I live in Cheltenham, the self-proclaimed "centre for the
Cotswolds". The Cotswold Way national trail, a circa 100 mile (161 km)
long-distance footpath linking Chipping Campden with the city of Bath
(mostly following the Cotswold escarpment), goes over nearby
Leckhampton Hill and Cleeve Hill, where I regularly go walking.
In May 2015 I walked from Cheltenham
to Chipping Campden, the northern terminus of the Cotswold
Way. Since completing this northern stretch of the Cotswold Way, I've
wanted to walk the much longer section from Cheltenham to Bath.
In July 2018, much of England was basking in sunshine, clear skies
and high temperatures. The three or four day window of good weather
that I'd been looking for (not very diligently, it must be said) was
finally there. I took the plunge, and on 10th July, I set off.
Where is this?
The map below shows Cheltenham and Bath, and also includes Oxford,
Bristol and London for context. The Cotswold Way route is shown in
I left my flat just after 9 AM, walking along Cheltenham's High
Street, and then through Sandford Park and Charlton Kings to reach a
path leading up to the Cotswold Way on Charlton Kings Common.
Joining the Cotswold Way on Charlton Kings Common
As you can see, it was a beautiful, bright, sunny day. Since I've
been to this area many times before, I rushed on without really pausing
to admire the scenery. After all, my walk had only just started in
If you find yourself on Charlton Kings Common, and walking in the
same direction I did, don't forget to turn around—otherwise,
you'll miss this view over to Cleeve Hill (the highest point on the
Looking towards Cleeve Hill from Charlton Kings Common
The Cotswold Way continues through Ullenwood, taking walkers into
this beautiful wood or forest:
Wood/forest near Ullenwood
I soon found myself at Crickley Hill, the first of many National
Trust properties I would pass through on my walk:
Entering Crickley Hill
When I tell people about my walk, after expressing a mixture of
admiration, surprise and bewilderment, they often ask "did you do that
for charity?" or "did you camp?". I walked for the fun and the
challenge, but was also keen to use it as an opportunity to improve
OpenStreetMap, a collaboratively edited and freely usable map of the
entire world. The Cotswold Way is very well-mapped on OpenStreetMap,
but I did correct a few minor mistakes, and added several adjoining
On the subject of camping, the places which the Cotswold Way goes
through are largely rural, but not particularly remote. The nearest
town or village is usually not that far away, so no, I didn't
Crickley Hill offers a good, unspoilt view of common Cotswold
View from Crickley Hill
National Trails, the organisation responsible for managing the UK's
national trails, uses a very similar picture to this to promote the
The Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is the second
largest protected area in England (after the Lake District).
Another view from Crickley Hill
From Crickley Hill, long sections of the Cotswold Way go through
woods or forests. I saw a small deer just off the path at one
By now, I was starting to get a little tired. The distances on
Cotswold Way markers started to seem noticeably longer. "Three miles to
Coopers Hill?!", I asked myself.
The incredibly steep (almost vertical in places) Coopers Hill enjoys
some modest fame for being associated with the wonderfully eccentric
local tradition of cheese rolling. Every May, a whole Double Gloucester
cheese is rolled down the hill, with anyone crazy enough to compete
rolling, sliding or otherwise making their way down the hill after
It's hard to show just how steep the section of the hill used for
this is. Here's what it looks like from the bottom:
... and here's what it looks like from the top:
Imagine standing at the top of this hill and hurtling yourself down.
It's certainly not for the faint-hearted. Injuries are common. By the
way, all the winner gets (aside from the glory) is the cheese itself.
There's also an uphill race for kids.
At Coopers Hill I allowed myself a short (about five minutes) break.
Until this point I'd only had water and snacks on-the-go.
Soon I was off again, heading towards Painswick Beacon. This
iron-age hill fort (also known as Kimsbury hill fort) offers excellent
views across the Severn Vale. Yet, if you follow the Cotswold Way
strictly, you'll miss the best viewpoint. I cannot understand the
reasoning behind this omission.
