Laura and I spent this past weekend in the beautiful Cotswolds. It’s an area about two hours north-west of London, famous for it’s rolling green hills (wolds), and scattering of small villages made up of historic stone cottages that are the definition of charming. Very rarely are new buildings allowed to be constructed, so if you can ignore the tourist crowds if feels like you’ve time travelled to the old english countryside.
Month: Late September. I highly recommend going in Autumn. Not only will you get to see the fall foliage (it gets better in October I’m told), and you will have slightly fewer crowds than in the summer month.
Favorite Things: Fresh air, fall colors, pups a plenty, golden stone houses.
Things to be aware of: It’s easy to travel from London or Oxford by train, and you can arrive at either Kingham or Morton-in-Marsh. However, taxi’s are few and far between and get booked days in advance, so be sure to book your transportation ahead of time. There is a bus that runs every hour (the 801), but it doesn’t always sink up with departing train times, so keep that in mind when you are leaving.
I highly recommend seeing some of the larger towns, such as Stowe on the Wold and Bourton on the Water either early in the morning, or after 6 in the evening. There are day tours from London that clog the towns during the day. If you have any hope of taking a photo without 60 other heads in it, you’ll want to go early or late. Plus the evening light is beautiful.
While Laura and I certainly felt no discomfort on our trip, I would point out that diversity is not what the Cotswolds is known for. The majority of residents and tourists are 50yr old+ white people. I think Laura was only misgendered once by a nice old lady who called her a gentleman for holding the door. At the second hotel we stayed at, we befriended the bartender who we learned was working there with her partner, so we didn’t feel like the only lesbians in a 100 mile radius.
If you’re afraid of dogs, be ware, there are almost as many dogs as people. We, of course, were thrilled.
Accommodations: Laura and I spent the first night at The Old Manse Hotel in Bourton on the water. Staying in this town is nice, because as I said, you can then be there when the crowds die down. I wouldn’t say that I recommend this hotel, but accommodations in The Cotswolds can be quite pricey (book early!), so if you are looking for a bargain, this will do. Just know you are getting what you pay for. It’s in desperate need of an update, and the website makes it look much nicer than it is. However, it’s very conveniently located, has a lovely riverside patio, and the mattress was randomly really comfortable. Front view of the hotel:
We spent our second night at The Old Stocks Inn in Stowe on the Wold, which I cannot recommend enough. It’s a little more than we usually like to spend on hotels (139 pounds for the night), but we were celebrating Laura’s completion of producing the first London Queer Fashion Show (shameless plug)! The staff was helpful and sweet, and they did a fabulous renovation about two years ago. Oh, and they have a complimentary mini bar and smart TV’s so you can log into Netflix and snuggle!
The Old Stock Inn itself has a beautiful restaurant and bar area, as well as a back patio. They serve oven baked pizza (the wood fire is on the back patio) until 6:00 (it was solid pizza), and then dinner, which we sadly did not get to try. The bar is open all day, even ’till midnight for guests, and there’s a cute adjoining coffee shop, although they haven’t mastered their coffee yet.
The Old Butchers – I’m a sucker for any place that hangs a “LOBSTER” sign on it’s porch, and luckily this place did not disappoint. We had dinner here our second night, in Stowe on the Wold. It was the stuff of seafood dreams. I got two oysters, two praws, and half a lobster for 35 pounds, which would have cost me half my rent in NYC. They also had a really yummy cider (something we drink a lot of here).
The Porch House – A very charming pub in Stowe on the Wold. The menu looked great and we were told the food is good, but we had dreams of Lobster so we only had a drink here.
Bakery on the Water – The smell of fresh baked goods alone was enough to make our mouths water. We picked up a scone and some petal cake in the morning (not sure was petal cake is but I liked it). It was so good that we actually went back for lunch. The quiche was possibly the best quiche I’ve ever had, although I would recommend not eating the sides. Laura had a pastie (they look like large empanadas, traditionally stuffed with steak and potatoes), and she said the bake on it was the best she’s had, but she liked the filling from the one at The Cornish Bakery better, which is just down the street.
The Old Manse and The Duke of Wellington – If you’re looking for tradition English pup fare, these two pubs offer competitively priced lunches and dinner. Nothing to write home about, and everything will need salt, but they both have a warm pub feel and pour a cheap pint.
Avoid at all costs the Fish & Chips shop on the north end of Bourton on the Water with the green tables out front. Even if you see a line, steer clear. We took one bite and threw it out. We were also told the Chinese food in town is bad (shocker).
Cotswold Guided Tours – While we are not usually group tour kind of people, we are also not super excited about driving on the left side of the road, so we opted for a small group tour (7 people total) which took us to 6 towns in the Cotswolds. It turned out to be lovely to have a guide who knew the area, and to be able to watch the landscape go bye rather than focus not he road. The company is owned by Lucy (our guide) and her husband. It’s 45 pounds per person and they offer a few different tours. We did the Famous Cotswold tour, but she snuck in a few smaller hidden towns as well. I would absolutely recommend it. Here are the towns we visited:
Lower Slaughter – Has a giant beautiful manor house, something the Cotswolds are known for, and also a cool old mill. And great sheep skin throws for a good price.
Bibury – A tiny town, known for it’s trout farm and row of old weaver’s cottages called Arlington Row. Make sure you order a quick serving a trout at the cafe when you visit.
Bourton on the Water – There are lots of things for tourists to do here, such as Birdland (500 different kinds of birds), and the Model Village (a mini replica of Bourton on the Water), but it’s also perfectly lovely to simply walk the canal.
Upper Slaughter – A tiny tiny little town. Walk down the hill, and then make sure you turn around and look back up.
Stowe on the Wold – This was the largest town we visited, but had no shortage of charm. There’s a chocolate shop and a cheese shop worth visiting, and we clearly loved our hotel hear. For any Lord of the Rings fan, the church in town has a back door surrounded by two trees that is said to be the inspiration for Tolkien’s shire doors. The Wolds themselves are supposedly also where he got inspiration for the terrain of the shire.
The tour takes you to one more town, but we stayed in Stowe since that’s where we were staying for the evening.
There are plenty more towns to see, but you can get a pretty good feel for the Cotswolds, and lovely relaxing break from the city in two days. Ta!