Think of the Cotswolds and you think of chocolate-box cottages and tea rooms. But stray into the hills and you’ll find travel joy in the most unexpected places...
If you want to discover all that is wonderful about the Cotswolds, pack your walking boots. And don’t just pack them. Seek out the stiles, fields, hills and medieval longbarrows that lie close to much-loved villages such as Broadway and Chipping Campden, but feel worlds apart. Having spent my childhood on the edge of the Cotswolds, I thought I knew this enchanting part of the country. That was, until I took on a seven-night, 100km self-guided walking tour of the Cotswold Ring. As I hopped between waymarkers (the Ring joins up several walking trails, such as the Cotswold Way and Heart of England Way) and jumped over puddles, I discovered a side to the Cotswolds that was a little less immaculate, but a lot more interesting. Intrigued? Here are nine reasons why walking the Cotswold Ring should be on your travel wish list this year…
I have had my photo taken on a tiny bridge in Bourton on the Water, the so-called Venice of the Cotswolds. I have explored its model village, sat by the water in a café and laughed at the sight of a hedge in the shape of a MINI outside the motor museum. This wonderful village is fun in the day. But it was even more intriguing arriving at dusk, when the tourists had disappeared and there was just the sound of the water for company.
Village museums and 400-year-old market halls will transport you into the past. But with a Cistercian abbey, hill fort and Belas Knap Long Barrow among the historic highlights en route, the Ring tour will ensure you delve a little deeper.
Having never found myself up close and personal with a racecourse fence, the path that runs alongside the iconic sporting venue provides an unusual and fun start to the walk.
Drive the Cotswolds and it’s easy to get drawn in to the tourist trail, moving from one big-hitter village to the next. While the trail exists for a reason, the walk takes you through villages that offer just as much honey-coloured character – and not a queue or camera in sight.
From the strange topographs dotted along the walk to a nuclear bunker just outside Broadway and an unusual cricket pavilion with a rather interesting mice-proof design, you will be rewarded for straying off the beaten track with quirky buildings and curious objects.
It was walking through the beautiful village of Blockley with only locals for company that I realised you gain so much more when you explore on foot. It felt like a corner of the Cotswolds had been reserved just for us. If you choose to visit outside of the summer months (I went in autumn), there will be stretches of path where you won’t see another soul. It is such a privilege to roam through the rolling hills with only the sheep and a-little-too-interested cows for company.
Local details really bring this walk to life, so be sure to look up, look down and pay attention to your surroundings. The village of Blockley is home to a gate just by the church that proudly states: ‘Any person who omits to shut and fasten this gate is liable to a penalty not exceeding 40 shillings’.
You don’t need to be an Ordnance Survey expert to get the most from the walking tour – although expect to be one by the end. The detailed route maps will not only steer you towards key points of interest, but you’ll become well-versed in all kinds of countryside obstacles, from ‘double’ stiles and kissing gates to field gates and ha-has (ditches). Getting lost is also a welcome diversion – although doing so on the last day, when you have 17km to cover, is not recommended.
In the space of a day, you may find yourself strolling through well-manicured parkland, estate gardens, fields, pastureland, common land and woodland (and pubs). I even discovered a new type of landscape: ‘ridge and furrow’. Fields of green ribbed ridges reminded me more of the rice terraces of Vietnam than the outskirts of a sleepy village. There is one common thread that ties this patchwork of countryside together, however, and that’s the mud. You may end up with more souvenirs than you bargained for if you find yourself puddle-hopping your way round.
The author travelled with self-guided walking and cycling holiday specialists Headwater on a seven-night Walking The Cotswold Ring self-guided walking tour. The trip costs from £979 per person, including stays in characterful Cotswold accommodation, daily breakfast, luggage transfers between hotels and route directions and maps.
Love travel quizzes, events and competitions? Then sign up today for free so you don’t miss out!