I’ve just wrapped up a fantastic eight days of hiking on the Cotswold Way in England. Along with my friend, Dave, we planned and walked the ~165km route end to end, from Bath in the south to Chipping Camden in the north.
The hiking was moderately difficult — easy for fit people with good equipment — and we were rewarded with some great views, interesting conversations and good food. Here are my favourite resources and tools to help plan your own walking holiday through Britain.
What is the Cotswold Way?
The Cotswold Way is a multi-day walk through some of England’s most picturesque landscape. It’s around 165km (a touch over 100 miles), and is classified as a National Trail: the top-ranking hiking trails in Britain.
It can be walked north to south or south to north along the Cotswold Escarpment, from Chipping Camden to Bath. You would certainly have heard of Bath, but possibly not Chipping Camden — a market town of great pubs and the distinctive limestone facades and buildings that give the whole region its visual identity.
Why do the Cotswold Way?
It’s a very pleasant stroll through the British countryside with cute villages, farmland and woodland all featuring. There are easy-to-moderate distances and terrains, and the whole trail is well marked and resourced with solid GPS data and guidebooks.
This is not a hike for serious adventures: the way is well marked, the countryside is tame, and you’re walking from village to town to village, so you’re never far from a farmer or dog-walker. For something wilder, try the Milford Track instead.
The costs are a little higher than I would like, but that’s heavily influenced by how popular this region is for tourism in Britain, and I don’t regret the spend, which came in at GBP600 for eight days, including transport to and from the track, food, transport and some extras — mainly blister plasters and extra pints.
Fit folk can knock it off in a week, but we choose to split it over eight days, including our travel from other parts of Britain to the start and end points. The timing there is very helpful for those with limited time; and it’s easily possible to just do sections of the walk over several weekends, or do some of the Cotswold Way Circular Trails if you just have a day to get out and about.
What’s the best Cotswold Way guidebook?
Online resources / digital guidebooks for the Cotswold Way
I was really disappointed that none of the publishing houses have released a Cotswold Way PDF Guidebook — I couldn’t get hold of a legitimate copy of a PDF, ePub, or any other digital versions. I’m hoping that’ll change in the future! As it was, I needed to carry bits of dead tree (a physical book!) around with me.
The ViewRanger app (available on web, iOS and Android), has the official National Trails-published GPS co-ordinates for the whole route. I’ve used that to record my own walk door-to-door, and it came it handy on the half-dozen times we were unsure where to walk next. This isn’t enough on its own, so I would recommend a paper guidebook…
Offline resources / paper guidebooks for the Cotswold Way
We bought two of the three main guidebooks. (The guidebook links below are Amazon affiliate links: if this information is useful, please consider shopping after clicking these links as we earn a small commission from that.)
[amazon asin=1781315701&template=Iframe Image left]The official National Trails guidebook by Anthony Burton (2016 version) was possibly the worst hiking guidebook that I’ve ever used.
The prose was flowery and repetitive, there were too many details (about the heritage of a herd of cows) and not enough useful information (about anything): Walking distances, difficulty of track and landmarks were not well marked on the maps, nor easy to skim in the text.
There was almost no useful information about planning, places to stay or eat. The “Useful Information” section was two columns of text, then one page of links, including one to the Butterfly Conservation Society. Useful? It was almost impossible to use it as a walking guide when walking south-to-north, and while it might have been better in the other direction, I wouldn’t recommend it. We mainly pulled it out at lunchtime to have a laugh over the descriptions of the trail we had just covered.
[amazon asin=1905864701&template=Iframe Image left]The similarly titled The Cotswold Way by Trisha and Bob Hayne, however, was so useful that it seldom left our hands. The hand-drawn maps had lots of relevant detail, and a simple track-difficulty meter for up- and down-hill sections. Most of the trail description was included in the maps, making it simple to see what was coming up.
We were actually able to plan accommodation using this guide, unlike the official guidebook. There was good detail about the various pubs and restaurants along the way, so we were able to choose what towns we’d stop in, when to leave earlier in the morning to grab a great lunch, and where to spend our dinner dollars. Or pounds. There was a suitable level of detail about historical buildings, flora and fauna, and local characters.
Although the book followed the convention of walking from north to south, having the majority of the hiking information embedded in the maps made it simple to follow in the other direction.
