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

Village-to-Village Walking in the Cotswolds: Day 1

Street on Market Square, Moreton-in-Marsh, the Cotswolds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Street on Market Square, Moreton-in-Marsh, the Cotswolds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Motivation: After three major surgeries over three consecutive years to remove a noncancerous disease from my hip, I wanted to celebrate my recovered mobility by doing a walking tour.

The Inspiration: While recovering from my last surgery, I visualized walking from village to village in England’s rural Cotswold Hills. The green landscape there is filled with farmland, woodland, and villages dating to medieval and Tudor periods. Now it was time to make my dream come true!

The Company: My husband and I signed up with Cotswold Walks, a locally based company that offers a variety of long and short self-guided walking tours in the region. We chose the “Best of the Cotswolds” itinerary because it offered shorter distances (from 3.5 to 8 miles per day) with more time to go at a leisurely pace. And the villages looked stunningly gorgeous! All Cotswold Walks include accommodations in small inns and B&Bs (breakfast included), an up-to-date guidebook showing your route with detailed instructions, and transfer of one suitcase per person from inn to inn.

The Timing: August 2017, exactly one year after my hip replacement.

Day 1: Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold

Hiking through the fields of barley ©Laurel Kallenbach

Hiking through the fields of barley ©Laurel Kallenbach

After two nights adjusting to the time change from Colorado to England, Ken and I headed out on the first leg of our journey: the 7.5-mile trek from Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold.

My heart was pounding, and I hadn’t even started walking yet. I was nervous about beginning with such a long walk. How tough would it be? Would we get rained on? We set off from the Market Square, made our way down the sidewalks and along a busy road, and then we turned off into tranquil farmland on The Monarch’s Way trail.

Old Shop 2 in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

Old Shop 2 in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

So we began navigating through field gates and kissing gates (?!) and across pastures inhabited by sheep and cows in England’s lush countryside.

Our guidebook, which included Ordinance Survey maps, was easy to follow. A typical instruction was: “With the field gate on your right, continue up the hill. Pass through another field gate and past Lower Keeper’s Cottage. Turn left (east) before the cattle grid and follow the Heart of England trail alongside the field boundary to a field gate.”

We met locals walking their dogs, as well as other Cotswold Walks hikers on the paths. (We could identify the latter because they were carrying the same white guidebook that we had, and when we struck up conversation, we found that they were all fascinating people.) Soon I was relaxed and smiling. I felt free and unburdened: I carried just my hiking poles, my iPhone, a notebook (because that’s essential gear for a writer) and a daypack with rain wear and snacks/water. And Ken did most of the navigating.

We ate lunch at the Coach and Horses pub in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

We ate lunch at the Coach and Horses pub in Longborough ©Laurel Kallenbach

By the time we reached the picturesque village of Longborough, I was more than ready to rest my feet and stop for lunch at the Coach & Horses Pub and Inn. Lots of locals were congregating at tables or around the bar, catching up on the town gossip and enjoing a pint. We ordered bowls of soup and glasses of Cotswold Gold Ale, made at Donnington Brewery, the next village down the road.

Hollyhocks in Longborough, a village in the Cotswolds ©Ken Aikin

Hollyhocks in Longborough ©Ken Aikin

We chatted with a couple of old-timers and we giggled at some of the bar’s signs: “Save water; drink beer” and “Nobody notices what I do until I don’t do it.”

A lively group of eight young women celebrating a baby shower rounded out the crowd.

Refreshed, we set out for the second half of the walk: first admiring the gardens and dry-stack stone walls of Longborough. We climbed up a hill with a huge muddy patch and looked back to see a manor estate in the distance. Think Downton Abbey.

We ambled through the farm of yet another country estate, across a ridge with views for miles, and then up a steep incline before arriving at a tunnel through dense trees. We felt like we’d walked into the set of The Hobbit.

This tunnel through the trees was a thrill to walk through. ©Laurel Kallenbach

This tunnel through the trees was a thrill to walk through. ©Laurel Kallenbach

At last we descended into Stow-on-the-Wold, right at tea time, and the tea shops along Sheep Street were packed with tourists; the Old Town Square was filled with buses and cars. (In medieval times it would have been filled with sheep, as wool was big business.)

I was bushed and couldn’t wait to get to our hotel, the Old Stocks Inn, where I took off my hiking boots, sank onto the bed, and elevated my feet—just to let the blood flow the opposite direction.

But I did it! I survived the first day of walking in the Cotswolds—my dream trip. My hip felt great; my left foot with its arthritic toe did OK. And after half an hour of rest—and a cup of tea in the room—I felt restored enough to walk around the Square. I was particularly interested in St Edward’s Parish Church, a typical Norman church with a stone, crenellated tower. Its north door is flanked by ancient yew trees, and it looks like it’s straight out of The Hobbit or a medieval fairy tale.

Celebrating my first day of walking at our destination, Stow-on-the-Wold. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Celebrating my first day of walking at our destination, Stow-on-the-Wold. ©Ken Aikin

We were ravenous, and the historic Queen’s Head Pub in Stow-on-the-Wold was ideal. The sign was painted with red-haired Queen Elizabeth I’s portrait and was furnished in Tudor style with rough, blackened beams; stone and wood floors; hops hanging from the ceiling; mullioned windows, and an old man in his cap reading book while his dog yawned beneath the table.

Cotswold ales on tap at the Queen's Head pub ©Laurel Kallenbach

Cotswold ales on tap at the Queen’s Head pub ©Laurel Kallenbach

I ordered a Moroccan Chicken with Rice with Hummus and Harissa, and for dessert Ken and I shared Plum Crumble with Vanilla Ice Cream. We’d earned the calories!!

Then it was off for an early bedtime; luckily The Old Stocks Inn was just across the street.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor…and walker

Read more about my Cotswold hiking trip:

We walked past this farmhouse outside Moreton-in-Marsh ©Laurel Kallenbach

We walked past this farmhouse outside Moreton-in-Marsh ©Laurel Kallenbach