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Walks and bike rides in the Cotswolds

Posted: Thu, 10th Mar 2022
Cotswold walk

Though the Cotswolds is known by most for its beautiful, quintessentially English villages, it was originally designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for its rare limestone grassland habitats and old-growth beech woodlands, both making the region super enticing for outdoor pursuits.

The Cotswolds are a range of hills in west-central England, sometimes called the “Heart of England”. Just the meaning of the name ‘Cotswold’ – “sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides” – conjures up an outdoor space where you can blow away the cobwebs in the great outdoors, whether you’re on foot or on two wheels.

The region is criss-crossed with an incredible 3,000-plus miles of public footpaths, byways and bridlepaths, enabling walkers and cyclists to go deep into the glorious countryside, away from crowds and tourist hot spots.

Wonderful walking

The Cotswold AONB is perfect for every type of walker, from a family stroll along woodland tracks with a pushchair to hardcore hikers attempting one of the 10 long-distance trails that are in or pass through the area. We’ve highlighted a few of our favourite walks to help you choose one or two from the many available and provide an overview of the 10 long-distance trails.

10 national long-distance trails

Vital info: 102 miles from Chipping Campden to the Roman City of Bath.

A beautifully varied walk passing mostly along the Cotswold escarpment through every type of landscape that the Cotswolds offers, from towering beech tree woodlands to rolling farmland and through picturesque towns and villages, including Chipping Campden, Snowshill, Winchcombe, Painswick, Uley, Wotton-under-Edge and Chipping Sodbury.

Vital info: 42-miles, figure-of-eight trail centred around Winchcombe.

The walk begins at Winchcombe and heads to Dumbleton via Gretton and Alderton. At Dumbleton you turn south over Dumbleton Hill and through Alstone toward Cleeve Hill and Common, back to Winchcombe then on to Temple Guiting and Snowshill where you can explore the delightful Snowshill Manor. The final section of the walk takes you back to Winchcombe via Stanton, Didbrook and the English Heritage managed Hailes Abbey.

Vital info: 160 miles from Milford in Staffordshire to Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire.

The route is a curving inverted ‘S’ from the northern point of Cannock Chase (just north of Birmingham) to Bourton-on-the-Water (aka ‘The Venice of the Cotswolds’), and passes through the four counties of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire and Solihull MBC.

Vital info: 67 miles from Bourton-on-the-Water to Henley-on-Thames.

This gently rambling walk crosses Oxfordshire (from the Cotswolds to the Chilterns) and links the Heart of England Way with the Thames Path National Trail, which connects to Blenheim Park. 

Vital info: 94 miles from Chepstow Castle, Monmouthshire to Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire.

This scenic route takes walkers from the Forest of Dean across the Severn Vale to Gloucester and on to Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds, before changing direction and heading west to Tewkesbury.

Vital info: these two connecting walks measure 14 and 13.5 miles respectively.

The Windrush Way runs across the hills from Winchcombe to Bourton-on-the-Water while the Warden’s Way passes through the popular villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter, Naunton and Guiting Power. The Warden’s Way is a linking route between the Oxfordshire Way at Bourton and the Cotswold Way at Winchcombe.

Vital info: 290 miles from Boston in Lincolnshire to Abbotsbury in Dorset, passing through the Cotswolds.

This long-distance national route was developed as a fundraising route for supporters of Macmillan Cancer Support. It enters the Cotswold region at Long Compton then passes southwest through Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water, Chedworth, Cirencester, Tarlton, Tetbury, Sherston and Castle Combe.

Vital info: 625 miles from Wolverhampton to Bristol then down to the south coast at Lyme Regis then turning east to Brighton. The Monarch’s Way follows the route King Charles II took as he escaped after his defeat by Oliver Cromwell.

The Cotswold’s section of the Way is 107 miles long and runs from Stratford-upon-Avon to Bristol.

Vital info: 66 miles from Wormleighton in Northamptonshire to Waylands Smithy on the Ridgeway in Wiltshire, passing along the eastern side of the Cotswolds.

This way is named after Colonel d’Arcy Dalton who worked tirelessly to preserve public rights of way in Oxfordshire. Highlights off the Cotswolds section of the walk include Hook Norton and its brewery, the Rollright Stones, Burford and Lechlade-on-Thames.

Vital info: 55 miles crossing from Monmouth through the Cotwolds to Tetbury.

