Cirencester, an ancient transportation hub of the Romans, is an ideal startingpoint for touring the Cotswolds. The town’s Roman origins can be explored in the excellent Corinium Museum. The parish church of St. John the Baptist with an impressive tower (1400) and the fan vaulting in St. Catherine’s Chapel counts as one of the most beautiful wool churches in the country. Cirencester Park, home to the Earl of Bathurst, is set behind the highest hedge in England and has a chestnut avenue 5 miles (8 km) long.
In Tetbury, a pleasant old market town with many antique shops, the mansion of a rich wool merchant has been carefully restored and today houses a first-class hotel. Nearby are Highgrove and Gatcombe, the country homes of Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
South of Tetbury, at Westonbirt, there is an extensive park with an arboretum, one of the best collections of rare trees and shrubs in the world. Northwest of Tetbury is the Elizabethan manor of Chavenage House, which is supposed to be haunted.
Northeast of Cirencester are the Barnsley House Gardens and pretty little Bibury, which William Morris once described as the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds. An old mill, the trout farm and Arlington Row – an idyllic higgledypiggledy row of weavers’ cottages – contribute to its distinctive charm.
East of Bibury and not far from the little market town of Burford is the Cotswolds Wildlife Park, one of whose special attractions is a herd of rhinoceros.
West of Burford on the A429, at Yamworth, lies the Chedworth Roman Villa with a bath house and mosaics. In the little market town of Northleach in a former “House of Correction” – an 18thcentury prison and court house – is an excellent museum of rural life, the Cotswold Countryside Collection. A 17thcentury wool merchant’s house contains a Magical Music Shop and Keith Harding’s collection of every conceivable mechanical musical instrument.
Nearby Bourton-on-the-Water is a pretty and much-visited spot, with a model village, museums, a perfumery, bird park, and one of the best model railways in the country – but it can get very busy.
Wander off the main roads and there are lovely villages everywhere with mills and bridges and rushing streams, such as Upper and Lower Slaughter. You can take a pleasant stroll between the two villages along the River Eye.
Further north is Stow-on-the-Wold with its interesting old stocks, a reminder of how felons were once punished. There are other notable old stocks, shaped like eyeglasses, over at Painswick, south of Gloucester; the town is also famous for the 99 yew trees in the churchyard and its 18th-century Rococo Garden. The local butcher here sells what must be the world’s most powerful cheese, called “Stinking Bishop.”
Continuing north from Stow-on-theWold, you reach Chipping Campden, once a center of the wool trade, as still evidenced today by the wool merchants’ houses from the 14th and 15th centuries, the town hall and other buildings.
Hidcote Manor Garden, northeast of Chipping Campden, is one of the most delightful gardens in England. It consists of a series of small gardens, each with its own distinct character or color scheme.
Turn west from Moreton-in-Marsh on to the A44 towards Broadway, aptly named after its wide main street. This is a classic Cotswold town which boasts beautiful Elizabethan houses – such as Tudor House and Abbots Grange – antique shops and cozy pubs. The Teddy Bear Museum is home to one of the best teddy bear collections in the world.
To the south are three particularly pretty Cotswold villages which justify abandoning the main roads. Stanway has a beautiful orange-gold stone Jacobean house; its vast gatehouse is adorned with magnificent stonecarving. Nearby Stanton has beautifully-restored 16th- and 17th-century houses in typical Cotswolds architecture. In Snowshill, a Tudor manor blends harmoniously with its village setting; inside, it’s filled to the brim with collections of everything from Samurai armor to bicycles.
South of Stanton on the B4632 is Winchcombe, a lovely Cotswold town with weird gargoyles on the facade of the Perpendicular Style church (1490); a railway museum; and (an odd mix this) a folklore and police museum. Nearby are the picturesque ruins of the Cistercian Hailes Abbey, as well as Sudeley Castle which was once the home of Catherine Parr. The only wife to outlive King Henry VIII, she is buried in the chapel there. The castle park is ideal for extended walks.