The Ultimate Day Out in the Cotswolds
Our man in a van devises a brilliant itinerary for a packed Gloucestershire visit
Written by Hans Seeberg
A truly British expanse of rolling hills, thatched cottages and country pubs, the Cotswolds is a must-visit location. And as we’re about to show you, you don’t have to spend a week there to see the best of it
The Cotswolds could not be more British if it were draped in an 800-square-mile Union Jack flag, with houses made out of Yorkshire puddings and rivers running with sweet tea.
Spanning five counties in the heart of England, it is a place that is simultaneously beautiful, tranquil, relaxed and unique. Unless you live in a small wooden shack on the Isle of Skye, it's practically guaranteed that a visit to the Cotswolds will chill you out to such an extent that spending any more than 20 minutes amongst its cosy charms will have you pondering upping sticks and relocating here.
That said, if you've never visited and fancy spending a day here to see what it's all about, don't worry – your old pals at Caravan have got you covered. Here's a step-by-step itinerary for a lovely day out in the Cotswolds.
9 am – Brekkie
Advising that you start a day touring one of Britain's most beautiful places on an empty stomach would be a shameful act of neglect on our part. We'd probably get sued. But we have no desire to do that, which is why we're going to point you in the direction of Joe's Café in Cheltenham (69 St Paul’s Road, GL50 4HZ) for a full English that’ll bust your stomach but not your wallet.
This place is a proper, honest, good old-fashioned British caff – the sort of place where you might expect Ian Beale to pop up and serve you your breakfast (if it wasn't 100 miles away from East London, obviously). It's got a reputation for reasonable pricing, friendly service and big portions. The Holy Trinity of any food establishment as far as we're concerned – and the other bonus is that its location just out of the town centre means that parking is not a problem and therefore means you won't start your day with a can't-find-a-space stress meltdown.
10 am – Sudeley Castle
With a hearty helping of bacon, sausages and eggs swilling around in your belly, it’s time to get to the car just before 10 am and start the day with a bit of culture. An eight-mile jaunt north-west of Cheltenham along the B4632 will soon bring you to Sudeley Castle (sudeleycastle.co.uk, GL54 5JD for sat-nav users), an incredible place steeped in the history of this great nation for over 1000 years.
It dates back to the pre-William the Conqueror reign of King Ethelred, back in the days when Ethelred was not only considered an acceptable name to call a child but one that was okay for the ruler of Britain.
The castle's real purple patch of historical significance came in the Tudor period when Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey and none other than Liz the First herself all hung out here at various points. Katherine Parr was so fond of it that she's buried in the 15th-century church here, making Sudeley the only privately owned castle with a British queen entombed on its grounds.
It turns out that after Charles I used Sudeley to lie low during the Civil War, the castle fell into ruin for quite a while, before a chap called John Coucher Dent heroically restored it, who was a sort of 19th century equivalent of Nick Knowles. He and his missus brought it back to its former glory, and the 1200-acre estate now has a host of stunning gardens that make the £14.50 adult ticket price seem very good value.
Midday – Broadway
Once you’ve spent over an hour mooching around Sudeley Castle, it’s time to get back to the Batmobile at around 11.30am. Continue your Caravan-approved tour of one of Britain's most famous places, snaking another eight miles or so along the B4632 through places like Laverton and Buckland towards Broadway, a large village that’s a real Cotswolds must-see.
Driving here on a summer’s day, you realise that the Cotswolds is so vibrant it’s as if Mother Nature has turned up life’s colour settings to maximum. The sky seems a deeper blue; the grass looks somehow greener; the lilacs and pinks of blooming flowers are unbelievably vivid.
The whole thing is a curious, brilliant mix of ramshackle and precision: villages have higgledy-piggledy old buildings and oldy-worldy pubs and post offices, yet it’s all so perfectly neat and immaculate. Pavements are so clean you would not be surprised to see someone busily vacuuming them with a Dyson. Most of the thatched roofs look like they've had a grade three with a set of clippers.
So far the only exercise you’ve had today is a genteel amble around some castle gardens, so it’s time to stretch those legs and get stuck in amongst some of the Cotswolds’ most rewarding scenery.
