Two hours from central London, the Cotswolds give visitors a picture-postcard look at rural England. WORDS: Krysten Booth
Sitting in a police station in the heart of the Cotswolds, the local constabulary seem about as over-worked as the lollypop lady standing guard at the school gate.
In fact, as we deal with a break-in at our London flat, the lollypop lady might even have more to do. That’s not to be disrepectful to the police in this neck of the woods, who insist there’s more going on behind the spirit-levelled hedges than you might think, it’s just the general feel of the Cotswolds.
The area known as the heart of England projects an image of how life in this country once was, if only in the minds of romantic tourists. Cottages with thatched roofs, drystone walls dividing golden paddocks in full bloom and villages that look like they’re stuck in a timewarp — in a good way. It’s the perfect place to remind you of how pretty this country is, just a couple of hours’ drive from London.
While the natural beauty of the area is a gift from above, the buildings are made of wool, metaphorically at least. About 700 years ago, Cotswold wool was famous throughout Europe for its quality and through its popularity the area prospered. What’s left, including the countless sheep dotting the countryside, are the chocolate-box houses and quaint ‘wool churches’ built with the wealth generated by the sheep industry.
While farming still abounds today, it’s tourism which flourishes in the Cotswolds. If you’re looking for picture-postcard England, here are a few places to try.
Don’t fall for the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ hyperbole – the two are about as similar as your local church and St Peter’s Basilica. Still, Bourton-on-the-Water is one of the most popular villages in the Cotswolds, and with good reason. With the River Windrush meandering through town, local businesses have latched onto enjoying life by the water and a number of bankside restaurants and pubs will help you do just that.
If you want to enjoy the place at its most sleepy and idyllic, avoid visiting at lunchtime when it’s overrun by coach-loads of daytrippers. Arrive in town later in the day to stay the night instead
When you drive into the middle of this village the first thing you’ll notice is the big market square, which feels somewhat out of place among the rolling hills. It’s a beautiful space which gives the impression it belongs on the Continent.
This market square is integral to the town’s history as a central trading point when up to 20,000 sheep were sold in a day. These days the bulk of the trading is done in the many antique shops. If you’re keen to pick up something from one of these quirky little stores, be sure the bank account is in a healthy state.
Despite what the name suggests, Upper and Lower Slaughter have nothing to do with Silence of the Lambs-type horror stories. Depending on who you listen to, the name derives from a Saxon word meaning “place of sloe trees”, or “miry place” which actually means “it’s vile”.
It seems even vile is pleasing on the eye in the Cotswolds. You can walk to the Slaughters from Bourton-on-the-Water and wander along the river bank with the ducks. There’s little else in the way of shops or tourist attractions which makes it even better.
Green fingered enthusiasts could spend hours wandering the streets here gawping at the beautifully manicured gardens which seem to come with every house. For a special treat though, head to the nearby Hidcote Manor Gardens which are celebrated as one of the best in the UK. Having been well-preserved, Chipping Campden is also regarded as one of the most authentic market towns in the Cotswolds.
The market hall, built in 1627 and looking every day its age, stands testament to the importance placed on this village in days gone by.
Krysten Booth travelled to the Cotswolds with Budget Rent-a-Car (www.budget.co.uk; 0844-581 9999). Car hire with Budget starts from £16.50 per day for a three-day rental, including unlimited mileage when pre-paid online