Exploring the Cotswolds by train. Welcome to Moreton-in-Marsh.
Tell anyone you are going to the Cotswolds and it will no doubt conjure images of honey-coloured thatched cottages, charming oldy-woldly villages and rolling countryside. The Cotswolds are in my mind one of the most picturesque areas in Britain. In fact, it was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966 and is only surpassed in size by the Lake District.
However, as a resident of the Cotswolds I can’t help but notice the traffic jams that are generated by the hoards of tourists that descend on the “must see Cotswolds” locations. Namely Bourton on the Water, Bibury and Castle Combe. But is that really all the Cotswolds are about? No! Quite frankly, they are the last places I would recommend anybody goes. Yes, they are beautiful, but do you really want to queue amongst a bus load of tourists and spend hours editing your photos to make it look like you were alone having paid an extortionate tourist price for a cup of coffee? Or would you rather explore the hidden gems that only us locals know about? I think I know your answer. If it is yes, then keep reading!
Cotswolds by train
The best part about the Cotswolds is that you don’t even need to drive here. Small villages, a lack of parking and no proper infrastructure make the Cotswolds ideal for exploring by bike and on foot. An extensive network of footpaths and bridlepaths mean you can explore slowly, enjoying the countryside whilst seeing all the beauty spots that are far removed from the road. Those in cars never even know they exist! How precious is that?
One of the best launching pads for any Cotswold adventure is no doubt Moreton-in-Marsh. Nestled in the heart of North Cotswolds it is the only town within the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty that has a train station, making it ideal for anybody conscious of sustainable travel. There are two other small stations, Kingham and Charlbury, but those villages don’t really have much in the way of amenities.
As a resident of Moreton-in-Marsh I am going to share with you everything that Moreton has to offer, all of which you can achieve on foot or by bike. What’s more, if you are planning a journey here, do get in touch, I would love to show you round my beautiful town.
Moreton boasts an unexpectedly rich history, with known settlements dating back as far as the Bronze Age, although little is known about this time. Remains of Roman pottery and gold suggest there was a long period of occupation by the Romans, no doubt due to Moreton’s strategical location on the Roman built Fosse Way, the historical road linking Exeter and Lincoln. Although the original road now lies below a couple of feet of tarmac, the Fosse Way remains an integral link between the North and South, and is particularly prone to becoming back logged with traffic. This is why I highly recommend using Moreton-in-Marsh as the perfect place to visit the Cotswolds since it is accessible by train!
Moreton as we know it today was created by the Saxons around 577 AD. It has played a crucial role over the years due to its strategic position on the crossroads between the Fosse Way and the main London to Worcester thoroughfare. Owned by Westminster Abbey, the Abbot was responsible for building the wide high street as we know it today, allowing Moreton to house a busy market which dates back to circa 1226 and which still continues to thrive! If staying in Moreton during the week don’t miss the market on a Tuesday. It is a lively affair where you will be able to find a wide variety of locally produced artisanal products, including beautiful Cotswold Cheese, locally grown veg and fruit and the most delicious sweet treats.
Ghostly Stories and Haunted Pubs
Moreton-in-Marsh has long been a crucial stopping point for travellers and as a result the town has several old inns and eateries dating back to the 1600s. In fact, King Charles I stayed in the White Hart Inn back in 1644!
It is rumoured that all 4 of the ancient inns are haunted. The only one I have heard a story about however is the Manor House Hotel, which was formally owned for over 100 years by the wealthy Creswyke family. Towards the end of the 17th century Dame Creswyke was brutally murdered in her house and it is reported that her ghost still haunts the building.
So whether you want to have a drink with the hugging ghost at the Bell Inn, be kept awake by ghostly footsteps at the Redesdale Arms or be surprised by an ethereal man in the White Hart you won’t be short of spooky stories!
What is there to do in Moreton-in-Marsh?
When I first moved to Moreton I would have told you it was a quiet town with not much more to it other than pretty buildings and fabulous off road walks. However, the pandemic has shown me that Moreton and its surrounding area really has a lot to offer, from great places to eat to quirky shops, a bustling market and beautiful walks and bike rides. My suggestions are going to focus very much on what can be achieved without the use of a car.