[amazon asin=B01FFH6BPA&template=Iframe Image left]I’ve also had a chance to look over the Cicerone guidebook, Walking the Cotswold Way. While I didn’t use it on the trail, I would choose it over the National Trails guidebook, but the Trailblazer book still seemed more practical and useful for planning and walking your trip.
So, what to get? If you want a guidebook to help you plan your trip, where to stay and where to eat, how far between towns, and a good set of maps… I’d pick up the Trailblazer: don’t worry about the others.
Where to stay on the Cotswold Way?
There are plenty of options for small, locally run accommodations all along the Cotswold Way. If you prefer the reliability of chain hotels, you will struggle to find them outside of the larger towns.
The best places to stay are undoubtably the bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) that are the mainstay of British hospitality in the region. If no B&Bs are available, local pubs will rent simple rooms — and aren’t too noisy outside of the weekends!
I’ve listed where we stayed in the Cotswold Way Sections below. The Trailblazer guide had reliable information at time of writing, and the National Trail online route planner was also useful.
Do I need to book ahead?
While we met some people who were booking accommodation 1-2 days in advance, I would not recommend it. (We met them all the start of their journey, so I’m not sure how well it worked out for them!)
We certainly ran into some issues with booking availability in late October/early September. One month out from the start of the journey, we needed to shift our dates by a week to get the accommodation we needed, and some of our first-choice accommodation was already booked out.
Can I camp on the Cotswold Way?
While right-to-roam and right-of-way legislation is very strong in the UK, it doesn’t extend to wild camping! We looked into camping, but there was only one campsite actually on or really near the trail itself (in Hailes). Rather than carry camping equipment and walk further, we decided to spend more on B&B and pub accommodation.
North to south, or south to north on the Cotswold Way
The route can be easily walked in either direction, although most guidebooks follow a north-to-south pattern.
The middle and northern stretches of the Way are the prettiest and the nicest walking, so if you are limited by time, I’d recommend starting in Chipping Camden in case you need to cut your time short.
We had the whole route in front of us and decided that if we were to spend half a day getting through the city of Bath and its extended suburbs and townships, we’d like to get that out of the way earlier… start with the road walking, and finish on a high.
Transport was also a consideration: there was a near-constant run of trains to and from Bath, but only three buses a day out of Chipping Camden. As we were arriving from Bristol, Bath was a much easier starting option. By planning our sections to have roughly equal and moderate days, we could leave Bath anytime before lunchtime without any stress; and ensure we arrived in Chipping Camden in time for a pint or two before the 4:30pm bus out of town.
The Cotswold Way sections
We walked the Cotswold Way from Bath to Chipping Camden (south to north) in eight days. That meant our daily walking was normally between 20-25kms, although we had one short day at 16km, and one long day at 32km.
The distances below are what I personally tracked door-to-door using the GPS on my iPhone and the ViewRanger app. They do vary from the official guidelines… although I don’t think I walked too many kilometers around the pubs at lunch time!
- Day 1: Bath to Pennsylvania, 20.3km
- Day 2: Pennsylvania to Hawkesbury Upton, 22km
- Day 3: Hawkesbury Upton to North Nibley, 18km
- Day 4: North Nibley to Stroud, 25.9km
- Day 5: Stroud to Birdlip, 30.1km
- Day 6: Birdlip to Cleeve Hill, 23.5km*
- Day 7: Cleeve Hill to Wood Stanway, 23.2km
- Day 8: Wood Stanway to Chipping Camden, 21km
* I’ve had to estimate the distance for day six, as my tracking app crashed part way through the day.
What to pack for the Cotswold Way
Outside of the basics, there’s no need for any special equipment in order to walk the Cotswold Way. Good shoes and socks, clothes for hiking and for the evenings, suitable layers for sun/rain/cold, and a simple first-aid kit will mainly do the trick. Add a guidebook and your smartphone with a GPS-enabled copy of the trail, and you’re on your way!
I’ve outlined all my kit (as well as what I’d like to have carried, and should have left behind!) in a Cotswold Way Packing Guide (coming soon!).
If you’re looking for a week-long walk in England, the Cotswold Way is a great choice. Advance preparation is needed, but the walk is easy and pleasant. Have a great walk!