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Trip Report - Two quick but wonderful days "scouting" the Cotswolds

Trip Report - Two quick but wonderful days "scouting" the Cotswolds

Old Jun 21st, 2010, 05:17 AM
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Trip Report - Two quick but wonderful days "scouting" the Cotswolds

When: June 18-19
Where: Primarily Northern Cotswolds. Hotel: Cotswold House Hotel in Chipping Campden
Type of Trip: Weekend break without kids to relax and "scout" the Cotswolds for future trips with kids/relatives.

Background -
After surfing this forum for years and rarely posting, I decided it was high time that I start to pay back all the wonderful fodorites who take the time to post their trips and respond to questions. So, I'm setting a low bar for myself by posting a report on a quick two day trip to the Cotswolds before I forget all the details! My husband and I are 40 year old Americans living in the UK (near Ascot) for the past year on work assigments. We have two kids (2 yrs and 8 months, respectively) and took advantage of a break in schedule for a last minute get-a-way to the Cotswolds.

Overall Impressions of the Cotswolds -
I definitely echo the other fodorites in recommending a car for maximum flexibility in sightseeing. However my biggest piece of advice for all those agonize over the "best" villages/towns to visit (I admit I was one of those people) - try to keep a flexible itinerary because the "best" Cotswold town/village to visit will completely depend on your mood/personality/weather/family type, etc. Also, don’t always believe the guidebooks. For instance, we almost skipped Broadway after reading the guidebooks description of Broadway as “non-typical of the Cotswolds” and “overrun with tourists”. We stopped there last minute and had an immensely enjoyable time (will explain why later). So, I will describe our impressions (and why) of each place we visited to provide yet another point of view for those planning their visits. Just keep in mind this is coming from two 40 yr old Type A but sleep deprived parents looking only for relaxation and a break from changing nappies (diapers to Americans) and tax law/accounting (our jobs).

Next – Day One: Driving from Ascot to Chipping Campden
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Old Jun 21st, 2010, 05:38 AM
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Hi NorCal Jo!

I'm looking forward to your report, as I've just stared thinking about visiting a friend in Cambridge next year and working in a trip to the Cotswolds...

Melodie
Menlo Park, CA
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Old Jun 21st, 2010, 07:34 AM
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Thanks Melodie!
Will be posting the report shortly this afternoon We actually lived in the Bay Area before we moved to the UK last year. We had looked in Menlo Park as it is such a great town and location but didn't find anything at the time and ended up in Los Gatos (which we also liked).

Tiffani
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Old Jun 21st, 2010, 10:15 AM
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Day One: Driving from Ascot to Chipping Campden

After much debate with DH in setting our route from Ascot we finally decided to head west on the M4 and cut north at Swindon. Our general routing took us to Cirencester and then north on A429 and A424/A44 towards Chipping Campden but we figured we would meander off the “A” roads whenever we felt as our only planned event was dinner in Chipping Campden. Our only other goal of our trip was to determine which Cotswolds villages/towns would be best suited for future trips with our young kids and visiting grandparents.
Due to a late start (I’ll blame the 2 year old), we didn’t get to Cirencester until 1pm and were too excited to get further north to stop (plus since I can’t seem to get my American lips to pronounce “Cirencester” correctly despite being told how I have an irrational grudge against it). Sorry Cirencester – we raced towards our official first Cotswolds stop – Bibury.

Bibury – Touted as the “most beautiful of the Cotswold villages” in several books, we had high expectations and weren’t disappointed although my poor DH was too busy evading a horde of tourists who chose to suddenly cross the road frogger style to appreciate our official entry into the village. So, we wrapped around the bend and squeezed our car between two huge tour buses parked along the river side of the main road. We walked along the beautiful riverside toward the Arlington Row cottages discussed in the tour guides. They were well worth seeing and very picturesque although we almost got taken out by about 100 school children on a field trip walking back towards our car. We stepped across the road to wait out the procession of children and were in front of a lovely cottage and garden facing the river (and the Arlington Row). The gardens were gorgeous and very typical English. We noticed a sign on the fence saying “private garden” (in both English and Chinese characters interestingly) so were about to turn around to avoid disturbing the residents (I am crazy paranoid about not “bothering” people) when we saw a gentleman in the garden waving and walking towards us. My husband, on the other hand, is a huge extrovert and could talk to a wall so he immediately called “Hello” and started up a conversation. Turns out the gentleman has lived there for over 20 years and planted the gardens from scratch – he immediately invited us on a little tour of his gardens and explained all the various plants and trees. He was one of the nicest people we’ve had the fortune to come across and we will always remember Bibury and the kind man with the beautiful gardens. So, we rated Bibury as “tiny, charming and peaceful” if you can ignore the tour buses that seem to park right along the main street (it is so small that I doubt there was a car park or anywhere else for the tour buses to go so they stood out more). Not a place that I would plan for a lunch stop as we didn’t see anything in the way of pubs/restaurants although there was a hotel that undoubtedly served food.

