The best walks in the Cotswolds combine a bit of everything – a country pub, some sheep grazing, a country lane running by a grand county estate, or a hilltop viewpoint. As England's largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it should be no surprise that the Cotswolds is covered with countless fantastic walking trails. Here are a few of our favourites, and some tips on how to reach them.
Short walks in the Cotswolds
Sherborne Park Estate
Three different circular walks emanate from this beautiful estate about 3 miles from Northleach, an ancient Roman market town. The well-kept trails are surrounded by glorious spring bulbs in May, and the routes are popular with dog owners and families year-round. The 2.5-mile family walk route, which takes about 90 minutes, shows you a fair chunk of the estate and is great for kids.
From Upper to Lower Slaughter
Don't worry, the name isn't a sign of what awaits on this walking trail! Rather, the word 'slaughter' comes from the Anglo-Saxon term for mud, hinting at the long history, and occasionally boggy terrain, of this picturesque pair of settlements on the River Eye. An easy, 1-mile walk takes you along the river past light-hued cottages and a historic converted flour mill that now houses a teahouse, craft shop, and museum.
A side trail leading off the 100-mile-long Cotswold Way hiking trail, the 1-mile circular path up to the striking Broadway Tower is one of the most popular short walks in the Cotswolds. The path leads from behind the cute village of Broadway to the top of the hill, rewarding those who take the extra steps up the tower with sensational views over the Severn Vale below.
Something of a local secret, Maugersbury Lane is a leisurely 1-mile stroll from the quaint parish of Maugersbury down a gorgeous country lane, through stunningly lush rural landscapes. Home to just a few hundred residents, Maugersbury is situated just beyond the historic market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, where you can potter about in quirky antique and boutique shops.
Another circular detour track off the Cotswold Way, Leckhampton Hill features some of the most breathtaking scenery and diverse landscapes to be found anywhere along the 100-mile-long route. The 4-mile Leckhampton Loop culminates with stunning panoramic views of the Cheltenham and Gloucester valleys. One of the highest points in the Cotswolds, Leckhampton Hill makes for a prime picnic or sunset spot.
Trains to the Cotswolds
The spiritual and geographical heartland of southwestern England, the Cotswolds is extremely well-served by rail and bus routes. The closest major station to the Cotswolds is Bath, at the southern edge of the region. Bath itself is worthy of at least a day's visit for its unique Roman history and immaculately preserved architecture. You can get trains to Bath from Bristol, Cardiff, and other cities in the southwest in under two hours. You can also travel to Cheltenham by train from cities like Birmingham in 45 minutes, from where you can reach the western Cotswolds via a short train trip to Stroud station. Another option is to Banbury station, serving the beautiful market town of Banbury on the northeastern edge of the Cotswolds.
Cotswolds from London
You can go from central London to feeling like you're in a different world and era, in under two hours. It's remarkably easy to reach the Cotswolds by train from London, and the historic railway journey westward provides stunning scenery at many points along the way.
You have the choice of three different direct train lines from London to the Costwolds. Take the Cheltenham line train from London Paddington station to Kemble in 1 hour and 15 minutes, or the Moreton-in-Marsh train, which goes via Oxford and gets you to Kingham in 1 hour and 30 minutes. The fastest of the lot is the train from London Marylebone station to Banbury, which takes less than an hour.
The best towns and villages to visit in the Cotswolds
Known as the 'Capital of the Cotswolds,' Cirencester is situated at the intersection of three Roman roads and contains much of this area's Roman legacy. The Corinium Museum houses local treasures from this period of Cirencester's past, as well as medieval sculptures, ornate mosaics, and Anglo-Saxon gold pieces. Modern Cirencester is a buzzing town with great shops, cafes, restaurants, and pubs, as well as gorgeous green spaces like St. Michael's Park, Cirencester Park, and the Abbey Grounds.
If Cirencester is the 'Capital of the Cotswolds,' then Bourton-on-the-Water can be the 'Venice of the Cotswolds.' This picturesque little village is aptly named, with the River Windrush flowing right through the middle of town. If you've got a few hours, it's worth visiting the Cotswold Motoring Museum, the model village of Bourton-on-the-Water itself, and the superb Birdland Park and Gardens, inhabited by more than 500 bird species.
For those who love antique shopping, Burford is the place to go. Here, it seems like you can find as many antique shops as there are residents. The town itself even has a vintage feel to it, situated on the River Windrush with an authentic medieval bridge straddling the water. Various 17th- and 18th-century buildings line the High Street in the town centre, so even if you're not looking for antiques it's a nice place for a walk.
Huddled on the banks of the River Coln, sleepy Fairford was historically an important stop on the old London to Gloucester road, feeding and lodging weary travellers as well as offering a place to pray. Remnants of this medieval importance still linger at the charming local church, where you can see a full set of 28 stained-glass windows telling the story of the Bible. The River Coln also provides lovely walking trails in the quiet, peaceful countryside surrounding the town.
Long walks in the Cotswolds
This is a specialised 62-mile route for anybody who enjoys a good pint as much as they do a good walk, taking you past all 17 Donnington Brewery pubs! These pubs also offer bed and breakfast accommodation, so it's no problem if you settle in with a few ales. The Donnington Way also takes you through some lesser-known villages like Longborough and Little Compton, as well as the more renowned settlements of Naunton, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Moreton-in-Marsh.
A 42-mile path encircling the quintessentially Cotswold town of Winchcombe, the Winchcombe Way is like an advanced-level version of Maugersbury Lane. Tracing a figure eight, the Winchcombe Way passes through the sleepy villages of Snowshill and Taddington, the serene Guiting Wood, down Langley Hill for beautiful views, and through the tree-covered Alstone wolds. The last climb takes you up Nottingham Hill and onto Cleeve Common, before dropping back down onto Winchcombe past stunning Sudeley Castle.