The Cotswolds, stretching across southwest England, evoke dreamy images of the English countryside at its finest. An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it takes in parts of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire. The Cotswolds stretch south from Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon to the line of the River Thames and the city of Bath, and cover the ground between the cities of Gloucester in the west and Oxford in the east. This landscape is scattered with traditional villages made up of thatched-roofed cottages built of honey-hued stone, with sheep grazing in dry-stone walled fields in the shadow of medieval country churches. This image might sound very twee, but there are plenty of captivating places to explore and masses of attractions and activities to keep you occupied. Read on the discover the top things not to miss in the Cotswolds.
A 164 km/102 mile National Trail along the highest points of the Cotswolds escarpment.
The Cotswolds is classic walking country with its rolling landscape, bucolic scenery, and frequently spaced market towns. The Cotswold Way wanders south from Chipping Campden in the north to the city of Bath, exploring many of the best bits the region offers. The trail spends almost all its time in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, twisting and turning through some of the most scenic stretches of the county while taking in many of the finest villages, historic castles, old churches and abbeys, and monuments to the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Walking the entire Way takes about a week. However, short stretches such as the walk from Broadway to Winchcombe or the stroll around Cleeve Hill, the highest point in the Cotswolds, and Cleeve Common, can be undertaken as easy, attractive day walks.
The quintessential Cotswolds village, which ticks every box for architecture, history and natural beauty.
In the northern fringes of the Cotswolds, Chipping Campden beautifully captures what it was to be a prosperous wool town in the 17th century. With well-preserved architecture and an elegant high street surrounded by honey-stone houses with Jacobean gables, twisted beams and mullioned windows, it wears its history well. The fact that it is set attractively against a backdrop of forested hills helps. At the same time, the lively local community provides an atmosphere and plenty of contemporary character. The charming village of Chipping Camden more than deserves a place on any list of things not to miss in the Cotswolds.
The most palatial stately home in the Cotswolds and one of the finest in England.
Blenheim Palace is the grandest of the Cotswold stately homes, a fine example of Baroque architecture, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 1st Duke of Malborough received the land as a monument to his military triumphs at the Battle of Blenheim. This finely worked Italianate palace is home to the current Duke and Duchess. Blenheim has a long and interesting history – Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister during much of World War II, was born here. Around the property stretch exquisite gardens full of small hills and naturalistic tree planting, created by the master landscaper Capability Brown. There’s a lake at their heart, formed when the river Glyme was dammed.
The classic Cotswolds image; a row of traditional houses made of warm Cotswold stone.
Put yourself in the picture (postcard) by seeking out one of rural England’s iconic images and stroll the line of medieval weavers’ cottages on Arlington Row in Bibury. Dubbed ‘the most beautiful village in England’ by Victorian designer William Morris, this romantic row of one-time homes for workers at the nearby mill draws plenty of people keen to see the street. Hound-tooth gables, warm yellow stone and wonky windows perfectly epitomise the traditional Cotswold village. Once you’ve snapped a photo, there’s little else in the one-street riverside village aside from a pleasant pub – a scenic 11-mile loop covers the ground between Bibury and Barnsley if you’re looking to work up a thirst.
A Royal palace, famed for its associations with Henry VIII and Catherine Parr.
Within easy reach of the charming village of Winchcombe and surrounded by pristine gardens is Sudeley Castle, a fantastic property with a history spanning over 1,000 years. The current castle dates from the mid-15th century but had its heyday in the 1540s when, after the death of Henry VIII, the castle came to Sir Thomas Seymour, who married Henry’s sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr. She is buried on the grounds, making Sudeley the only private castle in the country with a queen’s grave. Spend time admiring the architecture and exploring the castle gardens, which are particularly pretty.
An engaging, self-styled capital of the Cotswolds, full of Georgian architecture and Roman history.
Cheltenham, gateway to the western Cotswolds, was a modest town until the discovery of a spring in the early 18th century turned it into a popular spa town, drawing a crowd comprising royalty and nobility who came to take the waters. Today a smart set still resides here. Visit some of England’s best-preserved Regency architecture, a great museum, innumerable quality contemporary restaurants and fine-design hotels. There’s a good quality, regular farmers’ market and several excellent arts festivals. If horse racing is your thing, the Cheltenham racecourse is Britain’s leading venue for steeplechasing, where riders compete for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
A wonderful evocation of the life of William Morris and his circle.
The Cotswolds are synonymous with the Victorian-era Arts & Crafts Movement. There’s a good gallery in Cheltenham and a design museum in Broadway with fine collections. However, the well-preserved Kelmscott Manor, the country retreat of William Morris, is the place to start. Rooms in the country house are filled with furniture, fabrics, original textiles, wallpapers and pictures created by Morris and his Pre-Raphaelite friends, including Edward Burne Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The house also gives onto beautiful gardens, meadows and a stream. Tucked to the east of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this hidden gem should be on your list of things not to miss in the Cotswolds.
England’s only complete and surviving example of Rococo garden design.
Close to the congenial old wool town of Painswick – itself a beautiful example of a Cotswold country village – is the privately-owned 18th century Painswick House. The Rococo Garden here is a genuine one-off and something to seek out in a region full of formal and landscaped gardens worth visiting. Established in the 1730s but abandoned and allowed to become overgrown, it was restored in the 1970s based on a painting of the house. The result is a careful recreation of the formal geometric shapes and naturalistic curving lines that typified this short-lived fashion. Statues and follies lie scattered among the plants. The gardens have year-round appeal, with the vast banks of snowdrops in March especially pretty.
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A chance to indulge in the local Cotswold food scene and soak up the atmosphere at the market in Stroud.
Stroud was once the centre of the English cloth industry. Today it is a functional market town best known for the weekly farmers’ market where stallholders fill the central streets. Stroll among them, picking out tasty treats and enjoying live music and pop-up events. The variety and mix make this among the best of the many Cotswolds farmers’ markets.
Look out for the posh version in Cirencester and the friendly, jovial market in Stratford-upon-Avon.
An enigmatic megalithic monument stood among silent fields.
The Cotswolds is an ancient landscape with many historical sites to search out. The Rollright Stones west of Chipping Norton comprise three sites of large natural stones moved here, along with burial chambers and barrows. No one is quite sure why they were created, which adds to the mystique, and legends abound about the largest site, the King’s Men. This site, where seventy irregularly spaced stones form a circle about 100 feet in diameter, is considered one of the most important monuments of its kind in England. For more insight into the Cotswolds’ past, explore Belas Knap on the ridge of Cleeve Hill, a 5,000-year-old Neolithic long barrow among England’s best-preserved burial chambers.