The Cotswold Way is a popular National Trail in England that that runs along length of the Cotswolds, starting in Chipping Campden in the north and finishing at Bath Abbey in the south.
The area is renowned as an area of outstanding natural beauty, with visitors coming from across England, Britain and further afield to visit. Even though it was approved as a National Trail in 1998, the Cotswold Way didn’t officially open until 2007, making it one of the newer trails in the UK.
At 165 kilometres (102 miles) in length, it is one of the longest trails in the area and stretches right through the Cotswolds region, winding through picturesque villages, such as Snowshill and Painswick, ancient landmarks and endless green countryside.
The record set for completing the full length of the Cotswold Way is 23 hours and 48 minutes, who took on the challenge of an ultra marathon.
But this trail is not reserved for for long-distance walkers (or world record breakers), with shorter sections on offer and designed to be easy to follow, whilst still taking in the views from the hill tops, energy of nearby bustling market towns and allowing walkers to meander through some of the Cotswolds’ beautiful stone villages.
One of the best things about this route that it is a true countryside walk, with plenty of grass, pathways and dirt underfoot as you hike through forests and down country lanes.
Other than the walk into/out of Bath – depending the direction you walk – there is very little road or tarmac walking, with most of the trail consisting of packed dirt or grass., and virtually no interaction with cars or traffic along the route.
For those who are looking for a challenge and have time to spare, the trail can be completed all in one go, with or without additional stops. Others that want to take on smaller sections of the route can opt for any number of shorter circular walks – some of which we have listed out further below.
Whether you want to walk three kilometres or 30, the Cotswold Way National Trails give you a chance to experience some of England’s best countryside.
The trail can be a relatively pricey hike when done in its entirety, more so than some of the other popular National Trails in the UK.
Its popularity with walkers and tourists are reflected in the prices for food, drink, and accommodation, particularly up the northern end. Coupled with the limited number of hostels, self-catering bunkhouses, and campsites along the trail, it can be hard to do on a tight budget.
Walking in a pair is the most economical approach so that you can share rooms, transport, bag sending (if you opt to do so) and maybe even meals. Depending on your level of comfort, you’re looking at £30-45 per night per person, including breakfast, £10-12 for lunch and a drink at a pub or cafe, and £15-18 for dinner.
For seasoned walkers that are prepared to carry virtually everything you need, costs can be vastly minimised.
- Can be done in its entirety or broken up into shorter but still amazing circular routes.
- Trail passes by significant historic sites including Neolithic burial chamber at Belas Knap, Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe and Hailes Abbey
Depending on which way you are planning to walk the trail, you will start in either Chipping Campden or Bath and finish at the other.
Both are accessible by bus, and Bath is well served by coaches and trains also with direct services from London and elsewhere. Bath’s bus and train stations are alongside one another, just a few minutes walk away from the cathedral.
For those coming from further afield, Bristol Airport is less than 20 miles from Bath Abbey and Birmingham Airport is also driveable from either end of the trail.
Chipping Campden is slightly trickier to access by public transport but still very doable. It is best accessed by catching the bus to a larger nearby town – such as Moreton-in-Marsh, Cheltenham and Stratford-upon-Avon – and then jumping on a local bus or grabbing a taxi from there.
At 165 kilometres, the full route is not a quick trip and takes between seven and 10 days to complete.
The time taken to complete the trail really depends on how hard you want to push yourself, whether you want down time at some of the villages en route and whether there is accommodation available on your chosen dates – otherwise you may need to be flexible.
For super-fit hiking enthusiasts it’s possible to cover 30+ kilometres a day but you risk missing out on the enjoyment of the countryside and all it has to offer. Unless you’re a keen hiker with time to spare, it’s advisable to dip in and out of the Cotswold Way on one of the many smaller routes on offer.
Even if you choose to take on the full trail, going slightly slower means you can stop off at some of the ancient sites, stop for a coffee or beer in a local town and reduce your chances of getting blisters.
Similar to most long-distance hikes, you will likely walk further than the stated 165 kilometres by the time you veer off the path each night to your accommodation or stop off to get food and explore some of the larger downs that lie just off the beaten track. When taking a seven or eight day excursion, the distance covered is likely to be closer to 200 kilometres.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
Unlike some of the coastal trails, this route doesn’t have the same number of steep inclines and descents, which is great news for your knees. Following country paths and crossing fields, the terrain is soft and very walkable and the technicality of the route is low.
However, it does follow the undulating countryside landscape and covers a significant distance, so it’s important to have a basic level of fitness at the very least.
No hiking or trekking experience is needed to take on the Cotswold Way and there is no need for specialist equipment, other than a good pair of shoes and maybe a walking pole for support.
Walking the route for seven days (six nights) provides enough of a physical challenge for most people with a reasonable degree of fitness, whilst still being attainable and enjoyable.
Similar to the Hadrian Wall and other walks, you can opt to have your bags taken for you if you’re not a seasoned walker and don’t want to be weighed down.There are a handful of companies offering transportation services, collecting your pack or suitcase from your accommodation each morning and delivering it to your intended destination before you arrive.