Quirky Shops in Moreton-in-Marsh
One of the nice things about Moreton-in-Marsh is that the high street is still predominantly made up of independent locally run stores with only Tesco and Co-Op as a chain. I’m not big into shopping so my list is not particularly extensive, however here are the shops I’ve enjoyed over the years:
The Cotswolds Cheese Company
Those of you who read my blog regularly or follow me on Instagram will know I am a massive foodie which is why The Cotswold Cheese Company features as my number one shop in Moreton. Full to the brim with delicious smelling and drool inducing cheeses, cured meats, treats and condiments it is impossible to walk out empty handed. Originally established in Moreton they have expanded and opened a store in Stow-on-the-Wold too, as well as a franchise in Burford. If you like locally produced artisanal products then don’t miss The Cotswold Cheese Company.
5 High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AH
Tucked away in the high street you will find this little Jewellery shop which is guaranteed to charm you. As well as having a vast collection of nice every day wearable silver earrings, necklaces and bracelets, it also has a collection of colourful scarves and bags. Since moving to Moreton in 2016 I have bought a number of scarves from here and it has become a firm favourite when I need to find a gift for a friend.
Do pop in, you are always guaranteed a warm welcome by Tina, the owner.
17 High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AF
This small family run sweet shop specialises in traditional sweets and Belgium chocolate. It is always very hard to decide what to buy from here as everything looks so good, but there is one thing that can’t be beaten: their honeycombe ice cream! Absolutely delicious!
20 Old Market Way, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AJ
I must make a confession; I don’t like wine. In fact, I wasn’t going to include this store, but having heard so much about it from so many locals I decided to check it out. I received the warmest of welcomes and couldn’t help but fall in love with this little treasure. Not only is it a wine store but also a wine bar, where you can relax and enjoy a glass with a cheese board or charcuterie board. I also liked the fact they have a tasting menu, where you can allow your taste buds to transport you around the world for just £1 a glass. Or, let them choose the wine for you and pair it perfectly with the delicious food boards.
2 High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AP
Great walking routes from Moreton-in-Marsh
Since moving to Moreton-in-Marsh my most used app has become the OSMaps App. Before you come make sure you download the Cotswold map tiles and don’t forget to bring your walking boots! The beauty of walking is that the footpaths take you through areas you would otherwise never see, giving you fantastic views over neighbouring chocolate box villages as well as taking you through the grounds of manor houses that you miss if simply driving past. The network of footpaths is vast with options starting off at 5 km and extending for as long as you wish to walk.
Moreton Batsford Loop – 6 km
Lying a stone’s throw away is the beautiful village of Batsford, home to the Batsford Arboretum, Batsford Stud and a large herd of deer. There is an easy circular route that will take you across flat fields teaming with joyful lambs in the Spring before cutting across in front of the privately owned neo-Tudor mansion that stands proudly on the hill looking down over the valley. Within its grounds are a large herd of deer which are often grazing or sleeping close to the fence. After 7 years of walking this route weekly I still haven’t tired of admiring them.
Further on you will cross the Batsford Stud fields where you will often find the mares and their foals grazing during the warm summer evenings. Ever so inquisitive be prepared for the foals to come up and say hello. Please remember not to feed them.
The detour into Batsford village is well worth it, particularly in autumn when the avenue of trees turn all manner of shades of orange making for a fabulous photo spot. This easy 6 km loop will not disappoint!
Batsford Arboretum – 4.5 km
An alternative to the above route would be to walk directly to Batsford Arboretum, a 56 acre arboretum designed by Bertram Freeman-Mitford back in 1886. Having worked for the foreign office in Russia, China and Japan and upon inheriting the land and mansion, he got rid of the overly manicured gardens and instead designed a wild garden with naturalistic planting derived from what he had seen throughout his travels. As well as plants from all over the world you will also find a buddha and a Japanese rest house amongst a number of other interesting statues and sculptures. It certainly is worth a visit at any time of year, but especially in the Autumn!
Tickets to the Arboretum cost £8.95 for adults, £7.95 for concessions and £3.50 for children between the ages of 4 and 16. Kids under 4 go free. Due to COVID you need to pre-book your visit online here.