We left Bibury and headed northwest on a tiny road assuming either A) it would eventually lead to A429 or another route north or B) it would dead end in a field and we would have seen some lovely countryside. Happily, it turned out to be option A and we ended up in Northleach which is right beside the intersection of A429 and A40. We noted a large and fine church but weren’t in the mood for looking at churches and didn’t see anything else that peaked our interest so we moved along to our next stop along A429.

Bourton-on-the-Water – This was another place described as “tourist central” by our guidebooks so we approached with the trepidation common to all tourists who somehow want to avoid all other tourists . We passed a big car/bus park on our way into the village and drove up the main street to decide whether it was worth a stop on our undefined scale of Cotswold cuteness. We came to a lovely wide main street flanked with shops/eateries on one side and a river/canal on the other side along with greenpark space, trees, and more shops. Having decided it was definitely worth a stop, we circled all the way back to the same big car park (take my advice, just stop and park there the first time as it has a nice short walking path that leads straight into the center of the town). We wandered across one of the many footbridges and looked into some nice little shops. We then found a pub with outdoor seating right beside the river and decided it was high time for an English ale (and to peek in on the USA vs Slovenia World Cup match that had just started). We sat and people watched for a while and made the following observations. First, it is an extremely attractive village with the river (more like a wide and shallow canal) gracefully running through it and people of all ages enjoying the shops, restaurants, grassy areas, plentiful benches and wide walking paths along the canal. Second, if you have kids, it has multiple attractions such as the canal complete with ducks/swans, a model railway, motor museum, toy shops, ice cream shops, model village, etc. etc. If you are looking for a remote and quiet Cotswold village, this is not. But, if you are looking for a charming village with a variety of shops, restaurants, and a bit of “buzz” – this is a good choice. Based on the surrounding area build up, it also seemed that there is a larger local population than you would initially think. We were there on a Friday so I’m guessing it gets much busier in the summer but in this case there is a good reason it gets touristy – it is a beautiful place to be a tourist! We would definitely bring our kids and grandparents back to Bourton-on-the Water.
We tore ourselves away from Bourton-on-the-Water (and the USA vs Slovenia game that was not over but we heard on the radio later was a 2-2 draw) and headed towards Upper/Lower Slaughter.

Lower/Upper Slaughter – These villages are much much quieter and remote than Bourton-on-the-Water with beautiful countryside views of rolling hills/sheep. In fact, we only saw a few people as we drove into Lower Slaughter and it seemed very peaceful compared to Bourton-on-the-Water without the bustle of shops/pubs. We drove through Lower Slaughter and noticed that it looked as though you could drive your car (we have a land rover) right through the river to the other side via a cobblestone ramp but I (having taken over the wheel from DH) refrained as there was an elderly couple on the other side and I didn’t want to give them a fright. We intended to drive up to Upper Slaughter and walk back towards Lower Slaughter on the path mentioned in all the guidebooks but as we approached Upper Slaughter on the tiny road, we saw a bunch of serious looking people and school children in uniform walking along the road. We then noticed that many of the kids were crying and the adults mostly in black and realized we had come across a funeral when we saw a poster of a young child on the fence by the church. It was heartbreaking and we just drove on as it didn’t seem right to stop and have fun with the sadness in the air. Nonetheless, these were very pretty if quiet villages and if you wanted to have a nice walk, I would recommend these. A bit subdued, we headed on towards Stow-on-the-Wold.

