By Penelope Bielckus (The Flyaway Girl)
A trip to the Cotswolds can often feel like you’re travelling back in time. Thatched cottages line the streets of quaint little villages and make you wish that you own a little cottage yourself so you can cosy up in front of a fire and drink hot chocolate (or do something equally as quaint and adorable).
The Cotswolds is a wonderfully picturesque region of the UK and is a place you must visit at least once in your lifetime. From historic market towns to little villages with beautiful churches or impressive abbeys, there is so much to see.
For a road trip in the Cotswolds, Bristol is an ideal starting place. You can fly from Gibraltar to Bristol with easyJet directly and hire a car at the airport with providers like Europcar, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Hertz or Avis.
Car hire for three days (based on a Friday to Sunday rental) starts at £55 for a manual car and £79 for an automatic. Cheaper car hire companies will have ‘off airport’ collection, which usually means you will have to take a transfer shuttle bus to the pick-up location. ‘On airport’ car hire starts at £68 for manual transmission and £108 for automatic with provider Alamo.
What is The Cotswolds?
Firstly, let’s talk a little about the Cotswolds and what exactly this area is. The Cotswolds is an ‘AONB’, or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They cover an area of 2,038 km2 (787 sq mi) and is spread throughout five counties, these being Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire.
The name ‘Cotswolds’ has a few potential origins, the most popular being from Old English ‘cot’ and ‘wold’, together meaning ‘sheep enclosure in hills’. A ‘wold’ is a range of hills that consist of open country overlying a base of limestone or chalk. Another possible origin of the name ‘Cotswolds’ is that it was derived from the 12th century name ‘Codesuualt’, meaning ‘Cod’s high open land’. Cod was an Old English personal name that dates back to the 8th century and possibly refers to a mother goddess in Celtic mythology.
Cotswolds Road Trip Itinerary
When starting a Cotswolds road trip from Bristol, you have a variety of routes available to you. Some example 2-3 day itineraries include the following:
Three-day itinerary (Bristol to Bristol)
> Day 1: Castle Combe, Lacock, Bibury (stay near Bibury, e.g. in Cricklade or Cirencester)
> Day 2: Stow-on-the-Wold, Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water (stay in Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold or Chipping Campden)
> Day 3: Broadway, Snowshill, Chipping Campden (stay in Chipping Campden, Cheltenham or Gloucester or head back to stay in Bristol)
Two-day itinerary (Bristol to Bristol)
> Day 1: Castle Combe, Lacock, Bibury
> Day 2: Broadway, Snowshill, Stow-on-the-Wold, Lower Slaughter
Three-day itinerary (Bristol to London)
> Day 1: Castle Combe, Lacock, Bibury
> Day 2: Chipping Campden, Broadway, Snowshill, Stow-on-the-Wold
> Day 3: Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford (and via Oxford to London)
These itineraries include some of the most beautiful towns and villages in the Cotswolds and will treat you to some beautiful quaint places! You will also be able to visit some excellent pubs, shop in small independent stores as well as enjoying nature and the outdoors.
Where in the Cotswolds should you stop?
In the itineraries above, you will find my top recommendations of places to go in the Cotswolds. These include tiny villages that, in all honesty, are more like hamlets, as well as larger market towns that have more options for accommodation.
In the South and Central Cotswolds you will find the villages of Castle Combe, Lacock, and Bibury. In the North Cotswolds, you can find the quaint villages of Adlestrop, Lower and Upper Slaughter, Broadway, Stanton, Snowshill, and Bourton-on-the-Water, as well as the towns of Chipping Norton, Chipping Campden, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Burford.
These towns and villages can be separated pretty nicely into an itinerary for three or four days, or you can just do a few of them in one or two days.
Village in Wiltshire, population ~350
Castle Combe is possibly one of the best-known villages in the Cotswolds and is located in the county of Wiltshire. It’s the closest Cotswolds village to my university town of Bath and is only a 40-minute drive from Bristol Airport or less than 30 minutes from Bristol city centre.
The village of Castle Combe dates back to the 12th century and is made up of two parts, one in the narrow valley of the Bybrook and Upper Castle Combe on higher ground.
Castle Combe did, in fact, have a castle back in the 12th century. However, the castle itself no longer exists and the original site where it stood is a short way past the 5* Manor House Hotel. The luxury hotel dates back to the 17th century when it was a stately home. The house was the headquarters of the New Zealand Forestry Officers in World War II, became a country club in 1947 and then became a hotel only 18 months later.
The village has also been the location for many films, including War Horse, Stardust and The Wolfman.
