10 Things you Simply must do in the North Cotswolds

The Cotswolds are a beautiful part of the world. Rolling green hills, golden stone brickwork and chocolate box villages make it one of the most desirable tourist destinations within the UK. It’s also a large region notoriously hard to pin point.

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According to this map Swindon and Evesham are in the Cotswolds which frankly is the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.

Who better placed to review North Cotswold attractions than someone raised in a border village? After all, no one goes on holiday to spend hours in tourist information centres.

asf.jpg‘North Cotswold Triangle’ shown on map above.

10 Things you Simply must do in the North Cotswolds

1. Chipping Campden

This little market town marks the most northern point of the region and typifies a lot of the features you’d expect to find in a place that made its wealth in the wool industry.

Chipping Campden has been able to retain vibrancy in its little independent shops, pubs and coffee houses spread along the main high street and having attended secondary school in this sleepy town I can certainly vouch that it’s worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time. During school holidays you can park in the school’s car park or, if you can’t park along the street, there’s a small pay and display car park in the centre.

Fun fact: Chipping Campden is home to the design studio of popular silverware brand Robert Welch.

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2. Walk the Cotswold Way

Linked to the above, Chipping Campden is one town that sits on this popular walking path. On this one I won’t compete with the multitude of books and websites (there’s plenty of information out there) but I would encourage anyone visiting the area to tackle a shortened route or section.

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3. Broadway Tower

Representing the highest point and one of the most iconic Cotswold symbols, Broadway Tower gives the best views for miles around. Don’t be fooled by the title though, this charming folly is located a short drive away from the market village of the same name, that said the hillside has considerably developed in recent years enabling visitors to linger a little longer and treat themselves to stylish interior buys and coffee in the converted barn.

If views aren’t your thing there’s also an underground nuclear bunker on site which is open to the public on weekends during the summer period (April – September). Closed in 1991 but restored to its 1980 appearance, it’s one for Cold War era fans.

Worth noting that this site gets busier during peak times (e.g. summer and weekends) and while fairly substantial the car park does fill up. Given the hillside bumps that sit alongside the tower, sheep are sometimes let lose to keen the grass trim resulting in lots of ‘little presents’. For both reasons sensible footwear is recommended.

Top tip: You can pay to go into the tower itself where a brief history of the area and exhibitions are presented. At time of writing tickets for adults are £5. My advice? Save the money and invest in coffee and cake at the tea shop.

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4. Cotswold Lavender

In many of the fields near Broadway Tower you’ll find the purple shrub growing in large quantities, spoils of which go into making the popular scented products sold by the Cotswold Lavender company. When the lavender is in season a visit to the farm is an experience for all the senses.

In a rush? If the lavender is in full bloom make the effort to drive down the country lanes that cut through the crops. The intensity of fresh flowers combined with a gentle breeze is something you won’t forget in a hurry.

5. Go for a drive (and give the sat nav a rest)

Take a map and a basic idea of where you want to go and just drive. There are some beautiful Cotswold lanes and undiscovered hamlets to be found across the North Cotswolds and, better still, the roads are all of solid quality and easy enough to spot (even if they’re not always signposted well).

If you want to really experience the Cotswolds you have to avoid the well trodden path. Everyday large numbers of coaches take visitors (from the UK and overseas) on day visits to the main destination towns. Popular towns are popular for a reason and in peak season it’s not uncommon for individuals to come away feeling disappointed with the experience they get at such places. My advice? Ditch the crowds and gain a unique experience by going for a scenic drive. Who knows, you may even discover a location or pub you go back to later on.

Word of Warning: the unique experience will also mean a lack of mobile phone reception and make sure the tank is full of fuel before setting off (petrol stations are not a common sight in the rural Cotswolds).

6. Hidcote Manor Gardens (The National Trust) and/or Kiftsgate Court Gardens (Privately Owned)

My family home is quite literally at the bottom of the hill so I’d be foolish to not give a mention to these world famous gardens, both of which are neighbours. That said, having spent my entire life living in the shadow of Hidcote my opinion on the gardens themselves are a bit mixed (personally I think there’s a touch of Emperor’s New Clothes about them). I do however respect their popularity and historic value and would always encourage people in the area to visit either Hidcote or Kiftsgate (or both) because they are a big deal and a ‘must do’ if holidaying. 

