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Walking in the Cotswolds in England and visiting Central England

In July, my husband and I went on a 7 night, 6-day inn-to-inn self-guided walking tour through the northern Cotswolds. Our experience was wonderful and totally exceeded our expectations! We used Cotswold Walks to help plan our trip, and they were great. Our walks really gave us the benefits of "slow" travel. We saw so many beautiful views and elements that we just wouldn't have been able to experience otherwise. I should say starting out that this was our first experience with long distance walking. We picked the Cotswolds as a walk for several reasons. First, I had heard the landscape and villages were stunning. Second, the walking paths are less strenuous than some of the other England walks, such as the famous Coast to Coast Walk. Third, there are options, such as taking a cab or public transport if the weather is bad and you don't want to walk. Cotswold Walks booked the en suite accommodations for us in each village and transported our luggage (1 bag limit per person) each day. They also provided us maps and detailed walking directions (such as "look for the field gate near the black barn"), which were really helpful for newbies like us! Here is our trip report (hope this isn't too long):

Day 1
We traveled from Cincinnati through Dublin to Birmingham, England (the closest airport to the Cotswolds). My daughter and I were touring part of Ireland after our England trip, and she and I would be departing through Dublin. In addition, for some reason, flights through Dublin were half the price of flying into London from our area. Because we knew there can be flight delays, we gave ourselves an extra day to get to Cheltenham (where our walk started from). We decided to stay a night in Birmingham, England's second most populous city, and I'm glad we did. My husband is a frequent traveler and used points to stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Birmingham. We left at 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday and arrived at our hotel in Birmingham (via a short train ride to the Birmingham New Street Station from the airport) at about 1 p.m. on the Monday. So we were a little tired! We took a quick nap and then set out to explore. Our hotel was within walking distance of many sights, such as the Gas Street Basin area, the library and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The Birmingham area has a system of old canals and we took a 1.5 hour canal tour by boat (Away2canal.co.uk). We visited the Birmingham library (England's largest library in an interesting new building built in 2013) and went up to the Shakespeare Room, which had been built in 1882 and housed a rare copy of the first Shakespeare folio from 1623.

Day 2
In the morning, we went to the Birmingham Museum, prior to catching our train to Cheltenham. The museum was very large and I asked the attendant which exhibits he would most recommend. He told us to make sure to see the Staffordshire Hoard. I am really glad he did, because I might have overlooked it! The Staffordshire Hoard is the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver metal work ever found, with over 5 Kg of gold and many elaborate metal pieces from the 7th or 8th century A.D. It was found in 2009 in a field in Staffordshire, and was fascinating. After visiting the museum, we grabbed our luggage and walked back to the train station to catch our train to Cheltenham. (On a humorous side note, there was a teacher's union demonstration in the Victoria Square, and we walked past a large demonstration parade. Their acronym they used for the union was "NUTS", and there were lots of NUTS signs and chants.) We arrived at Cheltenham, dropped our things at the Clematis House, our B&B, and went to explore. One of the places we wanted to visit was the 2015 CAMRA National Pub of the Year in Britain. the Sandford Park Alehouse. We sat in their beer garden and had a cask ale and then sat outside at Talbots for dinner. Ok, sorry this is so long! I will cover our Cotswold walk below, in a reply to this thread.

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Day 3
On day 3, we walked from Cheltenham to Winchcombe. Our walk was about 11-12 miles in total, from where our B&B was located. (As we went through the days, we found that about 12 miles per day was very doable. Any more than that, and our feet were really tired.) This walk went up through Cleeve Common, the highest common in Gloucestershire. It had amazing views. There were lots of sheep, the first of many that we saw. We learned to look carefully where we stepped! We walked past the Belas Long, a Neolithic Long Barrow, and passed the Sudeley Castle as we went into Winchcombe. In Winchcombe, we stayed at the White Hart Inn, which is on the High Street. We walked to the Corner Cupboard for dinner. We got there a little early before they started serving, and sat in the bar watching Wimbledon. One of the men started chatting with us, and at one point, the servers started bringing in platters of sandwiches. My husband asked if there was an event going on, and the man told us that there had been a funeral at the church up the street and they were continuing the wake in the bar. We were a little embarrassed and wondered if maybe we should leave, but everyone was very friendly and said, "no, stay". The food at the Corner Cupboard was very good. It is a small restaurant, so definitely book in advance if you are going on the weekend.

