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(I Don't Want to be) Clueless in the Cotswolds

(I Don't Want to be) Clueless in the Cotswolds

Jul 3rd, 2010, 10:18 AM
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Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 17
(I Don't Want to be) Clueless in the Cotswolds

I am thrilled to be planning a week long trip to the Cotswolds in September! Let me preface my post with this: I am new to Fodors so I apologize in advance for any posting faux-pas. Secondly, I live in Orlando, Florida and tourists are a huge part of my life. I am extremely grateful to them because they pay the bills in my household, however, I have first-hand experience with uninformed tourists! In an effort to be as well-informed as possible, I would love some advice from you kind people.

My mother (age 58), my sister (age 26) and myself (age 28) are planning a week long trip to the Cotswolds in mid to late September. This will be a girls-getaway as well as a scouting trip to return for a longer stay with my kids next year. We will be choosing a self-catering cottage as a home base and exploring from there. We will NOT be renting a car-- I know from previous research that most people feel that this is not a wise decision. I understand that this means we will probably miss out on some amazing things, but I feel confident that there will be plenty to see and enjoy and explore by foot, particularly considering that we only have a week and this is everyone's first time to the UK. My questions for you are this....

1. During this time of year, how crowded should we expect the area to be? Based on the rental rates, September is considered high or mid season. We are hoping for some quiet. Do places begin to close in anticipation of low season?
2. I have researched weather averages, but I would like to know if anyone can advise about the usual weather during that time.
3. A bit embarrassing to ask, but what's the scoop on public restrooms? As I already mentioned, we plan to walk a lot and since the trip consists of three girls, well... you know!
4. Any basic UK travel tips for Americans will be appreciated. For example, ordering at the bar instead of sit-down service at pubs. I'm sure we would have figured it out, but that's something I just wouldn't have known otherwise. Also, any tips/advice based upon the trip outline I provided above are welcomed.

Thank you all in advance. I am SO looking forward to this trip!
SpringRaine is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 10:52 AM
Join Date: Oct 2003
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First - do you have our cottage yet/ It's already July and September is around the corner. And if so, is in right in the center of town so shopping is easy? Out in the country could mean a lot of hauling things around. (I know you don;t want a car - but it really is best. Barring that you need to get a hold of the local bus schedules.)

Other things need to check on:

Stores are not open 24/7 - in fact, many have very limited hours, esp on weekends. And non-tourist shops may close one afternoon per week. You need to find the schedule for the town you will be in.

Get sturdy folding umbrellas and well broken-in waterproofed walking shoes. For a lot of country walking you may need boots, since it can get very muddy when it rains. And realize this is country walking, not city walking - no sidewalks outside of town centers.

And while some of the villages are close together - and you can easily walk from one to another - I'm not sure you can walk to many - depending on where you're starting out - unless you plan on doing 15 or 20 miles per day. So you will need good maps - very small scale - to show the paths you may want to walk on.

We love the Cotswolds and have visited several times - but always with a car - since we like driving through the country - but not walking through it (climbing styles, watching out for animal droppings, dealing with gates - and animals). We once nearly killed a lamb just standing in the middle of the road just past a blind curve. It had somehow gotten out of the field the rest of the sheep were in - and we couldn;t figure how to get in back in - not wanting to deal with the gate and all the other sheep. Luckily someone from the farm came along and lifted - struggling - in back inside with the others.)
nytraveler is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 02:46 PM
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OK - you emphatically state NO CAR. Just how emphatic are you?

If it was me -- I'd rent a car for the week for sure. You don't have to drive it everywhere - you can even leave it home altogether some days. But getting to your cottage, doing the grocery chopping, getting to some of the wonderful sites not served easily or at all by public transport -- just too many reasons to rent a car and almost no reasons not to.

The other poster you've seen who's doing the cotswolds car-less is only staying a (I think) 3 days. They will be very limited in what they see but they know what they are giving up.

