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Think of the Cotswolds AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and the vision that jumps to mind is one of picturesque villages full of cute little cafes that serve cream teas to tourists. It’s a place where life moves a little more slowly, houses are a little bit more expensive, and where celebrities buy land and call themselves farmers.
But away from the gingham tablecloths and twee souvenir shops, the Cotswolds AONB is a place where you can fill your weekends with a whole host of different outdoor activities.
From classic long-distance walking trails to off-road bikepacking routes, there’s an adventure to be found for everyone. And it definitely doesn’t hurt that you can get an indulgent cream tea or a delicious pub lunch from a country pub at the end of each day.
In this guide to the Cotswolds AONB, we’ll share the best places to go walking, the mountain bike trails that the locals want to keep a secret, and the best spots for paddle boarding on those warm summer afternoons. We’ll also look at places to stay in the Cotswolds AONB, including budget-friendly hotels and hostels for long-distance walkers, as well as campsites and wild camping spots for the more adventurous.
The Best Walks in the Cotswolds AONB
The Cotswolds AONB covers 787 square miles, making it the largest AONB in England. Arguably, the best way to explore the area is on foot. This is a place to be enjoyed at a slow pace, soaking in the peacefulness and incredible views. And that’s why walkers from all over the country head to the Cotswolds every weekend.
The Cotswold Way
Of all the walks in the Cotswolds AONB, it’s the Cotswold Way that most people have heard of. This National Trail runs for 102 miles between Chipping Campden and Bath and is usually tackled at a leisurely pace over 10 or 11 days. However, for those wanted to squeeze the walk into a week, there are itineraries out there that will condense the walk into seven days.
A typical 10-day itinerary would look something like this…
- Day 1 – Chipping Campden to Stanton – 10.5 miles
- Day 2 – Stanton to Winchcombe – 8 miles
- Day 3 – Winchcombe to Seven Springs – 14.5 miles
- Day 4 – Seven Springs to Birdlip – 8miles
- Day 5 – Birdlip to Painswick – 7.5 miles
- Day 6 – Painswick to King’s Stanley – 9.5 miles
- Day 7 – King’s Stanley to Wotton-Under-Edge – 15 miles
- Day 8 – Wotton-Under-Edge to Old Sodbury – 13 miles
- Day 9 – Old Sodbury to Cold Ashton – 9 miles
- Day 10 – Cold Ashton to Bath – 10.5 miles
You can, of course, make up your own itinerary and complete the walk at your own pace, adding rest days as you need them and making detours to see local attractions. It’s your adventure to organise as you like.
Most people taking on the Cotswold Way will walk from north to south, from Chipping Campden to Bath, but that’s a preference thing too. You can walk it in any direction you choose, and most good guidebooks will offer itineraries and information for both directions.
Alternatively, there are plenty of walking holiday companies out there who can organise everything for you. They can provide a detailed schedule and book your accommodation along the way. They will even transport your bags between hotels and provide packed lunches for your backpack.
However you choose to tackle the Cotswold Way, it’s a great way to explore.
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Walking the Cotswold Way
Guidebook and Ordnance Survey map booklet to walking the Cotswold Way National Trail between Chipping Campden and Bath. The 102 mile (163km) route is described in both directions over 13 stages, of between 6 and 10 miles, depending on the existence of overnight accommodation.
The Warden’s Way
If you don’t have the time or the stamina to spend 10 days on the Cotswold Way, the shorter Warden’s Way might be a great option for you.
At 13.5 miles, this relatively short walk links Winchcombe with the picturesque village of Bourton-on-the-Water. The route passes through several quaint villages along the way, including Upper and Lower Slaughter.
You can also extend this route by following the Windrush Way back from Winchcombe to Bourton-on-the-Water on a route that avoids the villages and heads out into the Cotswold countryside.
Cleeve Hill: The Highest Point in the Cotswolds AONB
Another popular walk in the Cotswolds AONB is the Cleeve Common walk up to the highest point in the area. From here, there are wide-ranging views over the surrounding countryside and the nearby town of Cheltenham.
The circular route of the Cleeve Common is the best of the walks in the area. This route heads up onto the common and loops all the way around, offering views in every direction, before dropping back down to the golf course cafe for a well-deserved post-walk coffee.
