The Cotswold Way 50th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 10:29 15 April 2020 | UPDATED: 10:29 15 April 2020
As celebrations get under way for the 50th anniversary of the Cotswold Way, Siân Ellis looks at why it is such a popular long-distance trail
Spring’s swell of bluebells in Standish Wood; summer’s flit of butterflies over flower-rich chalk grasslands; dramatic views from the escarpment slowly revealed through autumn mists; ghosts half glimpsed as winter shadows tip-toe around Belas Knap Neolithic long barrow. If you’re after a taste of the Cotswolds in all its seasonal variety, its diversity of landscapes and manmade heritage, then go for a walk along the 102-mile (164km) Cotswold Way following the limestone scarp between Chipping Campden and Bath.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cotswold Way, originally devised by Gloucestershire-area Ramblers spearheaded by the late Tony Drake and Cyril Trenfield. Now a National Trail and hosted by the Cotswolds Conservation Board, it has gone from strength to strength thanks to an army of volunteers including the Cotswold Voluntary Wardens and Cotswold Way Association, who maintain and improve pathways – helping to make the Cotswold Way one of the best-loved long-distance walking trails in the country.
Lots of celebratory events, activities, and guided walks are planned for the anniversary year (see box) and it’s aimed to raise £50,000 In order to make sure that the trail is looked after for the next 50 years.
Among partners who are joining in, another icon of the Cotswolds Robert Welch Designs, is coincidentally celebrating 50 years of its studio shop at Chipping Campden (it also has one at the other end of the Cotswold Way in Bath) with a special range of products including a Cotswold Way-inspired chopping board. Robert Welch found an “enduring permanence” in Chipping Campden, a creative quality reflected in Robert Welch designs to this day, says PR Executive Gethin Evans:
“Robert Welch’s passion to create beautiful, functional, timeless products remains rooted in the company’s design DNA, ensuring his memory lives on and that every new product continues to be ‘Designed the Robert Welch way’.”
The speed record for completing the Cotswold Way is 19 hours and 31 minutes (Nathan Montague, 2014) but walkers more usually take seven to ten days – longer to make the most of sights en route. The Cotswold Way website will help you to plan trips along individual sections and circular walks for great days out: www.nationaltrail.co.uk/cotswold-way.
If you’re up for a challenge on steep ascents, try the 7.3-mile (11.8km) stomp from Dursley to Wotton-under-Edge, including a climb to the Tyndale Monument on Nibley Knoll for breathtaking vistas to the Severn estuary and beyond. Among gentler walks there’s a 2.5-mile (4km) circular stroll in the southern Cotswolds from the delightful Old Sodbury village to the medieval church and hill fort, and back. Easy access sites for less mobile explorers include Coaley Peak (Nympsfield) and Haresfield / Shortwood.
Chalk grasslands and beech woods
The varied landscapes, flora and fauna that make the Cotswolds an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are apparent all along the Cotswold Way. Bluebells in Lineover Wood (on the Dowdeswell to Leckhampton Hill stretch) are a springtime treat while, to the north, taking in the highest point of the trail, the chalk grasslands of Cleeve Common thrive with wildflowers and butterflies in summer; you’ll often hear skylarks and it’s an exhilarating place to go bird-watching or simply get away from it all.
Or feel the benefits of ‘forest bathing’ in autumn when beech woodlands like Shortwood, Standish Wood and Pope’s Wood are clothed in their richest colours.
Viewpoints, picnics and play
Following the dramatic scarp for much of its length, the Cotswold Way spoils walkers for views over the Severn and Avon Vales. The short saunter from Broadway up to Broadway Tower yields a feast for the eyes over patchwork fields, the Vale of Evesham and tree-bobbled skylines drifting away to distant hills. Other lofty viewpoints include: the 5.4-mile (8.8km) stretch of the Cotswold Way between Wood Stanway and Winchcombe with magnificent scenery across the Vale of Evesham towards the Malverns. Cleeve Hill, Dover’s Hill, and Leckhampton Hill also bring fabulous rewards.
Coaley Peak, combining a picnic area with great vistas, is one of many places where you might break for a spot of kite flying with the kids. For more ideas for fun-filled family adventures, games and scavenger hunts on the Cotswold Way, download ‘Going Wild’ activity sheets from the trail website.
Take heritage in your stride
Talking of fun, the Cotswold Way takes you to Dover’s Hill, Chipping Campden, scene of shin-kicking and other antics at Robert Dover’s Cotswold Olimpick Games (this year 29 May), and to Cooper’s Hill, renowned for its madcap cheese-rolling races (this year 25 May).
Indeed the trail threads together historical landmarks and sites – venerable as well as wacky – that tell a manmade Cotswold story from prehistoric times to the present: the Neolithic burial chambers of Belas Knap, Iron Age hill forts, 13th-century Hailes Abbey, the site of the Civil War Battle of Lansdown Hill. Estates from Sudeley to Stanway to Dyrham Park meld history with 21st-century life. Cotswold-stone towns and villages from Chipping Campden to Painswick and Wotton-under-Edge entice with medieval ‘wool’ churches, merchant houses and former cloth mills – as well as refreshment stops in pubs and teashops.
As you swoop down from the Cotswold Way into the World Heritage City of Bath, there’s a real sense of a pilgrimage at journey’s end outside the abbey. Mind, body and soul refreshed!
Support the fundraising appeal:
Find guided and self-guided walks to plan Cotswold Way adventures: cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/visiting-andexploring/walking
For further information on the Cotswolds AONB and the Cotswolds Conservation Board:
Cotswolds Conservation Board, The Old Prison, Fosse Way, Northleach, Gloucestershire, GL54 3JH. Tel: 01451 862000 www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk
This article was written before the lockdown due to Coronavirus and if the lockdown is continuing when you read it, then you can still enjoy the Cotswold Way virtually via ‘Street View’ footage on the National Trail website – provided by AONB staff members who took it in turns a couple of years ago to walk the whole length of the 102-mile Cotswold Way carrying a Google Trekker – phew, thanks team!