Written by Hugh Collins
In 2016, the Cotswolds AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. To commemorate this anniversary and to celebrate one of the UK’s most special regions, we’ve asked Caroline Mills, author of our Slow Travel Cotswolds guidebook, to pick her favourite fifty apsects of the Cotswolds.
In an area as rich in character and distinctive landscape value as the Cotswolds, it’s really difficult to pick out fifty ‘favourites’, especially when a particular village, town or locale is special because of various aspects that are closely linked, be it community, a perfect view, a cluster of attractive buildings or the prettiest of valleys. So what is it that makes the Cotswolds special? Well, I should turn to my introduction in Slow Cotswolds: “There’s little that’s raw, jagged or sharp about the landscape and the sense of harmony between man and the land feels comfortingly organic. Sat beside the glowing embers of a log fire in the depths of winter, the Cotswolds provides a cosy feeling that everything is right with the world.” Hence, this list is far from exhaustive or, indeed, in any particular order; it merely provides a taste from which to explore a locale further.
50. The view coming into Whichford from the northwest – Approaching the village of Whichford from the northwest provides one of my favourite views in the country. Descending towards the village, which lies in a bowl surrounded by hills, the full splendour and colour of Whichford Woods lies on the right while St Michael’s Church sits comfortably in the landscape. The prettiest of Norman churches, its mellow moss-strewn exterior is ‘crowned’ with a castellated tower.
49. Minchinhampton & Rodborough Commons – It’s hard to choose one conjoined common from another but the pair provide a wonderful day out. My pick is a walk around Minchinhampton Common taking in the pretty villages of Amberley, Box and Minchinhampton, followed by a picnic overlooking the Nailsworth Valley. Then move further north to Rodborough Common stopping by at Winstone’s Ices for one of their delicious homemade ice creams – and further views, this time of the Stroud Valley.
48. Cotswold Woollen Weavers – This is the link between the modern world and the history of the Cotswolds. While the wool and textile industry has all but vanished from the area over the centuries, Cotswold Woollen Weavers continues to design and produce magnificent textiles for use in clothing and household goods. Based in the idyllic village of Filkins, you can visit the shop to purchase handmade goods. My favourite is the Rug Barn for snuggly soft blankets and cushions.
47. Eastleach – While daytrippers throng the streets of Bibury by the coachload, nearby are the two conjoined villages of Eastleach Turville and Eastleach St Martin (also known as Bouthrop). They are two of the most appealing villages throughout the Cotswolds, with a most attractive collection of dwellings set around the sparkling River Leach. The ancient church of St Michael and St Martin has connections to the priest and poet John Keble. To get to know the area, there’s a very pretty, short circular walk that combines Eastleach with neighbouring Southrop, where you can stop off for a drink and bite to eat at The Swan Inn.
46. The Cotswold Way – One of my favourite sections of this 102-mile long distance walking trail between Chipping Campden and Bath is the section from Broadway to Stanway. A little over six miles in length, it first provides pretty views above Broadway, one of the Cotswold’s most popular villages on the tourist trail, as you climb up on to the escarpment before dropping down into first Stanton and then Stanway, two of the Cotswolds’ most underrated villages. They don’t get much more perfect than these two!
45. Hall & Woodhouse in Bath – picking out just one village pub throughout the Cotswolds is an impossibility such is the concentration of fabulously picturesque locations filled with ambience, roaring log fires and a decent pint. So I’ve plumped for a great city pub – the Hall & Woodhouse in Bath. One could argue its not strictly Cotswold – it’s owned by the reputed brewers based in Dorset – but the living room atmosphere, bookcases filled with reading matter and board games are perfect for a rainy afternoon. The food’s pretty good too.
44. Oxford Botanic Garden – Open all year round, Oxford’s botanical garden may be a joy to walk around for visitors but it’s also a seat of learning, owned by Oxford University. With over 7,000 different types of plant concentrated in just over four acres, it’s the most compactly diverse collection of plants in the world. My favourites are the greenhouses, where ferns, alpines, palms and tropical lilies the size of tractor tyres shelter from Britain’s unpredictable weather.
43. Jaffé & Neale – An award-winning independent bookshop and café run by Polly and Patrick in Chipping Norton. The books may be great but the coffee and cake is superb and the combination while watching the world from the window seat is fabulous – though the temptation while sipping your Americano is to thumb through the volumes on the shelves next to you.
42. Fairford – Overshadowed by iconic Cotswold towns to the north and the vast military airfield to its south, Fairford is understated but elegant. The town’s Georgian High Street attracts the sun to allow its buildings to glow. Though the centre piece is the magnificent 15th-century church with a near-complete set of medieval stained-glass windows. Walks are a-plenty, either circular or linear utilizing the River Coln or to the little village of Quenington along a Permissive Footpath through Fairford Park.
41. Bridge Tea Rooms, Bradford-on-Avon – The Cotswolds has its fair share of tea rooms, some of which are fabulous, others sadly a little ordinary. Bridge Tea Rooms falls into the first category. A former blacksmith’s cottage dating from 1675, the half-timbered façade is ‘pretty’ enough but inside you’ll find low ceilings and rickety stairs. Costumed waitresses serve amazing cakes and afternoon teas. It’s a regular winner of the prestigious Tea Guild’s ‘UK Top Tea Place’.