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Covering around 800 square miles, the Cotswolds are a range of hills and valleys that are about as English as an old wizened oak.
The area is renowned for its stunning rural beauty, but also has a number of towns and cities in the counties of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire that the region nestles in.
The region is a walker’s paradise with almost 3,000 miles of footpaths and bridleways that allow you to explore every nook and cranny.
Some of the hills seem to go up and up forever but the views at the top are stupendous.
The River Severn used to be one of the UK’s major trade routes and this passes up much of the northern edge of the Cotswolds.
As such there is a lot of human history to be discovered as you wander, including medieval villages and the Regency towns of Cheltenham and Bath.
Whatever you seek short of alpine uplands you are sure to find something as you walk through some of the finest lowland countryside Britain has to offer.
The routes we have selected are long distance – anything up to 625 miles – but you can choose to do sections of these (or several) as you mix and match your discovery of this stunningly beautiful region.
The Monarch’s Way
After his dad lost his head and his army was defeated in Worcester in 1651, King Charles II was a wanted man.
Not wanting to lose his head and ultimately seeking to regroup and re-take his rightful seat, he escaped firstly north before doubling back down through the Cotswolds to Somerset and Dorset before eventually dashing along the South Downs and off to France from Shoreham-by-Sea.
When Oliver Cromwell died, he would return and take the Throne.
For those seeking to follow one of the most dramatic escapes in UK history, this is quite an adventure!
We include this trail as part of the Cotswolds walks as he spent a fair bit of time here while on the run.
Today the Monarch’s Way is the longest way-marked route in England.
You could follow this route as a sort of personal quest over a few years, taking a week here and there to follow it from beginning to end.
Or of course you could just blitz it in one hit, taking a month or so to tackle the way from beginning to end!
The Cotswold Round
The 800 square mile Cotswolds are a roughly oblong shape and so this route is the same.
As you read through this article you will see the Cross Cotswold Pathway between Banbury and Bath, the Cotswold Way and then Cotswold Link between the two long distance routes’ ends at Chipping Campden and Banbury.
This walk links the two long distance paths.
It is a three week mammoth of a walk and you will ascend over 7,500 metres of sometimes hard climbing as you go.
The route was developed by the Macmillan Association for people to do sponsored walks for the centre nursing charity.
As such if planning to do this walk, do look into raising cash for the charity as you do it.
As adventures go, unless mountains are the be all and end all of walking life for you, this is a real treat with lots to take in and plenty of spots to rest a while.
We give more detail of the sections involved later in this article – read on and consider whether this three week odyssey across rural England is a worthy adventure!
Bubbling from under an old ash tree in the Cotswold village of Thames Head the mighty Thames threads through the English countryside east to London.
The Thames Path is a National Trail and has been set up so people of all abilities can take it on in full or in sections.
As such you won’t find the murderous hills you will on the Wye Valley Walk but instead a 14 day stroll from picturesque countryside to urban chaos.
If you want to sprint it, the Thames Path record sits at just over 40 hours – quite a slog and we must say, not a great way to enjoy the scenery.
One of the delights of this route is that each stage has been mapped to coincide with public transport so if you live on or close to the route you could conceivably sleep at home every night as you do it – call it a ‘stretched staycation’ if you must!
In this article we cover a lot of linear routes as opposed to circular ones. This is one of those where you will see different things every day as you go from end to end of the Cotswolds.
Do consider combining it with the Cross Cotswolds Pathway and do the full Cotswolds Round as we discussed above.
There are a number of steep climbs on this route that will stretch even someone who is reasonably fit.
These include the sort of hill where you think you’re getting to the top, only to find a marginally less steep bit, breaking your heart as you realise you’re not quite there yet!
Much of the route follows the Cotswold Escarpment that has been privy to a lot of human history.
You will find sights such as the Neolithic burial chamber at Belas Knap, Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe, Hailes Abbey, and the Roman remains and Regency architecture of Bath at the end.
Not everyone loves to shout about their achievements but in this world of selfies and social media sharing, if you want to you can join the Cotswold Way Hall of Fame – a list of those who have completed the walk.
If on the Cotswold Round and only halfway on their walk can smile quietly after doing so…
The Gloucestershire Way
You get a great mix of walking on this route – crossing the Rivers Wye and Severn on relative flat yet with some tough climbs through the hills of the Forest of Dean and Cotswolds.
The Severn used to be one of Britain’s great highways and is navigable almost as many miles as the Thames is.
As such you will get to explore a lot of human history past and present, from the coal mining and forest management of the Forest of Dean to the maritime heritage of the Severn.
The Cotswolds form a good couple of days of this walk after a day or so’s gentler walking across the Severn river valley.
In parts you will be able to take in vistas of large parts of the walk you have already done from high up on the escarpment.
