Winchcombe: This Cotswolds Village Is a Hub for Hiking

A Tudor courtyard in the Cotswold village of Winchcombe. © Laurel Kallenbach

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.

The Happenstance Border Morris Dancers led the procession through the streets of Winchcombe. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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.

Morris dancers help celebrate Winchcombe’s Country Show. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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.

Ken beside a signpost for the Cotswold Way footpath. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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.)

Sudeley Castle is located on the outskirts of Winchcombe, and offers gorgeous gardens and stunning views of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. ©Laurel Kallenbach

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.

A garden gate at Sudeley Castle ©Laurel Kallenbach

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:

  • Cotswold Walks: I’ve interviewed the owner, Andrew Guppy, as well as some of his clients who hiked The Cotswold Way through this company, which offers guided and self-guided walks.
  • Cotswold Journeys: Offers both walking and cycling tours.

 

In honor of the Queen’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee, flags were flying in the pretty village of Winchcombe. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Read more about England’s pretty Cotswold region:

8 thoughts on “Winchcombe: This Cotswolds Village Is a Hub for Hiking

  1. What a coincidence–I lived at the Sudeley Castle cottages for two idyllic summers and experienced many of the things you described.

    • Excellent! It would be a dream to live at the castle and just to wake up every day to the lovely Cotswolds—rain or shine! Were you working in England?

  2. Hi Laurel,

    No sign of rain clouds at the moment as the heatwave continues!! The Cotswolds has so much to see throughout the year and do whatever the weather. We rely on word of mouth referrals, mainly from American clients because we specialize in the Cotswolds and service is everything. We are a husband and wife team and having a dog means we have plenty of excuses to get out of the office to do essential research along the trails and sample the food at the pubs along the way!! A good piece of advice for anyone walking in the Cotswolds is a pair of well worn-in boots that have ankle support and good grip as the ground is uneven as we have the wonderful legacy of a footpath system allowing hikers to cross farmers fields and open meadows.

    • Sorry about the heat wave, but I’m glad that England is a bit less soggy this year than last. And you point out that you and your wife hike the paths in the Cotswolds year-round: nothing beats that kind of service and knowledge of the area. That’s why it’s so important to hire tour operators/outfitters with their boots on the ground. Cheers to you for doing that!

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