Slow Cotswolds

  • National Walking Month in the Cotswolds

    May marks National Walking Month and there's no better place to set out on a good walk than in the Cotswolds. By the very ethos of slow travel, Slow Cotswolds (the book) provides many suggestions for a decent wander to explore little sections of this region. And then of course, you could attempt The Cotswold Way, the 102-mile national trail between Bath and Chipping Campden. The route follows much of the main Cotswold escarpment and passes through some of the Cotswolds' prettiest towns and villages. I think it really is one of the loveliest of all Britain's national trails.

    However, The Cotswold Way is a well-trodden route. You don't especially even need a map to follow it - the path is simply there, accompanied every few yards with a signpost, upon which is the National Trail acorn symbol. Plus, there are numerous circular walks based upon sections of The Cotswold Way that allow you to see more of one particular area. But I thought I'd offer some of my favourite walks within the Cotswolds - and its fringes - places that you otherwise might not think to go:

    1. Walking through the beech woods of the Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve at Cranham is one of my favourites, particularly in early summer when the leaves appear like leopard spots above your head and in autumn as the woods turn a rich, golden hue. Buckholt and Brockworth Woods are particularly appealing. However, to be out in the open, walking in the valleys around the hidden villages of Sheepscombe and Cranham is where you'll find the Cotswolds at its most idyllic.

    2. Dover's Hill is the first high point of The Cotswold Way when departing from Chipping Campden. The national trail runs along a small section of the hill top but stay a while and explore the remainder of this vast hillside. From the top are glorious views of the Vale of Evesham but wander down the slope and you'll find secret pockets of landscape, sheltered meadow and Lynches Wood, a wonderful journey beneath a canopy.

    3. Just a matter of miles away from the popular villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter and The Swells is the village of Naunton. I personally think Naunton is prettier than those so often visited by the coachload and from there you can take a relaxing walk across the fields to Guiting Power, another mesmerisingly beautiful Cotswold village. There are pubs in both Naunton and Guiting Power so you can stop off for lunch or a quick freshen up. And if you want to extend the walk, continue on from Guiting Power to Kineton and Temple Guiting, via the ford that cuts across Critchford Lane. It's perfect for soothing tired feet.

    4. It's only a short walk and doesn't take more than 20 minutes or so, but circumnavigating Uley Bury should be done and crossed off any 'to do' list. I say 20 minutes, but in reality you'll need much longer. For you will be hard-pressed to tear yourself away from the incredible views at the western and southern flanks of this ancient hill fort. The lush green cushions of Cam Long Down and Downham Hill appear close enough to touch, the Severn Valley lies out before you and then, as you turn the corner, banks of wildflowers adorn the steep hillside pulling your eyes towards the beautiful village of Uley and the pillow mounds behind. What a setting.

    5. I write regularly about Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons, south of Stroud. Frankly, I can't get enough of them. They offer some of the best opportunities to see the calcareous unimproved grassland that the Cotswolds is based upon - a warm summer day and you'll find an abundance of wildflowers, including many species of wild orchids, and butterflies in number. My favourite route is to begin in the middle of Minchinhampton Common, walk to Amberley then through the delightfully-named Pinfarthings, through Box and into Minchinhampton where you can stop for lunch or coffee and cake. Then return back across the common.

    I could go on! There are just too many lovely walks to mention. However, there are now seven towns and villages in the Cotswolds that are members of the Walkers are Welcome scheme: Bradford-on-Avon, Corsham, Dursley, Charlbury, Longborough (near Stow-on-the-Wold), Stroud and Winchcombe. These towns have all demonstrated commitment to walkers of any age and ability whether having something special to offer (Winchcombe, for example, has 7 long distance trails converging on its High Street) or having created specific walks including those using pushchairs or wheelchairs. They're all fabulous towns (Longborough is just a small village but has some truly spectacular countryside surrounding it) and everyone should be visited!

    If you need additional inspiration to get out for a walk, many of the towns organise annual walking festivals. Winchcombe's is this weeked - from 20th to 22nd May, with 25 guided walks on offer; everything from 'Sampling the Holst Way' to 'Let's go geocaching'. Corsham Walking Festival runs from 17th to 19th June and is providing 17 walks including a Children's treasure hunt, an informative walk on the famous Box Tunnels and a Mindfulness Walk.

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