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Ten reasons we love the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds, arguably England's most popular Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has long been a favourite of ours at Country Life. Here are 10 reasons why we can't get enough of the place.

The churches

From the pleasingly squat outline of St Barnabas at Snowshill to St Mary’s Painswick, with its army of 99 yew trees; from tiny, deserted St Oswald’s to grand St John the Baptist’s in Cirencester (holder of the Boleyn Cup) and the astonishing stained glass of Gloucester Cathedral, all are treasures.

The animals

Spotty pigs, rastafarian sheep and crescent-horned cattle — the locally distinct native breeds are useful, tasty and characterful.

The rivers

The tranquil valleys — of the Evenlode, Colne and the mayfly-rich Windrush — are underrated, even with the usual problems of invasive crayfish, pollution and over-abstraction.

Lavender fields near to Snowshill, Cotswolds.

The horse trials

Badminton is the mother of them all, bringing in huge amounts of revenue for local businesses, but there’s also Gatcombe, Cornbury and Blenheim, all showcasing international sport against a gracious backdrop.

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The Regency spa town with its sensitively tended parks not only hosts the world’s best National Hunt festival, but is also the centre of the world at certain times of the year for jazz, science, classical music and books.

The literary pilgrimages

The Slad Valley (Cider with Rosie), Bath (Northanger Abbey, Persuasion), Swinbrook (The Pursuit of Love and Uncle Matthew’s pursuit of his children with hounds) and Adelstrop (‘And for that minute a blackbird sang’), of course, but it’s also the Rutshire of the life-affirming Jilly Cooper’s rumbustious novels.

Aerial view, Broadway Tower, Cotswold Hills, Cotswald, UK. (Photo by: Matthew Williams-Ellis/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Moreton-in-Marsh Show

Still a proper, rural agricultural show, in early September. For tractor aficionados, there is a ploughing match at the showground on October 22.

The gardens

Kitftsgate for roses, Hidcote for lavender, Asthall for sculpture, Westonbirt for blazing autumn colour, Wood Stanway for an awesome fountain, Owlpen for atmosphere, Highgrove for knowledgeable guides — it’s horticultural paradise everywhere you look.

Westonbirt, the Cotswolds.

Roads and railways

It’s more accessible than most beautiful areas, including via the Roman-built Exeter-Lincoln Fosse Way. Kemble station is only one hour 15 minutes to Paddington, although the recent curt announcement of closed facilities and staff shortages has rather dented its charm. Which leads us to …

It’s not a theme park

If the celebrity culture and chocolate-box prettiness overwhelms, remember that the best part of any lovely part of the country is when it’s still a living, working place long after the visitors have left. If you can’t comprehend that the Cotswolds is a real place where real people live — a microcosm of English life, mostly good but sometimes bad — Amazon’s television series Clarkson’s Farm or the BBC comedy programme This Country, written by real people brought up in Cirencester, are recommended.

This article first appeared in the 20 September 2023 issue of Country Life, our Cotswolds special issue — you can order a single issue of Country Life or find out how to subscribe to the magazine here.

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