There’s probably no corner of England more famous than the Cotswolds — picture its rolling green hills criss-crossed with dry stone walls and honey-coloured limestone villages.
Kelly Felstead headed to the Cotswolds to explore...
The National Trail
The Cotswold Way is 102 miles long, and runs between Chipping Campden in the north and Bath Abbey in the south. On the trail, walkers will stumble across unspoiled villages with enigmatic names, beautiful churches and historic houses, and ancient landmarks. The National Trails website has a number of circular walks along the Cotswold Way, varying in length and difficulty but each possessing their own charm.
I enjoyed the circular walk from Winchcombe — an attractive Gloucestershire market town in the heart of the Cotswolds — and took my Cocker Spaniel, Henry, to help me explore its delights. As well as offering beautiful Cotswold views, this interesting walk is steeped in history too, taking in the intriguing Neolithic site of Belas Knap and passing the gates of Sudeley Castle.
1. The walk starts in the centre of Winchcombe at the war memorial on Abbey Terrace, which is opposite the Plaisterers Arms pub. Facing the pub, turn right and head for Vineyard Street.
Turn left down Vineyard Street — bordered by charming terraced cottages and pollarded trees — and continue until you reach the stone bridge at the bottom.
2. Just after the bridge, follow the Cotswold Way signpost through the gate on your right. Cross the grassy meadow in the shadow of St Peter’s Church towards the gate on the other side. I let Henry off the lead here to enjoy some of the country smells of the Cotswolds. Continue along the field boundaries until you reach Corndean Lane. It’s a good idea to put dogs back on leads before reaching Corndean Lane because traffic could be approaching from either direction.
Keeping an eye out for traffic, turn left and head up the lane until the Cotswold Way branches off through a wide gate on the right. Walk along this access road, going past the cricket ground on the right. There is a sign on the gate telling owners to keep dogs on leads. After a short walk a fingerpost will guide you through a gate on your left. Head on up through the middle of the rolling green fields towards the woods at the top of the hill.
Henry loved stretching his legs on the hills; however, I had to put him back on the lead as we approached the top of the hill as there were a number of horses in the field.
3. When you get to the kissing gate at the top of the hill, stop and admire the glorious views of the town behind you. It’s the perfect spot to catch your breath after the steep climb.
Once you’re ready, go through the gate and leave the Cotswold Way to head right, walking along the road between the trees. This road will eventually lead you to the ancient monument, Belas Knap. If you don’t fancy the last climb, head along the road straight ahead to take up the route at point five.
If you decide to walk to Belas Knap, keep an eye out for Hill Barn Farm on your right. Not long after you pass the farm, turn left at the fingerpost next to the large oak tree to rejoin the Cotswold Way. The road turns into a gravel path after the farm.
Continue straight on to head towards the mound of Belas Knap, which you will be able to see rising up at the far side of the field.
4. When you reach Belas Knap, take a break and soak up the past. This Neolithic long barrow, or burial chamber, is steeped in myths and legends, and is one of the most intriguing structures in the Cotswolds. Let your imagination run wild while you explore. The site is owned by English Heritage and managed by Gloucestershire County Council.
The long barrow features a false entrance and side chambers. It was excavated in 1863, and again in 1865, and hundreds of human bones — some dating back more than 6,000 years — have been discovered at the site.
Dogs are allowed to wander around Belas Knap with their owners. Henry and I spent time exploring the side chambers and reading the information board, which gave in-depth details of this mysterious structure’s fascinating history.
Leaving the barrow behind, cross the small stone stile at the far side — Henry was able to jump over it easily — and continue to follow the Cotswold Way for half a mile through a wood, along field boundaries, and more woods until you meet the road.
5. Watching out for traffic, turn right to leave the Cotswold Way. Follow the road for a quarter of a mile until you reach a turning on your left. Follow this track — the old route of the Cotswold Way and clearly signposted — down past Humblebee Cottages on the right. You will see incredible views eastwards into the heart of the Cotswolds.
6. Follow the path to the right of the farm buildings. Continue to follow the path between the metal fence and hedge towards a stile at the end. I was able to lift Henry over the stile fairly easily; however, people with large dogs would probably struggle to get them over.
Wonderful views will open up below you of Winchcombe and historic Sudeley Castle in the far distance. The castle has more than a thousand years’ of royal history and some of the most magical gardens in the country. Unfortunately, it’s not dog friendly. Continue to follow the waymarked path downhill and around fields. Climb over the stile on your right and enter into more fields. Continue to follow this path across fields, finally passing through a kissing gate which takes you on to the road.
7. Turn left and follow the road back towards point two, retracing your steps back into Winchcombe. You will pass the entrance gates to Sudeley Castle on your right.
For further information on the Cotswold Way visit www.nationaltrail.co.uk/cotswold
Winchcombe and the local area
Winchcombe is known as the walking capital of the Cotswolds and sits at the intersection of the Cotswold Way, Gloucestershire Way, Wardens Way, Windrush Way, and Winchcombe Way, giving plenty of opportunities for you and your dog to see more of this stunning area.
It is worth taking a stroll through the picturesque former wool town after completing the circular walk on the Cotswold Way.
The charming streets of Winchcombe are framed with cottages of golden yellow stone and hidden courtyard gardens.
The town has a wealth of tea rooms, pubs, and places of interest.
We stopped for a refreshing drink and cream tea at The White Hart Inn, a dog-friendly pub on High Street. Dogs on leads are welcomed in the front bar area with their owners. The bar staff gave Henry a large bowl of water.
Dogs are also welcomed in the bar at The Lion Inn on North Street.
I spotted dogs in several of the High Street shops too.
Nearby places of interest include Cleeve Common — a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Gloucestershire’s largest common. There are sheep on the common and dogs must be kept on leads in these areas. There may be some areas of the common where dogs aren’t allowed.
If you fancy doing something a bit different, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, which runs through Cotswold scenery between Laverton and Cheltenham Racecourse, allows well-behaved dogs on trains.
How to get there: Winchcombe is situated just off the A46.
Terrain: Hilly, with some steep sections.
Distance: 5¼ miles.
Time: Three to four hours.
Off-lead opportunities: Plenty, but be aware of horses and livestock.
Parking: There is a long-stay car park on Back Lane, GL54 5PZ.
Toilets: Public toilets are situated the top of Vineyard Street. There are also toilets at Back Lane car park which cost 20p to use.
Suitable for: Most people, although those with mobility problems might struggle on steeper sections.
There are several stiles, which large dogs might have difficulty negotiating.