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The best walks in the Cotswolds: idyllic hikes in quintessential English countryside

best walks in the Cotswolds: Cotswold countryside
Beautiful light on the gentle hills near Winchcombe (Image credit: Getty)

We bring you our best walks in the Cotswolds, a region characterised by verdant rolling hills, honey-hued stone villages and invigorating hiking. For generations, the Cotswolds have enchanted walkers seeking an escape from everyday cares. From the peace and quiet of ancient woodlands and breath-taking vistas from the hills, to the charm of an after-walk pint next to the village green or a roaring open fire, the Cotswolds are a vision of English rural bliss.

There’s plenty of reasons to pull on your best hiking boots into here. Spanning almost 800 square miles across parts of Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Somerset, this is England’s largest designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. In fact, the Cotswolds AONB is the country’s third largest protected landscape, behind only the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. With more than 3,000 miles of footpaths and bridleways, there’s an overwhelming wealth of choice for the discerning hiker.

best walks in the Cotswolds: hiker in the Cotswolds

Green countryside and rolling hills: a typical Cotswold scene (Image credit: Getty)

That’s where our collection of the best walks in the Cotswolds comes in. Like plump apples picked from a Worcestershire orchard, we’ve selected seven hiking treats to introduce you to this delectable region. We’ve chosen short ambles that fit easily into an afternoon and longer hikes that are ideal when combined with a hearty home-cooked meal in a traditional Cotswold inn. Pack the essentials into your daypack and get out there.

We have mapped each route as a komoot Tour and created a hiking Collection: the Best walks in the Cotswolds. You can use our tours as navigational aids or save the routes to your own profile to edit as you please. You can even download the GPX file to use on your GPS device.

The best walks in the Cotswolds: easy ambles

The Cotswolds lend themselves well to carefree countryside ambles. Many of the region’s most picturesque villages sit in lee of the hills and make great starting points for gorgeous loops up onto the famous Cotswold escarpment for splendid views of patchwork pastures and stunning valleys. Many of our chosen walks utilise parts of the beautiful Cotswold Way, one of Britain’s most popular long-distance footpaths. On these routes, you’ll encounter plenty of heavily-laden hikers equipped with trekking poles tackling the challenge.

Broadway Tower Circular Walk

best walks in the Cotswolds: Broadway Tower

The iconic Broadway Tower (Image credit: Getty)

The village of Broadway simply oozes Cotswold charm, with its golden brickwork, welcoming inns, quaint boutiques and traditional village green. It is the start and end point for this short walk up to Broadway Tower, an iconic sight that stands high above the village on the Cotswold escarpment.

Starting from the hubbub of Broadway’s high street, you ascend on good tracks towards the tower. It’s a striking landmark, a castle-like structure conceived by Capability Brown and brought to fruition by James Wyatt in 1794. After taking the obligatory photos and soaking in the views, a short descent brings you back to the village. At just over four miles, this is our shortest walk, but Broadway’s art galleries, museums, cafes and shops will keep you busy long after you’ve popped your hiking shoes off.

Cleeve Common Ring

best walks in the Cotswolds: view from Cleeve Common

Huge views across Gloucestershire from Cleeve Common (Image credit: Getty)

Cleeve Hill is the highest point in both Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds region and, unsurprisingly, rewards with an astonishing vista. From the Malvern Hills to the north west, across the dominion of the River Severn to Cheltenham and Gloucester and beyond to the Severn Estuary, its synonymous bridges and the Black Mountains in Wales, this is a view that takes some beating. It’s a good walk for the binoculars.

The walk starts from the car park by the Cleeve Hill Golf Club and loops around Cleeve Common in a clockwise direction. During the opening stages, there are some delightful wooded sections and wonderful views towards Winchcombe. Before long, you stride out across the limestone grassland of the open hilltop. There are a number of good spots to enjoy a picnic, such as from the benches by the lonely beech tree, which stands alone and defiant on the exposed ground of the Common.

 

Winchcombe and Belas Knap

best walks in the Cotswolds: Belas Knap

The ancient long barrow of Belas Knap (Image credit: Getty)

Nestled in the Sudeley Valley, Winchcombe is one of those quintessential, unspoilt Cotswold towns. With hills rearing up in seemingly every direction and a number of long-distance footpaths running through it, it’s no surprise the town is beloved of walkers. This short hike takes you up onto the escarpment to the beguiling ancient monument of Belas Knap.

From Winchcombe’s half-timbered houses and stone cottages, you join the course of the Cotswold Way, cross the River Isbourne and ascend onto the escarpment. A lane eventually brings you to Belas Knap, a fine example of a Neolithic long barrow, thought to be in the region of 5,000 years old. Excavations in the 1860s discovered the remains of 31 people inside the chambers. From here, the route snakes its way down the escarpment and back towards Winchcombe, where there’s the option of adding a visit to Sudeley Castle.

