Walking in the Cotswolds sometimes feels like stepping back in time. It's a world of rolling green hills, neatly-trimmed hedgerows and winding paths, which lead to country pubs built from distinctive, yellow, Cotswold stone, crowned by thatched roofs. Much of this landscape looks as if it's remained unchanged for way over a century. Largely because it has.
The Cotswolds have been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) since 1966, granting them a protected status that's only one down from a National Park. This means any modernisation is subject to strict rules and planning provisions, and helps preserve the traditional character of each Cotswold village, such as Stow on the Wold, Chipping Campden, Burford, and Bourton on the Water.
The Cotswolds walks linking these evocatively-named towns include some of the prettiest hiking routes anywhere in the UK, so it's no surprise that walking is consistently rated as one of the best things to do in the Cotswolds.
As a rule, walks in the Cotswolds don't tend to be as demanding as walks in the Lake District, or walks in the Peak District. The Cotswold Hills aren't as high as either the Lakeland Fells or the Peak District tops, and the terrain is less rugged. Having said that, you'll still want to make sure you have a good pair of lightweight walking boots, and a decent waterproof jacket - just because the landscape conjures up images of the English pastoral idyll, doesn't mean the Cotswolds weather always plays ball!
Here are six of the best Cotswolds walks, from easy, meandering circular walks to serious long distance hikes, like the Cotswold Way.
Rollright Stones Walk
8.3km / 1-2 hours
A visit to the ancient stone circle just outside the picturesque village of Little Rollright should feature on everyone's list of things to do in the Cotswolds. Our favourite approach starts in the town of Chipping Norton, dipping down into a valley before you climb up the hill crowned by the stones.
The stones are divided into three groups, the King's Men Circle, the Whispering Knights (once the entrance to a neolithic burial chamber) and a solitary King's Stone. The formations date back to at least 2,500BC, although we prefer the local legend, which has it that the stones were once an actual king and his army, turned into stone by a witch. Apparently, if anyone cuts down the elder tree in the hedge nearby, the spell will break and they'll return to life.
From the stones, you can cut straight back towards Chipping Norton, or walk a further 3km on to Great Rollright before turning back to complete the circular walk.
For more info on the exact route and start / end point, check out our full guide to the Rollright Stones walk in the Cotswolds.
Chipping Campden to Broadway Tower Walk
17.3km / 4 hours
A classic circular walk which starts in the postcard pretty village of Chipping Campden, this route takes you South West towards Broadway Tower before looping back along bridleways and quiet country lanes.
The Broadway Tower is a hilltop folly famous in these parts. Originally dreamt up by legendary 18th Century garden designer Capability Brown for his wealthy client, Lady Coventry, the Broadway Tower has played host to such luminaries as William Morris and the pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, down the years.
Somewhat less romantically, the site was used as a bunker during the Cold War, designed to monitor the nuclear fallout should the Soviet Union ever decide to attack. Although officially decommissioned in 1991, the Broadway Tower Bunker remains fully equipped as it was in the 50s and 60s. If you're interested, you can book a 45-minute-long guided tour of the facility, which is open on weekends and bank holidays between April and October.
The Chipping Camden to Broadway Tower route is one of the best Cotswolds walks for dogs, just as long as your pooch is happy to be kept on a lead. There are deer living in the 22 acre parkland estate around Broadway Tower.
One of the classic circular walks in the Cotswolds. Check out our full route guide to the Chipping Campden to Broadway Tower walk.
Stanton to Snowshill Walk
9.7km / 3-4 hours
A lovely circular walk which links two gorgeous, honey-coloured Cotswold villages. Perhaps more importantly, it also links two of the best pubs in the Cotswolds—both of which serve gorgeous, honey-coloured pints. (If you've not tried Donnington Gold, have you actually visited the Cotswolds?)
Follow the Cotswold Way out of Stanton until you reach Littlewood North. Here the long distance trail breaks off to continue northwards, but if you want to do the three-hour circular walk, you turn East towards Snowshill. Treat yourself to a refreshing mid-point drink at the Snowshill Arms before heading up north to Manor Farm, where you rejoin the Cotswold Way walking the other way down it before turning off for the shortcut to Stanton.
Assuming you've worked up a thirst, you can reward yourself with a celebratory beer at the excellent Manor Inn. Two fine establishments in the space of one afternoon - what more could you want from a Cotswold pub walk?
