Undulating gently across six English counties, the Cotswolds conjure up images of quintessential England. Thatched cottages of time-weathered stone, evocative churches and great country houses bring character to the area. Dry-stone walls delineate fields dotted with the local sheep, a breed sporting a shaggy mane and known as the ‘Cotswold Lion.’
Where does the name ‘Cotswolds’ come from? The name ‘wolds’ means rolling hills, while ‘cot’ could refer to the simple stone dwellings or possibly the sheep pens found here. No one’s sure. What is certain, though, is that the tangle of trails and paths that criss-cross this undulating upland area in southern England are the best way to explore the Cotswolds.
It seems almost as if the Cotswold hills were formed for walking. Home to numerous shorter walking routes, hikers are spoilt for choice. Walking in the region allows you to immerse yourself in the landscape and uncover the rich history and wildlife as you weave slowly through its wind-tossed slopes.
While the Cotswold Way is the classic long-distance trail, there are many other superb walks in the Cotswold region where you can soak up incredible scenery and historical sites. The Cotswold Way is the best way to experience the full scope of the region. Below, we’ve curated a list of other worthwhile Cotswolds walks if you only have a few days in the area or as extensions to the longer route.
Total Route Distance: 102 miles/164 km
To walk the 100 miles of the Cotswold Way is to discover rural England at its best. The Cotswolds Way is the jewel in the crown of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Beauty in southwestern England. The very best way to truly immerse yourself into Cotswold village life, the ancient heritage and the stunningly picturesque countryside is to walk the route in its entirety.
Over about a week, follow the national trail, the Cotswold Way, from Chipping Campden to Bath (an amazing town in its own right – learn more here), tracing the beautiful Cotswold escarpment for much of the route. Cotswold Way hikers will discover a series of timeless, pretty villages such as Broadway, Stanton and Painswick and have time to linger at the old coaching inns at the heart of each community.
Explore the unspoilt limestone grasslands and wildflower fields of Cleeve Common. Step back in time at Hailes Abbey and uncover royal history at Sudeley Castle. Stumble over the area’s ancient past at Iron Age hill forts and prehistoric burial mounds such as Belas Knap. All of which make the perfect immersive introduction to the Cotswolds. Usually taking about a week to walk the trail, this route is worth every mile.
Lots of the best walks in the Cotswolds are sections of the Cotswold Way. If you haven’t got time to hike the full route or just want a flavour of it, take a look at our guide to the best day walks on the Cotswold Way.
One of the finest sections to tackle independently from the whole route is Chipping Campden to Broadway. This 6-mile romp through two of the prettiest villages on the trail with wonderful views from Dover’s Hill and Broadway Tower.
The other Cotswolds Way day hike standout is Broadway to Winchcombe. This 12-mile hike from the popular village winds through quintessential rural countryside winds via Stanton, one of the loveliest villages on the Cotswold Way, and the historic, evocative ruins of Hailes Abbey.
Below, we’ve selected some of the best walks and hikes in the wider Cotswolds region that hiking enthusiasts can do outside of the Cotswold Way. Whether you have limited time, have already done the Cotswold Way, or are simply looking for something different, there a plethora of alternative hikes await. See a few recommendations below.
Distance: 24 miles / 38km
To capture many of the best bits of the Cotswold Way and indeed of the whole area, hike from Chipping Campden to Cleeve Hill. From its start point in the north, walk across rolling hills, through ancient woodland and via traditional villages. Climb to the trail’s highest point with its rare limestone landscape and wonderful views.
With its sublime architecture and interesting history, the Chipping Campden walk ought to be on everyone’s must-see list of English hiking trails. The first stages of the national trail capture what makes this long-distance walk so spectacular. Tackle it as a long day out or undertake it in the course of a weekend for a more leisurely appreciation.
Distance: 6 miles/ 9.5km
Combine a superlative stretch of the Cotswold Way with a ride on a historic steam train for a unique day out. Start from Broadway, one of the best-loved of the traditional Cotswold villages. Before starting your hike, perhaps first explore the attractive village streets. Or climb to the picturesque Broadway Tower for impressive views of the English countryside landscape.
From the cobblestones of Broadway, set off south on the Cotswold Way. Stride out along the escarpment to Stanton and Stanway, two of the most attractive Cotswold towns.
Make time to drop into the Mount Inn in Stanway for a refreshing and well-earned pint. Then take in the Jacobean Stanway House before leaving the Cotswold Way and wandering west to Toddington.
Here, you’ll find a station that is home to the historic Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway. The railway is a preserved section of the old Great Western railway line that linked Birmingham and Cheltenham via Stratford-upon-Avon. These days you can trundle north from Toddington, across viaducts and along the foot of the Cotswold escarpment, to return to Broadway.
