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
branch of the Ramblers' Association, but has recenly been elevated to
status of a National Trail and is now looked after by the Countryside
rather than by Gloucestershire County Council. Although the greater
of the route lays within that fine county, it actually begins in
(or to be pedantic, the unitary authority of Bath and North-East
and crosses (very briefly) a little bit of Worcestershire.
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.
|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|
|Somerset Way||Back to main index||Heart of England Way|
This page last updated 24th January 2005