Stow-on-the-Wold – We approached Stow-on-the-Wold and hit traffic from the various roads intersecting at this town but followed the signs to the town’s centre. It felt different from other towns that typically have a main/high street running through them. This town centre seemed to be grouped in a square more like an Italian piazza with a church and many shops and pubs. The middle of the square was mostly a paved parking area although there was still a small green area in the corner. We read that this was a originally a busy market town and it certainly had that feel versus the country feel of the other villages with their “sheep streets” and surrounding meadows. The shops/pubs looked very nice and busy and we would have stopped to walk around had we not been still slightly sad about the funeral and the fact that it started raining. So, we didn’t really get to experience Stow-on-the-Wold and would happily go back if we were in the mood for shopping or wandering in the town beyond the main square. As it didn’t have as much green space, it didn’t feel as kid-friendly upfront but I’m sure I could be proven wrong.

We left Stow and headed north on A424 towards Bourton -on-the-Hill. This was a very pretty small village with cottages and a lovely church and we gave it a nod as we continued on our small road tour towards Chipping Campden. We drove through Broad Campden which was tiny and had many beautiful “thatched roof” cottages that our British friends would probably call “chocolate box” cottages. Finally, we arrived in Chipping Campden.

Chipping Campden – We arrived in Chipping Campden and drove around to get a feel for the town (not sure if this qualifies as a town or village in Cotswold terms). In any case, it had a lovely long High street which we toured several times looking for our hotel which turned about to be right in the center and we drove by it three times before we finally saw the very subtle sign indicating Cotswold House Hotel!

Cotswold House Hotel - We booked a deluxe King room at the last minute for about £210. It was a bizarre room in the attic and we couldn’t decide whether we were in a 70’s love shack, a New York “W” hotel, or an old English country house due to the strange mix of styles of furniture (orange swivel chairs and rock lamps) and the fact that the tub (no shower) was in the room with us. Anyway, I will put a more detailed review on tripadvisor for this hotel or can add to this report if anyone is interested.
Otherwise, the hotel was in prime location and we walked around the town to explore and stopped at a pub called Eight Bells for a drink. The food looked quite tempting but we had dinner reservations at the restaurant in our hotel . So, we headed back towards our hotel and stopped by the “Market Hall” described in our guidebook which I (perhaps foolishly) expected to have markets in it but it was just the empty remains of the original open air Market Hall in the town. Still interesting but only worth a one minute look see in my mind. We went to dinner at Juliana’s restaurant in the hotel which was very good - £50 for 3 courses without wine so not cheap. It was very quiet in the restaurant but we figured that may have been due to the fact that we were eating at 8pm and the England/Algeria World Cup match was on so the rest of England was watching the game (and we would have been had we thought about it)!

All in all, Chipping Campden was a lovely town with a good blend of attractions. Quieter than Bourton-on-the-Water (and maybe Stow-on-the-Wold ) and not as many shops/restaurants but definitely enough for some pleasant walking/eating/shopping. It also was a nice place to start a walk around the countryside (in fact, is the start of the Cotswold Way footpath). My only caveat with our location on the high street in Chipping Campden would be for people with kids. There is very little sidewalk space or green space on the high street for walking with small kids or strollers. I realize this is common with high streets in the UK (including the village where I live) but other Cotswolds towns such as Bourton-on-the-Water or Broadway do have more space in the town centre for kids to run around so worth consideration.

Next: Day 2 Touring around more Northern Cotswolds villages.
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Old Jun 21st, 2010, 10:54 AM
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Enjoying your detailed report very much. We overnighted in Chipping Campden in 2004. Unfortunately, the weather that evening was cold and rainy. We ate at a great Italian restaurant on the High Street and spent the night at the Red Lion pub in a room similar to the one your described. It was on the top floor of an A frame roofline. You had to watch your head when you got out of bed. But it was rustic and charming and inexpensive (70 GBP).

Fortunately, the next morning the weather was gorgeous and remained so throughout our the rest of our 2 week vacation.
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Old Jun 21st, 2010, 01:32 PM
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Thank you for posting the results of your scouting expedition. I am finding it very helpful in planning my trip to the Cotswolds in August. We will not be renting a car, but instead relying on public transportation, foot and taxi to get around. I have arranged for a taxi to take us around for a 2-hour tour of the area in the late afternoon/early evening, starting in Chipping Campden. I am looking for some small villages to visit (other than the Slaughters, Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold, which will be included in our walks). Broadway is on my list, and I might add Bilbury after reading your trip report. The driver will drop us in Moreton-in-Marsh at the conclusion of the tour.

