Barrow Wake Nature Reserve is a small site comprising a narrow strip of limestone grassland about a third of a mile in length, along the west edge of the Cotswold Hills, similar to the larger, better known and botanically more varied Crickley Hill half a mile north, on the far side of a wooded valley that provides a course for the A417. The reserve is crossed by the Cotswold Way, which runs right along the brink of the steep escarpment, the slopes of which are rather overgrown and inaccessible, though part is covered only by grass, and crossed by a few lesser paths. The main route continues south across a field then westwards to the tip of a wooded promontory (The Peak).
The majority of the hundred or so plant species that grow in the nature reserve are found along these slopes, below the main path, which crosses flattish grassland interrupted by just a few small rocky outcrops. Rarer plants include musk orchid and devil's-bit scabious, but the majority of the easily-spotted species are common, and the best aspect of the reserve is instead, perhaps, the spectacular view; the westwards vista extends across Gloucester and the Severn Vale to the hills of the Forest of Dean and south Wales. The name Barrow Wake dates back to 1879, when local quarrymen discovered a late Iron Age burial site, containing three skeletons and many artefacts.
The reserve is served by a large, free parking area at the end of a spur off a country lane, beside which are notices about the local plant life and places within sight to the west. The lane forks off the B4070 just north of Birdlip; the parking place is just beyond the point where the lane veers east, passing underneath the dual carriageway A417. This area is closed each evening by a gate.