Places of interest: Manor House Hotel, 14th-century market cross, St Andrew’s Church, and bridge over the Bybrook
Village in Wiltshire, population 1,159
The village of Lacock is owned almost entirely by the National Trust and was first mentioned in the Domesday Book in the 11th century. For any Harry Potter fan, Lacock is a must visit in the Cotswolds due to the interior of Lacock Abbey being used as a filming location as part of Hogwarts.
Lacock and Lacock Abbey have also been used as filming locations in many other films and TV shows, including The Other Boleyn Girl, Downton Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Cranford.
The George Inn is an excellent pub in Lacock to enjoy a pint of real ale or a West Country cider. The Lacock Bakery is a great place to grab a small bite to eat, such as a sausage roll or Bakewell tart, and don’t miss a visit to the ice cream van for a ‘Lacock at War’ ice cream, which uses a recipe that dates back to 1945.
An adult ticket for Lacock Abbey costs £14 and includes entry into the abbey, the grounds, and the Fox Talbot Museum. The museum celebrates the achievements of Lacock resident William Fox Talbot, a photographer considered to be one of the founders of modern photographic processes.
Places of interest: Lacock Abbey, Fox Talbot Museum, The George Inn, Lacock Bakery, half-timbered houses
Village in Gloucestershire, population: 627
Charming Bibury is an absolute gem in the Cotswolds, although it is definitely a popular stop for quite a few tours. I recommend coming to Bibury around an hour before sunset to avoid the crowds and to also get beautiful golden hour light for photographs!
The Swan Hotel is a former coaching inn that dates back to the 17th-century and has a beautiful ivy-covered facade. The landscaped gardens in front of the hotel are well worth a little exploration.
Arlington Row is probably the most famous part of Bibury and is considered one of the Cotswolds’ most photographed locations. The cottages were originally built in 1380 as a wool store and were converted into a row of cottages for weavers in the 17th century. Bibury and Arlington Row have been featured in films, including Stardust and Bridget Jones’s Diary.
Places of interest: The Swan Hotel, Arlington Row, bridge over the River Coln, Bibury Trout Farm
Village in Oxfordshire, population: 120
The tiny village in Adlestrop is a picturesque little place that is well worth a quick visit if you have the time. The village is best known for the poem of the same name by Edward Thomas, who wrote about his uneventful train journey from Oxford to Worcester that stopped at Adlestrop station. The station closed in 1966 but the village bus shelter contains the station sign as well as a bench that was originally on the platform.
Jane Austen also visited Adlestrop and it is believed that she drew inspiration from the village and surroundings for her novel Mansfield Park.
Places of interest: Adlestrop Post Office, bus shelter, St Mary’s Church
Village in Gloucestershire, population: 250
Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter are two small villages between Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water. The name comes from the Old English ‘slothre’ (modern day word ‘slough’), which means a muddy place or wetlands.
Lower Slaughter is the most picturesque of the two Slaughters, which were built on the banks of the River Eye. Lower Slaughter is home to a water mill and the river flows through the centre of the village down to this mill.
The Slaughters Country Inn is a great spot for a drink or a bite to eat and there is also the Riverside Tearoom for a slice of cake or a cup of tea or coffee.
Places of interest: Water mill and Old Mill Museum, 16th and 17th homes constructed with Cotswold limestone, Slaughters Country Inn
Village in Worcestershire, population: 2,540
This Broadway has much less of the singing and dancing than the one in New York City but is, nevertheless, incredible picturesque and a must visit when in the Cotswolds.
Broadway has lots to see and do, including the Broadway Deli with thousands of products for sale including vegan and gluten-free goods, Blandford Books for picking up some novels or books all about the Cotswolds region, and stores like Cotswolds Trading and Whatever the Weather for unique goods.
The Crown and Trumpet is an excellent pub to stop at with great real ale and cider on offer as well as delicious homemade meals.
You can also pay a visit to the Broadway Tower, a Georgian folly located on Broadway Hill, that has three floors with exhibitions about the tower. From Broadway Tower, you can enjoy views over 16 counties and across the Cotswolds! You can also visit a Cold War-era nuclear bunker on the site and there is a cafe if you fancy some food or a drink.
Places of interest: Broadway Tower, Broadway Deli, Blandford Books, Cotswolds Trading, Whatever the Weather, The Crown and Trumpet, Lygon Arms Hotel, St Eadburgha’s Church
Village in Worcestershire, population: 164
Not far from Broadway is the small village of Snowshill. This tiny village is home to a beautiful church in the centre of the village, a National Trust manor house and garden and, its best known attraction, an impressive lavender farm with 35 acres of lavender fields. To visit the lavender farm, you are best off visiting in mid-June to early August, as this is when the lavender will be in bloom.
