Hotel: Cotswolds Garden Tea Room
If you read last week’s post, you’ll know that I recently went on a road trip with my friend Brontë and our first stop was Birmingham. We left this city on Saturday morning after a terrific brunch and took the 1 hour drive (which actually ended up being 2 hours) to the Cotswolds.
For anyone who isn’t clear about where or what the Cotswolds actually are, it is an area made up of the rolling Cotswold Hills across the South West of England. The Cotwolds cross many counties, such as Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and even rolling into Worcestershire and Wiltshire in places. If you’re still not clear what that means, don’t worry neither am I.
The most famous villages in the Cotswolds are probably Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold and the Slaughters. If you’d like to imagine this region, you can picture rolling countryside, tea rooms, pretty villages, bunting and country pubs.
Rather than going straight to our hotel upon arrival, we had booked a 1pm hacking slot at Bourton Vale Equestrian Centre (‘BVEC’). Hacking is essentially horse riding across country and through villages and it cost us £35 per person for about 1.5 hours. This was WILDLY out of our comfort zones as neither of us had really ever ridden a horse before, but we thought, when in the Cotswolds…. embrace nature!
The riding centre provided us with helmets and boots and we were given some minor instruction before mounting our trusty steeds and heading out on the ride, accompanied by two riders from BVEC.
I had imagined that riding a horse would be kind of like riding a bike – a couple of controls (start,stop and speed up), but what I failed to take into account was that horses are animals and you really can’t control them that easily. My horse (Cookie) was probably just coming off his Beyoncé salt water diet and so he was absolutely ravenous. When he wasn’t trying to eat the trees we were walking past, he was trying to shake me off his back for disciplining him and making him walk on. Brontë’s horse (Pony) was more interested in taking really long toilet breaks and tripping over branches.
The horse shit really hit the fan when we rode them towards the river to cool off. Cookie started to eat the reeds and refused to stop, while Pony was too scared to get into the water at all. The situation ended with Asian tourists taking photos of me lying limp and tired on Cookie’s neck after being repeatedly flung around and one of the instructors having to drag him away from the plants.
This kind of makes it sounds like we hated every moment of the hack, which wasn’t the case at all because we LOVED it. While it was exasperating and scary at times, the ride though Upper and Lower Slaughter was like something out of a Jane Austen novel and the feeling of doing something new was amazing. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we would encourage everyone visiting the Cotswolds to do the same and we have even located a riding school near home so that we can do it again. Fair warning though, your thighs will ache for at least four days afterwards.
After the hacking, we drove to Stow-on-the-Wold to check into our hotel and relax for a bit. There are only four rooms in this B&B, but they are beautiful and the service is impeccable.
For dinner we went to The Sheep on Sheep Street, which is a country pub with a garden – perfect for a summer evening meal! There are plenty of pubs like this in Stow; other places we were recommended to visit were the Bell, the White Hart and the Old Butchers.
In the evening we headed over to another pretty village called Bourton-on-the-Water for the Bloody Bourton Walking Tour.
Our guide was Edward Charnel, an odd chap but clearly someone who knew a lot about the village and the Cotswolds. These tours run every Friday and Saturday from 7pm-9pm and as the name of the tour suggests, they take you around some of the more bloody history of the area. The tour costs a very reasonable £6 per person.
The benefit of this tour was seeing so much of the village, including some places such as Harrington House (pictured below) which aren’t usually open for public viewing.
Although I felt that the tour was a bit too long to be walking around, there were a few stories that really captured my attention during the tour:
- The Dunsdon Brothers
These brothers were the original Tom, Dick & Harry. They were 18th Century highwaymen from the nearby village of Burford who were known for robbing coaches passing between Oxford and Gloucester. The most famous story about them was probably their final adventure – they attempted to rob a house but unfortunately for them, the owner had been tipped off about their plan by his butler. When Dick Dunsdon stuck his hand through the letterbox to unlock the door, the owner tied it to the lock to prevent him from escaping. His brothers cut off his arm at the elbow and the three of them attempted to escape but Dick died from blood loss and the remaining brothers were eventually hanged for shooting a man in the chest.
- The Chipping Campden Witches
This story, also known as the Campden Wonder, was one which caused an absolute sensation during the mid 1600s. In 1660, a man called William Harrison disappeared while taking a walk. His wife sent their servant to look for him, but neither returned the next morning and Harrison’s son was the next to go out and search for his father and the servant. His son eventually found the servant and some bloody, slashed clothing belonging to his father. It became apparent that William had been murdered, although his body was not found. The servant, John Perry, upon questioning told the police that William had been murdered by his mother and brother for money. All three were sentenced to death and despite all three later stating that they were innocent, their mother had been suspected of witchcraft and so they were hanged. The interesting part of this story was that in 1662, William returned. He had been captured by pirates and forced into slavery, but had eventually managed to escape and return home.
- Witch Disposal
In the Cotswolds, the traditional way to kill a witch was to slash a cross across their chest, slit their throat and pin them to the ground with something like a pitch fork.
- The May Queen
Evidence found in Bourton has suggested that pre-Roman inhabitants of the Cotswolds occasionally liked to dine on human flesh. Bones discovered with human teeth marks were found to belong to young girls, which has led historians to believe that every year when the May queen was chosen, she later became a human sacrifice.
The next morning, we had a lovely breakfast in the B&B and set off for a morning of exploration before returning home.
The first stop was Dover’s Hill, a National Trust site which is a 754 feet hill offering beautiful views of the Vale of Evesham. This site is supposed to be the remains of a Roman vineyard and the location of the English ‘Olimpick’ games, which are thought to have been held for a period from 1622. These games were less credible than the modern day Olympics, with events such as ‘shin-kicking’, Morris dancing and tug-of-war. Nowadays it’s really just a pretty place to admire views and walk amongst sheep.
The next stop was Broadway Tower, a folly built in 1794 on the second highest point of the region. It was originally built for Lady Coventry, but later became a printing press and in the 1950s it became a place to monitor the nuclear fallout in England.
It now houses exhibitions about William Morris, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, World War Two and contains a nuclear bunker. Entry to climb to the top costs £5 for adults and it also has a nice café to enjoy.
Next, we moved on to Hailes Abbey ; a Cistercian monastery built in 1245. If you read my post about our trip to Whitby last summer, you will know that Brontë and I LOVE a ruined abbey. Entry costs £5 per person but you have to pay another £1 for an audio guide.
It was said that this abbey held a phial containing the blood of Christ, but during the Reformation it was found that this was actually just honey coloured with saffron. Very little actually remains of the abbey as it was destroyed by Henry VIII’s men during the dissolution of the monasteries, but what remains casts a very interesting light on life in this monastery.
As the time came for us to make the journey back to Hertfordshire, we stopped for one last meal at a pub called the Plough. The service was slightly questionable but the food was great and the portions were massive.
That’s all for this mini Road Trip Diaries series, but as always, if you have any comments or queries about my trip, feel free to leave them below! 🙂
Thanks for reading,