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The Cotswolds According to Me - Things to Do and See

Pauline Kenny

Google Map of the Cotswolds

There are many things to see in the Cotswolds:

  • Pre-historic sites, Roman ruins
  • Castles and ancient Abbeys, historic trains
  • Villages and wool churches built from Cotswold stone
  • Manor Houses and gardens
  • Cotswold dry-stone walls in the villages and fields
  • Canals (some are unused, some are being restored) and rivers

I have listed the places that we have visited and some that we plan to visit, but there are more places to see than these. Check the resources at the bottom of the page for more suggestions. Read the Towns and Villages page for more suggestions. I listed a few of my favorite drives, but you will find no shortage of great drives in this area.

Click to see a Google Map of the Cotswolds showing these sites

Gardens

These are the gardens that we have visited, but there are several others in the Cotswolds.

Hidcote Manor Garden: National Trust. Large manor house and gardens north of Chipping Campden. We spent a lovely afternoon here with Wendy and Richard (English garden experts from the message board) in May 2006.
Link to website | Slow Travel Photos: Spring 2006 (Pauline) and Summer 2006 (Chris)

Hidcote Manor Garden, the "Ha-Ha". Richard standing in it, Steve in front.

Hidcote Manor Garden, the "ha-ha". Richard standing in it, Steve in front.

There is a good "ha-ha" at Hidcote (a ditch constructed in such a way that it keeps the animals in their field, but you do not see a fence or wall, so it does not spoil the view in the garden). A "ha-ha" is featured in Jane Austen's novel "Mansfield Park", which is thought to be set in the Cotswold village of Adlestrop where Jane Austen visited her uncle who was the rector.

Fanny, feeling all this to be wrong, could not help making an effort to prevent it. "You will hurt yourself, Miss Bertram," she cried; "you will certainly hurt yourself against those spikes; you will tear your gown; you will be in danger of slipping into the ha-ha. You had better not go."
- - Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, 1814 - -

You could easily spend a whole day at Hidcote. There are walking/hiking trails that start from the car park, so you could walk for a few hours after visiting the gardens. Have a picnic on the grounds - there is a pretty picnic area near the car park. Visit the nearby Kiftsgate Court Garden. And it is only a ten minute drive to Chipping Campden, a great market town with lots of tea rooms, pubs, restaurants, shops, and an interesting church.

Kiftsgate Court Garden: Privately run. Smaller gardens near Hidcote Manor Garden. Kiftsgate gets fewer tourists and has a good tea room. It is well worth it to visit both gardens on the same day. They are very different, even though only a few miles apart. In the second week of May 2006, the Bluebell Walk was exceptional.
Link to website | Slow Travel Photos: Spring 2006 photos by Pauline

Lodge Park & Sherborne Estate: National Trust. House and estate in the village of Sherborne, near Windrush, west of Burford. 4,000 acres with water meadows, deer park, woodland, and countryside to explore. We spent a couple of weeks in Windrush, but did not get to do the walk in Sherborne (it was a very wet time when we were there, so we did not do as many hikes as usual). We drove to the village and it looked lovely. The manor house has been turned into condos, but you can walk in the estate. When you drive by on the A40, you see the stone walls of the estate.
Link to website.

Westonbirt - The National Arboretum: Near Tetbury, in the southern Cotswolds. We visited this arboretum in May 2000. You can do a long walk through the grounds. The gardens and trees are beautiful. In the summer they have concerts here.
Link to website.

Historic Buildings, Manor Houses

These are the places that we have visited, but there are several others in the Cotswolds.

Broadway Tower: An eighteenth century gothic folly built on a hilltop in the Cotswolds, just outside of Broadway. Writer and craftsman William Morris used the tower as a country retreat. You can follow a footpath from Broadway up to the tower or you can drive. There is also a good circular walk from Broadway that goes to the Broadway Tower. There is a tea room near the tower.
Link to website.

