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Upper Slaughter is a pretty village that’s nestled away in the Cotswolds countryside of Gloucestershire.
It’s a hidden gem that’s very often overlooked for its neighbour Lower Slaughter or Bourton-on-the-Water but don’t let its peaceful nature fool you.
There is so much beauty here that makes it worth visiting. From its gorgeous collection of Lutyens almshouses to a magnificent Norman church, a scenic Ford, and even a historic manor to discover.
If you’re thinking of heading out on a Cotswolds road trip, then don’t leave this wonderful secluded village off your itinerary. It’s the ideal place to escape some of the crowds.
Here’s an essential guide with things to do in Upper Slaughter!
Why is Upper Slaughter called that?!
Don’t worry, I know that the name slaughter sounds pretty murderous but don’t fret. It has nothing to do with death or even an abattoir.
The Slaughters get their curious name from the Olde English word for wetland which is ’slough’ or ‘slothre’ meaning ‘muddy place’.
But, if you visit this village today they are far from muddy places! You’ll just find a quaint hamlet in the countryside with rolling hills and honeycombed cottages.
A brief history of this doubly sainted village
Upper Slaughter has a recorded history dating back a thousand years to the Domesday Books in 1086. But, it is thought to be much older than this.
There have been some Roman burial mounds found on the nearby Copse Hill, so it is very possible it was a settlement 2,000 years ago.
The manorial estate was purchased by The Slaughters family from a Roger de Lacy in the 12th century.
It was completely rebuilt in the Tudor period with a 14th-century crypt on the site.
An adulterine castle was also built around the village in the 12th century during The Anarchy Civil War.
It was built by supporters of Empress Matilda, “the Holy Roman Empress”, who was a claimant to the English throne.
Sir Edwin Lutyens transformed many of the old almshouses in the hamlet to functioning cottages in 1907. He was a famous architect that was responsible for renovating many country homes, castles and designing war memorials.
Upper Slaughter is also known as a ‘Thankful Village’ or a ‘Sainted Village’ due to the fact that it didn’t lose any of its residents during World War I.
Again, in World War II it remained unchanged and so it’s also known as ‘Doubly Thankful’ and ‘Doubly Sainted’.
Little Sodbury and Coln Rogers are the only other two villages in the Cotswolds that share the same title.
When is the best time to visit?
The best time to visit the Cotswolds is always in the shoulder months in the UK. This would be in the spring months of March, April, May, or in the Autumn around September or early October.
Summer is always spectacularly busy and you’ll find that tour groups are whizzing around the area and swarming the place, especially in the likes of Bourton-on-the-Water or Bibury.
However, Upper Slaughter is a hidden gem in the Cotswolds and sees a fraction of the tourists of its neighbours.
So, it’s the perfect place to escape the crowds and relax for a while. You could really visit at any time in any season to enjoy it to yourself!
Things to do in Upper Slaughter
Although this doubly thankful village is tiny and cute as a button, there is a lot here that you can see and do that may surprise you.
There isn’t anything by way of traditional ‘attractions’ like museums or even a café. But, for what it lacks in touristy sites, it more than makes up for in charm.
Here is what to do in Upper Slaughter.
1. Check out the Ford at Upper Slaughter
The most attractive area of the village has to be the Ford that sits at the lower end of the hamlet.
For those that don’t know, a Ford is a shallow stream or river. Cars, pedestrians, and horses will all ride through it!
In this case, you’ll be crossing over the River Eye which is a tributary of the River Windrush. It runs all the way down to Lower Slaughter via the Roman Fosse Way and eventually down to the Bourton-on-the-Water via the Wardens Way.
Luckily, if you’re on foot, you don’t have to wade through the river if you don’t want to. There’s an attractive-looking stone footbridge to traverse over.
This area is ridiculously pretty with a traditional farmhouse nearby and curious topiary from one of the houses. You could have a paddle or even relax on the bench perched on the hillside.
Take time to enjoy some of the countryside views!
2. Admire the Lutyens Almshouses
If you head up to the market square, known simply as the “The Square”, you’ll see some of the gorgeous Cotswolds cottages surrounding the area.
These were all ancient medieval almshouses once upon a time which were then converted into private homes in the 17th century.
Many of these were restored by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the ‘courtyard’ style. He worked on the cottages in the area from the years of 1907-1913.
He was a famous architect who was responsible for transforming many of the UK’s famous castles in the Arts and Crafts style. Highlights include the Lindisfarne Castle and Castle Drogo.
Some of the other buildings to check out here are the Upper Slaughter Village Hall and also the old boy’s school that still has its old bell.
The beauty of Upper Slaughter has not been missed by film production crews that appreciate its timeless beauty. Also, its secluded nature makes it a perfect spot for filming.
Films and TV shows shot here include BBC’s Father Brown, Our Mutual Friend, and The Sailor’s Return.
3. Pop inside St Peter’s Church
The parish church of St Peter is a majestic building that dates all the way back to the 12th century, however, a church has stood on this site since the Saxon era.
You can still find some of the original stonework that’s been incorporated into the tower wall.
