Have The Cotswolds Made It On To Your Bucket List Yet?
The Cotswolds is an area of Britain regularly visited by day trippers from London or foreign tourists in the UK wanting to experience a bit of Olde Worlde England. It’s what is known as an AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and if visitors to the UK return home with only memories and photo’s of The Cotswolds and London, then fine by me that they believe the rest of England is all roses and red phone boxes! If anyone’s ever been to EPCOT Centre and seen the section where countries are represented, the Cotswolds are what much of the England section are modelled on : chocolate box cottages framed by honeysuckle and wisteria. It’s like God created an earthquake for the sole purpose of unearthing the most beautiful building materials and said ‘here you go, this is my finest specimen of Limestone so you can build your pretty villages. I’ll throw in a few classic cars while I’m at it to make it feel more upmarket too.’ Hence followed the Cotswolds!
Only 2 hours from London, you know you have arrived when you see coach loads of Japanese tourists taking photo’s with their ipads of wonky roofs and hanging baskets. So much so that many garden gates have ‘Private Property’ written in both English and Japanese! But who could blame them – the Cotswolds have some of the most photographed streets in all of England, famous for their picturesque village scenes and pristine cottages. It got me to thinking as to why this area of the country attracts so much attention over others – what makes the Cotswolds the most prettiest part of England? The answer lies in the architecture. The UK is home to thousands of sleepy towns and villages, many with houseproud citizens that do their best to keep their neighbourhoods attractive, but one of the ways you will know you have hit the Cotswolds on your journey is the absence of the common red brick. Being a labelled AONB, one of the rules is that buildings have to be constructed with the light yellow limestone of the local quarries. So, like the very reason millions of visitors are drawn to Santorini every year with their blue and white houses, the Cotswolds too pulls in the tourists to admire its uniformed charm – not a red brick in sight to break up the beauty.
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Where To Stay In The Cotswolds
When you look on Trip Advisor or Booking.com for accommodation in the Cotswolds, the top 10 hotels are generally the grand manor houses dotted around the countryside – like The Slaughters Manor House in Lower Slaughter or The Painswick. And, let’s be honest – who wouldn’t want to feel like a lord or lady for a few evenings, especially when both hotels are so tastefully modern and have award-winning restaurants on site. Personally though, I would opt for a slightly busier town – probably Broadway or Burford – where there are multiple dining options in the town and the evenings are open for strolls down the High Street, taking in the quaint cottages and traditional shop fronts. My personal favourites would be Pytts House Bed & Breakfast in Burford, for the all-English feel, with amazing attention to detail in the decor and a really lovely town to explore on an evening. Or, The Broadway Hotel which sits in one of the prettiest towns in the Cotswolds and keeps you in luxury from the food to the four-poster beds.
Either way, whether you decide to go for lord and lady of the Manor, or to get a feel for Cotswold life in one of the bigger pretty towns, your experience will be quintessentially English and you will have your fill of tea and scones by the end of it.
The Cotswolds Bucket List Of Ideas
You’re donning an Oxford shirt and straw boater, the picnic’s packed and the top’s down (on the car!) – you’re all ready to explore. There is so much to see and do across these 6 counties, here’s my list that will give you a real feel for the Cotswolds…
- Have a Huffkins afternoon tea. With several locations across the Cotswolds, you’re never far from a Royal delicacy. Huffkins have been around for over 125 years and have produced goods for Fortnum and Mason and the Royal Palaces – if it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for you.
- The western edge of the Cotswolds boast some of the best views across this AONB. Try the Painswick Beacon, the Broadway Tower or Cleeve Hill – but hang on to your hats!
- Take an award-winning distillery tour around The Cotswold Distillery near Sutton under Brailes and sample some of the worlds gold and platinum gins.
- Visit the Rollright Stones, The Cotswolds version of Stone Henge. Megalithic monuments circa 1,500 BC.
- Have a pint of local cider in one of Englands oldest pubs – The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold dates back to 947 AD.
- His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales lives in the Cotswolds, and, as much as you can’t get an invitation to tea, you can book a tour to see the Royal Gardens at his Highgrove Estate. Perhaps he waters the plants in his dressing gown like me too? One can but hope. Definitely a Cotswolds highlight.
Must See Villages And Towns Of The Cotswolds
Put plainly, you could drive for days around the small lanes of deepest Cotswold country and never come across a non-picturesque town or village. I challenge you to try, to find that place where the undesirables hang out, but I am sure that to qualify to be a resident of the Cotswolds you must iron your underpants and own a diploma in gardening and window boxes – the place is pristine! But there are some villages that warrant a pit stop more than others, a jump out of the car to take more photo’s of people’s houses, or a mini stroll to imagine a life in this English tranquility. And there are also towns, where the everyday life continues, albeit at a slower pace, which require at least a few hours of your time to experience a scone or two and a pint in a traditional English pub. Here’s my ‘mustn’t miss’ list of the prettiest towns and villages:
- Bibury – The most photographed street in the UK – Arlington Row. Achingly beautiful old weavers cottages and very much worth a photograph. But don’t stop at the one street; I’m sure in an attempt to eclipse the Arlingtons, the rest of the village have totally stepped up in garden-design to get a bit of the spotlight. When you’re putting locks on your garden gates to keep out the trespassers, you know you’re doing something right. A visit to the Bibury Trout Farm may rock your boat too.
