The tiny Cotswold village of Upper Slaughter in Gloucestershire is often overshadowed by its better-known neighbours Lower Slaughter and Bourton-on-the-Water. But its historic buildings and pretty riverside location – set on a grassy slope with the River Eye trickling past – make it well worth a visit. Take a walk through this tranquil village with our local expert and discover the best things to do in Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds, as well as details of where to stay, eat and drink.
Upper Slaughter’s history
The name ‘slaughter’ makes it sound like the village has a dark history. But it’s actually just a mispronunciation of the Old English word ‘slothre’ which means muddy or miry place, and came about due to the River Eye which flows through Upper and Lower Slaughter.
Upper Slaughter was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, which lists Upper Slaughter Manor as the property of Robert de Lacy. Later the manor (not to be confused with the next-door Lords of the Manor Hotel) became property of the Slaughter family in the 12th century. After falling into disrepair it was restored in the 19th century and is now a private residence.
An adulterine castle – one built without royal approval – was built on the edge of the village in the 12th century by supporters of Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I, during the civil war of the Anarchy. The castle was a earth and timber motte-and-bailey construction on a bend in the River Eye, but all that’s left of it today is the Castle Mound to the north of the village.
Upper Slaughter is one of only 14 ‘doubly thankful’ villages in the country – places lucky enough not to lose any residents in either WWI or WWII.
Upper Slaughter itself had a close call though when a Luftwaffe bomber dropped 2000 incendiary bombs on the village on the night of 4 February 1944 as part of Operation Steinbock – a German bombing campaign which targeted southern England and was known as the ‘Baby Blitz’. Amazingly although there was some damage to buildings, nobody was killed or injured.
Map of Upper Slaughter
Things to do in Upper Slaughter…
The Square is the heart of Upper Slaughter, a grassy area surrounded by golden Cotswold stone houses, originally built as almshouses. They were reconstructed by famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1906. Lutyens was responsible for many English country houses and war memorials, including the Cenotaph in Whitehall and Lindisfarne Castle in Northumberland.
Like nearby Lower Slaughter, no building work has taken place in Upper Slaughter since 1906, giving it its unspoilt feel. An amble through its quiet streets is one of the best things to do in Upper Slaughter. Look out for historic buildings like the tiny Methodist chapel from 1865 that’s now a pottery and the Grade II-listed Old School House located next to the church.
The River Eye
The River Eye – which is also known as the Slaughter Brook – is a tributary of the River Windrush which runs right though the centre of the village and on to Bourton-on-the-Water. With historic stone buildings set along the water’s edge, it’s one of the village’s most picturesque spots.
The river is more of a stream, with a ford running through it to reach the village. The road runs right across the water with cars passing through it. For walkers there’s a stone footbridge, though on a sunny day it’s worth taking your shoes off and paddling in the cool water.
St Peter’s Church
There’s been a church in Upper Slaughter since the 12th century, and St Peter’s Church which you can see today was mainly built in that period. It was extensively restored in 1877 but kept a lot of the original medieval stonework, and you can see some of original carvings on the tower arch.
It’s a peaceful place to visit, tucked away off the main road through the village. Inside there are remnants of different eras, with a 14th-century Easter Sepulchre niche, Edwardian brass plaques for the Slaughter family who owned the village manor house and 17th-century carved tombs.
If you want to find out more about life in Upper Slaughter in the 19th century, Reverend Francis Edward Witts, who was the rector of St Peter’s from 1808 until he died 45 years later, wrote a book about his life called The Diary of a Cotswold Parson*, which is still available.
Just outside Upper Slaughter, Eyford House was voted the nation’s favourite house by County Life magazine in 2011. The current house was built in the 19th century but architect Guy Dawber took inspiration from the 17th century. And legend has it John Milton was inspired to write Paradise Lost in its grounds. It’s a private home now but hosts occasional garden open days.
Walks from Upper Slaughter
It’s an easy one-mile walk to neighbouring Lower Slaughter, crossing a footbridge on the edge of the village and running across fields and along the River Eye before emerging near the Old Mill. The walk takes around 25 minutes, or you can extend the walk to Bourton-on-the-Water.
