The Cotswolds is well and truly on the tourist route. Visitors flock to the small market towns of Broadway and Stow on the Wold with all their shops. Bouton on the Water with the stream flowing through the village is a real honeypot. There is much more to the Cotswolds than this. Blenheim Palace is popular with tourists but many of the other places have yet to be discovered by the visitors. The Cotswolds is well known for its large and splendid churches, many funded from the profits of wool. Three very different churches are highlighted here.
Blenheim Palace is one of the Treasure Houses of Britain and sits at the centre of English history. Planned as a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough by a grateful nation after the defeat of the French, it was also the birthplace of Winston Churchill. It is a splendid example of Baroque architecture and designed to impress both on the outside and inside with a series of increasingly lavish state rooms. The Palace is surrounded by formal gardens and parkland. There is a shop and several eateries, all accessible by wheelchair.
There is disabled parking close to the Palace Courtyard. Failing that disabled visitors can be dropped off by the courtyard entrance. Most of the gardens are accessible by wheelchair and the information leaflet given to visitors has details of access. The miniature train can carry wheelchairs. There is no reduction for disabled visitors although a carer is admitted free. Access to the State rooms, which are all on one level, is via a platform lift next to the chapel (ask in the Oxfordshire Craft Shop for assistance with this). The upper floors are not accessible but there is a visual presentation in the cinema. There are manual wheelchairs and two electric scooters (small charge) available for visitors. Disabled toilets are in the Visitor Centre, by the cafe and in the Pleasure grounds. Assistance dogs are welcome in all accessible areas.
Kelmscott Manor is an attractive 17thC stone built manor house in the upper Thames Valley on the edge of the Cotswolds. It was leased by William Morris and became his ‘heaven on earth’ and country retreat for the rest of his life. The internal decor is much as Morris left it with a collection of his furniture, possessions and displays of his textiles. There is also solid oak furniture and 17thC tapestries from the original owners of the manor. The house is surrounded by a small garden and outbuildings. There is a shop and very good tea room.
There is disabled parking by the house, alternatively it is possible to drop off disabled visitors before parking in the main car park by the church, ten minutes walk away. Wheelchairs and a walking frame of wheels are available. There is ramped access at the back of the house. The ground floor rooms are accessible and there is plenty of space for wheelchairs. There is no lift but books of photos of the rooms on the first floor and attics are available. There is a disabled toilet and good disabled access to the tea room and shop. There are no concessions for seniors or the disabled, although carers are admitted free. Assistance dogs are welcome.
The Garden at Miserden
The Garden at Miserden is well off the tourist trail and set in the depths of the Cotswold countryside between Stroud and Cirencester. The gardens are on a hillside overlooking the attractively named Golden Valley. There are no tourists facilities, just a small car park by their nursery with an honesty box by the gate. They are lovely gardens with herbaceous borders, water feature with a fountain, small orchard and parkland with mature trees.
The car park is by the entrance. Paths are good and there is disabled access to all of the garden. Although on a slope, the gradients are not too steep. Entry is £7.50 but there are no concessions for seniors or disabled.
Chedworth Roman Villa
Chedworth Roman Villa was one of the largest Roman villas in Britain, just off the Fosse Way. It is a lovely setting in a sheltered position overlooking the River Coln. It has some of the best mosaics in the country still in situ as well as dining room, bathhouses, hypocausts, water shrine and latrines. The museum has artefacts found around the site.
There is disabled parking and a drop off facility by the entrance. They have a wheelchair which may be borrowed. Ramps and lifts mean the visitor reception area, shop, cafe and west range (with the main mosaics, dining rooms and bathhouse) are all accessible, regardless of the weather. The rest of the site is grassed and some of the paths may be uneven or on slopes. Access may be more challenging after heavy rain. There are disabled toilets. There are no concessions for seniors or the disabled, although carers are free.
Rollright Stones span nearly 2000 years of Neolithic and Bronze age history. There is a stone circle known as the King’s Men. In the field opposite, is a tall standing stone known as the King Stone.
Set in the depths of the depths of the Cotswold countryside on the Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, they are a place of mystery and superstition. Even now, the stones are visited by pagans and other esoterics who hold magico-religious ceremonies there.
The stones are open daylight hours and there is a small charge. There is a layby on the road next to the stone circle which is reached down a short made path. There is access on the grass around and between the stones.
Malmesbury Abbey is a splendid Norman building. It has had a chequered history as the central tower fell down in 1500 destroying much of the church. In 1500 part of the west tower fell down, demolishing part of the nave. Only the nave and side aisles survive, but they are well worth a journey to see. The carving round the south porch and doorway is some of the best in the county. The inside has the WOW factor even though it does end rather abruptly in a blank stone wall at the east end. It is Norman architecture at its best. Light floods in through the clear glass widows and the inside of the church glows.
There are welcoming stewards and a small cafe open until 3.30pm. The church is open daily and there is disabled parking on the street outside.
The church is fully accessible to disabled visitors.
Church of St James the Great, South Leigh Church
South Leigh Church is worth visiting for amazing wall paintings. If you want to see what a medieval church may have been like, then this is the place to visit. The walls of our medieval churches were covered with wall paintings which were covered by whitewash during the Reformation. Many were destroyed when the Victorians stripped plaster off the walls to reveal the stonework. South Leigh is one of the places where paintings have survived almost intact. The church was rebuilt in the 15thC using wealth from wool. The chancel and side walls are covered with a Doom painting of the Last Judgement. There is another painting of St Clement of Rome who was martyred by being thrown into the sea with an anchor round his neck. By the east window is the Virgin Mary.
Disabled visitors can be dropped off by the church. There is plenty of parking by the village hall. There are no steps into the church which is fully accessible. It is open every day.
St Mary’s Church Fairford
St Mary’s Church in Fairford is a superb example of a perpendicular wool church but what makes it unique is a complete set of medieval narrative glass covering history of Christian church. The detail and imagery on the glass is amazing. The windows around the side aisles cover the Bible stories. The Crucifixion and Passion is in pride of place in the east window. The Lady chapel covers the life of the Virgin Mary, and the Nativity. To the south of the east window and into the Corpus Christi Chapel is the Resurrection. The west window is the Last Judgement. Try and plan a visit on a sunny day when the light floods through the stained glass throwing colours across the walls and floor.
The church is open daily and there is a large free car park opposite. The church is fully accessible and there are welcoming stewards on duty.
Hailes Abbey is a delightful setting in the Severn valley at the edge of the Cotswolds. The Cistercian monks certainly knew how to pick their sites. It was an important site of pilgrimage until the Dissolution of the monasteries. All that remains are a the cloister arches and some bumps in the ground, set in grassland with mature trees. There are plenty of seats and it is a delightful spot to drop out on a sunny day. There is a small exhibition with stonework from the abbey. There is a small shop which sells drinks and ice creams. Otherwise there is a tea room at Hailes Fruit Farm just beyond the abbey.
There is parking opposite the abbey entrance by Hailes Church, which is probably as close as the disabled car park. The visitor centre and exhibitions are fully accessible as are the abbey ruins, although there may be mobility issues using a wheelchair over the grass after heavy rain. There is a slight reduction for concessions and carers are admitted free. Assistance dogs are welcome. There is a disabled toilet and they have a wheelchair available.