Villages in the Cotswolds are excellent examples of English vernacular architecture, but they have not always been prosperous. Many, like Stanton and Snowshill, were owned by great abbeys, and passed to private landlords after the Dissolution. Subsistence farmers were edged out by short leases and enclosure of fields. Villagers who had farmed their own strips of land became labourers. The number of small farmers decreased dramatically and, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, so too did the demand for labour. Cheaper food flooded in from overseas and catastrophic harvests compounded the problem. People left the countryside in droves to work in Britain's industrial towns and cities. Cotswold villages, once at the core of the most important woollen industry in medieval Europe, gradually became impoverished backwaters, but the villages themselves resisted decay. Unlike villages in many other parts of Britain, their buildings were made of stone. Enlightened landlords, who cherished their innate beauty, turned them into restoration projects. Enlightened landlords The three villages encountered on this walk are living reminders of this process. Snowshill, together with Stanton, was once owned by Winchcombe Abbey. In 1539 it became the property of Henry VIII's sixth wife, Catherine Parr. The manor house was transformed into the estate's administrative centre and remained in the Parr family until 1919. Then the estate was bought by Charles Wade, a sugar plantation owner. He restored the house and devoted his time to amassing an extraordinary collection of art and artifacts, which he subsequently bequeathed to the National Trust. Now forming the basis of a museum, his collection – from Japanese armour to farm machinery – is of enormous appeal. Next on this walk comes Stanway, a small hamlet at the centre of a large estate owned by the Earl of Wemyss. The most striking feature here is the magnificent gatehouse to the Jacobean Stanway House, a gem of Cotswold architecture built around 1630. Restored houses The village of Stanton comes last on this walk. It was rescued from decay and oblivion in 1906 by the architect Sir Philip Stott. He bought and restored Stanton Court and many of the village's 16th-century houses. The peaceful parish church is located along a lane leading from the market cross. It has two pulpits (one dating from the 14th century, the other Jacobean) and a west gallery added by the Victorian restorer, Sir Ninian Comper.
From the car park walk into Snowshill village, descending to the right at a Y-junction past Snowshill Manor and the church on your left. After a 0.25-mile (400m) climb turn right down a lane signed 'Sheepscombe House'. After another 0.25 miles (400m), at a right-hand bend on the crest of the hill, turn left up to a gate and a field.
Go half right beside a fence up to a wall gap. In the next field go half right to the far corner and left along a track. Take the second track on the right through a gate into a field and walk half left to another gate. Cross straight ahead through the field to another gate, onto a track.
Ignoring the footpath to your right, walk down a stony track with a wood on your right. After 275yds (251m) fork right on to a stony track, veering right just before a stone barn. The track descends steeply through Lidcombe Wood. After 0.5 miles (800m), where it flattens out, a farm comes into view across fields to the right, after which the track bears left uphill. Continue straight along the track, which becomes a narrow footpath, to a road.
Walk along the pavement, and after 500yds (457m) turn right through a gate into a small orchard. Walk half left across this, bearing slightly right, to arrive at a kissing gate. Go through this and walk with a high wall to your right to reach a road.
Turn right and pass the impressive entrance to Stanway House and Stanway Church, both on your right. Follow the road as it bends right. Shortly after another entrance to Stanway House, turn right through a gate opposite a thatched cricket pavilion. Go half left to another gate, and in the next large field go half right.
Now walk all the way into Stanton, following the regular and clear waymarkers of the Cotswold Way. After 1 mile (1.6km) you will arrive at a gate at the edge of Stanton. Turn left along a lane to a junction. Turn right here and walk through the village, turning right at the war memorial. Walk straight on, passing the stone cross and then another footpath. Climb up to pass to the right of The Mount Inn. Beyond it walk up a steep, shaded path to a gate. Then walk straight up the hill on a stony track (ignoring a path to the right after a few paces). Climb all the way to the top to meet a lane, passing through two gates.
Ignore the 'Cotswold Way' sign and walk down the lane for 250yds (229m), then turn left by a sign for Littleworth Wood. Follow the main path through the trees. At the bottom go through a kissing gate, continuing across the field to a kissing gate in the far corner by the road. Pass through, turn left and walk for 600yds (549m). Approaching a cottage turn right through a gate into a scrubby field. Descend via steps at first to the far side and turn right through a gate into trees. Continue to a stile on your right, cross it and turn left. Follow the bottom of the hillside to a track, then via a gate back into Snowshill.
Tracks, estate grassland and pavements, several stiles
High grassland, open wold, wide-ranging views and villages
On lead – livestock on most parts of walk, but more freedom in enclosed lanes and woodland
AA Walker's Map 8 The Cotswolds
Snowshill village (free car park to north of the village)
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Gloucestershire is home to a variety of landscapes. The Cotswolds, a region of gentle hills, valleys and gem-like villages, roll through the county. To their west is the Severn Plain, watered by Britain’s longest river, and characterised by orchards and farms marked out by hedgerows that blaze with mayflower in the spring, and beyond the Severn are the Forest of Dean and the Wye Valley.
Throughout the county you are never far away from the past. Neolithic burial chambers are widespread, and so too are the remains of Roman villas, many of which retain the fine mosaic work produced by Cirencester workshops. There are several examples of Saxon building, while in the Stroud valleys abandoned mills and canals are the mark left by the Industrial Revolution. Gloucestershire has always been known for its abbeys, but most of them have disappeared or lie in ruins. However, few counties can equal the churches that remain here. These are many and diverse, from the ‘wool’ churches in Chipping Campden and Northleach, to the cathedral at Gloucester, the abbey church at Tewkesbury or remote St Mary’s, standing alone near Dymock.