For 7 days - you'd really want a car IMO. Think about it.

Where exactly is your cottage?
janisj is online now  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 03:16 PM
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Thank you both for taking the time to reply! We are attempting to finalize our cottage reservations within the week. We had originally planned to take a three week family trip to England/Scotland in the spring. We usually do a girls getaway in the fall (in the US) and last-minute opted to do a week in England to get a feel of things before visiting with my two young kids. Anyhow, we are looking at cottages in the North Cotswolds area: Morton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, etc.

We are not renting a car merely because none of us are confident drivers. For the safety of the lovely Cotswolds residents, I'm sure no one can argue with that! Don't misunderstand, I am well-aware that there will be things we'd like to do and see that will be hampered by the lack of a car, but safety first, haha.

@NYtraveler- we've already joked about this being a "glamour out the window" vacation! We will definitely be prepared for the country paths and I, for one, hope we do meet some stubborn sheep along the way. Your experience sounds straight out of a movie!
SpringRaine is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 03:26 PM
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"none of us are confident drivers. For the safety of the lovely Cotswolds residents, I'm sure no one can argue with that!"

Oh - sure we can

Are any of you confident drivers at home? If so -- driving is (honestly) a piece of cake.

Sept is not a busy time and the driving will be easy. If you were staying a couple of days - sure - hire a local guy to drive you one day (as frberta is planning). But for a week???

But lets wait until you actually nail down your cottage. Some places are easier than others . . . .
janisj is online now  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 04:05 PM
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*Moreton-in-Marsh... sorry for the spelling error in my above post.

No, none of us are very confident drivers. That sounds so wimpy, but I'd like to think we have other areas of strength! Our walking tolerance is about 10-12 miles per day. Which places are easier than others? Since we have not locked down our accommodations, maybe you can offer some guidance as to which spots would be more conducive to having no car. Do you think that we'll get bored with the things that are within walking distance? Or is it just that you think we'll miss out on too many things the Cotswolds have to offer?
SpringRaine is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 05:16 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
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To be realistic I think you have to rent a cottage right in the center of a village - or you will be hauling all of your groceries a couple of miles - or waiting for a bus that may arrive twice a day.

We've only toured there - so can;t give info on local shopping options - we just did pubs, hotels and tourist type shops. But you should know the driving is really easy. These are small local roads, you can't go very fast - but do need to be good parkers - esp parallel parkers in spaces just bigger than the car (not an issue for us since parking in NYC is just the same).
nytraveler is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 05:44 PM
Join Date: Mar 2004
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I am a turtle-head driver so I totally get why you don't want to rent a car. I've been to the Cotswolds many times but never driven. There are ways to cobble together day trips.

We've hired a car service to take us around for an afternoon. You usually have to book for at least 4 hours of time. Split 3 ways the cost of a driver isn't too bad.

You can get "close-ish" to many places by train or bus but you'll definitely do a lot of walking. You also have to mind the time, days of the week the buses run, and most importantly, the time the last return bus departs.

If you are going to base yourselves somewhere for a week, however, you might ask around the village to see if there is someone who might drive you around for a few short trips. (not sight seeing, just a trip between point A and point B) We've always asked at the post office and the pub. There has always been someone's retired uncle , brother-in-law of the pub owner, or someone running an errand in the direction you are heading who will drive you a few miles for a fee. Don't expect a cheap fare, however. Of course you want to make arrangements within earshot of a group of people. The pub is ideal because everyone will put in their 2 cents as to whether your driver is on the up and up.

If you are flexible with your plans something usually works out. Remember, these folks are doing you a favor, so behave accordingly. You'll probably have to work around their schedule, not yours. The upside is the locals will tell you all sorts of interesting bits about the area, recommend places to eat, etc.

Another thought is to take the train from Moreton-In-Marsh to Oxford. I know this sounds counter intuitive. From Oxford you can take half day or full day tours of the Cotswolds. Cotswold Roaming does a good job. The use a mini-bus and take small groups. Don't know if they operate in Sept. or just in summer. Defintely have to book ahead.

