Filled with small towns and villages consisting of buildings made from the distinctive Cotswold stone, and acres of fields and farmland, the Cotswolds make for an idyllic English countryside visit and it’s easy to see why they form one of the UK’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I had long wanted to visit this picturesque part of England but it had always seemed like a logistical nightmare without a car. I hadn’t driven in many years and didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of driving, especially in an unfamiliar environment. However, this year I finally plucked up the courage and went. We stayed for three nights, and rented a car for two days, the rest of the time being spent in Cheltenham, our base. In this time we managed to cover the main sights in the northern half of the area, and can’t wait to explore the rest.
Deciding where to stay in the Cotswolds wasn’t easy – I didn’t want to drive all the way from London, so we needed to stay in a place that had a reputable car rental outlet and decent hotels and had easy public transport links to London. An early contender was Moreton-in-Marsh but by the time I was ready to book a hotel, all had been taken! (I do tend to leave my planning to the last minute.) Another option was Stratford-Upon-Avon, but this seemed a little far from the areas we wanted to visit. We finally settled on Cheltenham, which can be reached from London by coach or train. We arrived in Cheltenham in the early afternoon and after unpacking in the hotel, set out to explore. As a city it lacked the charm of the villages in the Cotswolds, but transport and amenities were good so it was a trade-off. We started by wandering around Pittville Park, and through the city centre to the Montpellier district where we had coffee. We finished the night dining at Le Champignon Sauvage, one of two of the regions 2-michelin star restaurants.
Dress: Peter Pilotto (similar here)
On day 2 we spent the morning walking around the city centre of Cheltenham and stopping by various coffee shops. We had arranged to pick up a car in the afternoon (from Enterprise Rent-a-Car). Once in the car we tried to locate Belas Knap, although we had a great deal of trouble finding it and in the end had to abandon the idea. Next on our list was Sudeley Castle. We parked the car in nearby Winchcombe and walked over. Unfortunately when we arrived we realised the castle had closed (always take note of the closing times before going!). The sun had come out again by this point so we drove to Hailes Abbey which was also closed but a friendly couple told us that there would be a view of the abbey from the field so we managed to sneak a peek. Our final stop of the day was Broadway Tower. This was one of my favourite places in the Cotswolds. By chance we met the couple again who helpfully told us there was a way to get in from the side of the gate. We arrived just as the sun was setting and had an amazing view of the tower, the fields surrounding it and the deer inhabiting the fields. By the time we got back to Cheltenham, most restaurants had already closed but we found a pub serving Thai food and went home quite full.
We had learned our lesson from the day before and woke up early. Every village in the Cotswolds is beautiful and it’s tremendously difficult to choose which ones to visit in a short timeframe. Stanton was our first stop of the day, and was a great way to start as it was stunning. This is a very small village, almost entirely residential, with impeccably kept stone houses. The residents were very friendly as we walked through. We then headed to Snowshill to grab a pint at the Snowshill Arms and decided to forego Snowshill Manor in favour of Cotswold Lavender. However, when we arrived the lavender farm was closed for the season! Disappointed, we headed on to Chipping Campden, a popular town with its fair share of vintage cars.
We ate a delicious late lunch on the roof terrace of Huxley’s. Fully rejuvenated, next we drove to Stow-On-The-Wold where we managed to catch the Cotswolds Chocolate Company before it closed and bought some delectable pistachio truffles. Conscious of the time we headed to our last stop of the day, the quintessential Cotswolds villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter. We had planned to walk between the two as suggested by many guides but we didn’t have the time as we wanted to drive back before nightfall. Instead we walked around Upper Slaughter, drove to Lower Slaughter, and walked around there. We stopped in Bourton-on-the-Water on the way back.
We only had the car for the morning and it was raining so we finally went inside Sudeley Castle, which was well worth the wait. I found the castle gardens more interesting than the castle itself, despite the weather. The Tudor dressed actors roaming the castle was a nice touch. We spent the remaining time in Cheltenham city centre before departing back to London.