There are urban sections to this walk including Chepstow, Gloucester, Stow on the Wold and of course Tewkesbury. These make for good B&B rest stops but add a bit of variety to this primarily rural walk.
The Cross Cotswolds Pathway
The coast-to-coast Macmillan Way starts in Boston, Lincolnshire and heads south-west to Barnstaple.
This route has been devised for people to do sponsored walks for the cancer nursing charity as they take on a multi-day walk challenge.
The Cross Cotswold Pathway takes in a small but significant section.
If you consider 86 miles ‘small’ then it can be used as one of the two major legs of the Cotswold Round above.
This section will still take you a good week to do, and after the flatlands of East Anglia this is a leg thrasher section as far as the whole walk goes.
You will find yourself climbing and descending for a few days, but the rewards at the top of those climbs make it well worth it.
As well as sections of a Roman road you will get to pause at the Westonbirt Arboretum amongst many a surprise and reward on the walk.
To cool down the last part is on the Kennet & Avon canal towpath as your weary legs take you into Bath.
The Diamond Way
The Ramblers Association’s North Cotswolds Group celebrated their Diamond Jubilee in 1995 by creating this route through the heart of their area.
It is 60 miles, one for each of their years as an association.
This is a walker’s walk which allows for long spells of solitude and quiet using lesser-known but well-maintained paths.
It takes in a variety of terrains and places of interest in the way only a Rambler’s Association group could do.
Some hard climbs, nice villages with pub stops, and points of local interest make this a classic as shorter, multi-day walks go.
Many of the walks we cover in the 10 Best series are developed by bureaucrats and not serious walkers.
There is a 60km walk in London we can think of that is one kilometre for every year of the Queen’s reign that pretty much ticks that box!
They don’t fully appreciate what walking is or should be about.
The Diamond Way genuinely does appreciate the things that walkers do, and is a must-do should you wish to appreciate the Cotswolds at their best.
The Wysis Way
Taking in three of Britain’s greatest rivers, you will have some tough climbs but incredible scenery as you take this walk on.
You cross the Forest of Dean, the Severn Valley descend from the Cotswolds to the source of the River Thames.
If you’re a real walking nut you could tie this in with the start of the Wye Valley Walk in mid Wales and walk all the way to central London, or even Offa’s Dyke.
That would require a bit of research and would add quite a challenge to the otherwise gentle 184 miles of the Thames Path!
You’ll take in lots go human history and endeavour as you do – from the managed deciduous Forest of Dean to the navigable stretches of the Severn and then into the rural uplands of the Cotswolds.
There are a number of market towns and villages en route that will provide refreshment and rest as you explore this link between the three rivers.
The Winchcombe Way
Generally you have a loop route or a linear route on a walk. How about a figure-of-eight this time?
This 42 mile walk is centred on the market town of Winchcombe in the northern Cotswolds, and you take on an eastern loop out of the town and then out on the western loop.
If you’re a hardcore walker and are very fit you could use Winchcombe as a base and do this walk over two long days on the hill.
The eastern loop takes in the Stanwood House stately home as well as the villages of Cutsdean, Toddington and Snowshill on the escarpment before descending and visiting Buckland, Laverton and Stanton.
Meanwhile the Western loop involves hills, woodland and the long barrow of Belas Knapp.
Together these loops make for a great way to explore just what the peoples of this region are about.
The views from the Cotswold escarpment are well worth the strain of the ascent, and the odd pint and lunch at a village pub add to the fun and relaxation of being on the hill all day.
Limestone is the result of trillions of small animals’ skeletons and shells being compressed and heated through the aeons of geological time.
You will find ammonite fossils in the rock that reaches from the Jurassic Coast in Dorset up through the Mendips to the Costwolds.
Over the last few centuries, limestone has found a number of uses – in agriculture as a fertiliser but also in building construction as plaster and even as an element of mortar.
On this walk through the three counties of Dorset, Somerset and Gloucestershire, you will see old lime kilns, quarries old and new as well as the agricultural lands fed by the substrate.
Though very dominant in the Jurassic Coast, there is a seam that links Dorset with the Cotswolds, and this relatively short walk follows that geological seam while following mankind’s use of it.
One of the facets of limestone is that it washes away in water.
For the more adventurous this means there are deep caves to be found – but do remember that potholing is a discipline in its own right and you should only engage in deeper descents if you know what you’re doing!
There aren’t many regions where we are spoilt for choice as to multi-day walks but the Cotswolds is one of those.
As with all the walks we cover you don’t have to do every single mile of a given route but a day or two here or there on a given stretch will be rewarding and sometimes downright exhausting!
The Cotswolds is undoubtedly some of the most stunning stretches of countryside in England and we hope we’ve inspired you to paying a visit, long or short, to see just what we mean.