If you don't have a car you won't see everything. Even with a car you won't see everything. All the more reason to return. Again and again.

Regarding places where ladies can retreat to "powder their nose". In touristy areas the public toilets are often near Tourist Information. We try to plan our stops to coincide with a tea break or lunch. Never go into an establishment just to use the loo. Sit down for a bite to eat or at least order a cuppa.

You girls will have a blast and I'll bet your mom has the best time of all.
specs is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 08:05 PM
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Hi, SpringRaine. I am the person who is planning to spend three days in the Cotswolds without a car. We decided, after much discussion, to go carless and rely on public transportation, our feet and taxis to satisfy our transportation needs. We are using Moreton-in-Marsh as our base.

Have you thought about walking from town to town and having a service like Sherpa Vans transport your luggage to your next destination? That would mean staying in B&B's rather than a cottage, but you would certainly cover a lot of ground and not need a car. We thought about it but since we are only going to spend three days in the Cotswolds, and one of those days in Oxford, it didn't make a lot of sense. But if I ever go back to the Cotswolds, I'd love to do it that way. Just an idea.
freberta is offline  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 08:46 PM
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Actually specs suggestion is good. For 3 of you a cottage will be much cheaper than any B&B's. Plus having a garden for sitting out/relaxing in the evening, a washer/dryer, a kitchen all help.

Hiring a local to drive you on errands or some of your sightseeing is a practical option. The local Tourist office, post office or - yes - the pub are good resources.

I'd base in a nice village (or town) that has good facilities and then go off on 4-5 hour excursions maybe 3 or 4 different days. Chipping Campden, or maybe Stow-on-the-Wold would be good choices. large-ish villages w/ services/shops/restaurants. Burford would be my very favorite - but there are few holiday cottages in the town and a few of those are pretty large/overkill for just 3 ladies.

Moreton-in-Marsh has rail connections - subjectively it just isn't my favorite, but it would certainly be OK.
janisj is online now  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 10:47 PM
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Of course you can operate here for a week without a car. I manage it for weeks on end and my miserliness doesn't stop me from substantial UK and foreign travel.

Your argument about "unconfident drivers" is doolally, though. And ANY solution that has you outside comfortable walking distance of a railway station, an adequate bus service AND an adequate basic convenience store is, in my view, unsustainable for more than a couple of days without going totally insane. You also need a bus service to a proper, 30,000 sq ft+, supermarket

However comfortable you are with walking moderate distances, like 15 miles, for fun, "comfortable walking distance" for getting the morning paper and catching the 8.35 to Oxford means half a mile max.

There are just two towns that really offer this: Charlbury and Moreton in Marsh (Kingham looks on paper as if it does, but the station's uncomfortably far from anywhere anyone actually lives). Public transport in Burford's awful. Buses are OK in Stow (where there's a real supermarket within walking - and, more important, trolley-pushing - distance of the centre) and Chipping Campden, but realistically you ARE limited to the few places direct buses go to.

Forget about whether a house or flat is too big for you. As a rule, you'll just be paying a hundred or so a week more than you'd be paying for a right-sized place. Forget too about finding the "perfect" place.

First "perfection" is a silly foreign - and utterly unCotswold - delusion. More importantly, all those twee little villages you see pictures of epitomise the "there'e no there there" insight: places like Bibury are vacuous photo-ops: beautiful to loook at - but when the coach parties have gone home, and you find there's nowhere to buy a bottle of milk without calling out a taxi to get you into Cirencester, you realise what isolation really means.

Incidentally, if you really want to piss people off round here, you can insist on calling towns that have been proud of their status since they were incorporated 800 years ago "villages".
flanneruk is online now  
Jul 3rd, 2010, 11:57 PM
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 841
"A bit embarrassing to ask, but what's the scoop on public restrooms?"