Broadway Tower

Broadway Tower

Chastleton House: National Trust. One of England's finest Jacobean houses. Limited opening times. We passed by on a hike from Adlestrop on a Sunday and it was not open, so we have not visited it. It is near Moreton-in-Marsh in a very pretty area. You can do a nice 30 minute walk to Adlestrop from here.
Link to website

Owlpen Manor: Tudor manor (1450-1616). This manor in the southern Cotswolds, near Uley is worth visiting, first because it brings you to this beautiful, but not very touristed, part of the Cotswolds and second because the house and gardens are beautiful. The family that owns Owlpen still live there and open the house up three days a week to the public (they spend the day in some of the rooms that are not open to the public). There is a good tea room on the property, with outdoor and indoor seating.
Link to website.

Snowshill Manor: National Trust. Cotswold manor house with eclectic collection and Arts & Crafts-style garden. We have not visited Snowshill Manor, but have been in the village. This is a beautiful area, near Broadway. It is pronounced as "Snozzle" locally.
Link to website

Other Historic Activities

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (GWR): The GWR is an all-volunteer steam and diesel heritage railway in the Cotswolds. They run full-sized standard gauge steam trains in the manner of the old Great Western Railway, from Toddington, through Winchcombe, terminating at the station adjoining Cheltenham Racecourse.

Link to website

Medieval Sites

Hailes Abbey: National Trust. Remains of a 13th-century Cistercian abbey just outside of Winchcombe. You can walk here on footpaths from Winchcombe or drive. There is a very good tea room near the Abbey. The Roman Road, the Salt Way, passes nearby.
Link to website

Sudley Castle: Originally over 1,000 years old, destroyed by Cromwell's troops, rebuilt, visited by royalty - you know the type of thing. A big beautiful castle in the countryside near Winchcombe. You can tour the castle and the grounds. We stayed near here for a month in September 2004 and visited a few times. Very good walking in this area.
Link to website.

They have weekend "events" in the summer that are well worth missing (they are mostly for children). We went to a ferret race "event" picturing something like a greyhound race, but ended up at a children's event where ferrets ran through a 20 foot pipe to a bowl of milk. The first one finished won. Of course, we enjoyed the event and I was appointed as judge so got to announce the winner and get up close to those ferrets. Everyone placed bets for candy prizes.

Ancient Sites

These are the sites that we have visited, but there are several others in the Cotswolds.

Standing Stones/Stone Circles/Long Barrows

Belas Knap: Long barrow near Winchcombe. We walked to it from Winchcombe on a nice footpath, but you can drive (on the B4632 south of Winchcombe, take a lane east to Charlton Abbots/Andoversford). There is an area for parking about half way between where you get on the road and Charlton Abbots.

The best long barrow I have seen is West Kennett Long Barrow near Avebury, so if you have limited time, just see that one.

Rollright Stones: Stone circle and standing stones on the road from Little Rollright to Great Rollright (west of A3400 - the road north from Chipping Norton). The stone circle, called the King's Men, is on the south side of the road. When we were there in September 2004, there was a booth and a small fee was required. Don't miss the King Stone on the other side of the road and the Whispering Knights, a bit more down the road and out into a field, same side as the stone circle.

This is a good stone circle, but nothing like what you will see at Avebury or Stonehenge. I like these small stone circles that you find in many places in the United Kingdom and like to seek them out if we are in the area.

There is a hike in the Pathfinder - Cotswolds Walk book that takes you to the Rollright Stones, but it is not a great hike because much of it is on roads. I recommend driving to the Rollright Stones. You can park on the road right by the stone circle.

Rollright Stones, the King's Men, stones are up to eight feet tall

Rollright Stones, the King's Men, stones are up to eight feet tall

Roman Ruins

Chedworth Roman Villa: National Trust. Remains of one of the largest Romano-British villas in the country. This villa is set in a beautiful wooded valley of the River Coln. Only the floor level of the villa remains, but it is interesting to explore the site of the villa and see the small museum. Have lunch at the Seven Tuns, a very good pub in Chedworth. Good walking in this area.
Link to website

This villa is nothing like what you see in Italy at Ostia near Rome or Pompeii or Herculeneum near Naples, but it is very interesting to see these ruins in England. It makes you understand how far the Roman Empire stretched at one time.

