Sustainable travel

How to do a classic Cotswolds weekend, car-free

Get all those quaint villages vibes, cheek-reddening walks and cosy pub pints – with no Range Rover required, says Alicia Miller

Stow-on-the-Wold, the Cotswolds

Honey-stone villages. Pubs with roaring fires. Fields of sheep, Instagrammable farm shops and cosy tea rooms. The Cotswolds is the ultimate British countryside pin-up – the kind of place city dwellers dream of escaping to for a lazy, bucolic weekend. The only problem for a non-driver like me? You need a car, both to get there, and to explore the region’s riches.

Or so it seemed. Most people think a motor is a must-have for the Cotswolds. But as it turned out, even in the heart of its lush, protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) – where major transport links are scarce – you can see plenty without driving.

The first step to a successful car-free visit is choosing your base carefully. While some of the Cotswolds’ prettiest towns and villages are sewn up by a decent local bus network, for your first night at least you need a stay close to a rail line. This is not only because buses are infrequent and you’ll also have annoying luggage in tow, but because trains sometimes run late out here, too. You don’t need the stress of suddenly being made homeless for the night because the delayed 17.34 from Paddington made you miss the last bus to your hotel.

There are only a handful of rail stations within the AONB proper. Among them is sleepy Charlbury – home to a great deli and possibly the world’s poshest mini Co-op (great if you’re booking an Airbnb). Or there’s larger Moreton-in-Marsh, if you need a wide range of facilities. But for just a weekend car-free, my favourite village of all is atmospheric Kingham, outside Chipping Norton. Perfectly picturesque, it contains only the bare essentials – by which I mean not one, but two excellent pubs.

The Kingham Plough, Kingham, Oxfordshire

Picture this: emerging from the station, you’ll enjoy a winding 20-minute walk along hedgerow and country road, passing golden fields, butter-hued houses and a quaint old church. Front gardens bloom with lavender; a small wooden bench sits on a patch of village green. And at the heart of it all is your stay, the Kingham Plough: the epitome of a Cotswolds pub, with beamed dining room, crackling fire, and an all-bangers menu starring superb steak and chips. Its handful of cosy bedrooms (doubles from £145, B&B) come with jars of cookies and well-thumbed books, and views out to the little main strip where horses from nearby stables clomp by on weekend mornings. Meanwhile, in the evenings, locals gather in the rear pub garden to sip ales and cocktails.

Kingham has more to it than just the Plough, though. A few minutes’ walk away is swanky The Wild Rabbit, perfect for a glam Sunday lunch or an evening glass of wine. There’s a wee shop, selling a few snacks, magazines and other bits and bobs. And, of course, as with nearly any Cotswolds village, it has some excellent walks.

From this winning base, you can march the five miles or so east towards Chipping Norton, for its antique shops and market vibe, stopping off en route in Churchill for cheese souffle at The Churchill. You could wander south, to Foxholes Nature Reserve, carpeted in bluebells each spring. But if you want peak Cotswolds vibes, I’d head north, on a just-rustic-enough, two-hour circuit that takes in the holy centre of the Cotswolds: Daylesford Organic.

A room at The Kingham Plough, Kingham, Oxfordshire

Even if you are already familiar with Lady Bamford’s food and lifestyle brand, nothing can prepare you for the wonderland that is Daylesford’s farm headquarters, about half an hour into your walking route. Garden centre, homewares shop, kids’ boutique, restaurant, cookery school, accommodation, spa – it’s a bit like an Ikea, in that it has everything, and that you could literally lose an entire day spending money on stuff you don’t need. But, unlike Ikea, ceramic bowls might cost £75 and there are a lot of cold-pressed juices and people roaring up in Range Rovers.

After you’ve had your fill (and a Daylesford coffee), head west to Oddington Ashes, passing through forest, then cut downwards towards Bledington – and some sheep-dotted fields. At this point your stomach might be rumbling, and it’s just as well – lunch is waiting at The King’s Head Inn, another special pub with delightful fish and chips and a flower-studded courtyard garden. Afterwards, it’s just a 45-minute stroll back to Kingham for a well-earned nap.

If you want to explore further afield, that’s doable too. Monday to Saturday the 802 bus (unlimited rides day ticket £7.50) from Kingham will whisk you 15 minutes along the road to Stow-on-the-Wold, a pretty market town that’s a honeypot for tourists. While most battle for a parking space, you’ll have a breezy time visiting the cute tea rooms, raiding the shops (don’t miss The Curated Store, a pop up rotation of local indie businesses) and exploring the Norman church, framed by yew trees.

Woodland outside Moreton in Marsh, Cotswolds

Put a bit more effort into planning your timetable, and your options only expand. The aforementioned, lovely Charlbury is only an eight-minute train ride from your base, Kingham, and home to photogenic alms houses and a grand town hall. If you’re happy to work around the local timetables, it’s reachable by bus. As are Chipping Norton and Bourton-on-the-Water – perhaps the most popular Cotswolds town of all, with its waterway and bridges.

There are plenty of tourists in Bourton, buzzing about its museums or tasting gins at the Cotswolds Distillery. If you visit, you will have to temporarily share some Cotswolds sidewalk real estate. But at least us savvy pedestrians won’t have to share the roads. Come Sunday night, most of those crowds will be stuck in holidaymaker return traffic. Meanwhile, you’ll be zooming back home on the train, book in hand – an effortlessly low-carbon and car-free traveller.

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