Lucy’s 16 amazing adventures in the Cotswolds
Lucy is the senior copywriter at Bolthole Retreats and has visited every corner of the Cotswolds.
What a wild and weird year 2021 has been. A great chunk of it is a bit of blur, making it difficult to recall everything. I think it’s called the ‘Covid Effect’. It’s certainly been a year of extremes, with one moment life restricted to a very small circle, interspersed with sudden opportunities to travel further afield.
Whilst confined to the ‘home circle’, I took the opportunity to get to know my own ‘backyard’ in far greater detail, reminding myself (when what I sometimes wanted to do was jet off to warmer climes) that lots of people yearned to come here, to the Cotswolds, and I should get out on foot and by bike and appreciate my fabulous backyard far more. So that’s exactly what I did, with anyone who would come with me! I hope you feel inspired to follow in my footsteps – thousands and thousands of them – from one end of the Cotswolds to the other.
Miles and miles of wonderful walks
I must have walked hundreds of miles over the past year, making the most of every opportunity to get outside in the fresh air. Here are some of this year’s walking highlights which I thoroughly recommend you experience too:
Walking in the footsteps of Laurie Lee up the Slad Valley: after visiting Painswick Rococo Gardens in the late summer, we struck out across the countryside to visit Slad and enjoy some refreshments at Lee’s local, the Woolpack Inn.
Walking along the Cotswold Way: my partner and I walked half of this fabulous 102-mile-long national trail (in bite-size sections), from the southern end in Bath to Painswick, passing through some of the most beautiful Cotswold countryside on our way. We’re aiming to complete it in 2022.
From Bibury to Coln St Aldwyns and back: the famous Arlington Row at Bibury draws thousands of visitors each year, but for much of this year Bibury was a peaceful haven. We arrived in time to watch the early morning sunshine on Arlington Row, had a picnic breakfast sitting on the wall next to the beautiful River Coln, and then headed off on a 10.5 km circular walk to Coln St Aldwyns and back.
The Sapperton Valley: this secluded valley, in a corner of the great Bathurst Estate, not far from Stroud, contains one of the most luxuriant small wetlands in Gloucestershire, including the River Frome, a chain of river meadows and the swamps and shady pools of the abandoned Thames and Severn Canal.
Woodchester Mansion and Park: the mansion is an unfinished Gothic masterpiece, abandoned in 1868 after 16 years of building which has been carefully preserved. It wasn’t possible to go inside the mansion this year, but the park with its beautiful woodland walks, lakes and ponds was open for much of the year.
The Miserden Estate: The whole estate and village is untouched by time or development, making it a popular film production location as well as a beautifully tranquil place to visit. At its heart is the Carpenters Arms pub and a stunning church. The gardens and parkland of Miserden House are open to the public and there’s a very good plant nursery in the old walled garden with a tearoom.
Foraging for wild garlic
During all the springtime walking, I collected lots of wild garlic leaves and made pesto and dried garlic powder from them. The smell and taste are heavenly.
Visiting great gardens
I love visiting all kinds of gardens, and this year made a point of going to two that I’ve driven past many times but not had time to stop: Painswick Rococo Gardens in Painswick near Stroud, and Kiftsgate Garden near Chipping Campden. I have had them on my bucket list for so long that I was a little anxious that they might disappoint. Of course, neither did and I’ll definitely go back to see them in the early summer when they’ll be even more impressive. The pool at Kiftsgate is one of the most exquisite and contemplative places I’ve visited this year.
Becoming a National Trust member
Although visits to National Trust properties have been limited this year, becoming an NT member was a great decision. My local property is Newark Park, which stands on the edge of the Cotswold escarpment, looking down into the Ozleworth valley and south to the Mendips beyond. The gardens and parkland have a fantastic seasonal display of flowers, with snowdrops, aconites and daffodils, wild garlic, summer borders and autumn cyclamen making each visit slightly different. It’s been a joy to watch the flowers change over the seasons. I would also highly recommend the National Trust’s Roman Villa at Chedworth, it is one of the “grandest Roman villas in Britain” with a stunning Roman mosaic. There are picnic benches and summer deck chairs set to look across fantastic views of the Cotswold countryside and a café that’s open to all.
Open water swimming
Open water, or ‘wild swimming’, is just what everyone who does it regularly says it is… soothing, exhilarating, healing and invigorating! I’m lucky to live near Cromhall where there is a quarry that’s full of pure, clean water where you can swim all year round – wet suit or no. At the end of the summer season, we even did a night-time swim with glow sticks clamped to our swim buoys.
Choo-Choo at Charlbury
As well as being a great place to stay and go for walks around the Cornbury Estate, on one of four visits this year, I discovered that Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the great architect and engineer, designed the Charlbury train station!
A Martyr’s Monument
At the most southerly edge of the Cotswolds is the Tyndale Monument, one of my local landmarks, which I must have walked or ran to at least 20 times this year. It overlooks the South Gloucestershire countryside, the Bristol Channel and South Wales and was built to commemorate William Tyndale, a martyr who translated the Bible into English. Take the signposted walk through Westridge Woods from the village of North Nibley up to the monument.
Cycling to the Wild Carrot Cafe
I had heard about, but never visited, the Wild Carrot Café before this autumn. We came across it by good luck rather than good planning during a mountain bike ride along the lanes and bridleways out of Nailsworth. The café serves delicious cakes. Take a wander along the lane beside the café to Elizabethan Chavenage House, which you may recognise thanks to its on-screen appearances in several BBC dramas, including Poldark, The Pale Horse, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Lark Rise to Candleford and Grace and Favour.
Stroud’s Famous Farmers’ Market
Practically on my doorstep but never visited until this year, Stroud Farmers’ Market didn’t disappoint. Be sure to go there ready to eat as there are so many delicious treats on offer that you simply won’t be able to resist, or you can buy the foodie goodies and savour them at home.
Eating out highlights
Pubs, restaurants and cafes across the Cotswolds have suffered great dents to their usually very busy booking schedule, with some closing their doors for good. Thankfully, the majority have shown incredible resilience and creativity. I’ve been so impressed with three of my local drinking holes’ responses to restrictions, which ensured they weathered the very challenging times. If you’re in the south Cotswolds, be sure to drop into the Royal Oak in Tetbury, the Thistledown Farm Café in Nympsfield, near Nailsworth (the best vegan pizza ever!) and the Old Lodge on Minchinhampton Common – all serve great food and drinks (local beers and gins included) and are surrounded by wonderful Cotswold countryside. What’s not to like?
Tinkerbell sprinkles some joy
And last but not least, I adopted a beautiful cat called Tinkerbell from Cotswold Dogs & Cats Home. What an adventure that has been and a highlight of the year.
Here’s to surviving 2021 and to new Cotswold experiences in 2022!