Cotswolds & The Forest of Dean
Leafy, secluded, rural
otswolds and Forest of Dean? Leafy. Secluded. Rural. Just a few of the adjectives that are likely to spring to mind when visiting the area for the first time.
This swath of land lies sweeps down from Oxford to Bristol in a broad south westerly direction and, in Cheltenham, Tewkesbury, Gloucester, Stroud and Cirencester, includes some of England’s most beautiful market towns. It also includes some of England’s most wackily-named villages: step forward Stow-on-the-Wold , Ampney Crucis and Bishop’s Itchington.
Historically, ‘Wolds’ is an ancient English word for ‘gentle hills’, proving that our English ancestors were right on the money back when they named this part of the world. Nearby Forest of Dean is the country’s largest oak forest, and a truly magical spot to escape from it all. Looking for somewhere quintessentially English? Look no further.
History and Heritage
Bronze, Iron and Neolithic Age remains abound, with Crickley Hill a Neolithic camp and Leckhampton Hill, a well preserved Iron Age hill fort. Gloucester City Museum houses some fascinating artifacts found throughout the region. Later inhabitants included the Romans, who founded Cirencester and Gloucester and built Ermin Street and Fosse Way, two roads still in use today. Later, the wool trade made this part of the country wealthy, a legacy that can still be felt in the well-to-do state of towns such as Cheltenham .
The Forest of Dean, meanwhile, has undergone quite the transformation since the ‘Queen of Forests’ was named as the country’s first National Forest Park. Today it is quite the action packed hotspot with great mountain biking and trekking. Although if that sounds too hectic, try following the footsteps of Dennis Potter, JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien, local residents all famously inspired by the Forest.
Must See Attractions
Acquaint yourself with the Forest of Dean by visiting Beechenhurst Lodge Sculpture Trail . It only takes around 2 hours to wander the four miles of the trail, and means you can discover the scenery and some fantastic art at the same time. Cheltenham hosts four festivals each year: Jazz, Science, Music and Literature . All attract world famous names and offer cerebral celebrity speakers and performers. Blenheim Palace is a classic English country house, while Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust won the Cotswolds Tourism Awards Attraction of the Year 2010.
Food and Drink
It really is possible to eat locally and organically in the Cotswolds, which has an enviable network of local and farmers’ markets to explore. Start with Daylesford Organic Farmshop , the Cheeseworks in Cheltenham and the Organic Farm Shop and Cafe in Cotswold, for starters. If you’d rather somebody else cooked the food for you, bag a few Michelin stars by visiting Le Champignon Sauvage in Cheltenham or Lords of the Manor Hotel in Upper Slaughter. Then again, you might want to sample one of the region’s tearooms, especially Juri’s in Winchcombe.
Music and Nightlife
Those looking to find some of England’s hippest clubs should probably look away now. Here, nightlife takes place at a gentler pace and is centred on classic English country pub culture, with most villages and towns having beautiful examples. For music, one of the region’s many festivals is the best bet, with Longborough Festival Opera , WOMAD , Greenbelt and the various Cheltenham music festivals offering stellar line-ups.
Dividing your shopping needs into two categories - modern and antique - would be a good place to start. For boutiques and chains, Cheltenham and Gloucester are the obvious destinations, offering big shopping centres and high street brands in pretty surroundings. All well and good, but of far more interest are the independent shops that are a welcome feature of many of the smaller towns, particularly Stroud, Cirencester, Chipping Camden and Stow on the Wold, renowned for its antique bargains and local artist galleries.
Cheltenham hosts the Cheltenham Festival , the biggest jump racing event in the country, and is a brilliant place to drink in the pageantry and pomp of a classic English race meet. Elsewhere, sport in this part of the world is all about taking part, particularly in the Forest of Dean. Walkers will be spoiled for choice, with Offa’s Dyke and Wye Valley - two classic rambles. The Forest also has great cycle trails, impossibly picturesque golf courses, archery, mountain boarding and even inland diving.
Again, the Forest of Dean is the place to start, and there are plenty of wholesome activities to keep the little ones busy. Dick Whittington Farm Park will see them getting hands-on with animals, or daring kids can wander among the tree tops at the Go Ape! High Wire Forest Adventure at Mallards Pike Lake. Kids will also love the International Centre for Birds of Prey at Newent where they’ll be able to handle the birds and check out some fantastic demonstrations.
Psst... Handy Hints
For a more active and rewarding break, sign up for a Rural Skills course – from Dry Stone Walling to Coppicing.
Looking for a beach? Head to the Cotswold Water Park . Despite being Britain's largest, it is not as well known as it should be.
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