Day 4
We walked from Winchcombe to Broadway, about 11 miles. This ended up being one of our most fun days! We walked past Hailes Abbey and explored Hailes Church, a 12th century church. On our way up the hill, we had passed a solo walker from Australia. We chatted briefly and went on our way. After Hailes Church, we came to a field with lots of cows and a bull. "I don't like this," I said to my husband. We both looked at each other and said, "We have to wait for the other walker." It turned out her name was Meg and she said, "I would have turned back and got a taxi rather than walk by the bull by myself." With my husband leading the way, we walked as far away from the bull as we could through the field, looking away. I joked that I would climb the brick wall if necessary. Thankfully, the bull ignored us. When we arrived at the village of Stanton, Meg joined us for lunch. We sat outside the Mount Inn in Stanton and had amazing views. The flowers in this village were especially beautiful. We compared maps and decided to walk the rest of the way into Broadway together. It ended up being a great travel memory.

Day 5
We walked from Broadway to Chipping Campden, about 6 miles. We also added an optional walk to HIdcote Manor Gardens, so our total for the day was about 13 miles. At the beginning of the walk, we passed the Broadway Tower, which the Rick Steves guide describes as a "folly" built by a wealthy Englishman. As we walked by, my husband kept cracking Monty Python lines, which made us both laugh. This walk included a stop at Dovers Hill. I sound like a broken record when I say the views were amazing! The Hidcote Manor Gardens were beautiful and well worth the side trip to see. The gardens consist of a lot of different themed areas, many of which are arranged by color. On the way back to our B&B, we got totally lost. We stopped in a small village and asked a man in a driveway for help. He was very helpful and told us that the directions he was giving us would take us by Burnt Norton, which was the inspiration for T.S. Eliot's first poem from his Four Quartets. We thought that was pretty cool! At Chipping Campden, we stayed at the Bantam Tea Rooms. I would highly recommend it. For dinner, we ate at the Lygon Arms. We had not made reservations and it was a Friday, so we were fortunate to get in. The food was excellent. I will finish the trip report in the next reply (sorry again for this being so long).

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Ok, here is the last part of the trip report.

Day 6
Before leaving Chipping Campden, we visited St. James Church, a large wool church. We also looked at the Baptist Hicks ruins next door. Our walk today was only about 8 miles, to Moreton-in-Marsh, so it felt like a very leisurely day. We walked through the village of Broad Campden and arrived in the village of Blockley at around lunch time. We bought a sandwich and had a picnic on a bench in the yard by Blockley Church. As we were eating, we were treated to what sounded like Italian opera coming from the church. We peeked in the church and it turned out there was an Italian Aria performance by visiting performers that evening. It looked like we got to hear the rehearsal. After lunch, we walked up a big hill and had spectacular views of Blockley. We arrived at Moreton-in-Marsh at around 3 and stopped at the pub at the Black Bear Inn to watch Serena win Wimbledon. Our hotel was the Redesdale Arms in Moreton-in-Marsh. We had a great room, which included a sitting room and a private outdoor courtyard. For dinner, we ate at Ask, an Italian restaurant.

Day 7
We walked from Moreton-in-Marsh to Bourton-on-the-Water, about 12 miles. As we walked up a hill to Stow-on-the-Wold, we had beautiful views looking back. We stopped at Stow-on-the-Wold for a light lunch. One of the things I loved about the food in England is that it was served so hot! Often the plates themselves were also hot. My tomato soup at lunch was no exception - so good! We had a funny experience in the afternoon, as we were getting close to Bourton-on-the-Water. We had walked through some fields, following our maps and directions. We walked through a field with cows (walking far away from the cows) and came to another field gate that was clearly marked as our trail. As we approached the gate, we saw some cows begin to walk through it, walking in a line on their own. (And boy, the cows look a lot bigger as you are really close.) We backed up and watched as cow after cow walked by. "I think it must be milking time," said my husband. In the distance, a farmer and dogs rounded up the cows from the far end of the field we were in. The cows kept coming through the gate we needed to go through. Then, one stopped, looking at us suspiciously. It caused a logjam and all the cows stopped moving. We decided to back up but the cows still didn't move. We waited (it seemed like awhile but probably only 10-15 minutes). Finally, the farmer and the dogs came and began whistling and yelling at the cow that was blocking the gate. "It's rush hour," joked my husband. "Sometimes the cows are so stupid," said the farmer, "they just stop for no reason." After it seemed like about 100 cows came through the gate, walking in a line, we continued on our way, walking through Lower Slaughter to get to Bourton-on-the-Water. Our B&B was the Landsdowne, and Anthony, the owner, made us a reservation at the Mousetrap Inn for dinner. The Mousetrap Inn had excellent pub food. Bourton-on-the-Water was my husband's favorite village. It was very pretty because of the river that runs through the town and the stone bridges. During the day, it is really crowded due to lots of tour buses. However, after about 6 p.m., it is much less crowded.

