[Carnet de voyage] The Cotswolds, the prettiest part of England

Think of England and the Cotswolds may well spring to mind. This area of limestone hills picture-postcard England at its most enchanting. Explore villages made of honey-coloured stone, sip pints in ancient pubs and see some of the Britains’s most beautifully preserved medieval churches. Yes, you are in the prettiest part of England ! Let’s travel !

Bourton-on-the-water

Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966, the Cotswolds covers 787 square miles (or 2,040 square meters), and is the second largest protected landscape in England. It lies across the boundaries of several English counties : Gloucestshire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Bath, northeast Somerset, Worcestershire and south Warwickshire.

Neolithic settlements

There is evidence of Neolithic settlement from burial chambers on Cotswold Edge, and there are remains of Bronze and Iron Age forts.  Later the Romans built villas, such as at Chedworth, settlements such as Gloucester, and paved the Celtic path later known as Fosse Way. During the Middle Ages, thanks to the breed of sheep known as the Cotswold Lion, the Cotswolds became prosperous from the wool trade with the continent, with much of the money made from wool directed towards the building of churches. The most successful era for the wool trade was 1250–1350; much of the wool at that time was sold to Italian merchants. The affluent area in the 21st century has attracted wealthy Londoners and others who own second homes there or have chosen to retire to the Cotswolds. MC Beaton, an author of detective stories, has portrayed the Cotswolds, because her heroin, Agatha Raisin, a very rich Londoner, has decided to retire there, in the small fictional village of Carsely.

The English Place-Name Society has for many years accepted that the term Cotswold is derived from Codesuualt of the 12th century or other variations on this form, the etymology of which was given, ‘Cod’s-wold’, which is ‘Cod’s high open land’.

The spine of the Cotswolds runs southwest to northeast through six counties, particularly Gloucestershire, west Oxfordshire and south western Warwickshire. The northern and western edges of the Cotswolds are marked by steep escarpments down to the Severn valley and the Warwickshire Avon. This feature, known as the Cotswold escarpment, or sometimes the Cotswold Edge, is a result of the uplifting (tilting) of the limestone layer, exposing its broken edge.

Tourism

Tourism offices describe the Cotswolds like that : « A ridiculously pretty series of villages amid rolling hills, full of chocolate box cottages and winding country lanes. » With its rustic rural charm, rolling hills, vibrant market towns and picture-perfect villages, the Cotswolds offers nearly 800 square miles of unspoilt countryside. As a consequence, tourism represents a large part of the economy. The Cotswold District area alone gained over £373 million from visitor spending on accommodation, £157 million on local attractions and entertainments, and about £100m on travel in 2016.

Small villages, marvelous landscapes

Bourton-on-the-water is one of the most beautiful villages in the area. The Windrush flows through the town earning it the nickname ‘Little Venice’. And even if we can easily spend a day wandering around the village, there is however plenty of activities to do. Birdland, for instance, is home of more of 500 birds, with 9 acres of woodland and gardens. Cosy pubs and bakeries are also very good places to visit. There, you’ll enjoy living a picture-postcard English life!

Your trip to the Cotswolds isn’t totally perfect if you don’t go and visit the most beautiful village of the area. Broadway – England, of course !- hasn’t change for centuries and has attracted a lot of significant artist including Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent and William Morris. The Broadway Museum and Art Gallery tells the history of Broadway and contains an eclectic collection of paintings.

To soak up beautiful view of the Cotswolds, have a walk towards the Broadway tower ! The tower is an iconic landmark on top of the beautiful Cotswolds escarpment. It was the brainchild of the great 18thcentury landscape designer, “Capabilty Brown”. His vision was carried out for George William 6thEarl of Coventry with the help of renowned architect James Wyatt and completed in 1798. The location for the Tower was wisely chosen, a dramatic outlook on a pre-medieval trading route and beacon hill. Then, if you want to rest your legs, you can easily catch up a train from Broadway station, that offers a little trip over the nearby villages.

Bradway tower

The Cotswolds in books or TV series

The Cotswolds are a popular location for filming scenes for movies and television programmes. The fictional detective Agatha Raisin lives in the fictional village of Carsely in the Cotswolds. The Chipping Norton set are based in the Cotswolds.Other movies filmed in the Cotswolds or nearby, at least in part, include some of the Harry Potter Series (Gloucester Cathedral), Bridget Jones’s Diary (film) (Snowshill), Pride and Prejudice (Cheltenham Town Hall) and Braveheart (Cotswold Farm Park).

Many exterior shots of village life in the Downton Abbey TV series were filmed in Bampton, Oxfordshire. Other filming locations in that county included Swinbrook, Cogges and Shilton. The city of Bath hosted crews that filmed parts of the movies Vanity FairPersuasionDracula and The Duchess.

Chloé LOURENÇO