Slow Cotswolds

  • Winter walks in the Cotswolds

    The Cotswolds can look fabulous covered in a frosty coating of winter. Here, I've put together a collection of winter walks, one from each chapter of Slow Cotswolds. Each walk shows the Cotswold landscape at its best with a winter coat. And each one offers somewhere to get warm for a post-walk drink or a mid-way snack.

    1. Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespeare's Way

    It could be a New Year Resolution to tackle the entire 146-mile route from Stratford to London or simply a short stroll until the waymarked trail departs Stratford's town limits. Replicating the route William Shakespeare may have taken on his journeys between Stratford and London, the trail begins at Shakespeare's Birthplace and cuts across town before wheeding its way through some of the areas covered elsewhere in Slow Cotswolds. Its final destination is The Globe Theatre in London. You'll find more information on page 3 of the book or you can pick up a map of the complete trail from www.shakespearesway.org.

    2. North Cotswolds: Dover's Hill and the Cotswold Way to Broadway

    One of my favourite winter walks is on Dover's Hill (page 30), north of Chipping Campden. With high contours that catch the pale sun to the hill's lower slopes beside Lynches Wood, you can take a circular walk that provides the shallow warmth of the hill top and a true sense of winter crossing the frosted landscape below. There are magnificent views of the Vale of Evesham and on occasion, you can stand in the palid sunshine on top of the hill and watch the mist brush the rooftops of the Vale below.

    For an extended hike, follow the Cotswold Way from the top of Dover's Hill to Broadway. En route you'll pass through Clump Farm, providing some of the finest views of the Cotswolds, before heading towards Broadway Tower and the descent into the village of Broadway. You can stop for coffee and cake at Morris and Brown Cafe at the Tower or wait until you reach the village for a plentiful supply of eateries and cosy pubs.

    3. Four Shires: Traitor's Ford

    A couple of miles to the west of Sibford Ferris is Traitor's Ford (page 59). This watery idyll sits in the middle of nowhere, hidden in the trees and is a well-known summer hotspot for cooling off in the River Stour. But in the winter it's quite beautiful too and is a perfect place to sit beside with a flask of hot chocolate.

    Follow the footpath next to the ford and head up the hill. It's known as Ditchedge Lane and is a part of the long distance Macmillan Way. Once you've climbed a little, turn around and you will see gentle views of an undulating landscape of small hills and valleys. A vast swathe of trees off to your right is Whichford Wood and whatever time of year, it never fails to please but in winter, its skeletal appearance, especially smothered in white crystals is sublime. Continue further along Ditchedge Lane and you'll come out on top of a hill with wonderful views across towards Brailes Hill and Ilmington Downs.

    4. High Cotswolds: Warden's Way

    There are two waymarked trails that cross the locale I've named the High Cotswolds (so named because it includes some of the Cotswolds highest 'peaks'). The Warden's Way (page 78) and Windrush Way both take separate journeys and begin and end in the same two places - Winchcombe and Bourton-on-the-Water. The 13-mile Warden's Way sticks mainly to the sheltered valleys while the 14-mile Windrush Way travels much more through open countryside and over the hills. For a winter walk, I recommend the Warden's Way, not least because it passes through several very good stopping-off points while the Windrush Way only trips through one pub-less hamlet.

    You'll find great places to warm your toes along the Warden's Way - The Hollow Bottom at Guiting Power, the Black Horse at Naunton and several cafes, pubs and hotel restaurants at Upper and Lower Slaughter.

    5. Thames Tributaries: The Witney Wool and Blanket Trail

    We turn attention to a town walk for this chapter. The Witney Wool and Blanket Trail (page 117) is a short, 2 3/4-mile circular walk, which begins and ends at the tourist information centre in Witney's Welch Way. Along the route of the trail, you'll come across notable landmarks connected to the town's remarkable history and its associations with wool. Like so many Cotswold towns, Witney also thrived upon the wool trade, its blankets synonymous with the finest quality - only those made within Witney could be named as a 'Witney blanket' and nowhere else.

    Of most significance along the trail is the Blanket Hall at the north end of the High Street. It's where the Witney Company (or Guild) of Blanket Weavers hung out and today has been fully restored. You can purchase blankets and throws there once more and enjoy a refreshing cuppa or a Weaver's lunch plate.

    6. Oxford: Guided Town Tour

    Walking tours are big business in Oxford (page 145), departing daily from the city's tourist information centre on Broad Street, where you can also book a guided walking tour. Pick your theme; there are twenty or so to select, from simple tours of the colleges or family tours to specific themes such as Harry Potter, Literary Oxford or Stained Glass.

    7. Thames Valley: Willow Walk

    The obvious choice along the Thames Valley (at least the part that's located within the Cotswolds) is the long-distance Thames Path. Approximately 35 miles of the 184-mile footpath run through the Cotswolds. But my preference is the Willow Walk (page 177). The four-mile waymarked circular walk from Buscot Weir makes the most of the Thames Path and other local footpaths and passes through the village of Kelmscott where you can stop off at The Plough Inn to dry out your socks. The route is so-named (follow the signs with a willow leaf) as it includes locations where the artist William Morris would walk and gather inspiration for his many artistic designs.

    8. The Southern Cotswold Scarp & the Five Valleys: Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve

    A walk through the Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve (page 189) is special at any time of year but it's one of my favourite Cotswold walks particularly in winter when autumn's leaves remain crunchy under foot, each encrusted by a ribbon of lacy frost. There's a waymarked circular route that utilises a part of the Cotswold Way. It takes you through Buckholt Wood and conjoined Brockworth Wood before arriving at the top of the cheese-rolling Cooper's Hill. Returning back through the woods further along the scarp, the walk emerges from the thick cloak of trees onto Cranham Common, a classis piece of Cotswold unimproved limestone grassland. Make sure you find time for a lunchtime drink at the Black Horse in Cranham, a quirky and very likeable little pub.

    9. Wiltshire Cotswolds: Corsham Court

    A refined walk that one can envisage the gentry from a previous age enjoying. Corsham Court (page 225) is an Elizabethan manor house that was extended in the 18th century. Sitting alongside is the magnificent landscaped park, the work of Humphry Repton and Capability Brown. You can start your walk in front of the church and take a circular tour of the park, using public and permissive footpaths to view the lake, which always looks stunning as a part of a winter landscape when the waterfowl glide majestically across the icy waters. The Methuen Arms, at the end of the High Street in Corsham, is a great place for lunch.

    10. Bath: The Skyline Walk

    To start in Bath and walk out of town or to view from a distance as a taster before discovering the city streets: that is the dilemma. For views of the centre of Bath and some of the idyllic surrounding countryside, take the waymarked Bath Skyline Walk (page 236). The six-mile circular route gives the chance to explore the area around Claverton Down and Bathampton Down to the east of the city centre. You'll pass by an Iron Age hillfort, Roman settlements and Sham Castle, an 18th-century folly, as well as taking in wooded valleys and wildlife meadows owned by The National Trust. Take bus 410 or 418 from the bus station in the city centre (next to Bath Spa railway station) to the University of Bath where you can pick up the trail, signposted 'Bath Skyline'. Naturally, there's an outstanding collection of eateries across the city but for a true stop-off, pay the entrance fee to look around the American Museum in Britain on Claverton Down and sample some colonial American fare in The Orangery - Brunswick Chicken, chilli and tortillas and shortnin' bread.

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