No matter how long and bitter the winter, spring will always follow
After a long and seemingly never-ending winter this year, spring was welcomed with even greater fervour than usual. Over the last few years this time of year has overtaken autumn (which appealed to my younger, more melancholic self) to become my favourite of all the seasons. As always, it passes us by far too swiftly, so I made sure to venture out to the great English countryside to soak up all the sights and smells this fragrant time of year has to offer.
Until just a month ago, I’d never so much as set foot in the 800 sq mile expanse of “outstanding natural beauty” known as The Cotswolds (the largest in the UK). My long-held misconception that it was an overpriced and overrated area populated with tourists seeking genteel rural England could not, however, be further from the truth! The moment I stepped off the train at Moreton-in-Marsh, I quickly fell under its spell; seduced by the sight of the distinctive storybook style cottages wrapped in delightful spring flora and charming country setting that made me feel as if I’d stepped back to a simpler, more innocent moment in time. I loved it so much that within two weeks of my first trip, I made another! At 1.5 hours from the capital (or less, depending where you visit) it offers the perfect weekend country getaway and, outside the popular towns, I unexpectedly found myself walking for miles through valleys, fields and villages without barely encountering a soul.
One thing that did prove predictable admittedly was the price – it isn’t the cheapest place to visit in terms of accommodation options. There isn’t a lot in the way of budget accommodation (the area is in dire need of some hikers’ hostels) so bunking in with a friend at a local inn is a good option, as I did on my first trip. Another great possibility is booking an Air BnB – this presents a super opportunity to stay in one of the area’s many charming (and uber expensive) stone-built properties and pretend it’s your very own country bolthole for the night! Well, you can’t blame a girl for dreaming…
Here’s an account of the places I visited during my trips to two different parts and some of my recommendations.
Trip 1: Moreton-in-Marsh – Stow on the Wold – Bourton-on-the-Water – Upper Slaughter – Lower Slaughter
As I was still recovering from surgery during my first visit, me and my friend drove to Bourton-on-the-Water (aka “The Little Venice” of the Cotwolds) and did a circular walk to the Slaughters and back from there (a longer alternative would be to walk from Stow on the Wold). Bourton-on-the-Water is a beautiful little town on the River Windrush – popular with tourists but it’s amazing how they all disappear once you step out of town towards Upper Slaughter, where we had the route pretty much to ourselves (bar the odd 4X4 / sports car, of course). Here’s a photo journey of the day.
Starting off the day with a late breakfast at Moreton-in-Marsh – great to get out of the capital where it’s virtually impossible to find anywhere selling teacakes. Shabby chic interiors and crockery are huge in The Cotswolds.
Set in the most picturesque of settings by the romantically-named River Windrush, this is the most visited village in The Cotswolds. Don’t let that put you off though! It’s a great place to stop by and every bit worthy of most-visited status.
The dramatically-named Upper and Lower Slaughter conjure images of the most medieval and macabre kind. It’s thus a mild relief (or perhaps a disappointment) to learn that the naming of these beyond-the-picturesque little villages, had nothing, in fact, to do with slaughter or bloodshedding of any kind. The name actually comes from the old English word ‘Slohtre‘, which means, quite simply, ‘Muddy place’. Whilst I’m glad to say we didn’t get raked in mud on our hikes, we did stop to admire a party of horses straddling through the River Eye.
We saw several of these repurposed old red phone boxes which are now come to Defibrillator equipment – a great way of preserving our heritage in a practical potentially life-saving way. Not a clue how to use one mind.
The village of Lower Slaughter lies just a mile downhill from its twin village Upper Slaughter and it’s a gentle, pleasant stroll between the two. Famed for its Old Mill (pictured below), the village is intoxicatingly romantic, especially when kitted out in full spring-flower splendour.
Stow on the Wold
The next day we went to Stow on the Wold, a very old market town that has it all – elegant townhouses, narrow streets leading to a picturesque square, antique shops, art galleries, vintage tea rooms and plenty of hiking routes.
Cherry blossom galore in the churchyard
The buildings here are delightfully old and give you the sensation of being a fictional character walking through a fantasty novel
The remnants of the town’s stocks on the green are also still intact and date back to the 15th century. I’m curious to know what such “crimes” one might have had to commit in order to end up with one’s head and hands in this rather tortourous contraption but from memory, I imagine this involved ill deeds like petty theft, cheating on one’s spouse, public displays of drunkenness. Crikey, they’d have the mother of all queues if they brought this back now! Me and my friend Nicola get into action in the shot below, much to the amusement of the poor bloke we approached to become the photographer.
Chastleton House and Garden
In the afternoon we checked out the National Trust house and gardens at Chastleton. I love an old stately home but I love an old stately garden even more, and these ones typically outflanked the tour around the house. A Jacobean country house, Chastleton House was built between 1607 and 1612 by a prosperous wool merchant. Today the house is somewhat dark for my taste with crooked stairs and beams.
Upper Oddington / Lower Oddington
During our country sejourn, we stayed at The Horse and Groom in Upper Oddington, a tiny charming village a few miles from Stow on the Wold. Just down the hill was Lower Oddington, equally as beautiful and also with just one inn in town, The Fox Inn. I’d recommend both places for their country ambience and dinner.
The Horse and Groom
Trip 2: Castle Coombe – West Kington – Nettleton – Ford – Biddestone (via Chippenham)
Arriving into Castle Coombe is a bit like stepping into a fantasy novel or stumbling upon the film set of a BBC period drama. Easily reachable by train to Chippenham and then bus (note – they don’t run on Sundays), it’s just the most ridiculously cute and charming village you could ever hope to encounter. Luckily, it wasn’t even that busy when we arrived, just enough people to give the place a bit of atmosphere and make for a lovely lunch stop at a local inn before commencing our walk.
Castle Coombe – the epitome of idyllic Cotswold charm
Classic car spotted whistling through the village – now that’s a country pursuit I could get used to…
This is a cute little cake stall – you pick your cake and drop a £2 coin through the letterbox. I had a super lemon drizzle one, but they all looked delicious.
The church at West Kington surrounded by fields of cow parsley.
Our home for the evening – couldn’t have asked for a more idyllic spot or more accommodating hosts. This beautiful cottage in the tiny village of Nettleton is home to two devilishly handsome barn cats, a brood of chickens (who live harmoniously with the cats in the barn), a dog, a puppy, horses and of course the host couple themselves. If there’d been a “full time lodger” position available, believe me, I would have jacked in city life in a jot. A joy to find; a shame to leave.
Meet the animal family
Neighbouring cottages – equally stylish yet every one different.
The next day we set on a walk that took us through fields, valleys and delightful(ly pugnant) garlic forests like the one below, just outside the village of Ford.
Pitstop at The White Hart pub in Ford
The hysteria for wisteria is no more visible than in The Cotswolds – the time and attention people (or rather, their gardeners) spend on the immaculate adornation of their homes is quite something.
Can a country home get much more beautiful than this one we spotted in the lovely duck-pond village of Biddestone.
That concludes my two recent visits to The Cotswolds in April and May of this year. Keen to do many more trips to this part of the country so if anyone has any recommendations or suggestions on places to visit, hikes and sights, and/or places to stay, DO spill the beans 😉