Cotswold Way National Trail
Painswick Valley on the Cotswold Way
The Cotswold Way is a National Trail that runs 102.2 miles along the Cotswold escarpment from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south. The trail takes the walker through towns and villages, beautiful countryside, and historic sites. The Cotswold Way is a popular long distance trail and people come from all over the world to do this walk.
The trail is well signed and easy to follow. There is a fair amount of climbing as it takes the walker up and down the escarpment. You can do the trail at your own pace (7 to 15 days), spending nights in B&Bs along the way or staying in one base and driving out to each day's starting point.
Books and Maps for Planning
Cotswold Way (National Trail Guides) by Anthony Burton. Purchase on amazon.co.uk to get the most recent edition. Contains detailed maps and descriptions of the trail. This book combined with this page and the National Trails website give you the information you need to plan your Cotswold Way walk. National Trail Guides has a companion book listing B&Bs and luggage transfer services along the trail to help with your planning.
The Cotswolds-based Cotswold Walks will organize your walk for you, booking B&Bs, luggage transfer and giving you walking advice.
The Trail is Easy to Follow
The Cotswold Way is well signed. Look for posts topped with the acorn symbol for the National Trails or round trail markers on fences and gates. Make sure the trail marker says "Cotswold Way". The new "Cotswold Way Circular Walk" markers are confusing - they are not the ones to follow. Sign posts or markers are at every turning point on the trail. If the trail has been changed, the new route is clearly marked.
The walking surface of the trail varies. You walk through villages, farm fields, meadows and woods. In some places the trail is wide, allowing you to walk side by side. In other places it is a narrow path. You walk on paved lanes occasionally, but most of the trail is off-road.
The trail is well maintained. If one part is very steep, wooden steps might be cut into the trail. You don't have to walk through rivers - there will be a bridge. It is not overgrown and difficult to walk.
The trail takes you through pastures of sheep, cows or horses. If the weather has been wet, there will be mud.
When we walked the Cotswold Way I kept my trail guide in my backpack and followed the Cotswold Way signs. I consulted the book a couple of times when we went off trail (and it was always me missing an obvious trail marker that was the cause). It was lovely to do a long walk each day, hardly ever consulting the maps.
Up and Down, Up and Down
This is very much an "up and down", "never take a straight line" walk. It was not designed to get you from Chipping Campden to Bath in the shortest time. Instead it was designed to let you see as much as possible along the way, to take you up to viewpoints and then down to the charming villages. Every day you climb up to the top of the escarpment at least once. The usual climbs are from 500 to 800 feet (150 - 250 meters).
Chipping Campden is 500 feet (150 meters) above sea level, Bath just less than 150 feet (50 meters). The escarpment is around 1000 feet (300 meters) above sea level.
Wear Good Walking Gear
You need basic day walking gear - walking boots or shoes, a backpack to carry water, rain jackets, etc. Walking poles are useful.
How Many Days?
Most people walk the Cotswold Way in 7 to 15 days. It depends on how much time you want to spend walking each day and your level of fitness.
The National Trail Guide gives a 15-day version of the walk, with 6 - 8 miles of walking each day. Each day has at least one good climb to the top of the escarpment, many days have two climbs. We walked about 2 miles per hour (an average pace), so each day was 3 - 4 hours of walking, leaving time to explore the sights along the way.
We did the 15-day easy version of the Cotswold Way our first time but did longer walking days on our second time (10 days).
Many people do a 7 - 10 day version by combining some of the days. We once met someone doing the walk in four days - 25 miles per day - and sleeping at the side of the trail.
How to Walk the Cotswold Way
There are two things to think about when planning your walk.
- Where to spend the night between walking days (B&Bs along the way or return to a base).
- How to arrange the walking days (consecutive days or not).
For a visitor to the Cotswolds the most common approach is to do the walk on consecutive days, spending the nights in B&Bs along the way. But this approach does not suit everyone. Maybe you don't want to eat that many meals in restaurants or maybe you don't want to commit to walking every day no matter the weather.
