Cotswolds Walking

Where to sleep, eat, and drink on the Cotswold Way: The best of life off the trail

It’s been a little more than a week since we arrived in Bath, shattered but giddy over completing the Cotswold Way. Two days later I was stricken—and I do mean all the grandiosity and fervor that word implies—with a nasty stomach flu and, between that and going back to work, haven’t had time to write much about the experience. Spoiler alert: it was awesome.

While I assimilate all 102 miles of the Way and try to figure out how I’m going to get it down in words (I’ve got your pictures here), I thought I’d pass along some of the more prosaic but nonetheless important details now: the best places we slept, ate, and drank along the walk. Because nature aside, the beautiful thing about the Cotswold Way is your never far away from a bed, a pint, and a pie.

Best B&Bs
The Cotswold Way is more B&B than tent, although there are a few fields in which to erect one if you insist. Personally, I prefer a room with freestanding tub, like the one that greeted us at the end of our first day at Shenberrow Hill in Stanton. Wifi is dodgy in the whole village in the early evening, but this was the only shortcoming of an otherwise perfect stay hosted by a British Joan Didion lookalike and her Jack Russell puppy. Five-star full English breakfast.

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Just south of Stroud in Middleyard we stayed at Valley Views, a bungalow B&B owned by the genial Pam. She not only came out into the street to track us down when we somehow veered off the path, she also booked us a taxi to nearby Slad to eat dinner at the legendary Woolpack pub (more on this later). Pam’s accommodation was sparkling clean, with decent wifi and a bath thoughtfully stocked with a variety of bubble and foam potions to soak our weary legs. Five-star full English breakfast.

In Tormarton, just north of the M4, yet another proprietor had to come into a field to find us and lead us back to their B&B, in this case The Little Smithy. Our digs were an entire elegant little cottage, complete with sitting room, kitchen, and, yes, a bathroom with a tub. There’s no wifi, but the accommodation was so comfortable we almost didn’t mind. Three-star full English breakfast, but only because it was doll-house sized. (Having eaten eight consecutive full English breakfasts prior to this one, my arteries thank the hostess for the portion size.)

All these B&Bs are part of the hosts’ home, not a hotel trying to be cute with its name. Mercifully all are directly on the Cotswold Way so, assuming you have a better sense of direction than us, there’s no extra foot mileage involved. All cost under £90 for two.

Best Pubs
After a few days of hiking, it became clear that wild garlic (ramsons) was going to be the official scent of the journey. Covering every woodland floor, these delicate white flowers conspired to keep food on my mind for much of the walk. While others may have been admiring the scenery, I spent most of my time thinking about how I could really go for a nice risotto. Luckily there were excellent pubs en route to keep my thirst and hunger at bay. I even managed to eat some of that wild garlic in a rather cement-like falafel dish. Needless to say, that pub didn’t make this cut.

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Top of the list is the Woolpack Inn in Slad, technically not on the Cotswold Way but worth every cent of a short taxi ride when you’re in the Painswick area of the walk. Famous for being Cotswold writer Laurie Lee’s local, the Woolpack may just be the best pub in the region. Somehow it manages to combine boozer and foodie havens into one glorious setup with nary an ounce of pretension. We spent a luxurious couple hours drinking real ale on the patio before settling down to the meal of the trip: a tomato salad as pretty as any meadow we had walked through, wild asparagus (a delicious first for me) with roasted asparagus and courgette fritters, and a glorious Eton mess.

We didn’t stay the night in Dursley, but I liked what I saw of the town when we walked through somewhere around day 7. While the villages of the north Cotswolds are stunning, their beauty feels a bit like a precious piece of china locked away in your grandmother’s curio cabinet. Dursley in the south Cotswolds feels the opposite: a place where real people live and work, including a rather spectacular newish-looking public library. We had occasion to meet some of the locals when we stopped for an excellent Sunday roast at the vibrant Old Spot Inn. Here we made the acquaintance of Fly, an Italian greyhound, and his human, both of whom were very nice to us despite the fact that I had inadvertently taken Fly’s normal seat in the booth by the bar.

In Hawkesbury Upton, it’s worth taking the teensiest of detours to lunch at the Beaufort Arms, a big, friendly place filled with locals and serving the kind of plentiful stodge you can happily justify on a 16-mile day. In a mega carbo-load, I downed cheese and onion potato cakes with a shared bowl of cheesy chips while the petite Belgian couple who had passed us earlier in the day nibbled their granary bread sandwiches. Needless to say that was the last time we saw them on the Way.

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Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the Mount Inn in Stanton, overseen by the ever-lovely Pippa who long ago ran the Plough in Cold Aston near our Cotswold home. The Mount Inn is more restaurant than pub, whose excellent food is complimented by the westward-facing vista from their hilltop position. They open at 6PM, but if the weather’s good I recommend arriving a few minutes earlier to nab the bench on the outside deck for some pre-dinner drinks with a view.

Best Bit of Luxury
Conveniently spaced at the nearly halfway and end (or beginning, depending on the direction you walk) points of the Cotswold Way are two opportunities to indulge in a bit of pampering. And let’s face it, walking 10+ miles a day is an excellent excuse for a bit of indulgence. In Painswick, the recently opened and imaginatively named The Painswick, offers a stylish restaurant and hotel. We didn’t stay overnight, but we did have a glass of wine on their wisteria-strewn veranda overlooking the valley followed by a rather posh dinner. I’ll definitely be back, even if my ibérico ham and truffle pizza was served on a tree.

The Painswick

We ended our journey in grand style with a night at the Gainsborough Bath Spa. Arriving in mud-caked boots and waterproof trousers we didn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the clientele, but the gentleman who checked us in treated us like royalty, right down to the bottle of champagne delivered to the room. I like to think it was a congratulatory gift for walking the Cotswold Way, but it turns out they “give” (yes, yes, I know we paid for it in the room price) a bottle to everyone who books direct with the hotel.

Of course the real reason for staying at the Gainsborough is access to Bath’s famed thermal hot springs, which is free to hotel guests in the evenings and early morning. I couldn’t wait that long to take the waters, so I paid the day spa fee and spent several hours relaxing in the various pools, each with slightly different temperatures. In between dips I drank shots of warm chocolate from a slurpee-like dispenser—not the most obvious spa amenity, but I’m a fan—and snapped surreptitious shots of other ridiculousness, like a lion head that barfed lavender ice and came with instructions to scoop handfuls to rub on your entire body. It was entirely divine, as was the whole walk. We’re already talking about doing it again, this time from south to north, but I won’t wait for that to revisit these spots.

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The Details

Shenberrow Hill B&B
Worcestershire WR12 7NE
Tel: +44 (0) 1386 584468

Valley Views B&B
12 Orchard Close
King’s Stanley
Gloucestershire GL10 3QA
Tel: +44 (0) 1453 827458

The Little Smithy B&B 
Smithy House
South Gloucestershire GL9 1HU
Tel: + 44 (0) 1454 218412

The Woolpack Inn
Slad Road
Gloucestershire GL6 7QA
Tel: +44 (0) 1452 813429

The Old Spot Inn
Hill Road
Gloucestershire GL11 4JQ
+44 (0) 1453 542870

Beaufort Arms
High Street
Hawkesbury Upton
Gloucestershire GL9 1AU
+44 (0) 1454 238217

The Mount Inn
Nr Broadway
Worcestershire WR12 7NE
+44 (0)1386 584316

The Painswick
Kemps Lane
Gloucestershire GL6 6YB
+44 (0) 1452 813688

The Gainsborough Bath Spa
Beau Street
Bath BA1 1QY
+44 (0) 1225 358888

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