The Cotswold Way
Bath to Chipping Campden, 105 miles
Part 4 of the End to End Walk from Land's End to John O'Groats


The Cotswolds form a line of high country, approaching 100 miles in length and rising to about 900ft above sea level at its maximum elevation, lying along a spine between the Midlands and the South West and orientated roughly north-northeast to south-soutwest. Linking the heart of Britain to its south-west peninsula, they form a fundamental part of the End-to-End jigsaw. In fact I can say without doubt that it was the existence and orientation of the Cotswold Way (the long-distance path that runs along their length) that led me to conceive the idea of the End-to-End in the first place. Look at a blank outline of Britain and plot the lines of the Pennine Way and West Highland Way on it. Nothing really jumps out at you. Add the line of the Cotswold Way, however, and the three disjointed lines immediately suggest themselves as part of an overall pattern. They beg to be joined up - and not just joined up, but extended from either end until the extremities of the country are reached. If the PW and the WHW are the superstructure of the End-to-End walk, the Cotswold Way is truly its foundation.

The Cotswolds are often referred to as the Cotswold Hills, but you'll find no such designation on any self-respecting map. Technically the Cotswolds are not hills at all, but are an escarpment - a feature formed by a tilted layer of hard rock as it breaks the Earth's surface. The Cotswold escarpment forms the eastern edge of the valley of the Severn, the longest river in Britain. It's typical of escarpments that they have a gently-sloping side (the "dip" slope, formed of the surface of the rock layer) and a steeply-sloping side (the "scarp" slope, formed of its edge), and the Cotswold scarp is very typical. To the east, gently undulating country falls away imperceptibly towards Oxfordshire and the Thames basin. To the west, however, the land drops steeply to the plain of the Severn and the views are extensive. The mountains of south Wales can be seen on good days.

The rock comprising the Cotswold scarp is a form of oolitic limestone, laid down very roughly 150 million years ago (in about the same era as the dinosaurs). Cotswold stone is not the standard blandly-textured white rock typical of most limestones but is instead a beautiful honey colour, and is in great demand as a building material. It's Cotswold stone, in fact, that pretty much defines the look of the countryside in this part of Britain. Here is picture-postcard England at its best. The city of Bath, at the southern end of the range, boasts elegant Regency terraces and charming town houses. The northern end is rural England at its finest, containing as it does a succession of picture-book villages of golden-coloured cottages. Broadway is immaculate, Chipping Campden is astounding, Stanton is timeless, Snowshill (off-route) is fascinating, and Stanway - well, you'll want to take it home with you. Its beauty is indescribable.

The Cotswold Way happily tacks up and down the scarp slope, much of which is wooded, as it winds its way among and through the towns and villages that nestle within the range. This is not a backwater by any means - as well as Bath, the Way visits large villages and small market towns such as Wootton-under-Edge, Stroud, Dursley and Winchcombe, while Gloucester and Chipping Sodbury are just a handful of miles off-route. The gem of the route, though, is Cheltenham. This lovely town, even more elegant than Bath, lays in a bowl that forms a discontinuity in the line of the scarp. The route of the Way takes a surprisingly long arc around the edge of the town but you should on no account miss it - it is, for one thing, an excellent base from which the northern half of the Way can be walked.

The Way, was originally created of the Gloucestershire branch of the Ramblers' Association, but has recenly been elevated to the status of a National Trail and is now looked after by the Countryside Agency rather than by Gloucestershire County Council. Although the greater part of the route lays within that fine county, it actually begins in Somerset (or to be pedantic, the unitary authority of Bath and North-East Somerset), and crosses (very briefly) a little bit of Worcestershire.


The up-and-down nature of the Cotswold Way makes it a bit of a tiring expedition for backpackers, who will also find themselves frustrated by the relative lack of open country in which to camp. The number of towns and villages along or within easy reach of the route, however, make this prime bed-and-breakfast country. There are not sufficient youth hostels to make this a viable hostelling trip, but as with just about every other section of the End-to-End Walk it can be walked pretty easily as a series of day hikes using public transport. Cheltenham serves very admirably for most of the northern half of the walk. Although Gloucester is well-placed for the central sections, there seems to be a general consensus that it's not an attractive town in which to stay - choose Stroud in preference. Bath is an excellent base for the southernmost section. Broadway (if you can afford it) or Chipping Campden (if you can book early enough) do admirably for the northernmost couple of sections, though personally I plumped for Evesham, which is cheaper and has a greater range of accommodation. Weekend and bank holiday bus services are almost nonexistent, however - beware!

I've divided the Way into nine sections though most hikers could do it pretty comfortably in eight days, or even seven at a push.

The various one-day walks that make up the Cotswold Way:

(Click the links for the individual walk indexes and photo galleries)
1 Bath to Old Sodbury 18.6 miles
2 Old Sodbury to Wotton-under-Edge 12.3 miles
3 Wotton-under-Edge to Stroud 14.9 miles
4 Stroud to Cranham 11.1 miles
5 Cranham to Leckhampton 10.4 miles
6 Leckhampton to Cheltenham 9.7 miles
7 Cheltenham to Winchcombe 8.4 miles
8 Winchcombe to Broadway 11.9 miles
9 Broadway to Chipping Campden 5.7 miles


    Spotlight Guides Cotswold Way page
    Ramblers' Association Cotswold Way page

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This page last updated 24th January 2005