The Cotswolds – Stow-on-the-Wold to Bourton-on-the-Water round
Gloucestershire is a county in South West England split into three areas, the major part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn and the entire Forest of Dean. It borders with the counties of Gwent in Wales to the west, Herefordshire to the northwest, Worcestershire to the north Warwickshire to the northeast, Oxfordshire to the east, Wiltshire to the south and Bristol and Somerset to the southwest. Gloucestershire’s county town and only city is Gloucester and has 32 towns. The charming Cotswolds villages and towns and quaint cottages and buildings gained much of their character from the yellow limestone that was quarried locally. The area was once entirely dependent on sheep farming and many of the fine churches and manor houses owe their existence to the generosity of the wealthy medieval yeoman farmers and wool merchants. The valley of Britain’s longest river, the River Severn, is flat with lush meadows along its banks and is famous for its tidal bore. The views across the River Severn are outstanding and its estuary is a haven for wildfowl and wading birds. The Royal Forest of Dean sits between the Wye Valley, the Vale of Leadon and the Severn Valley and is one of England’s few remaining ancient forests. Covering 27,000 acres it was designated as a National Park in 1938. Full of magic and mystery the forest has been the inspiration for many great artists and writers including JRR Tolkien and JK Rowling.
The Cotswolds are a range of hills covering an area of 25 miles across and 90 miles long and lie mainly within the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire but extend into parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The spine of the Cotswolds runs southwest to northeast through the six counties particularly Gloucestershire, west Oxfordshire and south western Warwickshire. The Cotswolds have been designated as the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is the largest AONB in England and Wales. The northern and western edges of the Cotswolds are marked by steep escarpments down to the Severn Valley and the Warwickshire Avon and this escarpment is often called the Cotswolds Edge. On the eastern boundary lies the city of Oxford and on the west is Stroud. To the southeast the upper reaches of the Thames Valley and towns such as Lechlade, Tetbury and Fairford mark the limit of this region and to the south the boundary reaches beyond Bath and towns such as Chipping Sodbury and Marshfield. The Cotswolds are characterised by attractive small towns and villages built of the underlying Cotswold stone, a yellow limestone, and drystone walls many built in the 18th and 19th centuries can be seen everywhere in the fields. The most well known towns or villages are Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Burford, Chipping Norton, Cirencester, Moreton-in-Marsh, Northleach, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stroud and Winchcombe. During the 13th – 15th centuries the native Cotswold sheep were famous throughout Europe for their heavy fleeces and high quality of wool. Cotswold wool came at a high price and the wealth generated by the wool trade enabled wealthy traders to leave their mark by building fine houses and beautiful churches, known as “wool churches”. Today the sight of the sheep on the hillside is still one of the most common features of the Cotswolds.
Stow-on-the-Wold is a small market town situated on top of an 800 ft hill at the convergence of a number of major roads and was founded as a planned market place by Norman lords. Maugersbury was probably the primary settlement before Stow was built to take advantage of passing trade on the busy crossroads. Fairs have been held in the square by royal charter since 1330 and their aim was to establish Stow as a place to trade. As the fairs began to grow and become popular the town prospered and started dealing not only in livestock but in many handmade goods and the wool trade also played a large part in the area. When the wool trade declined horse trading took over and horses would be sold at every fair. The annual horse fair is still held today but has been relocated to a large field on the edge of the town close to Maugersbury rather than in the square.
Maugersbury is a very small pretty village with wonderful views less than a mile south east of Stow-on-the-Wold and lies within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Bourton-on-the-Water is a large and very pretty village, attracting many visitors and day trippers it becomes very busy during the summer months. It is known as the Venice of the Cotswolds because of the bridge-spanned River Windrush that runs through the centre. There are plenty of attractions here for all the family including the Birdland Park and Gardens, Dragonfly Maze, the Modal Railway, the Model village, the Cotswolds Motoring Museum, the Cotswold Carp Farm, a farmers’ market on the fourth Sunday of each month and during the summer a game of medieval football is played with goalposts set up in the River Windrush itself. There are plenty of benches on the wide grassy banks along both sides of the shallow river making it a fantastic place for a paddle or just to sit, relax and watch the world go by. The River Windrush flows for 40 miles from the Cotswold Hills into Oxfordshire and it meets the Thames at Newbridge. Within Bourton there are 117 buildings that have been designated as having Grade II or higher listed Status.
The Slaughters are the idyllic small twin villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter just south west of Stow-on-the-Wold. Since 1906 the two villages have remained unchanged and straddle the banks of the River Eye which is also known as Slaughter Brook. The name Slaughter has nothing to do with blood or killing but derived from an old English word Slothre simply meaning “muddy place”. The river, at Lower Slaughter, with its little stone bridges is bordered by 16th and 17th century yellow limestone cottages built in the traditional Cotswolds Style. The main feature of the village is the restored 19th century flour mill with an original working waterwheel and a chimney for additional steam power. The mill which went into decline in 1958 is now a museum, gift shop and tea room. The village is home to a 13th century Anglican Church dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin built in 1866. The Lower Slaughter Manor built in 1658 for the High Sheriff of Gloucestershire is now a grand Country House Hotel.
The Oxfordshire way is a long distance walk which runs for 68 miles starting in Bourton-on-the-Water and finishing at Henley-on-Thames. With 6 miles of the route in Gloucestershire and some short sections in Buckinghamshire it passes through two Areas of Natural Beauty the Cotswolds and the Chiltern Hills and also links with the Heart of England Way and the Thames Path.
