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. The town of Winchcombe called me and Ken, and as luck would have it, we ended up visiting in August of 2012 and again in August of 2017 (as part of our ten-day Cotswold Walks village-to-village walking tour). It was a delight on both occasions!
Though 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 Gloucestershire village with Tudor-era history, was a match made in heaven.
The town has old buildings, beautiful gardens, a picturesque location, plenty of hiking and rambling trails into the gorgeous countryside, and historic Sudeley Castle. The only thing that wasn’t absolutely perfect when we visited in 2012 was the weather—but even rain didn’t dampen our spirits at this lively village, which dates back in the Neolithic period when people settled in this hilly area and built a stone-lined, burial chamber: the Belas Knap long barrow. (Though I’m keen on Neolithic sites, I still haven’t made it to Belas Knap.)
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 rooms 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 delicious local lamb served with rosemary/garlic sauce and colcannon, while Ken sampled the traditional fish pie with purple sprouting broccoli. We both were now fortified and ready to ramble.
Winchcombe Welcomes Walkers
The Cotswolds has 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 of Winchcombe. So after lunch, we set out on the Cotswold Way footpath, despite dark skies and threatening clouds. We had barely left town when it started to drizzle, but doggedly we on we pressed up the hill. When the rain got heavier and was propelled by high winds, we finally gave up and turned back toward town.
A Visit to Stately Sudeley Castle
The consolation prize for having our hike rained out was 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 in 1512.)
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 20 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, 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.)
Ken and I absolutely loved Winchcombe, and in the summer of 2017 our dream of hiking the Cotswold Hills came true. Fare thee well, little Cotswolds village—we hope to be back again for a third visit!!
—Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor
Originally posted: June 2013
Updated August 2021
For more information about walking in and around Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, visit Winchcombe Welcomes Walkers.You can also search for or share walks throughout England, Scotland, and Wales on Visorando. Key information such as distance and elevation are provided, and you can print out the walk or download a GPX file for use with GPS devices. Here’s the link for Cotswold treks.
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 highly recommend Cotswold Walks, which we used for hiking village to village in 2017.
- Cotswold Walks: Andrew Guppy offers guided and self-guided walks with great itineraries through the gorgeous Cotswold countryside and towns. They pick up your luggage after breakfast and deliver it to your destination, where it will be waiting when you arrive after the day’s hike.
Read more about England’s pretty Cotswold region:
- Village-to-Village Walking in the Cotswolds: Day 1
- Walking in the Cotswolds Day 2: The Beautiful Slaughters
- New Uses for England’s Old Phone Booths
- Wandering the Venice of the Cotswolds: Bourton-on-Water
- Musings from Cotswold Trails (Day 3): Naunton & Guiting Power
- Winchcombe: This Cotswolds Village Is a Hub for Hiking