The Cotswolds Hills in west-central England are famous for quaint villages, thatched-roof houses and grazing sheep—and I’ve always wanted to visit the area.
(True confessions: as much as I love visiting museums and enjoying the arts in big cities, I am, at heart, a village lover.)
So a day-visit to Winchcombe, a Tudor-era village in Gloucestershire, was a match made in heaven. It’s got old buildings, pretty gardens, a picturesque location, plenty of hiking and rambling options into the gorgeous countryside, and Sudeley Castle to boot.
A Taste of the Country Life
The only thing that wasn’t absolutely perfect on the day Ken and I visited was the weather. Ah, if only the sun had shone … but even rain could not dampen our spirits at this village.
As luck would have it, we arrived in Winchcombe on the day of the Country Show, held annually in late August. A troupe of morris dancers wearing feathered bowler hats, tattercoats, and bells on their shins paraded through the streets, followed by septuagenarians driving vintage tractors. We felt like we were part of the party, which includes a flower show, a test of the skill and speed of herding dogs, sheep shearing, and much more.
We ate lunch at The White Hart Inn, a 16th-century pub with accommodations right on Winchcombe’s main thoroughfare.
With lots of country pub atmosphere, The White Hart restaurant is called Wine & Sausage, but it offers much more: In fact, it specializes in local produce cooked into simple but flavorful British food. We tried the regional cider and beer, of course!
I ordered the local lamb served with rosemary/garlic sauce and colcannon, while Ken sampled the traditional fish pie with purple sprouting broccoli.
We were now fortified and ready to ramble.
Winchcombe Welcomes Walkers
The Cotswolds have been crowned the Walking Capital of England, and the 102-mile Cotswold Way footpath takes through-hikers from Chipping Campden to the city of Bath.
Winchcombe is one of the jewels of the Cotswold Way, although it has many other trails as well, including the long-distance Winchcombe Way, the Wardens Way, and and the Windrush Way. The circular Gloucestershire Way also passes through Wicnhcombe and finishes at Tewkesbury.
Our plan was to hike for a couple of hours on one of the many trails that intersect in the village. So, after lunch, we set out on the Cotswold Way footpath, despite threatening clouds. We’d barely left town when it started to drizzle, but on we pressed up the hill. Alas, the rain got heavier and was then propelled by high winds. We turned back.
Stately Sudeley Castle
The consolation prize: ancient Sudeley Castle, the home of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife—and the only spouse who officially became that monarch’s widow. (The queen was born 500 years ago.)
Between rains, we wandered through the sculpted yew trees and the herb and rose gardens; we rested beside an elegant fountain; we explored the hollyhock-enhanced ruins of an old tithe barn, used in medieval times to store the produce that farmers brought as their tithe to the church. Cromwell partially destroyed the barn during the English Civil War.
For more than 15 years, Sudeley’s groundskeepers have been gardening organically and creating niche gardens and ponds that support native wildlife, including toads, bee orchids, disease-resistant elms, bumblebees, dragonflies, kingfishers and nuthatches.
We also visited the 15th-century St Mary’s Church where Queen Katherine lies buried.
Inside the castle, we learned about the inhabitants of this castle, from Katherine Parr to its current occupants, the Dent-Brocklehursts (Lord and Lady Ashcombe). We especially appreciated an exhibit about the family’s campaign to protect badgers in the region. (They adopted an orphaned badger in the 1960s and ’70s, and have been advocates of the animals ever since.)
We absolutely loved Winchcombe, and we still dream of hiking its hills. Fare thee well, little Cotswolds village—we’ll be back!
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
For more information about walking in and around Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, visit Winchcombe Welcomes Walkers.
If you’d like a guided walking vacation—or one where you guide yourself but a local company creates the route and arranges reservations at B&Bs in the Cotswolds—I know of two companies whose services sound quite nice. I haven’t hired them personally, but I hope to someday: