Back in 2009 – which seems a lifetime ago now – I responded to a question posed by The Guardian newspaper and the English tourist authority: select three things that make a place very special. Naturally, I chose the Cotswolds and to my delight, my blog was just one of ten chosen and published by them to promote visits to this country. After fourteen years, I thought it time to take another look. Although the reasons still stand up well I’ve updated the photos and some of the text.
1. Space and Peace. I know this is technically two reasons but they are so interlinked that, in my mind, they only count as one. Besides, that way I can cram in an extra reason without appearing to cheat too much. The flat topped, rolling limestone hills that make up the Cotswolds offer far reaching views to the vales beyond. They free the mind and let the spirit wander – a rare occurrence in the busy world we all inhabit. This view looks north over glorious country to the Vale of Evesham and just invites you to start walking towards a distant goal.
Hidden in deep valleys, crystal clear streams create more secretive places to explore or to sit quietly by their banks to watch the water flow, sometimes gently, sometimes more noisily, by.
The King’s Men stone circle forms part of the Rollright Stones and have been a meeting place since they were set here 4,500 years ago. In early morning light they appear mysterious and brooding but when the sun strikes them their colours and markings are awe inspiring. Rest here a while, at a time when you can be alone, for the feeling of peace is palpable.
And give back to the soil an offering, (when we have taken so much away), as others have done from the beginnings of time and continue to do so. Single flowers placed at the centre of the circle have a calm simplicity…
2. Nature. It is impossible not to be aware of nature in the Cotswolds, whether it is the magnificence of old trees, the deer crossing roads in front of you or the cloud formations of our large skyscapes. This ancient ash tree has watched centuries of agricultural change take place and, despite modern farming practice, still stands proud in a hedgerow dividing wheatfields. In 2009 the fungal disease Ash Dieback was unknown. It is now thought that the majority of ash trees will succumb to it robbing the English landscape of their beauty. At present, the old pollard seems unaffected but whether it will survive only time will tell.
Since 2009 we have all become so much more aware of the value of dark skies. With so few big towns, the Cotswolds is a place where the nights are darker and the stars shine more brightly.
Deer are common throughout the Cotswolds. Roe and the introduced Muntjac are frequently seen but perhaps the prettiest, when in their spotted summer coats, are the Fallow.
In our rivers and streams, otters, although rarely seen, are now becoming evermore common – something else that has happened since 2009.
There are some exotic surprises too! A macaw outside a garage in Charlbury and alpaca seem to be everywhere, I wrote in 2009. The macaw has gone and even alpaca seem less common now but not far from the secret valley it is possible to see wolves and bear. I don’t think the two facts are connected!
3. History. The Cotswolds are steeped in history and it is the history of wealth and the power it brings. Sheep – or more accurately, their wool – were the originators of this wealth and the region still has a higher population of sheep to humans. But how to illustrate this when there is so much scope to choose from? Bliss Mill, in Chipping Norton, is now converted to luxury apartments but, for most of its time, produced some of the finest tweeds in Britain. I have since written in more detail of the history of the mill, the fire that engulfed it and the strike by the workers that brought poverty and starvation to the town (link here).
The churches of the Cotswolds were also a by-product of wool – the wealth it created is often shown by their huge size in proportion to the numbers of the local population. The photos I originally published were of St Mary’s, Chipping Norton. The ones below are of St Mary’s, Swinbrook; the village was the home of the famous (or, perhaps, infamous), Mitford sisters.
So, come and visit the Cotswolds and decide for yourself. And, in the meantime, select three things that make your special place, special.