The Cotswolds is a very special, very wonderful, and very English place. Covering a huge area – at almost 800 square miles – and running through five counties, principally Gloucestershire, as well as Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire, it was designated as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) in the mid-1960s.
In fact, it is this grand scope of the area that makes the Cotswolds such an intriguing and vibrant place to visit. One of the many delights of visiting the areas of the Cotswolds is exploring its different parts, each with its own identity, yet all with those defining Cotswold stamp that is unmistakable: the golden stone and rolling hills, the ‘wolds’, as they are known.
It’s also totally fair to say that the Cotswolds, wherever you are, is a quintessentially English experience. The villages with surrounding hills and chalky, honey-coloured stone. There are traditional but lively market towns with splendid arrays of local produce. And you can visit some of England’s greatest palaces, castles, and country houses.
You can marvel at the natural world in some of the most acclaimed reserves in Britain, or choose to walk any of the many breathtaking landscapes along historic trails. The choices are endless, and in fact, it’s fair to say you can’t go wrong, but with so much actually held within the invisible borders of this AONB, here are some of our favourite map pins to get you started, both inside the designated Cotswolds area, and key places of interest just outside it.
The Cotswold Way National Trail
With just over 100-miles of the designated trail, (102-miles, actually!) the Cotswold Way is a long-distance walking route that runs between the northerly market town of Chipping Campden, and the city of Bath to the south.
An unofficial trail for over 30 years, dating back to the 1960s, at least, the trail was recognised in 1998 after consistent lobbying from the Ramblers Association, to develop the pathway as a National Trail. The Cotswold Way was officially launched in 2007.
For more information on routes for the Cotswold Way, visit the National Trail website.
Stratford-upon-Avon, the Birthplace of Shakespeare
So, Stratford-upon-Avon sits just outside of the AONB that is the Cotswolds, officially. But it is just 5.54 miles as the crow flies from Shakespeare’s birthplace to the far-north tip of the Cotswolds. So it is very much worthy of a mention, with the town synonymous and globally recognised as the motherland for perhaps the greatest ever playwright who ever lived.
Aside from the history and the houses, like Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, pictured, Stratford-upon-Avon is a beautiful market town, and famous for its canal, full of narrowboats and locks. In truth, you can never really escape “the Shakespeare Effect“ when visiting, but in many ways, that’s the whole reason you visit. So it’s well worth making the trip.
In Woodstock, Oxfordshire, you will find Blenheim Park, upon which the palace is built. It is a country house of such splendour and luxury, that needs to be referred to as a palace. Blenheim Palace that is. The palace is notable as the birthplace and ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill, but features much more family and grounds history, and does not overreach on the facts of the wartime Prime Minister.
The palace itself today remains the stately home to the current (12th) Duke of Marlborough, as it has over 300 years of history, set in grounds of around 2000 acres, Blenheim Palace was bestowed to the seat of the first Duke after he led troops to victory against the French in the ‘Battle of Blenheim’ in 1704. So with all this history, there is plenty to see and do.
Broadway Tower – The Cotwold’s Highest Castle
Broadway Tower is an iconic landmark and the Cotswolds highest castle which sits on top of the beautiful Cotswolds escarpment. It is found in Worcestershire. Broadway Tower has enjoyed a colourful history. It was conceived by Capability Brown – who also made dramatic improvements to Blenheim Palace – over 200 years ago. It’s an eccentric mix of architectural styles, and the Tower itself has been many things over the years. From a home, to the renowned printing press of Sir Thomas Phillips; a country retreat for the artists William Morris, Burne-Jones and Rossetti, as well as an ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ farmhouse.
Closeby, there is also a nuclear bunker, which dates back to the Cold War. This was only decommissioned in 1991 and is open seasonally.
Surfing the Severn Bore
To surf the epic ‘Severn Bore’ is to take on a truly unique experience.
In Gloucestershire, the high tides each month produce a tidal surge from the sea. This is then funneled upstream. This creates a huge swell and waves, typically known today as a river bore. There are 8 rivers in the UK with bores, but none as famous or fabled as The Severn Bore. According to thesevernbore.co.uk, this phenomenon is caused by:
The shape of the river Severn and the fact it has the third highest tidal range in the world creates one of longest ride able waves in the world. Local surfer Steve King holds the record of 7.6 miles of stand up surfing on the severn bore and [has also managed] 12.8 miles on the Bono, Indonesia!
A naturally occurring event, surfing the Severn Bore dates back to 1955 when it was surfed for the first time. Now people from all over the world flock to the Gloucestershire region of the Cotswolds. They do this to ride some of the longest waves they can, for as long as they can.
It’s a truly unique experience and a real rite of passage for any surfer to take on.
These are just some of the amazing things to do when you’re in the Cotswolds. You can find some exceptional and unique places to stay below. These are abodes that marry up with, and accentuate any of the above experiences.