Main Image: Westonbirt Arboretum; image credit Paul Groom
Honey-coloured houses drip with roses and honeysuckle, antique shops beckon and old country pubs recall a way of life little changed for centuries in the beautifully preserved villages of the Cotswolds.
Delve a little deeper though and you’ll find more than a few surprising Cotswolds attractions lurking beneath the bucolic exterior.
From eccentric interiors and a slice of the Orient to the UK’s largest inland beach, take a break in one of our Cotswold holiday cottages and discover how things are not always as you might expect…
1 The UK’s largest inland beach
Where: Cotswold Water Park, South Cerney GL7 5TL
Details: It’s hard to think of a watersport not catered for within the 40 square miles and 150-plus lakes that make up the Cotswold Water Park, one of the Cotswolds’ best kept secrets. As well as more conventional activities, like windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking, the area hosts a number of unusual attractions where thrill-seekers can enjoy cable skiing or a high-speed inflatable banana ride or get to grips with intricacies of raft-building. Don’t worry if you prefer your fun a little more on the sedate side. Within the Cotswold Water Park, at Cotswold Country Park and Beach you will find one of the UK’s largest inland bathing beach, where you can hire a pedalo and BBQ for a much-needed chill. Our chic New England-style Water Park Cottages are set right on the lakes with private decks offering stunning views – perfect for wildlife-spotting and al fresco dining.
2 Christmas – all year round!
Where: The Christmas Shop, High Street, Lechlade-on-Thames GL7 3AE
Details: Bristling with antiques shops and tempting gift emporiums, the sleepy villages of the Cotswolds are a great place to mooch for quirky things for the home. The Christmas Shop at Lechlade-on-Thames is also the perfect destination if you’re looking to ‘wrap up’ some festive shopping, whatever the time of year. This veritable Aladdin’s Cave, just a short drive from our cottages at the Cotswold Water Park, is the oldest Christmas shop in the UK, crammed with unusual handmade and painted decorations and smells of cinnamon and Christmas spices. The Victorian Christmas Shop at Bourton-on-the-Water is also a great choice for ‘stocking’ up on gorgeous festive decorations and gifts – the perfect place to find that unique memory of your Cotswold break to hang on your tree.
3 Royal roots
Where: Highgrove, Tetbury GL8 8TN
Details: OK, so we can’t guarantee you’ll get to spot a royal but a visit to picture-perfect Tetbury will bring you pretty close. Set around its 17th-century pillared Market House, this village has a unique claim to fame as the home of Highgrove House, the family residence of The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. The gardens around the house are open for guided tours though bookings are limited so plan ahead. Among the most creatively inspired gardens of today, they embody the sustainable principles that His Royal Highness has long championed. Afterwards, wander round the town and look out for the Prince of Wales feathers displayed on the fronts of businesses supplying the Royal Household. Gatcombe Park, home of the Princess Royal is also nearby.
4 Baa-rilliant sheep
Where: Cotswold Woollen Weavers, Filkins, Lechlade GL7 3JJ
Details: With its rolling hillsides dotted with sheep, it’s hardly surprising that the Cotswolds are home to some of the best woollen suppliers in the country. But did you know that they’re also home to one of the country’s rarest sheep breeds – the Cotswold Lion? Named for its ragged mane, the story of this shaggy breed is celebrated at one of the region’s most unusual outlets – the Cotswold Woollen Weavers – a short drive from our cottages in South Cerney, Uffington and Bruern. Housed in a tangle of 18th-century buildings, full of unexpected nooks and crannies, you’ll find a museum of textile curiosities, shop with tempting buys, coffee shop, sunny orchard and bikes for hire. Children will also enjoy a trip to Tetbury to meet Knitwit, the Cotswolds very own Shaun the Sheep (outside Filly’s)!
5 Hidden church gems
Where: Various locations in the Cotswolds
Details: It was the wealth of the medieval wool trade that gave rise to the magnificent churches dotted around the Cotswolds. Many, like the cathedral-like structures at Cirencester, Northleach and Fairford are completely disproportionate to their setting, but what many visitors may not realise is that they also hold many hidden gems. Take Fairford with its gargoyles and 15th-century stained glass depicting scenes of hell. Or the mystical Tudor carvings of the manticore, half man, half lion, etched into the stone at North Cerney. Best of all, perhaps, is the medieval church, tucked down a lane at Lower Oddington, just six miles from our cottages at Bruern. Its interior houses a wonderful series of medieval and Tudor wall paintings, covering almost one entire wall, the largest, ‘Doom’, representing the Day of Judgement, while one of the later painted figures may represent Cardinal Wolsey, who once held the living at Oddington.
