The Cotswolds is a term given to an area of rural, hilly country-side in south central England known for its natural beauty and traditional charm. The Cotswolds cover an area across Gloucestershire, Oxford-shire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Worcestershire, and is peppered with stone-built villages, stately homes and famous old towns.
Officially an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the small towns and villages in the area are mainly built from “Cotswold Stone”, a distinctive yellow limestone. Throughout the middle ages, the Cotswolds became a relatively rich area due mainly to the wool trade, and this led to a large number of quite auspicious churches throughout the region.
A trip to the Cotswolds may include shopping in some of its larger cities and towns – Cheltenham has probably the best shopping in the area, Gloucester has a more esoteric bunch of shops, and Cirencester is known best as a busy market town. Another popular location is Stroud, although there are fewer shops there is more local produce on offer.
One of the main draws to the Cotswolds is its many historical houses. Most of these are not close to any town or village and will require a short drive, but offer some of the best-kept traditional country houses and gardens in southern England. Of note are Sudeley Castle and Berkeley Castle, and the gardens of Hidcote Manor and Painswick Rococo are well worth a visit. Chastleton House has been maintained by the National Trust for nearly 30 years, and is one of Britain’s most complete Jacobean houses. Beautifully filled with artifacts, textiles, furniture and rare objects dating back its completing in the 17th century, it also has a lovely well-lived in feel borne from the 400 continuous years the family lived in the house. The gardens also have a wonderful traditional topiary at their centre and a visit comes highly recommended.
The Cotswolds main attraction is chiefly its beauty and simplicity - although now a wealthy area the Cotswolds has somehow kept a link with its working heritage, and driving through the many sleepy honey-coloured towns and villages can somehow transport you back to a bygone age. This is aided by a strong food culture in the Cotswolds, with farmers markets, local bakeries and traditional pubs. The Cotswolds is also known for its hospitality and its lively arts and crafts scene.
You’ll probably need a car to get around the Cotswolds and certainly to see some of the more un-touched areas, there are relatively few trains and buses throughout the area and most of the best sights are some distance from a nearby station.
For a change in pace, head to Cotswold Water Park which is around five miles south of Cirencester. The UK’s largest water park, Cotswold Water Park has 140 lakes set in 40 square miles, which were originally created by flooding disused gravel quarries. Active in educational programs and with nature reserves, country parks angling clubs, sailing clubs and water-sports like dragon boat racing, this attraction has a lot more to offer than first meets the eye.
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