Hidcote is free to National Trust members, Kiftsgate has an admission fee. As per a lot of attractions these gardens get busy so my advice would be to go early and on a nice day (if it rains there is little to no shelter).

thLU4BKI90.jpgHidcote Manor Gardens

thCZ6VZGYU.jpgKiftsgate Court Gardens

7. Stratford-Upon-Avon

Whilst not located within the parameters of The Cotswolds, Stratford brings with it a different vibe compared to that of its rural neighbours. As well as being home to Shakespeare Stratford also has a rich history dating back hundreds of years. A quick google search will provide you with several days worth of activities.

Depending on where you’re holidaying in the region Stratford is only a short drive away and worth exploring to get a comparison. It’s also home to a number of high street shops and well known eateries during the day and stylish wine bars and dining at night.

Top Tip: Don’t kid yourself into thinking the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will have a multitude of same day performance tickets available. The majority of tickets sell out months in advance so book them at the same time you book your accommodation. Also check out ‘Stratford ArtsHouse’ – a venue that has come leaps and bounds in recent years. This small theatre pulls in a number of touring comedians and plays.

8. Bourton on the Water/Broadway/Stow on the Wold etc.

Granted these places do get busy but there’s a reason for that. Heavily photographed and easily accessible, any of the above towns will be found on number of visitor check lists. Each town has their own history and charm, for example Bourton is frequently referred to as ‘the Venice of the Cotswolds’. Avoid these places like the plague on August weekends/bank holidays, but otherwise they’re worth a visit if you’re seeking souvenirs and wanting to experience the pure essence of what the Cotswolds are all about.

th1APNB04C.jpgBourton on the Water

9. Batsford Arboretum (near Moreton in the Marsh)

If you’re visiting the North Cotswolds in Autumn and not considering this as a destination then think again. Batsford is home to a large number of tree species and is coincidentally the country’s largest private collection of trees and shrubs. That aside, it’s also a great place for photography, wandering and (if kids or big kids are present) running around and letting off steam.

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10. Snowshill Manor (The National Trust)

Located near Broadway, this National Trust property houses the collections of Charles Wade who bought the property in 1919.

The random but fascinating treasures held in this house define both the owner and period and show an early 20th Century interpretation of what the modern day rich do when money is no object. If you don’t dwell too heavily on the wealth being sourced from slave plantations in the West Indies then you’re in for an insightful experience. Each room provides a different exhibition of artefacts, it’s history within history.

Top Tip: during peak periods entry to the house is administered on timed tickets. Visit the property first before lingering in the gardens. The property itself is also a short walk away from the coffee shop/entrance which is worth noting before you set off.

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(11. Stanway House and Gardens)

Stanway is probably the best kept secret of the North Cotswolds, if not the entire Cotswolds. Only open two afternoons a week in the Summer (Tuesday and Thursday), this fully functioning family home will provide a truly different experience to anything you’ll see at a National Trust property.

Volunteers run every element of public-facing operations, from collecting tickets and acting as room guides, to running the tea shop in the converted stables. Inside is an explosion of old vs new, antique tables and tapestries coupled with modern day invoices and weekly food shops. The garden outside displays a dramatic jet fountain which rises to 300 feet (making it the highest jet in England).

Wonderfully eccentric and undiscovered to the majority of tourists (but well known by locals), this is the attraction that none of your friends or family will have visited.

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And there you have it…

…some starting points for things to do in this Cotswold pocket. Of course there are a many number of other places to visit in the region (for example Bourton has a record-breaking model village and Chipping Norton is also a popular go-to destination). However I hope this list gives you a feel for the range of attractions and culture us Cotswoldians are proud to have as our own. If you want a taste of the Cotswolds (and beyond) then the North is certainly your best bet to get all you need from a relaxing mini break.

Think I’ve missed off a notable attraction? Add your comments below!

