The charm of the Cotswolds lies in the lovely mix of small towns and villages, often with a pretty river running through. Beautiful houses and quaint cottages, built of honey coloured stone, are gathered together in picture postcard settings. The area is steeped in history with barrows from the Neolithic and Bronze ages and the remains of many Iron Age forts. It was an area favoured by the Romans and Chedworth has the remains of a luxurious villa, now owned by the National Trust. Its mosaic floors, hypocaust systems and bath houses, along with a collection of artefacts, show how Romans lived in the area.
Later in history, the Cotswolds became famous for wool and this brought wealth to the area from the 12th century. Many of the towns and villages in the area have their origins in the wool trade. Bibury is one of the prettiest ones with its mill and Arlington Row, a jumble of small cottages that are now owned by the National Trust and were once a monastic wool store but later became weavers’ cottages. The path from here towards the mill passes Rack Isle water meadows, where wool would have been hung out to dry. Next to the mill you can visit Bibury Trout Farm or purchase food from their cafe and delicatessen.
The National Trust has many other properties in the area. We loved the gardens at Hidcote. It is an arts and crafts inspired garden, built by plant collector Major Lawrence Johnston, and is built around the concept of interlocking garden ‘rooms’, each with their own distinct feel and planting and with interesting views from one ‘room’ to another. There are just so many photo opportunities and these were made all the better by the autumn colours.
We chose to explore some of the countryside owned by the National Trust at the Sherborne Park Estate. Parking at Ewe Pen Barn, we started off on a circular 4 km way-marked route. It took us through the woods, scrunching on fallen leaves, past a disused quarry and an old ice house. We passed the pleasure ground area and then saw glimpses of Sherborne House before heading past the water meadows by the river Windrush and on to the scenic village of Sherborne itself.
Many of the small towns in the area are interesting and have a good mix of small local shops to tempt the shopper. Bourton on the Water, the Venice of the Cotswolds, is no exception with many craft shops, a perfumery and a distillery coupled with a wide choice of restaurants and cafes. The town itself is beautiful, but tucked away in a corner was the main reason for our visit. The Cotswold Motoring Museum and Toy Collection is the place for lovers of all things vintage. It was a delight to see that every room, corner, wall, ceiling and outdoor space was filled with vintage cars, toys, automobilia, clothes and just about every vintage item imaginable from our childhood. Everywhere we looked there were items that took us back, and we spent our time saying “I had one of those”.
The Cotswolds is also an excellent place for a road trip to take in many of the smaller villages. Our drive took us over rolling hills to pretty valleys, passing through areas of farmland with miles of dry-stone walls, to the oddly named Slaughters. Much quieter than the larger villages, and in my opinion prettier, Lower Slaughter is just off the Fosse Way. The idyllic village is next to the River Eye and has an interesting mill with a museum and a shop selling lots of handcrafted items. A short distance away is Upper Slaughter where the picturesque cottages, reconstructed by Sir Edward Lutyens in 1906, huddle around a tiny square.
Staying centrally in the Cotswolds at The Plough Inn Cold Aston gave us an opportunity to explore this beautiful Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in autumn. There are so many beautiful towns and villages and so many visitor attractions to visit that we could easily have spent a week or more in the area. Sadly, we only had two days available, and we had to chose only a few.