- Snowshill, near Broadway – If feng shui did villages then this would be it! Who knew that a graveyard could be so attractive? But, centred in the middle of some of the Cotswolds prime real-estate, along side a red phone box and a village pub, with all the designers in the world you could not come up with a more aesthetically pleasing portrait of English rural life. If you’re a National Trust member (or even if you’re not) the nearby Snowshill Manor is a wonderful half-day experience too.
- Stanton, near Broadway – A particularly pretty village with a particularly pretty pub. The Mount Inn sits on the slopes of this little village and has positioned its outdoor seating so well that there is ample bottom-space to enjoy a pint with one of the prettiest views; horses on leisurely hacks and the roof-tops of Stanton.
- Upper And Lower Slaughter – for my husband, just an excuse to drive the car through a ford (oh, the mild peril!) but for normal people, a place to reflect on village life from the last 400 years – when the cottages belonged to the workers from the Manor. Park in one Slaughter and walk a short distance to the other. Both villages run along the River Eye and its low enough water to attract paddlers and games of poo-sticks off the ancient stone bridges. And if you’re not staying at The Slaughters Manor House then this is your chance to glimpse what you could have had! The Old Mill, in Lower Slaughter has a tea shop and is a well photographed spot.
Larger Cotswold towns…
- Bourton On The Water – The Venice of The Cotswolds. Not my words, incidentally. There are no canals and I’ve never seen a gondola on the River Windrush, but if they’re trying to say it’s their water feature that makes this town outstanding then I shall let them have that – the Venice of the Cotswolds it is. The town has several attractions including model railways, Birdland Park and Gardens, a maze, a motoring museum and a grade II listed model village, and, if you just want to saunter then so be it. Follow the river paths through the town one way and circle round via the road to enjoy the gift-shops and cafes on your return.
- Broadway – in the 1600’s, stagecoaches passed through this busy town 7 times a day as a stop off for accommodation and sustenance between London and Worcester. Today, the theme is the same – fantastic hotels, restaurants and pubs are the hub of some of the best hospitality in the Cotswolds. When the railway arrived in 1856 the traffic stopped and the towns peace and quiet attracted artists, writers and craftsmen, including William Morris, and the town continues to showcase its creative roots. Check out the Broadway Museum and Art Gallery.
- Burford – Also a town of coaching inns and history from the 1600’s. I love the steep High Street of ice-cream shops and gallery’s, and be sure not to miss the mecca that is The Great House – one of Burford’s grandest houses but now an antiques and craft market with a great little map store and book shop. Interestingly this town has had wealth from as far back as the 11th century due to the wool trade, so a visit to the church is academic if you’re interested in some of the more notable townsfolk and stories. Don’t miss the country’s oldest Chemist too – 124 High Street – with its old cabinets full of old remedies like Opium and Boric Acid.
- Stow-on-the-Wold – The highest town in the Cotswolds is a foodie haven. Deli’s, cafe’s, pubs and restaurants with one thing in common; high-end food. Stow has been a market town since 1107 AD and one place where a mismatch of architecture only draws attention to the fact that this town has thrived through many era’s and generations; from Roman, through to Tudor and then Victorian. It’s not a complete showcase of the Cotswold honey-coloured stone like other towns but that only makes it a welcome change as it’s still an aesthetically pleasing little market town. The Big Feastival in nearby Kingham is held every August on Blur’s Alex James’ farm and is a very unique celebration of local food and drink.
- Chipping Norton – If I told you there was a nearby hotel and members club for the Cotswolds glitterati (and the odd episode of Made In Chelsea) just outside of this town (Soho Farmhouse) you’d be in the right ball-park for the type of resident you may come across in Chipping Norton. But it’s not just Jeremy Clarkson and the social elite that frequent ‘Chippy’, there’s still a very local feel and a comfy vibe. Yes you might be grabbing your takeaway latte with David Cameron but everyone looks the same in their cozzy’s down at the local Lido (well, maybe not Victoria Beckham) Enough name-drops?? – Don’t miss Jaffé and Neale – a gorgeous little book shop and coffee house, and the local museum on the High Street.
More Things To Do In The Cotswolds
- The Cotswolds is a great place for shopping : with one of the highest concentrations of antique shops outside of London and a vintage scene in Chipping Norton too. Stroud has the best Saturday farmers market and Winchcombe is a great little town for Boutique and independant shops.
- History lovers will apreciate the ancient mosaic floors at Chedworth Roman Villa, the neolithic remains at both Painswick Beacon and the Rollright Stones and Sudeley Castle which is home to the tomb of Katherine Parr – King Henry VIII’s wife.
- The Cotswolds Discoverer costs £10 and is a one day pass for unlimited travel by bus or train across the Cotswolds.
- The best time of year to visit is in early summer or Autumn, since a lot of the Cotswolds beauty is in the landscape and gardens.
- Buy local : the Cotswolds are famous for their cider, cheeses, trout and the well known producers Daylesford Organic.
You could spend weeks in the Cotswolds and still not see it all, there is just so much to do here, but I hope I have an inspired a short trip where you can definitely take in the highlights and best stops in this most beautiful part of the English countryside. There’s no surprise it has been used in several films and TV series – no one will be disappointed by the beauty of the Cotswolds!
Incidentally, if you’re planning to visit the Cotswolds from London as part of a UK road trip, we would highly recommend a day in Oxford too on your way. It’s only 45 minutes from the Cotswolds and a complete contrast to the countryside scenes you will get in this area of England. Check out our city guide to Oxford and see if you might want to pull in a day-trip.
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