It’s another 1.5 miles/35 minutes from Lower Slaughter to Bourton-on-the-Water. Or you can connect them all on the Bourton-on-the-Water to the Slaughters circular walk. This 5.4-mile route runs along sections of the Windrush Way and Warden’s Way long-distance walks, follows stretches of the River Windrush and River Eye, and takes you through peaceful countryside.
… and nearby
As Lower and Upper Slaughter are so small it’s easy to combine the two, and you’re also within easy reach of other Cotswold towns and villages. Bourton-on-the-Water (2 miles away) has a good selection of family-friendly attractions like the Model Village, Dragonfly Maze and Birdland as well as the Cotswold Motoring Museum and cafés and pubs along the River Windrush.
Cotswold Farm Park (6 miles) is another local family favourite, with rare breed animals to pet and feed, farm demonstrations and safaris. Or visit Stow-on-the-Wold (3.5 miles) for its antique shops, historic market square and St Edward’s Church with its much-photographed doorway.
Places to eat & drink in Upper Slaughter
The Lords of the Manor* is the only place to eat in Upper Slaughter, with a few different options. Atrium at Lords of the Manor is the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant, with a tasting menus of French-inspired dishes using Cotswold produce. It has three AA Rosettes and is listed in the Good Food Guide – though with only 14 covers you need to book well in advance to bag a table.
The Dining Room is a less formal option and is open for lunch and dinner with an à la carte menu featuring dishes like Herdwick lamb, BBQ glazed belly pork and Cornish sea bream. They also do a good Sunday roast and traditional afternoon tea. Or you can call in for drinks, bar snacks or sharing platters on the terrace, which is surrounded by the hotel’s walled gardens.
Where to stay in Upper Slaughter
The Lords of the Manor* has been a hotel since the 1960s and run by its current owners since the 1990s. Set in a 17th-century Cotswold stone building, it feels like staying in a grand country house, with antique furniture and artworks – some of which belong to a former owner who still lives in the village. It’s a peaceful spot, surrounded by eight acres of lawns and gardens.
The 26 bedrooms are spread across the hotel’s different buildings and are each individually furnished and decorated, with a mix of period features and modern comforts. They range from the cosy Country Rooms to the Lords Rooms with their separate sitting areas and clawfoot baths. There are also dog-friendly rooms available if you want to bring your pooch along.
You’ll also find self-catering properties to rent in Upper Slaughter. Jasmine Cottage* is a mid-19th-century stone cottage on a no through lane in the heart of the village. It sleeps six in three bedrooms, with original features like exposed beams, casement windows and an inglenook fireplace, as well as a modern, well-equipped kitchen and a tranquil enclosed garden.
Or Fordview* is a pretty two-bedroom cottage which sleeps four. It has a country-style kitchen and both a dining room and lounge with cosy woodburning stoves. There are wooden beams and stone floors, and the master bedroom comes with a gorgeous freestanding copper bath.
How to get to Upper Slaughter
Upper Slaughter lies off the A429 (The Fosse Way), three miles north of Bourton-on-the-Water and 3.5 miles southwest of Stow-on-the-Wold. Beware that the roads near Upper Slaughter are narrow and you have to drive through the ford to get to the village if approaching from the north. There’s limited parking available in the village square, but it fills up quickly on weekends.
By public transport
There are no buses to Upper Slaughter, but you can reach nearby Lower Slaughter or Bourton-on-the-Water by bus from the train stations at Moreton-in-Marsh, Kingham and Cheltenham.
The Pulhams 801 bus runs from Moreton-in-Marsh and takes 30 minutes to reach Lower Slaughter or 35 minutes to Bourton. It also runs less frequently to Cheltenham in around an hour. Or the 802 from Kingham to Bourton takes just under an hour. To reach Upper Slaughter it’s a 1.5-mile walk from Lower Slaughter or 2.5-mile walk from Bourton, or you can take a taxi.
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