The Gloucestershire Way is a 100 mile long distance footpath using existing Rights of Way from Tutshill just north of Chepstow it crosses the River Severn at Gloucester and then continues to Tewkesbury with a Worcestershire Way link.
The Warden’s Way is a 14 mile long footpath which starts at Winchcombe, makes its way into the surrounding hills and passes through some of the most attractive villages and hamlets such as Guiting Power, Naunton and the Slaughters before finishing at Bourton-on-the-Water.
Monarch’s Way is also a long distance walk more or less following the escape route taken by King Charles II in 1651 after being defeated in the Battle of Worcester. The route is 615 miles long and marked with yellow discs with a ship “The Surprise”, the Prince of Wales crown and the Royal Oak tree at Boscobel House. Starting at Powick Bridge at Worcester the path runs north to Boscobel then south to Stratford-upon-Avon continues south to Stow-on-the-Wold before turning south west to Cirencester and Bristol. It then heads south across the Mendip Hills to Wells then on through Somerset and then south west to Charmouth where there is a short section along the Dorset coast before turning north to Yeovil then turns east across the Downs to Brighton and Shoreham-by-Sea.
We park at the side of the road in Maugersbury and walk towards the telephone box and turn right just after the post box. We follow the little road and after bearing round to the right we turn left and head forwards downhill on the tarmac track crossing over the old dismantled railway line to pass Oxlease Farm. We keep following the track which has now become stony until we reach a small road. We turn right and follow this road for about 10 minutes until we reach the main road. We turn left uphill for a short way then turn right at the public footpath sign and following the main track through the trees. We keep bearing right until we come to a gate across the road and turn right just before the gate. We soon come out into the open and bear round to the left with the tree line on our left and keep heading forwards until we come to a small road. We now turn right then after a short way we turn left just before a post box and signposted Bridle Way and Oxfordshire Way. We go through a gate and head forwards following the path through the fields after crossing bridge over a stream we enter into Greystones Farm Nature Reserve. We cross over another bridge and keep heading forwards. We come to a cross roads of paths and turn left through the gate sign posted Lakes. We head forwards through the field go through a gate and after passing through a second gate we turn left and immediate left again through a small gate onto a wooden walkway called the Archaeology Walk. We heads forwards following the boards and then the edge of the lake until we reach a wide gate, we go through the small gate on the left. We follow the track bearing off to the right passing Bury Barn Farm and Cottage then just after the allotments we turn left and follow the track until we reach the road at Bourton-on-the-Water. With Birdland in front of us we turn right and follow the path by the side of the River Windrush through the village centre until we come to the church. We turn right and follow the footpath the Warden’s Way by the side of the church and keep heading forwards past the school until we come to a road. We turn left then right at the traffic lights and after a short way we turn left crossing the road to follow the track on the Warden’s Way to Lower Slaughter. At Lower Slaughter we follow the little stream round to the left passing the church on our right to visit the mill. We then make our way back to the church and turn left. At the end of the church yard just before the bend in the road we turn right then left just before the houses and head forwards, passing the cricket club, through the fields following the Macmillan Way. We go through a gate and keep heading forwards and when we see a water tank we turn left through the hedge then make our way through the field following the yellow arrows on a stranded gate. We then turn right, the farm is on our left, and head down a long field. We are now on the Monarch’s Way and Gloucestershire Way. At the end of the field we turn left through the gateway then bear right over a stile. We head forwards to go through at gate next to a stream then cross a little bridge to reach some buildings. We go through a gate and turn right round the back of an old mill cross over a bridge and bear left towards the buildings in the distance below the trees. We keep heading forwards passing Nether Swell Cottage on our left then uphill to go through a gate and some trees to the main road. We turn left and follow the road using the pavement to Stow-on-the-Wold. We keep heading forwards through the traffic lights and then turn right at the next junction and the telephone box onto High Street. We walk through Stow-on-the-Wold across the square then head down the one way street, named Digbeth Street, to the junction with the main road. We turn left, cross the road and turn right at the sign post for Maugersbury ½. We head forwards on the track with the car park and public toilets on our left. After about 10 minutes we arrive back in Maugersbury and our parked car.
This is an easy walk through fields, on tracks and some small roads. There are some slight inclines and declines.
Elevation: Approx lowest point 128m (420ft) Approx highest point 242.6m (796ft).
Distance and Start Point
Approx 11 miles allow 4 hours using OS explorer map OL45, The Cotswolds.
Start Point: Maugersbury half a mile southeast of Stow-on-the-Wold
Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire.
Directions and Parking
From the M40 take junction 15 then take the A429 to Moreton-on-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold. At the traffic lights at Stow turn left onto the A436. At the junction to the main road turn left and immediate right at the road sign for Maugersbury. Free roadside parking.
There are several car parks in Stow one with a parking charge from 50p for ½ an hour to £2 for three hours. There is limited free parking in the square, on the road side and at Tesco supermarket on the outskirts of the town. There is also a pay and display car park at Bourton-on-the-Water which is variable hourly rate Mon – Tues and £6.50 flat rate on Sundays there is also some road side parking.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are public toilets in the Market Square and in Maugersbury Road at Stow-on-the-Wold and in the car park at Bourton-on-the-Water. For refreshments there are ample shops, cafes, tearooms, pubs and restaurants in both Stow and Bourton.