The Muddy insider guide to The Cotswolds
Prepping for a staycay this summer? Our curated guide to The Cotswolds is packed with our-in-the-know tips and up-to-date openings. Just add sandals and sunshine.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
Desperate to get away this year and plotting a UK staycay? Err, form an orderly queue now! Muddy has teamed up with gorgeous SPF brand Saltee (beloved of Grazia, Elle and Vogue) to curate your summer holiday fun – bang-up-to-date of course, and totally in the know.
This week let us whisk you off to the Cotswolds, one of the most idyllic and sought after holiday hotspots in the UK. Birkenstocks and Barbours at the ready? OK, let’s go.
When people think of quintessential English countryside, chances are they’re picturing the Cotswolds – a slice of England famed for its honey-hued cottages and rolling hills dotted with picture-perfect villages.
We can’t argue; it’s as stunning as the guide books say. But whilst crowds may flock to the likes of Bourton-on-the-Water (the Venice of the Cotswolds) or the tearooms of Chipping Norton, the real Cotswold conogscenti step off the beaten track, as there are oodles of cool and quirky places to discover.
Straddling six counties and 800 square miles, this AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is awash with unpredictable finds and fun – from a skywalk through the canopy of one of the UK’s oldest Arboretum’s at Westonbirt to funky pop-up beaches (yes, we even have those).
Little over an hour’s rustic road-trip from north to south, or east to west, (hire a vintage car for max countryside cred), it’s a really easy region to base yourself in and tour around.
The choice may seem mind-boggling at first as there are so many bucolic boltholes to head for, but there are three main regions in terms of character.
The north Cotswolds goes roughly from Chipping Campden and beautiful Broadway down to Northleach (made famous by This Country). It includes the well-trodden but must-visit ‘Cotswolds Golden Triangle’ of Chipping Norton, Burford and Stow-on-the-Wold. A very popular starting point attracting a Notting Hill-meets-Kensington crowd, come here if you love beautiful scenery, artisan boutiques and hipster eateries.
The mid-Cotswolds is less touristy and hugely family-friendly, with some spectacular scenery, great market towns and lots of watersports. It follows a lush green corridor from the headliner town of Cirencester (with its Roman origins and fairytale square) in the east, to Stroud, Painswick and the Slad Valley in the west. Much wilder and untamed in character than the north, this is serious walker country.
And finally, the south Cotswolds takes you from royal Tetbury, home to HRH’s Charles and Camilla and their Highgrove Estate, down to great National Trust parks and pretty villages like Castle Combe and Bradford Upon Avon.
For a back-to-nature bolthole with lashings of luxury head for the spectacular treehouses at The Fish Hotel in Broadway. Expect underfloor heating, hot tubs, a Nespresso machine and a friendly welcome for dogs.
The Severn Vale on the edge of the Cotswolds is great for walkers and The Glamping Orchard offers bell tents and a restored 1950’s Warwick Knight Caravan that has starred on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. Sleeping a family of 4, with your own gin terrace on top.
Over in Painswick, as soon as it reopens, The Mill Pond Pod is a private getaway perched on the edge of a fishing lake, a short stroll from the artsy old wool town of Painswick, ‘The Queen of the Cotswolds’ with its galleries and pretty lanes.
Head to Far Peak near Northleach where you can stay in shepherd huts, tipi tents and eco-domes. The site has its own fabulous 30ft climbing wall (kids love it), bouldering course and acres of outside space for dedicated den-makers.
Or stay in a 4 person eco-yurt in your own glade at Abbey Mead Farm in Cirencester – with the Organic Farm Shop next door doing amazing Sunday lunches, for some home comforts. Both are reopening in the first week of July.
Cotswold Farm Park, owned by Countryfile celebrity farmer Adam Henson in pretty Guiting Power, has eco-pods and Morroccan-themed tents- the king-sized double beds and bunk beds making them perfect for a family getaway. There is even an on-site pizza delivery service currently. You’ll want to visit the tourist-bucket-list villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter just nearby too.