I look forward to reading more of your scouting mission.
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Old Jun 21st, 2010, 06:14 PM
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When we tried to walk from Lower Slaughter to Upper Slaughter, we encountered a VERY large goose who wanted to argue with us, so we turned back.

Thanks for posting in detail. One doesn't see a lot of Cotswolds reports on here, and obviously a lot of people go there.
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Old Jun 21st, 2010, 07:31 PM
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Thank you for your overview. We recently returned from a UK stay and our impressions of Bourton-on-the-Water and the Slaughters were basically the same as yours as described in my TR. We expected hordes of tourists on BotW, where we stayed (and were happy that we did), but they did not materialize. Our impressions of Chipping Campden, Broadway and Stow-on-the-Wold were also similar to yours.
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Old Jun 21st, 2010, 07:39 PM
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i have been to all those places, but none of them recently so it was a lovely drive for me...
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Old Jun 22nd, 2010, 05:37 AM
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Thanks everyone for your kind comments. Here's day two of our mission....

Day 2 - Touring around more Northern Cotswolds villages.

After a nice breakfast at the Cotswold House Hotel restaurant, we took another walk around Chipping Campden and the beautiful church at the edge of the town. You can walk behind the church and have lovely views across the valley towards Broad Campden. Walking back to our car on the High Street, we were enticed by some candlesticks in a store called Robert Welch and made a few purchases before heading out of town.

Our first stop was Broadway. As mentioned, we almost didn’t stop here due to the guidebooks description as completely overrun by tourists. I will admit that the town was busy when we arrived around 11am but we found a car park behind the high street and it was a short walk through some shops to the center of the action. It turned out that an art festival was going on in Broadway and the town was buzzing with preparations for a celebration that night complete with roast pig and other entertainments. We wished we were staying another night as it looked like it was going to be a great party! Anyway, Broadway’s high street was wide and pleasant with lots of shops, restaurants , and pubs along with a nice village green on one end. We did some shopping and found some nice (and inexpensive) jewelry by a Welsh designer along with some new driving mocs for my DH and a few toys for the kids. There was an old hotel called Lygon Arms that we popped our heads into and it looked very quaint with exposed beams, low ceilings, and little nooks. I would research further before booking a room here as when we looked out the back, we saw an annex that appeared to have been added in the 70’s. I’m guessing the rooms back there would be travel-lodge style and I doubt they would be my style plus they overlooked a paved area. Probably a hotel that you would need to inquire as to where your room was going to be located so you didn’t end up disappointed.

Our impression of Broadway was that it was a great little Cotswold town/village with some energy due to all the shops, restaurants and art galleries. If you are looking for a peaceful and quiet village, this is not it (although I would guess it is quiet at night once all the shops close). Also, once we got off the high street and walked around the back streets, it was very peaceful and there were many beautiful thatched roof and honey stone cottages to enjoy. I guess we must like places with some “action” because we enjoyed this village and would certainly return although we would plan to arrive early in the day in order to get parking as I suspect parking can be a trick on a busy summer day.
We debated on eating lunch in Broadway at one of the many restaurants but decided to move on to another village. We took the first road that appeared to go somewhat south with the intention of finding a road leading to either Stanton, Snowshill or the Broadway Tower.

Side note on driving. We had purchased a Cotswolds map at one of the first shops we found in the area and even that map did not have all the tiny roads listed on it. We also had GPS in our land rover which was helpful at times. However, after the first half day of both of us peering over our map trying to figure out which road to take, we finally gave up on the map other than for major routing and just pointed our car generally towards the direction we wanted to head. This ended up being much more fun and frankly, no less efficient because we found that the signage on all of the roads including the smallest tracks was absolutely excellent! Almost every intersection had a sign indicating which way for various villages so you would have to try really hard to get completely lost. Also, we figured if we got on a wrong road, we would eventually hit a larger road as the area is just not that big. Or worst case, the road might become too small to drive on or dead end and we would have to back up. In our two days, we only had to back up once on a one lane road where we met an aggressive “white van” (UK terminology for the hordes of often white delivery/service vans in this country who all seem to drive like they own the road) and there was no passing area. Other than that, our big land rover fit on all of the roads and even though we approached corners cautiously, it really wasn’t that bad. Of course, I’ve been driving here for a year now so used to the left side of the road but actually since most of the small roads are one lane anyway, you mostly just have to make sure the way ahead is clear!