Roman Roads

The Romans put several roads through this area over 2,000 years ago. Some of the current roadways and farm roads follow the ancient roads. The Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000) for The Cotswolds shows the routes of the Roman Roads.

I don't think you will find remaining stone on the ancient roadways, like you do in Italy (we have not seen any), but you can drive or walk along these ancient paths.

Fosse Way: The A429 that goes north/south through the middle of the Cotswolds follows the Fosse Way, a Roman Road that went from Exeter to Lincoln.

Akeman Street: This was an important Roman Road running from Cirencester to London (northeast to Bicester (Oxfordshire) and St. Albans (Hertfordshire), then to London) connecting to the Fosse Way. Part of this road is now the A41 from London northwest to Bicester and parts remain as minor roads or footpaths/bridleways in the Cotswolds. You can walk part of it in the Leach Valley (south of Burford), or drive on lanes that follow the ancient road (from near Eastleach Turville to Hatherop and from Ready Token to the B4425 south of Barnsley).

In May 2006, we did the Eastleach - Leach Valley Walk from the  Goldeneye "Complete Collection of Cotswold Walks". This was a beautiful, easy walk that followed part of Akeman Street. You can drive to it by going north from Eastleach Turville, in the direction of Burford on the farm lanes. Past the second turnoff to Hatherop (on your left), you will see a footpath sign on your right. One footpath sign takes you into a valley along a river. This is not the one you want. The next one, a bit more down the road, takes you up to the top of a ridge. This is Akeman Street.

Akeman Street on hike through Leach Valley

Akeman Street on hike through Leach Valley

Ermin Street: Roman Road that went from Silchester (near Reading) to Cirencester and through to Gloucester. The A419 to Cirencester follows this route, as does the A417 from Cirencester to Gloucester (now one of the fastest/biggest roads in the Cotswolds).

The Salt Way: Roman Road that goes near Winchcombe, near Hailes Abbey. You can walk on it from one of the circular walks from Winchcombe. To drive to it, from Hailes Abbey take Salters Lane, this turns into the Salt Way.

The White Way: A minor Roman Road from Cirencester north to near Winchcombe. Passes near the Chedworth Roman Villa.

My Favorite Drives

Stow-on-the-Wold to Winchcombe

I think this is the most beautiful drive in the Cotswolds. From Stow, take the B4077 through Upper Swell, through Ford (great pub here, The Plough Inn, if you want to stop for a meal), to Stanway. The views along the way are lovely, the villages are beautiful. Any of the small roads off the B4077 are fun to explore also.

Stanway is a lovely town and from there you can drive up to Stanton, another beautiful small village. Then get on the main road, the B4632, and go south to Winchcombe. Park and explore Winchcombe (good church, good pubs, good tea rooms). You can return on back roads from Winchcombe to Guiting Power and to Naunton (we got very lost doing this and never found Naunton, which is supposed to be a lovely village). Then take the B4068 back to Stow.

Stroud to Bisley

This is an adrenaline rush drive. The roads around Stroud can be fast moving. This corner of the Cotswolds always seems busier to me than other corners. Perhaps because more people live here.

Coming into Stroud from the east on the A419, at the first roundabout (with the Waitrose), go north towards the hospital. Keep going up the hill and you will be on the road to Bisley. This is a narrow road with some fun bits through Stroud dodging parked cars. Then you get up above Stroud in the countryside. Watch for a right turn to Bisley. This is the fun part and is really fun if you are doing this in the evening rush hour time, when people are heading home. There you are speeding along this country lane and all of a sudden you are in a village with hilly roads that are unbelievably narrow. Cars are parked, the road narrows, cars are behind you anxious for you to keep going. You drive your way through the village, wanting to park so you can get out and explore on foot, but there is no parking lot and no spaces left on the streets. You drive right through and heave a sigh of relief as you head downhill, towards Chalford, back to the A419 and sanity.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but this is what it felt like to us doing this drive in 2000 and again in 2006 (why do it again? we forgot we had done it before). Friends of ours who live nearby were surprised to hear that we thought these roads were excessively narrow, so I imagine you get used to this if you do it often.

