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  >  Europe   >  Cotswolds: itinerary through the pretty villages
When I think of the English countryside, I immediately think of the small but pretty villageswith their honey-coloured stone-walled cottages and classic sloping roofs. Their little network of winding alleys and old Gothic churches. All this immersed in the lush green of a large hilly area where time seems to have stopped and this brings me to the Cotswolds.

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE COTSWOLDS

THE TERRITORY OF THE COTSWOLDS

The Cotswolds extend 2038 km 2 from Bath in the southwest to Stratford- upon-Avon in the northeast, and cover six historic counties: Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. The western side is dominated by a chain of hills up to 330 meters high which extends from Bath to the south eastern limit of the city of Evesham. The northern and western edges of this chain are characterized by the presence of steep escarpments, known as Cotswolds Edge. They are the result of the lifting of the limestone layer whose edge is exposed with all its breaks. On the contrary, the landscape that stretches along the eastern edges is sweeter. In fact, the slopes of the hills gradually level along the numerous river valleys and agricultural plains.

THE STONE OF THE COTSWOLDS

The limestone that makes the Cotswolds unique and particular is the oolitic one and is distinguished by being formed by small round grains, called ooids, similar in size to fish eggs. These formed in the Jurrasic Coast in shallow, warm waters, where calcium carbonate is deposited by sea water due to evaporation. The round grains grow in size as they are rolled back and forth by the waves, until the actual limestone layers are formed. The stone, therefore, is the element that not only forms the Cotswolds, but is used for the construction of most of their buildings, as it is easily divided into blocks and is quite resistant to atmospheric agents. Its colour, which varies from cream white to pale golden brown, contributes to make the local villages very attractive.
Cotswolds houses

the typical houses of the Cotswolds with sloping roofs

detail of the houses of the cotswolds

the oolitic stone used for the construction of the houses

THE ORIGIN OF THE NAME AND THE WOOL

The plausible meaning of Cotswolds derives from the union of the terms “Cotes”that is “sheep pens” and “Wolds” which mean “open hills”. Then this immense area became famous thanks to the abundance of flocks of sheep that grazed between the gentle slopes and later, for the excellent quality of wool. The golden age of the Cotswolds was the late Middle Ages, when merchants from all over Europe made continuous exchanges in the “wool cities” to get the one with the highest quality. Thanks to this trade, the whole region experienced a very prosperous economic period, whose effects can be seen in the wealth of magnificent houses, in the well-kept villages and also in the ornaments of the churches. In this area, the wool industry flourished from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century, ​ particularly along the river valleys where the mills stood. However it didn’t last long. Competition from large-scale mechanized mills in Yorkshire and the resulting cheap imports have hampered the Cotswolds wool industry.

THE SHEEP OF THE COTSWOLDS

Few animal breeds can claim to have helped shape England’s economic history: Cotswolds sheep are one such example. Descended from the flocks that grazed the hills in Roman times, these sheep were originally robust animals, whose characteristics have evolved over time. Their wool was already recognized as valuable and of good quality by the Romans.They became known as the golden fur because it generated so much wealth. Its first export dates back to the Saxon period, but its period of maximum value was reached in the Middle Ages, when the sheep became known as the “lions of the Cotswolds”. Their fleeces were heavy and thick. Their constitution was strong and resistant thanks to the quality of the “calcareous” grass they grazed.
cotswolds

the Cotswolds territory

the sheeps of cotswolds

the Cotswolds sheep

THE COTSWOLDS ARE AONB

With AONB are indicated those territories in England, Wales and Northern Ireland which is recognized their natural value and validated their national importance. In order to ensure that their character and qualities are protected, these territories are to all intents and purposes, protected areas. The Cotswolds were certified as AONB in 1966, in recognition of their rich, diverse and high quality landscape. Currently of the 47 protected and certified Aonbs, they are the area with the largest extension in England.

ITINERARY THROUGH THE PRETTY VILLAGES

I think the Cotswolds are a perfect destination for a few days trip: they have an interesting story combined with a fairytale scenery. In its villages you can feel the tranquillity, relaxation and peace. Below is the itinerary I followed through the pretty villages of the Cotswolds.

