Risa’s parents came to visit us here in London, and rather than spend a week-and-a-bit stuck in the city, we hired a little car and had a very quick break in the English countryside.
Our first stop was to the Cotswolds. I’ve heard this name mentioned frequently (by the presenters on Top Gear), but I didn’t really understand the significance of it. A little reading painted it as an idyllic example of traditional English villages.
Our trip started with an evening in a little riverside B&B just south of the Cotswolds Area of Natural Beauty (AONB). It was cute, and in a nice setting, but sadly, it was more of a recreation than an actual cottage. But, Risa’s parents had just arrived from a long journey from Japan, and all they really needed was a feed, a hot shower, and a bed.
The next morning started with showers and sad grey skies – which was not entirely unexpected, and thankfully we’d packed for this weather. This was also our first opportunity to experience driving on English country roads, as the journey from Heathrow was mostly on the easy motorways. The roads to Bibury and the famous Arlington Row were completely different. Lanes narrowed to 1.5 cars wide, hedges limited visibility, and there were corners every 30-50m. It’d be fun except for the ever present possibility of encountering a coach/truck around that next corner.
Bibury was our first real stop in Cotswolds, and it really set the standard. We donned our raincoats and went for a quick walk up to Arlington Row, across the gorgeous little bridge, and past the beautiful stripy cows. I can’t explain just how beautiful this little row of houses were. It was like being on a historic film set. There wasn’t much to be done here other than walk past the fronts of these beautiful houses (which are all lived in), and with the rain putting a dampener on things so after a couple of photos, we were off. We didn’t bother with the Beatrix Potter museum (which we heard was a bit rubbish), and instead we took off back to the car, excited about what else we might find today in our travels!
Sadly, our next stop, Bourton-on-the-Water was very different from quaint little Bibury. There were untold numbers of craft, souvenir and ice-cream shops. This was much more of a functioning town, with some historic elements, and a large tourist industry, and all sorts of regular folks going about their daily lives. Risa’s dad is more of a sucker for ice-cream than I am, so we had a quick stroll through town while we shared a couple of scoops of nice ice-cream – which I hope was actually locally produced.
Slaughter (and Upper Slaughter) were pencilled in for the day, and since the day was still early, we made a quick stop and a wander down the main street, ending up at the Old Mill. I was keen to continue walking up the hill to Upper Slaughter, but the rain was making things a bit miserable, and not really conducive to enjoyable strolls in the countryside. Still, the quick first impressions we had of Slaughter were positive, with plenty of pretty stone houses.
We drove through a few more of the towns on my itinerary, including Stow-on-the-Wold, Moreton-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Hill, but were satisfied enough to just enjoy the scenery from the comfort of the car. Having started with beautiful Bibury, and quaint Slaughter, these larger towns were lacking character.
I had to argue the case to make one more stop, instead of hitting the motorway for the Lake District, and we’re all glad that I did. We made a bit of a detour, through more of the slow going country roads to Stanton. Again, knowing that there wouldn’t be an oncoming car around the next bend would make the driving more enjoyable, but otherwise, it was a beautiful part of the country to drive through – and I understand why the gentlemen from Top Gear frequently mention the area.
Stanton was a bit of an unknown, and as a result, a most pleasant surprise. The original plan was to walk from here to nearby Stanway – but again, even though the rain had eased somewhat, it wasn’t really a pleasant day for ambling. That said, we did get out of the car, and had a quick walk through Stanton. It was an aimless wander, passing down small residential streets with beautiful stately homes. The uniformity of the stone used gave a great homogenous feel to the town, even though the houses were all quite different shapes and designs. Our wandering ended when we almost walked into a wedding in a scenic little church – thankfully the Rolls Royce with the ribbons made sense once we heard the organ playing Wagner’s wedding processional march.
The houses were also filled with troves of hidden details, and we could have spent much, much longer really trying to find these little surprises – I personally loved this little thatched fox on the top of one of the roofs.
It was an absolutely whirlwind visit, but we loved the time we spent walking through some of these old towns. It is amazing how much things can change driving a few hours out from London, and it is sad that we didn’t make more of these trips.