The Cotswolds holds a very dear place in my heart. The home of my maternal grandparents during their retirement, I spent a lot of time here during my youth. It is quintessential England. Rolling green hills (wolds) dotted with fluffy white sheep. Changeable weather: sunny and bright one minute, brooding dark clouds and strong winds the next. Yellow stone walls separate hilly fields overlooked by thatched cottages, hundreds of years old. And of course, there is no end of local pubs, many of which boast damn fine kitchens.
I highly recommend spending at least three days here to get the feel of the place and enjoy the pace of country life. Villages and towns like Chipping Campden, Moreton-in-Marsh, Broadway and Bourton-on-the-Water make for a good base. Sad to say, while these small working towns served the local farming and rural population during my childhood, today they are very much geared towards tourists. Yet cream teas, shopping, muddy walks and boozy long lunches are all part of the charm. Here are some pointers to ensure you have a rip-roaring time.
1. Stay in a thatched cottage
We based ourselves just outside of Broadway, which is about two hours drive from London (the train is pretty easy too although you’ll have to get a cab the last eight miles or so). We found Pye Cottage, a lovely, traditional stone-built thatched house on AirBnB. About one mile from the town, it overlooks a classic Cotswolds scene of green bucolic hills.
2. Eat at a gastro pub
The Horse & Groom in Bourton-on-the-Hill is a great example of how pub food in England has undergone a radical transformation. No more soggy Brussel sprouts, beef cooked to kingdom come or unrecognizable battered matter. Instead locally raised meat, organic vegetables and eye-catching desserts now adorn the chalkboards in rural alehouses across the country. And these dishes taste mighty good, especially when you’re try to hide from the vagaries of the Cotswolds’ elements.
On a rainy Saturday afternoon I chose local Tamworth pork chop topped with pancetta on top of white beans in a rosemary sauce, served with potatoes dauphinoise (£14), while Monkey opted for the battered hake (£13.75) and my mum went for the lamb moussaka (£14).
With a yummy vanilla pannacotta atop elderflower and raspberry jelly and almond biscotti (£6) to finish. I’d love to recreate this at home, so Horse & Groom chef, if you’re reading and wouldn’t mind sharing the recipe, I’d be delighted!
3. Go horse riding in the Cotswolds countryside
Monkey and I have been learning to jump and ride horses “cross country” back at home where the scenery is quite different: bone dry, golden and dusty, always hot—which seems to make the ponies a little sleepy. Here everything is green, blustery, often rainy and the horses are raring to go. We went to Durhams Farm Riding School at Chastleton and had a super fun lesson with Sue who took great care of us. Unlike at home, we were both fitted out with back protectors (I’m telling you this because as you’ll see from the video, the bulk could easily be mistaken for all those pub meals we ate). Sue sensibly put us through our paces in the arena before being taken out to the course. Adrenalin rush or what? The hour-long lesson was £60 for both of us.
4. Eat a cream tea in a centuries-old tea room
Scones. Clotted cream. Jam. Victoria sponge. These are hallmarks of an English tea and where better to enjoy this than in a village? The Bantam Tearooms have been in Chipping Campden for as long as I can remember, and apparently much longer than that, having been built in 1693. Either skip lunch or dinner. You’re going to be pretty full after one of these gorgeous spreads.
5. Go on a long walk
Unlike the U.S. where I’ve found very few public pathways through private land, the U.K. is crisscrossed with bridlepaths, public footpaths, stiles to clamber over and gates which must be closed to keep the livestock from escaping. One of my favorite walks near Chipping Campden is Dovers Hill – a National Trust site overlooking the Vale of Evesham. We also went to check out Broadway Tower, a folly with an eclectic set of fascinating stories to tell featuring famous artists and World War Two soldiers.
6. Go shopping
There’s no doubt that tourists like to part with their money and the savvy Cotswolds locals have figured that out. One of my favorite stores anywhere, is the Robert Welch Studio Shop in Chipping Campden. Iconic British design, the best quality knives, sleek silverware and much, much more, this store is really worth a visit.
You will also find lots of gift stores, a wonderful delicatessen, antique stores and more.
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