I’m a great fan of the weekend mini break. I’m also a great fan of a weekend mini break that doesn’t involve hours of travelling and sitting in traffic jams at the end of the working week. For this reason the Cotswolds has been a destination of choice on a number of occasions. In less than two hours from West London, even with Friday night traffic it’s possible to be in the midst of some of the prettiest rolling countryside England has to offer.
On previous visits we have like thousands before us tended to gravitate toward the ridiculously pretty, and consequently often over crowded Bourton on the Water or Burford. We didn’t make a conscious decision to avoid either on our most recent trip but by doing so we discovered some other places less well known to us, but no less beautiful.
Our first stop was Bibury. Now I know this isn’t exactly a hidden gem, the coach loads of tourists prove that, but it is beautiful and is well worth a stop off, either on the way to or from somewhere else. It’s without doubt a chocolate box kind of place. Cotswold stone, honey coloured cottages, country lanes, rambling roses, meadows, and a pretty river which runs right through the middle of it all. On the day we visited a very obliging and well ordered swan and her growing family were gliding along the river to complete the perfect scene. I’m ‘almost’ sure they weren’t placed here just for the tourists. Bibury was described by William Morris as ‘the most beautiful village in England’. He may just have had a point.
Our next stop was Lechdale on Thames another riverside (as the name suggests) Cotswold beauty. A pretty enough town with some inviting coffee shops and hostelries but the absolute highlight – in my opinion, is The Old Bell Pottery and Antiques Shop. This is the perfect weekend browsing shop. It is packed to the rafters with every type of vintage treasure you never knew you needed. Shelves stacked with crockery, baskets of old tins, books, magazines, and a yard piled high with ironmongery, old bicycles, and lots things I wouldn’t even know how to describe. I could have bought so many things, but was admirably restrained and came out with just a 1950’s copy of a Punch magazine. I could’t resist.
Apart from good company, good food, and of course a few glasses of wine or preferably something bubbly, my other ingredient for the perfect weekend destination is The National Trust. The Cotswolds is perfect National Trust stomping ground, there are many places to choose from in an easily navigable area. We managed to visit two, Buscot Park and Chedworth Villa.
Buscot Park is a large 18th century country house set in beautiful landscaped gardens. If you are prone to imagining your self as lady of the manor, the are plenty of opportunities to do just that. A grand entrance, four poster beds, and many large elegant rooms in which to sweep through in your crinoline, dazzling as you go. Despite this there is still a sense of it being a home. It is in fact the family home of Lord Faringdon, who looks after the property on behalf of the National Trust, as well as the enviable Faringdon Collection, of art, furniture and ceramics, displayed thoroughout house.
The gardens are stunning, particularly in June where boarders are packed with cottage garden flowers, and the scent of roses is divine. The grounds are so large that it was possible to wander through without feeling in the least crowded. There are lots of surprises along the way including a few members of the terracotta army.
Chedworth Roman Villa was a complete surprise and I can’t recommend it highly enough. This Roman Villa was discovered in 1864 by a gamekeeper out ferreting for rabbits. The loose stone cubes he found turned out to be part of the buried mosaics which belonged to this extensive house. When I think back on our visit there the word that comes to mind is ‘peaceful’. It was fascinating and incredibly interesting but overwhelmingly peaceful. With views out to the rolling countryside and plenty of spaces to sit and ponder those whose dusty sandals had gone before. It was lovely place to spend a sunny Sunday morning, and one I would happily go back to.
A gorgeous weekend in the charming Cotswold countrside, I know we’ll be back.