As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the Cotswolds, Harriet O'Brien picks out a selection of outdoor adventures in this glorious Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the west of England.
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.
One of the criteria used to select businesses was to choose members of the green travel grading scheme Green Tourism or the ‘Our Land’ initiative in which businesses described how they sustain their environment, support their community, and share their knowledge of the local landscape.
Foot Trails Cotswolds
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. foottrails.co.uk
Walk the Landscape
A company dedicated to the Cotswolds and the heart of England, Walk the Landscape offers guided group walking holidays and self-guided trips, all based on intimate knowledge of the area. It orchestrates a particularly lovely three- or four-day self-guided tour that is entirely accessible by train: you start at Kingham station and finish at Charlbury station. You could walk this distance in a day, but the trip enables you to explore quiet villages and ancient sites and allows a day’s circular hike in the Wychwood Forest. walkthelandscape.co.uk
Cotswold Country Cycles
Offering 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. cotswoldcountrycycles.com
Windrush Cycle Tours
Exuding equal enthusiasm for the Cotswolds and for cycling, Windrush Cycle Tours tailor-makes biking breaks according to customers’ interests, pedal power and stamina. Breaks can be centred on one pub/hotel or can take the form of a journey, as long or short as you like. The company is based at Kingham – complete with mainline station – and most of its trips start from there and pass through the glorious Windrush Valley, which remains off the radar of much of the Cotswolds’ mainstream tourism. The bikes provided by the company come with GPS devices, enabling cyclists to tackle the maze of country lanes with confidence. windrushcycletours.co.uk
Refine your appreciation of art in Britain; learn how to take brilliant digital photographs; study how to draw as an absolute beginner; join a gospel choir. These weekend courses and many more are offered on 400-acre Farncombe Estate, a private, family-run operation which has won plaudits for its measures of environmental sustainability. Beautifully set over a ridge above Broadway, the estate has a sleek modern centre with 89 stylish bedrooms. During the week this hosts conferences, and at weekends the tempo relaxes and they welcomes course participants. Absorbing though these sessions are, it would be a shame not to make time, too, to follow a few of the footpaths here and take in wonderful, top-of-the-world views.
For information on characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and nearby visitor attractions, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the Cotswolds