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The Cotswolds is a range of hills in west-central Englandmarker, sometimes called the "Heart of England", an area across and long. The area has been designated as the Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The highest point in the Cotswolds range is Cleeve Hillmarker at , to the north of Cheltenhammarker. The name Cotswold means either "sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides" or it comes from the term "woldmarker" meaning hills.


The Cotswolds lie mainly within the ceremonial counties of Gloucestershiremarker and Oxfordshire, but extend into parts of Wiltshiremarker, Somersetmarker, Worcestershire and Warwickshiremarker.


The spine of the Cotswolds runs south west to north east through six counties, particularly Gloucestershire, west 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. This is a cuesta, in geological terms. The dip slope is to the south east. On the eastern boundary lies the city of Oxfordmarker and on the west is Stroudmarker. To the south-east the upper reaches of the Thames Valleymarker and towns such as Lechlademarker, Tetburymarker and Fairfordmarker are often considered to mark the limit of this region. To the south the Cotswolds, with the characteristic uplift of the Cotswold Edge, reach as far south as Bathmarker and towns such as Chipping Sodburymarker and Marshfieldmarker 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). This limestone is rich in fossils, in particular fossilised sea urchins. In the Middle Ages, the wool trade made the Cotswolds prosperous; hence the Speaker of the British House of Lordsmarker sits on the Woolsackmarker showing where the Medieval wealth of the country came from. Some of this money was put into the building of churches so the area has a number of large, 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 to the Cotswolds.

Cotswold towns include Bourton-on-the-Watermarker, Broadwaymarker, Burfordmarker, Chipping Nortonmarker, Cirencestermarker, Moreton-in-Marshmarker, Stow-on-the-Woldmarker and Winchcombemarker. The town of Chipping Campdenmarker is notable for being the home of the Arts and Crafts movement, founded by William Morris at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. William Morris lived occasionally in Broadway Towermarker a folly now part of a country park. Chipping Campden is also known for the annual Cotswold Games, a celebration of sports and games dating back to the early 17th century.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Late summer scene in the Cotswolds
The Cotswolds were designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966, with an expansion on 21 December 1990 to . In 1991, all AONBs were measured again using modern methods. The official area of the Cotswolds AONB increased to . In 2000, the government confirmed that AONBs had the same landscape quality and status as National Parks.

The Cotswolds AONB, which is the largest in England and Wales, stretches from the border regions of South Warwickshire and Worcestershire, through West Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and takes in parts of West Wiltshire, and Bath and North East Somerset in the South.Gloucestershire County Council is responsible for 63 per cent of the AONB.

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 17 local authorities that sit within the AONB.

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 over 300 Wardens.

The Cotswold Way is a long-distance footpath, approximately long, running the length of the AONB, mainly on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment with views over the Severn Valleymarker and the Vale of Eveshammarker.
A horse in a field of buttercups in the Cotswolds

Principal settlements

Noteworthy historical structures


Map of Cotswolds roads from 1933
The Cotswolds lies between the M5, M40 and M4 motorways. The main non-motorway roads through the area are the A46: BathmarkerStroudmarkerCheltenhammarker; the A419: SwindonmarkerCirencestermarker — Stroud; the A429: Cirencester — Stow-on-the-WoldmarkerMoreton-in-Marshmarker; and the A40: OxfordmarkerBurfordmarker — Cheltenham. These all roughly follow the routes of ancient roads, some laid down by the Romans, such as Ermin Street and the Fosse Way.

The area is bounded by two major rail routes: in the south by the main Bristol-Bath-London High Speed line and in the west by the Bristol-Birmingham main line. In addition, the Cotswold Line runs through the Cotswolds from Oxford to Worcestermarker, and the Golden Valley Line runs from Swindon to Gloucestermarker, carrying high speed and local services.

Main-line, high-speed rail services to the big cities run from stations such as Bathmarker, Swindon, Oxford, Cheltenham and Worcester. High-speed services to London are also available from Kemble stationmarker near Cirencester, Kingham stationmarker near Stow-on-the-Wold, Charlbury stationmarker and Moreton-in-Marsh stationmarker.

Cheltenham is a hub for National Express coach services. There are local bus services across the area, but some are infrequent. The best sources of information are the Gloucestershire County Council website, or local tourist information centres.

The Cotswolds in cultural life

The Cotswolds has inspired some of England'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 Hillsmarker, the inspiration for his future work. 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 Malvernsmarker - it was dedicated to "the hill at Chosen (Churchdownmarker) and Ivor Gurney who knows it". Another contemporary of theirs, Gerald Finzi, lived in nearby Painswickmarker.

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