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).

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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.

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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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Home is Where the Prosecco is: A Simple Guide to the Cotswolds

This week I found myself in the unusual position of having to take annual leave simply because I worked nine months solid without any time off and now its caught up on me. Having made no big plans and no partner to do anything with (#ForeverAlone), I’ve spent the last few days going about some of the local towns and villages in the area. The plan; soak up the history, cream cakes and tourist sweat the region has to offer.

To back track a little, I was born and bred in the county of Gloucestershire, near the little market town of Chipping Campden.

Although a small minority may dispute my background, I’ve always very firmly stated my origins as being North Cotswold through and through. One of the many problems with Cotswolds is that it’s not an area defined by fixed boarders and fences. One person’s Cotswold is another’s Vale of Evesham. For example, the most recent controversy in my home village is the upcoming development of an airfield in neighbouring Warwickshire. Everybody with an ounce of common sense knows Warwickshire isn’t a Cotswold county, Cala Homes can ruddy well do one on that front.

Anyway, back to the point, because I have been on annual leave I’ve had the unique chance to go around some of the places I don’t normally see. Don’t get me wrong, Swindon, a town located in the heart of the Cotswolds, does have some unique shopping delights…

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…But it’s never quite been embraced as fully ‘Cotswoldian’. To counter balance, this week I have been visiting the towns of Chipping Campden (obviously), Cirencester, Painswick, Stroud and Bourton-on-the-Water. A mixture of the famous and under the radar. So here it is, a (very) simplistic guide to the sights of my home region.

A (Very) Simple Guide to the Cotswolds by Alice E. Bennett

The first, most important thing you need to know about the Cotwolds is that it’s habitants operate like a well oiled machine. Not necessarily a technological machine, we’re still a bit behind in that department.

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No, it’s more a traditional machine. A machine oiled with prosecco, gallons and gallons of prosecco.

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To be honest, before prosecco was a thing our family unit was in deep crisis.

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That said, the average Cotswold resident isn’t too picky, just know that any alcohol of reputable quality is embraced. So long as it’s not Gordon’s and located on the top shelf.

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If you do decide to rub us up the wrong way (e.g. playing your music at 9:15pm, voicing your love of the Labour party at a Church fete, ignoring our carefully placed signs…)

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…we will tend to express our frustration in one of three ways. The first, adopted by the minority youth culture, is to be witty by trying to make it a joke or pun-tastic:

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The second approach adopts some of the attributes of an open letter, however because we do things old school we treat an open letter in the most literal of senses. It’s quite common to have locals tack up posters in the middle of village squares:

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The final method we’ll voice anger is by taking our complaints to the local press. God have mercy on your soul if that happens. To prompt such an action, you really have to do something utterly criminal.

What the Cotswold towns and villages lack for in subtly they most certainly make up for in shopping. As we will tell you, our shops outclass yours 10-1, including our charity shops.

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People actually get excited about the mere thought of browsing through our used crockery and underwear, that’s how superior our stuff is.

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Bask in the used glow.

Our shops also boast some of the best opening times in the country and are run by the fittest and most able of patrons.

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With window fittings so majestic you’d think they were lifted from Oxford Street itself.

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Our shop names may make no sense, but the way we say and present them will ensure you walk away feeling like the stupid one in this relationship. That and an overpriced t-shirt.

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(The same rule can also be applied to house signs. Sign material comes at a price around here.)

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Speaking of clothing, we are the fashion trail blazers of the world. Move over Pairs, get out of here London, if you want to know what is going to be ‘in’ this season you need look no further than Stroud’s High Street. Two words: ‘Butterfly Boob’.

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Two more: ‘Gym Cats’ (alias ‘Crotch Cats’), perfect for Rio 2016.

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Urm…’Sombrero Dad’?

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‘And This’:

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If clothing isn’t your bag (or hat or scarf), then our shops do stock the most delightful alternatives including piles of biscuits which are, frustratingly, not piles of biscuits and witty sayings which aren’t witty. Because as any Cotswold home owner knows, any coffee morning or house visit isn’t complete until you’ve made you guests feel suitably inferior to yourself.

And what kind of animal are you if you leave without buying something for your cat?

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If you find yourself in a sticky situation or engaged in conversation, use these buzz phrases to steer yourself into safe waters:

  1. “Where is the nearest Waitrose?”
  2. “Too many immigrants in this country if you ask me”
  3. “I was just talking to my wife Florentina about that”
  4. “Isn’t the weather ghastly today?”
  5. “In my opinion if it’s not Tory, it’s not for-me”
  6. “It’s mainstream shops like Pry-mark that are driving the price of good quality chinos into the ground. It’s an utter disgrace”

And there you have it. Follow all of the tips and advice above you’ll be right on your way to being just about tolerated by the Cotswold community. When you come to depart our happy region we only ask you to remember one thing:

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We wouldn’t want you taking our middle class mannerisms with you now, would we?