Part two of the Monarch’s Way takes you on a spellbinding adventure from Shakespeare’s birthplace, through three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and finishes on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.
From Stratford-upon-Avon, the Way takes you 214 miles (344 km) through the Cotswolds AONB, into the vibrant city of Bristol, through the Mendip Hills AONB, into the Dorset AONB and onto finish at Charmouth, in the heart of the Jurassic Coast.
Expect awe-inspiring countryside, abundant wildlife havens, countless historic sites, charming villages, gentle riverside trails, pubs with proper West County cider, and an epic finish on a beach that is hailed as one of the best places in the UK to find dinosaur fossils.
The Monarch’s Way traces the escape route taken by King Charles II after his defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the final battle of the civil war between the Royalists and Parliamentarians. At 615 miles (990 km) in total, it is the longest inland trail in England.
After Charles’ attempt to cross the River Severn and escape into Wales failed, his next plan was to flee to Charmouth, where Royalist allies had arranged a boat for him to sail to France. Unfortunately for Charles, though, Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentary army was hot on his heels — and his captain was locked at home by his wife. Thus, his escape continued.
The trail is waymarked throughout and follows well-maintained paths. The hiking is generally quite leisurely but there are some challenging sections, making it a good choice for all abilities.
In this Collection, we split the route into 15 stages, each averaging 14.3 miles (23 km). Of course, you can divide each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or couple of stages, in isolation. As stages 6, 11, and 14 are all around 17 miles (27.4 km), however, there is a suggestion on how to split the routes in the stage description.
Every stage finishes close to accommodation, even if there are only a few options nearby. However, places to stay are not always abundant so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling any rest days accordingly.
To get to the start of the trail, Stratford-upon-Avon has excellent public transport links. To get home, you would need to catch either the X51 or X53 bus service from Charmouth to Axminster, which has a train station with direct links to London and connecting services around the country.
For more information about the Monarch’s Way, visit: monarchsway.50megs.com.
For the X51 bus timetable, visit: bustimes.org/services/x51-dorchester-bridport-axminster.
For the X53 bus timetable, visit: bustimes.org/services/x53-weymouth-bridport-axminster.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.
Click the links below for more Collections on the Monarch’s Way.
Part 1: komoot.com/collection/911739/conquer-the-longest-inland-trail-in-england-monarchs-way-part-1.
Part 3: komoot.com/collection/918048/conquer-the-longest-inland-trail-in-england-monarchs-way-part-3,
The first stage takes you from Stratford-upon-Avon, a place with links to playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616), to the Cotswold town of Chipping Campden. Before leaving Stratford it is worth taking some time to explore the sights such as Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare is buried, and the house where he was born.With 14.2 miles (22.9 km) of distance and more uphill than down, this hike appears challenging. However, with level walking for the most part, save for a gradual climb from Lower Quinton to the Arts and Crafts garden at Hidcote Manor, it should be comfortable.This stage finishes in the market town of Chipping Campden, which has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
Sublime Cotswold countryside, historic settlements, and wonderful views combine on this stunning stage.With 1,300 feet (396 m) of ascent and 13.8 miles (22.2 km) of distance to contend with, this is a fairly challenging hike.The toughest climb of the day comes after Blockley and takes you to Batsford Arboretum, an oasis of green on the Cotswold scarp. You get some lovely views from this summit, too.You then descend to the thriving market town of Moreton-in-Marsh, a perfectly-placed pit stop if you fancy some food and drink. The rest of the hike is relatively easygoing and finishes in Stow-on-the-Wold, a market town with a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
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This hike takes you from the medieval town of Stow-on-the-Wold into a landscape that has been farmed continuously for more than 6,000 years.At 11.7 miles (18.8 km) long and with 650 feet (198 m) of climbing, this is a leisurely hike through gentle countryside.When you reach Bourton-on-the-Water — a good place to stop for food and drink — it is worth a brief detour to see Greystones Farm Nature Reserve, which boasts ancient hedgerows, wildflower meadows, rare tree species, and abundant wildlife. People have lived and farmed at Greystones continuously since the Neolithic era and it is the location of one of Europe’s earliest known towns.This stage finishes in the market town of Northleach, which has a range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
You step back in time on this stage, visiting a 2nd-century villa and finishing in Roman Britain’s second largest town, Cirencester.With 15.6 miles (25.1 km) of distance and 750 feet (229 m) of climbing, this is a challenging hike that rewards richly.Before you leave Northleach it is worth visiting the town’s impressive Gothic church, which was built in the 14th century on the back of wealth created by the Cotswold wool trade.After crossing the River Coln, you climb to Chedworth Roman Villa. Built between the 2nd and 4th centuries, the villa disappeared from view and was not discovered until the Victorian era. It is now a groundbreaking site in terms of archaeology and conservation. A short step later, you reach the village of Chedworth, which has a cosy pub. It is then a gentle descent all the way to Cirencester, a historic town offering various places to stay and grab a bite to eat, as well as shops and interesting sights.