Not really a term we use over here, so to save you getting some confused looks..... Where's the "ladies" or the toilet or the loo, will work.
Hooameye is offline  
Jul 4th, 2010, 01:12 AM
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My advice is to make an early stop at a local bookshop and buy a local walks guide to plan out your week. There are loads of publications that give maps, lunch points and loos.

Loos are plentiful and (on the whole) acceptable. Avoid public loos on the street, they will be utterly disgusting.

There will always be a hotel, a pub, a tea shop that will help. You can buy something first but to be honest just ask and people will be fine.

National Trust properties will have fantastic facilities be they the bogs, the tea room or the place of interest itself.

I understand your desire not to drive. My advice would be to avoid places like Stratford, or oxford they are a nightmare and only to be approached with public transport, but you could hire for a couple of days to take a hop over to places like Stowe Gardens or Coughton Court where it is just country lanes.

You cant get lost so long as you are heading in more or less the right direction (use the sun) as even if you take the wrong road head in the general direction and something will connect up and there is no shortage of signpost.

As for travel tips, if in doubt, ask someone. The vast majority of people will be only too happy to help and give advice.

Of course you will want some of the 'must sees' but there are so many gems hidden away that are worth finding out about. A lot of places date back to before the doomsday book. The village I was born and grew up in will never make it into the tourist guide, but it has a Norman Church,two pubs, a cricket team and a pretty village green - just like hundreds of other villages in the area.

(Normans 1066- around 1150)
(Doomsday book sort of early national census from 1085)
Fashionista is offline  
Jul 4th, 2010, 02:04 AM
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Posts: 2,571
If you are a long way from a supermarket, you could always order online from Tesco, http://www.tesco.com/
Sainsbury http://www.sainsburys.co.uk/
or Ocado http://www.ocado.com/
and stock yourselves up.

I have never used Tesco, but Sainsbury and Ocado will allow you to choose a delivery time.
That way you don't have to stay indoors all day waiting for your groceries.
MissPrism is offline  
Jul 4th, 2010, 02:22 AM
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Well, I'm not exactly a local as I live further south west than where you are thinking of staying, but I had a lovely day last week driving around with fellow fodorite Schnauzer - we visited Cirencester, Bibury, Burford and the Slaughters. And last October another fodorite, Barb, came to stay with me for a few days and I enjoyed driving her to Bath and other south Cotswold locations.

It occurs to me that maybe I could meet you all somewhere (BTW I'm around the same age as your mother) and take you some places you might like to see but can't get to otherwise.

Anyway, it's just a suggestion, and I wouldn't let you 'hire' me - I'd do it for the fun and pleasure of meeting you all.

You can email me if you like [email protected]
julia_t is offline  
Jul 4th, 2010, 02:27 AM
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Julia, you are a sweetie!
Maudie is offline  
Jul 4th, 2010, 02:56 AM
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You asked about the weather - you need to keep in your mind that there is no 'usual' weather in mid to late September - it can be wonderfully warm and sunny or it could be cold and wet and if you are here for a week I think we could guarantee that you will experience both, and worse, and maybe even in the same day - you need to be prepared. Us Brits have a healthy obsession with the weather because it is so changeable. Check what the weather is going to be each day by watching the local morning news on tv (between 6.30am and 9am) and there will be a local weather report (usually every half hour)that will be fairly accurate but not a guarantee of what will happen that day.

I think while advising having a car we should respect that you won't feel comfortable having one and if you don't feel comfortable then it will spoil your holiday. The money you save can be spent on taxis. The best idea I think is to find a local taxi firm once you have chosen your location. Contact them in advance and make sure that they are available to help out. You can always get them to drop you at local train stations or places with buses and arrange to pick you up at a set time if you are visiting places in out of the way locations. You should get by fine.

It definately won't be crowded at that time of year but it is best to research places/sites you want to visit in advance and check whether things are closed or not.

