WHO hasn’t visited England and had their heart stolen by the enchantment of the Cotswolds?
Less than two-hours west of London this wondrously picturesque region stretches from the magnificent Roman town and Georgian city of Bath in its south, to embrace Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon, the kingmaker’s castle of Warwick, the historic academia of Oxford, and Winston Churchill’s childhood home, Blenheim Palace.
It’s a region of history, culture and the quaintest of limestone villages hidden in idyllic valleys, of magnificent old castles and of oh-so-stately homes… timeless places that snuggle-up against rolling hills, where pastures are fenced within mossy stone walls, and come summer, green fields turn to checker-boards with the gold of ripening crops.
To fully appreciate the Cotswolds, touring by car is a virtual must – with plenty of time to take it all in.
But forget the motorways. Instead, drive the narrow, hedged, single-lane roads that link villages signposted with such names as Lower Slaughter, Upper Slaughter, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-Water, Moreton-in-Marsh…
TYPICAL of the Cotswolds picturesque countryside in which “timeless places snuggle-up against rolling hills.”
And quickly discover that weekly outdoor produce markets are big in the Cotswolds, every Tuesday Moreton-in-Marsh hosting the region’s largest, while in Stow-on-the-Wold a cross in the main square is a reminder of the town’s medieval market-place heyday – originally placed there to ensure ancient traders conducted their businesses fairly under the sight of God.
Bourton-on-Water is probably the most popular village in the Cotswolds, and with the River Windrush running through its centre, often referred to as “the Venice of the Cotswolds.” And lovely little Lacock in the south, sits amid farming land that’s been worked for countless thousands of years… the town itself recorded in the 1086 Domesday Book as having a-then population of under 200, two mills and a vineyard.
Today its many 13th century lime-washed, two-storey stone-and-timber buildings are connected to each other like a chain, front doors opening directly onto street pavements, and slate roof tiles giving the impression of layers of burnt toast.
Yet while Lacock is a magnet for tourists it’s so small you can walk around it in a quarter-hour, discovering on your walk the old lock-up in which drunks were once thrown to sober-up, medieval St.Cyriac’s church, the one-time workhouse, and the 14th century tithe barn where farmers gave part of their crops as a tax to the lord of the manor.
A ONE-TIME wealthy wool merchant’s house, The Sign of the Angel is now a restaurant and B&B.
And a timbered, 15th-century wool merchant’s house is now “The Sign of the Angel,” a restaurant and B&B in the main street.
Lacock is also a favourite with film makers, its picturesque streets and historic cottages unsullied by TV aerials, overhead cables, or yellow lines on streets to spoil filming scenes. Appearances have included in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, two Harry Potter films, Wolfman, and most recently in a series of Downton Abbey.
Some of the Harry Potter scenes were also shot in Lacock Abbey that was founded in 1232 as a nunnery, and whose Abbey church was demolished in 1539 during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of Catholic monasteries.
Fortunately the Abbey’s cloisters, sacristy, chapter house and monastic rooms survived, and today it also houses the Fox Talbot Museum of Photography, dedicated to William Henry Fox Talbot who invented the positive-negative photographic film process here in the mid-1830s.
HOUSES in the Cotswolds’ National Trust village of Lacock date back to the 14th century.
In 1916 William’s son Charles bequeathed to his niece, Matilda Talbot the Abbey and almost the entire village, which the Talbot family then mostly owned, and she in turn gifted Abbey and village to the National Trust in 1944.
And do ensure a call at the historic George Inn that opened for business in 1365 and is one of the oldest licenced pubs in England. It’s retained much of its ancient character including original beams – and a medieval open fireplace still features a “dog wheel,” a bizarre spit for cooking meat over the fire, with the spit being turned constantly by dogs running on a treadmill…
PASTURES here are fenced with centuries-old mossy stone walls.
Like the rest of the Cotswolds, the George Inn is a great pub for a grand country meal… and on hearing you’re an Aussie, the friendly locals will generally turn the conversation to something like: “Australia, eh? Had a cousin went out there once. Lives in Sydney, name of…..”
If you’d like to know more about Lacock and the enchantment of the Cotswolds, go to nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock
Written by David Ellis with David Potts