Hiking with just a day pack with water, snacks and money certainly makes it easier.
As with most National Trails, there is no need for a permit to complete some or all of this route, which means you can keep coming back time and time again.
Guided or Self-Guided
Although there are organised walks and holidays, this route is usually done without a guide.
The trail is easy to follow and in peak season, it is busy enough that you can basically just follow in the tracks of others. Because the trail didn’t officially open until 2007, the path is in good condition and way-marking is generally very good along the route’s entire length.
Walkers can look out for the National Trail acorn symbol, signposts and various other markers. Having said that, it’s still possible to get lost – particularly if making your own detours – so it is worth carrying a trail map or checking GPS.
As with any walk in the UK, summer is typically the best time to go due to the higher likelihood of sun, no rain and longer days.
Since it’s in the south of the country, you’d generally expect warmer, drier conditions on the Cotswold Way than up north, but as any local could tell you, weather anywhere in the UK can be varied and unpredictable, and there are no guarantees.
The main season on the Cotswold Way runs from May to October. Spring is also a popular option as it allows you to dodge some of the crowds and also see flowers starting to bloom.
The Cotswold Way can be walked in either direction, with pros and cons of both, but below is an eight-day itinerary starting in Bath.
Bath to Pennsylvania – 20 km
Pennsylvania to Hawkesbury Upton – 22 km
Hawkesbury Upton to North Nibley – 18 km
North Nibley to Stroud – 28km
Stroud to Birdlip – 32km
Birdlip to Whittington – 25km
Whittington to Wood Stanway – 24km
Wood Stanway to Chipping Campden – 24km
Bath is a great starting point, with grand architecture, things to do and plenty of places to stay, and then moving north, the villages and scenery become gradually more impressive.
On the flipside, winding down towards Bath Abbey offers walkers glimpses of fine parks and regency architecture and finishes with a carved stone disc set into the pavement outside the ornate west doors, marking the end of the Cotswold Way. As mentioned, there are also plenty of shorter routes. At 14 miles, the Windrush Way is a popular choice for anyone looking for a challenging one-day walk.
This route links the Cotswold Way at Winchcombe with the Oxfordshire Way at Bourton-on-the-Water. There’s no need to worry about missing out on scenery as you follow the trail up over the Cotswold hills, through the remains of medieval villages and along the River Windrush.
The Cleve Hill Ring is another good option and slightly shorter. This six and a half-mile walk takes you up to the Cotswolds’ highest common, offering breathtaking views over the Malverns and even across to Wales on a clear day.
Just be sure that whichever circular route you pick has transport options running later in the day and many will also require you to bring your own food/drink.
While there is plenty of accommodation in larger towns and cities, options elsewhere can run out pretty quickly during peak season and school holidays.
If you don’t have flexibility in your schedule to venture off route, it’s crucial to get in and book well ahead of time.
As mentioned before, budget options in particular can be difficult to come by – with limited youth hostels on offer, even in the bigger areas such as Bath. Campsites are very limited and wild camping is not allowed anywhere along the Way.
The most common option is to book into a hotel, pub, or bed and breakfast along the route. There are also a handful of Airbnbs but these are also regularly snapped up by people doing the full route but also those doing the shorter circular trails. Most places will include breakfast as part of the overnight price, with some offering dinner, laundry and bag sending services at an additional cost.
If you’re into hearty breakfasts and classic ‘pub grub’, mealtimes are a highlight of walking on the Cotswold Way. There are some small shops in local towns and villages but it may be worth stocking up on snacks and supplies in Bath to save money.
With pretty villages, good views, historic monuments, and several sections of glorious forests and wide, open countryside, the trail itself has points of interest aplenty.
If you’re not doing the full route you might opt for the Rollright Stones amble, which starts in the pretty village of Salford, along the valley, then up towards the mysterious Rollright Stones.
This collection of three Bronze Age stone circles – the Whispering Knights, the King’s Men and the King Stone – has a fascinating history. Afterwards you can stroll down through the charming hamlet of Little Rollright, and into Salford for a well-earned drink at notorious Salford Inn.
Whether you start or finish in Bath it is definitely worth adding on a few days. This incredible destination attracts tourists from around the world. The primary reason people visit is to see the Roman Baths. Here you can immerse yourself in history and see how Bath’s former residents relaxed all those centuries ago – including interactive exhibits and CGI reconstructions that bring the ancient site back to life.
Continue your cultural trip by exploring Bath’s treasure trove of museums and galleries, climbing Bath Abbey’s iconic tower or visiting The Jane Austen Centre to delve into the life of Britain’s favourite author.
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Starts at||Bath, UK|
|Finishes at||Chipping Campden, UK|
|Length of route||165 Km|
|Average time to complete||7 - 10 Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||Yes|
|Highest point||330 metres|
|Equipment needed||Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|
|Countries visited||England, UK|