There are lots of other great drives in the Cotswolds. The "B" roads are usually easy going and let you drive through the villages. The "white" roads can be very narrow, but try a few of them for fun.

Following the River Windrush

A slow, meandering countryside drive beside the River Windrush starting at Minster Lovell and ending at Sherborne.

Start at the village of Minster Lovell on the very eastern edge of the Cotswolds. See the Minster Lovell Hall ruins beside the River Windrush. Walk down to the river.

From Minster Lovell, drive west to the A40, but at the roundabout where the road meets the A40, take the "white" road (a one lane paved road, marked in white on most maps) in the direction of Asthall. You will see the river again in Asthall.

Continue to Burford, with the river on your right. Explore Burford. You can see the river at the car park and at the bottom of the High Street (at the medieval bridge). Have tea at Huffkins?

From the center of Burford, continue west on a narrow road in the direction of "The Barringtons". At Little Barrington, turn right towards Great Barrington. On your right, you will pass the Fox Inn, a good pub that is on the river. Stop for lunch or a drink? Maybe you ate in Burford?

You are going to go a mile out of your way now and then come back to this point. Go past the Fox Inn and over the river to Great Barrington. Note the tall wall on your left as you come up the hill. Continue straight towards Great Rissington. Just past the village of Great Barrington, where a road branches off to the right, as you get to the top of the hill, there is a Deer Park on your left! This is the gate you are looking for.

Gate to watch for on road from Great Barrington, looking back towards Great Barrington

Gate to watch for on road from Great Barrington, looking back towards Great Barrington

Stop the car and look in through the gates to see a huge field, a Palladian style building and a large herd of deer in the distance.

Deer Park near Great Barrington, with the Windrush valley behind

Deer Park near Great Barrington, with the Windrush valley behind

Okay, that was fun. Now do a U-turn and head back to the Fox Inn. Just past the pub, turn right (west) in the direction of Windrush. In about a mile, you come into Windrush. Find the first row of cottages on your right, across the street from a very tall hedge. The cottage on the end, closest to town, is where we spent 2 1/2 weeks in May 2006. A cute cottage! (Jasmine Cottage.)

In another quarter mile, you get to the church in Windrush. You can park on the street in front of the church, along the triangular village green. Outside the church wall, to your right when facing the church, you will see a large stone slab. This was used by people getting in and out of carriages a couple of hundred years ago! Go into the churchyard and find the Norman south doorway with a double row of grotesque beakheads. It is beautiful!

The most amazing thing to me about the village of Windrush is that it is not easy to see the River Windrush unless you head out across the fields on foot. Your last good sighting of the river was in Lower Barrington. At Windrush the river turns north and heads to Bourton-on-the-Water.

Back to the car and continue on the same road towards Sherborne. You will come to the village of Sherborne in a mile. This village is mostly owned by the National Trust. Lodge Park and Sherborne Estate is in the center of the village. You can walk in Lodge Park.

From Sherborne, head back to the A40 to conclude your drive. If you still have energy, cross the A40 and take the white road to Aldsworth and then take B4425 to Bibury and Arlington. These towns are a bit touristy, but are beautiful. See the Arlington Row, a row of old houses (owned by the National Trust) near the river. The Arlington Mill is supposed to have good teas, but we have not tried it. If you did not eat in Burford or at the Fox Inn, now is the time!

A little note: Skip Northleach. The town has a nice church, but this is the one Cotswolds town that I don't like (we really did not like the local tea room and the people running the vegetable store were not friendly and the river is mostly underground or behind walls - that was enough for me to put Northleach at the top of my least favorite Cotswolds town list).

Resources

Slow Travel Google Map: The Cotswolds, map by Pauline

www.the-cotswolds.org: The Cotswolds, official website for the area.

www.nationaltrust.org.uk: National Trust, information on historic homes and gardens throughout England

www.english-heritage.org.uk: English Heritage, information on historic sites throughout England

www.cotswoldsgardens.com: Cotswolds Gardens, from Gloucestershire Tourism, descriptions of gardens you can visit

www.greatbritishgardens.co.uk: Great British Gardens

See the Resources page for more information.

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