Folded into the gentle hills and pretty countryside of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty are the quaint stone towns and villages for which this place has become famous. Explore them at your leisure during your Cotswold cottage break.
The Cotswolds has its fair share of undulating greenery, and plenty of footpaths to tempt you out of doors, but where its charm really lies is among the cobbled streets and pleasing brickwork of some of the loveliest villages in England. The iconic, honey-coloured buildings that make up these picturesque towns and villages are a vision of wealth and style, something the Cotswolds has boasted since its prosperous wool industry took off in the middle ages. Evidence from this can still be seen in the rather elaborate ‘wool churches’ dotted across the region, which were financed by donations from rich farmers. Often built in the place of smaller places of worship, you are likely to spot a ‘wool church’ in most villages; they are generally characterised by an eye-catching Gothic tower, pretty stained-glass windows and intricately carved interior. Particular examples include St Peter’s Church in Winchcombe and St James’s Church in Chipping Campden, both of which were built in the 15th century. The first is popular for the 40 grotesque carvings that embellish the battlemented roofline, the latter is home to one of the earliest priest vestments on record, which dates back to around 1400 and is screened behind a curtain inside.
This little sheep went to market
The Cotswolds gained fame in medieval England for the quantity and quality of wool produced. Nicknamed ‘Cotswold Lions’, the sheep had shaggy coats and much of the wool they produced was sold to Italian merchants. Business boomed particularly between the 13th and 16th centuries, skilled tradesmen moved in, immaculate Cotswold-stone manor houses popped up amid the hills and the little market towns and villages grew larger and more affluent. These finely-crafted towns still attract wealthy visitors and second home-owners today. Places such as Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold are particularly popular with visitors, both flourishing little towns with a long history. But sometimes it’s nice to venture to the lesser known areas; to explore the unexplored.
Occasionally dubbed the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, Bourton-on-the-Water straddles the gently flowing River Windrush, crossing it at intervals in the form of five low stone bridges, the earliest of which was built in 1654. Not only is it beautiful, but it is home to the likes of the Cotswold Motoring Museum, the Model Village and the Model Railway Exhibition, so there is plenty to keep you occupied. This is a good one for the whole family, even King Charles I and his son are thought to have stayed in the town during the English Civil War. If you’re looking for a place that is fit for a king, try grabbing lunch at either The Mousetrap or The Rose Tree.
Cirencester, known as the Capital of the Cotswolds, is a lively market town that dates back to the Roman occupation when it was one of the largest towns in Britain, second only to London. Even in Roman times the wool industry was thriving and contributed to the town’s growth. Cirencester’s importance continued throughout the middle ages and its market town status was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Today, little has changed: Market Place, at the heart of the town, is still home to a Charter Market every Monday and Friday, and a Farmers’ Market every second and fourth Saturday of the month. The Corn Hall also boasts a regular programme of different markets and, if that’s not quite your thing, you can visit an array of independent shops too.
For more on the Romans, visit the multi-award winning Corinium Museum to see one of the largest collections of Romano-British antiquities, and to discover the archaeology of the area. Alternatively, just a short walk from the town centre is an English Heritage-owned Roman amphitheatre that was built in the 2nd century. The earthwork remains reveal what would once have been an impressive structure with a capacity for 8,000 spectators.
Spotlight on Snowshill
Reopening in March, just in time for the daffodils to start appearing in the orchard, Snowshill Manor is an interesting example of one man’s dedication to his hobby. Charles Paget Wade, architect, craftsman, poet and collector, bought Snowshill in 1919, restored it and renovated it for just one purpose: to house his wondrous collections. Collecting was a passion of his and, with a lifetime devoted to the task, Wade built an eclectic collection of everything from samurai armour to clocks and bicycles, housing them all in the rooms of Snowshill. He lived in a modest house in the garden and, split into a number of ‘rooms’ the garden itself is an extension of the manor and equally fun to explore. Wade handed the property over to the National Trust in the 1950s and it remains relatively untouched, a treasure trove that is part house and part museum and a wonderful reflection of Wade’s interest in craftsmanship, colour and design.
Spotlight on Sudeley
For a little more elegance, Sudeley Castle is just slightly further away at 15 minutes’ drive. This somewhat hidden gem was built in the 15th century by Ralph Boteler and, since then, has seen the likes of Richard III, Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey among its important visitors. It remains the only private castle to have a queen buried in its grounds: Katherine Parr lived in the Castle from 1547 to 1548 and is buried in St Mary’s Church, which is in the castle gardens.
Sudeley has a little something for everyone: the castle rooms are a pleasure to explore. Though still a family residence there are exquisite collections of art and furniture and interesting exhibition rooms in the original west wing. Outside, wend your way through the 10 award-winning gardens, including the beautiful Queens’ Garden which would have been planted with herbs and vegetables in Tudor times but now boasts more than 80 varieties of roses.
Walk this way
The Cotswold Way might be the obvious choice when taking up a walking route. It meanders the length of the Cotswolds AONB across more than 100 miles of countryside from Chipping Campden all the way south to Bath. If you just want to walk certain parts of the trail you can pick the signposts up in many of the popular tourist spots and towns including Chipping Campden itself, the lovely 18th century Tower at Broadway and National Trust’s Crickley Hill Country Park.
The Fosse Way is another one to note. Originally linking Exeter to Lincoln, the Fosse Way was a Roman Road, many sections of which form some of our modern-day roads and lanes. With the Cotswolds having an extraordinarily high density of Roman sites, it is unsurprising that the Foss Way has become an unofficial route through a number of iconic landmarks. Cirencester, for example and Stow-on-the-Wold as we have already seen, but also Northleach which, thanks to its position, later prospered as a strategic centre for the wool trade, and Chedworth Roman Villa. At Chedworth you’ll find wonderfully preserved 4th century mosaic floors and nearby footpaths like the Macmillan Way and Monarch's Way, and a nice woodland to explore above the site.
A small detour west off the Fosse Way is Stratford-upon-Avon, the town in which William Shakespeare was born, lived and died. The five houses associated with the famous bard in and around the town offer anyone a genuine experience of the Stratford as he would have known it.
All this and more is ready and waiting for you during your self-catering cottage break in the Cotswolds. Whether you’re planning a family holiday, a romantic weekend or a dog-friendly getaway, you’re bound to find your perfect hideaway in our collection.