Marker or topograph on Painswick Beacon
View from Painswick Beacon
Another view from Painswick Beacon
Panoramic view from Painswick Beacon
I allowed myself another short break at the beacon. When I continued
south towards the town of Painswick itself, I was on (for me at least)
Cotswold Way marker/fingerpost sign near Painswick
By the time I reached the charming village of Painswick, with its
Cotswold stone buildings and quirky shops and cafés, I had walked 35 km
(21.7 miles). I'd been walking for about six hours and was low on
water. (I'd brought about 2.2 litres with me.)
Charming buildings in Painswick
Cotswold Way marker post in Painswick
I went to Olivas (or Oliva's perhaps, I'm not sure). This small,
quirky café and restaurant has a Mediterranean feel to it, with a few
unique touches such as clocks made out of old vinyl records on the
wall. (Yours to buy for £15.)
Inside Oliva's in Painswick
The selection of cakes and pastries looked very inviting. I had
chocolate orange cake which was tasty. Staff also kindly refilled
two of my water bottles, putting some ice in one.
Tasty chocolate orange cake
Slightly cursing myself for not planning the hike better, I set off
again after a break of about 25 minutes.
On my way out of Painswick I came across an unusual sculpture titled
The inscription reads:
This memorial is dedicated to Tony Drake MBE 1923-2012 to
commemorate his 60 years work for The Ramblers Association opening up
the footpath network in Gloucestershire and throughout England and
Wales, and as principal creator of The Cotswold Way.
Good on him!
Painswick marks the midpoint of the Cotswold Way, and just outside
the town lies this marker which is bound to rouse mixed emotions among
Marker showing 55 miles (88.5 km) to Bath
I continued to Haresfield Beacon. The final climb up there was
difficult in my by now rather tired state, but the views were
View from Haresfield Beacon
Panoramic view from Haresfield Beacon
I noticed this interesting 3D terrain topograph near Haresfield
From Haresfield Beacon, it's a simple, easy downhill walk to
Stonehouse, partially through vineyards, which surprised me. If you
look closely at the picture below, you can see Selsley Common on the
other side of the valley, where I would continue my walk the next
Walking down to Stonehouse, with Selsley Common
faintly visible on the other side of the valley
I didn't stay overnight Stonehouse—instead, I took the train
back to Cheltenham so I could sleep in my own flat. It felt a little
like cheating, but it wasn't. It actually increased my total distance
as I walked back to my flat from the station.
Day 2: Stonehouse to Wotton-under-Edge
39.2 km (24.4 miles)
5.2 km/h (3.23 mph)
After a hearty breakfast I left my flat at 8:50 and set off for the
train station to take a train back to Stonehouse and continue my walk
where I left off the day before.
After a short delay, I arrived in Stonehouse just before 10, and was
on my way to rejoin the Cotswold Way.
Just south of Stonehouse, the Cotswold Way forks, giving walkers a
choice of two routes. One is shorter and more direct, while the other,
which runs alongside the Stroudwater Navigation canal and then
continues up to Selsley Common before the paths merge, is longer and
The Cotswold Way forks near Stonehouse: choose
To me (having walked both, in the name of research!), the choice is
simple: take the longer route via Stroudwater Navigation and Selsley
Common. It's tougher but Selsley Common is beautiful and was one of my
highlights of the walk. Don't dwell on the steep ascent to
Selsley—after all, it's only one of the many hills on the
Cotswold Way! Incidentally, the Cotswold Way's official guidebook also
recommends taking the longer route.
Walking along Stroudwater Navigation was pleasant. I also surveyed
some other paths around here so I could add them to OpenStreetMap
The Cotswold Way alongside Stroudwater Navigation
Lock on Stroudwater Navigation
Leaving Stroudwater Navigation behind and starting the climb to Selsley Common
The final steep climb up Selsley Common
"What is a common exactly?", you might be thinking. Like many, I had
the misconception that a common was publicly owned and could be used by
anyone. Commons (in England at least) are places where rights of common
(grazing or collecting firewood, for example) were practised by
"commoners", who either owned no land, or a small amount of land near
or adjoining the common. Although generally privately owned, through
use since "time immemorial", rights of way have been established across
many commons, and some are designated as open access land, allowing
people to walk freely anywhere on the common. Many commons are still
used for grazing today.
