Walking the Cotswolds, England

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 15600A, International

Highlights

  • Walk 4 to 11 miles on 4 days through the picturesque Cotswolds in Southern England
  • Explore storybook villages, Roman ruins, medieval abbeys, and lush gardens
  • Enjoy tours of Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the Neolithic stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury

Includes

  • Local guides with specialties in the area's history, culture, and nature
  • Tours of regional gardens, medieval castle, and restored Roman bath
  • Accommodations in country inns and small hotels, meals, entry fees, ground transportation, airport transfers, and gratuities

Details

DatesMay 10–20, 2015
Price$4,875
Deposit$200
Capacity14
StaffMartha Greason

Trip Overview

The Trip

Join us in our visit to some of England’s most quintessential sites. This tour is an excellent introduction for those who have never visited this most fascinating country and a treat for those experienced travelers who haven’t yet had the chance to walk the charming paths of the Cotswolds region.

England may be a small country, but it has a rich historical legacy that leaves a fascinating mix of culture, language, and landscape. On this tour, we concentrate on the southern area of this island empire. Southern England’s countryside is gently undulating, with hilly areas in the Cotswolds and farmland between the towns and cities.

We begin our trip in London, meeting for orientation and a lovely dinner at The Duke of Wellington. The next morning we will drive west to the village of Burford in the Cotswolds to start our four-day walk from village to village. We will wander up and down the 900-foot limestone Cotswold Escarpment, with its tapestry of hills, small acreage farms, and woodlots.

"Cotswold" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon "Cote," or sheep fold. "Wold" refers to an unfenced tract of land. It is an area rich with evidence of the Iron Age, and Celtic and Roman occupation. Our route crosses ruins of ancient barrows and fortifications that date as far back as 2500 BC. It passes monuments erected to memorialize military and religious exploits of past native "sons," and winds by estates of wealthy noble families. We will undoubtedly see signs of late spring in the countryside: crops starting to emerge in the fields and just-born lambs frolicking. Every day we walk among rolling hills, fields, villages, gardens, churches, and thatched-roof houses. The route takes us through towns with antique stores, tea rooms, museums, and pubs. We stay at small hotels and B&Bs, sampling the local cuisine and selecting snacks and lunch fare as we pass quaint shops. The beautiful honey-colored stone found in the Cotswolds appears in the houses, barns, and field walls we see along our way. At times we walk on just a path through parkland and pasture as we follow farm roads, with the occasional highway or railroad crossing. Splendid views are to be had from ridges and hilltops. The exceptional natural features of this area have resulted in its designation by the government of the United Kingdom as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

From Chipping Campden, we drive to Shakespeare’s town of birth, Stratford-upon-Avon, for a day’s tour and a Shakespeare play that evening.  Our next stop is Bath, a city famous for its history of Roman and Georgian architecture and its natural thermal springs. It has more protected historic buildings than any other city of its size in England. We spend two nights in Bath, with plenty of time to tour the town and visit the recently renovated Roman Baths Museum. There is an opportunity for an optional visit to Thermae Bath Spa, the luxurious warm springs spa in Bath.

From Bath we stop at two of the most famous Neolithic sites in the world, Stonehenge and Avebury. As old as the pyramids, these stone circles amazed medieval Europeans and continue to amaze modern travelers. We will walk around these structures that are full of mystery and majesty. We return to London for our last night’s farewell dinner and depart for home the following morning.

Itinerary

Itinerary is subject to change based on weather or other factors.

Day 1: We arrive in London and transfer to our centrally located hotel. We meet for an orientation session and enjoy our welcome dinner together.

Day 2: After breakfast we transfer by private bus to Burford, a small town on the River Windrush on the Cotswolds hills in west Oxfordshire. We join our guide for lunch and then take our first walk, five to six miles! We will learn about the village of Swinbrook and the Mitford sisters. Lodging in Burford.

Day 3: After transfering to the village of Bibury, we take a six-mile circular walk. We will see Arlington row, circa 1380, which once housed weavers who supplied cloth for fulling at nearby Arlington Mill. After lunch it is off to the Cotswold Woollen Weavers centre. Lodging in Burford.

Day 4: We transfer to Guiting Power for our seven-mile walk. Then we continue on through woods and fields before our descent to the ancient Saxon capital of Winchcombe, close to Sudeley Castle, which is the last resting place of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's sixth wife. After lunch, we will tour Sudeley Castle. We overnight in the coaching village of Broadway, where an array of fine houses and inns flank the “broad way."

Day 5: Today we follow the pilgrims' route to Hailes Abbey, then head over the hills to Jacobean Stanway House -- with its magnificent gatehouse and medieval tithe barn -- and continue on to idyllic Stanton. Our mileage today is five miles. During this day, we will tour and see a working 1850s water mill.

Day 6: After transferring uphill to Broadway Tower, the 18th-century “folly,” with fine views across the vale, we descend to Chipping Campden, the loveliest of all Cotswold villages, with its covered marketplace, beautiful “wool” church, almshouses, and silversmith. This village is considered one of the most beautiful in England and is well worth exploring. This afternoon we will enjoy the town, walking three to four miles. We overnight in Chipping Campden.

Day 7: This morning we drive to Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of Shakespeare. We're able to tour this pretty, historic market town, which has many interesting buildings and gardens, at a leisurely pace. In the evening, we will attend a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company. We overnight in Chipping Campden.

