Just Back From… the Cotswolds was written in June 2013 after a lovely spring break to celebrate the OH’s birthday. Spring was a little late that year.
When you think of the Cotswolds it is the warm honey-coloured limestone and cute thatched cottages inviting romance and tranquillity that spring to mind and where market towns (formerly centres of the wool trade) have wide squares and streets and are the centres of activity. Brooks and rivers bridged by tiny stone arches meander through the hidden villages in the rolling hills and farmland where country pubs have flagstone floors, beamed ceilings and inglenook fireplaces with log fires.
You may also think about crowds of tourists and visitors up from London for the day, often on large touring coaches; ancient churches and manor houses; picture-book tea-rooms; expensive antique, retro and vintage shops. You’d be right about all of these things, but there is another side to the Cotswolds to be explored if you look.
The Cotswolds district is mainly in the counties of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire with parts of Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Somerset at the edge. It is an area filled with hundreds of small towns and villages that don’t appear on the calendars and book covers or hog the limelight, but are equally attractive. Discover them by driving along the plethora of narrow, winding roads which often provide the most amazing views over the Wolds and the valleys. There are public footpaths, national trails and bridleways galore. Find yourself in a charming and unspoilt village away from the main tourist spots and walk around listening to the birdsong and admiring the chocolate box cottages and striking parish church. In the late spring sunshine, with so many shades of green it is impossible to count, you may stumble across a woodland carpeted with bluebells.
In the north of the region take a romantic circular drive from Moreton-in-Marsh to Stow-on-the-Wold stopping at Broadway Tower and Country Park for a picnic with a view, Broadway village with its wide main street, Snowshill Manor with its collection by the eccentric Charles Paget Wade, Snowshill Lavender farm in the summer, and Hailes Cistercian Abbey ruins, a most peaceful spot on the Cotswolds Way. Continue through Guiting Power with the ‘Hollow Bottom Inn’ and the picturesque Lower Slaughter with the tiny River Eye running through it.
There are dozens of lovely homes and gardens for you to visit, some owned by the National Trust, others in private ownership. Some are large estates such as Sezincote or Hidcote and attract the coach parties, others are smaller and often quieter. All are worth a visit.
The Cotswolds is a vast region and requires several days to explore it thoroughly. We only touched on a small part in four days; there is a lot more to discover.
This post is a contribution to Fandango’s Flashback Friday. Have you got a post you wrote in the past on this particular day? The world might be glad to see it – either for the first time – or again if they’re long-time loyal readers.
I have waited four years to write another ‘Just Back From’, it’s not only been the pandemic that has interfered with our lives over the last four years. My middle son has been seriously ill and hospitalised for months at a time (2017 and 2019) and then my mother-in-law needed extra support until her death in late 2018. Fortunately for us we live in a county that is visited by millions of other people each year so we are one of the lucky ones where every day can seem like a holiday.
Our first break away was looked forward to both with anticipation and some degree of trepidation. What was it going to be like ‘out there’ among people, going to restaurants, being in a town/city? We were suffering from social anxiety after over a year of keeping to ourselves.
This trip to Wells, the smallest city in England, was long overdue. I had wanted to go there last spring, but then the pandemic hit. We considered the autumn, but decided to wait. And we are glad that we did. Fully vaccinated and with a birthday to celebrate we chose the week before the half term in the hope that everywhere would be just that bit quieter and when restaurants could open for indoor service again.
It wasn’t the usual May weather: this year May has been very wet and cold, but it was hopeful for a warmer end to the week. Raincoats were duly packed, just in case, and the itinerary was left fluid. There were a few “must sees” – the main being Wells Cathedral – and Glastonbury.
A drive through the north Somerset landscape took us to Chew Valley Lake not far from Bristol airport where we had hoped to have a couple of walks and look for some interesting birdlife, but the walks were inaccessible due to repairs in the car park and the weather turned wet. We drove back via the famous Cheddar Gorge (the B3135) and the village of Cheddar, on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills, but decided against stopping. Climbing up to the top of the gorge is beyond us now and definitely not in the rain. Those who love exploring caves may like to stop at Wookey Hole, again, not for us, but we love the name!
