Cotswolds – Bibury from Coln St. Aldwyns 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.
Bibury is claimed to be one of the most beautiful villages in England near “The Capital of the Cotswolds” Cirencester. The village known for its honey-coloured 17th century stone cottages with steeply pitched roofs stands on both banks of the River Coln. The cottages once housed the weavers who supplied cloth for degreasing at nearby Arlington Mill which is now a private dwelling but previously used to house a museum with a collection of period clothing, documents and working machinery illustrating milling and the Victorian way of life. The River Coln flowing through Bibury is sandwiched between the main village street and an expanse of boggy water meadow known as Rack Isle. With Arlington Row as a back drop it makes it one of the most picturesque and photographed scenes in the whole of the Cotswolds. Arlington Row cottages were built in 1380 as a monastic wool store and were converted into a row of cottages for weavers in the 17th century. Arlington Row is a nationally notable architectural conservation area and is now pictured on the inside cover of all United Kingdom passports. Rack Isle was where the wool was hung to dry on wooden timber frames after being degreased at Arlington Mill. Today this water meadow and marshy area, which is seasonally flooded and surrounded by water from three sides, is an important habitat for water-loving plants and birds and is also a National Trust Wildfowl Reserve. Bibury Trout Farm founded in 1902 is one of the oldest and the most attractive trout farm in the country. Once a working farm breeding and rearing high quality Rainbow and Brown Trout for restocking angling waters it has welcomed visitors since 1965 who can see the water come alive as the fish are fed and learn about the life of a trout. In the beautiful surroundings many ducks, swans, kingfishers, geese and other wildlife including the rare water vole can be seen and fed. The Heron and Otter are also regular visitors but not quite so welcome. The farm has a gift shop which also sells milk, free range eggs, cheese, fresh local baked bread, wines, Westons cider and Hook Norton beers. There is also a fresh fish counter, frozen and fresh seafood, delicatessen, plant sales, play area, picnic and barbeque areas and free car park. During the warmer months refreshments are available. Bibury is particularly visited by Japanese tourists due largely to Emperor Hirohito having stayed in the village on his European tour. The north Chancel wall of the Saxon Church of St Mary is home to a stained glass window which was designed in 1927 by Karl Parsons and was featured in the 1992 Christmas stamp set issued by the Royal Mail. Bibury has also been used as a film and television location, most notably for the film’s “Stardust” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary”
Coln St. Aldwyns, between Bibury and Fairford, is a small pretty village rising up a sloping hill from the River Coln. The High Street is lined with lovely ivy clad traditional Cotswolds stone cottages, most of which are 17th and 18th century. There is also a number of 19th century estate cottages built for the country house of Williamstrip Park. Like most Cotswolds villages wool was the main trade and most of the villagers worked at weaving. In the late 18th century trade turned towards farming. Coln Manor is a large 16th century manor house which was rebuilt in the Victorian era and was home to the Fettiplace family who owned a vast amount of land and manors throughout Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. The school was built in 1856 and closed in 1971 and the parish church of St John the Baptist dates to the 12th century. The village store is in a 16th century building once used as a poor house. It became a girl’s school in the 19th century but in 1852 it was rebuilt and enlarged. Near the shop was the village bakery and bathhouse, the baths being heated by the baker’s oven and cost three pennies to take a weekly bath. The village pub, The New Inn, is a 17th century coaching inn with restaurant and accommodation.
The River Coln rises at Brockhampton to the east of Cheltenham and flows in a south/south-easterly direction through the Cotswold Hills via Andoversford, Withington, Fossbridge, Bibury, Coln St. Aldwyns, Quenington and Fairford. It joins the River Thames to the south west of Lechlade where it shares a confluence with the Thames and Severn Canal, by The Round House Footbridge. The redundant gravel pits between Fairford and Lechlade form the eastern part of the Cotswold Water Park which is fed and drained by the River Coln. The river contains many species of freshwater fish including brown trout and grayling.
We walk through the village past the post office/shop/cafe and the pub to the River Coln. After crossing a second bridge we turn immediate right just before the house then bear left slightly uphill through the fields. When we come to wall we go through the gateway and head forward to the road to left of the house. At the road we turn right for a short way and take the path on the right. We head forwards and soon go through a gate to drop downhill and then up the other side and continue following the track until we come to a crossroads of paths. We turn right passing some trees on our left. We keep heading forward through a gate. When we come to a tarmac lane we bear right downhill to pass Arlington Row (the famous line of beautiful cottages) to the River Coln. We cross over the bridge to the main road through Bibury and turn left. We follow the road on the footpath to the second bridge then turn left to view the trout farm. We about turn and retrace our steps through the village past the post office/shop and continue following the road round the bend. At the y-junction we bear right. At the end of the houses we turn right down to the mill and the river. We follow the track right and left to go through a gate. We continue on the track which takes us uphill through the trees. At the top we turn left at the arrows and head along the track with the wood on our left. When we come to a footbridge we cross over and bear left over the field to go through a gate and a small wood. We continue ahead close to the River Coln on our left. When we see a wood sticking out into the field we bear left with the river on our left and follow the tree line on our right. When we reach the road we turn left over the bridge then immediate left onto a track. After a short way we turn right over a footbridge passing the mill house on the left. We continue forward bearing right at a minor road back into Coln St, Aldwyns and our car.
This is an easy to moderate walk on grass and gravel footpaths/tracks with some tarmac road, gates and footbridges. There are some inclines and declines.
Elevation: approx lowest point 95.30m (312.66ft) approx highest point 133.10m (436.68ft) approx ascent 154.20m (505.91ft).
Distance and Start Point
Approx 7.1 miles allow 3 – 3½ hours using OS Explorer Map OL45, The Cotswolds. This walk is done clockwise. Add extra time for sightseeing.
Start point: Coln St. Aldwyns just north of the post office/shop and cafe.
Coln St. Aldwyns and Bibury are in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire.
Directions and Parking
On the M40 at junction 9 take the A34 towards Oxford then take the A40 towards Witney and Burford. At Burford stay on the A40 then take the B4425 on the left to Aldsworth. After passing Aldsworth take the first left and follow this minor road to Coln St. Aldwyns.
Parking: road side in the village. Free.
Toilets and Refreshments
There are public toilets in Bibury and for refreshments there is a post office and village shop, The Swan Hotel, The Catherine Wheel pub and Bibury Trout Farm shop. In Coln St. Aldwyns there is a community store plus cafe and post office and The New Inn.