Being right on the edge of the Cotswolds, there are a whole host of amazing walks of all kinds of lengths to keep you busy from Cheltenham. Having recently moved to the area from the flatlands of Lincolnshire, I was particularly interested to explore the line of hills surrounding the old Spa town, as they promise excellent views back down into the valley and across the wide landscape to the Malvern Hills and into Wales.
In this post I thought I’d introduce four such hills to you; I guess they could be described as one long hill really, as you can easily walk from one end to the other in one wonderful day but long day of hiking (three of the four sit on the Cotswold Way). But equally, each makes for good afternoon jaunt in the countryside if you fancy some time on your feet this weekend.
Let’s start to the south of Cheltenham at Crickley Hill, a National Trust-owned property that has a huge amount of cool history as well as an amazing view. It’s technically a spur of the Cotswold escarpment, sticking out into the valley, which means the views are even better here than on some of the other hills; it overlooks the Severn Vale, and you can easily make out Robinswood Hill and May Hill near Gloucester, and on a good day can see as far as the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountain over in Wales.
There is evidence of human activity on Crickley Hill going back to 4,000BC; people are known to have lived on the hill from the early Neolithic Period up until the fifth century AD. In one dig, over 400 arrowheads were found in the entrance to an Iron Age Fort, evidence of a particularly bloody battle that took place – or maybe a Robin Hood style archery competition?! The whole site is considered of international importance thanks to the thin soil meaning archaeological remnants are very close to the current surface.
Crickley hill is a lovely place to simply park up and wander, but if you’re looking for a set route to give your walk some purpose, this one from Country Walking magazine should hit the spot. The three miles should take you just over an hour, and includes the 360 degree viewpoint and a good chunk of the escarpment.
You’ll find a pay and display car park, visitor’s centre and café, toilet block, and is a most excellent place to explore. The car park and café both belong to the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and note that they have employed a company to send out large parking fines to anyone choosing to park without paying.
A little bit north east of Crickley Hill, and a short walk along the Cotswold Way, is Leckhampton Hill. It features beautiful old woodland, unimproved limestone grassland, ancient archaeology and 20th century industrial archaeology.
You only need to glance at the OS Map to notice just how many walking trails there are here, and there’s a popular downhill mountain bike trail if you fancy that, too – although no uplift so you have to ride uphill too…
My favourite spot on Leckhampton Hill is the view from Devil’s Chimney – I love a good hoodoo. And of course there is a trig pillar, and I think it’s the law to visit a trig pillar when there is one on the hill, although it is a little bit away from the viewpoint here.
As far as routes go, I tend to do the same route each time we go – this 3-ish mile loop straight up onto the hill, along the escarpment edge, and then gradually down over Hartley Hill and Charlton Kills Common. Note the contour lines – if you park on Daisybank Road, which is my car park of choice, it’s a significant climb up to the view points, but it is well worth the effort of walking through the ancient woodland.
Other than a number of free parking areas, there are no toilets or other facilities at Leckhampton Hill. You’re not far from the Bath Road area of Cheltenham, though, and there is also a café at Star College which is worth a visit if you need refreshment.
Head a bit further north along the Cotswold Way and we’re now at my personal favourite hill of the four I’m featuring in this post, Cleeve Hill. The highest point in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the county of Gloucestershire at 317m above sea level, Cleeve Hill sits on the edge of Cleeve Common, and overlooks the very north eastern part of Cheltenham above the famous Race Course.
Also known as Cleeve Cloud, as with Crickley Hill there is a whole load of human history here. Close to the summit is the Neolithic long barrow, Belas Knap, and on the western scarp face there is an Iron Age hill fort. Cleeve Hill also features Castle Rock, a beautiful yellow rock face, one of the only such rock faces in the area, which is a popular spot for rock climbing.
I have walked on Cleeve Hill and in the surrounding area a lot over the last year or so, sometimes from the bottom, sometimes from half way up, and sometimes from the car park up at the top. It is reasonably accessible, has amazing views in two directions, and I can just about make out my home and my office from up there.
If you fancy a decent walk around the common and taking in the trig pillar and viewpoints, something like this 6 mile loop works well, taking around 2.5 hours and providing plenty of views. There are also a whole host of smaller loops, longer loops, and easy there-and-backs if you prefer. Watch out for golf balls, though!
Aside from parking, there are no toilets (other than those for the golf course) and no café, but you are not far from Winchcombe or Woodmancote if you need a stop off.
Completing our four-hills of Cheltenham, Nottingham Hill sweeps round to the north of Cheltenham, overlooking Bishops Cleeve, said to be the largest village in Europe and much larger than a lot of English towns. It’s actually just a stone’s throw from Cleeve Hill, and you can easily use the same car parks for both.
This spur off the main Cotswold ridge offers fine views across the Severn Valley towards the Malverns and Wales. Another hill fort location, this one is over 120 acres of land, which sounds big to me. Apparently a hoard of Bronze Age swords were found here in a dig back in the 1970s, which is pretty cool.
I saved this one until last in this blog because it’s most recent of the four to be ticked off my list of local landmarks, it is mostly covered in paddocks for horses and cattle. Not a difficult climb, or hike, but a varied walk with some great views. This is the route I walked on Nottingham Hill, it was a decent half day hike and I would very happily go back and do it again.
As with Cleeve Hill, there are no facilities other than parking areas, at Nottingham Hill. You’ll need to use the loos in the Bishops Cleeve Tesco or Lidl, or head into Cheltenham.
There are other hills in the local area that are equally worth climbing and exploring – May Hill and Robinswood Hill are two that come to mind straight away. And of course you are only 45 minutes in a car from the Malvern Hills.
Wherever you choose to explore this summer, I hope you get a great view!
You can view any of the routes linked to in this post with a seven day free trial of OS Maps, or if you want to go all in, buy a 12 month subscription for £23.99. All the details are here (affiliate link).