On a drive to Frome we diverted to Nunney where there is a picturesque moated castle that dates from the 1370s. Its builder was Sir John de la Mare, a local knight who was beginning to enjoy royal favour. It is situated in a very pretty little village with a lovely church and grounds.
Frome itself was a huge disappointment. We had considered whether we could move there given it is a market town, but it seems rather downtrodden and the dismal weather didn’t help. I was hoping for nice river walks, but we couldn’t find any.
We spent a day in Wells itself, walking the 20 minutes across fields from our B&B on the outskirts of the city to enjoy the Bishop’s Palace Gardens before going into the Cathedral. The moat around the gardens is impressive and we loved seeing a swan family complete with five cygnets.
Rain arrived in the afternoon whilst photographing Vicar’s Close, so after a well needed coffee sitting in the gardens under an umbrella, we decided to give up and head off back to the B&B. Feet sore and legs tired. Walking all day is not what we usually do.
We took the bus in on the Wednesday morning to visit the open-air market. Now that is well worth visiting. Lots of lovely stalls including a great fresh fishmonger. There are some great restaurants and cafes in Wells and lots of shops. The only downside was that the impressive iconic West Front of the cathedral, featuring 300 medieval carvings, is covered in scaffolding!
Our day in Glastonbury turned out to be one of the best days of the week, bright and sunny and warm. Perhaps a tad too warm for climbing up the tor, but we gave it our best.
It is a unique town “…in Glastonbury history, myth and legend combine in such a way that most visitors cannot fail to feel the “vibes” and powerful atmosphere of the town. For not only is Glastonbury the cradle of Christianity in England but is also reputed to be the burial place of King Arthur. where many of the shops are involved in the sale of mystical objects and artifacts. Glastonbury with its myths, legends and ley lines has become a centre for New Age culture and spiritual healing.” from (The History of Glastonbury)
The abbey and the grounds are lovely and tranquil and we enjoyed wandering around for a couple of hours before driving closer to the tor and stopping to go into the Chalice Wells Gardens for an hour. More will be written about all the gardens on my flower blog in due course.
Whilst in the region we also headed up to Lacock Abbey and Village up north in Wiltshire, near Chippenham.
The whole village is owned almost in its entirety by the National Trust and the unspoilt village has been used in many period dramas such as Cranford and Downton Abbey (and for those who care, apparently some of the Harry Potter films). The abbey located in the centre of the village was founded in the 13th century, but due to covid only a few rooms were open at the time. We had a very enjoyable walk around the Abbey grounds and the cloisters at the abbey and a brief look at the the Fox Talbot Museum, devoted to the pioneering work of William Henry Fox Talbot in the field of photography, before heading to the Red Lion for a leisurely lunch and then a wander around the village. However the charm of the buildings is spoiled by the number of cars parked in the village. It is a shame they don’t have a car park on the outskirts for the villagers and ban parking altogether.
More gardens were visited at the end of the week in sunnier climes, this time heading south to East Lambrook Manor Gardens, the home of plantswoman Margery Fish who famously said “When in doubt, plant a geranium.” And yes I came away with several. A 15 minute drive from there took us to Montecute House (NT) and coffee then we returned for lunch at the Rose and Crown in East Lambrook before finishing the day at Barrington Court (NT) another 15 minutes away down the road. All built out of the lovely local honey-coloured hamstone.
We had a good week away, despite unsettled weather and enjoyed driving through the Somerset countryside and lots of little villages due to some interesting routes provided by Florence (our SatNav). If you are big on shopping then the Clark’s Village (retail outlet) on the outskirts of Street / Glastonbury or Kilver Court in Shepton Mallet, with its designer shops may interest you. We visited Kilver Court, but only to go to the gardens there which have been designed around a viaduct. They are quite interesting with the rock garden and pools and the small nursery attached has some very interesting plants for sale.
Going away in these odd times was different. It felt quite strange to be amongst people on fairly busy streets, though most people respected your space. Masks were worn in every shop and restaurant (until seated), staff wore masks or visors and tables were kept at a distance. You do have to be patient and tolerant with the service though as we found it tended to be very slow in many places. To be expected as businesses had only just opened to indoor service when we visited. Many hospitality venues are struggling for staff too. And it is best to book tables especially at the weekend and check if booking to venues is required.
