
Next, pack plenty of snacks each day. It’s very hard to predict when you’ll arrive at a village, and it’s not always a guarantee there will be a store open, so you want to have some food to keep you going. Choose snacks that are high in protein like nuts or nutrition bars.
I hope you have found this article helpful, but if you want to learn more about the Cotswolds and The Cotswold Way, here's a list of books to consider purchasing through Amazon.
Finally, do follow the advice of your tour company, and be sure to purchase travel insurance for this type of adventure. Both Erik and I had insurance and did not need it, but after three days of hilly, muddy and uneven terrain, I can see how injuries could happen. I selected World Nomads. To get a quote, use the widget below.
This Post Has 14 Comments
Very timely post. I just got invited to the cotswolds to speak at an author event about travel writing. I was born in the UK but moved to the States for 25 years, and this is an area of the UK I’m not familiar with. I was always more interested in exploring further afield, so it’s great to get some tips of how to explore the area when I visit there next year. I’m going to incorporate a bit of slow travel before and after my speaking engagement.
What a lovely place to be invited to speak! I’m confident you’ll enjoy the Cotswolds very much and it definitely lends itself to slow travel.
Lovely! English countryside is so charming. Your photos took me back in time when I spent a year not far from there. I spent hours walking around, watching sheep and ponies on the fields.
I could have watched the sheep, cows and horses for hours! Can you tell I’m a city girl?
You always have such great stories, I love reading your articles! Thank you so much for sharing!
I really like finding favorites like you did in Olive Bransh, the places that warms you up enough to want to back 🙂
I love the Cotswolds but didn’t know about this walk. I love the idea of it & have added it to my list for next summer. Thank you for sharing!
Wonderful! I will be sure to follow your expereicne on your travel blog.
Lovely blog and photos. I know all the locations well but I normally get to them by car! Its made me think that maybe I should try the Cotswold Way walk!
I normally visit locations by car as well, so this was quite a fun experience for me and my brother!
Interesting to read a ‘foreigner’s’ view of the route. Those ‘small’ footpath signs and the variety of gates and latches are normal for us. I would recommend taking one of the footpath guides eg Anthony Burton’s National Trail Guide: Cotswold Way (http://www.nhbs.com/product?id=203346?bkfno=203346&af_id=99767) or one of the locally produced guides usually available in village shops. And an Ordnance survey 1:25,000 map – at this scale, you can see the field boundaries and which side of the hedge you should be walking along.
Annie, thank you for all the great suggestions. The trails in Europe are definitely different than those in the U.S. I will be sure to take a look at the links you provided.
Annie Haycock is entirely correct!! My husband and I have walked the whole Cotswold Way, Hadrian’s Wall, the South Downs Way, The Thames Path and the Ridgeway and this summer we will walk Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path. We have planned them ourselves and also used a service. They have all been magnificent because we ALWAYS have an Ordinance Survey Map and the official guide for the National Trail. The one for the Cotswolds was written by Anthony Burton. Planning is key. Having a map as opposed to relying on an app on a phone is key. These walks are our favorite vacations.
Linda, you are one lucky woman to have walked the whole Cotswold Way! I’m jealous! And the next time I go I will definitely use one of the maps and guides you and Annie have recommended. You’ve both inspired me to return and become a better navigator.