On the Cotswold fringes at Lower Mill Estate in Somerford Keynes, stay at one of the Grand Design-style eco properties (with private kayaks for the lake). Or the luxe Cotswold Water Park Retreats, waterside lodges that are dog-friendly with hot tubs too.
Cowley Manor is a luxurious getaway, this Grade II-listed Regency hotel has the largest suite in the Cotswolds with a giant, wrap-around balcony. Head for the Cotswold House Hotel with its award-winning spa in charming Chipping Campden, or into Worcestershire, Broadway’s Lygon Arms which has great courtyard suites and an indoor pool.
Daylesford in Kingham, on the Oxfordshire side, will be your nirvana if you seek the ‘hipster’ Cotswolds. It has several restored cottages to stay in, and you can get delicious food from the organic Farmshop – much-loved by locals and celebs alike. The famed Soho Farmhouse is just a 10 minute trip over the border from here, although as a members-only club getting in might take some forward planning, or some well-connected friends (ask the Beckhams, they’ll help you out).
If you want a dash of ultimate luxury then head to Barnsley House, near Cirencester. As well as having one of the best spas we’ve ever been to (the outdoor thermal plunge pool is the bomb) and incredible gardens, it is arguably one of the most gorgeous country house retreats in the Cotswolds (and there’s tough competition).
Located in Bibury (famously called the ‘most beautiful village England’ by William Morris’) Bibury has a new, socially-distanced, ice cream parlour plus lots of riverside walks to enjoy. Or head to the lovely, thatched Orchard Cottage in Broadway with metro-feel Chipping Campden just around the corner.
There are heaps of spectacular sights to jemmy into any trip, but we’ve cherry-picked a few of the best in each area to add to your bucket-list.
In the North, head for the Rollright Stones – the baby Stonehenge of Oxfordshire. This ring of 5,000-year-old Neolithic rocks is spot on for a bracing stroll with great views.
Sudely Castle, near the pretty town of Winchcombe, is a gorgeous day out, explore 11 gardens, and gem up on some history, you can also visit the tomb of Katherine Parr – the only English Queen to be buried on private land – here. And take a tour around the lovely gardens of the National Trust’s Snowshill Manor too.
Broadway Tower sits on the second highest point of the Cotswolds Ridge, with wow-factor views of 13 counties, do the gorgeous circular walk and get an ice-cream from the superb Shepherd’s hut – open whilst the lovely Morris & Brown tearoom is shut – keeping walkers going during lockdown.
In the Mid Cotswolds, on the eastern tip, you have to pay a visit to the stately Blenheim Palace, this monumental palace is open again and has a year-round calender of events to enjoy, as well as (now open) gardens designed by the famous Capability Brown.
You may not think of watersports and the Cotswolds as a ‘thing’ – but ditch all preconceptions because fun on the water is big here. In the centre of the region there are hundreds of idyllic lakes dotted around to (literally) dive into, whether you’re up for a bit of wild swimming or just some casual kayaking and wind-surfing.
Bring your bucket and spade to The Cotswold Water Park and Beach, on the fringes of the Cotswolds, it’s the UK’s largest inland paddling beach and heaven-on-earth on a hot day and it’s fully open. There are BBQs by the shore, electric boats and pedalos and an adventure playground for kids.
Down in the south, royal-favourite Tetbury with its 28 antiques shops (some of which are reopening on 15 June), and Highgrove with its glorious garden tours are all worth a long linger.
A great day out awaits at Westonbirt Arboretum, home to the largest national collection of trees and a new 40ft high ‘skywalk’, built through the canopy of the trees, which is gorgeous to walk through.
Head for the incredibly pretty town of Castle Combe (beloved of Instagrammers) with its quintessential cottages, river and walks, and Bradford-upon-Avon. And take a trip to Lacock Abbey on the fringes, whose grounds are now fully open again, made famous in the Harry Potter films and WestWood Manor.
