Driving Tour: Classic Cotswolds

  • Start Burford
  • End Winchcombe
  • Length 54 miles; one to three days

Given the Cotswolds' intricate spider’s-web of winding country lanes that connect its ancient market towns, time-warped villages and majestic stately homes, it’s impossible to cover every highlight in a single day. This tour, though, spans three counties and takes in some of the most picturesque spots in the northern half of the range. You could drive it in a day, but you’ll enjoy it more if you stretch it into two or three, with plentiful stop-offs along the way.

Begin in Oxfordshire at the gorgeous hillside market town of Burford, then head 10 miles west on the A40 into Gloucestershire, following signs to classic Cotswolds town Northleach. The Cotswolds Discovery Centre here has excellent displays covering the history, geography, flora and fauna of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There’s a fine church in town, and a fascinating Roman villa nearby.

From Northleach, spin 7 miles northeast on the A429 to Lower Slaughter, a serene riverside village lined with houses made of that irresistible Cotswolds golden stone. Spare the time if you can to stroll a mile northwest, along the river, to Upper Slaughter, less visited than its sibling but no less attractive, thanks to its idyllic setting between a small ford and the hills. Book ahead, and you can have lunch in an exquisite Jacobean mansion, at Lords of the Manor.

Continue 3 miles north on the A429 to Stow-on-the-Wold, the highest Cotswold village at 244m and a market centre since the 12th century. Explore the market square, then follow the A429 north, along the ruler-straight route of the ancient Roman Fosse Way. After 4.5 miles you’ll reach busy Moreton-in-Marsh, known for its weekly Tuesday market and excellent shops.

Next, zip 3 miles west on the A44 to tiny Bourton-on-the-Hill, filled with attractive 17th- and 18th-century cottages. It’s famous for two things: the gibbeting cage in which the bodies of dead highwaymen were hung in the 19th century, and horse training – there are several stud farms in the vicinity. The Horse & Groom here is a good lunch option.

Head 3 miles west on the A44, then turn right (northeast) onto the B4081 to Chipping Campden, one of the Cotswold’s most bucolic towns. After admiring 15th-century St James’ Church and the honey-toned buildings along High St – at least stop for cake and coffee, even if you’re not tempted to stay the night – backtrack to the A44. Drive a mile northwest, crossing into the Worcestershire corner of the Cotswolds, and turn off at signposted Broadway Tower, an 18th-century Gothic folly perched spectacularly atop the escarpment.

Leaving Broadway Tower, continue 1 mile south and turn right (southwest) at the crossing. You’ll soon see signs to pretty little Snowshill, a mile further on and one-time film set for Bridget Jones’s Diary. If you’re visiting in June or July, you’ll swing by spectacularly purple fields of flowering lavender. From Snowshill, whizz 2.5 miles north to Broadway, home to an excellent museum and gallery. After cruising along broad High St, hop on the B4632 southwest towards Cheltenham.

After 3 miles, take the left (east) turn-off to Stanton, a tiny stunner of a village. Its houses are crafted out of gold-tinged Cotswolds stone, with not a shop or quaint tearoom in sight. The buildings most likely to catch your eye are Jacobean Stanton Court and St Michael & All Angels’ Church, the latter with its fine Perpendicular tower and beguiling medieval interior. Stanton Court once belonged to civil architect Sir Philip Stott (1858–1937), who restored many other Stanton houses.

You’re sure to see walkers passing through Stanton, heading along the Cotswold Way to Stanway, a mile south; follow the narrow road that runs parallel to the trail. There’s little more to idyllic Stanway than a few thatched-roofed cottages, a church and Stanway House, a magnificent Jacobean manor house concealed behind a triple-gabled gatehouse. Its beautiful baroque water gardens feature Britain’s tallest fountain. The private home of the Earls of Wemyss for 500 years, the manor has a delightful, lived-in charm, with much of its original furniture and character intact.

Traverse Stanway, turn right (west) onto the B4077 and then left (southwest) back onto the B4632. After 3.5 miles, you’ll reach Winchcombe, an ancient Anglo-Saxon town and walkers’ favourite with good sleeping and eating options, including 5 North St. You’ll probably want to stay overnight to explore wonderful Sudeley Castle in the morning. Otherwise, continue 8 miles southwest on the B4632 to Cheltenham.