A Tour of the Costwolds
Photos by Michelle Rae Uy
There’s something quintessentially English about rolling, green hills fed by babbling brooks and dotted with grazing sheep. In Central England, however, not far from collegiate Oxford, there’s a place that’s decidedly moreso.
Looking little changed since the medieval ages, the enchantingly old-fashioned villages of the famed Cotswolds reveal stone cottages, darling tearooms, old churches, and historic pubs and inns. A trip to these pretty little villages, a must when you’re visiting England, is a glorious stumble back in time.
Drive about 20 minutes—or take the bus if you’re feeling adventurous—to the old wool village of Burford, nestled less than 20 miles from Oxford. Meander along its High Street, popping into the Cotswolds Cheese Company, a candy store and a few other shops. Notice the cobbled pavement and the thatched buildings, some so old they’re slightly tilting off to one side. During your time here, visit the Church of St. John the Baptist, whose grounds are littered with the headstones of many of its past residents. Later, wander off High Street into the narrow lanes of beautifully preserved stone houses. Burford may not be the first Cotswolds village you can visit, coming from the East; but it is a fantastic introduction to the area’s old world charm, thanks to the 14th century almshouses and 16th century cottages still standing here.
Since exploring Burford won’t take longer than an hour or so, hop on another bus (as they run fairly frequently even in these parts) to Stow-on-the-Wold up north. A tangle of alleyways converges into a large market square that this little Gloucestershire town centered on. Discover first the tiny gems in market square itself: shops selling flowers, gifts and sweets, a couple of art galleries, and a few quaint inns.
There’s a library too, right in its heart where buses passing through town stop to drop off and pick up commuters; and on Thursdays, a tiny farmers market. From the square, walk down Digbeth Street where tearooms abound. The Porch House, the oldest inn in England, is also along this road. Despite being founded in 947AD, the incredible property boasts modern amenities like rainfall showers, exquisite toiletries and deliciously plush beds—a luxurious base for exploring the Cotswolds.
Head further north past Moreton-in-March (as there’s not much to see here) into Chipping Campden, one of the most popular and most absorbing Cotswolds towns. Taller, sand-colored stone cottages will undoubtedly conjure up images in your head of medieval life in this handsome town. Perched on a slope at the center of town is the old Market Hall whose cobblestone flooring and arched timber ceiling are perfect for a quick, idyllic photo shoot. There are many shops, restaurants and lodges along High Street, but it’s the 15th to 17th century buildings that are the major draws here. Check out the late Gothic architecture of St. James Church and the nearby Court Barn Museum of Craft and Design. Explore Park Road before moving on; here await houses with endearing gardens trimmed with yellow, purple and pink blooms.
It’s impossible not to be charmed by the quaint village of Bibury, heralded by English poet William Morris as “the most beautiful” in the country. Set about 15 miles south of Stow-on-the-Wold on the banks of River Coln, Bibury is essentially a collection of storybook scenes, with its hodgepodge of small cottages and squat stone walls enveloped in picturesque greenery. So while admittedly small, it is an irresistible, if not necessary, stop in your tour of the Cotswolds.
The centerpiece is, of course, the captivating Arlington Row, which you must access from the main road by a footbridge over the unperturbed currents of Coln. But there are other sights to see too: St. Mary’s Church, the Bibury Trout Farm, the 17th century Arlington Mill, and the grand Bibury Court, to name a few.
From Bibury, embark west to the hilltop town of historic Painswick. The self-proclaimed “Queen of the Cotswolds” is imbued with rolling narrow streets that offer lovely views of the surrounding greenery and are lined with Cotswold stone buildings and the occasional half-timber cottage. Wander around New Street whose history can be traced back to the 1400s, and stop by Perpendicular style St. Mary’s Painswick Church to explore its well-manicured grounds. Then walk down Bisley Street to see the original donkey doors that date back to when the town was involved in the wool trade. Remind yourself to look ahead to catch a glimpse of a neighboring hill. Before you move on to your next destinations—Bath, for example—do spend some time in the grounds of Painswick Rococo Garden, located a few minutes outside of town. Once a private retreat, paying guests can now venture here to see its unusual maze, vegetable garden and sweeping panoramas.
More by Michelle Rae Uy
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