The ultimate guide to visiting the Cotswolds

Jun 27, 2020

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“We’re off to the Cotswolds for the weekend” is a phrase many of us have probably heard on a Thursday from colleagues and friends. Rolling gracefully across six counties, England’s largest designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is one of the most picturesque areas of England and very accessible for a country escape.

Tucked amongst the rolling hills — the “wolds” — lie honey-coloured villages galore, inviting you to explore the trendy gourmet food scene, ramble in the countryside and cosy up in a local pub. Less than two hours drive from London and one hour south of Birmingham, there is something for everyone all year round, so grab your sunglasses (and maybe an umbrella just in case) and discover this unspoilt bit of English countryside.

Related: Summer staycation gets a boost: England tourism to reopen from 4 July

Here are our favourite spots and some insider tips for your visit to the Cotswolds.

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Castle Combe in Wiltshire. (Photo by joe daniel price/Getty Images)
Castle Combe in Wiltshire. (Photo by joe daniel price/Getty Images)

Tetbury

This small market town with big charm is great for half-day of pottering around. Begin with a wander around its ancient centre where Tetbury Market House is strikingly set on pillars and looks out over old stone houses that were once the homes of wealthy wool merchants. After a spot of antique browsing on Church Street and Long Street, pop into the Highgrove Shop, HRH Prince Charles’ gift shop for souvenirs wrapped in Prince of Wales fleur-de-lis packaging.

Highgrove Royal Gardens is two miles south of town and is over 35 years in the making. The Thyme Walk is a feast for all the senses with varieties of thyme, interspersed with golden marjoram and primroses. Its pleasing symmetry is enhanced by a collection of perfectly pruned yew trees coiffured into bold geometric shapes. Highgrove Royal Gardens is open on selected days between April and October, so book well in advance. Tours are from £17.50 per person.

How to get there: The nearest train station is Kemble.

Related: 7 of the best road trips around the UK 

(Photo by Richard Bell/Unsplash)

Cotswold Way National Trail

This trail winds its way through quintessentially beautiful English villages of Cotswold stone and stretches for just over 100 miles from Chipping Campden down to beautiful Bath. It’s unlikely you’ll manage the entire length over a weekend, but this walk is considered to be one of the best trails in England.

Why do people keep going on about Cotswold stone? Traditionally, buildings were built using the limestone mined from the local quarries. Cotswold stone differs in colour according to location, but it is famously honey or golden coloured.

How to get there: The nearest train station to the start of the trail at Chipping Camden is Moreton-in-the-Marsh.

(Photo courtesy of Cotswold Lavender)
(Photo courtesy of Cotswold Lavender)

Cotswold Lavender farm and fields

It’s not just the sheep that have shaped the Cotswolds. Great for capturing that romantic “me alone in the lavender field” photo, this third-generation family farm set in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold Hills overlooks Broadway and the Vale of Evesham. There are over 40 different varieties of lavender, 140 miles of rows and over 500,000 plants in total. At the peak of the summer sunshine, the lavender is harvested and distilled and aged for a year before being sold in various lovely forms. Oh, and the farm also grows chamomile, too.

The lavender fields will open until 26 July (possibly later if the lavender keeps flowering). Tickets are £4 per adult.

How to get there: The nearest train station is Moreton-in-the-Marsh.

Related: 6 castles in the UK you can book for your next royal holiday

(Photo courtesy of flickr.com)
(Photo courtesy of Andy/flickr)

Jet Age Museum

Set on the north side of Gloucestershire Airport (GLO), the Jet Age Museum is staffed entirely by volunteers and celebrates Gloucestershire’s rich aviation heritage from the early days of flight, through the birth of the Jet Age to the present day. You can explore the wide range of aircraft, engines and restoration projects on display, but our favourite exhibits are the open cockpits.

Check out the cockpit of Biggles, a mini biplane and the legendary Avro Vulcan bomber cockpit. There is also a Hawker Siddeley Trident airliner, which some of us may have visited as kids in the 1980s. The cockpit and fore-cabin have been painstakingly restored and you can sit at the controls of this popular passenger airliner. Entrance to the Jet Age Museum is free.

How to get there: The nearest train stations are at Cheltenham Spa or Gloucester.

(Photo courtesy of Westonbirt Arboretum)
(Photo courtesy of Westonbirt Arboretum)

Westonbirt, the National Arboretum

If you are a walking and wildlife enthusiast, Westonbirt Arboretum will delight and is well worth a day’s visit to explore the national collection of trees in this magical garden where you can discover trees from all over the globe, including prodigious redwoods, rare acers and a lime avenue.

With more than 15,000 specimens of trees and three wild areas to explore, it is the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature. Discover the Old Arboretum and Silk Wood and enjoy a picnic on the Downs before walking the STIHL Treetop Walkway which has magnificent birds-eye views of the arboretum. The walkway takes you up to the treetops on this 300-metre long walkway, 13 metres up in the canopies. Tickets are £11 per person.

How to get there: The nearest train station is Kemble.

(Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak/Unsplash)
(Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak/Unsplash)

Lacock

The joys of a trip to the Cotswolds are picturesque villages and the popular ones include Castle Combe, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water and the Slaughters. However, they can get very busy especially during the summer months.

Just four miles south of Chippenham is Lacock, one of the most beautifully preserved villages in the Cotswolds. This National Trust-protected ancient village is somewhere time has stood delightfully still. There are just a few shops and pubs, and you will notice an absence of power cables, yellow lines and TV aerials from its quadrangle of streets.

Lacock Abbey in the heart of the village, once home to William Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the photographic negative. The home has been converted into a fine country house and set in extensive gardens. You can also experience the atmosphere of the medieval rooms and cloister court, giving a sense of the Abbey’s monastic past.

How to get there: The nearest train station is Chippenham.

(Photo courtesy of watermarkcotswolds.com)
(Photo courtesy of Watermark Cotswolds)

Cotswold Water Park

With 170 lakes and wetlands covering 40 square miles, this is the United Kingdom’s largest marl lake system, straddling the Wiltshire/Gloucestershire border. Cotswold Water Park is dog friendly and the park has something for everyone — from watersports and land activities, bird watching, angling, off-road cycling, an inland beach (the largest inland paddling beach in the U.K.) and peaceful lakeside walks to Cotswold towns and villages. Entrance to the park is free but activities can carry individual costs.

How to get there: The nearest train station is Kemble.

Where to stay

(Photo courtesy of Whatley Manor)
(Photo courtesy of Whatley Manor)

Whatley Manor, Malmesbury

This majestic country house hotel encapsulates everything about the Cotswolds. Its 23 rooms and suites are completely unique in character and set in 12-acre grounds. After exploring these, hang out in a cutting-edge spa with a delightful indoor/outdoor pool followed by dinner in its double Michelin Starred dining room. Maestro Chef Niall Keating has made Whatley Manor a dining destination with his 12-course tasting menus and friendly atmosphere. The whole place is a masterclass in refined hospitality with sustainability high on the agenda too. This is the hotel to relax and truly get away from it all. Rooms start from £225 per night.

Related: 8 of the best hotels in the Lake District

(Image courtesy of Pytts House)
(Image courtesy of Pytts House)

Pytts House B&B, Burford

This little gem is housed is a Grade II-listed property in the heart of Fulbrook on the edge of the historic Cotswold town of Burford. The house epitomises shabby chic and Cotswold grandeur at the same time. Owner Anna has made Pytts House a statement of her eclectic fashion background and decades of world travel. She also has four lovely pet dogs. Rooms are from £160 and include breakfast.

(Photo courtesy of Lime Treehouse)
(Photo courtesy of Lime Treehouse)

Lime Treehouse, Little Comberton

This treehouse sits within the branches of a beautiful lime tree with a private outdoor hot tub on the deck where you can watch the sun go down over Bredon Hill. Although luxuries like the TV, welcome hamper and coffee machine make life pretty easy, heating is still provided the fun way — a romantic wood burner — and you’re surrounded by nature. Wild deer, buzzards and barn owls are regularly seen around the deck. Lime Treehouse sleeps four and is available from £239 per night.

Where to eat

(Photo courtesy of The Carpenters Arms)

The Carpenters Arms near Burford (home of posh eggs) is a brand-new pub owned by Siobhan, Tom and Ryan — three friends who met through hotels and restaurants. As well as classic pub dishes, expect some foodie flair like braised ox cheek with a horseradish polenta and even homemade pizzas. After lunch, sample the collection of Cotswolds gin and vodka from the very local Wood Brothers Distilling Co., then kick back in the garden until dinner starts!

The Wild Rabbit in Kingham is a few fields away from sister enterprise Daylesford Farm, and the chefs here make brilliant use of this larder. Expect a contemporary twist to Cotswolds fine dining like an Oddington wild garlic risotto with sheep’s rustler cheese. It also has a fireplace-filled bar where you can enjoy pub-style dishes like a Ploughman’s with local cheddar and homemade bread.

Stroud Farmers’ Market in Cornhill Market Place is a huge market held every Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and worth a visit for foodie gifts or a quick pit stop. Here, you’ll find cakes from Baked by Beth, free-range British salami from The Cotswold Curer, fruity wines from VQ Country Wines and much more.

How to get there

By plane: Bristol Airport (BRS) and Birmingham Airport (BHX) are the closest airports (less than an hour from the Cotswolds).

By train: There are regular direct trains from London Paddington to five Cotswold stations — Moreton-in-Marsh, Kemble, Kingham, Cheltenham and Stroud.

By car: The Cotswolds is ringed by the M5, M40 and M4 motorways, giving easy car access to where you need to go.

By bus: Cheltenham is a hub for National Express coach services. Local bus services within the area do exist but are not very frequent.

Bottom line

One weekend in the Cotswolds isn’t enough, so be sure to plan ahead and hone in on certain areas per trip. Whilst a second home in the Cotswolds may not be on the cards just yet, there is enough to keep you going back for many a weekend for a break from city life.

Featured photo David Clapp/Getty Images

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