Places of interest: Cotswold Lavender, Snowshill Manor and Garden, St Barnabas Church
Village in Worcestershire, population: 198
Stanton is a tiny little village located 4km from the village of Broadway. This unspoilt village is in a picturesque location with beautiful 17th century houses (built in Cotswold limestone and with steeply pitched gables and mullioned windows) lining the winding streets.
The name translates from Old English as ‘stone town’, similar to that of the nearby village of Stanway (‘stone way’), presumably due to the Cotswold stone from which the houses in the village are built.
Stanton actually has a Pagan past which we know from the village church of St Michael. St Michael was the archangel who fought the devil and pretty much any church dedicated to him is built on a sacred pagan site. The church and village are also at the intersection of two ley lines, geographical lines that many pagan sites were constructed upon.
Village in Gloucestershire, population: 3,296
The beautiful and popular village of Bourton-on-the-Water is located on the River Windrush and is known for its beautiful bridges and traditional houses. The village has been referred to as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ due to the pretty waterside views.
In peak season, this village gets more visitors than residents! Make sure to time your visit well so you aren’t visiting when it’s too crowded – visiting early in the morning or near sunset is a great way to see it without the crowds and visiting in off-season and shoulder season months is also a way to avoid the tourist groups.
Don’t miss out on enjoying a slice of cake, an ice cream or a coffee at one of the many quaint tearooms or cafes in the village either – after all, you have to fuel up for all that exploring!
The Rose Tree Restaurant does excellent coffee, cake and ice cream and is an excellent place to sit out in the garden and watch the world go by for a few moments.
Places of interest: The Rose Tree Restaurant, Smiths of Bourton, The Mousetrap Inn, The Model Village, Cotswold Motoring Museum, Birdland Park and Gardens
Market town in Oxfordshire, population: 6,337
The beautiful market town of Chipping Norton is the highest town in Oxfordshire, situated on a hillside that as once the site of a Norman castle.
The town dates back to the 12th-country and some features from this period still remain, such as the local church. The bookshop and cafe Jaffé & Neale is a must visit for a coffee or to browse the books while you visit the town.
The Rollright Stones, a prehistoric stone circle, are located near Chipping Norton. You can also visit the almshouses which date back to the 17th century when you are in the town. Only a ten minute drive away is the Hook Norton Brewery, a Victorian brewery where you can do a guided tour and sample the beers they brew.
Places of interest: Rollright Stones, Hook Norton Brewery, Jaffé & Neale, markets, Bliss Tweed Mill, Chipping Norton Museum
Market town in Gloucestershire, population: 2,206
The main attraction in Chipping Campden is the impressive terraced High Street, which dates from the 14th to 17th centuries. The town boasts 256 historically Listed buildings, which is a pretty incredible amount for such as a small town.
The market hall is still located on the High Street and is a unique place to visit to learn a little more about the market town’s history.
Places of interest: High Street, market hall, Hidcote Manor Garden, St James Church, East Banqueting House
Market town in Gloucestershire, population: 2,042
One of my favourite towns in the Cotswolds has to be beautiful Stow-on-the-Wold. Originally known as ‘Stow St Edward’ or ‘Edwardstow’ after the town’s patron saint, the market town was founded by Norman lords in order to capitalise on the trade that came through the area.
Historians and archaeologists have also discovered Stone Age and Bronze Age burial mounds near the town, leading them to believe that there have been settlements on this site for even longer.
The popular Stow Fair dates back to 1476 and takes place in both May and October. The fairs were predominantly used for trading livestock but trade in handmade goods (particularly the wool trade) also occurred. The fair then became popular for horse trading and the practice still continues to this day.
Places of interest: St Edward’s Church, Market Square, The Old Stocks Inn, The King’s Arms
Town in Oxfordshire, population: 1,340
Burford is a beautiful little medieval town that was the site of a fortified ford in Anglo-Saxon times. The town, located only 30 minutes from Oxford, is known as the ‘gateway to the Cotswolds’ due to its location on the edge of the Cotswolds.
The high street is lined with traditional cottages and Tudor houses and is the most iconic spot in the town. The Parish Church of St John the Baptist is also well worth a visit when you are in Burford. The church dates back originally from the 12th century but with additions and changes in the 15th century (such as the addition of the spire). The church was massively restored in the 1870s and was one of the cases that led to William Morris founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
This town is definitely well worth a visit and can easily be combined with nearby places such as Bourton-on-the-Water, Lower Slaughter and Stow-on-the-Wold or even with the beautiful city of Oxford.
The Cotswolds is a spectacular region that is home to many beautiful villages and towns. Some of the most picturesque places in England are located in the Cotswolds and, if you’ve never been, it’s definitely a region you should explore!
Whether you decide to do a one-day road trip and just visit a few places or whether you opt for a multiple day trip to tick lots of these places off your list, you are sure to fall in love with the Cotswolds.