By Terry Willey
Spanning six of England’s most picturesque counties – namely Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire – the Cotswolds region offers a wealth of outstanding natural beauty.
Its distinctive landscape contains numerous stone built villages, towns, stately homes and gardens, and is characterised by the unique golden-coloured Cotswolds stone. Apart from the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales National Parks, the area is the third largest protected landscape in England. Designated in 1966 as an area of natural beauty and covering an area of almost 800 square miles, it has much to explore, both historically and in its natural beauty.
One of the main features is the Cotswold Escarpment – sometimes known as the Cotswold Edge – a limestone layer which is rich in fossils dating back to Jurassic times, and which is quarried for the classic Cotswold stone.
Its most notable towns include Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford and Chipping Campden, which is the centre of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Cricklade, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stroud, Witney and Winchcombe all add to the list of interesting places to visit. The Cotswold yellow Jurassic limestone is rich in fossils and when weathered, the colour of the buildings made or faced with the stone is often described as honey or golden.
Interestingly, the stone itself varies in colour from the north to the south of the region but, as we visited the various villages around our base point of Stow-on-the-Wold, we were able to note the various colourations of the Cotswold stone properties.
The area gives you a feeling of being in the heart of England. For walkers and hikers there is plenty to do see, and for those just simply touring there is so much to observe from the Ironstone hills and valleys – the High and Low Wolds, as they are described. Places to visit include the lovely Gardens of Sudeley Castle at Winchcombe and the ancient fortress of Beverston Castle founded in 1229 by Morris de Gaunt.
We found the history of Tetbury Market particularly interesting, as this is where where trade for Cotswold wool and yarn took place. We also enjoyed a visit to Quarwood, a Victorian Gothic House in Stow-on-the-Wold with grounds covering over 42 acres including parkland, fishponds, paddocks and Cotswold cottages.
Not surprisingly, given its sheer charm, the area has provided a film setting for many movies such as Harry Potter, Bridget Jones Diary, Pride and Prejudice, Braveheart and Alice in Wonderland. The popular television series Father Brown was almost entirely filmed in the Cotswolds and scenes and buildings in Sudeley Castle were often featured, along with the location for Ross Poldark’s family home of Trenwith, which in fact is Chavenage House at Tetbury, and is open to the public. One of my favourite towns was Woodstock, a medieval town with fine Georgian facades, which disguise far older buildings than this period and which boasts many fascinating hotels, shops and galleries.
In a book written in 1934 by one of my favourite authors J.B. Priestley he described Cotswold buildings made of the local stone in this way – “The truth is that it has no colour that can be described. Even when the sun is obscured and the light is cold, these walls are still faintly warm and luminous, as if they knew the trick of keeping the lost sunlight of centuries glimmering about them”.