CASTLE COMBE

My friend Mattia and I left Bristol and the first stop on our route to the Cotswolds was Castle Combe, a village in Wiltshire County where time seems to have stopped. The village has about 350 inhabitants and the atmosphere that you breathe has a fairy-tale feel. Once upon a time, in these honey coloured stone houses, placed side by side, lived the wool weavers of which it was an important centre of production and distribution. Today they are listed as historical monuments and are protected by strict building regulations that have allowed to preserve the atmosphere. No new building has been built since 1600. That’s probably why in 1962 he won the title of the most beautiful village in England. Castle Combe develops along the road that from Market Cross, where once the local market was held, reaches the bridge over the river of ​ Bybrook. It is a journey where you are always accompanied by ancient homes, beautiful, colourful flowers on the windows and climbing plants on the wall. In addition there are a couple of tea rooms, a pub and the St. Andrew’s church which preserves one of the oldest astronomical clocks still in operation in the UK. One of the things that struck me is the trust towards the visitors. In fact outside the doors of the houses you can find banquets that sell sweets, jams and drinks with the written amount but behind the banquets. There is no one present, only a box to leave the money. The village was set in several films including War Horse by Steven Spielberg.
castle combe

the centre of Castle Combe

castle combe

the village of Castle Combe

castle combe

honesty box

BIBURY

From Castle Combe we moved to Bibury which writer William Morris, founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, called the most beautiful village in England. It is located in the county of Gloucestershire. It has about 600 inhabitants and seems to come out of the pages of a fairy tale. Its ancient stone cottages arranged in a row and dating back to the fourteenth century, were initially used as sheepfolds for monks in the Middle Ages but were later inhabited by weavers. The last living witness of those past ages is the calm flowing river of Coln. One of the most iconic and photographed places is Arlington Row, a small street that gathers a series of ancient cottages covered with mosses and lichens with sloping roofs that exert a lot of charm. They were even inserted into the English passport. The route continues to Arlington Mill, a place where once wool fabrics produced at Arlington Row were brought here for washing and degreasing. They were then delivered to Rack Isle for hanging and drying. Until the 1980s, the Arlington Mill housed a museum that held dozens of vintage clothes, while today it is a private residence. If you’re passing by, I suggest you see the 8th century church of Santa Maria. You can take a relaxing walk along the Coln River where you can catch a glimpse of numerous trout, raw material of the many fish farms present here, including the famous Bibury Troat Farm. These small cottages also attracted the attention of some celebrities who thought well of buying a house.
bibury

Arlington Row in Bibury

bibury

Arlington Row houses

bibury

Bibury village

BOURTON ON THE WATER

Our third stop was Bourton-On-The-Water, one of the most beautiful corners of Gloucestershire and which is the place par excellence for walking. This relaxed city calls itself the “Venice of the Cotswolds” because of the river that crosses the city even if in my opinion the comparison is a bit risky. The town is perched along the Windrush River and known for its low bridges and golden stone houses and the picturesque High Street offers a variety of souvenir shops, pastry shops and restaurants. The attractions of Bourton-On-The-Water include a medieval football game played during the summer directly in the waters of the Windrush River. The model village (which is a 1:9 replica of the village built by local artisans in the 1930s), the Cotswold Motoring ​ Museum, Birdland Park and Gardens, the Dragonfly Maze and a farmer’s market on the fourth Sunday of each month. The whole thing is held together by the romantic atmosphere that comes out of the houses which that surrounds the whole country.
bourton on the water

Bourton on Water

bourton on water

the river Windrush

bourton on the water

the centre of Bourton on Water

bouron on the water

the long river at Bourton on the Water

SLAUGHTER

The name of the village of Lower and Upper Slaughter derives from the ancient English name of a damp land. These pretty villages are located next to the small eye stream, known for its pristine limestone cottages in the traditional Cotswold style. They have remained completely unchanged for more than a century without any new construction since 1906. Today’s villages are far from muddy places.

LOWER SLAUGHTER

Unlike Bourton-on-the-Water, there’s little and nothing here. The only attraction is the museum located inside a restored 19th century mill in Lower Slaughter, where the Eye River meets the northwest corner of the village. The mill was last used in 1958 and its high chimney, made of red brick in contrast to those of the remaining buildings. It rises imposing towards the sky. It has a giant water wheel and a tea room and ice cream parlour for visitors.

