Pick your spot
PUBLISHED: 15:01 07 January 2011 | UPDATED: 16:03 20 February 2013
Don't waste the best hours of a summer's day hunting for a good spot for your picnic - the National Trust has thousands of acres of the best of the Cotswolds to choose from
The picnic season is upon us at last. Considering how rich the Cotswolds are in spectacular rural scenery, it ought to be a simple matter to find a spot where you can break out the ham rolls and ginger beer in comfort.
We all know the reality is different, of course. You can all too easily waste the best hours of the day driving up and down endless rural byways in search of a quiet corner which combines a stretch of nettle-free greensward with a nice view - preferably one that doesn't feature an irate farmer or his marauding livestock.
The National Trust owns and manages much of our finest parkland and countryside, from the rolling parkland of the Sherborne Estate to the secret valleys and ancient earthworks of the commons south of Stroud. It's all wonderful country for the walker, with an almost infinite choice of routes and plenty of spots for a civilised picnic.
You can now save trouble and time-wasting by downloading the details of some 'ready made' National Trust walks before you go. Many of our picnic locations lie on or close to one of these walks. All you have to do is visit the Walks in Wessex page at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/walkwessex and follow the links to download the walk of your choice.
The Stroud Commons
The adjoining commons of Rodborough and Minchinhampton, south of Stroud, are a fascinating area for the naturalist, walker or amateur archaeologist. Even the locals say they're continually stumbling on secret valleys, pathways and vistas which they never knew existed. The commons, owned and managed by the Trust, are rich in downland wildlife, with 13 recorded species of orchids, many rare butterflies and a rich population of downland birds such as skylarks and meadow pipits.
The skyline here is shaped by the remains of Neolithic and Bronze Age barrows, while the remains of the earthworks built here during the Iron Age more than 2000 years ago have left the commons with many semi-natural dells and hillocks, adored by children and perfect if you're looking for a sun-trap for a sheltered picnic.
It is extremely easy to get pleasantly lost among the network of narrow tracks and lanes which criss-cross these commons, but if you don't have time to take that risk, the Trust's downloadable route will see you right - go to the site and search for it on the Rodborough page. Starting and finishing above Butterrow Hill, the walk (2¾ miles) takes you around through Kingscourt and Little London before heading off south past the Winstone's ice cream factory and shop down to Swellshill Bank, the most likely spot for a sighting of the very rare Adonis Blue butterfly which flies here in June and again in August.
The secluded valley of Woodchester Park, south of Stroud and just across the A46 from the commons, is a great place to forget the outside world. Thread your way through the woods and find a quiet spot overlooking one of the lakes for your picnic.
A downloadable walk is waiting for you on line. The 3-mile Boathouse Walk starts at the car park just off the B4066 near Nympsfield and takes you down past the site of the temple to Brick Kiln Pond and the boathouse and back via the famous deserted mansion (not National Trust) which can be visited on open days, see www.woodchestermansion.org.uk.
The house here, one of the Trust's oldest, is surrounded by a 700-acre estate which offers one of the least discovered panoramas in the county. There is much to be seen here, including wild flowers, butterflies, deer and other mammals. Under the Trust's care the once-overgrown garden has been recreated as a natural woodland garden with beautiful views through glades and vistas across a peaceful lake. Picnics are encouraged in the garden on the days the property is open - and you can even hire a rug. Near Ozleworth, Wotton-under-Edge, via the junction of the B4135 and B4058.
A walk along the orange trail to the Boathouse gives an overview of this beautiful park, passing through the pastureland and colourful woodland to the flight of five man-made lakes, which are being restored. Woodchester Park is home to much wildlife including buzzards, owls, woodpeckers, coots, moorhens, mallard and mandarin ducks
Haresfield Beacon, Shortwood and Standish Wood
At Haresfield Beacon and neighbouring Standish Wood, three steep limestone escarpments jut out towards the Severn Vale like headlands, embracing a matched pair of sweeping green valleys with views across the vale to Wales and the Forest of Dean. Sit on the grassy slopes below the Beacon, find a quiet woodland clearing, or perch on the limestone scree and enjoy your picnic among the orchids, rock rose and viper's bugloss. There are many fascinating creatures to be seen, from redstarts to Duke of Burgundy butterflies, as well as old earthworks and the site of a prehistoric hill fort. The Cotswold Way threads its way along these ridges and there are more adjoining footpaths than you can shake a walking stick at.
The pretty village of Sherborne, between Northleach and Burford, borders 4000 acres of rolling countryside which offers delightful walking, as well as a range of picnic sites. You can see the water meadows - which really do operate as water meadows, following restoration work - along the banks of the Windrush. Take the Sherborne road north from the A40 and pick up leaflets at the Ewepen car park on the right. Three walks of varying distances take you through the pleaure grounds (ideal for a picnic) and along a woodland sculpture trail.
Hidcote Manor Garden
A trip to Hidcote feels more like visiting a dozen gardens than just the one, thanks to Lawrence Johnston's vision a century ago of a series of outdoor 'rooms' separated by hedges. The Trust has begun the work of restoring Hidcote to its full glory, and there's a lot to see. Mindful of the need to give visitors the chance to take a break, the Trust has created a picnic area in grassland beside the lime avenue (you don't have to pay for entry to the gardens to use it). The area is being cultivated as a wild flower meadow and the variety of flowers and insects is already burgeoning. You can buy snacks and refreshments in the shop. Near Mickleton, 4m east of Chipping Campden.
Westbury Court Garden
This garden, the only Dutch water garden left in the UK, features a fascinating selection of historic fruit and vegetable varieties. The old orchard has been designated as a picnic area. It's a peaceful spot by a stream, surrounded by wildlife and wild flowers and giving a good view across the formal garden. Bring your own picnic, as no food or drink is for sale at the property. On the A48 west of Gloucester.
Most people in the Cotswolds are familiar with the view of May Hill, on the Herefordshire border - not so many have experienced the view from it. In contrast to most of Gloucestershire, the soil here is acidic, so in place of the classic chalk-and-limestone flora you find bracken (which has to be rigorously controlled), bilberry and heather, with a slightly different but equally fascinating selection of wildlife. Face east from the summit and you look back across Gloucestershire; turn the other way and you are looking across Herefordshire into Wales and the Black Mountains.
The Trust's 3-mile downloadable walk (see http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-may_hill-walk.pdf) starts and finishes on May Hill Common and takes you on a wooded route through the Huntley Estate. You can see redwood trees, natural ponds with dragonflies and newts, along with the grazing horses and ponies which live out their lives here helping to keep the turf short.