As it turned out, the road we chose headed towards Snowshill (Snowshill Road per our GPS) so off we went and enjoyed the beautiful rolling hills and grazing sheep along the way. The spring lambs were growing quickly but still adorable and many of the poor sheep had recently been sheared! We came to a sign for Snowshill Manor which we had read was a sort of a museum/garden. We pulled into the parking lot and although I’m sure it was very interesting and nice, we just couldn’t get ourselves in the mood for looking at a collection of antiques. So we asked for forgiveness for our lack of wanting to be educated and went along our merry way to find something that looked more like a pub….

Snowshill – Snowshill is built (guess what) on a hill and we immediately rated this a 9 out of 10 on the Cotswold cuteness scale. It was a lovely village with a church in the middle and cottages terraced up the hill. At the bottom of the hill was the Village pub. We pulled into the small car park behind the pub and there was a nice grassy play area for kids complete with slide, climbing “fort” and picnic tables. People were sitting outside at the tables enjoying the sun (while the poor waitress trekked up and down the slight hill to serve their food)…. It looked like a terrific place to have a bite to eat and a pint. I voted that we stop but my DH still had roadtrip fever and had read about the “Mount Inn” pub in Stanton and wanted to wait and go there (which turned out to be a strategic error). So, we did not sample the Village Pub in Snowshill but it certainly looked friendly and great for people with kids as well.

We backtracked up the hill and saw a sign for Snowshill Lavender and since I love lavender, we headed that direction. In about 5 minutes, we arrived at Snowshill Lavender Farm where they had a small store/tea room in the midst of lavender fields that were just starting to bloom. I’m sure it would be absolutely gorgeous later in the summer when they are in full bloom. As it was, we went into the store and sampled a lavender scone (very nice) and purchased some Cotswold lavender and bramble bath products. It reminded me of a similar lavender farm we used to visit near Napa/Sonoma valleys in California and we enjoyed it. Smelling strongly of lavender after all of our sampling of lotions, we got back on the road and saw a sign for Broadway Tower. It was somewhat of a back track but again, the distances were all so short so we decided to go see the Tower. We go to the Tower and found a nice picnic area by the car park along with more kids play equipment so yet another good spot for families. The Tower itself was quite impressive and sits all by itself on top of the hill. However, we were starting to feel some time pressure and decide to leave climbing the tower for a future visit with the kids.

We headed back past the lavender farm and south on a small farm road until we hit B4077 which led towards Stanway. This area of the Cotswolds was more wooded and hilly – absolutely gorgeous. We quickly arrived in Stanway which appeared to primarily consist of a huge house (Stanway House) along with its gatehouse and a church. There were a few cottages as well. The gatehouse was amazing and what we could see of Stanway House and its grounds was as well. Unfortunately, it wasn’t open for visitors and we found out that it is only open on Tuesdays and Thursday in the summer so you would need to plan ahead to see the house and gardens. So, we didn’t stop but continued around the bend where a group was playing cricket on a lovely field alongside the sheep pastures. We also saw several signs indicating the Cotswold Way footpath and drove along a lovely tree lined road north towards Stanton.

Stanton – Along with Snowshill, this village looked straight out of a period movie set, other than the obviously new (and huge) houses built on the outskirts of the village. This was a beautiful village to walk around and in fact, we saw many walkers presumably from the Cotswold Way or similar footpaths wandering around and taking rest breaks. Other than the walkers, this was a very quiet and sleepy village tucked below a hill. We drove up the hill towards the much anticipated Mount Inn looking forward to a beer and a bit to eat but unfortunately, we had completely mistimed our arrival and it was just after 3pm. A posted sign indicated that the pub is closed between 3 and 6pm. Ugh – we should have known better and realized why all those walkers were sitting around in the village instead of drinking at the pub!!! Despite this disappointment, we enjoyed Stanton and figured this was the price of our “fly by the seat of our pants” way of sightseeing.

