Extending 102 miles, the Cotswold Way is a long distance walking trail starting in the market town Chipping Campden and ending in the city of Bath. It follows the escarpment skirting the western edge of the Cotswolds, an Area of Outstanding Beauty in south central England. Packed with picturesque towns and villages, countryside views, and historical and cultural sites, this route has been a National Trail since 2007.
Passing along farmland and drystone walls, the Cotswold Way is at its best with the sun shining on a clear day while looking out over expansive picture-perfect views. The route features steep climbs that’ll get your legs burning and sharp descents that might slow your pace down. The trail also has its frustrating moments for thru-hikers with the path doubling back on itself several times, but it does make it easier for walkers hiking sections of it at a time.
The Cotswold Way is the kind of long distance walk where you can stop for lunch in a cozy cafe and end your day with a beer in a pub. You can walk the trail in its entirety staying at campsites, bed and breakfasts, and cottages along the way, or find circular routes to do day hikes or weekend trips. If you don’t want to carry your pack, there are even companies that transfer baggage.
Highlights of the Cotswold Way
Along the Cotswold Way, there are many stunning vistas to gawk at and beautiful towns and villages to explore. Packed with quintessential Cotswold views, the trail allows you to take in the highlights of this beautiful part of England.
Picturesque towns & villages
A lovely market town, Chipping Campden is lined with beautiful honey-colored stone buildings and owes its elegance to the wool trade. The Court Barn, a museum of craft and design, showcases the talented artists, designers, and craftspeople who have worked in and around Chipping Campden. One of the most prominent structures in the town is the Market Hall, which is 400 years old and now owned by the National Trust. The official start of the Cotswold Way is along the High Street in this chocolate-box town. I was instantly enthralled by its beauty and left wanting to explore more of it.
As a charming village, Broadway features a beautiful, wide High Street lined with trees, in addition to tearooms, shops, hotels, and houses. And it’s actually one of the longest High Street in all of England. One of the top attractions in Broadway is Broadway Tower. The top of the tower is situated over 1,000 feet above sea level, which is considered the highest point in the Cotswolds. From the top, you can see up to 16 counties on a clear day. An adult ticket to the top of the Broadway Tower is £5.
Often called the perfect Cotswold village, Stanton is small and unspoiled, looking like the set of a fairytale. Ancient houses and thatched cottages line the main street cutting through the splendid village. Unlike most Cotswold villages, it shows no signs of commercialization or shops. However, there is a lone pub, The Mount Inn. I highly recommend grabbing a bite in the cozy pub and enjoying the lovely views from its location on the mount overlooking the village.
Known as the walking capital of the Cotswolds, Winchcombe is packed with shops, pubs, tea rooms, restaurants, black and white half-timbered buildings, and stone cottages. The most attractive cottages sit on Vineyard Street, which is right on the Cotswold Way. One of the top attractions in Winchcombe is Sudeley Castle & Gardens. It’s the only private castle in England with a queen buried within the grounds and boasts 1,000 years of royal history. Admission is £16.50 for adults.
An old market town, Painswick’s stone is white and light gray, unlike the previous towns and villages featuring honey-colored buildings. It was known for cloth trade, and at its height, Painswick had 25 mills powered by steam. St Mary’s Church is a unique site with its clipped yew trees and Renaissance-style table tombs. Another must-visit when exploring this town is the Painswick Rococo Garden, a stunning pleasure garden that was designed in the 1700s. An adult ticket is £8.
A perfect mixture of past and present, Wotton-under-Edge is a vibrant town with an array of shops, cafes, and historic attractions. My husband and I found ourselves drooling over the food we could see through the cafe windows. Life seems to have a gentler pace here, the town is beautifully surrounded by hills and woodland.
The Cotswold Way ends at the magnificent Bath Abbey, considered the last of England’s greatest medieval churches. The city is most known for its natural hot springs and Georgian architecture, and it’s a magnificent destination to finish a long-distance trail. We found the perfect way to cap off the hiking trip is to pay the Thermae Spa a visit. It’s Britain’s only natural thermal spa, so rest your legs and pamper yourself.