Day 8
We decided to do a circular walk and take a bus back into Cheltenham. (We could have walked about 17 miles directly to Cheltenham.) Our walk took us through Naunton and Upper Slaughter. We ended up walking about 15 miles. For some reason, this was the day that we got a little turned around a couple of times, which added to the walking time. We met a foursome from Colorado and joined them at the pub in Naunton. They had a huge map that they spread out which helped us realize we had been going the right way all along. We said our good byes and then we set off. When we got to Upper Slaughter, we just could not figure out where our footpath was. "We could use those people's map," joked my husband.

Posted by
3580 posts

Good report, Sharon. I don't usually read the long ones but yours interested me because I'm somewhat familiar with the Cotswolds. It is such a beautiful area; the footpaths make it accessible to most average walkers. I like the idea of having a sag-wagon.

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1 posts

Thanks, Sharon, for taking the time to write this great trip report!

Just one more thing to add to my (massive) bucket list.

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504 posts

Yes, thanks for that. It made me want to go!

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Day 8 (continued)
We looked up and saw a foursome in the distance waving, and it was them! (By that point it was also raining.) We all laughed and laughed and they helped us get reoriented. We made it into Bourton-on-the-Water in time to catch the our bus. The bus drove through the village of Northleach, which looked beautiful, and which has a large wool cathedral. I definitely would have liked time to explore. We ended back at our original B&B in Cheltenham.

Day 9 and 10
We traveled to visit a friend from our neighborhood who is on a 2-year overseas assignment in Nottingham. We took the train from Cheltenham, booking online in advance, which saved about 50% from the walk-up price. In the morning before we left, I really enjoyed chatting with Karen, our B&B host, about British culture and current events. Karen said that many people go to Nottingham to shop. During our train ride, we sat opposite two men from Wales. They were very friendly and told us they were traveling into Nottingham to pick up a car they had purchased on the internet. Nottingham was a much larger city than I had anticipated and feels very urban. It has a lot of interesting restaurants, pubs and shops. We visited Nottingham Castle and took the caves tour. We also had high tea at the Colwick Hall, where Lord Byron supposedly was encouraged to write some of his first poetry. That tea was one of the highlights of our trip! Well worth a reservation if you are ever in Nottingham.

After Nottingham, we traveled on to Dublin, where my husband was set to fly home for work, and our oldest daughter was flying in to join me. I will cover our Ireland trip in another (hopefully shorter) thread. All in all, both my husband and I thought we had an incredible trip. One of the things that made the trip so easy was that there was wifi everywhere, even in the small villages. This made it so efficient to buy tickets online and to stay in touch with family members using WhatsApp or Wechat (for our son who is traveling in China). We also found that people were very friendly. We really enjoyed meeting so many people along the way, and we can't wait to go back.

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5504 posts

I enjoyed your report. Crossing cattle pastures are memorable events, more so if the bulls are agitated. Walking tours puts you closer to both the land and the people as reflected by your report. Thanks again.

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2075 posts

I have spent a half day in the Cotswolds and am dying to return for a longer visit. Thanks for the interesting and detailed report! It will help me plan that trip.

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46 posts

Thank you, Sharon, for such a detailed and interesting report. We have always wanted to walk the Cotswold's and your writing has further inspired us to try it. Personal question: do you walk such long distances at home? (To us, they seem long...) We are in our 60's and although we walk every day at home, we're thinking we would have to have quite a program to gear up to do this ... any advice is welcome!

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5504 posts

What were the mid-day meal options on your Cotswold Walk? Did you need to carry packed lunches or were pubs or cafes convenient to a mid-day break?

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1759 posts

Nice report

Nottingham and Birmingham - you're probably the first visitor to these forums ever to write about these two cities - good for you!

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5258 posts

Thank you for taking the time to share your memorable Cotswolds walking adventure.

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5258 posts

Thank you for taking the time to share your memorable Cotswolds walking adventure. Curious though. Did you change your attire from hiking to dining clothes for some of the restaurants you ate at or go as is?

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65 posts

Hi everyone,

Thank you for your kind comments and for taking the time to read!