Useful Links (please note that all direct to external websites)

Broadway Tower

Cotswold Lavender

Kiftsgate Court Gardens

Hidcote (The National Trust)

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC)

Stratford ArtsHouse

Batsford Arboretum

Snowshill Manor and Garden (The National Trust)

Stanway House and Fountain

 

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A Crumble by Any Other Name

I’m looking at an apple crumble made by Mum, complete with a dollop of clotted cream on the side. Because it’s homemade I have no idea when it’s use by is or, indeed, was. Because it’s me I don’t really care. It’s sweet and sugary and has fruit somewhere deep inside and in my world that’s all that matters. (Well, that and not being poisoned by it, of course.)

I debated whether to take a snapshot of the squidgy, crumbly, goo but then opted against. “The world will not judge my diet today!” I triumphantly thought, before typing up my eating habits for the world to read online.

I momentarily stop in creative passion to return my attention to more pressing matters. The beast calls for what it cannot grab from its imprisonment within. Like a puppet dancing on strings my hands respond to the master’s call. Ten twitching digits grab the faded bowl which had been lain on crumb-covered sheets, the dirtied spoon lifted from a used yoghurt pot beside.

“They cannot judge what they can’t see” I uttered to myself once again. A scoop of dessert piled high with cream onto the small tea spoon, the perfect combination of dry and moist. Each component would be lost without the other, and yet under the strain of such a mass the teaspoon could almost be heard squeaking for mercy. I happily donate my charity to the plea as I inserted the mixture into my mouth, eyes closed in anticipation.

Suddenly the relaxed, drawn, eye lids sprung open to reveal a very different emotion.

“The cream’s gone off.”

 

(Written in response to the prompt of the day: Crumb )

A Very British Complaint Letter to Cadburys Chocolate

The below complaint letter got me a £2 compensation voucher. I mean sure it took a bit of time to put together and yes the postage stamp was close to the value of the voucher. Plus the fact the snack bars themselves cost £1. So technically I’m actually working at a loss right now. Hmm, note to self; you cannot make a career from witty complaint letters.

 

Cadbury UK Consumer Relations,
Bournville, Birmingham, B30 2LU

 

Dear Sir or Madam,

I’ll keep this simple and to the point (because as riveting as complaint letters are, we’d all rather be somewhere else right now). I recently bought a box of Chocolate Chip Brunch bars and they are a bit pants.

As I know ‘pants’ can be used to describe a variety of situations from cold tea to literal pants, let me diversify. I bought a six-pack box in Poundland in Swindon (bear with me, that’s not the pants bit), however upon biting into the first bar at work I noticed the snack didn’t quite taste right. I opened the bar fully to discover it had gone off. I checked the sell by on the wrapper but the Brunch Bar appeared to be well within date. This is what it looked like:

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You can imagine the disgust and horror when I realised my hard-earned pound had gone to waste. I need my chocolate hit so very badly, it is often the only thing standing between me and a terribly put together advertising campaign. Imagine if, instead of a Gorilla, Cadbury had decided to use a dancing Stingray reading a recital of Keats for the iconic advert? Besides making for a difficult display in Cadbury World it wouldn’t quite make the mark. That is how crucial a mid-morning snack is to both me and my company’s marketing strategy. It’s ruddy big stuff.

All things considered I think you’ll agree that these Brunch Bars are of a pretty pants standard. Please can you check standards of production and do whatever needs fixing, pronto.

 

Yours Faithfully,

Alice E. Bennett

A Quick-ish Review: Topsham, Exeter (Devon)

Speedy Summary

The website says:

Topsham is an attractive town on the Exe estuary, Devon, in England’s Westcountry. Now part of Exeter, it nevertheless maintains a distinctive identity. Loved by its locals, and savoured by those who visit, Topsham offers river walks; wildlife; a Saturday morning market; many characterful shops, restaurants and inns; and quiet space to sit and watch the sailing boats go by.

I say:

A former town now Exeter suburb, Topsham is a quaint little place to visit. Boasting independent retailers and several side streets, you are never more than a few steps away from undisturbed views of the quay. Be prepared to spend £15+ a head if you’re planning to stay for ‘proper’ food and arrive early to secure car parking in high season. Small, pretty and close to the buzz of Exeter city life, there’s a reason why it’s one of the more expensive places to buy/rent in the region.