Batsford Falconry – 4.5 km
Right next to Batsford Arboretum you will find the Batsford Falconry which houses over 150 birds of prey. Flying demonstrations take place daily at 11:30, 13:30, 15:00 and 16:30 (in the summer). Opened in 1988, The Cotswold Falconry Centre (or as we like to call it Batsford Falconry) has developed into one of the leading bird of prey centres in the UK and will not only provide an enjoyable educational outing for the whole family, but will also help give you a much greater appreciation for these birds’ conservational needs.
A standard visit costs £12 for adults, £10 for concessions and £6 for children between 4 and 15. Families of 4 pay only £30. If you are also visiting the Arboretum you will receive a 10% discount.
In addition to the standard show they also offer an “Owl Experience” which will enable you to get much closer to these wonderful birds, as well as a “Flying Start” experience where you will get the chance to fly your own bird. These are individual experiences which also require prior booking and often get booked up a long time ahead, so if it is on your bucket list I highly recommend booking in advance. You can book your experience here.
Aston Magna – 11.4 km
If you fancy a longer walk that will take you to a number of hidden gems rarely seen by any visitors, then I recommend the following 10 km route. You will set off across the fields as you would have done on the 6 km loop, but upon reaching the Arboretum you will continue going straight and up on to the hill. It is short steep ascent but once you reach the top and cross over to see the next valley you will be rewarded with fabulous views of the quaint little village of Blockley. Much smaller than Moreton it really does look like something pulled right out of a fairy-tale.
You could continue down into Blockley to explore its steep streets and beautiful church before returning back along one of the other many footpaths that will bring you back to the arboretum and Moreton. Or I would recommend remaining high and admiring Blockley from up high and descending down into Draycot instead. Another charming village which leads you on to the hamlet of Aston Magna, with its stately home, the real jewel of this walk.
Bourton-on-the-hill and Bourton House – 8.62 km
Setting off in the same direction as all the above walks, but turning south upon reaching the arboretum you will find the picturesque village of Bourton-on-the-Hill. The steep narrow road, which was once the main London to Worcester thoroughfare, winds its way in between sand-coloured houses that date back to the 16th century. The walk up the steep hill is worthwhile, if nothing else to enjoy the views of the valley below and a well earned pint at the Horse & Groom pub.
Bourton-on-the-Hill is also home to Bourton House, one of those hidden treasures that few know about. Recognised as having one of the best gardens in the UK, you will be able to enjoy a 18th century manor house with its Grade I Listed 16th century Tythe Barn. It isn’t somewhere that I have personally visited, but it is meant to be a heaven for garden lovers with a 3 acre garden and a large 7 acre walled pasture dotted with trees.
If you wish to visit you do not need to pre-book tickets but be aware that it is only open Tuesday to Friday between April and October. Admissions is £8 for adults, and children under 16 go free.
Rather than retracing your steps to return to Moreton, you can walk back on the South side of the road, along a well maintained path through the grassy pastures of the local dairy farm.
Sezincote – 9.3 km
The final walk worth doing is an extension of the Bourton-on-the-hill walk, only instead of returning straight to Moreton-in-Marsh, you will actually add an extra loop that will take you past Sezincote Manor. Whilst you look up from the path to admire this beautiful home you will no doubt be transported to India, since it is a rather unusual build featuring a combination of Hindu and Muslim architecture. In fact, it is Sezincote Manor that influenced the design of the famous Brighton Pavilion!
If you wanted to see the manor and gardens you need to prebook tickets here. Tickets to the garden are £7.50 for adults and £2.5 for kids. Tickets to the house are £12.50 for adults and £7.50 for kids.
Bike rides from Moreton-in-Marsh
Whilst the West of Moreton lends itself to great walking, the East of Moreton-in-Marsh is great for bike rides. If you haven’t brought your own bike with you, Bainton Bikes offers 24/7 hire. They are self-service and the bikes are parked at the Moreton-in-Marsh train station. In order to rent them all you need to do is download the Donkey Republic App which is incredibly easy to use. You pay at the end which means you don’t have to guess how long you are going to be out for, and you also don’t need to rush back for a curfew! To give you an idea of chargers, anything up to 2 hours costs £6, whilst renting it for 24 hours will only cost you £15.
Evenlode and Broadwell – 21 km
Following the quiet lane that weaves its way through rolling countryside you will arrive in the very picturesque village of Evenlode. It is also possible to walk here along footpaths but I rather enjoy the bike for this one.