In regards to the question about preparing for the walk in terms of a walking program, we did some short practice hikes in our boots and daypacks of about 5-6 miles. Next time, I will probably make sure we have done one long practice walk equal to the length of our longest walking day. One of the nice things about self guided walking is you can go as fast or as slow as you want during the walk. We are in our 50's. I am a runner and recently completed a half marathon, but my husband is not. His feet actually got less tired on the walks than mine! We saw lots of people walking, many quite a bit older than us (some faster than us, some slower). Andrew at Cotswold Walks has a variety of walks with different walking lengths and he can also put together a custom itinerary for you if you give him a specific mileage you want to walk each day. Some companies also have a wagon that follows that will pick you up if you are tired. I would recommend making sure you walk some hills or an incline on a treadmill. There are some stiles you will need to climb over, which is where you climb up two steps, swing over a fence (usually with a pole to hold onto) and go down two steps. Also make sure your walking boots are really broken in.

Regarding the question about lunch accommodations, most days there were lunch options at at least one pub in a village. Andrew laid out our options for us as part of our maps and walking directions. On one day, there was no place to purchase lunch but we knew that in advance from our walking directions, and brought a snack with us. We also always carried 2 liters of water in our daypacks. Because the breakfasts at the B&B's were so good, we actually weren't usually very hungry for lunch and often just had something very small. One word of warning is that there aren't many toilets on the routes, other than in the villages or in some of the large sites we passed. Just make sure you stop whenever you see one!

Thanks again for all the comments. We had such a blast on our trip!

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Rambling' on - thanks for your comments. Birmingham reminded me a little bit of Cincinnati, where we are from. A beautiful city that you don't read much about (at least here in the U.S.).

Claudia - Great question on dinner attire! Yes, we changed for dinner each day. Andrew had recommended we bring a pair of "smart" shoes and I'm glad we did. I generally wore a pair of black pants, black Sketchers ballet flats and a nice casual shirt. My husband wore nice jeans or khakis and a button up shirt. The villages themselves seem quite upscale and we saw a lot of people in smart casual clothing. We only saw one group eating dinner in their hiking clothes. At lunch, many of the pubs had racks where you could take your boots off and place them if they were muddy.

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769 posts

What a wonderful trip! Thanks so much for sharing, I will have to add it to my bucket list along with walking Hadrian's Wall. My husband and I are big hikers, but also into history and cultural sites, which it sounds like we could stop and see. Hmmm, now when to plan it for.

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Great trip report. We too, my husband and, I used Cotswold Walks just this past May. We walked from Winchcombe to Broadway to Chipping Campden to Moreton in Marsh. We had a blast. The maps were accurate and the B n B's were wonderful. Unfortunately, we were limited to our time and could only do a shorter walk. We want to have another go, maybe next time we will be able to fit a longer walk into our schedule.

By the way, I am late 50's and husband is late 60's. We usually walk up to 4 miles each day. These walks are very doable.

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jlkelman - Hadrian's Wall is on my bucket list as well! So many great places to hike and so little time!

Debra - I am glad you also had a great experience with Cotswold Walks. We would have loved to have more time as well. If we have time next summer, I would love to return and do the entire Cotswold Way.

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7685 posts

Sharon, what a wonderful trip AND Trip Report! I love long reports with lots of detail so I enjoyed yours. I'm doing a Road Scholar walking tour in September based in Salisbury and Bath so your report was doubly interesting to me.

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Pam - Ooh, I am jealous that you will be going to Bath. That was on our list, but we just ran out of time! Please make sure to write a trip report. What shoes are you wearing to walk in? I know you are an Altra lover like me. I took hiking boots for our walks but I honestly never liked them as much as my Altra trail shoes.

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2373 posts

Thanks for a great trip report! I really enjoyed reading it. Isn't Bourton-on-the-Water so beautiful? We visited the Cotswolds in May of 2016, and hope to go back for a longer stay and a hike some day soon.

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1655 posts

Thanks for the great review Sharon! This is something my wife and I really want to do. We had actually planned to spend some time in the Cotswolds last fall. My wife was supposed to present a paper in Dundee Scotland, but we had to cancel the trip when she was promoted to Director of the nursing school at the University where she is a professor.

The Cotswolds will be on our short list for next year.

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7685 posts

Sharon, I'm taking my hiking boots which are NOT as comfortable as the Altras. I've been in touch with the company that contracts with Road Scholar to do the tour and they have said I need boots rather than trail shoes (I wanted to just wear the Altra Lone Peak trail shoes, lol!!) so I've done a trial pack and have gotten the boots into my Rick Steves 20" roller...Which is pretty funny because if someone was posting on here asking for advice I would say to wear the boots on the plane but I just am not going to be able to have them on for 22-ish hours for the flight over!

