Cotswolds, England’s Most Beautiful Town?

Summer In The Cotswolds

Have you ever visited a place that’s just so beautiful you want to absorb it through every pore in your body? The urge to be part of it is so intense you can hardly wait to see around the next corner…

That’s what the honey-colored stone villages of the Cotswolds in southwest England do to me. This range of rolling, wooded hills spans an area of 100 by 45 miles between the cities of Gloucester, Bath, Oxford, and Stratford.

Water is a constant companion in the Cotswolds and shaped the region’s prolific wool industry. The shallow fast-flowing rivers that you’ll see in many of the villages were just right for washing wool. Mills have been built throughout the area, from the huge town mills at Stroud to private ones run by country squires. Originally a Roman fort, Cirencester, the capital of the Cotswolds, became the center of the area’s wool industry.

The history and architecture of the area is truly incredible–it has its own brand of medieval architecture known as “woolgothic.” Many buildings from the 14th to 18th centuries are commonplace; churches, homes, market places, and shops are not marked as tourist spots–they just form part of the natural landscape here.

The Cotswolds is a place for history lovers, antique collectors, outdoor sport enthusiasts, walkers, and fans of open log fires and cozy pubs. Anyone interested in experiencing England at its quintessential best will find more than 100 ancient villages here. And, right now, while the sun shines, is a perfect time to visit.

The artist William Morris called Bibury “the most beautiful village in England.” I think his words still hold true today. On entering the village, you cross an ancient bridge over the translucent water of the River Coln, passing the Bibury trout farm on your left–you can feed the fat trout or catch them, whichever tickles your fancy. Take a right turn following the river and you’ll feel compelled to get your camera out to capture Arlington Row, believed to be the most photographed row of cottages in the Cotswolds.

Though there is a hotel in the center of the village, continue on up the valley to Bibury Court, a stunning hotel built during the Jacobean period. Here you can fly-fish for your own supper on the hotel’s private stretch of river, sleep in rooms surrounded by antiques, and have a typically British high tea. Bibury village has a small shop, post office, primary school, Saxon church, a pub, and is on a bus service to Cirencester.

Property doesn’t come cheap here in Bibury, but every property is charming and features the honey-colored stone of the Cotswolds, leaded windows, wooden beams, open fireplaces, exposed stone, and gabled ceilings.

A two-bedroom, end of terrace cottage overlooking the River Coln is on the market for £298,000. The property has two reception rooms, a galley, a walled, south-facing garden, open fireplace, and original features such as exposed beams and window seats in the bedrooms. (Listed by Savills.)

The three-bedroom, four-story Coach House on the outskirts of the village is for sale for £440,000. The property includes a basement room that leads out to the large landscaped garden, a study on the first floor; kitchen, dining room, and lounge on the second floor; and three bedrooms on the third floor. (Listed with R A Bennet.)

If you aspire to live in a house that dreams are made of, Arlington Mill is a Grade II listed (protected) building that was referenced in the Domesday Book (the UK’s oldest surviving public record from 1086). The mill has its own medieval water course. The four-floor property includes a separate one-bed cottage and both have recently been renovated and improved. The £950,000 price tag is high, but, if you’re in that market, this property is worth viewing. (Listed with Butler Sherborn.)

Next on my list of favorite Cotswold villages is Uley, a tiny village set in a beautiful valley where the banks of the hills are covered in a blanket of bluebells each spring. Uley is home to the great Iron Age hill-fort of Uley Bury, built 2,500 years ago. More recent additions are the Uley Brewery, which supplies many local pubs, and Prema Rural Arts Center where you can learn all sorts of creative skills (and enjoy coffee and cake).

Properties currently on the market in Uley range from £285,000 for a three-bed, three-floor, typical Cotswold-stone cottage (listed with Hamptons) to £1.75 million for a five-bed, oak-framed home built in a Conservation Area overlooking two large ponds. The latter is a mouth-watering property built in the walled kitchen garden of an 18th-century Gothic-revival country house. (Listed with Butler Sherborn.)

Tetbury is a larger market town, also full of history and honey-colored buildings. At the center is the Market House, built in 1655, where wool and yarns were sold; it’s used today for the weekly market. Tetbury is a town that has everything from delis to antique shops; a superstore on the outskirts to a small but very well-equipped hospital. On the doorstep are Prince Charles’ Highgrove Estate and Westonbirt Arboretum. Tetbury is also famous for the great Wool Sack races which take place each year; a tradition that requires participants to carry a 65-pound sack of wool up and down an extremely steep hill.

Property prices and styles in Tetbury are more wide-ranging; from a modern (ugly) estate on the outskirts to magnificent, period family homes. I found a two-bed, period apartment within a Grade II listed building in the town center for £141,500. The property has a huge stone fireplace, a small courtyard, and a lock-up shed. Described as “a desirable holiday home suitable to lock up and leave.” (Listed by R A Bennet.)

If you like the idea of living in a gated community, Tetbury has that, too. A modern, three-bed apartment is available for £325,000 in the Prince’s Court development built in local stone following the styles of Regency and Victorian architecture. (Listed with Perry Bishop.) The last property is one that, with a bit of modernization, could be a good investment. The three-bed Old Coach House on Gumstool Hill (overlooking the site of the Wool Sack races) is unusual in that it’s in walking distance of the town center yet has parking and a garage. The property is listed at £495,000 with Strutt & Parker.

Of course, all the beauty, history, serenity, and royalty attracts higher than national average house prices. But if you simply want to experience the Cotswolds, and are willing to live slightly apart from the most popular villages, that’s possible, too. The best towns to search for lower prices are Dursley, Wotton-under-Edge, and the outskirts of Cirencester or Cheltenham.

Lucy Culpepper

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