You may be thinking that I’ve gone soft and that The Cotswold Way is as like a mountain as Wales is like a sunshine destination but allow me to explain a little further why it has been gifted the honor of becoming July’s mountain of the month.
The Cotswold Way runs from Bath to Chipping Campden over a course of 102 miles. The headlines say that it runs along the top of the Cotswold escarpment which may lull you into thinking that once you’re up you just potter along the ridge admiring the views. However, this is not the case. Granted it isn’t a winter ascent of Ben Nevis but nonetheless in the section that we walked we managed 55km and 1600m of ascent over two days.
The weekend came about after the success of my mum and I walking the Norfolk Coastal Path just before Christmas. Keen to complete another national trail we settled on a weekend on the Cotswold Way to size it up. In contrast to the winter weather in Norfolk I think it is fair to say that our biggest challenge on this walk was the unrelenting sunshine and heat. Thankfully there were many shaded woodland sections of the trail, without which I think it would have been much harder.
To keep things simple we travelled to and from the trail by train. GWR runs services from Bristol that stop at Cam and Dursley and Cheltenham which are the best points for walking some of the trail by rail. You can also access Stroud by train if coming from London or Gloucester.
The national trail website has lots of helpful planning tools but if you would like to do as we did here’s the lowdown:
Saturday: 22.5km, 724m ascent
Train from Bristol to Cam and Dursley
Walked from Cam and Dursely Station to Whitesfield
Stayed at The Star Inn, Whitesfield
Once on the trial the signposting is excellent; whenever a seed of doubt pops into your mind there will be an acorn sign within vision. However, the walk from Cam station to the trail at GR 794 005 did require some careful map reading. Turns out good preparation for winter walking (i.e. not being able to see paths due to snow) is navigating the farmers fields pre harvest where all paths are covered in head height corn plants!
Once the trail was found though the miles were easily covered; open ridges turned into rounded chalkland hills and soon we were descending into Stroud. Had we more time we would have detoured to Stroud itself but instead made a pitstop at the lovely cafe at Ebley Mill.
We then followed the recently restored Cotswold Canal out of the the valley and up towards the days second high point (the first being Frocester Hill at 230m) before descending off trail again to our accommodation in Whiteshill. The Star Inn was welcoming and had the added bonus of offering a room big enough for 3. Painswick would have been a better location for accommodation as it is directly on the trail and has more choice, however, on a Saturday night in July pickings were limited.
Sunday: 35km, 999m ascent
Walked from Whitesfield to Cheltenham
Train from Cheltenham to Bristol
The second day was definitely a physical challenge as it contained 35km of our 55km weekend total. These kilometers played out over coffees in Painswick, golf courses, lots of woodland and a suburban stroll back to Cheltenham train station which is about an hours walk off the trail. We were warmly welcomed by The Patchwork Mouse Cafe in Painswick and fueled by their cakes en route. The highlight for me of the second day was seeing the infamous cheese rolling hill at Coopers Hill. I had heard about the event but had no concept of just how steep the hill they chase the cheese down was! Some hay bales that had clearly acted as makeshift crash barriers were still in situ from this years ‘roll’.
There is definitely a degree of challenge to the Cotswold Way. Some sections would lend themselves easily to trail runs with some forward planning and many parts of the trail would lend themselves to weekends. I’m hoping to plan a few more of these and complete the whole trail this year.