The Cotswolds are the epitome of English country charm. With rolling hills, honey-coloured lanes and thatched-roof cottages, it’s no surprise that its picture-postcard villages and lush farmlands were declared an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966. It’s a pastoral paradise, much like stepping into a much-romanticised vision of rural life, but one that’s very much alive; you might have to see it to believe it.
Stretching from north of Banbury to the south of Bath, the Cotswolds were once the home of a booming medieval wool trade. This brought much wealth to its surroundings, as plush market towns, stately homes and old churches all abound in the area. But after the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the migration of workers from the country to the city, the Cotswolds became a dreamy backwater: time has stood still there ever since, hence why it evokes a sense of historic wonder.
This old-worldliness has made the Cotswold popular as a weekend away. Amidst wooden-beamed pubs, local produce stores and cream tea houses, its sleepiness is energised by a quiet bustle. It’s a destination both relaxing and invigorating, and with plenty of opportunities for fresh air hikes, open gardens, woodland walks and fireside ales, its appeal lasts throughout all of the year.
No doubt the sweetest of the Cotswolds’ chocolate-box towns and villages is Chipping Campden. Once the home of the richest wool merchants, the town is iconic for its 17th-century Market Hall, once an important sales and distribution centre for livestock. G. M Trevelyan described its High Street as ‘the most beautiful village street now left on the Island’, and with its quaint assortment of antique shops, cosy pubs and cheese shops, it’s hard to disagree.
Further south is the village of Bibury, a typically Cotswoldian setting of old weavers cottages and watermeadows. Built on the banks of the River Colne, which flows alongside the main street, it’s the home of some of the most picturesque views in the whole region; Arlington Row is often referred to as the most photographed lane in Britain. The village famously won favour with the Victorian artist and poet William Morris, who described Bibury as ‘the most beautiful village in England’.
Nearby is the steep town of Burford, located on a hill winding down to a medieval crossing point on the River Windrush. Its ruler-straight high street is a thriving point of activity, with plenty of pubs and restaurants. It’s also the home of Burford Priory, a country house built on the site of a 13th-century Augustinian hospital, and the source of many local myths – legend has it that the ghost of the old, unpopular lady of the manor was trapped in a bottle and tossed into the river, where it still resides.
Towards the south of the Cotswolds is the smaller town of Tetbury, which lies on the site of an ancient hill fort. The town commemorates its fame as an important market for wool and yarn with the annual Tetbury Woolpack Races, where participants must carry a 60-pound sack of wool up and down a steep hill. Between 2006 and 2010, over five consecutive years, it also won the ‘Heart of England in Bloom’ competition – testament to its privileged status as the ‘architectural gem’ of the Cotswolds.
Indeed, with its preserved history, extraordinary beauty and vernacular architecture, the Cotswolds is one of the most delightful corners of England. What makes it such a unique area of the country is its exquisite blend of man and nature: a scenic country environment decorated with immaculate towns and villages. I defy anyone to not to be enchanted by its magic.