Wotton-Under-Edge Circular

best walks in the Cotswolds: snowy Wotton-Under-Edge

A wintery Wotton-Under-Edge (Image credit: Getty)

This walk combines sweeping panoramas, atmospheric forested sections, delightful farm tracks and a glorious amble through one of the region’s most charming small towns. Wotton-Under-Edge’s historic streets and family-run shops are located towards the southern end of the Cotswolds escarpment and the surrounding countryside is a delight to explore. Bring a hiking flask and a picnic, as there are plenty of places to stop and just take it all in.

Our walk follows the Cotswold Way, as it winds through the town before a sharp ascent through woodland brings you up onto the scarp. The National Trust owned Newark Park and its grounds are an optional detour, otherwise continue to follow the Cotswold Way. The path arcs around the top Wortley Hill, treating you to a sublime view towards the Bristol Channel. An entertaining descent through the trees brings you to the village of Wortley, from where it is an easy amble through farmland back to Wotton.

The best walks in the Cotswolds: longer walks

The ultimate long walk in the Cotswolds is the Cotswold Way, a 102-mile journey along the western edge of the region from the Roman city of Bath to the market town of Chipping Campden. It is one of Britain’s most popular long-distance trails and it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020.

Many of the best walks in the Cotswolds utilise sections of the Way before looping back to finish where they started, meaning all you need is your water bottle, a few snacks and your waterproof (just in case). But it’s not all about the Way; there’s a plethora of magnificent walking throughout the AONB, such as adventures along the River Windrush or into the Slad Valley. Our next three hikes are slightly more strenuous, but still comfortably fit into an afternoon.

Bourton, the Slaughters and Naunton

best walks in the Cotswolds: Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water and the tranquil River Windrush (Image credit: Getty)

This is the longest walk in our selection and the only one that doesn’t rub shoulders with the Cotswold Way at some stage. It’s a superb loop that takes in four of the most achingly picturesque villages you’ll find anywhere, like a golden ring adorned by a quartet of diamonds. The walk begins among Bourton-on-the-Water’s archetypal stone houses and its famous low, arched bridges across the tranquil River Windrush. It’s proper picture-postcard stuff and there’s more where that came from.

The intriguingly named villages Upper and Lower Slaughter are next, two villages that are so idyllic they look as if they’ve been dressed by a Hollywood film producer. In fact, Lower Slaughter was the setting for much of the Anya Taylor-Joy-starring production of Jane Austen’s Emma, released in 2020. You follow the River Eye for a while, before undulating trails bring you to another gorgeous settlement, the village of Naunton. From here, you shadow the course of the River Windrush back to Bourton, where you’ll undoubtedly start looking at house prices in estate agent windows.

Stanton, Snowshill and the Edge

the best walks in the Cotswolds: Stanton

Cotswold stone houses in Stanton (Image credit: Getty)

This is yet another route that explores the Cotswold Hills’ western edge, utilising the well-marked trails of the Cotswold Way. It distils everything that is so special about the region into one short outing. Traditional inns tempt you from the trails, spectacular vistas await from the escarpment, grand manor houses draw your gaze, wildlife abounds in the woodlands and pretty villages enchant and enthral.

The walk begins from Stanton and immediately has you ascending steeply to gain the scarp. You skirt its edge, picking up the course of the Donnington Way, a 62-mile walk that links the pubs of the Donnington Brewery. This brings you to the attractive village of Snowshill, beautifully nuzzled into the head of the valley. Like Lower Slaughter, Snowshill is no stranger to Hollywood, having been the setting to scenes from the Bridget Jones series. Snowshill Manor makes for an interesting detour, with its colourful gardens, striking architecture and eclectic collections. Eventually, after plenty of ups and downs, you join the Cotswold Way and enjoy views towards the Vale of Evesham, before descending back to Stanton.

Painswick and Slad Loop

the best walks in the Cotswolds: Painswick in autumn

Autumn light on Painswick (Image credit: Getty)

This is our most strenuous route, with around 400m of ascent to contend with. However, your efforts are rewarded by the sublime beauty of the Painswick and Slad Valleys, with their verdant green pastures and beguiling woodland. The walk takes you away from the Cotswold Way, so you can expect to meet fewer trekkers plodding along. Here are quieter trails where you can delve deeper under the skin of the region’s character.

From Painswick, you head south and ascend sharply into Slad Woods, which rises above the village of the same name. The traditional Woolpack Inn makes for a splendid detour, otherwise it's onwards and upwards again to Dunkitehill Wood. Enjoy the views of the valley from here, before the route descends again, only to climb once more along the fringes of Worgans Wood. Now on the open hillside, you’re treated to a superb vista of Stroud to the south west. A final descent brings you back to Painswick Valley and a flat amble back to where you started.

Alex Foxfield

Alex is a freelance adventure writer and content creator with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently training to become a qualified mountain leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexlangfield.com