London is amazing but we also wanted to experience rolling hillsides covered with sheep and visit charming villages and winding country lanes in the Cotswolds. We booked an all-day small group tour and met our driver/guide early one morning. Avoiding a car accident on the motorway aka highway, our driver quickly took us on a country road detour so that we could keep to our schedule and see all the sites. Along the way and before every village we visited, he shared with us the history of the region and told entertaining stories to keep us engaged. He explained how important sheep are to the history and economic growth that happened in this area and cautioned us that “here in the Costwolds we don’t eat sheep because their wool is renown and has earned residents great wealth”. The largest sheep market in the Middle Ages saw 20,000 sheep pass thru in a day. Duly noted. Sheep rule.
Established in 1966 and designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) the Cotswolds (name comes from “cot” meaning sheep enclosure + “wold” meaning elevation or hill) covers 700+ miles of rolling bucolic hills and country manors. While there are many quaint villages within the Cotswolds, on our tour we visited Burford, Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water aka “Venice of the Cotswolds” and Stow-on-the-Wold, the highest elevation in the region. Stopping about an hour in each place, we got to wander around, eat at the local pubs, shop, and take pictures of all the picturesque sites. My sister grabbed a wonderful framed original drawing at a community yard sale. I picked up lots of Christmas gifts from a local church holiday bazaar. Lavender is a popular Cotswolds grown product, so I picked up soaps, lotions, oils, etc. Local treasures that you can’t get just anywhere.
As we walked around, I couldn’t help but take pictures of literally everything I saw. The buildings made out of golden-colored Cotswolds stone (limestone) are architecturally gorgeous. Stone walls along the roads and separating the fields are an important characteristic of this region. Local limestone rocks are stacked with no binding element holding them together with the rocks on top pointing vertically, so they lean into each other and hold themselves together. We saw gated estates adjacent to the small village/church where the estate workers lived. Very Downton Abbey. It is rumored that Stow-on-the-Wold, where JRR Tolkien visited often, was an inspiration for mythical locations described in his books, especially St. Edwards Church’s unique doorway with the two trees.
I could imagine renting a thatched roof cottage in the Cotswolds, renting a dog to trudge through the fields in the rain and drinking lots of tea in the local cafes. We enjoyed our quick day trip through the countryside. It is a very restful and beautiful place. Enjoy the journey!