The Cotswold Way is a long distance National Trail in south central England that offers beautiful and relatively easy walking, with many panoramic views from the Cotswold escarpment (an escarpment is the edge of a plateau). The route passes through a varied, quintessentially English landscape with old woodlands, picturesque villages, wildflower meadows and famous ancient sites.
The Cotswold Way runs for 164km (102 miles) and connects the market town of Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire to the city of Bath in Somerset (near Bristol). It became the 16th National Trail in England and Wales in 2007 and, being a relatively new National Trail, the Cotswold Way is very well way-marked. So finding your way is easy.
The Cotswolds are a range of rolling hills which rise from the meadows of the upper Thames to the Cotswold Escarpment, above the Severn Valley and Evesham Vale. For most of its length the route closely follows this ‘Cotswold Edge’, giving wonderful views of the surrounding landscape.
On its route the Cotswold Way passes through many picturesque English villages built in golden Cotswold stone and close to a significant number of historic sites spanning millennia. Examples are Hailes Abbey, Sudeley Castle near Winchcombe, the Neolithic burial chamber at Belas Knap and the Roman heritage sites at Bath. In addition, the route also visits a wide variety of natural habitats, such as internationally important wildflower meadows and shaded beech woodlands that can be full of the colour of bluebells and the scent of wild garlic in spring.
Starting in the market town and former wool centre of Chipping Campden the Cotswold Way follows quiet paths and tracks through lush farmland and charming English villages, such as Broadway and Stanton. Meadows and the occasional woodland section are passed as the trail drops down to the ruins of Hailes Abbey before continuing to attractive former wool town of Winchcombe.
From there the route rises again and climbs up past the ancient long barrow of Belas Knap and, after passing through more woodland, to the highest point of the trail at Cleeve Hill (317m / 1040 ft). Through ancient beechwoods and limestone grassland and past some more prehistoric sites the route passes to the east and south of nearby Cheltenham and Gloucester.
Woodland sections and some more ascents and descents lead to a number of higher points with wide ranging vistas, including Cooper's Hill, famous for its cheese rolling. The route then comes to the attractive town of Painswick before descending to cross the Stroudwater Canal.
A number of steep ups and downs reward with panoramic views and neolithic burial chambers and Iron Age hill forts accompany the trail through beech woods and fields on its way to the enchanting village of Wotton-under-Edge. From there the route gets more remote as it passes a number of picturesque beauty spots, interesting Cotswold houses and two more Iron Age forts.
The last section of the Cotswold Way passes the sprawling countryside estates of two wonderful old country homes at Dodington Park and Dyrham Park. After crossing a 17th century battlefield the route descends to Bath, one of the most beautiful cities in Britain, where the spectacular Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths are a fitting location to mark the end of the Cotswold Way.
Why walk the route from north to south?
The majority of hikers walk the Cotswold Way in a north to south direction, from Chipping Campden to Bath. As it can be a little difficult to get to or from Chipping Campden with public transport most walkers prefer to get this problem out of the way before they start their hike.
In addition, it is generally acknowledged that the north of the Cotswold Way passes a larger share of the attractive villages and towns typical of the Cotswolds. This means that the walk starts in the heartland of the Cotswolds, rather than in a city. Furthermore, ending a long walk in style in a city like Bath, with its long history, baths, Abbey and fine Georgian Architecture, provides a certain degree of triumph and achievement that seems only fitting.
It is often said that almost anyone who is reasonably fit can walk the Cotswold Way. Relatively easy-going, the rolling terrain is, for the most part, ideal for gentle rambles while the many villages along the route are the perfect setting for long pub lunches. Much of the walking is quite gentle and the trail mostly follows well maintained paths and tracks along the Cotswold Edge, through woodland and meadows and over parkland and commons. Some sections can be muddy after periods of rain.
The route does not climb to any great heights and there are no particularly difficult sections. However, many walkers are surprised at the frequency of steeper climbs and there is a bit of up and down on every section of the trail. The total aggregate ascent is approximately 4,000m over the entire route and the highest point is just 317 metres above sea level.
Elevation Profile (Click image to enlarge)
Terrain by Stages
Chipping Campden to Stanton: Easy to walk paths and country tracks lead you through green farmland and charming old English villages. A moderate climb out of Chipping Campden is followed by a long, gentle climb to Broadway Tower. From there it is a long descent into Broadway, a moderate climb out of Broadway and a shorter but fairly steep descent before Stanton.
Stanton to Cleeve Hill: The walk is mainly across meadows and along farm paths and tracks with occasional woodland sections. A moderate climb out of Wood Stanway and a steep and long climb out of Winchcombe followed by a steep descent through woodland.
Cleeve Hill to Leckhampton Hill: Peaceful paths and tracks through green farmland and woodland. Several moderate ascents and descents and one steeper climb into Lineover Wood.
Leckhampton Hill to Painswick: Most of this walk is along ancient woodland paths with lots of excellent places to stop for a picnic. A steep climb at Coopers Hill.
Painswick to Nympsfield: A steep climb, and then quite a lot of ups and downs through woodland and open, rolling countryside with many great views on good days.
Nympsfield to Wotton-under-Edge: Mostly fairly easy walking on good trails with a number of steep but not very long climbs at Cam Long Down, out of Dursley and up to the Tyndale Monument.
Wotton-under-Edge to Old Sodbury: Some ups and downs, mainly through open countryside. This section of the trail feels quite remote with just a few small villages to visit.
Old Sodbury to Cold Ashton: Mainly through flat, open countryside and fields. While never isolated this section of the trail is quite also remote and the trail only passes through a few small hamlets.
Cold Ashton to Bath: Quiet country roads and farm paths out of Cold Ashton before a long, gradual descent into the beautiful city of Bath. A gentle climb near the start of the day and one steeper ascent in Bath.