EAT / DRINK
The Cotswolds are a foodie’s paradise, the region is chock full of incredibly good restaurants and cafes, many using fresh locally-sourced ingredients with the emphasis firmly on artisan and organic.
Take a trip to Roman Cirencester with it’s dreamy, cream-coloured marketplace where you’ll find The Malt and Anchor. This award-winning chippy won Best Fish & Chip Shop in the ITV Food Awards 2020, and is currently doing takeaways (with a delicious, high-roller lobster and Prosecco option). Dine alfresco on a picnic blanket in the Abbey Grounds or Cirencester Park nearby.
Other places that are really worth the petrol are Wild Garlic and Wilder in Nailsworth, Made By Bob with its current click ‘n collect Japanese takeaways in Cirencester and in Chipping Norton head for the lovely and rustic Wild Thyme, now fully reopened. The Upton Smokery in Burford, is also doing a delicious takeaway BBQ from its usually busy restaurant grills at the moment.
The Cotswolds really is the land of the gastropub, but really good local favourites include the recently refurbed The Stump in Foss Cross – a local go-to now for it’s Baz & Fred’s pizza takeaways.
Another great place for stone-baked pizza at the moment is the Tunnel House Inn near Stroud
The award-winning Bell at Sapperton is one of our best off-the-beaten-track tips for Sunday roasts, and it has a ‘click and collect’ food service operating from 4 July.
The Swan at Thyme in Southrop, is famously Kate Moss’s fave pub and a gorgeous 17th century classic that uses local, organic ingredients. The Porch House in Stow-on-the-Wold (one of the oldest pubs in England) is great to visit (when it reopens) and for sweeping views head to Dormy House on the lush Farncombe Estate – perched high above the village of Broadway, with really fabulous vistas.
Burford has one of the most beautiful high streets to wander down, head to The Maytime Inn here which has just launched a new summer takeaway menu with picnic platters, beer, wine and gin to go! Oh, and you get a free Windrush Valley walking map too. Result.
Cafés & Farmshops
One of the best farmshop cafés in the area is Jolly Nice in Stroud. Always brimming with fresh, local, organic produce, and with a newly launched and fully open Jolly Drive-Thru Shack, for coffee, smoothies and light lunch platters. Their organic strawberry ice-cream (made from lush, Ledbury strawberries, is the best we’ve ever tasted).
The popular country pub The Green Dragon Inn, near Cowley, is also opening a brand new Farm Shop this month. And popular in Cirencester is indy café Pretty & Pip – some of the best coffee and cake in the area. Or, go to Huffkins in Burford which is currently open Weds – Sundays for all things cakey, or order a full cream tea to your door for £19.95.
Cirencester Lido is one of the best outdoor pools you’ll ever go to, kids love it here. It has a great slide and is fed by spring water heated to 80 F in the summer. Bask on one of the sun loungers on the patio against a fairytale castle backdrop. Plus there’s a brilliant vintage-tuck shop on site to keep everyone happy.
Or, head to Chippy Lido in Chipping Norton, which also has a great toddler paddling pool, lawn and cafe.
The Corinium Museum, due to reopen soon, is a really engaging place to learn about the Cotswolds’ Roman history and holds regular craft and dress-up events for kids. Or in Bourton-in-the-Water you’ll find the Cotswold Motoring and Toy Museum,
Parks and Farms
If you can bear the crowds (go early) head to Birdland in Bourton-on-the-water, and great places to see rare breeds, baby animals and more are Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Parkand the Cotswold Wildlife Park, all hopefully reopening later in June.
There are lots of drive-in cinemas coming to the Cotswolds this summer. A few of the best are The Luna Drive-In Cinema at Blenheim Palace, with kid-friendly showings of Back to the Future and a Grease Sing-a-Long in July, The Cotswold Drive-In Cinema and Film on the Farm, coming to Cirencester on 24 – 25 July.
One of the Cotswolds’ greatest secrets is how good it is for off-road cycling. A network of byways and bridleways as well as large open spaces mean two wheels is a great way to get around.
