Cotswolds: Traditional Heart of England

I wanted to communicate what I had seen, so that others could see it.

Laurie Lee

We hope everyone gets a chance to visit the destinations we highlight in this Chow Bella blog, but for those that can’t or don’t get the opportunity, then as Laurie Lee says, “I wanted to communicate what I had seen, so that others could see it.” 

While we were in Bristol, England, we decided to take a full day tour of the Costwolds through Mad Max Tours. We took a quick and easy train ride to Bath, where our tour guide picked us up to drive us through some of the towns. We highly recommend this tour because the guide was very accommodating and informative. It was nice because during the drives we would get all this information about what to see while in the town and then we were let out of the van to go explore on our own. We had so much fun!

It was so great that we didn’t have to drive because the roads are small and narrow. Taking the bus gave us both a chance to look out the window and enjoy the scenery. The Cotswolds, with its old historic cottages, is known as the traditional heart of England. Even though it was rainy, we noticed so many tourists and residents buzzing around the small towns. The two things this area is known for are limestone rocks and sheep. However, now most of the area’s income comes from tourism. A lot of famous people like to visit and live in this area, such as Prince Henry, Prince Harry, and Prince Charles. Since the rich and famous live in these parts, most of the cottages cost around ½ to 3 million pounds. That amount does not include any remodeling that might need to be done to the cottage. However, there are very strict guidelines for what you’re allowed to remodel. For example, thatched roofs need to remain thatched and must get changed every so often. The outside needs to be made of limestone and the handmade glass windows need to be replaced with handmade glass windows. 

On our way to the Costwolds, we drove through some idyllic towns that we’ll have to stop at next time. One of the towns was called Leech town. It was known for selling wool and cloth back in the day, and you can still see the signs above the doors indicating jobs from the olden days, like blacksmith, copper, or pub. Leech town used to be so wealthy that it was able to build the Cathedral of the Cotswolds (a grand church in a small town). Another town we drove by is called Coln Rogers town. This is one of the “Blessed Towns,” a name given to any town where all of their residents who fought in World War I survived.

Here are our top recommendations for the Cotswolds! 

Castle Combe

All the cottages that you see were built between the 1300’s and 1600’s. Back in the day their main source of income was from a wool market, weaving, and wool dyeing. As you walk around, you will notice on top of the roofs a sphere shape with cross base, which are called witches crosses. It was a symbol to help protect their houses from witches flying by. Also, if you keep walking around you will see graffiti on the cross market that dates to the 1600. Back in the day there used to be a castle, but now you will see a manor house. 

This small town is a star in the sense that a lot of films were shot here, including Stardust, Warhorse, and Dr. Dolittle (the original). We have not seen any of those movies yet, but they are on our list now! 

Our guide took us into the church where we got to see where the Crusader Sir Walter de Dunstanville was buried. He used to be the lord of the manor. However, he died in the second crusade. It’s fascinating to see how they indicate this on people’s graves. Sir Walter’s tomb features a statue wearing armor and crossing his legs, which means he died in the second battle. 

Malmesbury

Both Castle Combe and Malmesbury had old market crosses, where the market area and center of town were located. However, out of the two, Malmesbury had the oldest market. You cannot miss the abbey, which used to be the tallest building in the town until the spire collapsed and ruined two thirds of it. Also, if you circle along the abbey you will come across a very nice and quiet garden. This garden used to be owned by the church, but now it is owned by the naked gardeners. For this reason, we were told that five times out of the year you can go to the garden naked.  

When you go in the abbey you will see a statue and the burial area of the first king of the united England — Athelstan. Another big name from this town was Hannah Twinage. She was more so remembered by her death. This town was having a circus and a tiger got loose and ended up mauling this lady.  

Malmesbury also claims the oldest hotel in England: Old Bell Hotel. This hotel is beautiful and encased in foliage, which gives it such an enchanting feel. 

Bourton-on-the-Water 

This town was a lot more commercialized and bigger than the other two Cotswolds towns above. It was still very cute with its shops along the river. The river became the focal point of the town. To cross from side to side, the town had a lot of little bridges. We were told that the local tradition every year is a soccer match in the river where each team has to defend a bridge with as many teammates as they can muster.

We wanted to get a small snack while we were here, so we stopped at The Cornish Bakery to get a pastry. This little shop was so cute and was fully packed, so we knew it was going to be good! We ended up sharing what they call the “Award-Winning Traditional Cornish Pasties.” It was so warm, flakey, and packed full of nice flavors. We highly recommend you stop in even if it is just to grab something quickly and keep walking like we did. Take a look at their website to see what they have to offer. 

Stow-on-the-Wold 

This town has a lot of cafes, pubs, and tearooms. It is considered one of the more traditional Cotswolds towns. You can also find yourself getting lost in the cute alleyways with little shops. This town back in the day was known for its livestock market where they sold sheep. It’s also the highest Cotswolds town at 800 ft. above sea level. 

While we were here, we decided to get lunch at Lucy’s Tearoom. It was so adorable on the outside and the inside. It had an adorable cottage charm with a cozy tearoom display.  While we were here, we got an English breakfast tea and a spiced masala chai tea. We shared a selection of little finger foods, such as egg mayonnaise sandwiches, brie and cranberry sandwiches, carrot cake, Victoria sponge cake, and a biscuit with clotted cream and jam. Everything we had was so delicious and tasted homemade. When we were there it was raining, so the outside patio was not being used, but we can see how that would be a nice place to sit and relax on a nice day. 

As we wandered, we came across this beautiful church. Here we saw a door that was aligned on either side with tree trunks. Since we both love Lord of the Rings and for those that also love the Lord of the Rings, some people say that Tolkien got his inspiration for the Moria door from this church door. 

Bibury

This town seems very quiet and nice to walk around and enjoy the nature. To this day, it’s known for its native brown trout farm. This town is also known for having the very first (in the world) horse racing club. It used to be known for the busy Arlington corn mill as well. This town even is frequented by the sad grey lady ghost. The story goes that a woman married an elderly miller but fell in love with his son. When the miller found out he pushed his son off the mill and kicked his wife out of the house into the bitter cold. As a result, some say they still see the ghost of the sad grey lady walking around. 

This town has a tradition during Boxing Day (December 26) where they have a duck race. The locals buy or sponsor an artificial duck and whoever wins they donate the winnings to charity. This area is so captivating that even Henry Ford wanted to bring this town to Michigan. He wanted to take all the pieces to Michigan and then reassemble it there; however, he was denied. We guess there are some things that money can’t buy. 

Tetbury

This charming town is nice to walk around in and seemed a lot busier with cars than some of the other areas we were in. One of the main things that gets people to this town is the antique stores and Prince Charles’ shop called Highgrove. All the money that the shop gets is given to charity and helps educate kids in need.

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