Quality time in the Cotswold countryside

By Gill Atkinson

Last September I was delighted to be given the opportunity to walk the Cotswold Round as my Mickledore familiarisation trip. Living in the Lake District I’m certainly very lucky to be able to run and walk in our beautiful mountains, but I was very happy to have the opportunity to head south to experience some very different terrain, scenery (and hopefully a little bit of sunshine too)!

Having only visited the Cotswolds once (and on that occasion only really passed through), I was keen to spend some quality time in the lovely Cotswold countryside and to see a few of its beautiful, picturesque towns and villages.

Due to time constraints, I’d chosen the shortest itinerary on our Moreton-in-Marsh circuit which is a circular walk of approximately 45 miles starting and finishing, as the name suggests, in the market town of Moreton-in-Marsh. On this itinerary the daily mileages are somewhere between 9 and 13 miles, which would be perfect for us and would allow us a bit of spare time each day to explore the charming villages without feeling the need to rush.

After a lengthy drive down from Cumbria we arrived in Moreton on a quiet Sunday afternoon. We checked into our first accommodation, a lovely 18th Century coaching inn and had time for a leisurely stroll around the town before dinner and an early night in anticipation of our first day’s walk.

Moreton-in-Marsh to Bourton-on-the-Water

During the night we were woken by a thunder storm and torrential rain, but in the morning we were delighted to wake up to sunshine and happily set off without the need for our raincoats. After easily navigating our way out of Moreton, we commenced our journey of approximately 11 miles towards Bourton-on-the-Water.

Today’s walk would be a combination of fields, meadows, small tracks/minor roads, following a combination of the Monarch’s Way, Heart of England Way, Gloucestershire Way and the Macmillan Way, all of which are clearly marked on the map alongside easy to follow directions in the guidebook.

We hadn’t been on the trail long before we passed through the delightful hamlet of Longborough where we decided to stop off for a coffee in the community-run Village Store and Café. As we enjoyed our coffee we chatted to a group of local ladies who were very interested to hear about our walk. It was great to see that the community run facility provided a hub in the village and a place for locals to meet and chat. After leaving Longborough we passed through Donnington and then Broadwell, before arriving in beautiful, bustling town of Stow-on-the-Wold.

Stow sits at the top of a small hill at the junction of six roads, so the market square has been a natural meeting place for centuries. On arrival we decided to head straight to the medieval St Edward’s Church to see its north door which is permanently guarded by two beautiful old yew trees. We found a bench and watched the world go by whilst we ate our packed lunch.

Just as we finished our lunch, the skies darkened and it began to pour down, which rather spoiled our plans for a leisurely stroll around Stow. Thankfully the rain didn’t last too long and our coats were soon back in the rucksack so, after a quick wander around, we re-commenced our journey towards Bourton-on-the-Water.

For me the highlight of this day’s walk was soon to come as we passed through the quaint hamlet of Lower Slaughter where two small footbridges sit across the slow-moving River Eye and on each side of the river bank sits stone cottages and a 19th century mill, complete with waterwheel. Apparently the name of the village stems from the Old English name for a wet land ‘slough’ or ‘slothre’ (Old English for muddy place), upon which it lies.

It wasn’t long after this that we arrived into Bourton-on-the-Water and found ourselves with plenty of time for a wander around before checking into our accommodation at 4pm. Although Bourton was very busy when we arrived, when we headed out for our evening meal it was a very different place. With all the ‘day trippers’ gone, we felt like we had the place to ourselves and enjoyed a leisurely pre-dinner wander along the River Windrush which slowly flows through the heart of the village.

Bourton-on-the-Water to Winchcombe

After a restful sleep and healthy breakfast, we enjoyed another wander around the village which again was quiet before the day visitors arrived. For those who are looking for a rest day, then Bourton would be a good choice allowing time for a visit to the motor museum or the model village (which is a one-ninth replica of Bourton).

The journey toward Winchcombe mainly followed the Windrush Way, then later the Warden’s Way through woodlands, meadows and more beautiful villages. Initially the route followed the River Windrush as it slowly meandered its way through some very quiet countryside. On parts of this section we were able to see remnants of the former Banbury to Cheltenham Railway which dates back to 1862 which was used to transport iron ore from the East Midlands to South Wales, but was sadly closed in 1969.

We soon passed through Naunton where the path skirted around the edge of the golf course and then through the Racing Stables, where we were lucky enough to see several beautiful racehorses coming in from their morning gallop.

After leaving Naunton, we left the Windrush Way and joined the Warden’s Way for an easy walk to Guiting Power. As we knew in advance that our accommodation host from last night weren’t able to provide us with packed lunches for today, we’d made a plan to treat ourselves to lunch at the Old Post Office in Guiting Power. Many of our clients have mentioned this place in their feedback forms, so it would have been rude to pass by and not give it a try, and we weren’t disappointed.

The next part of our journey led us up through Guiting Woods which, after the heavy rainfall recently, had become quite muddy but easily navigated. As we emerged from the woods at the top of the hill we were treated to some lovely countryside views and got our first glimpse of Winchcombe in the distance. I am assured that on a clearer day we would have been able to see the Malvern Hills but not for us, as the wind had picked up and the skies darkened – a sure sign that rain was on the way again. We admired the view but didn’t linger too long and headed down through the very pleasant parkland of the Sudeley Estate towards Sudeley Castle itself, before finally arriving in Winchcombe.

