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 setting 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 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 which were lucky enough not to lose any residents in either the First or Second World Wars.
The village itself had a close call though when a Luftwaffe bomber dropped 2000 incendiary bombs on Upper Slaughter on the night of 4 February 1944 as part of Operation Steinbock – a German bombing campaign targetting southern England known as the ‘Baby Blitz’. Amazingly although there was some damage to buildings, nobody was killed or injured.
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. He 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 then, 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 next to the church.
The River Eye – also known as 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.
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, with carvings on the tower arch, a 14th-century Easter Sepulchre niche and brass plaques for the Slaughter family who owned the village manor house.
You can walk to neighbouring Lower Slaughter along a one-mile path, which crosses a footbridge on the edge of the village and runs across fields and along the River Eye before emerging near the Old Mill. The walk takes around 25 minutes, or you can carry on along a stretch of the Warden’s Way to Bourton-on-the-Water, which is another 1.5 miles/35 minutes away.
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.
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* is a 17th-century Cotswold stone building which has been a hotel since the 1960s and run by its current owners since the 1990s. 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 Joiner’s Cottage* is a pretty two-bedroom cottage which sleeps four. It has a spacious open-plan living room, kitchen and dining room with a cosy woodburning stove, wooden beams and iron stairs. It’s set behind the owners property but feels private and has its own patio.
How to get to Upper Slaughter
By car: 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 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 Bourton-on-the-Water by bus from the train stations at Moreton-in-Marsh, Kingham and Cheltenham. The 801 bus takes 20 minutes to reach Bourton from Moreton-in-Marsh and 45 minutes from Cheltenham, or the 802 from Kingham to Bourton takes just under an hour. From Bourton-on-the-Water you can catch a taxi to Upper Slaughter, or it’s a 2.5-mile walk.
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