I was in Bath last year for the Jane Austen Festival and to meet up with Rick's Best of England tour and it is one of my favorite places! I'm looking forward to walking in the area around there.

Just curious but what brand of boots did you take? Mine are New Balance which I can get in a Wide but I am always on the look out for recommendations. A lot of people on this forum like the Ahnu Montera so I ordered them from Zappos but they are not wide enough altho they are a very nice looking shoe.

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65 posts

Dougmac - Congratulations to your wife, and what a great reason to reschedule a trip!

Pam - Our tour company also strongly recommended we wear hiking boots with ankle support. I am still on the fence about whether it was worth it, but I have pretty strong ankles. My husband felt that the ankle support really made a difference for him. I had a really hard time finding hiking boots that were wide enough, since my toes are so used to spreading out in my Altras. :) I tried on about 20 pairs (gotta love Zappos' return policy), and ended up going with the Hoka One One Tor Summit Mid boots. They were really comfortable at home and were fine on the plane. However, they did get a little tight in the toe area when my feet swelled while hiking and I did end up having to tape my toes due to blisters on my little toes. So they may just not have been quite wide enough. On the positive side, I never had any problems with rubbing on my heels and ankles, and they were waterproof. I had tried the New Balance Wide and they just didn't feel right - I know I'm picky though. I think next time, I may try the Lowa wides in a men's size, and I will definitely be bringing my Altra trail shoes as a backup. Andrew Guppy from Cotswold Walks also said he has a Scarpa brand that runs very wide. I would wear my Altras everywhere if I could. :)

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7685 posts

Thanks for the brand information. I've had my request in to Zappos for notification on some Lowas if they got them in in a wide but no dice so far. I wasn't familiar with either the Hoka or Scarpa brand. I know there is an outdoor store in Salisbury so I may stop in there and see if they have Scarpas I can try on! The New Balance are waterproof as well so that is why I decided to go with them. Trying new insoles to see if they will be more comfortable.

I have been wondering the same thing about whether boots will actually be needed. I do have fairly strong ankles but decided I would go with the recommendations even though I hike here in Idaho during the summer (dry) in the Lone Peaks.

I think Zappos may cancel my privileges...sent 2 pr Ahnus back last week, reordered Altras which were smaller and narrower so am sending them back today. I am having to hold myself back on trying the Hokas and Scarpas, lol.

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65 posts

Edgar - Well, now I'd like to visit the Downton Abbey sites as well! Do you have any England walks that you would recommend as good ones following the Cotswold Way? We had also looked into the South Coast Way and the Hadrian's Wall walk. One day, I would love to do the Coast to Coast, but I thought that sounded a little challenging for a first-time long distance hiker.

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5504 posts

I would love to do the Coast to Coast, but I thought that sounded a little challenging for a first-time long distance hiker.

Our inspiration in doing the Coast to Coast was an article in the Smithsonian Magazine: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/a-walk-across-england-89547636/?no-ist
We did the walk two plus years after reading the article. Day dreamed about the walk for a year, then spent the next year researching, planning and booking the trip.

The Coast to Coast is a two week (more or fewer days) walk but could be done in segments. We met one couple who did half the walk the prior year and were back to finish the second half. We used Contours Walking Holidays to book and organize the walk. Contours suggested itineraries range from 12 walking days to 18 walking days. (We did the 14 walking day version with one layover day. In hindsight, the 15 walking day version would have been kinder to the feet. The Aussie Granny Group started the day day but finished a day later doing the walk with a extra day.)
https://www.contours.co.uk/walking-holidays/coast-to-coast-walk.php

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7685 posts

Oh Edgar! I'm with Sharon, that looks grand!

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65 posts

Edgar - Thanks for the link. The coast to coast walk sounds great! It is definitely now on our bucket list.

Posted by
1571 posts

Sharon,
I am putting Walking the Cotswolds on my bucket list. Your trip report inspires me.

Edgar,
Also, thanks to you for your tips.

Judy B

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769 posts

Sharon - English Heritage does it as a fundraiser I believe and you can also add things like seeing a ruined Abbey or two.

Posted by
2591 posts

My best friend and I walked the Cotswold Way two years ago. We save hundreds of ££££ by planning the trip ourselves. It was so easy, I found a company to transport our luggage from B&B, and I booked all the B&Bs they were lovely.