This stage explores one of the largest Roman amphitheatres in Britain and takes you to the source of England’s most important river, the Thames.With level walking for the most part, this is a leisurely 14.9 mile (23.9 km) hike which hopefully enables you to save energy for stage 6, one of the toughest in this Collection.Within the first mile, the trail takes you right past the impressive remains of Cirencester Amphitheatre, which was built in the 2nd century and would have held around 8,000 spectators.A short time after crossing Trewsbury Road, you pass very close to Thames Head, the source of the River Thames. The rest of the stage is relatively flat and easy all the way to Tetbury, which has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This hike might be one of the most challenging in this Collection, but the rewards come thick and fast.With 17.2 miles (27.7 km) of distance and 1,125 feet (343 m) of climbing, this is a challenging hike. (For a suggestion on how to split the stage, see below).The upshot of this tough route is plenty of interest. The stage passes Somerset Monument, Horton Court, Woodcock Farm Iron Age hill fort, and Old Sodbury Norman Church. You experience some spellbinding views, too.If you would like to split this hike, a night at Hawkesbury Upton is a good choice. At 10.7 miles (17.2 km) into the route, there are options for accommodation and food and drink in the area.This stage finishes in the market town of Chipping Sodbury, which has a range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
You step from Gloucestershire into Somerset on this stage, which explores a landscape filled with wildlife and history.At 16.2 miles (26.1 km) this is another long stage. However, with 650 feet (183 m) of ascent and 900 feet (274 m) of descent, the distance may seem easier than expected.After passing through Dyrham, it is worth taking some time to explore Dyrham Park, home to an ancient deer park, 17th-century house, and formal garden. A short step after Doynton, you enter Golden Valley Nature Reserve. Once a hotbed of industry, this site has since been reclaimed by nature and boasts myriad flora and fauna.This stage finishes in Keynsham, which has a range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions. You can also catch trains into Bristol.
The Monarch's Way diverts from the route taken by Charles II during his escape from Cromwell’s army to explore the vibrant city of Bristol.At 11.6 miles (18.7 km) long and with only a few hills to contend with, this hike is leisurely. However, the urban walking around Bristol might be hard on your feet.Much of this route follows the River Avon as it meanders gently through pretty woodlands, gentle countryside, and eventually through the bustling city landscape.This stage diverts from the official route slightly to show you a side of Bristol that many visitors never see, including the amazing, yet unsung, views of Bristol from Troopers Hill Nature Reserve and the hidden gem of St George’s Park. You also climb Cabot Tower for more spellbinding views of the city.Bristol has an excellent range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
From Bristol’s most iconic landmark to the pretty patchwork of North Somerset, this stunning stage affords a fine introduction to cider country.Whilst the distance is a manageable 11.1 miles (17.9 km), the amount of climbing increases considerably on this hike in comparison to previous stages.You leave Bristol via the Clifton Suspension bridge, which affords dramatic views over the Avon Gorge, and continue into Leigh Woods Nature Reserve, where more spellbinding vistas await.Once out of the city limits, you emerge into fine countryside interspersed with sleepy villages, woodlands, farmsteads, and orchards.The village of Long Ashton is a good choice to stop for food and drink on this hike, at just over the halfway point.This stage finishes in the village of Winford, which has a range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.
This stage takes you through the heart of the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and visits caves that have been used by humans for 45,000 years.At 15.1 miles (24.3 km) long and with a few more sharp climbs than on recent stages, this hike should be a good challenge. The first half of this hike follows the gently-undulating trail through peaceful farmland, separated by hedgerows and small woodlands.At the village of Compton Martin — which has a pub that serves food and local ciders — the Way rises and eventually reaches Priddy Mineries, a nature reserve on land that was mined for lead for many centuries. A short time after you cross Wells Road, the trail descends to Wookey Hole Caves, which have been used by humans since the Palaeolithic period, some 45,000 years ago.If you do not fancy the touristic Wookey Hole Caves, however, caves are all over this landscape. Do take care when exploring.This stage finishes in the village of Wookey Hole, which has a range of accommodation and a couple of places to eat and drink.
