Although I was born and raised in Northern Scotland, my mum is from the south of England and this has always been a very important part of my family heritage. When I think of England, it is the small towns and villages of the south that are immediately conjured up in my imagination– an idyllic scene of sitting outside a 15th century pub on a long summer evening, enjoying a jug of fruity Pimms as a cricket match plays out in the background on a village green.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to revisit the Cotswolds, well known worldwide for its rolling countryside and pretty chocolate-box villages. The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers almost 800 square miles across five English counties and stretches between the historic cities of Oxford, Cheltenham and Bath – all of which are certainly worth a visit in their own right. I was based in beautiful Bath staying in a newly renovated Georgian guest house in the centre of town and spent my first day exploring the city with extreme fascination, taking in the Roman Baths, the Abbey and a walking tour that focused on one of my favourite English authors -Jane Austen – and her connections to the city. Following a delicious dinner in a fantastic bistro on the historic Pulteney Bridge, I returned to my guest house with a smile and sank into the comfortable bed waiting in my room.
The following morning, I was collected by a private driver guide and within minutes I was out of the city and heading deep into the tranquil Cotswolds. Of course, as one of England’s best-known regions, there is no doubt that some areas of the Cotswolds are very busy with tourists. Plus, proximity to London does mean it attracts numerous coach tourists and day-trippers.
For this reason, I would always recommend going out for the day with a local guide as I did, to help you really get under the skin of the destination and provide local knowledge and tips you could never discover alone. My guide Jules explained the patchwork history of the Cotswolds – how the region was key to the foundation of England itself, the story of the development of its distinct culture and even the rise of the wool industry, which was so important for the people of the area. Combined with the backdrop of a beautiful drive through the countryside, this really was a day to remember. We passed villages constructed from that traditional honey-coloured Cotswold stone and enjoyed a visit to an ancient abbey, tea at the oldest hotel in England and a traditional ploughmans lunch in an atmospheric pub. The English pub, especially in rural areas, is so much more than just a place to eat and drink. It also acts as a social hub and focal point for the community. So if you would like to meet the locals and really get a good understanding of the destination, just head to the local hostelry! I have to say that after this trip, I think the English ‘do’ pubs better than anyone else in the world (sorry, Ireland!).
As we drove back to Bath, I reflected on my fascinating and enjoyable day learning more about where my family came from. I decided I would return as often as possible to keep exploring this most beautiful and interesting of regions, so fundamentally English in its character, culture and charm.
Words and images from Tom @ McKinlay Kidd
If you would like to experience the charms of the Cotswolds for yourself, our team would be delighted to tailor-make your perfect holiday.