The Cotswolds is perfect pastoral England: a place to appreciate glorious scenery, nibbled by sheep that shaped the fortunes of the region, to explore bucolic villages of honey-coloured stone, and to visit gracious country manors and gardens. Running through five counties, the rolling hills of this handsome district cover an area of about 800 square miles. A largely rural area, crossed by over 3,000 miles of footpaths, the Cotswolds offers walkers the chance to take in breath-taking landscapes, lakes, and acclaimed reserves. Beautiful towns and cities including Bath, Cheltenham, Stroud and Moreton-in-Marsh provide rail hubs from which to explore this beautiful region. As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Cotswolds, here is our guide to how to have a green break in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Where to stay
From old coaching inns to appealing guest houses and self-catering cottages tucked into gloriously quiet valleys, the Cotswolds AONB is peppered with gorgeous options for all requirements. So whether you’re seeking a chic hotel, a charming pub, a B&B with hosts on hand to offer local insight, a haven of a little country house to call your own for a few days or weeks, or a bucolic campsite, you’ll find something to suit your needs. Church Farm Country Cottages are a collection of four-star cottages, tastefully converted cow byres and barns sporting vaulted ceilings and exposed beams sharing an indoor pool that are perfect for families and walkers. Culls is a traditional stone self-catering cottage dating from 1670, lovingly restored to preserve the traditional and yet lavished with contemporary luxuries to bring it bang up to date and an ideal base to explore all the highlights of The Cotswolds. Broadway Manor Cottages are four award winning Cotswold holiday cottages and an apartment in the grounds of a Cotswold manor house, which dates back to the 16th century in the picturesque village of Broadway.
Where to eat
What a cornucopia of great tastes. Centuries of farming in this dramatically pretty region have resulted in well-practised traditions of producing some of the finest ingredients in the country – from veg (especially asparagus) to lamb, beef and dairy products (particularly for excellent cheese and ice creams). There’s a wealth of ways in which to enjoy this bounty, whether in wonderful old pubs offering contemporary twists on classic dishes; in buzzing cafes and organic farm shops; or in handsome yet easy-going restaurants with exquisitely presented cuisine. Or simply graze your way round a farmers’ market and enjoy the abundance of the land. Seagrave Arms is an elegant Georgian inn - not only aesthetically but practically too. For the restaurant menu celebrates the wealth of nearby producers, from venison and Cotswold lamb to grouse and pheasant from Gloucestershire and Warwickshire shoots; and there’s always a fine selection of veg grown locally. The proprietors are keen to emphasise their commitment to upscale dining and accommodation - in eight beautifully presented bedrooms. The Royal Oak is close to the centre of charming old Tetbury and is a splendid 17th century tavern. Once an unloved boozer, it’s become a retro-chic haven complete with reclaimed floorboards, a bar made of recycled church panelling, and six stylish bedrooms in the old skittles alley across from the main building. It’s a welcoming, arty venue hosting events and gatherings in the old-style saloon bar while upstairs under beams and wrought-iron chandeliers is a well-priced restaurant offering a modern take on hearty pub classics (very much devised from local produce), great salads and tempting puds. Wild Garlic's fresh ingredients are the basis of Matthew Beardshall’s beautifully conceived menus at this stylish small restaurant with (three) rooms in bustling Nailsworth. From venison carpaccio to honey-roasted pheasant with sage pudding, and amazing desserts such as tea cream with poached quince and milk sorbet, food miles and sustainability are big considerations here. Bread is a particular passion and is baked every morning – along with shortbreads, biscotti and more. Dine formally or opt for the brilliantly inventive tapas menu based on what’s best from the markets in the area.
