A Cotswolds Experience: A Walk Along the Cotswold Way

If you want to truly experience the English countryside, do it on foot!

In early May 1999, when our daughter Kelly was five, our family spent ten days in England. It was our first visit to the Cotswolds and our first experience walking in the English countryside. We stayed in a converted pig sty in the tiny village of Lower Swell. The owner of the inn suggested we could walk to the larger town at the top of the hill, with the delightful name of Stow-in-the-Wold. He gave us a little booklet with a map and directions told us we could take a “footpath” that started just down the narrow road.

We saw a footpath sign, opened a gate, and found ourselves on someone’s farm… in a field of sheep! Using the directions, we followed the clear path through the field, into the woods, and eventually reached the outskirts of Stow. On our two-mile walk, we climbed over a stile, crossed a little river, passed by a big manor house, and admired beautiful wildflowers.

This walk was a highlight of our ten-day trip, a look at the Cotswolds we would never have seen from the window of our car… a real experience. Kelly had a close encounter with a sheep, and Charley mastered climbing over a stile!

During the next few days I noticed many green signs along the country lanes indicating “Public Footpath.” It seemed there was a network of paths through the countryside, connecting all the quaint stone villages. Back at home I did more research and learned about the system of footpaths across all of Great Britain… actually across all of Europe. Three years later we returned to the Cotswolds for a 50-mile self-guided walking tour, the first of ten long-distance walking trips we’ve now completed in Europe. (This fall we’re headed off on number eleven, also in England: 100 miles on the Southwest Coast Path in Cornwall.)

Most people probably won’t pursue a multi-day walking trip in Europe, whether it’s 50 miles or 192 miles (the distance of the Coast-to-Coast trail across England, a walk Charley and I have done twice). But if you visit the English countryside—or the countryside in most other parts of Europe, I encourage you to take some sort of walk away from the villages, towns and cities. When you slow down and walk in the countryside, you’re surrounded by nature. You notice the small details and see how people live. Your mind is free to wander… I’ve had some of my best ideas while walking, and also some great conversations with my husband and walking companions. And of course it’s great exercise! to me, walking is the ultimate in “slow travel,” a chance to see an area up close and in slow motion.

Most of our European Experiences trips include an option for a walk of one to four miles. (We always have another activity for those who prefer not to walk.) For example, during our Luberon Experience week we offer a walk from our village of Bonnieux to the neighboring village of Lacoste, a gentle hike in the Cedar Forest on the top of the Petit Luberon mountain, and a more strenuous hike up into the ruins of the ancient Fort de Buoux and its ruined village.

But back to the Cotswolds, the area where my love of countryside walking began. Of course we have to include a walk or two in our Cotswolds Experience week! One of my favorite walks stretches about four miles on the famous Cotswold Way, a 102-mile national trail. After our group’s picnic at Fish Hill and a visit to Broadway Tower, our travelers have the option to walk from the tower back to our base village of Chipping Campden– or they can ride back in our vans and enjoy a final few hours in the village.

Although four miles may sound far, this walk is do-able for most people—even those who aren’t really walkers—because it’s level or downhill all the way. And this stretch of the Cotswold Way offers some of the most beautiful scenery along the entire 102 mile stretch. We do this walk with our groups on Friday afternoon, a fitting grand finale for our week. Depending on your pace and the number of stops you make to admire the scenery or take photos, this walk takes an hour and a half to two hours.

Join us as we walk this stretch of the Cotswolds Way…

Our walk begins at the Broadway Tower, the second highest point in the Cotswolds, with wide views across the Vale of Evesham and the surrounding countryside. On a clear day you might see over 60 miles! The 65-foot high tower was completed in 1798 for the Earl of Coventry; it’s a “folly,” just built for pleasure and decoration, not any defensive purpose. Looking toward the east, you can see the Cotswold Way trail heading off along the adjacent hillside.

Many of these photos are from one of our 2016 groups, when 10 enthusiastic group members joined me for the walk. It was a bit overcast on July 29, but a perfect day for walking.

