Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Day in the Cotswolds

Sunday was a rare warm, sunny day, which was fortunate as Josh and I had signed up for a day trip to the Cotswolds, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with quaint villages and rolling hills northwest of London.  It is largely inaccessible by public transport, so we took advantage of a local tour company's promotion to see the area by bus -- or at least get a good overview. 

The Cotswolds was once an affluent area where the primary industry was raising sheep and making handmade woolen goods.  Many of the villages have disproportionately large, ornate churches that were built by wealthy wool merchants and are known as "wool churches."  After the Industrial Revolution, the local economy collapsed and the area was largely abandoned, which is why the villages look much the same today as they did 200 years ago and remain largely unspoiled by commercial development.  Many celebrities and other wealthy folks own homes in the Cotswolds.

Our first stop was the tiny village of Bibury, which was home to a small trout farm fed by the Coln River, a wildlife refuge, and a row of weavers cottages that date back to the 14th century (and are still private residences).
Bibury trout farm
River Coln and wetlands
Arlington Mill cottages, ca 1380
The next stop, Bourton-on-the-Water, which boasts an aviary, model village, motor museum, model railway, and perfumery.  The Windrush river is the "water" on which the village is situated, which can be traversed by a series of lovely low bridges that date back to 1766.  Since the weather was so lovely and our time there was limited, we skipped the tourist attractions in favor of a Sunday roast at one of the riverside pubs and a walk along the river -- with a brief stop to sample some locally-made ice cream.
River Windrush
Topiary Mini at the Motoring Museum
Fairlie Cottage
A beautiful day on the river
You may have noticed that all the houses, shops, and other buildings are made of the same golden-hued stone, known as Cotswold stone.  While it is prohibitively expensive to build with it today, all new construction is faced with it to blend in with the older buildings and preserve the historic look of the villages.  (Oxford is in the Cotswolds, too, so all the university buildings are also made of Costwold stone.) The sheep farmers used to build dry-stacked stone walls like the one below to pen their flock.  If they needed to move the sheep, they'd just make a hole in the wall, herd the sheep through it, and then rebuild it.  I guess that's easier than trying to build a gate in a stone wall...
Dry stacked Cotswold stone wall
The next village we went to was Stow-on-the-Wold, which was once a bustling market town as it was situated at a major crossroads.  Even today it hosts large fairs twice a year showcasing horses and farm equipment. 
Town square
St. Edward's Church
Church interior
Church interior
The town stockade
Our final village of the day was Broadway, so named because the main street is considerably wider than usual.  Of course, this is all relative -- most residential streets in the US are wider than this!
The broad way in Broadway
Village green
Hills in the distance
I have never seen such a high concentration of tea rooms as I did in the Cotswolds.  There aren't many cute little shops where you can get a proper afternoon tea in London, but there was no shortage of them around here -- particularly in Bourton and Stow.  We waited until Broadway to have tea, and were surprised to find that there were fewer options there, but still managed to find a place on the high street that served more varieties of tea than they did cakes and other treats to go with it.  After indulging in scones with clotted cream and jam with a pot of tea, we reluctantly headed back to the bus for the trip back to London.

We definitely got a good sense of what the Cotswolds are like, but I hope we'll have a chance to go back for a more extended visit, since we didn't get to spend more than an hour or two in any one place.   It truly is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty!


  1. Gorgeous pics. Brought back so many memories of our honeymoon and our Cotswold walking tour.

  2. I like the photo caption "Josh-on-the-Wold." :-) Looks like a great trip and a gorgeous day!

  3. Matt and I will be driving six different supercars through the Cotswolds, one by one (well, Matt will be driving--I'll be navigating) for a brief, 1-day honeymoon the Wednesday after the wedding this July. Glad to get to see some of the area we'll be racing by!


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