Day 8: After breakfast we drive to Bath. We meet our guide and take a city tour on foot. We visit the recently renovated Roman Baths in the afternoon. Bath, with its showcase of classical Georgian architecture, is recognized as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Bath’s Georgian terraces, crowned by the magnificent Royal Circus and Royal Crescent, climb dramatically up the hillsides, while the historic centre, where the Roman baths and ancient abbey still stand, is in a splendid location by the River Avon. We overnight in Bath.

Day 9: Today we tour the local area with our guide in our private bus. We are off to Malmesbury, an old market town that is well known as the oldest continually inhabited town in England.  We will tour the Abbey and later informally tour the Abbey House Gardens, where Benedictine monks once gardened.

Day 10: After breakfast we leave Bath and drive back to London. On our way, we stop to tour Stonehenge and Avebury, two of the most famous pre-historic archaeological sites in the world. Stonehenge’s iconic stone circle is as old as the pyramids and still impresses visitors today. Avebury dates to 2800 B.C., which makes it older than Stonehenge by six centuries. Its complex of great stones is much larger than Stonehenge’s and more accessible to visitors. Tonight we enjoy our farewell dinner and overnight at our hotel in London.

Day 11: After breakfast we transfer to the London airport for our flights home.

Photos

Details

Getting There

This trip begins and ends in London. You can fly into London's Heathrow or Gatwick airport and take a train or bus to our hotel in London. The trip leader will reimburse you for the fare. Participants are encouraged to arrive at least one day before our official start time to get through the almost unavoidable jet lag. Many take advantage of this extra time to visit some of the many sights of London.

Accommodations and Food

We will be using historic bed & breakfasts, inns, and small hotels. Rooms will be double occupancy. Based on availability, single-room supplements may be available for an additional cost. Breakfasts will be hearty, with choices ranging from full English egg-and-meat breakfasts to continental fare. Our midday meal may be a box lunch, a pub lunch, or food purchased at local markets. Dinners will be provided at our larger accommodations or at nearby pubs or restaurants. Vegetarians will be accommodated. If you have other dietary needs, please discuss this with the leader.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated moderate in physical difficulty. In the Cotswolds, our walks will be between four and eleven miles and have an elevation change of between 200 and 1,000 feet per day. All walks are on trails or paths through fields or on roads. Some agility is needed to climb stepladder stiles over stone walls without difficulty. For all other days of the trip, we walk through typical city terrain.

Some rain is to be expected and can make any walk through the Cotswolds more challenging. Our luggage is shuttled to our accommodations each day; however, each participant must carry a day pack with lunch, drinking water, raingear, a warm sweater, and any other items needed during the day.

Participants should be accustomed to walking at a pace of two miles per hour on level ground and be able to walk up steep grades at a slower pace without undue fatigue. Our walking is not difficult or rushed for a fit hiker; however, for safety reasons it is important that everyone be prepared to keep a similar pace. Please call or email the leader if you have any questions regarding your abilities before signing up for the trip. Your enjoyment of this trip will depend on your preparation and general fitness level. Regular hiking is the only activity that will totally prepare your legs, feet, and ankles for this trip.

Equipment and Clothing

It can rain a bit in England! Even if it is not raining, some areas can be very wet and boggy, so sturdy walking shoes or boots that are waterproofed are a must. Gaitors can be helpful to keep the mud off your ankles. A two-piece waterproof rain suit is also necessary to keep warm and dry, and you may consider bringing an umbrella. The leader will make other suggestions about clothing in more detailed letters, listing what you may need for daytime and nighttime activities. If you have trekking poles, please bring them as they will be very useful. We expect daytime temperatures to be in the 50s to 60 during the day and 40s to 50s at night.

References

Books:

  • Bryson, Bill, Notes from a Small Island.
  • Else, David et al., England. Lonely Planet.
  • Hobbes, Nicolas, England: 1000 Things You Need to Know.
  • Lee, Laurie, Cider with Rosie. (Set in the Cotswolds.)
  • Morton, HV, In Search of England.
  • Schama, Simon, A History of Britain.
  • Sterry, Paul, Complete Guide to British Wildlife.

Internet Resources:

Maps:

Conservation

The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about conservation and sustainability of resources both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward understanding environmentally parallel concerns at home and abroad.

England has been heavily populated for hundreds of years and most of the land is used for human endeavor. England’s national parks are typically designated around scenic areas that are largely in private hands. This designation helps control development and non-conforming uses.

The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) recently received an international award for delivering and promoting sustainable tourism. The Cotswolds was one of 11 European parks and protected areas awarded the prestigious European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas.

The environmental topics on this outing include urban sprawl, intensive farming, motorways, and the demand for vacation facilities that place heavy pressure upon open space and wildlife habitat. We will take this opportunity to meet with local conservationists and naturalists to explore these, and other, issues of local and global interest.

Staff

Leader:

Marti Greason has over a decade of experience leading Sierra Club trips to various destinations in the United States as well as abroad, introducing participants to varied landscapes, exotic cultures, and fascinating creatures (elephants and octopi, anyone?). She has traveled extensively in Europe, trekked through the Serengeti, visited the Orient and explored the Holy Land. She has also scuba dived in the Caribbean, zip-lined in the Costa Rican jungle, and followed Darwin's footsteps in the Galapagos. She currently resides in Tucson, Arizona, where she is a docent at Tohono Chul Park, introducing visitors to the basics of desert flora and fauna.

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