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April 3, 2024

Destination: Cotswolds


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The River Coln Trail: What you Need to Know

There’s a new walking route in the Cotswolds. The River Coln Trail is, yes, you guessed it, a path which follows the delightful River Coln.

The project is the work of a collaboration between the towns of Winchcombe and Fairford, two towns that are active members of the UK-wide Walkers are Welcome initative.

Launched in March 2024, the River Coln Trail follows the river from near its source southwest to its confluence with the River Thames.

The River Coln Trail is not only a delightful walking route, but it also provides a signposted link between two other National Trail routes – The Cotswold Way and The Thames Path.

Sunset on the River Coln at Bibury. Image: Ben Arthur

Where is the River Coln?

The River Coln slices through the heart of the Cotswolds, providing walkers a fantastic taste of this National Landscape.

Whilst the route of the River Coln Trail begins further North in Winchcombe, the source of the river is actually a few miles further south, near Charlton Abbots.

The Coln isn’t a large river, though it can flood in winter or during heavy rainfall. Indeed, some river sections have been used to flood old gravel pits, which now form part of the Cotswold Water Park.

River Coln Trail Map

How to walk the River Coln Trail

Covering relatively easy terrain, the River Coln Trail is attainable for most people. The route follows footpaths and bridleways taking in various Cotswold villages along the way. When walking on roads is required they are small, quiet and relatively traffic free.

The first 5-10 miles of The River Coln Trail does involve some climbing but from there on it, the route is gently undulating.

The creators of the River Coln Trail have split the route into nine sections making it easy to walk it over several days, or even several months if you’d prefer. 

There are even circular walks on each of these nine sections too – that way if time is tight you can experience a small slice of the River Coln Trail in a very short time. 

For more advance walkers the route could easily be tackled over two days with an overnight stop somewhere halfway.

Bridge over The River Coln. Image: Ben Arthur

Both Winchcombe and Lechlade on Thames – the start and end of the trail – aren’t the easiest towns to reach on public transport.

For Winchombe, there’s a direct bus from Cheltenham which takes just under half an hour. Of course, if you have access to a car, there are several places to leave a car in both Winchombe and Lechlade, though being an end-to-end route it will leave you without transport at the end of your walk.

Walking the River Coln Trail

We’d suggest starting the River Coln Trail at Winchcombe, where the route heads directly south past Sudeley Castle – if you have time, it’s well worth the visit. 

Both the castle itself and its various gardens could easily take up half a day. Plus don’t miss the cafe, where in summer you can eat on the terrace.

Sudeley Castle, Winchcombe. The River Coln Trail passes through the field in the foreground. Image: Frank Fischbach

Leaving Winchombe, the trail takes in the Windrush Way another waymarked route in the area, though much shorter than the River Coln Trail at just under 14 miles. Here the route takes in traditional Cotswold open farm country – we’d be surprised if you don’t come across a sheep or three. 

Passing through the small hamlet of Charlton Abbots, you’ll go by the marked head of the River Coln. That said, the River Coln isn’t much of a river until you reach the village of Brockhampton, from here on it is much more recognisable.

The Church of St Michael, Withington. Image: Murray Harding

As you continue on the route crossing the busy A40 road in the process, you’ll reach Andoversford, a larger village with a couple of shops and places to eat. Further on, the charming village of Withington is well worth a stop too even if it’s just to rest your feet for a while.

Nearing Chedworth Roman Villa, the path bisects some lovely ancient woodland which is a treat to gaze into at any time of the year. For history buffs, Chedworth is well worth a visit. Discovered by the Victorians around 150 years ago, the mosaic floors are worth the entry fee alone.

At Fossebridge, the River Coln Trail crosses the old Roman Road, the Fosse Way. If you’d like to split the River Coln Trail into a two day walk, accommodation options are fairly limited, but a sensible stop off would be the Inn at Fossebridge. We’d recommend booking in advance as there are only 7 rooms available. Slightly off route, but still near the halfway point, there are several private B&B options in the nearby village of Chedworth.

Further on from Fossebridge the small villages of Coln Rogers and Ablington are more great examples of traditional Cotswold villages. The larger houses, Ablington Manor being one, are signs of the prosperity of the Cotswold Wool trade which generated much of the wealth in the area during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Coln is perhaps best known as the river flowing through the very popular village of Bibury and the picture-perfect street, Arlington Row. Walking the Coln Trail also affords great views of Bibury Trout Farm.

The River Coln at Bibury, with Arlington Row the background. Image: Ben Arthur

If you want to avoid the crowds in Bibury perhaps walk on to Coln St Aldwyn where the trail passes twice over the river in quick succession. The Cafe Coln, in the Coln Community Stores, is the ideal place for a hot drink to spur you on for the final stretch of the walk.

The Mill at Fairford. Image: Christopher Price

Reach Fairford and take in Fairford Mill. Here the River Coln looks idyllic and on a hot summer’s day its gentle bubbling sound is a wonderful tonic. Very close by are the Fairford Oxpens, buildings which were constructed to house Ox which pulled ploughs on farms in the village right up to the 1960s. 

In Fairford, you’ll be presented with plenty of places for lunch. Lynwood and Co is a favourite of ours and it’s right on the walking route. 

At Inglesham the Coln finally reaches the Thames, but the route continues taking you slightly northeast on into Lechlade on Thames, home to amongst other things, the curious Cotswold Christmas Shop.

Things to do near the River Coln

Whilst the River Coln Trail does visit or pass some well-known sites in the Cotswolds, like Sudeley Castle, Bibury and Chedworth Villa, it provides walkers with a quieter experience of the region. 

Steering away from the many honeypot sites in the Cotswolds will allow you to experience the area as the locals do. Don’t be surprised if you walk for hours without coming across anyone else.

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