Escaping to the English countryside is a popular pastime for both visitors and Brits alike, and there is nothing that makes you feel more like a time traveller than a jaunt to the Cotswolds.
This is the land of castles, fresh air, lavender fields and honey-coloured buildings. If you’ve ever dreamed of starring in your own personal period drama, this is the place to do it.
Best seen during the summer months, the Cotswolds actually covers six counties of England – Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire – so a visit there requires a little planning if you want to make the most of it. Rent a car and take your time, and you'll be rewarded with some of the most picturesque scenery in all of the British Isles.
Broadway, or as locals call it, ‘the Jewel of the Cotswolds’, was part of the main road from Worcester to London, and got its name from being a wide street, or a broad way.
The star player of the town has got to be The Lygon Arms, a beautiful hotel steeped in history. Not only did Oliver Cromwell stay here the night before the Battle of Worcester, but King Charles I also used the building to meet with his royalist supporters.
The main building looks like nothing much has changed in the way of décor since the English Civil War, and an evening in the sitting room by the fireplace with a glass of wine is as cosy as you will ever be.
Whilst in Broadway, you should also make a quick trip to the Broadway Tower, a 65ft tall tower sitting on an old beacon site, built by the Earl of Coventry in 1798. If you’re there on a clear day you can see up to 16 counties. The landscape looks like it came straight out of a Jane Austen novel and is a refreshing change if, like me, you’re used to looking out at the grey tower blocks of the London skyline.
If you’re feeling scholarly, a trip to Oxford is a must. Just don't expect to be the only one there – this area is a lot more touristy than other parts of the Cotswolds, and for good reason.
Oxford is of course best known as the home of Oxford University, the oldest university in the English speaking world. If you didn’t know it from its esteemed history, you may recognise it as the inspiration for many of the buildings seen in the Harry Potter films. Author J.K. Rowling says the Great Tudor Hall at Christ Church College, for example, was her inspiration for Hogwarts.
Predominantly a university town, Oxford has a plethora of free museums to visit and atmospheric cafes at which to rest your weary tourist feet. Don't miss the Grand Cafe, located at the site of the first ever coffee house in England. It dates from 1650 – around the same time Charles I was rallying his supporters over in Broadway.
Woodstock was once a royal forest, where English kings would stop over for a few days to go out hunting stags (think King John in Robin Hood). The palace there – now long gone – was where Elizabeth I was held captive as a princess during an uprising to depose her half-sister, Queen Mary I.
Woodstock is probably most famous, however, as the site of the vast and magnificent Blenheim Palace, the home of the Duke of Marlborough and the birthplace of Winston Churchill. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is open to the public: both the palace and its extensive grounds are a must-see if you’re in the area.
From Blenheim Palace it's a short drive to Winston Churchill’s final resting place at St Martin’s Church, Bladon.
Once a busy medieval crossroads and wealthy wool-trading town, the incredibly picturesque town of Burford is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Cotswolds. Many of the buildings – from humble cottages to grand stone buildings like the Tolsey, the town's museum – remain unchanged since Tudor times.
After you’ve finished strolling through the ancient winding streets and alleyways, go and check out some rhinos. Burford is home to the Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens and is probably the only place in the world where you’ll see rhinos grazing on the lawn of a gothic manor.
If you’ve ever wanted to pretend you’re on a film set of an English period drama, this is the place.
You’ll recognise Bampton (also known as Bampton-in-the-Bush) as the fictional village of Downton from Downton Abbey. The Old Grammar School Building was the setting for the Downton Hospital and St Mary’s Church was also seen in many scenes from the show.
The town itself is thought to be one of the oldest in the country – there's evidence that a town was here long before the arrival of the Romans – and remains well known for its historic Morris dancing tradition. Visit on the Spring bank holiday Monday (at the end of May) for a day-long celebration of England's noisy and energetic native folk dance.