6 Myths and legends
Where: Various locations in the Cotswolds
Details: Where there’s churches there’s talk of Old Nick and, at the pretty village of Painswick, you’ll find both. The ancient churchyard here, complete with stocks, contains 99 yew trees – there should be 100 but the devil kills off any new saplings! A few miles north at Leckhampton is Devil’s Chimney, which legend has it sits above the devil’s dwelling deep beneath the ground. Supposedly the devil would sit at this spot and hurl stones at Sunday churchgoers, but the stones hurled themselves back, burying him for posterity and piling themselves up to ensure he could never escape. Further east the Rollright Stones are also shrouded in legend. There are in fact three sets of stones here – the King, the King’s Men and the Whispering Knights. Stories of their origins abound but, whatever you believe, with its secluded location, it’s a magical spot to visit.
7 An eclectic eccentric
Where: Snowshill Manor & Gardens, near Broadway WR12 7JU
Details: You can’t get much more unexpected than Snowshill Manor, whose gorgeous mellow-stone exterior, set in a quintessentially English garden, completely belies the treasures within. Here, you’ll find a maze of rooms crammed full of the decidedly eclectic (and eccentric) collections of one Charles Paget Wade, who spent a lifetime acquiring items of the highest craftsmanship from around the world. The resultant collection is impossible to categorise – bicycles, clocks, toys, masks, spinning wheels, Japanese armour and more – all examples of the finest design. Wade did not live in the house himself, preferring the peculiar little cottage in the garden, where one story goes he took refuge after being unnerved by a ghostly monk in the house! The most unusual feature of the cottage is the galleried bedroom, which can only be reached by an outside stairwell… fortunately, not in requirement in any of our Cotswold cottages!
8 A touch of the Orient
Where: Sezincote Manor, near Moreton-in-Marsh GL56 9AW
Details: Nothing quite prepares you for Sezincote. After winding through the mighty oaks that line the long drive of this Cotswold garden you see a weathered-copper onion dome straight out of India. Resembling an Oriental palace, this extraordinary slice of Far-Eastern opulence was built by Charles Cockerell, a Member of Parliament for Evesham who had worked in India, assisted by his architect brother, Samuel Pepys Cockerell, and Thomas Danielli, a great painter of Indian architectural scenery. In fact the Prince Regent was so taken with the house when he visited in 1807 that he ordered the Brighton Pavilion to be built to the same design! Sezincote’s gardens, laid out by Humphrey Repton, are also a delight with their temple, water features, Indian bridge and statues of elephants guarding the path.
9 Holiday snaps
Where: Crocodiles of the World, Brize Norton OX18 3NX
Details: It’s not every day you get to see a crocodile being fed – well, other than at Crocodiles of the World! From Nile crocodiles to dwarf caiman, this small zoo boasts one of the largest collections of crocodiles, alligators and caiman in Europe and is home to 15 of the world’s 23 species. The live crocodile photo experiences give adventurous visitors the chance to hold a baby snapper while there are plenty of talks by the knowledgeable rangers as well as opportunities to meet some of the zoo’s other residents, including meerkats, otters, kookaburras and lizards. An easy drive from our Cotswold cottages, it’s a great place to bring your own little ‘nippers’ and stock up on some cool parent points!
10 A walk in the treetops
Where: Westonbirt Arboretum, Tetbury GL8 8QS
Details: For generations, visitors to this remarkable arboretum, home to some 15,000 specimens from around the globe, have been enjoying the views from the ground. All that has changed this year however with the opening of a 300-metre long treetop walkway. The longest in the UK, it follows a path through the trees allowing visitors an unusual and exciting way to get up close and personal with the canopy. Perfect for your little adventurers, fun-seekers can also scramble up the crow’s nest viewing platform, swing across the rope bridge and peer through the meshed floor. Back on the ground there’s miles of trails as well as a packed programme of special seasonal events, meaning no visit here is ever predictable.
Where to stay
These are just a selection of some of the fantastic surprising Cotswolds attractions on offer when you stay at our Cotswold holiday cottages. For plenty of ideas for fantastic days out, check out our unique ‘Things to Do & Events’ section for each property listing and make the most of your getaway!