From Churchill’s childhood home to a crocodile’s nest – the Cotswolds has far more to offer than just great pubs and long walks (although it has plenty of those too…)
The Cotswolds is the retreat of choice for all the coolest people – Kate Moss, Lily Allen and Alex James all have homes here amongst the honey-coloured cottages and rolling hills. But there is far more to do here than celeb spot in the area’s unrivalled selection of proper country pubs – the best of English culture and countryside is ready for the roaming.
See Cotswolds craftsmen at work in a gorgeous market town
Chipping Campden has been home to the Guild of Handicraft since 1902. What does that mean for those taking a weekend break in the Cotswolds? Well, you can call in on the Hart workshop, where silversmiths have been handcrafting candle holders, decanters and tea pots the same way since Edwardian times. Visitors are always welcome to enter the workshop and see products being made. Round the corner are the Robert Welch studios – this pioneering designer still bases his cutlery and crockery business here. Nearby, the Court Barn Museum is set in an attractive 17th-century farm building and tells the story of the Arts and Crafts movement through designs and illustrations. In short, if you don’t go home from Chipping Campden with something beautifully crafted for the kitchen table, then you simply aren’t shopping hard enough.
Visit the UK’s only crocodile zoo
The village of Brize Norton houses the UK’s only crocodile zoo, Crocodiles of the World, with over 100 scaly beasts – from the spectacled caiman to the Chinese alligator. You can get up close and personal with the reptiles while keeping a safe distance by observing them from subterranean tanks. The braver visitor can even pet a baby croc!
Have a country pub lunch with a view of some old boots
Situated in between Witney and Eynsham, the Boot Inn is exactly what a country pub should be – cosy, full of character and built with dangerously low beams to bang your head on! The food, ales and wine menus are discerning and well considered, with plenty of local produce stocked in the kitchen. The real selling point though is the pub’s collection of boots – all purloined from sporting heroes (George Best, Ian Botham), actors (Jeremy Irons) and musicians (Bee Gees) and displayed proudly on the wall.
Catch a show at one of Britain’s smallest theatres
Little rural theatres often have a peculiar charm and none more so than The Theatre at Chipping Norton. Opened by Doctor Who actor Tom Baker in 1975, it has just 213 seats and a good view from all of them. Book in for a full programme of plays, pantos and cinema, all in a mini auditorium fashioned from a restored Victorian Salvation Army citadel.
Stroll the grounds at Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace is one of the UK’s most glorious stately homes, a UNESCO world heritage site set in acres of magnificent garden. It’s one of the best places to visit in England, in terms of architectural and historical importance (it was completed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1722 and was the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill in 1874), as well as pure breathtaking beauty. The grounds boast a maze, landscaped gardens, a butterfly house, and lakes and deer. The palace is still owned by the Marlborough family but the running of this enormous estate is funded by visitors. That means a number of fun and educational experiences are on offer inside – Downton Abbey fans may enjoy the ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ tour that takes you through the east wing of the great house and into rooms normally reserved for the staff and residents. Allow a good four hours for your trip, so that you can explore the estate inside and out. The pretty village of Woodstock, just outside the Palace, is a lovely place to refuel – enjoy tea and scones at the cute little Hampers, or in summertime, sit in the garden at the stylish The Black Prince pub and watch the River Glyn meander up to the Queen Lake at Blenheim Palace.
Listen to an orchestra of self-playing pianos
There isn’t another museum like this one in the world – those looking for an unusual thing to do on a weekend break in the Cotswolds should make a beeline for The Mechanical Music Museum. This eccentric little institution in Northleach, full of self-playing pianos and grandfather clocks, is a celebration of beautiful design and ingenious mechanics. Plus, the workshop attached to the museum is a world leader in repairing, restoring and making traditional music boxes. It’s a noisy place – guides are quick to demonstrate the tunes turned out by their charming old exhibits. Bring along your old clock or music box – there is no better place to get it fixed up.
If you like the sound of what this countryside destination has to offer, then why not check out our range of hotels in the Cotswolds.