From sailing to shooting, Holly Kirkwood explains why the Cotswolds is such a Mecca for country sporting enthusiasts.
Many property hunters fall for the pretty houses and idyllic villages of the Cotswolds. As an AONB, the landscape is enchanting, but its topography also happens to provide top-class sporting opportunities, from shooting to hunting, cycling and sailing, and this is a big attraction.
As Bruce Tolmie-Thomson, partner at Knight Frank in Cirencester, puts it: ‘Why join a gym when you can have such a marvellous time getting fit and healthy out in the open air?’
With 150 lakes, stretching for more than 40 square miles, the Cotswold Water Park is a major destination for almost any water-based activity. ‘From jet skiing to water skiing, paddle-boarding or windsurfing, you can try anything there,’ promises Mr Tolmie-Thomson.
It also offers the very best inland sailing, with gentle breezes that are ideal for a day cruising out on the water and plenty of room for everyone. ‘The park lets you have a terrific day’s sailing without having to slog to the coast in the car,’ explains James Walker, director at Savills’ country-house department.
There are five main clubs, including South Cerney Sailing Club and the Cotswold Sailing Club, making the park a great base for enthusiasts. Whether you’re a seasoned racer, adult beginner or a junior, each club offers a variety of experiences.
‘We all have slightly different strings to our bow, so if you’re interested in becoming a member, it’s worth popping along on a weekend and taking a look around,’ explains Malcolm Stone at South Cerney Sailing Club.
The natural topography of the Cotswolds has always lent itself to excellent high-bird shoots and generations of keen landowners continue to develop this potential. Commerically let days are available at most of the big estates, which offer partridge and pheasant shooting during the season; these include Salperton Park, Coombe End, Stowell Park, Cold Aston, Brimpsfield Park and Badminton.
For those interested in getting involved, Ian Coley Shooting is a one-stop shop for all things shooting-related, offering lessons at all levels and clay shoots, as well as running full simulated shoots in the early spring and summer.
Ian himself is a sporting agent and can arrange let days at the top shoots. ‘The most important thing as an agent is to match the right day with the right client – it has to suit their experience and ability,’ he explains.
David Henderson, head of Savills’s Stow-in-the-Wold office, says many of his clients enjoy the social nature of the sport. He also adds that it’s more inclusive than it used to be. ‘More women are shooting than ever, which is fantastic.’
There is also stalking to be had in the Cotswolds since the explosion in roe-deer numbers, points out Sam Butler, founding partner at Butler Sherborn. ‘Mostly this is handled in-house by the estates, but there are also opportunities to arrange a private day’s stalking.’
Walking and cycling
An abundance of footpaths criss-cross the region, offering some of the best opportunities to appreciate its magnificent countryside. The Cotswold Way stretches for 100 miles down the whole AONB and longer trails include the North Cotswold Diamond Way and the Winchcombe Way.
On a more local level, each area has its own popular routes, the best of which form a pleasing loop with plenty of refreshment stops, but it’s no longer only walkers out on the hunt for a cup of tea and a bun. Multiple Lycra-clad pelotons whizzing around the country lanes have become a common sight all over the Cotswolds.
Jonathan Bramwell, head of The Buying Solution, isn’t surprised: ‘The whole area has fantastic road cycling – the North Cotswold Cycling Club based at Moreton-in-Marsh is a real hub and the local bike shop Cotswold Cycles is super.’
Mr Henderson adds that many cyclists are training towards events. ‘Triathlons are really big news here – the Blenheim Triathlon goes from strength to strength every year.’ Tom Hayman-Joyce, founding partner at Hayman-Joyce, concurs, adding that interest only increased last year: ‘The Tour of Britain passing through really fired people up.’
You don’t have to compete at an international level if you’re horsey in the Cotswolds, but plenty of locals are doing exactly that. Top names in eventing, polo, dressage and racing, from Zara Tindall to the Tomlinson brothers, all have their yards in the region, which plays host some of the biggest competitions on the equestrian sporting calendar, from Badminton to Cheltenham.
There are also lots of mere mortals who keep a couple of horses for fun; livery yards are plentiful and the extensive bridlepath networks make hacking out a joy.
We’re also deep into classic hunting country here, featuring some of the most revered packs in England; the VWH, the Heythrop, the Cotswold, the North Cotswold and the Duke of Beaufort’s all offer spectacular days out.
‘We’re lucky to have a wonderful mix of vale country, valleys and woods and the chance to really put on some speed across open farmland,’ says Rupert Sturgis, head of Knight Frank’s Cirencester office. ‘We also benefit from generations of exceptional hound breeding, to the point that these animals are absolutely the best at what they do.’
The social aspect ensures a full calendar of events during the winter, from point-to-points to the most glamorous hunt balls. All have Pony Club branches – Pony Club camp is an institution and a great way for the younger folk to make new friends, Mr Bramwell points out.
For those wanting a rejuvenating open-air dip, there are plenty of lidos: Sandford Parks in Cheltenham and Chipping ‘Chippy’ Norton Lido are two of the best, and the historic outdoor pool at Cirencester Park offers the chance to bob around in fresh natural spring water.
Alternatively, director at Strutt & Parker Luke Morgan recommends a trip to the Cotswold Country Park & Beach just outside South Cerney: ‘You can try everything, from the inflatable obstacle course to zorbing on the lake or just relaxing on the beach.’
If you feel like something a little wilder, the Thames has some fantastic spots for open-water swimming, according to Mr Bramwell. ‘Lechlade and Buscot in particular are popular,’ he suggests. The Windrush is also much loved by wild swimmers – starting up in the Cotswold Hills, it runs through Bourton-on-the-water and Burford to eventually meet the Thames.
The Cotswolds lifestyle
‘A lot of what people are buying into here is a lifestyle,’ explains director at Jackson-Stops in Cirencester Tania Thompson. Indeed, there’s always something to do in and around the Cotswolds, with a calendar of annual events at which the great and the good converge throughout the year.
Starting with Cheltenham in March, this includes Badminton Horse Trials in May, Wilderness and Alex James’s The Big Feastival in Kingham in August, the Festival of Eventing at Gatcombe and the Cheltenham Literature Festival in October.
There is also a small pocket around Kingham and Great and Little Tew that functions as a sort of epicentre for those who love celebrity spotting. The venues are Daylesford, The Wild Rabbit Inn and Soho Farmhouse, although each attracts slightly different crowds.
‘Daylesford and Soho Farmhouse are the places to be seen in the Cotswolds,’ Mr Tolmie-Thomson says. ‘The Daylesford Christmas Fair brings the great and the good from across the country and events at Soho House attract a younger clientele.’
Mr Walker adds that the ‘seeing and being seen’ effect has now spread further out to villages such as Barnsley. ‘You certainly see more of a London crowd at the weekends, although they’re also easy to avoid,’ he comments. ‘The Cotswolds is big enough for those seeking glitz and glamour as well those who prefer to be more private.’
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