The best part of living in Cheltenham for me was, not the fantastic boutique style shops, not the little gourmet bistros tucked away up one way Georgian lanes, but the drive back home to Buckinghamshire to visit my family through the Cotswolds. No matter what the season, the weather or how tired I was driving, the views over the sprawling countryside were always a pleasure to see. From the quaint villages of Bourton-on-the-Water, to the mile long High Street in Broadway with all number of fancy gift shops, to the strangely named Upper and Lower Slaughters, making you feel like a bit part actor in American Werewolf In London whenever you drove through them. I particularly loved the iconic, creamy stone walls that indicated instantly to you that you were now in Cotswolds countryside. And I am not the only one that loves these pretty villages or indeed, the area. Many celebrities have moved away from London and settled here, including Kate Winslet, Zara Phillips and her husband, Lily Allen, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Stella McCartney, Kate Moss, Elizabeth Hurley, Alex James, Damien Hurst and Jilly Cooper to name quite a few. So if the Cotswolds attracts this calibre of stars, where are the best places to visit if you fancy a mini break? Well, check out these villages and towns:
Bourton-on-the-Water has been described as the ‘Little Venice’ of the Cotswolds and is one of the most popular tourist spots in the region, having many shops, cafe’s, and attractions. Bourton-on-the-Water is a mere 4 miles from Stow-on-the-Wold and crosses the river Windrush with a succession of beautiful low bridges that lie beside tree-shaded greens and iconic stone banks. Away from the river bank are traditional Cotswolds buildings, many of which are now tourist shops for the day-trippers and visitors. Bourton-on-the-Water has an authentic zoo for birds called Birdland, established by the late Len Hill, which features a remarkable collection of penguins, some of which have come from the owner’s islands in the South Atlantic. and is also home to a huge variety of exotic birds. It is also home to the famous Model Village which is an excellent miniature of Bourton, using authentic building materials depicting Bourton-on-the-Water as it was in 1937 at 1/9th scale.
Broadway is described as the ‘Jewel of the Cotswolds’ and the ‘Show Village’ of England because of its sheer breath-taking beauty. It has one of the longest High Streets in the country which is packed full of gift shops, pubs, cafes, restaurants and hotels, all for the discerning tourist to explore at their leisure. Broadway may have a superb range of unique shops and designer boutiques, restaurants and hotels but is also steeped in history with its origins dating back to Roman times. Over the centuries it has made its mark in many different ways. In the 1600s it was a major stopping place for the stage coaches that travelled between Worcester and London – with the world-renowned Lygon Arms remaining popular with travellers and visitors. I’ve been in the Lygon Arms and can testify that it is one of the most welcoming pubs in the Cotswolds, with its log fire and friendly staff.
Moreton-in-Marsh is situated in the northern Cotswolds on the Fosse Way and now served by the main line railway from London Paddington. It grew in the thirteenth century to become a major market town with a wide main street, narrow burgage plots and back lanes. If you love the bustle of a busy market then visit here on a Tuesday as there is still is a busy Tuesday market with about 200 stalls attracting many visitors. There are several pubs, inns, hotels, tea shops, restaurants and accommodation in the form of B&Bs and holiday cottages in the immediate vicinity. A popular caravan site exists just on the outskirts of the town. The main high street has many elegant eighteenth-century inns and houses including the Redesdale Market Hall. It is perhaps best known however for its numerous antique shops.
If you love market towns and antique shops, with fresh local produce then Stow-on-the-Wold is perhaps one of the best known of the small Cotswolds towns. It stands exposed on a 700 feet high hill at a junction of seven major roads, including the Roman Fosse Way. At the height of the Cotswold wool industry, this town was famous for its huge annual fairs where as many as 20,000 sheep were sold at one time. It features a huge Market Square which testifies to the towns former importance. At one end stands the ancient cross, and at the other the town stocks, shaded between an old elm tree. If there’s nothing more than you love to browse around and window shop, then Stow is the place for you as it has many fine Antique shops, Art galleries, Gifts and Crafts and is a centre for Walking the Cotswolds countryside.
The ancient Saxon town of Winchcombe is perfectly situated in the beautiful Cotswold valley halfway between Broadway and Cheltenham (approx each 15 minutes away by car). The name Winchcombe means ‘valley with a bend’, and today the town still retains the main high street which curves gracefully along the ‘combe’. Along this curved street you will find inns, restaurants, tea rooms, and shops, but don’t forget to look amongst Winchcombe’s three other main streets which are full of the character of times past. Local attractions include Sudeley Castle with its beautiful gardens, owned currently by Henry Brocklehurst Bent, Elizabeth Hurley’s chum, of course Cheltenham racecourse at Prestbury Park is just up Cleeve Hill, and the Prescott Hillclimb Course hold motoring events at various times throughout the year. The ancient abbey at Hailes is a few miles out towards Broadway and the stone age ‘long barrow’ burial ground at Belas Knap is located on the hill overlooking Corndean a few miles out on the road to Andoversford. A short walk from the road and worth it for the magnificent views.