The Cotswolds are arguably the prettiest region of merry old England. It’s chock-a-block with picturesque villages, stunning scenery, charming country hotels, welcoming B&Bs and plenty of pubs to refuel – and rehydrate…
Homes and entire villages are built with the gorgeously glowing golden Cotswold Stone, the region’s trademark. Visitors beware though: its many tea-houses will slow you down dramatically if the pubs don’t get you first! It took us hours to make it through lovely tiny Broadway, as there was just so much to sample! Tea and scones with clotted cream and jam, mmm, they do soothe the bones of the weary walker – or shopper! Strolling around, we admired the pretty cottages lining the streets or set back into a little alley. Many featured lovely flowers or outside artistic displays of some kind. We went into quaint little gift shops and specialty stores, and even saw a horse and buggy come by.
The wealth of this area started in Roman times and was based on sheep and wool. It vastly increased into the highly prosperous 15th century and beyond, benefiting the Church and later on local merchants. Cotswold wool was so important to England that the Lord Chancellor’s seat in the House of Lords was called the ‘woolsack’, as it was made of wool. The famous sheep at the base of it all came to be known as the “Cotswold Lion”. Alas, I did not encounter one in the wild, but there are all kinds of sheep all over the place here, in their proper farm fields – or on the road or your footpath!
Once, in dense fog, an invisible sheep quite startled me by bleating loudly behind me – right after passing a place called “The Devil’s Chimney”….
The wool industry declined towards the end of the 18th century and the Cotswold Lion started to fade away. Luckily, thanks to a timely animal husbandry program, they are back today in growing numbers. One of these days I’ll go back and see them fo’ real…
Speaking of walking… In England, going “rambling” (hiking or walking in the US) is a national sport. For centuries, foot paths have been a protected national treasure. They go through farm fields, villages, along the backs of houses and manors, all over the country, access legally guaranteed. There are 15 long-distance National Trails, from the modest 80 miles of the Yorkshire Wolds Way to the 630 mile South West Coast Path around Cornwall. And by 2020 the newly minted England Coast Path will circle Britain, a mere 2,795 miles!
The Cotswold Way was the first National Trail I completed. It runs just over 100 miles through quintessential English scenery, strongly influenced by the great landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown. It links charming Chipping Campden in the north with beautiful Bath in the south. As a member of the UK Ramblers and doing loads of hiking there, I became friends with the Cotswold Way’s Trail Manager, Mr. James Blockley.
Kitted out somewhere between a U.S. Park Ranger and Robin Hood, James patrols the Way, checks for obstructions like fallen trees and makes sure all the (excellent) signage is up to snuff. Some 10 years ago, James created the “Cotswold Way Walking Hall of Fame” where finishers could post their picture and a brief story. I was involved with developing tourism from the US to the UK at the time and we did a bit of marketing cooperation, as I love the area and know it well. I ended up as “Walker Number One” on the Wall, pretty cool! Many hundreds have followed since and other National Trails have followed the example set by James and the Cotswold Way.
You can enjoy this region year-round too, whether summer, the beautiful autumn or even winter. I once thoroughly enjoyed a gorgeous walk with some light snow around, a Christmas card experience. Rewarding views abound, with wide open fields, forests, pretty hills, ancient neolithic sites like Belas Knap, and even traces of Roman fortifications and camps. You can make it as demanding or easy as you want: puffing up the Escarpment or enjoying a leisurely stroll on flat terrain, suitable for young and old. Just make sure you follow James’ official Cotswold Way signage, or you’ll end up detouring for miles!
As James puts it: you don’t have to be a daft through-hiker to enjoy the region. There are plenty of opportunities for a day hike or even just a short circular stroll from a convenient start and end point. See the picture on the right of James himself walking the Cotswold Way with his lovely wife and their young daughter.
Wanna go? The experts at Authentic Vacations can help you plan a self-drive trip that fits your interests. Whether you want to stay in a B&B or a charming lodge, hotel or even some Manors and Castles, we have the expertise. Chipping Campden is near Stratford-upon-Avon if you want to pop by the Bard’s home. Bath, glorious town in its own right with its Roman Baths and the Royal Crescent, is near Stonehenge. Contact our England experts if you want a customized plan. Or, if you have more time like 2 weeks, consider combing a few days here with a stay in London, or add on Scotland or Ireland, all easily accessible by plane, ferry or train.
And if you do want to go rambling like a Brit, get your boots, anorak and waterproof map holder – but remember to close the gates on your path. We don’t want those Cotswold Lions to escape!