Our Cotswolds sojourn begins this afternoon in Oxford with a guided walking tour of England's most famous university town. Admire the architecture and heritage of the 15th-century Bodleian Library and several of the colleges that comprise Oxford University, founded by King Henry VIII in 1546. Leaving Oxford, we head west into the heart of the Cotswolds. This bucolic region, whose name comes from the Old English "cot" for sheep enclosure and "wold," meaning hill—“sheep pens among rolling hills”—spans 800 square miles and is protected as Britain’s largest National Landscape. Arrive at Minster Lovell, where a welcome dinner awaits at our inn. This perfectly preserved village of stone cottages with classic thatched roofs enjoys a romantic setting on the River Windrush.
Day 2: Windrush Valley Walk / Private Garden Tour
The Windrush Valley is one of the prettiest walking destinations in the Cotswolds. We start the morning with a walk to St. Kenelm’s Church and the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, a 15th-century Oxfordshire manor house along the River Windrush. An easy path leads on through the postcard-perfect hamlets of Widford, Swinbrook and Asthall. In contrast to the Cotswolds' more heavily touristed towns, these are unspoiled villages that evoke the England of the imagination. The settings are quintessentially Cotswolds, with medieval churches, thatched cottages, cozy pubs, and bridges spanning the river. The scenery is as bucolic as it gets, with the trail skirting pastures filled with grazing sheep enclosed by dry stone walls. Expect abundant wildflowers in spring, a rich palette of warm colors in autumn, and varied bird sightings along the way. Have lunch at a classic inn in Asthall, and view the exterior of Asthall Manor, the childhood home of the six Mitford Sisters who gained widespread notoriety for their stylish, eccentric and controversial lives as young women in the early 20th century. This afternoon, enjoy a private tour of either Cerney Gardens at the historic home of the Angus family or the gardens at 17th-century Barnsley House. We also stop for a tasting at Freedom of the Press winery on a Cotswold arable farm.
Day 3: Church of St. Peter & St. Paul / Chedworth Roman Villa / Highgrove House & Gardens—Private Tour
This morning we visit one of the most famous of the Cotswold "wool churches," the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. In medieval times, the Cotswold region was famous for the quality of the wool produced, and many wool merchants became fabulously wealthy, often lavishing some of this wealth on their local churches. The church at Northleach, which has stood at the heart of this small market town for at least 800 years, is renowned for having the best single collection of medieval and Tudor brasses in the country.
Continue to Chedworth Roman Villa where a specialist-guided tour reveals some of the most elaborate Roman antiquities in Britain. The site is preserved in the style of a Victorian archeological dig, and we'll see impressive Roman mosaics, bathhouse rooms, remnants of the steam heating system, and the Nymphaeum, still fed by water that filters through ancient Cotswold limestone. The hidden valley where Chedworth is located offers glorious rural vistas, with fields hemmed by stands of poplar, chestnut, rowan and whitebeam. The area abounds in sheep, as it has for centuries, and numerous wildlife species inhabit the hedgerows. Raptor sightings are common, and we find scores of pheasants in season. Walk to Chedworth village and The Seven Tuns pub for lunch.
This afternoon, we have a guided private tour of Highgrove House and Gardens, the country residence of HRH King Charles III, who is an ardent supporter of wildlife conservation and rural landscapes in Britain. Such was his love for the landscape, history and people of the Cotswolds that King Charles chose to make this 1796 manor house his personal home. The gardens, more than 35 years in the making, reflect great diversity, from the genteel setting of the Sundial Garden to the unstructured beauty of the Wildflower Meadow.
Day 4: Dawn Chorus Walk / Slad Valley Walk / Woodchester Estate—Private Tour
Rise early for a "dawn chorus" bird walk with a local naturalist, who helps us identify the morning songbirds we are hearing. After breakfast, a walk through the Slad Valley reveals an idyllic vale untouched by development, with four small nature reserves to explore. Keep an eye out for native wildlife that may peek from the hedgerows that line country lanes—we may see songbirds and butterflies or, if we're especially lucky, we might spy a deer, fox or badger—or, less likely, a rare hedgehog—but the main attraction is the sublime rural scenery. This region was once the heart of England's wool industry in the Middle Ages, which generated so much wealth for the Cotswolds. Our walk ends in the village of Slad at the famous Woolpack Pub, Laurie Lee’s local. Lee, a novelist and poet, is the Cotswolds' most famous author, raised in this tiny town that remains largely overlooked by tourism.
After some time to relax on the grounds of our inn this afternoon, we arrive at the private Woodchester Estate, once a Tudor deer hunting ground, where a nature walk may reveal muntjac and roe deer, plus kingfisher, herons, and mandarin and tufted ducks around the lakes. Learn about important conservation efforts as the National Trust, which manages Woodchester, continues to restore the parklands to the original hardwood forest and pasture. Before dinner, view the 200-year-old boathouse and tour the unfinished Victorian mansion. Afterward, we'll hear a talk on greater horseshoe bats and watch them roosting in the mansion via monitors. Then, as the sun sets, we'll watch them fly off to hunt (in season) while trying our hand at using bat detectors outside at dusk. In addition to long-running research on these endangered bats, the badger population is also monitored here by the British government.
