I booked our weekend in the Cotswolds on a complete whim one day in October when I was off sick from work. I had no idea then (stressed though I was) how necessary a few days away in tranquil countryside would be. Neither of us had ever been to the Cotswolds before, and while it didn’t capture my heart in the same way that other areas of the UK have, it did possess that special chocolate-box charm that’s quite unlike anywhere else.
While we didn’t get to some of the most famous Cotswolds towns – Castle Combe and Bibury spring to mind – our apartment, The Hayloft by Character Cottages, was located in the sweet little village of Cold Aston, and thus we were perfectly positioned among some utterly picturesque places.
We popped here on a Saturday where we found the car park full despite the village itself seeming to be incredibly quiet. I’d heard amazing things about Painswick – known as ‘the Queen of the Cotswolds’ – online, but we found it didn’t really live up to expectations; pretty though it was, we didn’t feel welcomed, even when we popped into the church to look around among volunteers decorating for Christmas.
Painswick is a bit of an arts centre; there are a number of galleries and shops, and it is home to an annual Art Couture festival. It’s also a great base for birdwatchers and walkers, situated close to National Trust woodland and the Cotswold Way footpath. Its wobbly, golden buildings and old-world charm are classic Cotswolds, and while we didn’t feel very at home there, it was a perfect introduction ahead of our Sunday plans.
For the second full day of our trip I’d sketched out a clearer itinerary focused on the area local to The Hayloft, so after a cosy morning in bed to settle into the day, we headed out. The first stop was Stow-on-the-Wold, one of the Cotswolds’ larger towns. With its (relatively) bustling square, boutique shops, and cafés galore, there was much more to see and do here. After parking in the square (which was a bit tight, but with a bit of patience we found a spot among the endless Range Rovers…), we popped into the town hall where there were various stallholders selling crafts and vintage pieces. Afterwards wandered around the significant market square, which is complete with the town’s old medieval stocks and a number of the antique stores the town is so famous for.
We’d planned to come for breakfast, but unsurprisingly this had turned into brunch, so we made our way to the aptly named Lucy’s Tearoom and found ourselves a coveted table. It was unsurprisingly very busy (I think it’s quite an insta-famous teashop, and you can see why!) and staff were clearly rushed, but the food and coffee were both absolutely lovely. There was also a party on the table next to us who were being incredibly rude to the staff which was really unpleasant; it’s just not acceptable to shout across a room at a waitress, even if your tea isn’t as strong as you’d like. We were extra-friendly to try to make up for the behaviour we’d seen, and then headed out into the cold well set-up for the day ahead.
Fuelled, we took ourselves off on a little walk around the town. We had planned to stop at the church which has the most adorable tree-framed door, but a service was just about to begin as we meandered through the churchyard, so we left the congregation to it in their Sunday best and continued on. Stow is a beautiful little old wool town in classic Cotswolds style, and really worth a visit while you’re in the area. Like so many of these towns, it remains virtually unspoiled and incredibly quiet, and we found it to be a bit more welcoming than Painswick the previous day. We took swathes of photographs and just enjoyed exploring a new place together, before making our way back to the car.
Our next destination was Lower Slaughter, which I’d read was home to ‘the most romantic street in Britain’. There was no way I was missing that, so we drove all of six or seven minutes and pulled up on the side of the road next to the river alongside a handful of other cars.
The historic village centre is utterly stunning and photogenic at every angle. Copse Hill Road – the aforementioned romantic street – curves through it, crossing the river in the centre of its arc and lined with chocolate box houses straight off a postcard. Tiny stone bridges link the riverbank just to add to the village’s photo opportunities, and following the road just a little further gifts you with a picture-perfect view of the old water mill, its aged wheel still turning.
Crossing back over one of the miniature bridges, you can walk right round to the mill behind the top of the village. There’s a museum, cafe, and gift shop there, which we decided against on this occasion, instead preferring to continue our walk. We meandered round from the mill through the more residential area of the village and back round to the centre.
While many of the houses in this area were modern, relatively new builds (though all in golden Cotswolds style), a handful of others were much older, larger, and altogether more characterful dwellings. Imposing, gothic structures, they’re the kind of house you picture as being the setting of many a ghost story, with dead, creeping wisteria clawing its way round every brick and window as though to find the best way inside.
Bourton-on-the-Water was our final stop before we headed back to our apartment. It’s known colloquially as ‘the Venice of the Cotswolds’, basically because it’s got a relatively substantial river running through it. It’s a bigger, more bustling town than those we’d visited thus far, and we found it to be much more touristy. The car park metre didn’t give any change, so we begrudgingly overpaid and wandered down into the town itself.
Like all Cotswolds towns, it’s undeniably pretty; that’s just a given here, so the bar’s already higher than in most other places. I think because it was more openly touristy, we felt a little more at ease to go into shops, I was able to pick up a few Christmassy bits. The town itself was beautifully dressed for the festive season, with lights tastefully strung and numerous trees, including one right in the middle of the river, much to the delight of passing children.
It started to rain a little as we wandered around, so after a while we decided to nip into an inviting-looking bakery and take a couple of bits away with us to have later on, and then head back to the car. I had wanted to take a look at the famous model village, but on arrival we learned it would cost nearly £10 each, so decided to give it a miss. All the same, Bourton is a great town to visit; whether just to wander around like us, or to indulge in its many attractions, we found a lively, friendly, and homely atmosphere in among its beauty and elegance.
Out of the four, Lower Slaughter was undoubtedly my favourite place; I found it utterly captivating, and it really was like stepping back in time at moments. Of course, everywhere we went was incredibly pretty and picturesque, and that, along with the peace and quiet, was the main reason we’d decided to go to this area in the first place, so we weren’t at all disappointed. But we did both feel that not everywhere was most welcome to us, and not purely because we were tourists. Greg’s Yorkshire accent seemed to stop people in their tracks, while my southern, so-called ‘Queen’s English’ voice was much better received in conversation. This was an incredibly upper-middle-class bubble with, or so it felt to us, little regard for those who didn’t fit in there.
Nevertheless, this didn’t spoil our time in the Cotswolds. We saw some stunning scenery and had a beautiful time exploring and relaxing together among the tranquil charm of the area’s endearing little towns and villages. That’s all you can really ask for, isn’t it?
Find more from the Cotswolds here!