Bourton on the Water, the Slaughters and the Windrush - By Keith Oxby
We begin this walk at the main carpark in Bourton on the Water, you’ll need about £6 in pound coins for all day parking. There are toilets in the carpark, which are free, and a shop on the road front for last minute supplies.
Leave the carpark via the footpath on the left-side and it will take you through the village, across the A46 Fosse Way and to join the Warden’s Way to Lower Slaughter.
The Fosse Way was a Roman Road and linked Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) to Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum), passing through Leicester (Ratae Corieltauvorum), Cirencester (Corinium Dobunnorum) and Bath (Aquae Sulis). It’s remarkable for its extremely direct route: from Lincoln to Ilchester (Somerset), a distance of 182 miles, never more than 6 miles from a straight line.
Follow the Warden's Way alongside the River Eye into Lower Slaughter, past Lower Slaughter Manor and the 19th century water mill which has a gift shop and incredible organic ice-cream. Lower Slaugher is the quintessential Cotswold village, and is picture perfect, with wonderful options for photographs.
Just past the mill, turn left and follow the footpath through a stile dedicated to Charles and Diana, and follow the track towards Upper Slaughter.
When you approach Upper Slaughter, you will see Lords of the Manor Hotel over to your left, which dates back to around 1649 when the Slaughter family built it as a private residence.
Cross the stream by the tiny foot bridge, and follow the path to the road, then turn left and you will pass the entrance to the hotel on your left, you are now in Upper Slaughter, a quiet village compared to its sister downstream. Upper Slaughter is a “Doubly Thankfully Village” which means that none of its men died in either the First or Second World War. It is also worth mentioning that the name Slaughter has nothing to do with what happened during those awful conflicts, but means "muddy place".
When you reach a three-way junction, take the right fork which will take you to the river Eye, don’t cross the river, but turn left and follow the footpath keeping the river to your right. The path follows the river until you reach the B4068 road where you turn left. Follow the road for about a quarter mile and then turn right at the cottage. The track begins to climb slightly to the left and you will pass through numerous gates. Note the walls and fences are set up for horses to jump as this is fox hunting country.
You are now headed for Naunton which is another historic village which was once considered a “closed community”, where men worked on the land, and women wove and spun, or made lace in the cottages.
When in the village, it’s worth taking a break and having lunch at the Black Horse Inn, which has always provided a hearty welcome to walkers. The bar still has the original flag-stone floor laid when the pub was built in the 1870’s.
After lunch, backtrack slightly, then head up hill out of the Eye valley on a track to the left. At the top of the hill you will reach the B4068 again, turn right and walk another fifty yards then turn left to follow the footpath. This path will drop down the other side of the ridge into the Windrush valley which is named after the river Windrush, so named because it flows through rushes. The waters of the Windrush were used in the making of cloth and woollen blankets from the 17th century in nearby Witney. The Windrush has a more controversial connection, in that it gave its name to a ship called Empire Windrush, which brought West Indian immigrants to the UK in a scheme known as the "Windrush Generation".
As you walk up the valley you will see the occasional old bridge near the top of the ridge on the right side. These were rail bridges for the disused Windrush Railway which used to link Oxford and the Midlands. It was opened in the 1880’s to service the Witney blanket industry, but was sadly closed in 1962 by the wonderful Dr Beaching.
Eventually you will reach the A46 again, cross carefully, it’s always busy. Follow the river into Bourton, enjoying the beautiful buildings and maybe stopping for a cream tea or a beer once you reach the center. Bourton is known as the “Venice of the Cotswolds” and has been inhabited as far back as mid Neolithic times, roughly 5,500 years ago. Always busy today as a very popular tourist destination, so be prepared for crowds.
Length of walk is 10.5 miles with very little climbing. The Windrush can be very muddy and wet after bad weather.