As far back as the Middle Ages, the Cotswolds were known throughout Europe as the source of top-quality wool. The wool trade brought a lot of wealth to the area, resulting in many fine manor houses, churches and villages. Today there are still over 250,000 sheep in the Cotswolds, raised both for meat (lamb) and wool. Many of the footpaths pass through fields of grazing sheep.

The “countryside code” requires that you not interfere with the farm animals, keep your dog on a leash, and leave any gates as you found them. I enjoy walking in the pastures, especially among the sheep. (I don’t really like walking through a field of cows.)

As a national trail, the Cotswold Way is very well marked, including these wooden signposts. You can also look for an “acorn” symbol. We’ve now reached the picnic area at Fish Hill (where our group had lunch earlier in the afternoon). There are also public restrooms here!

This section of the trail passed through a few large field of wheat and other crops.

Finally we reached Dovers Hill (755 feet)… more sheep and more beautiful views. Dovers Hill is a natural amphitheater and there are traces of Roman activity here. This is also the site of the “Cotswold Olimpicks,” an annual celebration held here since the 1600’s and continuing today. The Olimpicks include unique events such as shin-kicking, morris dancing and tug-of-war. The games were founded by Robert Dover, a local attorney. Today the property is owned and managed by the National Trust. It’s a beautiful spot!

We continue down the flat plateau of Dovers Hill, finally crossing through a hedge to walk briefly along a narrow road.

Finally, below us, we see the village of Chipping Campden. And then we spot the signpost, pointing the way to a narrow path. It’s downhill now, on a path, then a paved farm track, and then houses of golden stone on the outskirts of the village.

The walk continues now along the High Street until we reach the marker stone near the old market hall. Some people begin the 100 mile walk in Chipping Campden and travel south to Bath. Others begin in Bath and travel north to Chipping Campden. So the sign says “Cotswold Way. The beginning and the end.” The market hall is an appropriate landmark to finish our walk. Built in 1627 by Sir Baptist Hicks, it provided shelter for traders.

So when you visit to the Cotswolds, go for a walk in the countryside! Perhaps after your first walk– like our family– you’ll return to walk more in the Cotswolds. We walked 50 miles in 1999, the entire 102 miles of the Cotswold Way in 2013, and many shorter walks like the ones we include in our Cotswold Experience week. I’m excited to be back in the Cotswolds again this summer for the gardens, the history, the great food, the welcoming people… and I’m especially excited to walk again in the glorious countryside.

Charley and I want to extend special thanks to the Cotswold wardens, a group of over 350 volunteers who do so much to keep the Cotswolds special. They maintain the footpaths, repair drystone walls, install kissing gates, coordinate with farmers, and much more.

 


Kathy and Charley woodKathy Wood and her husband Charley lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Luberon Experience in Provence, France. National Geographic Traveler magazine named The Luberon Experience one of their “Tours of a Lifetime” for 2012, the top 50 tours in the world.

In 2016 Kathy and Charley offered Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Alsace, and the Cotswolds. Their 2017 schedule includes trips in the Luberon, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. See their 2017 schedule here.

Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for over 25 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. They’ve hosted 75+ Experience groups since they launched in 2006. They now live part-time in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

Posted in Cotswolds, England, Kathy Wood, Walking | Comments Off on A Cotswolds Experience: A Walk Along the Cotswold Way

Slow Travel Tours Welcomes Three New Members!

This year we’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of Slow Travel Tours. Our group is an affiliation of owner-operated small group tour companies focused on European destinations. We share a common belief in a slower way of traveling, and our tours focus on specific regions or areas for a more meaningful experience.

Today we’re delighted to announce three new members of Slow Travel Tours! These are all well-established small travel businesses with great reputations, offering tours in different areas of Europe. Together, the eleven Slow Travel Tours members now offer almost 100 scheduled tours a year in 13 different European countries. Many members also offer shorter custom/private trips or day trips.

Meet our new members!

Marcello and Raffaella Tori have owned Bluone Food and Wine Tours of Italy since 1995. Born near Bologna, they bring their skills and passions to their tours, and draw on extensive relationships with local chefs, home cooks, food and wine producers, and more. They lead a variety of tours in Bologna and their home region of Emilia-Romagna, as well as tours in Umbria, Le Marche, Piedmont, Veneto’s Prosecco region and Puglia. They offer small-group tours of 5-7 nights and also day tours, cooking classes, and customized tours.