The Cotswold Way across Selsley Common,
with All Saints Church and Frome Valley in the background
Apologies for including an almost identical picture, but I do have a
soft spot for walking signs and marker posts:
Cotswold Way marker post on Selsley Common
Me on Selsley Common
Panoramic view from Selsley Common
The next section of the Cotswold Way runs through woods or forests
for quite some distance.
Pleasant walking through woods
After a while I reached Nympsfield long barrow, an ancient burial
site dating back to 2800 BC.
Nympsfield long barrow
Nearby is Coaley Peak, which offers amazing views over the Severn
View from Coaley Peak: note the River Severn in
Me at another viewpoint near Coaley Peak
While having a well-deserved break, I spotted the Tyndale Monument
(a tower) on a hill across the valley. My heart sank a little: I
realised that I'd need to descend to Dursley in the valley below, and
then climb up the hill on the other side to reach the tower. It
reminded me a bit of seeing Broadway Tower from a distance when I hiked
from Cheltenham to Chipping Camden on the Cotswold Way several years
No rest for the wicked though: I soon set off again, walking through
more woods to get to Cam Long Down, another hill. The final climb was a
real leg-burner, but what views from the top!
Climbing Cam Long Down
360° panoramic view from Cam Long Down
Somehow, even this panorama doesn't do justice to the views from Cam
Long Down. I shot a short video (and yes, I need a gimbal) which
hopefully shows off the beautiful scenery better. If not, you'll just
have to visit Cam Long Down yourself!
Panorama video shot at Cam Long Down (no sound)
Next to Cam Long Down is a small hump-shaped hill named Cam Peak.
The Cotswold Way skirts around the edge of the hill, so I went on a
short detour up to the top, and admired the views before returning to
the Cotswold Way and walking down to Dursley.
As I got into Dursley itself, I started thinking how varied the Cotswold
Way is. The southern part of the route cannot match the quaint and charming
towns and villages of the northern part of the route (think Stanway,
Broadway and Chipping Camden). Dursley has a market hall which looks
similar to the one in Chipping Camden but otherwise it's more of a
"normal" town, choked with traffic.
Dursley market hall
Dursley would have been a sensible place to stop, and I'd actually
been offered a bed there for the night. However, I'd declined it
because I'd planned to walk to Wotton-under-Edge, past Dursley. I
realised that although I walk a lot (I aim for 300 km or 185 miles per
month), I don't walk such long distances over hills day after day. I
should have taken more time for my walk.
I left Dursley a road marked with a 20% (1 in 5) gradient. Yet
Soon comes another part of the Cotswold Way which divides walkers: a
route which goes round the edge of Stinchcombe golf course. There's a
short-cut to skip this circa 4 km (2.5 miles) part of the route
completely. The consensus seems to be that walking around the golf
course isn't worth it, and I'm inclined to agree. At only a few points
along the route is there a view, and even then, not that great given
the high standards that walkers will have become accustomed to.
Had I skipped it though, I would have missed my namesake
Up next is yet another steep climb, this time up to the village of
North Nibley. Just before the start of this steep climb, a kind
resident whose house borders the Cotswold Way has set up a tap to offer
free water to walkers. A rickety old fridge outside was full of bottled
water, on sale at 50p per bottle.
Water for Cotswold Way walkers
The steep climb leads to the Tyndale Monument (also referred to as
Nibley Knoll), a tall tower at the top of the hill. The tower was built
to honour William Tyndale (born nearby), who translated the New
Testament to English. His reward? Condemned to being burnt alive for
his act of heresy, as it was regarded by those in power at the time.
(Allowing people to read the Bible themselves and form their own ideas
just clearly wouldn't do.)
Approaching the Tyndale Monument
The tower is always open, and admission is free. It's possible to
walk up the very narrow spiral staircase to the top, and admire the
views over the countryside on all sides. The stairs seemed to go on
Narrow steps inside the Tyndale Monument
View from the top of the Tyndale Monument (where
did the sunshine go?)
After a break I walked about 3 or 4 km down to Wotton-under-Edge. I
got to my hotel, The Swan, just before 7. It's more like a pub with
rooms. I got the last room apparently, and my tired legs certainly
noticed the stairs on the way up.