You won’t find any tourists lurking here, yet this tiny little community has so much to offer, including the beautiful Grade II Listed St Edwards Church which dates back to the 12th century. Take it slow and admire the wisteria covered facades of the old white stone houses. Take a little tour down the lane to see how the other half live, or get that Insta-worthy shot with red phone box.
If you wanted to explore further afield, then keep going through Evenlode and on to Adlestrop through rolling countryside. This route will put you on a busier road for about a mile before turning back off to Broadwell where you will be able to break up the ride with a drink in the local pub: The Fox Inn. From Broadwell you will make your way back to Evenlode completing this charming but unchallenging route. At the time of writing this article, there were roadworks blocking the road between Broadwell as Evenlode so please do check before setting out on this ride.
Chastleton – 18 km
If you don’t mind hills, then cycle along to Evenlode and on to Adlestrop, but rather than turning towards Broadwell, keep going through Adlestrop, past the racing yard, and up the steep hill towards Chastleton. Although the hill is a killer, it is also short lived! The bonus of course is that everything that goes up must come back down again!
You will need to cycle along the main road for about 2 miles, however, the road is wide and straight, making it less precarious than other areas, however, do proceed with care!
You will eventually turn off the main road and be back on single track lanes again, this time enjoying a long swooping descent past Chastleton House. Built in 1602 the house remained the home of the same family for over 400 years before becoming a National Trust property. In addition to discovering the treasure trove that is this time capsule, Chastleton House also boasts a 400 year old Jacobean garden which the National Trust are doing their best to preserve in it’s original layout.
As Chastleton is a National Trust property it is free for members, or £10 for non-members (£5 for kids). Due to COVID you are required to pre-book which you can do here.
From Chastleton it is all down hill back to Moreton, although once again you will need to cover the last 2-3 miles on the main road.
Where to eat in Moreton-in-Marsh
For a small town Moreton certainly has its fair share of eateries. Due to its strategical location on the main Oxford to Worcester road as well as the Fosse Way, Moreton has been a centre for inns and eateries since the 16th century, something that has only expanded since then. Here are a list of our favourite places in Moreton.
Quite frankly the best shortbread millionaire in the Cotswolds! Located at the entrance to the Old Market Way Arcade, Otis and Belle is an artisan bakery run and owned by Will Alexander, former head chef at Blanchette in London. Will studied Classic French Patisserie at Le Cordon Blue and has brought to Moreton a modern twist to the traditional British bakeries. With barista style coffee, delicious baked goods and 3 day fermented sourdough bread this is the perfect stop for breakfast or mid-morning snack.
2 Old Market Way, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AJ
The next door down from Otis and Belle you will find the Yellow Brick Café. I believe there is indoor seating however we have always chosen to sit outdoors as there is something rather nice about eating al fresco. The outdoor seating is cleverly covered should you be visiting when the Great British weather isn’t playing ball.
The menu isn’t particularly big with just 6 starters and mains, however, there is something for everyone and you will likely find it hard to choose, as it all sounds delicious. The calamari with the home made dipping sauce is particularly tasty.
Pudding is no easier to choose though. Do you go for the mouth watering brownies or the home made gelato? A real gem not to be missed.
3-5 Old Market Way, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AJ
It took us 6 years from moving to Moreton to visit the Raj Mahal. We had always frequented the other two Indian restaurants in town: The Hassan Balti (now closed) and the Spice Room. I can seriously say we missed out because the food at The Raj Mahal was incredibly tasty.
We’ve only had the pleasure of eating here twice as we only discovered it shortly before the pandemic struck, however we were blown away by the quality and taste of the food. The service was also very friendly and I was surprised that after only one visit, and with several months in between, I was recognised the next time, even though I was with a completely different companion. They really made me feel special and welcome.
We can’t wait to return now that the hospitality industry has opened back up again.
Raj Mahal, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0LH
Where once stood the outdated Hassan Balti Indian restaurant, Moreton’s first, now stands a trendy modern grill. Run by Mifta, Abdul’s son (previous owner of Hassan Balti), the Hassans Grill & Kitchen brings a modern twist to Moreton-in-Marsh’s food scene. Redecorated and looking really fresh, the menu has been completely changed around and now offers tastes from around the world, whilst still keeping a small selection of Abdul’s best recipes.