Fashionista gave good advice on toilets but the standard of public toilets should be better than disgusting and will certainly be ok in an emergency. And definately take her advice just to explore places that are not on the typical tourist itinery - you will get a much better flavour of English country life if you do. Having grown up in a small village that is now in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty I definately agree with what she says - the problem is though that they are so much more easily accessed by car, but see what price your chosen taxi firm will do for just a whole day of exploring little places off the tourist trail - my own pick, simply because I grew up there, would be the villages south of Bath - Wellow, Combe Hay, Hinton Charterhouse, Norton St Philip, Farleigh Hungerford - all five of these are right next to each other but walking from one to another would be almost a days task in itself - they are completely non-touristy and yet each have their own very special offerings - Wellow has a church that was built in 1372 by the first speaker of our Parliament, Combe Hay has a great restaurant in a puThe Wheatsheaf)that is amongst the best in the whole region, Norton St Philip has an old pub (The George) that is little changed from the when it was offering the same service to travellers 700 years ago, Farleigh Hungerford has a 14th century castle that has few visitors but where you can get a free audio guide that, along with the castle, the setting and the fact that there are so few other visitors will bring history alive in way that other places are'n't able to - to my mind this would be such a better experience than visting the typical tourist places and you should try and make the effort to fit in a day of doing this kind of thing.

I'd also put in a plea for at least a day and preferably an overnight in Bath, I grew up 6 miles south and lived in the city for a few years when I had my first two jobs. It will be a great contrast to the villages and has a wealth of things to see and experience, especially for first time Americans.

Whatever you decide on I'm sure you will have a great trip - it will be interesting to read your trip report once you are back home.

tjhome1 is offline  
Jul 4th, 2010, 11:09 AM
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We got back less than a month ago from Britain, traveling without a car. We spent two nights in M-i-M because it was the only Cotswold location with a rail station. Our last evening we discovered a large supermarket on the edge of town (heading the opposite way from Stow on the Wold) which would be convenient for you. We did a wonderful walk to Stow on the Wold which took almost 4 hours. We took a bus ride back which took less than 15 minutes!

The TI in Morton in Marsh is great. If it's walks you want, they can help you with more walks than you can handle for one week. I think hiring someone in advance to drive you around for a day or half a day is a great idea. I suggest doing so on your second day so that if you want to go back to Broadway for instance, and revisit and stay longer, you'll have plenty of time to do so. It's a great area, and with some planning, I am sure you will have a lovely time. Have fun!
Pilates is offline  
Jul 4th, 2010, 11:19 AM
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" M-i-M because it was the only Cotswold location with a rail station. "

There are railway stations in Charlbury, Kingham, MiM and, on the Stroud line, Kemble.
flanneruk is online now  
Jul 4th, 2010, 07:42 PM
Original Poster
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Thank you ALL for your thoughtful and detailed replies! I am very pleasantly surprised and appreciative of your input. Today we prioritized cottage preferences and made some enquiries as to availability. Once our accommodations are confirmed, I'm sure I'll have more questions. Now more specifically...

@julia_t You have made the kindest and most generous offer! I will email you when we finalize dates and location.

@MissPrism I never knew you could order groceries online! Do people use that option for regular, weekly shopping?

@flanneruk Thank you for enriching my British slang... I had to google "doolally" but I'm secretly kinda pleased that you called me insane Our first cottage pick is actually in Stow, about half a mile from Tesco. I don't anticipate getting much more than bread, cheese, and coffee, but you're right... we don't want to be lugging even that bit more than a mile.

@tjhome1 Tim, I would love to visit every single un-touristy sight that you described! You will be pleased to know that we are probably adding one or two nights in Bath at the beginning of the trip. I'm looking into B&B's for that. Feel free to offer any suggestions for a reasonably priced one.

@Fashionista Any recommendations for hidden gems?

Thanks again everyone for your help!
SpringRaine is offline  

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