The small yet stunning cathedral city of Wells is the star attraction on this stage.With 16.8 miles (27 km) of distance and 1,250 feet (381 m) of climbing, this is a challenging hike. (For a suggestion on how to split the stage, see below).After rising in woodlands above Split Rock Quarry, the trail descends into Wells, an enchanting place to visit with a sublime 12th-century Gothic cathedral, as well as the Bishop’s Palace.The trail then takes you through sleepy Somerset countryside, passing very close to the Glastonbury Festival site (which is actually some distance from the town of Glastonbury).If you wish to split the hike, catch the 669 bus on the A631 road, which runs between Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet, both of which have a range of accommodation and places for food and drink. For the timetable, visit: bustimes.org/services/669-shepton-mallet-street.This stage finishes in the small market town of Castle Cary, which has a couple of accommodation options and plenty of places for food and drink.
Historic buildings, gentle countryside, and panoramic views combine on this stage, which takes you from Somerset into Dorset.At 15.3 miles (24.6 km) long and with 1,125 feet (342.9 m) of climbing, this is a fairly challenging route. However, the views are ample reward.The hike begins as a leisurely saunter through patchwork farmland. When you reach North Cadbury, it is worth visiting the Church of St Michael, a pretty Grade I-listed church. A short step later you rise to Cadbury Castle, a hillfort that was first used by Stone Age man and was subsequently occupied by an Iron Age tribe, Romans, Saxons, and is widely believed to be the location of King Arthur’s legendary Camelot. From the fort, you experience wonderful views.This stage finishes in Nether Compton. Whilst the village is fairly remote, there are a few options for accommodation and food and drink nearby. If you hike another mile (1.6 km) to the A30, you can also catch the 58 or X11 buses to either Yeovil or Sherborne, which both have plenty of accommodation. For timetables, visit: bustimes.org/services/x11-dorchester-sherborne-yeovil and bustimes.org/services/58-yeovil-sherborne-wincanton.
After some challenging recent stages, this hike should be a welcome rest. Make sure you save energy for stage 14, though.This route traces a 11.5 mile (18.5 km) semi-circle around Yeovil, following Charles II as he took refuge at Trent Manor to escape Oliver Cromwell’s army. With minimal ascent and descent, you should find this stage leisurely.As you pass through Asington, it is worth visiting St Vincent's, a pretty Grade I-listed church that dates to the 13th century. Just over the halfway point, you reach the village of Ilchester, which has a few options for food and drink. From here, you head south around the other side of Yeovil, finishing in Montacute.If you have time, check out Montacute House, a fine example of Elizabethan Renaissance architecture that was completed in 1601.Montacute has a range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, and a village shop.
The penultimate stage is the toughest in this Collection but rewards richly with breathtaking views over the rolling countryside.With 17.1 miles (27.5 km) of distance and 1,250 feet (381 m) of climbing, this is a very challenging hike. (See below for a suggestion on how to split the stage).From Montacute, it is a short but sharp ascent of St Michael’s Hill, where you experience sublime views over the pretty patchwork landscape.A short step later, you enter Ham Hill Country Park, a place that was quarried for local Ham Stone for many centuries but is now being reclaimed by nature. If you wish to split this stage, the town of Crewkerne is a good choice as it has a range of accommodation and places to eat and drink. If you are pushing for the full route, though, it also makes a good place for a pitstop.This stage finishes in Thorncombe. Whilst the village is fairly remote, you will find a few accommodation options and a shop.
The final stage takes you to a stunning stretch of coastline that is hailed as one of the best places in the UK to hunt for fossils.When Charles II made it to Charmouth he had hoped to escape to France by boat. But when Charles’ captain was locked at home by his wife, who feared for the seaman’s safety, and Cromwell’s troops descended on the coast, it was clear the plan had failed.At just 10.3 miles (16.6 km) to Charmouth, where this part of the Monarch’s Way officially finishes, and with more downhill than up, this is an easy hike. If you are game for more, follow the detour shown here to Lyme Regis, an enchanting seaside town less than two miles (3.2 km) along the coast.Whatever you decide, definitely take some time to hunt for fossils on Charmouth Beach, where rapid coastal erosion reveals an abundance of fossils.This stage finishes in either Charmouth or Lyme Regis, both of which have a good choice of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.