Ever felt filthy rich when you weren’t? Champagne tastes on a beer budget? That would describe an excursion through The Cotswolds in England. Exorbitant prices in a place from the past. Even their charity shops, in any of the quaint villages throughout the Cotswolds, drip with designer fashion and top brand name trinkets. People who live in the Cotswolds give only the finest things to be sold for charity.
Besides the expensive nature of the Cotswolds, you cannot find a more oldy-worldy, traditional England anywhere else in…well, England. Much of the rest of the country has moved on in time and space. Not the Cotswolds. Every village reeks of tradition and uniformity. Even when a new building goes up, it has to fit in with the traditional setting. It’s the law of the Cotswolds. Even the myriad sheep that fill the fields throughout the area look oldy worldy. Their bleating is in old English…or, in this case, old English sheepish.
The first thing you notice entering the area known as the Cotswolds (means Sheep Hold on Rolling Hills) are the fields and stone walls dividing and intersecting them. I can’t imagine the amount of work and time it took to build all those stone walls. Teams of peasants digging up stone and piling them on top of each other mile after mile after mile. More than 4,000 miles of stone wall fences. Incredible effort. Most are still intact.
Every scene is glorious and every village perfectly pretty. The same golden-yellow coloured stone for the houses and shops. Quaint and quirky shops that sell everything from antiques to apples. They are big on cider in the Cotswolds. Where there are no sheep, there are apple orchards. You can smell them in the autumn from miles away. I love the ciders they make here. Many flavours and always crisp.
My own excursions through the Cotswolds are dependent on other people. I don’t drive in England and my Canadian permit is out-of-date. Thanks to our good friends Deb and Tony…the ones who helped us move to our new marina…we have seen quite a bit of the Cotswolds since arriving. They have both lived in the area for years and know just about every nook and cranny in the region. Good people to know if you want to see everything the Cotswolds have to offer.
Traditionally, the Cotswolds begin at Stratford-upon-Avon in the north and end at Bath in the south. Most of the area is in the County of Gloucestershire. But some spills into Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire. That’s a lot of shires…big territory. Fields, wooded areas and villages. The main centre is Cirencester. Got my hair cut there once, by a guy who spoke not a word to me as he worked on my head. I tried, but…nothing in return. Good haircut though. Took 10 years off my age…or so I was told.
Interesting names of some of the villages. Bibury, Burford, The Slaughters, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-water, Wotten-under-Edge, Chipping Campden and Chipping Sodbury, Guiting Power and Temple Guiting, Moreton-in-Marsh, Painswick and Broadway…to name a few. each has its own flavour, but all of them are unmistakably Cotswoldian. I have visited some of the above and driven through a few others. The defining feature of each village? A great pub…sometimes several.
Bibury is probably the most famous. It features a row of cottages known as Arlington Row that once housed the weavers who worked the local wool. It has become the face of the Cotswolds. People come from all over the world just to have their photo taken near these old cottages. When I visited, bus loads of Japanese tourists were about. They even come here to have their wedding photos taken. I saw three Japanese couples. Apparently, the Emperor Hirohito stayed here once and now it’s like a Japanese shrine. Life is strange.
The historically listed houses along the main drag have had to put signs on their garden gates to keep tourists out of their front gardens. It seems the folk from the Orient thought all of these homes were part of some big museum and botanical gardens…they are lovely. The signs are in Japanese, Korean and Chinese, politely telling all who would think to enter that these are private homes, please keep out.
My youngest daughter, who lives and works in Shanghai, China, came to visit in the summer. We took her on a tour of the Cotswolds. It was a very hot day. We started at Broadway, in the north of the Cotswolds. A beautiful town with a, you guessed it, broad street running through it. Shops of every description on either side, full of quaint and unusual items, along with various cheeses, fruits and teas from hither and yon. A step back in time.
We drove through the usual villages, including Winson, one of my favourites with its very narrow streets, unusual wall shapes and a thatched roof cottage. In Bibury, I took my daughter to see the row of old cottages and she began to look bored. Too much beauty in one day can overwhelm. She told me it wasn’t boredom, just another gorgeous site that seemed to be everywhere. She was wearing out with all the ooing and ahing. Besides, the heat was getting to us.
At Bourton-on-the-Water, the stream running through the middle of this most picturesque village was crowded with people trying to stay cool. Groups of young people, dressed like hippies from the 1960s, a couple of them playing guitars, sat on the grass along the stream. Suddenly, a hippy jumped into the middle of the stream and began running through he water, chased by some other hippy friends. History repeats.
On another occasion, I went with Deb and my best friend to Chipping Campden (silent ‘p’), just above Broadway. Lovely old market town with a very long High Street, again with too many shops to mention, even one that sells many different gins from all over. The ladies spent a lot of time in that shop. We had lunch at an old pub up the road…there are so many…and did another walk-about. Everything, even the traffic, moves slowly in these Cotswold towns and villages. The way life used to be.
I’m sure I’ll visit more places soon. There’s the Broadway Tower and more villages to explore. One of my musical heroes lives in the Cotswolds. Steve Winwood runs a charity music night in Northleach each year. I have followed his career since the 1960s. Before the concert began, I saw him standing alone at the back of the church in Northleach where the concert was held. We spoke for an hour about life and music. He told me he had recently turned 70 and thought it may be time to slow down a bit. He certainly lives in the right part of the world to do just that.