30 Dec The Cotswolds: You’ll understand when you’re older
As I told you here, my annual UK trip this year was organised a little differently than usual.
I’d decided not to let myself fall into my usual spiral of boredom this time around (not so easily avoided when staying in a village with a very much aging population of 200 inhabitants at the very most, and without a single shop or café) and had instead resolved to find some activities to keep myself busy.
I started Googling what there was to do near my family home on the edge of the Cotswolds in south-centre-west-ish England, and it (somewhat unsurprisingly) turns out that the answer is: not much.
This area isn’t unlike a lot of popular holiday spots around the world, in that it’s famous for being extremely pretty, which is basically code for “the only real activities are walking (if the sun’s out) and sheltering in a pub (if it’s not)”.
With that in mind, I moved my focus away from finding something to actually do, and onto finding somewhere pretty to explore instead. This region boasts some of the most picturesque little villages in the UK – rows of adorable (and incredibly expensive) country cottages, often made from very photogenic yellowish-coloured Cotswold stone, all with higgledy-piggledy roofs and pretty doorways and lovely little gardens. My friend from work saw a photo and commented that the area just looks like the village in Midsomer Murders, and I’d say that’s a pretty accurate summary. This really is postcard England.
However, despite my parents living in an area so famous for its beauty, I’ve seen remarkably little of the Cotswolds, having only ever popped into a couple of towns to run errands over the years, and never with the intention to actually look around the places. As much as it pains me to admit, I didn’t make the most of my parents living in such a lovely place at all when I was younger. Because, if we’re honest, I’d always just thought this was a place for old people.
But having now learned that I love the quiet, getting some fresh air, and going on countryside walks after all, I figured it was better late than never, and so, at the ripe old age of 27, asked my mum if she fancied a little excursion to Bibury. Bibury is arguably the prettiest town in the whole area (check it out on Instagram if you don’t believe me), and this is where I wanted to begin my Cotswolds appreciation. My mum enthusiastically agreed to take me, but had neglected to actually look up where the place was. When she did, I was quickly told that I was pushing my luck with the almost-1-hour drive, and was instructed to pick a Plan B.
Instead, we settled on Stanton, a tiny village which also seemed to meet my brief of being photogenic, having some paths to walk along (including the famous Cotswold Way), and offering a pub for lunch. What can I say? I’m easily pleased. It’s also only about 15 minutes away by car, on “our side” of the Cotswolds, which was even better.
It had snowed the day before we went, and had got very cold overnight too, so the journey to Stanton was a little dicey in places. And by dicey, I mean that the road was like something out of Blades of Glory, which we only really appreciated fully once we’d parked, got out, and both seen our lives flash before our eyes as we took our first steps towards the village. Both my mum and I had put on our walking boots for the occasion, and lucky we did, because this was lethal.
We’d planned to walk up a little bit of the Cotswold Way before stopping to grab a bite to eat, but honestly the ground was so icy that we’d have had to risk life and limb to even make it up to the Mount Inn pub for lunch. So we were forced to admit defeat shortly after finishing a very precarious preliminary lap of the village, and had to satisfy our desire for a bit of country walking with a quick stroll up and down the footpath along the edge of some snowy fields instead.
Considering our wander had been cut short, we were far too early for lunch in Stanton, so instead hopped back in the Mini (heated seats on, thank you very much) and moved down the road to a slightly bigger town, where roads were more likely to be gritted, and where we could be sure of somewhere to sit for a cup of coffee. Sitting down regularly is, after all, what a day out in the Cotswolds is all about – just ask my Granny.
Five minutes down the road from Stanton is Broadway. Unlike off-the-beaten-track Stanton, Broadway is one of the most popular towns around – my mother finds this unsurprising, because it’s “so lovely” and is full of little shops and restaurants, but in all honesty I don’t find it very different from a lot of other places in the vicinity. That’s not a criticism, by the way, I’m just a bit confused as to why this place is always so full of tourists (local and foreign) while other, practically identical, places go totally unnoticed.
Anyway, what Broadway lacks in mystery, it makes up for in abundance of little independent cafes. We popped into the Market Pantry to sip on something warm while our feet defrosted.
After that, we wandered up the road, to do a bit more property hunting for when we’re reincarnated as multi-millionaires. Also here in Broadway, the houses are outrageously expensive and very Midsomer Murders in style, and even more chocolate-boxy under a layer of snow. Dotted amongst the cottages are little boutiques selling clothes, accessories, and even old fashioned sweets. Granny loves this place (although it must be said that there are not many bargains to be had), and my mum is also a big fan, especially of a large and very fancy homeware shop called OKA, which is spread out over the rooms of a posh old house – I think she’d happily just move in, given half a chance.
It was almost time to head home to relieve my brother of dog duty, but first we squeezed in a quick lunch at the Crown and Trumpet pub – fish pie for my mum, festive sandwich for me (a panini filled with pigs in blankets, stuffing and cranberry sauce – yesss!) – and soaked up all the best bits of the British country pub experience: hot food, background noise made up of local accents, and some friendly little mutts on the next door table.
We did risk life and limb all in the name of adventure, and not much went to plan, but a wander in the fresh country air did exactly what it said on the tin, and after 10+ years of my family living in the Cotswolds, I’m pleased to finally be able to say that I get what all the fuss is about.
Maybe this all just means I’m getting old?