My post a couple of years ago featuring four hills to climb near Cheltenham has been one of my most popular hiking blogs to date, so I figured, why not do another?! We might not be in the heart of the Peaks or the Lakes here in Gloucestershire, but we have some absolutely stunning views from lovely hills very close by.
Belas Knap (Beacon Hill), Winchcombe
Just the other side of Cleeve Hill if you look at from Cheltenham is the lovely village of Winchcombe, where we head for our first of four hills in this post.
The Cotswolds is scattered with settlement remains, including tombs. Belas Knap – or beacon hill – is a great example of a Neolithic long barrow. It might look like a green mound in a field, but it would have been the centrepiece of the settlement, a significant presence on the Wolds, and it’s likely the whole community would have helped to build it.
This particular barrow, with walls of limestone and covered in turf, has a false entrance and side chambers, and when excavated in 1863 and 1865, the remains of 38 people were found inside. The barrow has been restored and is open to visitors all year round.
We hiked this circular route from Winchcombe when we visited, which is described in the AA’s 50 Walks in the Cotswolds guidebook. If you’d like to know more about that route, you can read a full blog post on our very muddy experience.
Belas Knap long barrow is an English Heritage site but it is free to enter. There are no facilities at the long barrow itself, and if you want to drive closer than we did there is a small layby for just a handful of cars. From there it is about half a mile up a hill to the site, so bring a bit of energy with you even if you take the easy route.
Painswick Beacon, Painswick
Moving south of Cheltenham on the A46 towards Stroud is a hill probably as popular as Leckhampton Hill and Crickley Hill…
Set on the Cotswold escarpment as with three of the four hills I shared last time, Painswick Beacon is the site of an Iron Age hill Fort called Kimsbury Hill Fort. This fort probably saw activity between 500 and 100 BC; the ramparts and ditches, along with the eastern entrance, are well preserved, but the interior has been much disturbed by quarrying in medieval and later times.
You can enjoy gorgeous views of the Cotswold Hills, the Severn Vale, the Forest of Dean and the Brecon Beacons mountains from the top. I can easily see why people claim the views from Painswick to the best views in Gloucestershire, it is stunning up there.
When we visited took a route through woodland and across the hill, which I’d also recommend – I mean, if you’ve only got half an hour then head to the top and have your flask of tea there, but it’s always worth exploring the areas around these viewpoints as that’s where you’ll get the countryside to yourself and see the wildlife. This four mile walk featured on A Dragon’s Escape looks like a nice one if you’ve got a couple of hours.
The Wysis Way and Cotswold Way both cross the hill (the trig pillar itself is on the Wysis Way), and there are lots of tracks and trails to keep you interested on multiple visits.
There is free parking but no other facilities in the area.
Robinswood Hill, Gloucester
Robinswood Hill has been a country park since 1972, and offers 100 hectares of countryside right on the edge of Gloucester, the other side of the M5 from Cheltenham.
There are traditional meadows as well as woodland, orchards, ponds, and plenty of wildlife. There is a Jubilee Beacon and a trig pillar at the top, along with some absolutely stunning views across the Seven Vale and the Forest of Dean, and over to the Cotswolds. Standing at 198m above sea level, it’s not the highest trig pillar in the area, but it is worth the climb as the views are quite something.
I’m told that flint flakes dating back to the Neolithic period have been found here, and there are quarries and historically important wells on the site. As an outlier of the Cotswold Escarpment (where you’ll find Cleeve Hill, Leckhampton Hill and Crickley Hill from my previous four hills post), the area is geologically important, with part of it being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to it displaying strata from the Jurassic period.
I have visited two or three times, each time taking a slightly different route – sometimes to the top, sometimes just around the country park without climbing too far. There are many way-marked paths and a lot of choice here, the perfect place for a stroll.
There’s a large free car park available, a visitor’s centre and café (which has never been open when I’ve been there, but I’m told it does operate), and the country park it’s on several bus routes – this is a gem if you want some green space in the city.
May Hill, Gloucestershire/Herefordshire Border
The furthest point from Cheltenham in this post, probably a 35 minute drive along the A40 from the centre, May Hill is easy to spot. Colloquially known as boob hill, it’s distinctive shape can be identified for miles and miles; I’ve easily seen it from Cleeve Hill (read this post for a nice route up Cleeve Hill), from the Worcester Beacon in the Malverns, Skirrid over in the Black Mountains (there’s a route here), Pen y Fan (which I talked about in this Weekly Blog – that was a really good day) and plenty of other places – it’s something of a landmark that means I know where I am.
May Hill straddles two counties. Its summit, on the western edge of Gloucestershire and its northern slopes in Herefordshire, is distinguishable by a clump of trees on its summit, which has been designated an official Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is reached by three public footpaths, two as parts of the Gloucestershire Way and Wysis Way.
And besides being visible from all around, there are great views from May Hill in the opposite direction, too. I’m told that on a clear day you can see 12 other counties from here. You can certainly see Herefordshire and the Severn Estuary, the Forest of Dean, the Cotswolds and across to the Black Mountains. It is, in fact, West Gloucestershire’s highest point, with a trig pillar standing at 269m.
As with much of this wider area of the country, May Hill is said to be old earthwork from the Iron Age. Within this area is a mound that is said to be a round barrow, and there are apparently tunnels and caverns if you know where to look. Even that clump of trees at the top have history, they’ve been written about and painted as far back as the 1700s, and apparently were an important landmark for ships navigating the River Severn.
I’ve done this three-mile route published by the National Trust, who manage the site. There is some parking in a couple of gravelly areas on the lane, but no other facilities.
So that’s eight of the local hills lined up, but there are more. In the summer I also enjoyed Bredon Hill (which is some of my friends’ favourite), Crane Hill (just a little one), and Snowshill, amongst others. What are your favourite hills in Cheltenham and Gloucester area?
If you are looking to discover more of the hills in your local area, a subscription to OS Maps online, or a copy of your local OS Explorer Map, will be a great benefit to you. Start here (affiliate link thanks to being a GetOutside Champion) to get yours.
At the time of writing (January 2021), Gloucestershire was under Tier 4 “Stay at Home” pandemic restrictions, which means that while we are permitted to spend time outdoors for recreation and exercise, we should not be travelling far or leaving our Tier 4 area to do so. Read the full Governement guidance here and read my post on the topic here. If you’re not local, we look forward to welcoming you to the area when times are better.