It was now time to head home so we reluctantly got back on the “big” road (B4077) and headed south back through Stow-on-the-Wold and then towards Burford on A424. We didn’t have time to stop in Burford but our routing took us right down the High Street as it connected us to A40 towards Oxford and home. Because the Burford High Street is also a main throughway complete with pedestrian crossing stop lights, we didn’t get the same “Cotswold” feel as the other larger Cotswold towns such as Broadway which was funny to us since the same guidebook that described Broadway as “overrun” described Buford as “unspoiled”. Don’t get me wrong, the High Street was very attractive and lined with a plethora of shops, inns, and pubs and I would have happily stopped to shop and walk around. It may be “unspoiled” but it is not “undeveloped”. Also, I’m sure that if we got off the High Street, Burford would have felt more like a typical Cotswold town/village.

As we jumped on the A40 and officially exited the Cotswolds, we considered our trip in terms of future visits with our young children and/or visiting American relatives. Our conclusions (of course limited to the towns we actually visited):

Village/Town we would likely use as home base with kids:
Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, or Chipping Campden.

Villages/towns that we would definitely want to include on a Northern Cotswolds driving tour for visiting relatives.
Stanton, Stanway, and Snowshill for scenic beauty and Broadway, Chipping Campden, or BotW for more action and restaurant choices.

With that said, we enjoyed each and every place we stopped and look forward to a longer second visit!
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Old Jun 26th, 2010, 04:03 AM
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Your trip report is fantastic. My only criticism of it is that you didn't spend more time in the Cotswolds and that your report had to end after only 2 days. I am going to include all those villages in our drive-through with our taxi. Our tour will begin at 5:30 p.m. -- I can't imagine the villages will still be overrun with tourists.

Again, thanks for a great report!
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Old Jun 26th, 2010, 07:50 AM
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Great report, thanks. I loved Bourton on the Water and the miniature village!! I did do the Snowshill Manor when I was there once and thoroughly enjoyed the house and the gardens.

Looking forward to seeing some of these places next week with JuliaT.
Schnauzer
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Old Jun 26th, 2010, 09:51 AM
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I'd like to say great report, and although I live in the Cotswolds I don't have reason to get out and about visiting these villages and towns. Thank you for reminding me of some of them.

And you've given me some ideas of where to take Schnauzer next week!
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Old Jul 1st, 2010, 02:45 PM
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Hi Everyone - thanks for the nice feedback. A bizarre footnote to my trip report. We got back to our house (in Sunningdale, Berkshire) that night and I told my husband my forehead was itchy. It got worse and worse and by the end of the next day I had a huge red welt in the middle of my forehead and the entire right side of my face and eye was swelling up. It took a week to go down even with antibiotics and benadryl. Aacck!! We are guessing (and my GP agreed) that it was a spider bite although all my British friends say I must be incredibly unlucky because they've never seen anything like it. So, watch out for those pesky Cotwold spiders!!!
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Old Jul 18th, 2010, 02:45 PM
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Thanks, NorCal_Jo! Your report was really helpful. I will definitely put Stanton and Snowshill on my list of towns/villages to visit.
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Old Aug 13th, 2010, 04:19 AM
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I'd add some recommendations to your list. When in Chipping Campden walk or drive to Dovers Hill to get a great view across to the Malvern Hills and, on a good day, the mountains of Wales. Children love the Model Village (miniature scale model)in Bourton On the Water.
Broadway and Chipping Campden were home to artists and craftsmen during the late 19th/early 20th century. Followers of William Morris settled in the Cotswolds. Morris's house is Kelmscott Manor. The followers of CR Ashbee and the Guild of Handicraft came to Chipping Campden. Elm Tree House and Woolstaplers Hall still survive.
The Gordon Russell furniture makers (1902) still exists in Broadway.
The Lygon Arms dates back to 1620.
In the Cotswolds (although further south) are the lovely villages of Painswick and Sapperton.
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Old Mar 29th, 2011, 05:43 PM
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I've been reading all the trip reports on the Cotswolds that I can find and realized I should have posted thank yous to everyone! So, I will start with you.

Great report, and lots of helpful information. I am especially happy to read that everything is well sign-posted. I will have to do all the driving on an upcoming trip and was worried about both driving and navigating at the same time.
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Old Mar 29th, 2011, 06:08 PM
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Old Feb 14th, 2021, 02:51 AM
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