Distance: 42 miles/ 67.5km
Winchcombe’s long history and easy access to the stunning surroundings is ideal walking territory. There are bountiful options for short circular walks from here. Perhaps undertake the unusual figure-of-eight Winchcombe Way. This route is centred around the town, comprising two loops that link the most iconic sights in the region as well as a few hidden gems.
The eastern loop takes in quiet valleys, shady woods and tranquil villages, including Snowshill and Stanton, passing by Stanway House and Hailes Abbey. The western circuit rises and falls across Langley Hill, Dumbleton Hill and Nottingham Hill.
Along the way, explore Cleeve Common – the highest point in the Cotswolds and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. History lovers will delight in discovering the ancient Neolithic barrow of Belas Knap before descending to Winchcombe once more. Along the way, drink in the fine views of Sudeley Castle, the only final resting place of an English queen on private grounds.
This route makes for a splendid couple of days of hiking within a longer trip or even perfect for a long weekend’s walking.
Distance: 13.5 miles/ 22km
Connecting the cosy stone towns of Winchcombe and Bourton-on-the-Water, this lovely, lonely route is full of Cotswold charm. From Winchcombe, take a hilltop route via Spooney Wood and Hawling past the remains of vanished mediaeval villages. Then join the river to follow the rushing water into the village of Bourton.
The famously photogenic village streets of Bourton are renowned across the world. Honey-hued cottages and Jacobean buildings line the tiny River Windrush, and a series of five beautiful stone bridges span the river. The whole place is picture-postcard perfect, which does mean it is perennially popular with tourists.
Distance: 13.5 miles/ 22km
The Warden’s Way is the sister route to the Windrush Way, and also links Winchcombe to Bourton-on-the-Water. In fact, many people combine them to make a circular route or lovely long weekend walk in the Cotswolds.
Where you explore the countryside on the Windrush Way, the Warden’s Way links up the villages of the wolds. From Bourton, you’ll meander through the atmospherically-named Lower and Upper Slaughter, whose name is Old English for a marshy place.
Afterwards, cross first into Naunton, then Guiting Power before finally skirting the stately and impressive Sudeley Castle to enter the town of Winchcombe.
Distance: 8 miles/ 12.8km
Uncover an unsung corner of the Cotswolds on a short walk from one of its lively market towns, Chipping Norton, in the north of the region. Made rich from the wool trade, Chipping Norton is surrounded by scenic countryside patterned with dry-stone walls.
Cross this open countryside to reach the Rollright Stones, a scattering of megalithic monuments split into three groups. Standing guard on this spot for thousands of years, the rows of massive standing stones date from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods.
The oldest monument on the site, evocatively named the Whispering Knights, is a single chamber tomb guarded by a huddle of upright stones.
Folklore and ancient monuments are often tightly linked, with these mysterious ancient structures inspiring tales of heroes and villains.
Close by, the King’s Men is a ceremonial stone circle made up of more than 70 irregularly-spaced stumps of limestone. Legend has it that these monoliths are the petrified soldiers of an unknown king turned to stone by a witch.
A strangely-shaped monolith named the King Stone gazes out pensively over the landscape from a third site. The path onwards from the site goes via the village of Over Norton before returning to Chipping Norton.
Distance: 6.5 miles/ 10.4km
There are a number of artists and authors synonymous with the Cotswolds. Among these is the writer Laurie Lee, best known for his childhood memoir Cider with Rosie. Lee’s home was the village of Slad, tucked in a steep-sided valley.
Explore the area Lee brought to life so vividly by walking a circuit from Painswick, itself a very pretty Cotswold wool town. If you’ve time, visit the Iron Age hill fort on Painswick Beacon. Another option is to wander the manicured paths of the spectacular Painswick Rococo Garden as well (pictured).
Heading south from the town though, climb onto the ridge to stroll across the undulating farmland and through tangled woods to pass by Slad.
Perched on a hillside, the Woolpack Pub was one of Laurie Lee’s frequent haunts. In fact, the author is buried between the inn and the church, to ‘balance the secular and the spiritual.’ Stop in and toast your walk with a refreshing glass of cider before circling back towards Painswick across pastureland on quiet lanes and tracks.
Distance: 42 miles/ 67.5km
Created to commemorate the Royal Silver Jubilee in 1977, the Wychavon Way was relaunched to coincide with the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Starting outside the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Worcestershire at the spa town of Droitwich, the route meanders through traditional meadows, copses, orchards and riverside pastures.
Discover secret corners and high hilltops where you can soak up views over the Vale of Evesham before the emergence of honey-coloured dry-stone walls signal that you’re in the Cotswolds. Descend the paths to enter the village of Broadway at the foot of the Cotswold escarpment.