At Easter we decided to take three days to visit somewhere I’ve always wanted to go: the quintessential English paradise of the Cotswolds. People come here from all over the world to see the fairytale England of their imagination, including the ancient stone villages, cute cottages and pubs galore. As we were going on one of the busiest weekends of the year, I have to tell you that the only way to see the Cotswolds in its proper peaceful glory is if you get up reasonably early. That’s why I was able to get all the following photos without the hoards of tourists. If you get to each village around 8am, you should be fine. The tourist buses start arriving at around 10.
I’ve compiled a list of my must-see villages in chronological order of when we visited them. We stayed in a town on the northern borders of the Cotswolds called Moreton-in-Marsh, in a very nice 4-star hotel called The Manor House. Our main criteria for choosing a hotel was that it was dog-friendly as we were bringing my boyfriend’s English springer spaniel, Toby, as a guest of honour. The Manor House was really comfortable and they accommodated our early morning starts by bringing us a tray of breakfast between 6-7am each morning, depending on how early we needed to be up and about. Moreton-in-Marsh itself was a good base for our daily village excursions because, while it wasn’t one of the aforementioned fairytale villages, it wasn’t too far away from everything but it still had affordable accommodation and they even had some nice walks around the surrounding fields in case Toby needed to stretch his legs. On our way to each of the villages I mention below, we also passed through some towns that you might find on other lists of “best Cotswolds villages”, such as Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Norton, although I found these to be either too large or too touristy for my personal taste.
So without further ado, here is my list of the top four Cotswolds villages.
We arrived at Lower Slaughter at 8am on Good Friday morning, and as you can see, there was not a soul in sight – perfect for photography! The little River Eye runs through this village and you can take an easy mile-long walk from here up the hill to Upper Slaughter, the next village on my list. On our return journey, we both realised we were rather hungry so we found a lovely cafe called the Old Mill, which is actually also a museum, craft shop and ice cream parlour. Even though it was still fairly early on a bank holiday morning, they were open and made us a couple of coffees (and a sausage sarnie for the boyfriend and Toby) to eat out on their riverside terrace. I still remember the 1930s-1940s jazz music they played and the relaxing sound of water trickling through the mill – just perfect! Fun fact: a mill on this site was recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086. It’s not every day you can have your morning coffee in a place that’s 1000 years old!
Strangely I don’t have as many photos from Upper Slaughter but I think I can put this down to the fact that I was so happy to be in such a beautiful place that I put the camera away for about half an hour and just enjoyed taking in my surroundings. Upper Slaughter is situated on a hill so we sat on a little bench just below the church and watched the River Eye running downstream while listening to the early morning birdsong. Also, if you’re wondering about the seemingly gruesome name “Slaughter”, it actually comes from the old English “Slohtre”, which just means “muddy place” (slightly underselling these two charming villages I think!).
Ok I don’t think Castle Combe is technically in the Cotswolds (it’s in north Wiltshire, about 1 hour 15 min drive from Moreton-in-Marsh), but I certainly wasn’t going all the way to this part of England without making the trip to this famous village. If you ever watched Downton Abbey, I probably only need to tell you that some of the show was filmed here in order to sell it to you. If not, then I bet you have seen pictures of it at some point – it is often called “the prettiest village in England”. We spent an hour or so wandering the streets and then were lucky enough to get one of the last places for breakfast at The Castle Inn. You can also see from the last picture that Toby thoroughly enjoyed himself wandering around the orchard overlooking the village.
The middle shot above is of one of the most photographed streets in England: Arlington Row. These cottages were built in 1380 to store wool and later to house the weavers at Arlington Mill. There is also a beautiful hotel called The Swan (which I’m sitting in front of in the last picture), which I would love to go back to one day to have a meal.
I hope you enjoyed my rundown of the best places to visit in the Cotswolds. This ended up being quite a long post but it’s my first travel blog in a while so I thought I’d go into lots of detail. I already know I’d love to go back to this stunning place in the next few years and I hope this helped you if you are planning your own trip there in the future. Next travel stop for me is the South of France and I know I have a few blog posts from there already from 2014 but hopefully I can update you in a bit more detail on the best places to head to in that part of the world.