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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The Holburne Museum and Art Gallery, Bath Spa (An Unofficial Guide)

With a frontage like this…

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…You wouldn’t think the Holburne Museum and Art Gallery was located just off the centre of Bath Spa (Somerset, England). And yet, quite a literal stone’s throw from the beating heart of the city is this little gem of a place. All you need to do is cross the river and follow the dead straight road and you’ll reach this at the end (gotta love a Georgian straight road, it’s as if they predicted the advent of Sat Navs and thought ‘nah, why bother. Just make all the roads straight instead.’)

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View from within looking out.

Originally a grand Georgian hotel, the building now houses the personal collection of Sir Thomas William Holburne and a great number of 17th and 18th Century artworks. Now, even though I studied History for three years, the only things it got me were £30,000 worth of debt and a couple of fun facts about executions, Victorian death rituals and lynch mobs. In short, I’m probably the last person on Earth to be providing a potted history for this place. For a timeline click here.

History aside, lets get onto the bit which 95% of my readership care about; how Alice’s brain has interpreted the contents of this museum (the other 5% Google searched ‘mermaids’ and are now bitterly disappointed by the contents of this site).

On the first floor is a room (and mezzanine above) which showcases the artefacts collected by Sir Thomas Holburne as well as family treasures.

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There is more to it than this, trust me.

Whenever I see a good deal of random antiquities in a room, all laid out and nicely presented I think about the condition such priceless items would have been kept in before the advent of museums. I mean, when you watch documentaries of hoarders in Cheshire you don’t think ‘oh, I wonder if there’s a cheeky Faberge Egg under that newspaper pile?’

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‘Now, where did I leave my 16th Century tapestry?’

See if I had a time machine that’s probably where I’d go, to the hoarding museums of the future. (I know right, why is this girl single?)

Funnily, when I went to the Holburne on a half day off I never expected to get home interior inspiration.

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I mean a quick reckie around Swindon’s charity shops and some suspension cable and you’re away. In my house it would be life affirming – if you manage a flight of stairs without a vase landing on your head then you know you’re going to have a good day. If not…well you’re probably getting a day or two off work (=good day!)

Moving onto the art exhibitions in the other rooms, on the same level I was reminded that throughout history the same statement rings true; if it’s done in the name of ‘art’ then anything goes. For example, do you know that feeling when you get turned into a stag by the Goddess of animals and then killed by your own hounds whilst meanwhile everyone is too wrapped up in the Lapith/Centaur battle to care?

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And you thought you were having a bad day.

In that sense you can’t really be too heavily critical about art because if you look at things through a sceptical eye it seems that everyone was/is on some form of hallucinogenic.

In the same room I felt equally reassured that I’m not the only one to have struggled with the perils of a dignified wet wipe wash.

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If Venus can do it, so can I.

There were also a number of nice portraits in the room which didn’t inspire any wit from me at the time so didn’t get photographed. In my defence I was too busy chuckling at people reacting to the massive piece of contemporary art in the room. Needless to say most people weren’t getting it.

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Michael Petry, A Line Lives in the Past and the Future

Upstairs then and on the second level was, you’ve guessed it, more pieces of priceless art. In a side room at the top of the stairs was a temporary exhibition on art of stage actors which gave me many a chuckle. This guy for instance could be relatable to any workplace environment…

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‘What overtime for free? Say what now?’ / ‘You want me to deliver Wembley stadium in four months? Are you actually kidding me?’ / ‘Mate, what the hell are you wearing?’ – the list goes on.

And I doubt anyone has spotted it but me, but there was a weird love triangle taking place on the wall opposite.

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‘This distance between us, it’s too much!’

(Directly below…)

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‘Just get a exhibition room already.’

Unfortunately one of the galleries was temporarily closed whilst a new exhibition was being fitted, which took me therefore into the last available gallery on my visit. It was an exhibit of stuffed exotic birds, hah, just kidding, it was another art gallery.

Now it could be just me, but do you ever find it trippy when there’s a painting in a painting? And you’re being invited to look at that said painting in a painting by the painted figures as if there’s deeper meaning in the painting’s painting? That if you stare at it long enough you’re expected to understand? And then you don’t get it so you read the description by the side of the painting and think ‘ah, ok’ then look back at the painting and still don’t get it? And then you question your intelligence, take a moment to remind yourself you have a degree in the Arts, before looking back at the painting and wondering why you wasted your time trying to understand something which, at best, is a fairly average painting and doesn’t make that much sense?

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It’s historic inception if you ask me.

In this gallery there were a number of very nice pieces of art work. The room steward and I had a lovely conversation about over a particular portrait. ‘He was well known for his ability to paint women. They used to say he was good with the wives of gentry.’ (The thirteen year old in me was making so many smirky comments it’s a wonder none of them got blurted out .)

Also, the lady in that particular exhibition dashed out after me and complimented me on the way I viewed the collection. Middle class win. Set me up right rosy for the afternoon that did.

After I viewed all the art I could handle, I stopped off in the café on the ground floor which for the record was really pleasurable. Art and coffee are the perfect mix anyway, but the coffee shop has been very stylishly done, with a glass backed wall facing the parks located at the back of the museum.

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First floor view of the back.

Also, nice toilets.

After I’d completed my wander round the Holburne I strolled the grounds to the back of the old grand hotel. This area had originally been billed as the luxury pleasure gardens for the hotel’s guests and as I walked over regal bridges that crossed the railway line and ambled up to various pieces of Georgian architecture, I could see why. It was the perfect way to finish my visit.

I came away from the Holburne thinking myself as a sophisticated individual (I didn’t spill any coffee on me that day = proof) and given the Holburne is a free to enter, privately run, establishment I’d certainly say it was worth an hour of anyone’s time, even if it’s just for the cake and 18th Century banter.

More information on the Holburne Museum and Art Gallery can be found here (external website).