Having been to London so many times we consider ourselves as English die-hard tourists never getting tired returning to this one of the world’s leading global cities. However, on our most recent trip we opt to stay away from the bustling city of London to spend a relaxing day at the picturesque English countryside called the Cotswolds.
The best way to explore the Cotswolds is by car. From the capital city of London travel west through the M4 and M40 motorways. It takes about an hour and fifty minutes to negotiate the 118.5 kms. driving past Oxford City centre, Witney Market Square and then Burford, one of the Cotswolds’ towns aside from Bourton-on-the-Water, Cirencester, Chipping Camden, and Stow-on-the-Wold. Shown in miles the distance from a town to the next is indicated in the road signs. And don’t forget: in England you drive on the left hand side of the road!
Lying mainly within the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, England, are limestone hills called the “Cotswolds”, designated as an area of Outstanding National Beauty, with its rolling hills, attractive small towns and idyllic villages built of underlying Cotswold stones (a yellow oolitic limestone). Still remaining affluent the area became wealthy and prosperous because of the wool trade during the Middle Ages.
Attractively located on the willow-fringed River Windrush, the small mediveal town of Burford is noted for its long history of hospitality from its community of 1,000 residents. In 2009 Burford has been voted 6th in the Forbes Magazine’s list of “Europe’s Most Idyllic Place to Live”. Sloping gently down to the river, High Street, its main street, is lined with old houses, ancient cottages, exclusive shops and galleries, antique stores, old pubs and tea/coffee shops all of which seem not to have changed since the old times. One of the galleries that fascinated us is the Burford Woodcraft housed in an old building of Cotswold stones. Specializing in wood the gallery produces high quality pieces illustrating the natural beauty and versatility of the wood be it a simple bookmark or a chest of drawers.
Located also at High Street is the Tolsey Museum quartered in the early Tudor market/court house, a black and white timber building erected on stone pillars. It was once the meeting place for rich wool merchants who also paid their tolls or taxes during the medieval period. The museum houses a wide ranging collection of local artefacts depicting the social and industrial culture of the Oxfordshire town and surrounding area. Exhibits include town maces, seals and charters of the town guilds along with items recalling the trades that flourished here during the bygone days of stone-quarrying, rope making, bell-founding, brewing, leather-working, and clarinet making. There’s also a doll’s house which depicts the period of Jane Austen, the famous English romantic novelist.
Also a must-see in Burford is the magnificent St. John the Baptist Church, one of England’s thousand best and oldest churches, another sign of bygone wealth based on wool.
A bustling town, Cirencester often referred to as the “Capital of the Cotswolds” was once the most important place in Britain second only to London during the Roman times.
Chipping Camden is a lovely small market town famous for its elegant terraced High Street lined with a succession of ancient houses dating back from the 14th to the 17th century. The Church of St. James is the most impressive in the area. Stow-on-the-Wold, the highest town in the Cotswolds being situated on top of a hill boasts a vast square surrounded by imposing honey-coloured houses.
Possibly the prettiest of the Costwolds’ villages with its many low arched stone bridges, Bourton-on-the-Water is the known for its scenic High Street bordered by long wide greens and the River Windrush that runs through them. The arched bridges have led to Bourton-on-the-Water being called the “Venice of the Cotswolds”.
A trip to the Cotswolds gives us the surreal feel of a journey back in time – a long long time from the Middle Ages.