The Rollright Stones Walk
For those that want to experience some of the Cotswolds’ ancient history, the Rollright Stones walk is a great option. It’s a relatively easy walk, meaning that it can be tackled in all weathers (although a decent pair of waterproof walking boots is always recommended).
There are three elements that make up the Rollright Stones, The King’s Men, The King’s Stone, and The Whispering Knights. There’s a rich history behind the stones, dating back as far as 3800 BC.
To make a great afternoon walk that takes in the Rollright Stones, the best starting point is the nearby market town of Chipping Norton.
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Walking in the Cotswolds
A guidebook to 30 circular walks in the Cotswolds, the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England. Ranging from 4 to 12 miles in length, the routes are graded from easy to strenuous, offering something for every walker.
Mountain Biking in the Cotswolds AONB
Mountain bikers from the Cotswolds love to tell you about their mud. Apparently, it’s a special kind of mud that will make you both love and hate mountain biking in equal measure, depending on whether you’re ascending or descending.
For those that love mountain biking, the Cotswolds is something of a hidden gem. Unlike the man-made trail centres that make other parts of the country famous for mountain biking, the Cotswolds are perfect for a more traditional style of exploring on two wheels. Get on your bike, head for the hills and see what fun you can find along the way.
The locals want to keep their favourite routes a secret, and often those routes are a series of bridleways linked together by small sections of single track and fast descents. But if you find the right blogs and read the right books, and just go and explore, you’ll soon start finding favourite routes of your own.
Bikepacking in the Cotswolds AONB
Bikepacking has grown in popularity over the last few years, with more and more people loading up their mountain or gravel bikes with enough kit for an overnight adventure and heading out for a multiday ride.
The Cotswolds, with its gentle hills, abundance of refreshment stops and quiet roads, makes for a perfect place to try out your first bikepacking adventure.
Although certain sections of the Cotswold Way aren’t suitable for cycling, it is possible to piece together a similar route following roads and bridleways and create a similar adventure from Chipping Campden to Bath.
Paddle Boarding in the Cotswolds AONB
Away from the rolling hills and quaint villages, the Cotswolds AONB is also a great place to spend some time on the water. Those warm summer days in the Cotswolds are perfect for heading out on a paddleboard.
The Cotswold Water Park is a great place to go paddle boarding. There are several lakes where you can head out onto the water and in the summer months, there are several options for hiring paddle boards too.
If you prefer your paddle boarding adventures to be a little bit wilder then the River Avon is your gateway to seeing the stunning countryside from the water.
Things To Do in the Cotswolds AONB
If hiking and biking aren’t your thing but your still keen to spend some time in the Cotswolds, there are still plenty of other activities you can enjoy here.
Climbing and Bouldering in the Cotswolds
Far peak is a great climbing centre that offers both indoor and outdoor climbing routes. There are options to suit all abilities, including options for one-to-one tuition.
Quad Biking in the Cotswolds
Quad Quest is a quad biking company with a difference. All of their quads are electric. This means that you can enjoy an adventurous afternoon tearing around a Cotswold farm but without breaking the peace and quiet with a noisy petrol engine. They’re eco-friendly too. But don’t worry, these things are still pretty quick and can tackle that infamous Cotswolds mud without a problem.
Caving in the Cotswolds
At Clearwell caves you can explore an underworld labyrinth of over 250 acres of caves, tunnels and tiny passageways. It’s a perfect adventure for a rainy day and one that will leave you with a satisfying sense of adventure.
Dog Sledding in the Cotswolds
Arctic Quest offer a full mushing experience in the Cotswolds AONB, with a chance to take a team of Huskies out on an adventure. You can even make an overnight adventure of it by staying in the Herder’s Hut. It’s not Alaska, but it’s definitely a unique Cotswold adventure.
Cotswold AONB Hotels
As you’d expect, there are hundreds of hotels, B&Bs, campsites and hostels to choose from in the Cotswolds AONB. From luxury retreats right through to budget-friendly hostels, there’s something for everyone. The Cotswolds AONB covers a vast area so there is far too much to see in just one day. That’s what makes it a perfect place for a weekend adventure.