Coursing through the Cotswolds
Hi everyone, I hope you've all had a good summer (well, as good as it can be under the current circumstances!) Every cloud has a silver lining, right? Even a global pandemic can teach us life lessons, and one of the (minor) positives to come out of 2020 is the fact that so many of us have chosen to travel nationally this year, rather than internationally. I've always enjoyed travelling across the UK, so I thought that this summer would be a good opportunity to go somewhere that I've been dying to go for ages - the Cotswolds!
The Cotswolds were designated as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty in 1966, and it's easy to see why. The seemingly endless supply of fairytale villages nestled between gorgeous rolling hills attract tourists from all over the globe annually, and as someone living in a busy city, a rural escape is something that I crave every year. You only need a couple of days and a car to see a lot of places and get a healthy dose of countryside air.
My friend Sam and I stayed in Painswick, which is located in the Stroud district, overlooking one of the Five Valleys. It's a great option because it's quite central, meaning you have easy access to loads of places of interest. Painswick itself is very quaint and boats its own attractions, such as the Rococo Gardens and the parish churchyard's 99 yew trees (legend has it that the devil won't allow another one to grow!) It's also the village with the most listed buildings in the UK! All of these interesting snippets of information - plus the fact that Painswick is hella cute and boasts gorgeous views over the hills - were enough to draw Sam and I in.
We stayed at Painswick Lodge, a former hunting lodge that dates back to the 14th century and which is now a beautiful homestay option for visitors wanting peace and quiet. The lodge is owned by Fiona and Malcolm, who still live in and maintain the house, farmland and grounds. They were so, so helpful and their cooked breakfast every morning was delicious - I almost don't want to give away this little gem nestled in the heart of the Cotswolds to anyone but it's only fair to share!
We spent most of this day sitting down and marvelling at the beauty around us (no, I'm not kidding.) It was a long drive from London to Gloucestershire but the views towards the end of the trip were definitely worth it (the dicey one-track roads definitely not!) Upon our arrival Fiona greeted us with tea and biscuits so we relaxed in the garden and took some time just to chill out. We had a little swim and then headed over to the Butchers Arms for dinner, located in the neighbouring village of Sheepscombe. We sat outside as the weather wasn't too bad. The food took an age to come (they were really busy) but we nursed our ciders and when the grub did arrive, the portions were absolutely massive, so it was worth the wait.
The weather was absolutely crap on the first full day, so we needed something to do inside for a little while. We decided to head to Gloucester to visit the famous cathedral.
Now, Gloucester itself is not the most eye-catching city but the cathedral is seriously impressive, with a 225 foot high central tower that can be seen across the city, beautiful cloisters and an impressive history. The site has been a place of Christian worship for more than a thousand years but it was in the eleventh century that building of this magnificent edifice first began. The cathedral has many royal associations - Henry III was crowned in the cathedral in 1216, King Edward the II was buried there and Henry VIII even stayed there for a week with his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
The whole complex (I don't know if that's a suitable word but I'll use it anyway) is seriously impressive but I did really love the cloisters, which the monks used to shimmy down. Apparently the fan vaulting (had to look this up and it transpires that this is the curvature of the ceiling) is one of the earliest examples in England. Pretty sweet, eh? Oh, and these cloisters were used in the filming of several Harry Potter films, so if that's not enticing then I don't know what is. I was just waiting for the words 'the chamber of secrets has been opened' to appear on the walls in blood...
Unfortunately the modernisation of Gloucester has meant that lots of medieval remnants have been done away with. There are a few Roman remains to be seen in the town centre and a couple of examples of Tudor architecture left, but not a huge amount.
After a gander around the wet streets of Gloucester, we got back into the car and headed off to Bibury. It was still early in the afternoon so we wanted to at least get one village seen and done! I think even with crap weather you can still appreciate beautiful places - in some ways, it just makes everything more atmospheric.
As I quickly discovered, these quaint villages are (obviously, Rhiannon) tiny, and so you can spend as little or as much time as you want mooching around and wishing you were an extra in a BBC adaptation of an Agatha Christie novel. Bibury is interesting in the sense that it has a rather large water meadow, apparently providing homes for an array of wildlife. The much-photographed Arlington Row is absolutely charming, and all the cottages were built around 1380, originally monastic wool stores. They were later converted into homes for weavers in the 17th century. All of them are owned by the National Trust and are private homes, except for one which is a holiday cottage. I can't image what it must be like living in one of these cottages and having tourists sniffing around your front door practically every day of the year!
Day 3 The weather cheered up significantly the next day, so we took advantage and traversed Stow-on-the-Wold, Upper Slaughter, Lower Slaughter, Bourton-on-the-Water (briefly) and Burford.
These places were all rather different from one another. Stow-on-the-Wold had quite a towny feel to it, with mainstream shops such as Fat Face and several banks. It was obvious that people around the area must pop into Stow to get essential goods and run errands. Upper and Lower Slaughter were beautiful, with gorgeous rivers running right through them, making them the perfect places to sit and have picnics or just admire the plethora of adorable cottages, all of which seem to be competing for the best flower displays! Lower Slaughter was much busier than Upper Slaughter, maybe because it was a bit bigger and had a pub whilst Upper Slaughter was completely residential. Bourton-on-the-Water was ABSOLUTELY HEAVING, and we knew this was the case before we even got there because a) we had been told that it was a tourist hotspot and b) the traffic was a major giveaway. It's quite big and there are lots and lots of shops as well as some kind of animal world, so I think it's a really popular choice for families in particular. Burford was also quite busy but it had a lovely high street with lots of nice cafes and a really beautiful church (I saw so many churches that they all seemed to blend into one!)
We took our last day slowly, as we weren't in any particular rush to get back. One thing Malcolm and Fiona had recommended was hiking up Painswick Beacon. I feel like a lot of people go to the Cotswolds for a very outdoor-orientated escape, and there are definitely hardcore hikers who scour the rolling hills during rain or shine. We hadn't really done a crazy amount of exercise thus far (unless you count squatting in various positions to get the perfect picture) so we decided clambering up to Painswick Beacon would be a shout.
Oh my days, it was so bloody windy up there.
The hike itself was not taxing at all; obviously there was a steady incline but the terrain was super easy to navigate and it was only towards the end that we felt a bit breathless and like we were actually doing exercise (don't you just love it when exercise doesn't feel like exercise?!) The views were absolutely stunning though! We could see for miles across the Cotswolds, to Gloucester and beyond. The weather was very weird - raining one minute, sunny the next - and luckily as we reached the peak there were powder blue skies.
We headed into Painswick for a little look around and to have afternoon tea at the Painswick Hotel, which was very delightful indeed. A little pricey, but nice for a treat.
So there you have it! A really wonderful trip to the Cotswolds. It was so lovely to see somewhere new (well, multiple places - we covered a lot of ground!) and just soak up the beauty of nature. Coming to places like this really makes you appreciate the beauty of the world that we so often take for granted. And it's always interesting to get a glimpse of how other people live. The way of life is so different, the history is so significant, the preservation is really important and it's interesting to see how the traditional juxtaposes the modern. I leave you with these last few photos...