Rodborough Common butterfly walk

Rodborough Common, Stroud, Gloucestershire

Route details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
The Adonis blue butterflies are back after a 40 year absence © National Trust/ Matthew Oates

The Adonis blue butterflies are back after a 40 year absence

April and late May is the best time to see the Duke of Burgundy butterfly © National Trust/ Matthew Oates

April and late May is the best time to see the Duke of Burgundy butterfly

Rodborough is one of the few places where the rare pasque flower grows © Stephen Robson

Rodborough is one of the few places where the rare pasque flower grows

Look out for grazing cattle, the traditional and rare Belted Galloway © Richard Evans

Look out for grazing cattle, the traditional and rare Belted Galloway

Route overview

The steep grassland slopes of Rodborough Common offer superb butterflying, walking and views over the Severn Estuary. Look out for over 30 varieties of butterfly, including rare species like the Duke of Burgundy and Adonis blue, that come here each summer to feed and breed on an amazing variety of wild flowers.

Route details

See this step-by-step route marked on a map

Route map for Rodborough Common butterfly walk
  • Directions
  • Route
  • Bus stop
  • Parking
  • Toilet
  • Viewpoint

Start: National Trust car park, grid ref: SO850035

  1. From the car park, head south-west on a path skirting round the houses on the summit of the plateau. Keep the houses on your left. Rodborough Common was given to the National Trust in 1937 by a keen naturalist and lepidopterist (butterfly expert), Thomas Bainbrigge Fletcher. His butterflies are faring well ...

  2. When you reach the grassy outcrop of Rodborough Manor Spur, turn right, away from the houses (before reaching the busy Bear Hill Lane). Head down the slope of the spur. Pasque flowers grow above the road here. Duke of Burgundy and small blue butterflies can also be found on the lower, steep combe slopes. Follow the cattle tracks north, traversing along the bottom of the slope towards Kingscourt and Little London. A variety of butterflies can be spotted here the steeper hillsides are brilliant for Adonis blue.

    Show/HideAdonis blue

    Look out for the vivid, electric, iridescent blue and black vein ends of the Adonis blue. They have recently recolonised the southern Cotswolds after an absence of 40 years. Now, Rodborough is home to several colonies. The best is at Swellshill Bank. Chalkhill blue and small blue also live here. If youre lucky you may spot the green hairstreak and dingy skipper in spring. The marbled white is abundant in July.

    The Adonis blue butterflies are back after a 40 year absence © National Trust/ Matthew Oates
  3. North of Little London, between the houses and the larch grove, is a good colony of Duke of Burgundy butterfly (best seen mid-May).

    Show/Hide Duke of Burgundy

    Rodborough is one of the best places in the UK for the Duke of Burgundy butterfly, with five separate colonies along the lower slopes. They usually fly from the third week in April until late May.

    April and late May is the best time to see the Duke of Burgundy butterfly © National Trust/ Matthew Oates
  4. Continue north, still across the steep lower slopes of the common. Before you reach Rodborough Fort, head uphill, towards the plateau road (the commons far north end is not great for butterflies).

    Show/HideWild flowers

    In spring, keep an eye out for early purple orchids and the striking pasque flower. Pasque flowers bloom in spring, hence their name which means Easter in French. They are extremely scarce and only found in a small area in southern England. Thirteen types of orchid can be found in the limestone grassland on the plateau top and slopes. The soil is rich in calcium and poor in nutrients, a combination that favours delicate plants over coarse and vigorous species. The early purple orchids are followed by blooming pyramidal orchids and autumn ladys-tresses in late summer.

    Rodborough is one of the few places where the rare pasque flower grows © Stephen Robson
  5. Cross the road and explore the slopes of Butterrow Hill for all three blue butterflies before returning south to the car park. Then, turn right on leaving the car park, and either walk along the grassy verges or drive to point six. To do this, take the first left off the plateau road and head straight over a cross-roads, till you reach Winstone's Ice Cream Factory.

    Show/HideBelted Galloway cattle

    Note the white band around the body of this attractive, slightly fluffy-looking, breed. They graze the slopes nearly all year round. By keeping the grass short, they help us maintain a good habitat for the wildlife. The Adonis blue has responded particularly well to the cropped vegetation as they like short turf.

    Look out for grazing cattle, the traditional and rare Belted Galloway © Richard Evans
  6. After an ice cream snack, continue along this lane, soon coming to more open common. Keep on this route (don't turn left downhill) and look out for a cattle trough on the left. Laurie Lee, the writer of Cider with Rosie, once wrote of Stroud, 'If ever I saw blessing in the air I see it now in this still early day'.

  7. Park here (if in your car) and walk downhill to Swellshill Bank. This is the best place to see both Duke of Burgundy and Adonis blue.

End: National Trust car park, grid ref: SO850035

  • Trail: Walking
  • Grade: Easy
  • Distance: 2.75 miles (4.5km)
  • Time: 1 hour
  • OS Map: Explorer 168; Landranger 162
  • Terrain:

    To Swellshill and back. The route follows natural grassy tracks, open grassy hillsides and a quiet tarmac lane. An alternative quiet lane between points 2 and 3, on the west side of the plateau, is excellent for pushchairs and wheelchairs.

  • How to get here:

    By bike: National Cycle Network Route 45 follows Nailsworth stream at the bottom of the hill, 1 mile (1.5km) away to west

    By bus: Bus 28, Stroud station to Cirencester, 1 mile (1.5km)

    By train: Stroud, 1 mile (1.5km)

    By car: In the Cotswold Hills, south of Stroud and north of Minchinhampton Common. Just off A419 Swindon to Stroud road, climb up hill via small steep roads

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