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Rolling hills and farm fields of the Cotswolds landscape
Upper Slaughter
St James and the East Banqueting House, Chipping Campden

The Cotswolds are a range of hills in southwestern Britain stretching out over the eastern half of Gloucestershire and ther western half of Oxfordshire, though the hills and outlying formations by other names, extend into the neighbouring shires, into Warwickshire and Worcestershire. The hills have been designated as the Cotswold "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty".

The essence of many a rural idyll, the Cotwolds are characterised by rolling countryside of green, windswept hill slopes grazed by contented flocks, the well-watwered valleys with farms and pretty villages. The honey-coloured towns and villages of the Cotswolds are celebrated for their beauty, much of which comes from the use of the local Cotswold stone.

The highest point in the Cotswolds is Cleeve Hill in Gloucestershire, at 1,083 feet, which is that shire's county top.


The name Cotswold is sometimes attributed the meaning, sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides,[1][2] incorporating the term, wold, meaning, woodland.

The English Place-Name Society has for many years accepted that the term Cotswold is derived from Codesuualt of the twelfth century or other variations on this form, the etymology of which was given, 'Cod's-wold', which is 'Cod's high open land'.[3] Cod was interpreted as an Old English personal name, which may be recognised in further names: Cutsdean, Codeswellan, and Codesbyrig, some of which date back to the eighth century AD.[4]


The spine of the Cotswolds runs southwest to northeast particularly Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, and south-western Warwickshire. The northern and western edges of the Cotswolds are marked by steep escarpments down to the Severn valley and the Warwickshire Avon. This escarpment or scarp feature, sometimes called the Cotswold Edge, is a result of the uplifting (tilting) of the limestone layer, exposing its broken edge.[5] On the eastern boundary lies the city of Oxford and on the west is Stroud. To the southeast, the upper reaches of the Thames Valley and towns such as Lechlade, Tetbury, and Fairford are often considered to mark the limit of this region.

To the south the Cotswolds, with the characteristic uplift of the Cotswold Edge, reach beyond Bath, and towns such as Chipping Sodbury and Marshfield share elements of Cotswold character.

The area is characterised by attractive small towns and villages built of the underlying Cotswold stone (a yellow oolitic limestone).[5] This limestone is rich in fossils, particularly of fossilised sea urchins.

In the Middle Ages the wool trade made the Cotswolds prosperous. Some of this money was put into the building of churches so the area has a number of large and handsome Cotswold stone "wool churches". The area remains affluent and has attracted wealthy people who own second homes in the area or have chosen to retire there.

Cotswold towns include:

The town of Chipping Campden is notable for being the home of the Arts and Crafts Movement, founded by William Morris at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.[6] William Morris lived occasionally in Broadway Tower, a folly, now part of a country park.[7] Chipping Campden also is known for the annual Cotswold Olimpick Games, a celebration of sports and games dating back to the early seventeenth century.[8]

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

From Cleeve Common, near the highest point in the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds were designated as an "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" in 1966, with an expansion on 21 December 1990 to 768 square miles, now 787 square miles.

The Cotswolds AONB, which is the largest one in England and Wales, stretches from the border regions of South Warwickshire and Worcestershire, through western Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, and takes in parts of Wiltshire, Bath in the south.

The Cotswolds Conservation Board is the organisation that exists to conserve and enhance the AONB. Established in 2004, the board carries out a range of work from securing funding for 'on the ground' conservation projects, to providing a strategic overview of the area for key decision makers, such as planning officials. The board is an independent organisation funded by Natural England and the seventeen local authorities that sit within the AONB.[9]

While the beauty of the Cotswold AONB is intertwined with the villages that seem almost, to grow out of the landscape, the Cotswolds were primarily designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for the rare limestone grassland habitats as well as the old growth beech woodlands that typify the area. These habitat areas are also the last refuge for many other flora and fauna, with some so endangered that they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Cleeve Hill, and its associated commons, is a fine example of a limestone grassland and it is one of the few locations where the Duke of Burgundy butterfly may still be found in abundance.[10]

The uniqueness and value of the Cotswolds is engendered in the many protected designations plastered across it: the "Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" and within it three "National Nature Reserves", more than eighty "Sites of Special Scientific Interest" and five European "Special Areas of Conservation".[11]

The Cotswold Voluntary Wardens Service, now part of the Cotswolds Conservation Board, was established in 1968 to help conserve and enhance the area and now has more than 300 wardens.

The Cotswold Way is a long-distance footpath, approximately 103 miles long, running the length of the hills, mainly on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment with views over the Severn Valley and the Vale of Evesham.[12]

Towns and villages

Bibury, a Cotswold Village

Bath, Cheltenham, Dursley, Gloucester, and Stroud are larger urban centres that border on, or are virtually surrounded by, the Cotswold AONB.

Noteworthy historical structures

The Secret Garden at Sudeley Castle

The Cotswolds in the Media & Culture

The Cotswold region has inspired some of Britain's finest composers. In the early 1900s, Herbert Howells and Ivor Gurney used to go for long walks together over the hills and Gurney urged Howells to make the landscape, including the nearby Malvern Hills, the inspiration for his future work. Accepting, and true to his word, in 1916, Howells wrote his first major piece, the Piano Quartet in A minor, inspired by the magnificent view of the Malverns - it was dedicated to "the hill at Chosen (Churchdown) and Ivor Gurney who knows it".[13] Another contemporary of theirs, Gerald Finzi, lived in nearby Painswick.

Gustav Holst titled his Symphony in F major, Op.8 H47 'The Cotswolds'.

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Cotswolds)


  1. Kingscote Park - The Kingscote, Gloucestershire area
  2. Charnock, Richard Stephen: ‪Local etymology: a derivative dictionary of geographical names‬ (Houlston and Wright, 1859)
  3. Smith, A. H. 1964 The Place-Names of Gloucestershire, part 1: The Rivers and Road-names, the East Cotswolds, Cambridge, p.2
  4. Smith A. H. 1964 The Place-Names of Gloucestershire part 2: The North and West Cotswolds, Cambridge pp.7-8
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Cotswold Stone". Cotswold Gateway. Retrieved 12 December 2009. 
  6. "History". Court Barn Museum. Retrieved 6 April 2010. 
  7. "Broadway Tower". Cotswold website. Retrieved 12 December 2009. 
  8. "Origins of Robert Dover's Games". Olympick Games. Retrieved 12 December 2009. 
  9. "Cotswolds Conservation Board". Cotswolds AONB. Retrieved 12 December 2009. 
  10. "Natural Areas - 55 Cotswolds". Natural England. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  11. "Understanding the Cotswold AONB". Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 
  12. "Cotswold Way — About this trail". National Trail. Retrieved 2007-06-30. 
  13. Long Remembered Hills How the English composers Ivor Gurney and Herbert Howells were influenced by the Gloucestershire countryside.

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