Top Sights

If you’re a typical tourist looking to cover the main elements of the town in a short space of time plan your visit well in advance. Although the town has several car parks Topsham is notorious for its summer crowds as visitors flock to see a ‘quaint Devonshire community’. Even if you plan to visit outside of school summer holidays, then aim to visit on a weekday and early-ish in the morning to secure the best parking. It’s also best advised if you want the luxury of being able to stroll up the relatively car-free one way high street.

As a small town things to do are limited, but a must are the shops. Most of these are independently run and stocking a range of pretty items from interiors to clothing, wine to flowers. Just don’t expect to walk in and find a multitude of pocket buys. These traders operate in a well-established town with the clientele to boot. You won’t find sniff of a Poundland or Card Factory here.

If you’re like me however then you’ll find great joy rummaging through the multiple charity shops dotted up the high street. The wealthy resident effect, the keen eyed bargain hunter can pick up a number of star buys from high-value items donated by former owners. On this visitation alone I bought a beautiful 1960s retro tea pot to compliment my own property and a pair of mint condition retro curtains to be either reused or turned into cushions (I’ve yet to decide). Total spend: £7. My sister, a devil for vintage books, made a couple of sound purchases also alongside my cheeky purchase of a 1949 Ladybird book, all for £1 a pop. I’ve seen similar books retail for eye wateringly high prices. The money also goes to charity which is never a bad thing.

Also worth a look in is the Topsham Quay Antiques Centre, located right on the quayside at the far end of the town. Three floors of antiques, vintage and retro memorabilia gives much for the curious collector to look at and if nothing else is great for starting conversation. “What was this used for?”, “Did people find that fashionable back then?”, “Where could we put this?”, “Can you even legally display that nowadays?” etc.

Walk up the side streets to be filled with envy at the delightful houses of various periods before grabbing the chance to take in visually (and photographically) the quayside. This part of the river Exe is dotted with sailing boats yet has remained undeveloped on the opposite side, giving a pleasing vision out across the landscape whilst sitting down with a pint on a pub bench.

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A Note on Food

It’s not the cheapest place to eat. If you want coffee and a piece of cake then the choice is endless, however if you’re looking for a light lunch the cheapest you’ll be looking to spend is around £12 and upwards. This is based on looking at a range of menu boards placed outside various eateries in the town. As a result we unfortunately found ourselves looking elsewhere to satisfy our rumbling stomachs. That said, I am aware that for some people this might not be an issue and for others the price tag marks the sign of a carefully and well made meal, but when there are four mouths to feed it may be something to take into account.

Three Word Conclusion

Unique little shops.

The Devil in Carb-ate

This evening I was reintroduced to a world of vice and nutritional sin. My old foe reared its ugly, cream filled, head and called to me from across the supermarket floor. Standing at the reduced bread stand I heard it whispering to me and made the fatal mistake of making eye contact. It was at that point my destiny for the evening was sealed. My poor body never stood a chance. The name of this dastardly snack? Custard creams.

A whole pack of custard creams now lay decimated on my bedroom floor, the empty wrapper and a string of pale crumbs serving as the only reminder that here once stood a tall stack of heavenly sin. The scrunched up wrapper of a product once fulfilled and bulging, now hollow and useless.

I dare not study the custard cream wrapper at length, the nutritional values which once seemed hidden from view now laugh at me in mockery, inspiring those inner feelings of guilt and shame. “You’ll remember this one moment of weakness for years to come!” it cackles. In frustration I reach out and grab the snack wrapper with such aggression that the orange skin lets out a rustling squeak. I thrust my hand into the bin and release my prisoner there to join the rotting carrot and greasy pizza boxes, before walking out of the room and switching off the light.

Wrapper dealt with I thought the guilt and ill feeling of consuming 50,00,000 calories in one sitting was removed from my life. I pick up a book and start reading in a bid to distract my mind.  A little voice pipes up from deep inside me, it is coming from my stomach. It says “you thought you could dispel me so easily? You fool!” And the self loathing begins again.

The devil lives inside me and he is not red, nor is he a horned beast. He is a custard cream.