The Cotswolds, with their gentle rolling hills, timeless villages, picturesque towns and stately homes and gardens, are the essential English countryside. Rich in historic and literary associations, the Cotswolds are still predominantly rural, preserving the last traces of a world fast vanishing everywhere else.
The Cotswolds were recognized as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966. For visitors, there is much to see and do. While it would take a lifetime to discover the richness of life in the Cotswolds, there are some places that must be on every visitor’s list.
This is Jane Austen country, with stately homes, small villages and cottages, many of which now serve as charming bed-and-breakfasts. Among castles and stately homes are some of the most famous names in England: Blenheim Palace, Berkeley Palace, Snowshill Manor and Gardens and Sudeley Castle and Gardens. The ruins of Kenilworth castle evoke the Elizabethan era and its intrigues, grandeur and tragedies.
The medieval wealth of the Cotswolds was founded on wool. Every major town and many villages have “wool churches”, the best known of which are at Northleach, Chipping Campden, Fairford and Cirencester.
The Cotswolds are also William Morris country, and the home of the Arts and Crafts movement.For those whose taste runs to antiques, there are dealers in Tetbury, Cirencester, Moreton-in-Marsh, Broadway, and Stow-on-the-Wold, and the Antiques Warehouse at Gloucester Dock. The Corinium Museum in Cirencester hosts the “Treasures of the Cotswolds” exhibit which traces the region’s history from prehistoric times to the 19th century.
The Cotswold Falconry Center at Batsford Park, Moreton-in-the-Marsh recalls the history of these magnificent birds of prey, and highlights the need for conservation. For children, there’s the Fairy Tale Farm. There are also wildlife and water parks, and museums celebrating railways, motoring, and the Jet Age.
A Cotswold tour from London could also include visits to Bath, Cheltenhem, and the villages of Burford and Castle Combe. Winchcombe is a walking center, with long hikes through typical Cotswolds landscapes and villages. A visit to Tewksbury Abbey can be combined with visits to museums, antique stores, boat trips, and meals in the pubs, tea rooms and restaurants which specialize in traditional fare.
The Cotswolds are easily accessible by rail and road. Accommodations range from stately homes to bed-and-breakfasts and farm stays. Camping and caravanning are popular choices. If you visit in the spring, bluebell walking tours are a must.
One final word of advice: plan ahead! The Cotswolds are one of the most popular tourist destinations in England, and accommodations tend to be booked months in advance.