Exploring the Cotswolds
(Part 2 of 3) We spent six weeks in England, July-August ’03, basically exploring the Cotswold area. We were based in Cirencester (May ’04, pg. 82) and, apart from a side trip to Wales to visit friends, we returned there every night. In Wales, incidentally, we visited Powis Castle. If you go there, make sure you visit the “Clive of India” collection.
On our way back from Wales we stopped at Hay-on-Wye, the book town I had long wanted to visit. There are so many bookstores, it is wise to know what kind of books you are looking for. I’ll plan a longer stop next time.
During our stay we did visit prime tourist attractions, such as Stratford and well-known Cotswold villages, but we also got away to areas frequented not so much by tourists and they were well worth a visit.
For anyone going to Stratford, take advantage of the “5 house” ticket so that you can visit all of these places made famous by their association with Shakespeare. The senior ticket costs £7 (near $13), but it can be used up to a year from the date of purchase.
We found that three Shakespearean sites were quite enough for one day. We returned two days later to view the remaining two — much more restful that way. The guides at the Ann Hathaway and Mary Arden cottages were superb, by the way.
I certainly want to mention fascinating Snowshill Manor, which is north of Cirencester and houses the unique collection of Charles Paget Wade. Musical instruments, craft tools, toys, clocks and bicycles jostle for space in a Cotswold cottage, and suits of samurai armor greet you in the gloom. You can also visit the organic garden, and the Snowshill lavender fields are nearby.
South of Cirencester, Avening and Malmesbury are close enough together for both to be visited in one day. Avening may not seem to have much, but to those interested in history it has a romance of its own. Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, fell in love with the Lord Brittric, but he rejected her. For her revenge, she caused the king to dispossess him and he was thrown into prison, where he died. In remorse, she had Avening church rebuilt. It is one of the best preserved of the ancient churches of the Cotswolds.
Malmesbury, a few miles away, is famous for its abbey with the tomb of Athelstan, first king of a united Britain. Don’t neglect to visit the Athelstan Museum in town (within the town hall). It is not large but has many features of interest. Entry is free.
Lesser-known villages have just as much to interest visitors. All within easy reach of Cirencester, go to see Tetbury (south), Fairford (east) and Northleach (north).
Tetbury Market House was built in 1655 and is still in use as a market, and inside the church there is a fine Tetbury Heritage display. See the Chipping (Market) steps where the old weavers’ cottages are.
Fairford lies near the River Coln and has a wonderful late-Cotswold Perpendicular church. Outside the church door, notice the stone monument to one Tiddles, the church cat.
The “wool church” of St. Peter and St. Paul, known unofficially as the Cathedral of the Cotswolds, and the old lockup nearby make Northleach worth a visit.
Everyone knows Stonehenge, but have you visited the Rollright Stones (north) near Long Compton in Oxfordshire? They are the southerly cousins of the Cumbrian circles in the Lake District and date from 2500 to 2000 B.C.
The main circle comprises 77 stones of heavily weathered local limestone in a perfect circle 104 feet across that stand on a prehistoric trackway. Visit the King’s Stone on one side, then cross the road to the stones which represent the king’s army. A short walk up the road and along a side path will take you to the “Whispering Knights.” This site is run by a trust, with entrance to the main stones costing 50 pence (78¢).