As well as its natural beauty, the Cotswolds is an area of rich cultural heritage and traditionally enormous wealth, evidenced today by an abundance of historic houses ranging from royal palace like to humble manor. Some are managed by the National Trust and some remain in private ownership but all have a story to tell which adds to the Cotswolds charm.
A world heritage site no less and considered by many to be Britain’s greatest palace, Blenheim Palace was built to celebrate victory over the French in the War of the Spanish Succession. John Churchill, Duke of Marlborough and leader of the allied forces was gifted the royal manor and parkland at Woodstock by Queen Anne as a gesture of thanks from a grateful nation together with a sum of money to build a new house to mark the occasion. The result is a legacy we can all enjoy, savvy locals will let you in on the public footpath secrets which criss-cross the estate. A visit to the palace itself has to be on any Cotswolds bucket list and once paid for, any return visit within the following 12 months is absolutely free. There’s a great range of activities, tours and exhibitions and as host to a number of events throughout the year, there’s no shortage of excuses to return.
In the heart of the Cotswolds, just 8 miles from Broadway and Cheltenham, sits Sudeley Castle, probably best known as being home to Katherine Parr who is entombed in the church there. The 1200 acre grounds feature stunning and award winning gardens and the privately owned castle is often referred to as the most romantic castle in Britain.
If you’d like to explore something on a smaller scale, Snowshill Manor managed by the National Trust is a typical Cotswolds manor house dating from the 15th /16th century. It’s probably best known for its more recent history, particularly under the ownership of eccentric Charles Wade who amassed a collection of objects from around the world which reflected his interest in craftsmanship. Over the years it’s received a number of literary guests including John Betjeman, Graham Green, Virginia Woolf, John Buchanan and J B Priestley. Worth visiting to discover some amazing objects, enjoy the arts & crafts style gardens and a cream tea in the summer. Blissful!
Another smaller property well worth a visit is Chastleton House near Moreton-in-Marsh. A rare example of an almost complete Jacobean house, conservation is the theme here with the house appearing almost exactly as it would have done during its heyday (down to freezing interiors in winter so pack your thermals!) It’s unique in being practically unchanged in almost 400 years which makes it a great history lesson for kids. For conservation reasons, visitor numbers are controlled and entrance is by timed ticket only. Eagle eyed visitors will spot some familiar scenes from our TV screens as some filming for Wolf Hall took place here. Chavenage House near Tetbury, Owlpen Manor near Dursley, Stanway House near Winchcombe and Berkeley Castle near Stroud have similar claims to fame.
Said to be the inspiration for Brighton Pavilion, nothing quite prepares you for the sight of an Indian Moghul Palace in the Cotswolds but that’s exactly what Sezincote House is. Complete with minarets, peacock tail windows, jail work railings and pavilions, it’s a rare example of moghul style architecture thought to be unique in western Europe.
For Arts & Crafts officiandos, Kelmscott Manor, the Cotswolds country retreat of William Morris is open April – October. An unspoilt 17th century farmstead near Lechlade on the upper Thames, it’s easy to see why it inspired Morris so much...