My first foray into the Cotswolds was to Bath in 2010, since then I have fallen in love with the honey coloured homes of the area.
I’ve only done day trips to the Cotswolds area in the past so on this trip I decided that I would have to stay in the area to really discover it for myself. I spent 3 nights in the area and only scratched the surface.
Below are the places I visited in the Cotswolds
After 4 days of rainy overcast weather in London, in typical fashion the day I left the city was gorgeous – still cold but a beautiful blue sky none the less. I picked up the rental car from central London and navigated my way to Blenheim Palace, just outside of Oxford.
Blenheim Palace was built in the early 18th century and is famous, amongst other things, as being the birthplace of one of Britain’s most famous Prime Ministers, Sir Winston Churchill. And from all the photos I’ve seen of the place, a rather stunning building.
The building is impressive and so is the interior. When visiting these places I often wonder how people lived in these conditions – you know, where there are priceless heirlooms littered throughout the house. If you can even call it a ‘house’. I can’t imagine living in a place that looks more like a museum than a home.
In the house I grew up in, we had an informal living room where we would generally did all our ‘living’ so to speak. It was where we watched TV and where our dining table was, so it was a well used room. We also had another lounge, that we called ‘up the front’ because it was at the front of the house (yep, we’re clever people!). I can remember as a kid that we weren’t allowed up the front unless there was an adult with us and we certainly were not allowed to have food or drink up there. It was where mum’s china cabinet was and dad’s record player was situated. It was a special treat on Sunday’s when my niece and I were allowed to sit up the front and listen to records – our favourite was Bad Jelly The Witch.
Whenever I visit places like Blenheim Palace, I am reminded of my childhood and ‘up the front’ and often wonder if the children were ever allowed to walk around these rooms or if they only stayed in their own quarters. Maybe they were allowed to come in to the room on very special occasions.
Blenheim Palace wasn’t ostentatious or OTT (over the top), I have seen worse (Versailles comes to mind!) and it actually looked quite comfortable in some places, like the library (well except for the whopping great organ at one end of the room and the statue of a former queen at the other). But these places just don’t seem very ‘homely’. I know it was a different time and a different class but still.
I was staying in the small village of Todenham for 3 nights. I didn’t actually do much exploring of the surrounding area but the Cotswolds as a whole is a favourite for walkers (of one, I am not!).
The village itself seemed quite typical of the ‘one street blink & you’ll miss it” kind of English village I saw a lot of on my 8 days of driving around the country. The famous Cotswolds honey coloured brick houses, the local pub and of course the local town hall. Despite being at the top of the Cotswolds area, it was perfect for what I needed a base for. Plus The Cottage was super cute and very homely.
I had a few specific places that I knew I wanted to visit. About a 20 minute drive from my accommodation was the village (well town really) of Broadway. I was surprised to see some pots with flowers in bloom. It definitely added some colour to a grey old day.
The streets in Broadway weren’t as narrow in other places I visited, however as in many towns I went through, parking can be a bit of a premium.
Some points of interest include the Broadway Tower (which I didn’t visit) and The Lygon Arms Hotel, which apparently hosted Oliver Cromwell and Charles I. It is also littered with cute shops and cafe’s and the always important war memorial.
I had done a little bit of research before I headed to the Cotswolds and read quite a few blog posts about the area. Painswick was always at the top of everyone’s list as a favourite destination.
And I can certainly see why.
Right from entering the small town, with its main street so narrow that there are lights to let each direction go, it had captured my heart. I loved wandering around the tiny little streets. The Men’s Toilet creatively named ‘The Loovre’; the street signs and the carefully manicured trees in the church yard. Painswick should definitely be on everyone’s list of places to visit in the Cotswolds.
Oh and it also has the distinction of having one of the few people to ever ask me where abouts in New Zealand I was from. The only other person to do that was a bus driver in Waikiki! Everyone else assumes, quite wrongly of course, that I am Australian.
Bourton on the Water
I’m not sure if it was because I had been driving around the Cotswolds all day before I got to Bourton on the Water, or the fact that there were a number of people there (Bourton was definitely a lot busier than either Broadway or Painswick). It might have been the netting that was kind of an eyesore by the water or even the fact that it was getting a bit grotty weather-wise but I just didn’t feel it in this village.
Now don’t get me wrong, Bourton on the Water is a very pretty village but I definitely found it more overrun with people than either Broadway or Painswick. Maybe I had gone at the wrong time, I’m not sure. I didn’t hate the place, I just didn’t like it as much as the other two villages I had been to that day.
Clearly my mood did not improve the next day when I went to Stratford-upon-Avon, about 30 minutes from The Cottage, because I wasn’t very overwhelmed with being in this town either.
Which was probably why Stratford-upon-Avon was the biggest disappointment of the trip.
I love Shakespeare. More precisely I love his often maligned hero, Hamlet. Ever since I saw the Kenneth Branagh version of this play back in 1996, I have been in love with this character and cannot get enough of this play. And as a result I have wanted to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace ever since. I find it truly extraordinary that all these centuries later, the words and phrases that Shakespeare created are still used in everyday life. I even wrote him a letter a couple of months ago.
So I headed to Stratford in great anticipation, only to find that when I got there all I felt was ‘meh’. I don’t know what I expected to feel to be honest but I didn’t feel it regardless.
Again, Stratford is a cool city. It has a lot going for it – not just the Shakespeare connection. But I don’t know, I just didn’t feel ‘it’. Plus it was raining heavily and I had stupidly left my umbrella back at The Cottage. So I kind of just spent about 45 minutes wandering around, didn’t even go to Shakespeare’s birthplace but did walk past New Place, which was Shakespeare’s home for a number of years.
On the upside, I did meet Superman so it wasn’t a total loss!
Because Stratford was a bit of a bust, I decided to head up the road about 25 minutes to Warwick. It was still raining when I got to Warwick but I could tell straight away that I preferred this town to Stratford. I toyed with going to the castle but just did the one thing I specifically wanted to come to Warwick for – to visit St Mary’s church because my great aunt’s had done just that in the late 1930’s.
St Mary’s is a historic church in the back streets of Warwick. Parts of it remain from the original Norman building and cute little Beauchamp Chapel was built in the 15th Century. That’s pretty old!
Another point of interest, well for Kiwi’s anyway, is a monument that is all in Latin but is to a Francis Holyoake (b1567), who was a forbearer to the 26th New Zealand Prime Minister from 1960 – 1972, Keith Holyoake. Keith was also the only person in NZ history to be both the Prime Minster and the Governor-General (1977 – 1980).
But I digress. I really liked Warwick and it is definitely one place I would like to go back to explore more – when it’s not pouring with rain!
I enjoyed my time in the Cotswolds, however short it was. I can imagine just how crowded some of the towns would become in summer when the days are longer and the weather better (marginally 😉 ) but I think I was happy to do my exploring when there was fewer people around.