Room at The Swan, Wotton-under-Edge
I went to The India Palace restaurant for dinner where I got a
chicken jalfrezi with a plain naan. It was good. Staff also offered me
a complimentary dessert: vanilla ice cream with a separate dish
containing one of the sweet cake-type balls ("angoori gulab jamun"),
similar to what I tried on a work trip to India a few years ago.
Dinner at The India Palace
Day 3: Wotton-under-Edge to Tormarton
32.3 km (20.1 miles)
5.2 km/h (3.23 mph)
In some ways, this was the toughest day of the walk, despite
not having that much climb. The past two days had evidently taken their
toll a bit.
I left the hotel later than that I'd like, but since the hotel is
almost on the Cotswold Way route, I didn't have far to go until I was
back on track at least.
I left Wotton-under-Edge on yet another leg-burner of a slope up to
Tor Hill. On the way I actually saw some other people who were walking
the Cotswold Way. (So far, I've mostly seen local people walking their
dogs or running, and only a handful of walkers.) One person held a copy
of the Cotswold Way guidebook, and told me that she was indeed walking
to Chipping Camden, the northern terminus, about 80 miles away.
The scenery on this day's walk didn't have the long-ranging hill-top
views that I had on the earlier days, but that's expected as the
escarpment tapers down towards Bath.
I came across this rather unusual road sign:
I've never seen a sign like that. I did look out for frogs and toads
nearby, but didn't see any.
The Cotswold Way passes the Somerset Monument, which is not open to
Even though I'd had a huge breakfast and had only been walking for a
few hours at this point, I was struggling a bit. I diverted off the
Cotswold Way to the village of Hawkesbury Upton. I sat down at a picnic
table on the village green and rested for a bit. I then went to
Hawkesbury Stores, which is perhaps a good model of how a small,
community-run shop can survive. It kept pharmacy prescriptions for
people, and had a good selection of products at prices which weren't as
high as I expected. My staple cereal bars were getting less and less
appealing, so of most interest to me were the loose sweets (complete
with old-style white paper bags to put them into), and the cold drinks.
I bought a few sweets (nowhere near enough) and a can of 7-Up, and
continued on my way, feeling better.
The tiny, rather charming and forgotten-by-time
Hawkesbury Upton post office
I passed through pleasant fields on my way to Old Sodbury.
Field of wheat with a slightly threatening sky
I passed this interesting-looking tower, and was a little surprised
to learn that it is a folly, constructed solely for some birds (who
only nest in buildings).
Tower constructed for birds to nest in
At Old Sodbury, the Cotswold Way goes through the grounds of St.
John the Baptist Church. (It's very common for public rights of way to
go through church grounds, as historically people would have walked to
St. John the Baptist Church, Old Sodbury
The church has leaflets for walkers, encouraging them to visit
the church or just have a break there:
On the subject of breaks, by this point in my walk I found myself
taking them a little more frequently!
The churchyard also has a sign warning people about snakes, who I
can imagine might like to bask in the sunshine on the gravestones.
From Old Sodbury, the Cotswold Way continues through the beautifully
kept grounds of Donington Park (owned by none other than James
Dyson—yes, the vacuum cleaner one) and then on to the village of
I stayed at Windylands B&B just north of Tormarton. It was
pleasant and comfortable.
My room at Windylands B&B, Tormarton
Day 4: Tormarton to Bath
29.5 km (18.3 miles)
5.5 km/h (3.4 mph)
After a decent night's sleep I went downstairs for breakfast. I had
cereal before being brought a plate with a huge portion of scrambled
eggs, and two rashers of bacon. I also got what seemed like half a loaf
of toast. If that wasn't going to fuel me up for the final day of my
Cotswold Way hike to Bath, I don't know what would!
I left the B&B at 9:25 and set off for Bath. To cross the M4
motorway, the Cotswold Way follows a road out of Tormarton, but before
long it returns to the countryside.
Pleasant countryside on my way to Bath
The route skirts the edge of Dyrham Park, another National Trust
property. I got a peek at the impressive-looking house and then
continued on my way.
House in Dyrham Park
This is a good reason why you, if end up walking the Cotswold Way,
should not follow my example. Take your time and stop at
interesting-looking places like these.
Holy Trinity Church in Cold Ashton is rather charming and
By now, dark clouds loomed large on the horizon, in the direction I
was going. I'd been very lucky with the weather for my whole walk up to
this point, with no rain at all, plus lots of sunshine.