 

Tim Harrold of Edge Charter is the owner and captain of the Randle, a beautiful and classically styled river boat, offering private tours for two to four people on the picturesque Burgundy Canal du Nivernais and river Yonne. Tim has welcomed passengers to the tree lined canals and meandering rivers of Burgundy since 2010; he and his crew host private charters from three to thirteen nights (March to November), with a customized itinerary, gourmet meals, and guided tours of chateaux, vineyards, and other sites. Day charters are also possible.

 

Malgorzata “Sarna” Rose is a native of Poland who began Poland Culinary Vacations in 2007. Her love and passion for travel and everything Polish, including fine Polish cuisine, blossomed into a first-class culinary travel company. Sarna offers culinary vacations in various regions of Poland, focusing on natural ingredients, local produce, home-cooking, and the cuisine of modern chefs. Her trips include extensive involvement with local farmers, bakers, meat shop owners and more. Sarna can also organize day cooking classes with a chef in Krakow.

See the Slow Travel Tours website for more information about all our members and our tour offerings. On behalf of all our other members, I’m very pleased to welcome Bluone Food and Wine Tours of Italy, Edge Charter barge tours of Burgundy, and Poland Culinary Vacations to Slow Travel Tours!

 


Kathy and Charley woodKathy Wood and her husband Charley lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Luberon Experience in Provence, France. National Geographic Traveler magazine named The Luberon Experience one of their “Tours of a Lifetime” for 2012, the top 50 tours in the world.

In 2016 Kathy and Charley offered Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Alsace, and the Cotswolds. Their 2017 schedule includes trips in the Luberon, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. See their 2017 schedule here.

Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for over 25 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. They’ve hosted 75+ Experience groups since they launched in 2006. They now live part-time in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.

Posted in Kathy Wood, Marcello and Raffaella Tori, Sarna Rose, Slow Travel Tours, Tim Harrold | Leave a comment

Florence Market Favorites

Anne & Kirk Woodyard – Music and Markets Tours

You KNOW we love our markets, and those of Florence are some of our all-time favorites!
Not far from one of our favorite restaurants, Teatro del Sale, is the less-touristed Mercato Sant’Ambrogio. There’s something for everyone in the market – fresh fruits and vegetables outside,beautifully prepared meats, creative appetizers and cheeses inside, and out the back door the antiques stalls that used to be set up by the old fish market.Here’s Kirk’s description of a row of intriguing antipasti platters: “Found in a Florentine market: An assortment of ground meaty stuffings wrapped in thin “leaves” of dough. Cook in the oven and serve to admiring guests. Also there are tons of meaty cheesy vegetably things tied in strings with bacon or sewn together with toothpicks to be cooked and presented together. You don’t see this stuff in Italian restaurants in the US. Gotta be here for the real deal. Yum.”
Creative shop windows catch our eye as we meander across town to well-known Mercato Centrale, where just a few months ago we stocked up on Tuscan specialties for our New Year’s Eve feast with family in Rome. Upstairs is their latest addition, a food-hall with delights from around the country.
Our friend Marjorie Williams writes in her latest book, Markets of Provence: “Markets are a window into the soul of a place.” Yes – that’s why we love our markets!

************************************************************************************The best way to describe us (Kirk and Anne Woodyard) is that we’re interested in the stories that make the places we visit come alive.
We’ve visited Europe more times than we can count, learned some entertaining stories there, and met some warm and helpful people who also enjoy the wonders of music and life in Europe. We look forward to sharing these stories and friends and experiences with our Music and Markets guests.
Between our music-related travels, we split our time between our homes near Washington DC and the south of France.
While both of us have experience in organizing travel and music groups Kirk’s background is in project management and competitive writing, and Anne is an accomplished pianist with over thirty years of teaching experience, and a travel and food writer specializing in France and Italy.

Posted in European Travel, Florence, Food, Italy, Kirk and Anne Woodyard, Shopping, Tuscany | Leave a comment