Breathtaking views & overlooks
Located just outside of Chipping Campden, Dover’s Hill sits at 755 feet above sea level and includes large open fields and woodland. When walking the Cotswold Way southbound, this National Trust site is the first of many stunning vantage points along the trail. On a clear day, it’s said that you can see 60 miles across the Worcestershire Plain. Unfortunately, we were there on a foggy day, but there was something beautifully eerie about the misty morning.
Cleeve Common is the highest peak of the Cotswold Hills. Numerous footpaths cross the hill’s 1,000 acres. It’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is the biggest unenclosed wold on the Cotswold escarpment. Located in Cheltenham, Cleeve Common features panoramic views of the town and surrounding countryside, perfectly capturing the beauty of the Cotswolds (even on a cloudy day).
When walking into the woods, a carpet of wild ginger spreads out before you. Keep your eyes peeled for a variety of plants and wildlife. If you’re there in spring, you might get lucky and see beautiful bluebells. The Dowdeswell Wood Nature Reserve is a peaceful walk despite its close proximity to the A40.
This is a flat-topped hill featuring a trig point and magnificent vistas over Cheltenham and the surrounding countryside. There are benches along the hilltop to allow you to rest your feet and enjoy the views. Look out for the limestone rock formation, Devil’s Chimney, which projects from Leckhampton Hill.
At the top of Cooper’s Hill is a wonderful vantage point. But not only that, it’s the location of the annual cheese-rolling festival. Every year on the spring bank holiday Monday, contestants throw themselves down the steep slope after a mock cheese. The first one down the hill wins a seven-pound Double Gloucester. Standing at the top of Cooper’s Hill, I couldn’t will myself to get too close to the steep slope, let alone throw myself down it.
Looking like a Cotswold postcard, this viewpoint is a wide-open expanse featuring another quintessential English countryside view. Haresfield Beacon paired with Standish Wood is a National Trust site including open grassland and mixed woodland. Not pictured in the photo below is the ferocious wind trying its hardest to blow me over.
Also owned by the National Trust, Coaley Peak provides an incredible view over the Severn Vale near Stroud. It’s another picture-perfect overlook and definitely one of my favorites along the entire Cotswold Way. Coaley Peak’s grassy top is a great spot for a picnic to really take in the beautiful surroundings.
Dyrham Park includes 264 acres of grassland with a herd of fallow deer. While walking past, we were lucky enough to spot a large group of deer huddling together. And of course, the surrounding landscape includes more stunning Cotswold countryside. Additionally, the park surrounds Dyrham House, a mansion looked after by the National Trust, and is a perfect pit stop if you have the time. It’s a £12.50 entrance fee for adults.
Tips for walking the Cotswold Way
Bring plenty of clothing layers ready for whatever weather comes your way – no matter the season. Always carry a waterproof on hand, because this is Britain and that really doesn’t need any more explanation. Have dry clothes to change into after you finish walking for the day.
Wear comfy shoes you don’t mind getting muddy
As for any hike, make sure you’ve broken in your shoes beforehand to ensure a more comfortable walk. Your feet will thank you for it. Also, there’s a chance you’ll hit some muddy patches along the trail, especially if it’s rained much before or while you’re on the trail. So don’t wear shoes you aren’t fine with getting muddy. All I hope for you is that you don’t walk into as much mud as we did.
Bring an umbrella
If it rains, you’ll be SO glad you have one. I can promise you I wouldn’t look this jolly in this photo if it weren’t for this umbrella.
Carry a map
The Cotswold Way is well sign posted for most of the route, but there are a few areas where signs are missing and it’s easy to stray from the path. We used Cicerone’s Walking the Cotswold Way guidebook by Kev Reynolds, which came with a pocket-sized booklet with 1:25,000 Ordnance Survey maps for the entire route.
Plan your route ahead
Although the majority of the Cotswold Way is close to towns and villages with plenty of food and accommodation options, there are points along the trail where it becomes more difficult. You don’t want to get stuck somewhere unable to find food, water, or accommodation when you need it. So make sure to look ahead to see how far away the next pub, grocery store, bed and breakfast, or campsite will be.
The Cotswold Way is a stunning walk in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Whether walking the trail in its entirety or a portion of it, you’ll walk through quintessential English landscapes and quaint towns and villages. Have you been on a walk in the Cotswolds? If so, please share your experiences in the comments below!