A walk on the wilder side of bustling Bourton-on-the-Water to see the results of its natural regeneration.
Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 230ft (70m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Track and field, can be muddy and wet in places, 26 stiles
Landscape Sweeping valley views, lakes, streams, hills and village
Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 45 The Cotswolds
Start/finish SP 169208
Dog friendliness Some stiles may be awkward for dogs; occasional livestock
Parking Pay-and-display car park on Station Road
Public toilets At car park
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1 Opposite the entrance to the main pay-and-display car park in Bourton-on-the-Water locate a public footpath and continue to a junction opposite the cemetery. Bear right to follow a lane all the way to its end. There are two gates in front of you.. Take the one on the right, with a stile beside it, to enter a grassy track.
2 Follow the track between lakes to where it curves right. Leave the track to go forward over a bridge and stile into a field. Go across the field, curving right, to come to a stile at a road.
3 Cross the road, turn right and immediately left on to a track. After 100yds (91m) go left over a stile into a field and turn right. Cross a stile and return to the track, with a lake to your left. Just before a gate turn right over a bridge and left over a stile on to a path alongside the River Windrush. Continue until the path comes to a stile at a field. Turn left, cross another stile and go left over a bridge before turning right beside another lake.
4 Where this second, smaller lake ends bear right to a stile, followed by a bridge and stile at a field. Keep to the right side of fields until you come to a track. At a house leave the track and continue to a stile. In the next field, after 25yds (23m), turn left over a stile and then sharp right. Continue to a stile and then go half left across a field. Continue on the same line across the next field to a stile. Cross this and follow the right margin of a field, to climb slowly to a junction of tracks. Turn left to visit the village of Clapton-on-the-Hill, or turn right to continue.
5 Follow a track to a field. Go forward then half right to pass right of woodland. Continue to a stile, followed by two stiles together at a field. Go half left to a stile and then follow a succession of stiles, a stream appearing to the left.
6 Cross a bridge and then go half right across a field to a bridge. Continue to more stiles and then walk along a grassy track towards houses. Cross one more stile and follow a path to a road in Bourton. Walk ahead to cross the river and turn left, then right, to return to the start.
Despite Bourton-on-the-Water's popularity the throng is easily left behind by walking briefly eastwards to a chain of redundant gravel pits. In the 1970s these were landscaped and filled with water and fish. As is the way of these things, for some time the resulting lakes looked every inch the artificial creations they were, but now they have bedded into their surroundings and seem to be an integral part of the landscape.
The fish and water have acted as magnets for a range of wetland birds, whose populations rise and fall with the seasons. During the spring and summer months you should look out for the little grebe and the splendidly adorned great crested grebe, as well as the more familiar moorhens and coots, and mallard and tufted ducks. Wagtails will strut about the water's edge, swans and geese prowl across the water and kingfishers, if you are lucky, streak from bush to reed. Come the autumn, the number of birds will have increased significantly. Above all there will be vast numbers of ducks - pintail, shoveler, widgeon and pochard among them - as well as occasional visitors like cormorants. Either around the lakes or by the rivers you may also spy dippers and, in the hedgerows, members of the finch family.
Should you get drawn into the village - as you surely will - keep listening for birdsong and you will hear some improbable 'visitors'. Bourton-on-the-Water has a large bird sanctuary which houses, among many other birds, one of the largest collections of penguins in the world, some of which featured in the film Batman (1989). A penguin seems an odd choice for an adversary, given its endearing reputation, and at first glance one might think that a penguin was a mammal and a bat was a bird, not vice versa. The reason for the presence of so many penguins in the Cotswolds is that the sanctuary's founder was also the owner of two small islands in the Falklands.
Penguins aside, Bourton-on-the-Water has a long history. The edge of the village is bounded by the Roman Fosse Way and many of its buildings are a pleasing mix of medieval, Georgian and Victorian. Although the village can become very crowded during the summer months, with the riverbanks at its centre like green beaches, strewn with people picnicking and paddling, it can still be charming. Arrive early enough in the morning, or hang around in the evening until the daytrippers have gone and you will find the series of bridges spanning the Windrush (one of which dates back to 1756) and the narrow streets beyond them highly picturesque. They retain the warm honeyed light that attracts people to the Cotswolds. You'll see far fewer visitors in little Clapton-on-the-Hill, which overlooks Bourton. Make the brief detour after Point d to see its handsome green and tiny church.
In the autumn, in particular, keep an eye out for swans. Mute swans - the most common type, with the orange bill - are present all the year round, but the whooper swan, with its erect neck and yellow bill, is only a winter visitor, flying in from northern Europe and Russia.
There are no pubs in Clapton. Bourton-on-the-Water has many pubs, tea shops and restaurants, catering to most tastes. Try the Kingsbridge Inn by the River Windrush, or the Mousetrap on Lansdown for reliable pub food. The Old Manse, also close to the river, serves a good lunch and dinner.
Unlike other Cotswold villages, Bourton-on-the-Water has many and diverse attractions jostling for the contents of your wallet. The pick of these are probably Birdland Park and Gardens with their penguins, and the Cotswold Motor Museum, which has lots of pre-1950s cars as well as a few novelty items to thrill children. The most popular activity is arguably just strolling around.