Inside, you’ll find a Norman tower arch and an Easter Sepulchre niche. There are also many memorials to the Slaughter family who owned the manor nearby.
Even walking towards this church is quite unique as the pathway is placed between two high banks of gravestones.
So, as you pass through the ancient trees, you almost feel like you’re heading down the rabbit hole to see what’s inside.
Visiting is completely free but donations are always encouraged to keep the building open.
4. Walk to Upper Slaughter Castle Mound
On the northern side of the village, you’ll come across Castle Mound. This is the only remains of the adulterine Upper Slaughter castle that was built in the 12th century.
There was no mention of the structure made in the Domesday Books, so the theory that this was built to fight off Dane attacks has little standing.
It was a Norman-style motte and bailey made out of earth and timber and is thought to have been a place of refuge during The Anarchy.
During this period, Empress Matilda had a solid claim to the English throne and so she started a Civil War against King Stephen from 1139 to 1153.
It was built on a bend of the River Eye and excavations have revealed pottery and other coins at the site.
It had a really short lifespan and when Henry II established his authority against The Anarchy, the castle was abandoned.
The site today is just a mound in the countryside and not well signposted. But, you can easily locate it along the B4068 road.
5. Explore Upper Slaughter Manor
Upper Slaughter Manor has stood on this site since the Saxon period and was again mentioned in the Domesday books of 1086.
In the Norman era, it was owned by Roger de Lacy who was a nobleman. Sometime in the 12th century, the manor was taken over by The Slaughters family and it was completely rebuilt in the Elizabethan period.
It fell into disrepair in the 17th century and then was completely restored in the 19th century.
It is now a private home and is part of the Historic Houses Association which is open for tours on a few select weeks of the year. You can go inside the old manor house and visit their splendid historic gardens as part of your visit. HHA members go free.
This is not to be confused with the Lords of the Manor Hotel which is a different building entirely right next door. The two used to be a pair on the same estate until they were separated in 1852.
6. Walk down to Lower Slaughter
Once you’re in Upper Slaughter, you’re right next door to the equally pretty neighbour of Lower Slaughter. This is another gorgeous village you just have to visit!
Perched around the gorgeous River Eye, you can once again feast your eyes on the amazing Cotswold stone cottages that surround it.
There are two stone footbridges that allow you to explore either side of the village or you can have a paddle in the stream.
The Old Mill is the main attraction here where you can see how flour was traditionally made. It also has a gift shop, café and some handmade organic ice cream to sample.
Lower Slaughter is where you’ll find facilities like restaurants if you were feeling peckish. The walk is around a mil and it’s only 20 minutes each way. The stroll will take you through the scenic countryside!
Where to stay in Upper Slaughter
If you would like to extend your stay here, it does make a perfect choice. You’ll find absolute privacy with some much-needed peace and quiet!
There is one hotel in the village and then a further two options down at Lower Slaughter;
- Lords of the Manor Hotel – a gorgeous Jacobean building that used to lie on the Upper Slaughter Manor estate. The work began in 1649 by the Slaughter family who purchased it from King Henry VIII! Then a Ferdinando Tracy Travel lived here. It was converted into a luxury hotel in 1972. They have a wealth of luxury rooms to check into with a restaurant onsite. Click to book.
- Lower Slaughter Manor – This house also has a history dating back 1000 years. It was purchased by the Whitemore family in 1611 and completely refurbished. It now home to a luxury hotel. You can stay in a suite fit for royalty, play croquet in the gardens, have a 7-course dinner or relax by their cosy fire. Click for rates.
- Slaughters Country Inn – This inn is also based in Lower Slaughter on the River Eye. It’s a cosy 17th century retreat that has a range of comfy rooms to book. You also have the added benefit of the top rated restaurant and bar in The Slaughters below! Click to book.
Where is Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds?
Upper Slaughter is just a 5-mile drive from Stow-on-the-Wold and a 3-mile drive from Bourton-on-the-Water. In fact, you could walk here from Bourton, along the Wardens Way!
It is easiest to drive through the Cotswolds as buses can be infrequent. But, there are a few services like the 801 heading to Moreton-in-Marsh that can drop you off at the Slaughters Turnpike. It’s a short walk from there.
You can park up in either of The Slaughters villages to explore them as they are both a short 1-mile walk from each other.
Parking options: If you would rather drive to Upper Slaughter, there is a limited amount of free parking available in the village square. But, these spaces do fill up quickly! Failing that there is plenty of off-road parking available.
What to see near Upper Slaughter
Once you’ve finished exploring the tranquil beauty of The Slaughters, where next?
Well, there is an infinite amount of places to explore in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). From villages, towns, gardens, country manor homes, and palaces. The choice is yours.
Nearby is the touristy Bourton-on-the-Water which is known as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ with the striking River Windrush. Here, you can explore the many historical buildings with their motor museum, model village or get lost in their dragonfly maze.
Stow-on-the-Wold is also only a few miles away which is a delight to explore. St Edward’s Church, with its two ancient yew trees wrapped around the doorway, was the inspiration for J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings!
Blenheim Palace was the home of Winston Church and will make you feel like royalty. Or visit Castle Combe which is named one of the prettiest villages in England.