As I approached the site of the Battle of Lansdown, light rain
started. Walking along the edge of the calm field, it was difficult to
imagine that this was the site of a bloody, pivotal battle in the
English Civil War, on 5th July 1643. The Royalists won the battle (with
a pyrrhic victory), but lost the war.
Site of the Battle of Lansdown
The rain soon stopped and I made my way to Prospect Stile, a
viewpoint looking towards Bath.
I expected an easy downhill walk to the UNESCO World Heritage Site
of Bath, but the Cotswold Way had a few final tricks up its sleeve. The
route leads down into the Weston suburb of Bath, and then up to
Primrose Hill on the other side of the valley, before weaving its way
to the centre of Bath, passing some of the city's most famous sights on
Walkers are led through through Victoria Park, and then alongside
the famous Royal Crescent. Students celebrated their graduation on the
lawn in front of the crescent, tossing their hats in the air.
Royal Crescent, Bath
The Cotswold Way continues through Bath Circus and then continues
south for the final stretch to Bath Abbey, with the start/end marker
stone outside the imposing church's main entrance. I arrived at 3
The square outside the abbey was extremely busy, and coming after
days where I'd spent hours at a time alone, in peace and quiet, with
just myself for company, was somewhat of an assault on the senses. I
patiently waited my turn to snap a picture of the marker stone with the
abbey door in the background.
I made it! Me outside Bath Abbey with the Cotswold Way marker stone
I admired the famous Pulteney Bridge, which has several shops on it.
It reminded me a little of a similar bridge I saw in Florence.
Back at the square outside Bath Abbey, someone shouted "hello!" at
me. It was another walker who I'd passed earlier in the day, and the
day before on my way out of Wotton-under-Edge. We congratulated each
The Roman Baths, one of the city's most popular attractions, is just
a stone's throw away from Bath Abbey. The huge queue had now
disappeared, so I reluctantly paid the £16.50 (about 18.50 EUR or
$21.20) entrance fee.
The baths are centred around the Great Bath, a large bath in the
middle of the complex. Originally this had a tall roof, but that has
long since fallen.
The Great Bath
Visitors can walk around a terrace, looking down to the Great Bath
below. The complex includes a sacred spring, dedicated to the goddess
Sulis Minerva. The baths are a glimpse into Roman life at the time, and
there exhibits describing many facets of that. Evidently I need to
improve my attention span, as I found myself getting a little bored at
times. That was most likely exacerbated by tiredness and/or dehydration
The Great Bath with Bath Abbey in the background
Me at the Great Bath—my fellow visitor
photographer pulled off somewhat of a miracle by getting a picture
of me without anyone else in the background, but deliberately took
the picture at this angle...
At one point, you can see steam coming off the water from the hot spring.
The waters in the bath are rather warm. (Touching the water is prohibited,
so don't tell anyone!)
Lead was used extensively throughout the baths: for pipes and to
line some of the baths and reservoirs themselves. Before we think too
smugly of how the Romans' love of lead contributed to their downfall,
we should remember that we added it to our petrol before realising that
was a bad idea. Also, it's increasingly clear that our reliance on
plastic is causing us (and our environment) all sorts of problems.
I found the exhibits about Roman coins interesting. The coins
themselves (some dating to about 50 BC) were very well-presented, on
thin sticks or stalks in a brightly-lit display cabinet.
Unsurprisingly, forgeries were common, even then.
There are many other exhibits, including one about how the large,
heavy stones used in the building's construction were lifted. This was
an interactive, scale model exhibit. Two stones of the same weight were
suspended from ropes (made from hemp) using pulleys, one with only a
single pulley and the other with three pulleys. Visitors are encouraged
to pull on the ropes and compare which is easier. The one with three
pulleys is far easier to lift, but the rope has to be pulled much
The baths weren't just about bathing. Signs explained how bathers
tried to outdo each other by having more expensive or lavish oils
massaged into them.
I left the baths and then went to Smashburger for dinner. It was
Dinner at Smashburger
That concluded my adventure. Overall it was challenging, exhausting
and great fun!
I took the train back to Cheltenham and had a good night's sleep.
After taking it easy for a day or two, I was back to my normal walking