Day 5: Slimbridge Wetland Center / Coaley Peak / Upper Slaughter
Today’s visit to a globally important nature reserve offers a rich encounter with conservation leadership in action. Encompassing 650 acres of wetlands along the Severn Estuary, Slimbridge was established in 1946 by Sir Peter Scott, son of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Scott. Seeking to protect the birds he loved and their habitat, he set up the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Slimbridge as a center for science, conservation and public access to nature. Scott presented the BBC’s first live television wildlife programs from Slimbridge, created the IUCN red list that measures whether species are threatened or endangered, and was founding chair of WWF, even drawing the original famous panda logo. We are inspired by his vision as we explore Slimbridge, which Scott called the “avian Serengeti,” given the vast number of wild birds that frequent this mosaic of reedbed, grazing marsh, ponds, pools and riverside flooded meadow. Migrating birds pass through in spring while hatchlings appear in early summer, including kingfishers and cranes. From summer warblers to autumn waders, the activity is lively no matter when we visit. The center also breeds rare and endangered birds that are later released to the wild in their native habitats. We learn why wetlands are crucial to the planet’s survival, why they are endangered, and what we must do to preserve and restore them.
Later this afternoon, follow narrow country roads to reach Coaley Peak, situated along the Cotswold escarpment with views across the Severn Valley and into Wales. Managed by the National Trust, this reclaimed farmland offers recreation for hikers, mountain bikers and dog walkers, and wildflower meadows in season. Many archeological sites are present in the region, including Iron Age settlements and a Neolithic long barrow burial site, which we visit. Continuing to the tiny hamlet of Upper Slaughter, we reach our luxurious country house hotel. Dinner this evening is at a cozy local pub.
Day 6: Honeydale Farm / The Slaughters Walk / Bourton-on-the-Water
Awaken this morning in one of the Cotswolds' most enchanting settings. The villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter have names that derive from the Saxon word slothre or sloh, meaning "slough" or "marshy place," rather than any grisly heritage. Connected by a peaceful mile walk along the River Eye, the villages look straight out of a fairytale with their tiny cottages, steepled churches, stone walls, trailing roses and picturesque old mill.
As we weave our way through the bucolic landscape, we'll observe how the traditional rural heritage of the Cotswolds has shaped the region over the centuries. More than 80% of these rolling hills are agricultural land. Nature here has been managed and conserved by the farming community, which continues its commitment to careful stewardship today. At Honeydale Farm this morning, learn about sustainable agriculture in the Cotswolds. Committed to ecological farming and public education, the FarmED program on the 107-acre site seeks to reconnect people to the land in ways that will nourish them and the Earth both. Our private guided walking tour covers the heritage orchard, kitchen garden, meadows and woodland as we learn about natural flood management, regenerative agriculture, the micro dairy, and the heritage wheat the farm grows for artisan bread making.
After a walk between the Slaughters villages this afternoon, continue to Bourton-on-the-Water, one of the most famous of the Cotswold villages, for some free time—sit down for cream tea, browse the shops, or wander along the river admiring the low stone bridges that create postcard-worthy scenes. Later we head to the Pudding Club for dinner, a lively place where guests participate in a parade of puddings (British for dessert), carrying pavlova, berry crumble and syrup sponge around the room, sampling them, and voting for their favorite.
Please Note: If Day 6 falls on a weekend, the FarmED program may not be able to accommodate group visits to Honeydale Farm. We will substitute an alternative farm or visit Sherborne Park Estate where we'll take a walk to learn about important rewilding and habitat restoration work and native wildlife on the premises.
Day 7: Classic Cotswold Villages / Broadway Tower / Hidcote Gardens
Explore a collection of small Cotswold villages today, beginning in Stanway, which is famous for its Jacobean manor house with a gravity-fed fountain that reaches heights of nearly 300 feet. Neighboring Stanton is considered one of the most picturesque towns in the Cotswolds. Many of its cottages were built in the mid-1500s, and the church dates to the 9th century. Walk on to Laverton, built of golden Cotswold limestone, which lies near two long-distance footpaths, the Winchcombe Way and Cotswold Way. We follow the latter a short distance into tranquil Buckland on the northern edge of the Cotswold escarpment.
After a sumptuous lunch at elegant Buckland Manor, continue to Broadway Tower, rising more than a thousand feet atop a beacon hill that is one of the highest points in the Cotswolds, offering a dramatic view into 16 counties. This landmark was the vision of 18th-century landscape designer Capability Brown, who enlisted renowned architect James Wyatt to complete it in 1798. Members of the Arts and Crafts movement used the tower as a country holiday retreat, and it was here that William Morris started his campaign for the preservation of historic monuments. A walk on the 50-acre estate surrounding the tower may reveal a look at the resident red deer herd.
Then it’s on to Hidcote Gardens this afternoon for a private tour of this National Trust property regarded as one of the finest displays of flora in England. Hidcote's designer, Lawrence Johnstone, sourced plants for the gardens from around the world and donated the site to the National Trust in 1948—making it the first of many significant British gardens the Trust would acquire. This evening, a festive farewell dinner awaits as we gather together one last time.
Day 8: Transfer to London Heathrow Airport / Depart
An early morning transfer is included to London's Heathrow Airport, about a two-hour drive for those returning home or onto other travels. If you choose to remain in the region for further exploration on your own, you can leave any time before check-out from Upper Slaughter—consider a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Blenheim Palace, Sudeley Castle, the Roman city of Bath, and Shakespeare's childhood home of Stratford-upon-Avon—all are nearby.
Please Note: While all activities listed on our itinerary will be included, some may take place on days or times that are different from what is shown, depending on local schedules.
Physical Rating: Easy
Scotland's Wild Highlands & Islands
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