If you park up in Broadway, you can pick up signs to the Cotswold Way Circular Walk, which is a four-mile round trip that takes you up to Broadway Tower and some incredible views over central England and across the Severn Valley into Wales. You can walk as much or as little of it as you like, but one thing's for sure: by about 1.30pm you're going to be severely distracted by the deafening roar of your groaning belly. Anyone for a spot of lunch?
1.30pm – Lunch
Broadway caters well for those who enjoy the pursuit of stuffing their faces with good quality nosh. If you're feeling a bit posh, you can head to The Potting Shed (dormyhouse.co.uk, 01386 852711) for fare like butternut and harissa risotto or 18-hour, slow-cooked pork belly.
Or, there's the famous Swan pub on the high street (theswanbroadway.co.uk, 01386 852278) that serves beautiful, quality food. They offer a two-course lunch for £11.95, which is not bad value at all in this neck of the woods.
But there’s no doubt about it: you cannot beat a visit to Russell’s Fish & Chips (russellsfishandchips.co.uk, 01386 858435), nestled just off the high street (keep your eyes peeled for the rather subtly positioned sign). Walk through the door, and you will see a quirky, cheery, nautical interior, with busy young staff whistling around you carrying battered portions of fish so generously sized you'd be forgiven for thinking that deep-fried whale shark was on the menu.
When your food does eventually arrive – you'll part with about a tenner for cod and chips – you will not be disappointed. Eating fish and chips when you're nowhere near the coast shouldn't taste this good, but it does.
3 pm – Cotswolds Distillery
At about 2.30pm, with your mouth still buzzing with the taste of exquisite batter and homemade tartare sauce, it’s time to bid Broadway a fond farewell and get in the motor once more.
Because the Cotswolds are so continually spectacular, time in the car doesn’t seem like time wasted, and you’ll pass through another handful of impossibly cute villages like Willersey, Charingworth and Burmington as you wind along the B4035 towards your next destination just outside Shipston-on-Stour: the Cotswolds Distillery (cotswoldsdistillery.com, CV36 5HT).
This place is a real gem of a find. Set inside the sort of impressively converted barn that you tend to see a lot of around these parts, the distillery is single-handed proof that you don't need to trek to some random Scottish outpost to get yourself a decent single malt whisky.
There's a real local feel blending with the artisanal artistry as well: the barley comes from a couple of miles away, the malt is handmade in the Cotswolds, and even wild local ingredients make it into the gin. Oh yeah, we forgot to mention that – they make gin here as well, and very pleasant it is too.
Tours start from just £6, where you can learn how the place works and see the gleaming containers and pipes where they make the whisky and gin; it looks like some boozy version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
There's an impossibly cosy tasting room as well – come in the winter, and you can sample the distillery's wares in front of a crackling log fire. It's a wonder they don't offer accommodation, quite frankly, because once you've sat yourself down, you won't want to go anywhere for at least three days, or possibly longer.
4.15pm – Batsford Arboretum
Stand up! Get out of that comfy chair! Come on; it's not even 4.30pm yet – there’s plenty still to do! After a bit of primarily indoor relaxation, it's time to get outdoors again, this time in the company of some of the Cotswolds' most beautiful trees, flowers and fauna. That's because you've got a cheeky little 20-minute, nine-mile drive to get you to the Batsford Arboretum (batsarb.co.uk, GL56 9AD).
You need to get your skates on because last entry every day is 4.45pm, but once you've parted with your £7.95, your reward is a peaceful walk through some gorgeous scenery. It's a wonderfully calming place, and whether it's the pinks and lilacs of spring or deep autumnal oranges and reds, you treat is an absolute feast of colour that makes you think two things: 1. Nature is amazing, and 2. Batsford’s gardener is pretty handy.
Once you’ve sauntered around for a bit, you can pop into the café for a cuppa, treat yourself to some locally produced foody stuff from the shop and even pay a cheeky visit to the falconry centre if you’re in a bit of a bird of prey mood. All in all, a perfect way to spend a late afternoon in the Cotswolds.