Find some great routes here. Places to go freewheeling include Rodborough Common, Moreton-in-Marsh, Burford and the Windrush Valley. A good one to start off with is the Sarsden Circuit, an easy 1-2 hour circular around (pretty flat!) Kingham and Churchill.
When it reopens, Rush Skatepark in Stroud is a brilliant kick-ass day out for kids, with high-speed ramps for bikes and scooters, or head to the bouncy AquaVenture at the Cotswold Water Park, a giant inflatable obstacle course.
The National Trust-owned Rodborough Common in Stroud is the wild and untamed ‘Wolds at their best.
Take an amble around the 300 acres with incredible panoramic views, dodging the (friendly) Highland cattle that roam here in the summer. Winstone’s Ice Cream Parlour here serves the best artisan cones in the Cotswolds – as well as doggy ice cream – so make sure to drop by.
The Thames Path is long distance walking trail, following England’s best known river for 184 miles (294 Km) as it meanders from its source in the Cotswolds into the heart of the capital – yes, you really can walk back to London in 14 days should you wish! On its way the Trail passes peaceful water meadows rich in wildlife, historic towns and lovely villages.
Join it on the Cotswold fringes in Lechlade-on-Thames, home to herds of Highland cattle, the kids will love watching the canal boats squeeze through the locks.
The Cotswold Way is 102 miles of magnificent views, ancient sites and pretty villages, from Chipping CAmpden all the way down to Bath. Do it all in seven days, or (more likely) dip in for an hour or two.
Gardens & Farms
One of the best sights in the Cotswolds is the picturesque lavender fields at Cotswold Lavender Farm. Due to reopen on 22 June, with a pop-up shepherd’s hut selling ice-cream and drinks.
The area is home of course to many National Trust gardens, such as Hidcote near Chipping Campden, Newark Park near Wooton-Under-Edge and Snowshill near Broadway. But the first to reopen is the lovely 17th century Dyrham Park near Bath. Take a wander around its glorious 200 acres and go deer-spotting.
The simply gorgeous gardens at Miserden are now reopening – with advance ticket booking. A lovely day out, this family-run, rural estate often features in the top 10 gardens to visit in the area.
The Cotswolds is a honey-stoned hotbed of quirks. There’s a taste of South America hidden deep in the hills of Painswick at Tibbiwell Alpacas. Book in for an experience and take an alpaca out for a walk (tours have restarted as of June).
On the border near Winchcombe is Arctic Quest. Channel your inner explorer on a real life husky mush! Or stay in the private Herder’s hut (popular in the Arctic) with it’s own campfire.
Wine-lovers will also be very happy here. Dotted around the whole area are brilliant micro-breweries, distilleries and vineyards.
Little Oak Vineyard in Chipping Campden is lovely to explore and does private tastings. Until they reopen for public tours you can order a crate of wine for next day delivery to your door.
Family-owned Woodchester Valley in Stroud is a boutique estate specialising in white, rose and sparkling wine and re-opens for tours and tastings of its award-winning wines from 6 July. And watch this space for the reopening of Poulton Hill Estate (so good the wines have just been stocked by Waitrose).
The Cotswold Distillery has become one of the Cotswolds’ most popular attractions. Take a tour of the stills and gem up on botanicals which make the craft gin. Plus the obligatory (all-important) tastings too, of course.
Proving the honey-tinged heart of the Cotswolds has a rock and roll spirit, RotorPro Helicopter Experience, based near Winchcombe, is a whole new way to see the ‘Wolds. Be whisked over lavender fields in Broadway, the rooftops of Castle Combe, or wherever your heart desires.
There’s an incredible amount to do in the Cotswolds, but many people come for the promise of peace and quiet and a darn great view.
If you want a fix of mile upon mile of golden fields (the rape-seed harvest so famed in the Cotswolds) head for the stretch of road between Barnsley and Chedworth (home to Chedworth Roman Villa), go cross-country and you’ll see the most stunning natural scenery the Cotswolds has to offer.
Um, will that do you for starters?