Characterised by rolling views of green countryside and English pubs, hotels and shops, a trip to the Cotswolds shows off a delightfully relaxed side of Britain. It’s the perfect place to simmer down the pace of life and get close to nature, but it’s not just bracing country walks on offer. From kid-friendly farm centres to quirky theatres to the UK’s only crocodile zoo, here are ten great things to do in the Cotswolds.
GO ANTIQUE SHOPPING IN BURFORD
Known as the ‘gateway to the Cotswolds’ and mentioned in the Domesday book, the town of Burford is a postcard-perfect entry point. For food or accommodation try The Lamb Inn (not to be confused with the Crawley venue mentioned below), with its snug fire in the front area, or The Bay Tree. The local architecture is stunning, plus it’s a rich place for antique hunting. Start at the Burford Antique Centre and Gateway Antiques, both found on the Burford Roundabout, plus venues such as The George on the main high street.
GO TO THE UK’S ONLY CROCODILE ZOO
The sleepy, leafy village of Crawley, found in the heart of David Cameron’s home constituency, doesn’t seem like an obvious location for the country’s only crocodile zoo. Yet Crocodiles Of The World opens every Saturday and Sunday here from 10am-5pm. It’s home to over 80 crocs, boasting a glass underwater viewing section and opportunities to handle some of the baby animals. It’s a fairly small set-up so doesn’t take long to enjoy – The Lamb Inn nearby offers a charming stop-off for lunch and the town of Witney, featuring shopping centres and a cinema, is a short drive up the road.
CATCH A SHOW AT ONE OF BRITAIN’S SMALLEST THEATRES
A hub of inclusive artistry, the Theatre in market town Chipping Norton is a pleasure to visit, whatever happens to be showing there. Opened by former Dr Who actor Tom Baker in 1975, with 213 seats the theatre is one of the smallest and most charming in the country. A wide variety of plays are shown as well as films, comedy gigs and live music, while their non-starry Christmas pantomime is a Cotswolds institution. They also put on affordable workshops and hold art exhibitions in the building, so check the website for what’s on.
GET COSY AT A COUNTRY PUB
The Cotswolds is swimming in fantastic country inns perfect for sunny Sunday lunches in gardens or cosy winter sessions. Many of these are the only eating and drinking venues in Oxfordshire’s plethora of charming villages, such as The Royal Oak in Ramsden (try the smoked haddock “smokies” dish) and The Plough in neighbouring Finstock. Go to the latter on Christmas Eve and you’ve got a good chance of catching the Finstock Mummers: a group of local men who act out a traffic-stopping comedic seasonal tale in the street out front. Be sure to try some local real ales. Offerings from Hook Norton Brewery are wonderful and most pubs will have special local guest beers.
STROLL THE GROUNDS AT BLENHEIM PALACE
Picture-perfect in the summer, bracingly beautiful in the autumn and unforgettably atmospheric in the pouring rain, a walk in the grounds of Blenheim Palace always feels special. Tourists usually head near the palace where there are exhibitions, a butterfly house, eateries, a maze and the lovely Formal Garden. It’s a great destination, but much of the joy of Blenheim is taking a walk on the outskirts of the estate. From the centre of Combe village take Park Road and park in the layby at Combe Lodge. Go through the “kissing gate” and turn either right or left for a touch more than an hour’s walk round the grounds.
DISCOVER THE MAIZE MAZE
Boasting over four miles of path and shaped as a dragon and a wizard in past years, the ‘maize maze’ at Hidcote Manor Farm is a memorable day out. Every summer the venue opens an eight-acre maze in a different shape, with customers walking around bearing flags and attempting to find their way out. Created by American horticulturist Major Lawrence Johnston, the farm is worth a visit even when the maze isn’t up and running, with its secret gardens and beautiful picnic spots.
SAMPLE FARM LIFE
A taste of farm life is essential for anyone wanting insight into the Cotswolds and Cotswold Farm Park, run by farmer and TV presenter Adam Henson, offers just that. It’s a working farm where guests can see rare cattle breeds plus it has a conservation area, viewing tower and a barn where you can touch some of the animals. There are further child-friendly activities such as driving electric tractors and a zip wire.
MEET ANIMALS AT COTSWOLD WILDLIFE PARK
A cut above many of the UK’s zoo-style venues and found two miles south of Burford, this park showcases some incredible creatures as well as the Cotswold’s natural green beauty. Strolling around the park feels at times like perusing the grounds of a stately home rather than a zoo. There are big cats, camels, penguins, rhinos and the usual creepy crawlies you’d expect, plus a kid-friendly children’s farmyard and adventure playground. Another popular activity for kids is the brass rubbing in the park’s manor house.
SEE NAGS TRADING AT THE STOW ON THE WOLD HORSE FAIR
Another picturesque Cotswold market town, Gloucester’s Stow On The Wold is worth visiting for an afternoon with no particular plan. The market square found in the centre of town is a great starting point from which to explore the inviting pubs, pretty streets with endearingly quirky shops and restaurants. However, plan your timing well and you could experience one of the area’s most impressive spectacles: the horse fair. Taking place twice a year, the event is a huge meet and greet for the travelling community, with many heading to the town from all over the country to buy and sell horses. It takes place on the nearest Thursdays to May 12 and October 24 each year.
GET CLOSE TO NATURE ON A CORNBURY PARK WALK
While the Cotswolds boasts many fantastic farms and park areas geared up for tourists, enjoying the simple pleasures of a country walk there is just as enjoyable. One of the most beautiful such walks takes you through the 1700-acre grounds of Cornbury Park that surround the manor that’s home to Lord and Lady Rotherwick. A stroll from the village of Finstock through the grounds to Charlbury takes in views of deer and the river, with a wealth of country pubs in the latter town where you reward yourself with lunch.