Winchcombe to Broadway

The forecast was for rain all day so we were glad we’d spent a little time the previous afternoon having a look around Winchcombe with its many distinctive black and white half-timbered buildings lining the main street. We knew we would need full waterproofs from the outset, so we got geared up and headed out to find Duck Puck Pit Lane which would lead us out of the village on our journey towards Broadway. It was here that we had our first encounter with two lovely Canadian gentlemen who were also heading towards Broadway, although they were on a different itinerary (with a different tour company), having walked the previous day from Cheltenham. We chatted for a while, compared notes on the maps, guidebooks and holiday packs which we’d been given, before heading off towards Hailes and the ruins of Hailes Abbey.

By the time we reached Hailes we were already pretty wet and decided to head for the Church to have a look around and take advantage of a little bit of shelter from the rain. On arrival, clearly others had had the same idea and the tiny Church was rather full and it wasn’t long after that our chatty Canadian friends caught us up who’d clearly had the same idea!

Then we picked up the Winchcombe Way and headed towards Stanway and Stanton beyond. Had the weather been better, we would have taken the option of a more scenic but strenuous detour up above Hailes Wood, which apparently offers great views down to the avenue of trees leading to Stanway House. Given the low cloud and rain we didn’t think the views would be worth the extra effort, so we stuck to the Winchcombe Way and soon arrived at Stanway. Here the route took us past the magnificent 17th Century gatehouse of Stanway House and the Tithe Barn dating from the 14th Century. Just next to the Tithe Barn there is a wonderful cricket pitch whose pavilion had been donated by J M Barrie, author of Peter Pan. As we left Stanway and crossed a stile into a huge estate meadow, and come across the Cotswold Way National Trail Plaque which had been placed there on its launch on 24th May 2007. This part of the walk, through open parkland with avenues of trees was beautiful and, despite the wind and rain, was probably one of my favorite sections of the whole walk.

Soon we reached the simply beautiful village of Stanton with most houses constructed of the gorgeous honey-coloured Cotswold limestone and some with thatched roofs. Every house was immaculate with pretty gardens to match. If I get the chance I’d definitely like to go back to Stanton to see it on a sunny day.

In an attempt to get a little more shelter from the rain, we decided to head for the Mount Inn which was well worth the steep climb up to it. No sooner had we taken refuge here when our Canadian friends, who’d also had the same idea, turned up too. We spent a lovely hour or so here chatting with them about their adventures in the Cotswolds.

The last part of our journey today would take us along the Winchcombe Way towards Broadway, passing through Laverton and Buckland on the way. On this stretch were able to hear the wonderful sound of a steam train in the distance. I read later that this was the volunteer steam and diesel heritage railway which runs regularly between Broadway and Cheltenham Racecourse.

By the time we arrived in Broadway the rain had eased off a little. We knew we couldn’t check into our accommodation until 4pm which gave us time for a wander around this beautiful village with its wide High Street lined with horse chestnut trees and a mixture of period honey coloured houses. Even though my husband and I had actually passed through Broadway a few years ago, despite having seen it before we were still captivated by its beauty.

On checking into our lovely accommodation our wonderful host made us feel very welcome and kindly took our wet coats and boots from us to dry. We couldn’t have asked for better service.

Broadway to Moreton-in-Marsh

Thankfully the next morning we woke to clear skies and no rain – hoorah! But it would turn out to be a day of sunshine, heavy rain, rainbows and even thunder! Typical English weather with every season in one day.

As we left our accommodation we were lucky enough to catch Mark the luggage courier. It was great to meet him as I’d spoken to him several times on the phone, but never in person, so it was nice to put a face to a name. Our luggage couriers work incredibly hard and seamlessly behind the scenes, moving hundreds of bags, yet most of our clients will never actually get to see them. We really do appreciate the work that these guys do for us.

We left sleepy Broadway headed out of the village, this time following the Cotswold Way which started with a sharp climb up towards Broadway Tower where, for one last time, we bumped into our lovely Canadian friends again.

Broadway Tower is an iconic landmark and from the top of the hill where the Tower stands, fine views can be seen in all directions. Apparently the top of the tower is the highest point in the Cotswolds.

Then it was an easy and pleasant walk through a mixture of fields and tracks into the lovely market town of Chipping Campden where the main street is flanked on both sides by beautiful historic buildings. It is however a thriving town offering a range of quality accommodations, restaurants and shops. The main focal point is the Covered Market which sits in the middle of the main street.

It was here that I’d arranged to meet up for lunch with an old school friend who happens to live nearby so we enjoyed a lovely couple of hours catching up on old times. Typically as we left the heavens opened again waterproofs were back on as we set off towards Broad Campden, this time following the Heart of England Way.

The latter part of our journey today took us through the little hamlet of Blockley which had once been the main centre of the silk industry in the 18th & 19th Centuries. From here we would follow the Heart of England Way and then latterly the Monarch’s Way towards Moreton-in-Marsh back to where we’d started our adventure.

Despite the mixed weather, Stan and I really enjoyed our short Cotswold adventure which really gave us a taste for the area and I would have no hesitation in recommending this route to anyone, especially those who are looking for a gentle introduction to long distance walking. We’d be delighted to answer any questions you may have about the Cotswold Round. You can  email us [email protected] or call 017687 72335.