Cotswolds

English Cotswolds


The Cotswolds are known for their pretty country gardens and are still widely considered the heart of rural England, largely untouched by the less pleasant aspects of modern life. Although this area is home to some of the most visited cities and towns in the country, such as the spas at Bath and Cheltenham, it is the hundreds of picturesque villages that dot the unending, rolling, green hills that are the real attraction for tourists to the area. It may be odd, but this region is one of the most popular attractions for foreign tourists, especially those from the Far East, but many British folks seem unaware of the internationally renowned tourist sights that are on their own doorstep.

Cotswold villages

Cotswold Villages

flickr image by BazzaDaRambler

One of the most remarkable features of the region is the apparent uniformity of all of the villages. This is due, in large part, to the ubiquitous, yellow limestone that is hewn from the local landscape and used to build everything from houses, shops, farm walls and churches. Oddly, it is the walls that are of particular interest as they are often ‘drywalls’, which means that they are constructed without any cement or other binding agent and require a considerable amount of skill to construct. These are not just an antiquated tradition, they are still in use throughout the area for keeping cattle and sheep in their place.

One of the more famous of the numerous smaller settlements is Northleach. Although Northleach is technically a town, it maintains the charm and attractions of a quaint village. This former centre for the wool trade is easily accessible from the main A40 route, but it is still quiet and secluded, tucked away in a small corner of the rolling, green hills. Both the high street and the endless, winding alleys are full of period houses, including many traditional, half-timbered Tudor houses and there’s the always impressive Church of St Peter and Paul. This particular church is one of the very best examples of the peculiar local style of ‘perpendicular’ church. Even the prison is a tourist attraction in its own right. Okay, it’s not a prison any more; it’s been used as almost everything from a police station to a heritage centre.

 

Country houses

Blenheim Palace

flickr image by Margolum

Of course, it’s not just the towns and villages that are of interest, there are numerous country houses located in undulating, green acres of private gardens. So common are these national heritage sites that it’s impossible to recommend one over the other. The best advice is to keep an eye out for any of the brown, ‘tourist route’ road signs, which will direct you towards any heritage sites that happen to be in the area. The most famous, however, is probably Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill. This particular country house deserves the title ‘palace’ as it is located in the midst of 2,100 acres of impeccably manicured gardens and it is the winner of many tourist awards for both the buildings and its gardens.

 

Family fun

Cotswold Water Park

flickr image by Endangered_Human

Some of the other attractions in the area are more family-orienatted. A perennial favourite is the Cotswold Water Park. This family-friendly complex (you can even take your dog!) has over 100 lakes dotted around a 103km² (40mi²) area of spectacular natural beauty. It offers an ideal break during the summer, especially as everyone heads for the coast, but those in the know can head inland to this delightful parkland. Many of the lakes have clean, sandy beaches and are patrolled by experienced life guards. All the facilities you wish you could find on a beach are within your grasp, including barbeques, food outlets, picnic areas and changing rooms. But there’s more to do than just eating, as the area is also home to a bewildering array of wildlife, especially birds. You need not go trekking through acres of wild countryside either, as many of the most attractive species can be found in designated wildlife reserves. Each of these reserves focus on a specific habitat and so you can choose to visit the one which is most likely to interest you and your family, whether they like birds, flowers or insects. For the more adventurous, there are also geckos and bats.

 

Towns and cities

Cheltenham

flickr image By aburt

If you tire of the small towns, villages and countryside and want to experience the buzz of a large town, then you can always visit the spa towns of Cheltenham and Bath. While only Bath can boast being a world heritage site, both have a range of boutique stores as well as more popular high-street brands. Both offer a very pleasant environment for a casual walk across town, as they are both filled with regency architecture. Cheltenham may upstage its neighbour and rival, Gloucester, in most regards, but Gloucester probably offers the most impressive building in the region, Gloucester Cathedral. It has become famous to a whole generation as the dining hall in the Harry Potter films, but it is also a stunningly sensational building in its own right, as well as being the burial place for several English kings.

So there you are. Whether you’re looking for the heart of England, a family day out, some boutique shopping or a piece of English history, the Cotswolds has it covered. So, if you are a British resident, maybe next summer, rather than heading abroad, struggling with crowds at the airport and on the beaches, you should consider staying in the United Kingdom and head towards the Cotswolds for your perfect summer holiday. Overseas visitors are always welcome too!

Date posted: 6th October, 2012

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