Raise your canvas in a Cotswold beauty spot near the riverside and a nexus of hiking trails.
This Cotswolds AONB beauty spot’s nickname—“Venice of the Cotswolds”—is some indication that even by Cotswolds standards, Bourton-in-the-Water is special. Its main street is flanked by village greens and the River Windrush, which drifts under five low stone bridges. Several long-distance trails—the Macmillan Way, Monarch’s Way, Windrush Way, Oxfordshire Way, and Gloucestershire Way—converge here, with the latter connecting up to the region’s best-known trail, the Cotswold Way, at Winchcombe. There is a model village and a Roman settlement to explore too, plus excellent cycling and horse-riding. There is limited tent space at the campsite by the lake southeast of the village but plenty of campsites a bit farther afield.
These low-lying undulating hills surround Bourton-on-the-Water. They secrete many more similarly gorgeous historic villages, all characterised by honey-coloured stone villages epitomising the English rural idyll with their preserved churches, centuries-old pubs, and duck ponds. Other bases with good campsites from which to explore the area include Moreton-in-Marsh, 10 miles north, and Chipping Campden, 14 miles north, while charming Castle Combe is the prettiest base in the southern Cotswolds.
South of the Cotswolds AONB is the River Thames, the UK’s best-known and second-longest river with its very own 185-mile, long-distance trail running from source to mouth. The river begins near Kemble, then flows through the huge lake system of the Cotswolds Water Park, 21 miles south of Bourton-on-the-Water. The park is known for water sports, and there are several waterside campsites.
Flanking the Cotswolds AONB to the east is rolling rural Oxfordshire, which is also easily explored from Bourton-on-the-Water. The landscape includes architectural wonders like Blenheim Palace, one of the nation’s grandest residences, and the moated manor house of Broughton Castle, while the sights of Oxford are close by too. The Oxfordshire Way, beginning at Bourton-on-the-Water and finishing at Henley-on-Thames, winds all the way through the county. The area around Adderbury, south of Banbury, has some inviting campsites too.
September is a great month to visit the Cotswolds, when accommodation prices and crowds have dwindled but when the weather is still often sunny and warm. Autumn colours are also especially dazzling in September and October. Being near Cheltenham, Bourton-on-the-Water-bound campers can also take advantage of Cheltenham’s Jazz Festival (late April) and music festival (July).