Because it opened during the pandemic we haven’t yet eaten there, but we have enjoyed a number of their takeaways and I have to say, their burgers are something else, especially the “New kid in the block” burger which is served with a delicious Algerian sauce.
I have no doubt that the service will be nothing less than perfect, as that is how Abdul will have brought Mifta up!
Hassans Grill & Kitchen, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AD
Where to stay in Moreton-in-Marsh
Confession! I live in Moreton and therefore have no need to stay over anywhere (because that would be a bit weird!). However, we have had friends stay at the Redesdale Arms who have had nothing but praise for the place and I walk past the Glamping Pods belonging to the camping ground every day on my dog walk, and I have to say they look fab. I don’t know anybody who has stayed there, and I have not seen them other than from the path, but they would be my go to choice if I was visiting myself!
Best Pubs in Moreton-in-Marsh
If you read the history section you will know that we have a number of haunted pubs in the Moreton, including the three below, so why not have a pint with one of the ghosts?
As well as serving delicious food and offering you a bed for the night, the White Hart is a great pub if you enjoy a gin. With a huge selection of Gin and Tonics on offer, I will be surprised if they don’t have the one you are after! The White Hart Royal Hotel has a number of different rooms, and even a courtyard where you can sit, whether you fancy the traditional bar, the plump sofas or even the roaring fire, you are sure to find somewhere cozy and intimate to enjoy your drink.
What’s more, you can say you’ve enjoyed a pint in the same Inn as King Charles I did!
The White Heart Royal Hotel, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0BA
You are always guaranteed a warm welcome at the 17th century Redesdale Arms, not only from staff but also from the roaring fires in the winter. A great place to stay as well as eat, the Redesdale is also perfect to unwind with a pint at the end of a hectic day of sightseeing.
It offers both inside and outside seating and no booking is required for a drink, however, if you plan to stay for food we do recommend calling ahead if you want to sit in the restaurant.
Redesdale Arms, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AW.
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan then this is a pub you won’t want to miss out on. It is believed that it served as Tolkien’s inspiration for the Prancing Pony. If you don’t know what I am talking about The Prancing Pony was the most famous pub in Middle Earth, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But whether you come here in search of hobbits or just good food and ale, you won’t be disappointed. Furthermore they also host regular Jazz, Blues and Folk nights. Always an enjoyable evening out.
The Bell Inn, High Street, Moreton-in-Marsh, GL56 0AF.
Just because you have come by train doesn’t mean you are limited to just Moreton and those areas accessible on foot or by bike. There are number of tour options that will pick you up from the train station and show you the highlights of the surrounding beautiful countryside.
One such tour is Cotswold Guided Tours.
I have never used their services so I can not comment on what you can expect experience and quality wise, however, I have been lucky enough to visits all the spots they will take you to, and I can tell you, you are in for a treat!
The tour covers the beautiful town of Chipping Campden with its picturesque high street which has hardly been touched for centuries. If you fancy a long distance walk Chipping Campden is where the 100 mile Cotswold Way starts. Have a read of “Running the Cotswold Way” if you want to find out how a friend and I got on attempting to run the 100 mile route!
You will also visit Broadway Tower with it’s magnificent views across Worcester and over to the Malvern Hills. Also on the schedule is Stow on the Wold, another charming fairy tale village. When in Stow don’t miss out St Edwards Church with its Tolkien door! Of course, the tour will also include the two most visited famous spots in the Cotswolds: Bourton on the Water and Bibury. Did you know that the famous row of houses in Bibury actually feature in the British passport?
Will you be visiting the Cotswolds by train?
I am so grateful for the pandemic for allowing me to discover just how much there is to do in my home town. Prior to 2020 I was constantly looking for things to do outside of Moreton-in-Marsh, assuming that excitement lay in discovering new places in far flung lands. But ever since I’ve been confined to the boundaries of Moreton, I have come to appreciate just how wonderful this little corner of England is and just how much more can be discovered by taking it slow and staying in a single place for that bit longer, rather than skipping to the pre-conceived highlights as if ticking off some master list.
I hope to see you around Moreton-in-Marsh soon, and don’t forget, you can always come on the train, direct from Paddington!