The Cotswolds, a delightful area in England, is where I recently spent my birthday. Fast-forward two weeks later, a world pandemic struck, making those couple of days seem like a dream buried in the past.
The picturesque, honey-coloured towns and villages of the Cotswolds look as if they have strayed into the 21st century from another era. And unsurprisingly, these locations date as far as the Saxon period. Covering only 800 square miles across five counties – Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire – the ‘wolds‘, or rolling hills, is the biggest of the 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales.
Pretty villages abound in the Cotswolds, and whilst each one has its own personality, most of them share a similar aesthetic thanks to the noble Cotswold stone they are cut from. This list is a compilation of 5 very pretty towns and villages, but there are many more.
Hoping to return here, when we overcome this challenge, I’ve put together this list with the aim of making you travel from home – with your eyes and mind – to this fairytale region of Great Britain.
Welcome to the Cotswolds.
Tetbury is a lovely town lying on the site of an ancient hill fort. Its history goes back to the Anglo-Saxon period when Ine of Wessex (The King who established Wessex as a true kingdom) founded a monastery here in 681. During the Middle Ages, Tetbury was known for its wool and yarn. In fact, you’ll spot many buildings dating from the 17th century such as the Market House (a fine example of a Cotswold pillared market house) and Church House.
As of today, Tetbury remains a small and delightful town mostly known for its pretty houses and antique shops. A well-known neighbour of this area is Prince Charles, whose family residence Highgrove, is in Doughton, near Tetbury.
Don’t miss: Market House, Church House and the parish church of St Mary the Virgin and St Mary Magdalene
Bibury, just a short drive from Cirencester, is a tiny village of the Cotswolds traversed by the River Coln – a Thames tributary. This charming village is known for Arlington Row, a notable architectural conservation area which you’ll find on the inside cover of all British passports. Similarly to Tetbury, the origins of this area go back to the Saxon period. However, in 1880 a Roman villa was accidentally discovered in the parish, evidence of even earlier history.
Other remarkable locations in Bibury include mills, cottages, churches and bridges – of course, all of them are listed. The picturesque Arlington Row cottages were built in 1380 as a monastic wool store and then they were converted into a row of cottages for weavers in the 17th century.
Don’t miss: Arlington Row, St Mary’s Church
Burford is a small medieval town on the River Windrush and its famous High Street sweeps downhill towards it. The origin of its name derives from the Old English words burh meaning fortified town or hilltown and ford, the crossing of a river. Little has changed over the centuries, and its beauty is very well preserved.
You can still find the Bull Hotel in operation, where King Charles and Nell Gwynn used to stay and where Horatio Nelson and Lady Hamilton spent one night (the Trafalgar Suite is named after them). Burford is also home to the Church of St John the Baptist (a 15th-century church) and England’s oldest pharmacy Reavley’s.
Don’t miss: The three-arched medieval bridge, Bull Hotel, Reavley’s Pharmacy (the oldest in England), Burford Priory
Stow-on-the-Wold is a delightful market town located at a junction of seven major roads, including the Roman Fosse Way. At the height of the Cotswold wool industry, the town was famous for its huge annual fairs where as many as 20,000 sheep were sold at one time. Evidence of this is the vast Market Square, where you’ll find an ancient cross and town stocks.
Stow-on-the-Wold was witness to the last battle of the English Civil War (1642-1651)’s first phase. Its strategic position consequently brought together both the royalist and parliamentary armies. Nowadays, this town is a peaceful location known for its ancient yew trees and antique shops.
Don’t miss: St Edward’s Church, The Bell Inn
5. Castle Combe
Castle Combe takes its name from the 12th-century castle which once stood to the north of the village. Divided into two parts, Castle Combe consists of the narrow valley of the By Brook and Upper Castle Combe, which is on higher ground to the east. During the 14th century, the village was given the privilege to hold a weekly market and the cross which represents this right stands where the three principal streets of the lower village converge. Near the cross, you’ll find the stone steps used by horse riders to mount and dismount.
There are two architectural jewels at Castle Combe: The ivy-covered Manor House Hotel (a stunning 14th-century building) and the Old Court House (an early 16th-century house of rubble stone, framed timber and tile roof).
Don’t miss: Manor House Hotel, Old Court House