Stop for a moment along the Cotswold Way and it's easy to believe that you've left the big cities of southern England far behind you. Yet for most visitors to the UK the Cotswolds are within easy reach of a day trip, being barely two hours from London and far less from Birmingham or Oxford. To fully appreciate the Cotswolds however a longer visit is recommended, allowing ample time to explore the charming villages, quiet lanes and rolling landscapes that have attracted visitors to this part of England for centuries.
We took the chance to enjoy a couple of days of hiking around the market town of Chipping Campden. Sunny and mild January days can never be taken for granted and yet we were blessed with two in a row, with the only sharp shower ending just as we pulled into the car park before starting our first walk.
The Cotswold Way starts in Chipping Campden and meanders southwest toward Cheltenham. We followed the trail at various points of our two hikes as it passed through traditional villages and across rolling farmland. It is a generally well-signed trail and even in January the mud doesn't get too deep, although good boots and a pair of gaiters are recommended.
Our first walk took us through the old villages of Stanway and Stanton, the latter being a great place to stop for lunch. The Mount Inn is the first building you reach as you descend into the village and provided a perfect halfway break on our walk before heading back to our car in Snowshill. Snowshill is well known for its lavender and if you take this trail in the summer months you'll be treated to a dramatic carpet of colour as you approach the village. Details of the trail can be found here.
On the second day we left the car in Chipping Campden and headed for nearby Dover's Hill. This is the site of the Cotswold Olimpick Games, held every spring and in existence long before the more widely known international sporting celebration. I suspect that the Cotswold version follows the pure ideals of sport far better than the other Olympics do. From Dover's Hill the views are superb, with the northern Cotswolds spreading out far below and the hills of Wales visible to the west.
Eventually our walk took us through the village of Broadway and then up a steep 250 metre climb to Broadway Tower. This 18th century folly has served many purposes over the years, both as a refuge for its eccentric owners and as a military outpost in both the Second World War and the Cold War period. The exhibition on the three levels of the tower is comprehensive if rather disorganised and confusing, but the views from the top make all the effort of the climb from the village worthwhile. Entry to the tower is £4.50.
We stayed in the Cotswold House Hotel as part of our stay which was arranged through Great Little Breaks. Staff were friendly and helpful and the gas fire provided a cosy welcome as we settled into our spacious room. The mini-bar stocked with complimentary beers, soft drinks and chocolate was a lovely touch, while the many switches and lighting themes in the bathroom provided us with a novel blend of entertainment and confusion. Dinner and afternoon tea were included in our package and the food at every meal was excellent.I was particularly impressed by the fact that 'dinner included' meant we were at liberty to pick anything we wanted from the main a la carte menu, rather than being provided with a limited 'special' package selection. We could have chosen the most expensive steaks and really made the most of our package, but the lamb and veal proved to be wise selections. I'm not normally the greatest fan of posh hotels, mainly because I can't stand the way they so often try to relieve you of cash at every opportunity even after you've paid the earth for your room. This was most certainly not the case at Cotswold House and they get a big thumbs up from me as a result.
Disclosure: We received a complimentary afternoon tea, dinner, bed and breakfast package at Cotswold House Hotel through Great Little Breaks, who offer similar deals across the UK at rates that typically offer a big saving against than those you might get by booking direct. To my knowledge the staff at the hotel considered us regular customers with a Great Little Breaks voucher and were unaware that we were staying on a complimentary basis. This post is written by Andy Jarosz who owns the 501 Places travel blog.