A visitor can easily combine staying in a vacation rental (holiday cottage) and walking the trail. Rent a vacation rental in the north Cotswolds for a week for the first half of the walk and then move to another in the south for the second week. Or pick a vacation rental in a central place and spend two weeks there. From your vacation rental, drive out for each day's walk, park at the starting point, do the walk and return to your car by bus or taxi. (It sometimes works best to park at the end point, then take a bus or taxi to the starting point and walk back to your car.)
You don't have to do the whole trail on one trip. You could do the northern part of the trail one year, then return to do the southern part another year. Or choose a few segments and only do those. There are many ways to approach the Cotswold Way walk.
We decided to do the entire trail from our base in the Cotswolds. We live in Painswick which is the half-way point of the trail. We did not want to do the trail on consecutive days, staying in B&Bs because we wanted the convenience of having dinner and breakfast at home and sleeping in one place. This meant we had to do more driving, but it was worth it. We also scheduled our walking days according to the weather and how we felt.
15-day Version of the Cotswold Way Trail
This is the route recommended in the National Trail guide. When walking from north to south (Chipping Campden to Bath), the trail starts with shorter days (5 - 6 miles) and then gets into longer days (7 - 10 miles). This version of the walk lets you go at a leisurely pace.
Notes below show how to combine days to make a 10-day walk.
We did the 15-day version of the Cotswold Way and found it an easy distance to walk each day.
Day 1: Chipping Campden - Broadway (6 miles)
Day 2: Broadway - Wood Stanway (6.5 miles)
Day 3: Wood Stanway - Winchcombe (5.4 miles)
10-Day Walk: Turn days 1, 2 and 3 into two days by stopping at Stanton instead of Broadway and Wood Stanway.
Chipping Campden - Stanton (10.3 miles)
Stanton - Winchcombe (7.8 miles)
OR do day 1 as shown and combine days 2 and 3.
Broadway - Winchcombe (11.9 miles)
Day 4: Winchcombe - Cleeve Hill (5.6 miles)
Day 5: Cleeve Hill - Dowdeswell (5.5 miles)
10-Day Walk: Combine days 4 and 5.
Winchcombe - Dowdeswell (11.1 miles)
Day 6: Dowdeswell - Leckhampton Hill (4.7 miles)
Day 7: Leckhampton Hill - Birdlip (5.6 miles)
10-Day Walk: Combine days 6 and 7.
Dowdeswell - Birdlip (10.3 miles)
Day 8: Birdlip - Painswick (8.6 miles)
Note that you walk through the Painswick Golf Course at the end of this day and walkers and golfers share the area (neither have right of way over the other). Watch out for golfers and golf balls.
Day 9: Painswick - King's Stanley (7.8 miles)
Day 10: King's Stanley - Dursley (7.2 miles)
10-Day Walk: Combine days 9 and 10.
Painswick - Dursley (15 miles)
Day 11: Dursley - Wotton-under-Edge (7.3 miles)
Day 12: Wotton-under-Edge - Hawkesbury (7.4 miles)
Day 13: Hawkesbury - Tormarton (7.7 miles)
Day 14: Tormarton - Cold Ashton (6.6 miles)
10-Day Walk: Combine Days 13 and 14.
Hawkesbury - Cold Ashton (14.3 miles)
Day 15: Cold Ashton - Bath (10.2 miles)
Cotswold Way Badge
Download a form to take with you on your walk, collect your "proof" of the walk and send it in to receive a free Cotswold Way badge. Read more - National Trails - Cotswold Way Hall of Fame.
I did this after our first walk but did not receive a badge.
Cotswold Way Circular Walks
If you don't want to use transportation to return to your car, you can do many parts of the Cotswold Way as day hikes, starting and ending from the same spot.
National Trails - Cotswold Way Circular Walks - downloadable walks covering several sections of the Cotswold Way (if you want to try out parts of the Cotswold Way).
- Cotswold Way (National Trail Guides) by Anthony Burton. Purchase on amazon.co.uk to get the latest version.
- Cotswold Walks - This local company arranges your accommodations, luggage transfer and gives you the information you need to do the walk.
- National Trails - Everything you need to know about the Cotswold Way.
- National Trails - Cotswold Way Distance Chart (PDF)
- Long Distance Walkers Association - Cotswold Way - Information about the walk and an elevation chart.
- Traveline SouthWest - Transportation information for the towns along the Cotswold Way.