Cotswolds Circular Tour

This circular tour of the northern part of The Cotswold Hills starts and finishes at Burford, known as the 'Gateway to the Cotswolds'. The main street of this beautiful town slopes down to the River Windrush, one of several rivers taking water from the Cotswold's limestone to become a tributary of the River Thames. It is crossed by a medieval bridge, near an old mill. Some of the main street is Georgian, but much is older, some with timber frames and some with added Georgian facades. Two wonderful hotels are the Lamb and the noted Bay Tree, both with restaurants and bars with open fires. The church is large with a tall spire, and the oldest parts are from 1100. Close by are some medieval arms houses.

We go over the bridge and along the gentle Windrush valley through the pretty village of Taynton to Great Barrington, where in the centre of the village is a large private estate which has its own church and very impressive surrounding wall. We go over rising ground to Great Rissington, to visit the church. Here there is an illustrated memorial to the 1st World War dead, 5 of whom are Souls, the greatest loss of any family at that time.

The hill falls away down to Bourton-on-the-Water, a pretty but tourist visited town with a wide street with the river alongside, crossed by several stone bridges. From there we follow little lanes to visit The Slaughters, two very pretty villages on the river Eye. Lower Slaughter has a water mill, now working, and the 17thC. Manor is a lovely hotel, as is the Tudor Manor in Upper Slaughter.

We follow the Windrush through Naunton, past a 15th C. dovecote to Guiting Power, where the church has Norman carving and stained glass, doubling back to go through Barton and Kineton to Temple Guiting. The road is high up to look down on the village, where the Windrush is in its infancy. After a visit we return to the northerly road, high up along a ridge past Ford and then descending into Snowshill. The Manor House is open (NT) and houses some eccentric collections. The Snowshill Arms is a genuine old pub and serves good home-cooked hot and cold lunches, well worth a visit.

Here we are on the edge of the escarpment of the Hills, and the road drops down with spectacular views of the Vale of Evesham to the left and the escarpment to the right. At the bottom of the hill is Broadway, where the wide street is lined with 16th C. and 17th C. houses including the best hotel, The Lygon Arms. There is now a bypass for the main road, so the top of the town is a dead-end, where we turn round to find it to climb back up to the Cotswolds. Atop the hill is the Broadway Tower, open in summer and worth the climb for spectacular views of 360 degrees, over the Severn valley and into Wales. It was built in 1800 as a folly to be seen by its owner the Earl of Coventry from his home in Worcester. William Morris lived here for a while and is remembered in exhibitions.

It is a short drive on the main road to turn off and descend towards Chipping Camden, my favourite of the main Cotswolds towns. Chipping means market. It's wealth came from wool, and it was a main market town, where you can see the pillared market and Woolstaplers Hall, 1487. St. James is a large church with impressive tower, and in front of this is the ruin of Camden Manor, but the gatehouse and East and West banqueting houses are still there and my daughter stayed there so I can tell you about it as we walk around. The almshouses in Church Street are from 1612, and the Lime trees towards the church are 600 years old. The Noel Arms is a 15th C. Coaching Inn.

From here we can make a visit to Hidcote Manor Garden (NT) if there is time. It is high on the edge of the escarpment, and one of the most famous of English gardens. It was started in the early 1900's by a rich American and features individually themed areas separated by hedges and with joining vistas.

Chipping Camden and nearby Broad Camden have many beautiful thached houses, which take picture-postcard pictures. This is the turning point of the tour, so we turn South through Broad Camden and Blockley. It is a steady climb up to Broad Camden, and atop the hill is a bench for the walker to rest. One group of clients wanted to stop there to be photographed on the bench. They sat down and I walked in front of them.

'No No' they said. They wanted to be photographed from behind, enjoying the view! On my last trip, the bench had gone, what a shame.

It is a descent through Bourton-on -the-Hill (ask me about Sezincote) past an ornate church and Georgian Manor House down to Moreton-in-Marsh. It is not a bog, but 'March'; an old word for boundary. It was another market town, with a wide street for it and some handsome buildings. There is a market here once a week and many tourists. It has the only railway station in the north Cotswolds. The main road is the straight Roman Fosse Way, which takes us to Stow-on-the-Wold.

Stow is worth a visit on foot, and has many antique shops. Prices are not for dealers. It is the highest inhabited place in the Hills, 750 ft. The church is medieval, the market square is lively and pretty and there is good ice-cream!

There is a short circular tour through Upper and Lower Swell to then return to Burford.

This tour takes you to all the main Cotswolds towns, and many pretty villages on back roads. The other small area of outstanding beauty not included is Bibury and the Coln Valley, south-west of Burford. This can be included into the journey from Bath to Burford as part of a tour.

The driving time for the circular tour is about 3 hours, so it is just possible to make it a single day trip from London on a 10 hour day, but really the enjoyment should be part of a several day tour, staying in Burford. The Bay Tree is in the world-wide Johansens guide, 1 in about 20 in England, and The Lamb is also wonderful. The Golden Pheasant is also quite acceptable, and for the budget-conscious there is a Travelodge at the top of the town.

A lovely and leisurely 3 days could be Bath, Cotswolds, Stratford and Warwick, and I can add days before and after this as well. Each tour with me is individually planned, so the above is a suggestion, not a fixed route. Within the time available, we go where you want and stop when you want, to take pictures or walk in villages and the countryside. You can follow the route with detailed maps if you wish, and each tour has an itinerary booklet prepared by me, with maps, timings and details and pictures of places we shall see.

Come with me to see The Cotswolds!

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