This varied walk takes in the Forest of Dean, the Severn Vale and the Cotswolds as it heads southeast, passing through Gloucester, Painswick, Chalford and Tetbury.

Favourite walks of Bolthole Retreats

Walking in the footsteps of Laurie Lee up the Slad Valley: after visiting Painswick Rococo Gardens head up the valley to Slad and enjoy some refreshments at Lee’s local the Woolpack Inn.

From Bibury to Coln St Aldwyns and back: the famous Arlington Row at Bibury draws thousands of visitors each year, but if you start out from the peaceful haven of Coln St Aldwyns you’ll have a lovely walk far from the madding crowds and can then return to have a meal at the New Inn in Coln, or enjoy a picnic beside the river.

The Sapperton Valley: this secluded valley, in a corner of the great Bathurst Estate not far from Stroud, contains one of the most luxuriant small wetlands in Gloucestershire, including the River Frome, a chain of river meadows and the swamps and shady pools of the abandoned Thames and Severn Canal.

Woodchester Mansion and Park: the mansion is an unfinished Gothic masterpiece, abandoned in 1868 after 16 years of building, which has been carefully preserved. The park has beautiful woodland walks, lakes and ponds, and a children’s activity trail with a mini zip line. Be aware for little legs that it’s quite a long downhill walk from the car park to reach the main walks.

The Miserden Estate: the whole estate and village are untouched by time or development, making it a popular film production location as well as a beautifully tranquil place to visit.  At its heart are the Carpenters Arms pub and a stunning church.  The gardens and parkland of Miserden House are open to the public, with a beautiful circular walk, and there’s a very good plant nursery in the old walled garden with a tearoom.

The Tyndale Monument Walk: towering above North Nibley in the south Cotswolds is the Tyndale Monument from where there are fantastic views down the Cotswold escarpment towards the Severn estuary and on to South Wales. Head up to the monument from the village and then follow one of the way-marked paths through the woods to the Wotton War Memorial and back again to North Nibley. If you fancy a bite to eat at the Wotton end, head down the scarp into the town and make a beeline for The Edge coffee shop. 

Superb cycling

The Cotswolds is a fantastic area for keen road and off-road cyclists, and family cycling trips too.

For a super-easy, family friendly ride, head to the Tetbury Trail – a mostly flat and historically interesting trail that’s suitable for walkers, off-road cyclists and horse riders. The Trail starts from the Tetbury Goods Shed and continues for three miles towards Kemble. It’s part of the National Cycle Network’s Route 48 that runs between Cirencester, Northleach, Moreton-in-Marsh and Southam. There’s a picnic area at the start, plus the Goods Shed café is there too.

Another great ride for families with children of all ages is all or part of the 17.5-mile route along the Kennet and Avon Canal from Bathwick near Bath to Bradford-on-Avon. With so much to see and do along the trail, including the Dundas Aqueduct, tunnels and converted barges offering snacks and drinks, it’s bound to appeal to everyone.

If you like a challenging off-road ride with trails that require advanced riding skills, head to Westridge Woods near Wotton-under-Edge where there are swooping descents and single-track paths. Be aware that there are some short sections where you will need carry your bike. Check out Komoot for some ideas.

A great 29-mile road ride that takes you through beautiful Cotswold countryside is the Burford West Circular that starts at Burford, heads west along the Windrush Valley to Northleach then south on country lanes to Bibury, through the Coln valley, finally looping back north-east to Burford.

Fancy a bike ride ending with a pub lunch and a return journey on a train? If you do, there’s no better route than the 19-mile Cotswold Line Explorer – Route 4, which starts at Kingham Station, heads to Chastleton House (a National Trust Jacobean Manor), then the Rollright Stones, finally finishing at the train station in Moreton-in-Marsh. There are great pubs at both ends so you could do the ride in either direction.

The Cotswold Water Park is another superb stop for cyclists who want to get away from traffic but not necessarily go all out off-road. You’ll find a couple of trails that perfectly suit cross-bikes and/or mountain bikes: the Cleveland Circuit (4.3 miles) starting out from Cleveland Lake, the largest lake in the Park, or the Circular Cycle Route (10 or 11 miles), which is more suited to experienced riders. The Water Park’s Gateway Centre (GL7 5TL) provides route maps.

For more ideas about walks and bike rides in the Cotswolds head to our Walking Cycling Guides.

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