UPPER SLAUGHTER

The least visited Upper Slaughter is located, as the name suggests, above Lower Slaughter. The cottages all around the main square, were rebuilt by the famous architect Sir Edward Lutyens in 1906. The Eye River flows between well-mown grassy banks and is crossed several times by old picturesque bridges. There are also some interesting stone steps leading to the river. Built to make it easier for the villagers to get water, a small Methodist chapel dating back to 1865 also stands on the bank of the river.
slaughter

typical houses in Slaughter

slaughter

the mill of Lower Slaughter

slaughter

typical house

STOW ON THE WOLD

Stow-on-the-Wold is one of the most beautiful settlements in Gloucestershire. Full of honey coloured buildings, cozy pubs, small tearooms and narrow streets, this is a real market town since 1107. When HenryI granted to hold the weekly market. The village stands at the top of Stow Hill which with its 244m dominates the intersection of the main roads through the Cotswolds, including the Fosse Way (A429), which is of Roman origin. Historically, the city was famous for its huge annual fairs and during the golden age of the wool industry, up to twenty thousand sheep were sold daily. The vast Market Square testifies to the ancient importance of the city; at one end stands the ancient cross, and at the other the city park, shaded by an old elm tree.
STOW ON THE WOLD

Stow on the Wolds houses

stow on the wold

the centre of Stow on the Wold

BROADWAY

In the heart of the Cotswolds lies the picturesque and quiet postcard village of Broadway which stands at the foot of the Worcestershire hills. The village is most famous for its 65-metre-high tower, which is not located in the centre but on top of Beacon Hill. Beacon Hill. The hill overlooking the village which is also the second highest peak of the Cotswolds. Broadway is a much-loved retreat for members of the Arts and Crafts Movement who used it as a holiday retreat, but especially by the founder of the Movement, William Morris. Here he began his campaign for the preservation of historical monuments in England. If you are lucky enough to come here on a clear and serene day, from the top of the tower you can admire as many as 16 counties.
broadway

the tower of Broadway

broadway

view from the Broadway tower

typical house of the Cotswolds

typical house of the Cotswolds

PAINSWICK

Our last stop was the historic wool town of Painswick, known as the “Queen of the Cotswolds”, which is one of the most beautiful and best preserved settlements in the entire area. Nestled in the quiet hills and surrounded by some of the most delightful countryside in Gloucestershire. The main street, New Street, built around 1428, contains the oldest postal building in England, the oldest bowling alley in the country and magnificent houses with Georgian facades. The winding streets lead to St Mary’s Church, built in Gothic style and dating back to the year XIV, it is surrounded by 99 yew trees that have been professionally pruned. There is a legend that every time a hundredth tree is planted, it dies. The stone in this village looks more gray than the other previously visited villages in fact is mined at Painswick Beacon. The city also hosts an annual arts festival in the summer, including the renowned Art Couture Painswick Festival which constantly attracts local and country- based designers.

painswick

the centre of Painswick

painswick

buildings in Painswick

LOGISTICS

HOW TO GET:
The nearest airport to reach the Cotswolds are Bristol, Birmingham or London. The most convenient airport to reach the area from London is Heathrow.
HOW TO MOVE
  • The best way to stop in the Cotswolds is to rent a car, the villages are not far from each other. It’s also possible to travel by public transport, but it takes twice as long and the frequency of transportation is not constant.
  • By train from London: to reach the southern part of the Cotswold, you have to leave the London Paddington to Kemble, Stroud or Stonehouse. To get to the heart of the Cotswolds take the train from London Paddington to Moreton in Marsh
  • By bus with National Express, the main stations are Cheltenham, Gloucester, and Stroud. Then continue with local buses that connect the main villages in the area.
If you do not want to travel between the villages by public transport the other option is to take part in a day tour organized I recommend Go Tours departing from London, Go Cotswolds or Cotswolds Guided Tours

WHEN TO GO
All seasons are good to visit and see the various shades and tonality, for example a few years ago I saw Castle Combe completely snowy! What about…. a show! The best time to visit the Cotswolds and find less tourists is spring and autumn.

WHERE TO SLEEP
If you are planning to stay a few days in the Cotswolds, for accommodation I recommend the town of Circenster. You can find places to sleep for all budgets.

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