Where to visit
Enjoy the glories of an authentic, 18th-century garden; ponder the mysteries of a striking group of standing stones; marvel at the house where William Morris lived and worked; take the children on a farm tractor safari. From museums and heritage to parkland and animals, there’s a host of things to see and do indoors as well as outside in the Cotswolds AONB Combe Mill is a fascinating time capsule of engineering heritage - it's the old saw mill for Blenheim Palace - and a living museum par excellence. A working Victorian steam and water mill, it was constructed in the early 1850s. From the old waterwheel to a blacksmith’s forge and a host of model steam-powered vehicles, there’s a wealth to take in here. What’s more it is almost entirely operated by unpaid volunteers and their knowledge and enthusiasm add an extra zing to proceedings. Open from April until the end of September. Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway is great charmer for children and adults alike, this heritage railway is run by volunteers who operate hooting tooting steam and diesel locomotives on a standard gauge track between Toddington and Cheltenham Race Course. It has been the painstaking work of an avid preservation group who brought part of the old Great Western Railway’s Stratford-Cheltenham route back to life in 1984. Now there are more plans afoot. The GWR has such enthusiastic following that an extension to Broadway has been planned and has received the funding (public shares scheme) for the cost of repairing 5 bridges to help reach Broadway but the rest of the funding is still to be found, so do pop by and support them. Toot Toot! The Old Prison Northleach - visit this austerely handsome building to learn about the region - from dinosaurs to Cotswold Lion sheep (specially bred for their thick fleeces), and from Neolithic monuments to churches and conservation work. You can also take in an old prison cell and explore a fascinating collection of farm carts and carriages. The property was constructed as a gaol in 1792 and subsequently became a police office and a small law court before being converted into a museum and office space in the 1970s. Today it houses the centre of the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (or AONB) complete with the absorbing Rural Life museum, displays about the area and the lively Cotswold Lion Cafe. Closed Mondays
Things to do
Whether you want to stride out on long-distance trails, set out on two wheels and cycle along quiet country lanes, take day hikes from one serene village to the next, or learn a new skill on a weekend course, there’s a host of things to do in the Cotswolds. What’s more, whatever time of year you choose to visit you’ll find this landscape exudes seasonal appeal: come in summer for magical light and long days; in autumn for the drama of colour; in winter for stark and spectacular beauty, particularly on frosty mornings; and in spring for wild daffodils, lamb-dotted hillsides and a strikingly fresh green outlook. Foot Trails Cotswolds runs upscale, off-the-beaten-track walking trips in picturesque parts of Britain have been carefully researched by Foot Trails. Owner Alison Howell grew up on a family farm in the Cotswolds and is particularly passionate about this region. The walking tours she has devised here are either centred on one very comfy pub or are hiking trips from inn to inn. The four- or six-day Journey Across the Cotswolds is especially beautiful, starting at Chipping Campden and finishing at Burford by way of lesser known, local footpaths. The starting and finishing points of the trip are accessible by train - to Moreton-in-Marsh and by taxi from there; and back from Charlbury, a taxi ride from Burford. Cotswold Country Cycles offer three-, five-, and seven-day breaks in the northern Cotswolds, this well-equipped company arranges bike trips from local stations – they pick you up, kit you out with bike and accessories, and wave you on your way (while they transport you luggage, as they do every day). And at the end of the trip they deposit you back at a station. One of their most scenic breaks is the Simply Cotswolds three-day trip taking in the former silk mill village of Blockley, the glorious Slaughters and the market town of Stow-on-the-Wold.
Getting to and around the Cotswolds by public transport
The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is well served by road and rail links from London, the Midlands and the South West. Once you’re in the area, there are excellent connections from Bath, Oxford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cheltenham and Gloucester. One of the best ways to discover the area by public transport is the Cotswolds Discoverer scheme - a one-day travel ticket that helps you travel to some of the most scenic parts of the Cotswolds Area, offering unlimited travel to a wide range of attractions, towns, villages, gardens, and historic buildings.
Getting to the Cotswolds by public transport
By rail: There are mainline trains to the Cotswolds from London, the Midlands and the North and the South West of England to the following railway stations: Bath, Cam and Dursley, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Kemble (serving Cirencester), Moreton-in-Marsh, Stroud, Charlbury, Kingham and Oxford. Here are a few examples of the main routes:
London Paddington to Cheltenham via Swindon, Kemble, Stroud, Stonehouse and Gloucester
London Paddington to Moreton in Marsh via Kingham, Charlbury and Oxford
Cardiff to Cheltenham via Gloucester
Bristol to Birmingham to via Cheltenham, Gloucester and Dursley
There are mainline bus stations at Bath, Oxford, Swindon, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cheltenham and Gloucester. National Express and Megabus runs coach services to all of these cities from the major cities in the UK.
Getting around the Cotswolds by public transport
There are local bus services throughout the Cotswolds. For more information, see the handy Explore the Cotswolds by Public Transport Guide, which has online routes and timetables for travelling around the Cotswolds by bus and train.
Alternatively, you can pick one up at one of the many visitor information centres in the and around the Cotswolds. For the latest online timetables, see the following links to the relevant areas of the Cotswolds: Northern Cotswolds, Central Cotswolds or Southern Cotswolds.
One of the best ways to discover the area by public transport is the Cotswolds Discoverer scheme - a one-day travel ticket that helps you travel to some of the most scenic parts of the Cotswolds Area, offering unlimited travel to a wide range of attractions, towns, villages, gardens, and historic buildings.
The Discoverer Pass - which is valid seven days a week, and on trains any time after 8.50am Monday-to-Friday - can be bought at any UK rail station and on the participating bus services: Cotswold Green; Johnson's Excelbus; Pulham's Coaches, Go Ride CIC and Swanbrook.
One day Pass prices are £10.50 for adults. Reductions are available with Railcards, and the Passes are half price for children under 16.
The Discoverer Pass provides unlimited travel after 08.50 (Mondays to Fridays) with First Great Western between Oxford and Moreton-in-Marsh on the North Cotswold Line, and between Swindon, Gloucester, Cheltenham Spa and Ashchurch, as well as Gloucester, Cam & Dursley and Yate. It is also valid on rail services operated by Arriva Trains Wales and CrossCountry Trains Gloucester, between Cheltenham Spa and Ashchurch for Tewkesbury.
For bus services and routes where you can use the pass, see the website of the Cotswolds Discoverer Pass, which also provides links to some suggested itineraries that the AONB has helpfully put together of places to visit using the Discoverer ticket.
For more idea of where to visit in the Cotswolds see Green Traveller's Guide to the Cotswolds