One of the finest circular walks in the area, in our opinion. For more info on the exact route, check out our full guide to the Stanton to Snowshill walk in the Cotswolds.
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Stow on the Wold to Bourton on the Water Walk
6.7km / 2 hours
The shortest Cotswolds walk on this list, this ramble is perfect for those who prefer to walk at a more sedate pace. It covers some of the same ground as the multi-day Diamond Way Walk (see below) but won't leave you sweating in quite the same way.
Starting from Stow on the Wold, you head south towards the village of Lower Slaughter - a remarkably peaceful former mill town, despite its brutal name.
From here, the path turns southeast, crossing the road at Bourton Chase before you get to the River Windrush and Bourton on the Water proper. You can turn this into a circular walk by heading back towards Stow via a slightly longer, 10km route.
Alternatively, if you're feeling hungry, or lazy, or both, you can just grab a table at the Mousetrap or the Old Manse Inn, and wait for the 801 bus, which will whisk you back up the road in under 20 minutes. It's definitely one of the more relaxing Cotswolds walks listed here, but it's a classic, which gives you a lot of the best that the AONB has to offer without making this definitely one of the more relaxing walks in the Cotswolds.
For more info on the exact route and start / end point, check out our full guide to the Stow on the Wold to Bourton on the Water walk in the Cotswolds.
Diamond Way Walk
105km / 3-4 days
Named both for its rhomboid shape and the fact that it was created to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the North Cotswold Ramblers' Group, the Diamond Walk is a serious challenge. Of course, you could choose to tackle just a short part of the overall trail, and many sections of the Diamond Way make excellent Cotswolds walks in their own right. If you want to take on the full 105km distance, most people choose to start and finish in Moreton in Marsh.
From here the trail takes you north beyond Chipping Campden, before looping back around via Blockley, Guiting Wood and Naunton. Northleach is the southernmost point, from where you turn around and head back to Moreton in Marsh via Bourton on the Water.
There are plenty of pubs and inns to break up the circuit, and working out your own route yourself is perfectly possible. Obviously it's not a circular walk geometrically (because its a diamond, duh) but it may as well be, in that you don't have to worry about catching a bus or a train back to your car at the end.
There are also companies like Cotswold Walks who can arrange guided walking holidays with your bags ferried from place to place if you'd prefer. You'll want to leave three or four days if you're doing the whole thing.
For more info on the exact route and start / end point, check out our full guide to the Diamond Way walk in the Cotswolds.
164km / 7-8 days
Running almost the entire length of the Area of Outstanding National Beauty, this 164km National Trail is the longest and most challenging of the classic walks in the Cotswolds. Tackling the whole thing in one go will take around a week, or possibly more, depending on how many pub / tea-room / quaint little church stops you make in the picturesque villages en route.
You can of course break it down into sections too—several of the other circular walks in the Cotswolds that we've picked for this list include bits of the linear Cotswold Way—but walking the whole thing will give you perhaps the ultimate perspective on the rolling countryside which makes the area so special.
You can walk the Cotswold Way from north to south or vice-versa. The usual route begins in Chipping Campden, in the north, and finishes in Bath. Along the way, you can pack in most of the sights and sites the Cotswolds are famous for, including Sudeley Castle, the town of Winchcombe, and the Neolithic long barrow of Belas Knap.
At various points you'll be treated to stunning views over the western side of the Cotswolds Edge escarpment, Look to your right on the climb up from Wood Stanway and on a clear day you can see right across the Vale of Evesham across the surrounding countryside to the to the Malvern Hills.
There are Iron age hillforts (Beckbury Camp) ruined abbeys (Hailes) Butterfly Reserves (Bill Smylie’s) and multiple National Trust properties and stately homes to explore along the way. In fact, as walks in the Cotswolds go, this is pretty much a greatest hits compilation: it takes in Cleeve Hill, the highest point in the entire range, and a whole host of other tops.
The walking in the Cotswolds is pretty much limitless. Such is the natural beauty of this stretch of English countryside, that there are at least six more classic Cotswolds walks that could easily have made this list. If you're looking for a place to start though, it's hard to go wrong with the National Trail, which is not just one of the best walks in the Cotswolds, but one of the best walks anywhere in the UK.
For more info on the exact route and start / end point, check out our full guide to the Cotswold Way walk in the Cotswolds.
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