Travel UK: Take a walk on the quintessentially English side

Undulating countryside, Norman churches and views to ancient chalk horses are among the highlights of a Cotswolds winter walk.
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The Independent Culture
THE COTSWOLDS are full of cliches: stone is honey-coloured, villages nestle, everything is quintessential. But winter adds a twist to this idyll. And the best way to appreciate this is by walking through the almost impossibly lovely landscape.

This bridleway walk in a circuit of four villages (and a fifth if you fancy) takes you right into the heart of the Cotswolds. The landscape gently undulates, the views are extensive, and the villages are some of the most attractive in England.

The churches are built almost entirely of local stone, originally Norman but with lots of Perpendicular rebuilding, and another (often less popular) refurbishment in Victorian times. A strong west tower, quiet, villagey interiors and tidy graveyards complete the picture. And thankfully they are mostly open during the day.

Start in Cold Aston, or Aston Blank if you prefer: the road signs can't make up their minds and give you both. Why Cold? No doubt a reference to Cotswold winters up here at 700ft above sea level.

The church at Cold Aston, like the one in neighbouring Notgrove, has no east window, which makes one wonder why. Before you leave St Andrew's, take the time to find the grave of the Rev James Hughes, vicar of three churches for 27 years, and proud owner of no fewer than 27 cats. Two stand watch over his tombstone.

Go west from the village for a mile. Beyond the last house, divert left into Long Ash Piece, a splendid brake of trees in a double avenue, forming a half-mile-long wind barrier on the skyline from north and south. And they are mostly beech, another typical Cotswold feature.

Turn right and left at the end and cross the field obliquely (follow bridleway signs, not footpath signs, throughout this walk) with a lovely view of Notgrove village across the small valley.

At the lane, turn left and follow round to the church of St Bartholomew. Visiting Notgrove, an estate village, gives the feeling of trespassing in somebody's front garden. The church, standing next to the manor-house, is a small gem. Its guide notes call it a "church of precious things" to which the 20th century has contributed. In place of the missing east window is a large tapestry of the village, created over a period of 11 years by the lord of the manor and villagers together.

Walk up the lane, past the drive to the manor and beyond the cricket pitch. At the junction, turn left and almost immediately right into a lane heading westwards.

The view across the dry valley is one of large open fields, scattered barns, clumps of woodland (coverts and brakes) and distant views to the next village on the skyline, an experience that is repeated throughout the walk.

History is often perpetuated in these field and covert names. Farmers and landowners now dead and gone have their names recorded (Rixon's Covert) or their family remembered (Judith Grove).

Past Kitehill Barn, follow the path down into the valley bottom. Here there is the option of an additional route to take in Salperton - in which case turn right through the gate beside the ash tree and then left to walk up the middle of the large field to Farhill Farm. Follow the lane past Poison Meadow, and continue round to join the drive sweeping up to Salperton Park (private, no access). The tiny church of All Saints stands almost in the garden; follow the signs up to it.

Thereafter, retrace your steps into Church Cover and turn right to follow the bridleway southwards alongside Hazleton Grove into Hazleton village, to rejoin the main walk.

Otherwise, go straight over at the bottom and climb the bank along the field boundary past Raspberry Brake. At the bridleway sign, divert obliquely left across the field to cross another path at the junction of three large fields on the crest of the hill. The views from here are the best on the walk - on a clear day you can see easily across to the Uffington White Horse on the Ridgeway to the south.

Drop down to the field edge and then down the bank into another dry valley. Turn right here, enjoying some rare unimproved grassland on the steep field banks opposite Lumley Covert. At the road to the new farmhouse built up the bank, follow round to the left and up the track to enter Hazleton village, and visit St Andrew's church.

The route continues down the lane into the dip. Ignore two turns right and take the left turn, keeping straight on beyond the "unsuitable for motors" sign. Here begins another gentle drop into another valley, the road down to the farm buildings at Lower Barn becoming a stony track into the bottom.

Through the gate, turn right and enjoy for perhaps half a mile the best Cotswold valley of the walk - known locally as the "hidden valley". Up the bank to the gate and thence up to join the road at Manor Farm buildings at Turkdean.

Turn right here and along the village street to the church (another All Saints), set in a large churchyard. Read the report bravely posted up by an earlier vicar on the obliteration of some of the church's wall paintings in a previous regime.

Retrace your steps back up the village, and at the manor on the corner of the small green, turn right into another "unsuitable" bridleway for a superb mile-long walk across the fields back to Cold Aston.

On the way, have a smile at Bang Up Barn, once an isolated field barn and cottage. The barn has gone but the rebuilt cottage is now much more sophisticated and offers B&B. At the road once again, turn right into the village.

The walk is about eight miles; add two for the Salperton loop. Cold Aston is one mile off the A429. Park in the village, which has the only pub on the walk, the Plough Inn

Use OS Pathfinder maps 1067 & 1090 and Outdoor Leisure 45: Cotswolds