6 pm – Back to Cheltenham
It’s time to head back towards Cheltenham, where you were sat nine hours ago eating a fry-up. Luckily, this is another beautiful drive taking you through some picture-postcard places that have the sort of random names you could only get in Britain: there’s the slightly painful-sounding village of Lower Slaughter and Wyck Rissington, which could probably have been the name of the keyboard player in a 1970s prog-rock band.
After 10 miles or so of the 25-mile journey, you'll pass through the idyllic and dreamy Bourton-on-the-Water, and it’d be rude not to stop for a cheeky refreshment while you’re here.
The Kingsbridge Inn, right by the water that runs through the town (the clue is in the name, to be fair), is a great little spot for sparkling water, or one of the local ales if you're not in possession of the car keys. Once back in the motor, another 15 minutes or so and you’ll have returned to the welcoming bosom of Cheltenham.
7.30pm – Dinner
There's only one place to head to in Cheltenham for drinks and eats, the Montpellier District. It's the snazzy, trendy and rather posh part of the town, but don't let that put you off: it's thoroughly lovely, with the sound of clinking wine glasses, chattering people and even alfresco dining in the summer making you feel like you're in Paris rather than Britain (except for the fact that no one is speaking French).
There are way too many bars and restaurants packed in this little area to list here, so we’ve chosen one of each. Get your evening off to a suave, liquid start with a swift one in John Gordons (johngordons.co.uk), an intimate, buzzy little bar with a vast and eclectic selection of drinks; if you like gin, in particular, you need to check it out.
For dinner, you'll struggle to beat Flynn's (flynnsrestaurant.co.uk, 16-17 The Courtyard, Montpellier ST, GL50 1SR, 01242 252752), a great little place that’s tucked away in a little nook and one of those hidden gems that you might never know existed if it wasn't for your old pals at Caravan.
The atmosphere is lively and chatty, the service is efficient, and the menu can get even the most reluctant of stomachs rumbling: Flynn’s Duck Supper and the slow-roasted Cotswold pork are well worth a swipe of your Mastercard come bill time.
10 pm – Time for bed
Well, it’s nearly time for bed – before that, you might need to have a little stroll to walk off your meal, and there's no better place to do that in Cheltenham than Pittville Park. While your dinner goes down, you can reflect on a packed day out that’s included a pukka fry-up, amazing scenery, a proper old castle, a bracing walk, a unique distillery and an epicentre of tree-filled perfection. If that lot doesn’t make you sleep well, nothing will.
THE DAY AT A GLANCE
9 am: Breakfast, Cheltenham
10 am: Cheltenham – Sudeley Castle (eight miles)
11.30am: Sudeley Castle – Broadway (eight miles)
2.30pm: Broadway – Cotswolds Distillery (18 miles)
4.15pm: Cotswolds Distillery – Batsford Arboretum (nine miles)
6 pm: Batsford Arboretum – Cheltenham (25 miles)
TOTAL: 68 miles
If you can’t resist your quaint little British villages then between Broadway and the Cotswolds Distillery, make sure you stop off at Blockley – a gorgeous little retreat of cobbly, thatched perfection that’s regularly touted as the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds.
If you’re not feeling thirsty when you stop off in Bourton-on-the-Water, how about a spot of wildlife instead? The Cotswolds Birdland Park and Gardens (birdland.co.uk, GL54 2BN) is a charming little place that has some highly entertaining penguins and all manner of exotic feathered creatures zipping past you.
If you don’t fancy the liveliness of the Montpellier District in the evening and are after somewhere a bit more chilled, head to the Royal Oak in Prestbury, just outside Cheltenham (royal-oak-prestbury.co.uk, GL52 3DL). Great food, cosy interior and a log fire in the winter – spot-on.
WHERE TO STAY
Bourton-on-the-Water Caravan Club site
Cheltenham Road, Bourton-On-The-Water, Gloucestershire, GL54 3BU
T 01451 850249
Situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this 68 pitch site has 23 hardstandings, many with magical views. The highly-rated site is just five miles from the historic village of Bourton-on-the-Water
Folly Farm campsite
Bourton-on-the-Water, Nr Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL54 3BY
T 01451 820285
W [email protected]
This quiet family site is in the heart of the Cotswolds close to the villages of Notgrove and Cold Aston.
It offers simple facilities including four showers, seven loos, dishwashing, disposal point and 10A electrics.