It’s easy to fall in love with the Cotswolds at any time of year. Tristan Parker explains why you should consider a winter hideaway in this stunning region
When most people think of the Cotswolds, the images that spring to mind are of small villages and tucked- away countryside scenes. But collect together all those villages and rural scenes and you have an area that runs through five counties and covers almost 800 square miles. Then consider that the Cotswolds is England’s largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and you start to understand just how much the area has to offer.
Visiting in summer has its advantages, but there’s a strong case for planning a winter holiday. Yes, the weather can limit hiking and other outdoor pursuits, but the sight of a Cotswold village on a winter’s morning, hugged by a blanket of frost (or even snow), will soon sway you. Besides bad weather just provides an excuse to hole up in a cosy pub for a while longer. If you’re visiting over Christmas, the options are even more varied. Festive markets, ice skating, illuminations and Christmas concerts are all around. But if you’re looking to avoid Christmas, the Cotswolds still makes an ideal getaway, as there are numerous peaceful spots and hidden villages in which to escape, hunker down and simply appreciate the location.
Finally, remember that the most rewarding way to experience the region is to visit several different villages and towns, spending time in smaller locations alongside the big-hitters, as these are where you’ll find some of the most authentic and enjoyable scenes. Here’s our pick of what to do and where to go.
Whether you’re in the mood for serious gift buying, browsing or just want an excuse to wander and warm up with a cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate, the Cotswolds can deliver. The bigger and most popular markets can be found across the likes of Cheltenham (which boasts a particularly large selection of craft stalls), Cirencester, Stroud and – depending on your definition of the Cotswolds’ geographical borders – Bath. But wherever you’re based on your trip, you won’t have to look too far to find some festive shopping.
HIT THE PUB
The Cotswolds has no end of first-rate watering holes, from historical inns to smart gastropubs. Some highlights include The Ebrington Arms in Chipping Campden, complete with roaring log fire and beams, and the National Trust-owned Fleece Inn in Bretforton, which offers excellent real ales. Once settled into your town or village, head to the nearest pub and prepare to while away a few hours. If you’re staying at Christmas, many pubs open on 25 December.
CHRISTMAS AT BLENHEIM PALACE
The birthplace of Winston Churchill in 1874, this 18th-century structure (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) hosts an annual Christmas extravaganza. An after-dark light trail is a fun way to explore the grounds. Some of the rooms inside the palace also take on a festive twist for the occasion, and there’s a market offering gifts, crafts and foodie indulgences.
Housing 2,500 different species of tree (as well as five national plant collections, including the marvellous Japanese maple), Westonbirt is a paradise for nature enthusiasts, but just as enjoyable for anyone in search of a scenic winter walk or a picturesque place to let the kids run wild. Its 600 acres house around 15,000 trees, and the best way to take it all in is the treetop walkway. This elevated, 300m-long platform gives a view of the verdant landscape from 13m high and is accessible for wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Winter is no obstacle to enjoying the flora on display, as the arboretum is open every day except Christmas Day.
Three wonderful winter towns and villages
In this market town, you’ll find all those picture-postcard views you were hoping for, made prettier by the River Windrush and its centuries-old stone bridges. Every year, a Christmas tree is placed into the Windrush and lit up, signalling an evening of festivities, carol singing and late- night shopping. Factor in time to see the Model Village, a Grade II-listed replica of Bourton one-ninth its size.
One of the most famous Cotswold villages is also its highest, sitting on a hill at 244m. The town is full of ancient architecture, winding streets and views across the surrounding countryside. If you want to really boost that winter feel, head to the early December Christmas tree festival at St Edward’s Church – a storied medieval building that looks like it’s been plucked from a fairytale.
One of the joys of the Cotswolds is its smaller, less visited spots. Snowshill in Gloucestershire is one such place. It’s a remote and utterly tranquil village, achingly beautiful thanks to its smattering of stone cottages and sweeping vistas. Visit the quirky Snowshill Manor and Garden (furnished with suits of armour and other oddities by collector and architect Charles Wade), enjoy a pint in the 15th-century Snowshill Arms and enjoy the lack of hubbub in this secluded village. Several winter scenes in Bridget Jones’s Diary were filmed here.
Climate: As the Cotswolds covers such a large area, it’s difficult to pin down the weather, but winters are exactly as you’d expect – unpredictable. Dress for cold conditions, especially if you’re planning outdoor activities.
Where to stay: The area can be costly, but that’s not to say there isn’t cheaper accommodation. Search online for smaller B&Bs, guesthouses and simple pub rooms and you’ll unearth something well priced.
Getting around: Having a car is a huge advantage in such a rural setting, as it means you can easily hop between towns and villages. There are local bus services, but plan ahead if using these. The main transport hubs are found in bigger locations like Gloucester, Cheltenham and Stroud.
For more information visit cotswolds.com