Wandering the “Venice of the Cotswolds”: Bourton-on-Water

The banks of the River Windrush are lined with restaurants in Bourton-on-the-Water. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The banks of the River Windrush are lined with restaurants in Bourton-on-the-Water. ©Laurel Kallenbach

My husband and I arrived by foot from Lower Slaughter in Bourton-on-the-Water—yet another lovely town in the England’s Cotswold Hills. It was 4:30 p.m., which seemed to be the tourist rush hour. All the tea shops were overflowing with people sipping Orange Pekoe or cappuccinos and forking down fresh-baked cake. An entire busload of visitors was huddled en masse to get their picture taken on one of the picturesque footbridges that arch over the River Windrush. Their guide was wading in the river, hamming it up. What had we stumbled into?

Hydrangeas, Bourton-on-the-Water ©Laurel Kallenbach

Hydrangeas, Bourton-on-the-Water ©Laurel Kallenbach

While it’s true that Bourton-on-the-Water is a popular spot, I have to admit that once again, town emptied out by 5:30, and everything got a lot quieter—and considerably prettier and more enjoyable.

A bit footsore, Ken and I found a bench with a lovely view of the river with its bridges, which give this town its “Venice of the Cotswolds” name.

We watched little kids play in the sleepy river. A miniature boat race—featuring homemade crafts constructed out of leaves and anything folks could find—was taking place.

It felt wonderful just to sit and drink in the ambiance of the place. No rushing, no worries, no ponderous thoughts—other than wondering where we would eat that night.

Ken just loved the regionally brewed beer at the waterside Kingsbridge Pub. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Ken just loved the regionally brewed beer at the waterside Kingsbridge Pub. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Soon our stomachs propelled us in search of food and drink. After checking menus at several of the many eateries, we settled on the riverside Kingsbridge Pub and thoroughly enjoyed a fantastic Hobgoblin IPA (from the Wychwood Brewery in nearby Oxfordshire), which we sipped on the outdoor patio. Although the Chicken Tikka Curry wasn’t quite as memorable, the views of the water in the golden light of early evening more than compensated.

Our accommodations in Bourton-on-the-Water were at The Lawns B&B, hosted by the affable owner, Angie. We had a spacious room, which was quiet and restful, despite the B&B’s location by a fairly busy highway. (It was also a 10-minute walk from the center of town, which wasn’t a problem, but we were a bit tired of walking by that point.) Some aged sheep in retirement—put out to pasture, so to speak!—grazed right outside our window.

Angie’s delicious English breakfasts were cooked to order—a Continental breakfast was also on the menu—and everything was served in the home’s cheery dining room.

A tradesman's sign for the town goldsmith. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A tradesman’s sign for the town goldsmith. ©Laurel Kallenbach

It was a pleasure to spend two nights at The Lawns, especially because we had space to spread out. It also meant we didn’t have to unpack and pack again in the morning. Because it was nearing Bank Holiday, when inns and bed-and-breakfasts fill up, we walked to the next village, Guiting Power (see my next post), and were picked up by a taxi service and returned for the night in Bourton-on-the-Water.

Click here for more information about Cotswold Walks, the company that arranged our delightful village-to-village walking vacation. For general information about the Cotswolds region, visit its tourism site.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

A boy watches the River Windrush drift by. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A boy watches the River Windrush drift by. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Walking in the Cotswolds: The Beautiful Slaughters

Day 2 of our Cotswold Walks idyll: Stow-on-the-Wold to Bourton-on-Water (via Upper and Lower Slaughter)

Lower Slaughter, a village on the banks of the River Eye ©Laurel Kallenbach

Lower Slaughter, a charming village on the banks of the River Eye.  ©Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, the names of Upper and Lower Slaughter—which we visited on our second day of walking in the Cotswolds—sound alarming, but if you’ve read Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling or Notes from a Small Island you already know that English country towns often carry strange appellations. (And for the record, “Slaughter” comes from the Old English word for a wetland—“slough” or slothre—meaning a “muddy place.”)

The trails were well marked throughout our English walking vacation. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The trails were well marked throughout our English walking vacation. ©Laurel Kallenbach

During our second day walking the “Best of the Cotswolds” loop, the highlight of our 7.5-mile hike was our arrival at these two villages. The walk began with a trek through farm after farm, field gate after field gate, dodging cow patties the size of hubcaps.

How is it possible we were walking across private farmland? In Britain, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act gives people access to “mountain, moor, heath, or down”—within reason, of course. We were almost always on established trails, and usually we could see where other hikers had already plodded across or on the edge of fields. We were respectful of the livestock and crops—although the corn and hay had already been harvested by late August.

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Old Mill in Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Waiting for us after all the farm crossings were two jewels of Cotswold villagedom. First we came to Lower Slaughter, a small village populated by stone cottages built along the slow-moving River Eye.

Lower Slaughter is best known for its 19th-century flour mill with its picturesque waterwheel and chimney. The Old Mill is now a museum and gift shop—which also happens to sell some wonderful ice cream. We had lunch outdoors at the River Café and watched the ducks as we slurped our soup and tucked into sandwiches.

The steeple of the 13th-century Anglican church, St. Mary’s, presides over the town, and its clock bells add to the village’s timeless feel. An occasional bench makes a nice place to sit and take in the scenery. We could hardly take a dozen steps without snapping a photo, especially after the sun peeped out.

St Mary's Parish, Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

St Mary’s Parish, Lower Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s something irresistible about willow trees beside the water and Cotswold-stone cottages with flower boxes full of bright blooms.

(Cotswold stone is honey-colored sandstone that’s been quarried in the region for centuries and used to build houses and churches.)

At one pretty cottage, a couple was hanging swags of international flags for the upcoming Bank Holiday Village Fete.

After enjoying the views of Lower Slaughter, we continued our walk—yes, through more fields—to Upper Slaughter, a little less than a mile away. Along the way were some glorious trees, including age-old oaks and horse chestnuts that looked like massive green haystacks with pendant nut pods.

Cottage in Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cottage in Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

This village was—is it possible?—even smaller and a bit more posh than Lower Slaughter. Every cottage had climbing roses and flowerboxes; every stone was perfectly situated.

We wandered about Upper Slaughter and ambled into the Norman St. Peter’s church, where the list of priests/clergy stretches back to the 1200s.

We returned to Lower Slaughter to continue on our route to Bourton-on-Water, and in the process of passing through a kissing gate we noticed a plaque commemorating the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in July of 1981.
Charles and Diana plaque, Lower Slaughter©Laurel Kallenbach

It was a bit sad considering it was just a week before the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. Ken and I shared a smooch at every kissing gate we passed through during our trip, and we thought about how much happier we were than that infamously unhappy royal couple.

PS: What’s a kissing gate? It allows people, but not livestock, to pass through it. The hinged gate swings between the two sides of an enclosure, so only one person can step through it at a time, and they can kiss across the gate.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Farmhouse on the edge of Upper Slaughter ©Laurel Kallenbach

Farmhouse on the edge of Upper Slaughter         ©Laurel Kallenbach

This cottage was decorated for Lower Slaughter's Bank Holiday Fete ©Laurel Kallenbach

This cottage was decorated for Lower Slaughter’s Bank Holiday Fete ©Laurel Kallenbach