This article gives a route to visit some of the hidden treasures of the Cotswolds, an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ of around 800 square miles in size and sixty miles to the north-west of London. Once in the Cotswolds, the route will take you around five hours allowing for stops.
Head up the M40 and leave at Junction 8, following signs for Oxford. To the west of Oxford the first stop is Minster Lovell Hall, near Witney. The picturesque ruins of Minster Lovell Hall is what remains of a 15th century Oxfordshire manor house built by William, Baron of Lovell – one of the richest men in England. You access the site through the grounds of St Kenelm’s Church, which you can visit. The River Windrush flows at the end of the Hall’s lawn – it’s safe to swim here, so come prepared during the summer months! After the visit have a refreshment at the Old Swan in Minster Lovell.
Burford is the next stop. This town is the gateway to the Cotswolds. It was established during Saxon times. It’s name is derived from Bur (a burgh is a fortified town) and ford (a river crossing). St John the Baptist Church dates from the 1600’s, aside from worship it was used to imprison mutineers from Cromwell’s New Model Army in 1649. Burford became enormously wealthy as it spearheaded Britain’s exports of wool to Europe and the many Inns in the town trace their history back to wool trading.
At Bourton-on-the-Water. Low arched bridges over the River Windrush and traditional stone houses, dating from the 1650’s, have earned this picturesque village the title ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’. Indeed, the village has been in existence since Roman times, and many of the footpaths through the Cotswolds, either start, end or pass through the village. With separate museums of motoring and birdlife it is very popular, but can get busy during peak periods.
Also very worth seeing, and slightly to the north of Bourton, are Upper and Lower Slaughter. The River Eye flows through these villages. Footbridges, a water mill and restaurants make it a possible for a short stroll before lunch. (The name derives from the family who acquired the land in the 1200’s).
Into the sticks (and inaccessible to coach parties) we head south on the A429 and enter quintessential Cotswolds. Coln St Dennis and Coln Rogers are both situated on the River Coln. Large 18th century country houses, walled gardens, dovecotes, ancient oak trees, weeping willows and the pastel colours of the flora in summer give an appearance of a film set from an English period drama. Visit the Church of St Andrew’s in Coln Rogers, a rare Saxon period church and/or the Church of St James the Great in Coln St Dennis, a slightly later Norman period church.
Passing through Winson (another beautiful hamlet) you arrive in Bibury. Here, typical thatched cottages line the River Coln. And you’ll find one of the most iconic and photographed streets in England; Arlington Row. This row of 1650’s weavers’ cottages was described by William Morris as the most beautiful in England.
This route highlights some of the hidden treasures of the Cotswolds. To extend your visit we’d recommend exploring Broadway and Winchcombe in the north-west of the Cotswolds.
To return to London, from Bibury, head back to the A40, take signs to Oxford and then to London.