What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the Cotswolds in England? For me, it is ‘dreamy natural beauty.’ From antiquated villages, lush rolling hills to delightful valleys, the Cotswolds is distinctive in many ways.
It is little wonder this largely well-preserved countryside is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
With a landscape of 800 square miles of beautiful rolling hills, it is the largest area of AONB in England. Everything about the Cotswolds is picturesque, from villages, market towns, castles and country houses, gardens to arboretums.
The best way to really enjoy the Cotswold is to walk along the country paths as you discover its gorgeous hills, villages and valleys.
The Cotswold Hills span from the fields of the upper River Thames to the Cotswold Edge. The area’s honey-coloured look comes from the ancient limestone that formed the hills.
The limestone can only be found in the Cotswolds. The woods, green landscape and streams make it an attraction for endangered animals.
There has always been some speculation about how the name ‘Cotswolds’ was coined. Most believe it was formed from ‘Wold’ which is an old English name for hills and the word ‘cot’ which means sheep. Given its history, this makes much sense.
What’s the history of the Cotswolds?
Cotswolds history can be traced back over 6000 years which was when the land was first cultured. Remnants of different eras are still visible all around the region. The Neolithic long barrows and Iron Age hillforts are such examples.
Cirencester used to be the second largest town in Britain during the Roman era and was a major stop on the Fosse Way between Exeter and Lincoln. You can still find various Roman villas in the Cotswolds. Local Roman artefacts can also be found at the Cirencester’s Corinium Museum.
The Cotswolds economy was predominantly wool trade in the Middle Ages. They were famed for having some of the best wool in Europe. The rolling hills were very ideal for sheep farming.
A sheep breed with a long golden fleece was very famous at the time. They even called them the Cotswold lion.
The wool merchants at the time were very rich and you can see pieces of evidence in the grand houses and cathedral-style ‘wool churches’ in places like Chipping Campden and Northleach.
The industrial revolution shifted the wool trade from water to steam power and the mills were moved from Cotswold to the Coalfields.
Even with industrialization, most of the Cotswolds original buildings have remained largely untouched. Today those buildings are a big part of why it’s a tourist haven, which is the area’s biggest economic sector.
Because of the honey-coloured look of the local stone, people preferred to build villages and houses with it and the buildings are what is distinct about the region today.
Where is the Cotswolds?
Located in southwest England, the Cotswolds can be found between the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. It also spreads into portions of Warwickshire, Wiltshire, Worcestershire and Somerset.
Just like its name, there really isn’t a definite answer to its borders. The borders of the Cotswolds are difficult to define.
Do you choose the AONB boundary or the local government areas? Do you combine places with a similar history, architecture and geology? Where do you place places like Cheltenham, Stratford-upon-Avon and Oxford?
Distinct Features Of The Cotswold
The cheese rolling?
The cheese rolling is one of the fun events that happen in the Cotswold every year on Spring Bank Holiday. The event takes place just outside Gloucester at Cooper’s Hill, which is one of the steepest slopes in the Cotswolds.
For the event, a nine-pound ball of double Gloucester cheese is rolled from the hill top and competitors chase it to the bottom.
The first person to reach it wins.
Have it in mind that this is a very dangerous adventure due to the steepness of the hill but it is now an international spectacle. People now come from all over the world to take part in the local event. Such is the charm of the Cotswolds.
There are some other strange but fun events like Tetbury’s Woolsack Races, Bourton-on-the-Water’s River Football, the Bampton Shirt Race and the Cotswold Olimpick Games.
Not only is the Cotswold an AONB, but it is also home to remarkable manmade structures built for royalty.
A few of these structures include Corsham Court, which is an imposing former royal manor with gardens designed by Capability Brown.
Another example is the Prince of Wales’s Highgrove Estate; it is open to the public.
The villages are stunning
The Cotswold villages are stunning and they all share the same honey-coloured look of the local stone they are made from. The Cotswold offer a taste of pleasant rural life.
The three most beautiful villages in the area are Burford, Bourton-on-Water, Chedworth. Architecture apart, the local pubs and local eatery in this area are some of the best around. You can also stroll into many antique shops.
The hills are also great for farming. It’s not uncommon to see fields of dairy cows, sheep and more around.
Cotswold also provides entry points to historic towns and cities like Bath, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Cirencester etc. which are great tourist areas.
Perhaps the most underrated distinctive feature of the Cotswold is the relatively low crime rate in the area.
There is no doubt that Cotswold is a beautiful region with beautiful places in the UK. The peace, quiet and greenness are underrated qualities.
But what really makes this area special is the limestone that most of the structures are built from, since they can only be found in the Cotswold.