PS You can tell that we are unused to going away from home. For the first time ever I managed to leave my camera battery charger at home. So many photos were taken using my phone which drained the battery as you can imagine! One way to limit the number of photos taken.
I know I am a little late for this challenge, but it’s taken me a day or two to sort out all the photos taken during our first holiday in two three years! And I think this one fits the brief.
This is as far as I got walking up to the Glastonbury tor on a rather warm day. My knees were protesting at the number of steps and although almost on the flat as I reached this point, I felt that I had got close enough. There will be more Glastonbury posts to come once I have sorted out the photos and found the energy to blog.
I have traversed to St Michael’s Mount several times over the years and even climbed up to the castle itself a couple of times, but I have never been to the garden as it is only open for a short time from the end of April until September. But this year I was there on the first open day of the season at low tide so that I could walk over the causeway connecting the island to the mainland at Marazion.
It is the most remarkable garden exposed to gales and salty winds, but the Gulf Stream keeps the frosts away and the granite rock acts as a giant radiator – absorbing heat by day and releasing it at night creating a micro climate in which all sorts of plants flourish from Mexico,Canary Islands, New Zealand, Chile, and South Africa.
The gardens are on the rocky slopes and are not easily accessible with the steep and narrow paths, steps and terraces and require constant maintenance and conservation to keep them in good condition. As you enter the garden on the east side you follow an avenue of Cordyline australis with views over Mount’s Bay towards the Lizard. The Laundry Lawn is a place for relaxing, playing and picnicking. The steep bank to your right (see header photo) is part of the defences during the English Civil War and on your left is a Pill Box from the second world war. And as you reach this point, you see ahead of you the dramatic East Terrace, rearing up above your head to the east wing of the castle.
The Pill Box
Now comes the difficult part. To reach the upper slopes you have to scramble up the steep paths where aloes and agaves rear out of the bedrock and exotic succulents cling to every crevice imaginable. Some paths have steep drops, some have handrails, others do not. Aloes flourish and on the top you reach The Tortoise Lawn where you find a Victorian well. Another pathway takes you into the Walled Gardens. Not only do you need good footwear, but also a head for heights as below you is the dizzying drop to the sea and above you rises the sheer sides of the castle.
A profusion of colour greets you as you move into the West Terraces. South African Osteospermum spread over the granite walls. I am taken aback as I only know these as late spring and summer flowers and it is still only April. Geraniums, pelargoniums, Leucondendrum argenteum and Aeonium rise up amongst Agave and Aloes.
The planting on such steep slopes is overwhelming. I am lost for words as I look around me, not knowing which pathway to take. I have never seen a garden like this and I am stunned to think what I have been missing all these years.
And all the while you are aware of the great expanse of the bay, the endless sky and the incredible clear light and all the hard work that must go into creating and maintaining such a wondrous garden. It is magical.
A separate post will appear with close-ups of some of the succulents in this garden. It was just too difficult to decide which of my many photos to leave out!
Agave Americana ‘vatiegata’
And this is a birthday post for the OH who unfortunately was unable to access much of this garden due to the nature of the terrain and his vertigo. But he was very happy to test a bench for me and look out over the bay towards the Lizard peninsula whilst I meandered. (Between you and me I think he was grateful to have a rest )
We first visited this unusual garden in late April 2015 when we just happened to still be in Cornwall on holiday when the garden opened up for the season. Usually we were either too early or too late. We have been back since, but this is my first impression. Originally written on my flower blog for my OH’s birthday at the end of May, this post is a contribution to Fandango’s Flashback Friday. Have you got a post you wrote in the past on this particular day? The world might be glad to see it – either for the first time – or again if they’re long-time loyal readers.
The Maws Craft Centre and Maws Creative Spaces are a collection of art, craft and design studios situated in the picturesque Ironbridge Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 1.5 miles from the historic Iron Bridge. Housed in the refurbished Victorian tile factory of Maw & Co, once the world’s largest tile manufacturer. The building now comprises independently run studios – a mix of artists, designers & makers, galleries, a holistic therapist, a plant shop, the Tile Press café a craft supplies shop, the Gorge Parish Council office, IT consultants and media companies.