Quintessential British Charm
There is no place as typically "English" as the Cotswolds in south central England. Filled with fluffy sheep and charming villages, a relaxing trip through the Cotswolds is a favorite vacation spot of both the British and tourists alike.
Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966, this 800-square mile area is dotted with centuries-old towns built with limestone. The buildings are what make the area so unique. In the north, the stone is a rich honey brown that gradually grades creamier the further south you travel. The "dry stone" walls were built hundreds of years ago using no cement, and are still used today to enclose sheep and cattle. Back in the 13th -15th centuries – these sheep were considered of the highest quality in Europe. Don't leave without picking up a scarf!
You could attempt walking from town to town, thanks to the 102-mile Cotswold Way – recognized in 1998 as a National Trail. With stunning views, this meandering path begins in the charming village of Chipping Campden in the North (home to the Arts & Crafts Movement founded by William Morris) and ends at the elegant World Heritage city of Bath in the south.
Or just attempt a small portion and let the train rock you gently through the rest of these temperate hills. With your BritRail Pass in hand, you'll find rail stations throughout the Cotswolds.
Start your journey by taking the one and one half hour train from London to Stroud. Noted for its farmers market on Cornhill Market Place. Every Saturday, dozens of stalls sell cheese, meats, honey, jam, spices and plenty of truly English bric-a-brac.
From Stroud, take the 18-minute train ride to Gloucester. This provincial English town is the furthest inland port in the UK. Head to the 18th century docks, with numerous museums and shops and pubs. Harry Potter buff? The Gloucester Cathedral was used as Hogwarts Castle in all of the films.
If you want to see smaller towns not easily accessed by train, you can do so easily with a BritRail Pass ‘n Drive. Get behind the wheel on the wrong side of the road and head just south of Gloucester to Painswick, known as the "Queen of the Cotswolds." This superb example of a Gloucestershire village has a number of fine houses and a church that reflects the prosperous era when it was the center of the thriving wool trade.
In the town of Broadway, the Broadway Tower is the second highest point of the Cotswolds, standing over 1,000 feet tall. This "folly" – a building created for decoration purposes only, was built for Lady Coventry to resemble a mock castle. Since, the tower became the home of William Morris and to the printing press of Sir Thomas Phillipps. Not bad for a structure built just for fun.
To see what may be the most photographed "street" in the Cotswolds, get back in your car and head to Bibury. The picturesque Arlington Row cottages were built in 1380 as a monastic wool store. This was converted into a row of weavers' cottages in the 17th century. The entire town is picture-perfect. Just as most of the Cotswolds are.
If you're looking for the archetypal English landscape, come to the Cotswolds. Whether on foot, by train or by car – the charm will stop your right in your tracks.
Contributed by: Kathryn, who works with our web department, has traveled extensively throughout Europe – utilizing all forms of public transportation!