With their rolling pastures and honey-coloured villages, the Cotswolds are the epitome of English countryside. In medieval times the region was the principal centre of the English wool trade, the wool much coveted by Flemish weavers among others. Today it is a rural idyll, the towns and villages often dominated by an imposing ‘wool church’ dating from those prosperous times. History is evident everywhere, from neolithic long barrows and stone circles to Iron Age hill forts; Roman villas to Norman churches; medieval manors to monuments commemorating the Civil War; and some magnificent stately homes.
The character of the Cotswolds is down to the underlying bedrock of oolitic limestone. This is the predominant building material, common not just to the houses but also the miles of drystone walls that are such a distinctive feature of the region. In the heart of the Cotswolds, most settlements are tucked discretely away in their own little valleys, one notable exception being Stow-on-the-Wold – ’where the wind blows cold’. But it is along the streams and rivers draining into the River Thames that you’ll encounter such classic Cotswold villages as the Slaughters, Bibury and Bourton-on-the-Water. Beneath the steep western edge of the escarpment lie charming Chipping Campden and Broadway, as well as the spa town of Cheltenham – the latter famous for its Regency architecture and horse-racing festival featuring the famous Gold Cup.
ARTISANS AND GARDENERS
Leading practitioners of the Arts and Crafts movement were drawn to the Cotswolds by its rich craft tradition, its accessibility to London and Oxford and by the cultivated charm of the landscape. Kelmscott Manor near Lechlade was the summer home of William Morris, who is regarded as the founder of the movement. Then came the Guild of Handicraft, established by CR Ashbee in Chipping Campden in 1902, and Gordon Russell and his furniture-making business in Broadway. The region is strewn with delightful gardens, often attached to a manor house or stately home. They include the enigmatic Hidcote Manor Gardens laid out in a series of ’rooms’, and the typical cottage gardens of places like Snowshill Manor and Mill Dene. The Cotswolds make great walking country, particularly if you follow the Cotswolds Way along the escarpment.