There can’t be many more picturesque villages in England than Bourton-on-the-Water, in the Cotswolds. Some people say it’s too busy and tacky, and that there are nicer places nearby. But pick a crisp winter’s day to visit, and there will be more ducks than tourists. With its teashops, riverside walks and cosy hotels, it’s the perfect place to get away from it all.
Pulling into Bourton-on-the-Water off the A429, the main road that cuts through the Cotswolds, the first thing you’ll notice is the River Windrush which flows through the village’s centre and is lined with weeping willows.
Never heard of it before? You’re not the only one. It’s barely a river at all – the average depth is usually only 10 inches. When we visited, the river level was pretty high after all the rain of late. The bridges over the river only just cleared the water, and the shops beside the riverbank had sandbags by their doors in case of flood.
There are several bridges over the river – some for cars, others just footbridges. They were made with the local golden-coloured Cotswold stone, which you will see all over the area, and are highly photogenic.
Bourton-on-the-Water is somehow quite popular with Japanese tourists, and we all know they love their photography. The bridges, as well as being something for Japanese tourists to snap and the many ducks to hang-around and quack under, explain why the village has the nickname Venice of the Cotswolds. This is slightly undeserved and misleading – as lovely as it is, you’re unlikely to see vaporetti on the Windrush, or stripey-shirted gondoliers touting for business.
As well as the river, there are a handful of attractions in the village (Birdland, Cotswold Motoring Museum, Model Village, Dragonfly Maze and Bourton Model Railway) all of which had closed before our late afternoon arrival. In the morning, we popped to the Cotswold Perfumery where you can sniff and buy a variety of different perfumes and aftershaves. The products are all made on the premises, and the owners are keen to tell you that the Queen has her perfume made here.
To complete the image of the idyllic English village, there are two pubs alongside the river at each end of the centre – the Old Manse Hotel and the Kingsbridge Inn. We sampled both during our stay, and while neither has much of an atmosphere inside, the latter has a massive beer garden which might come in handy in summer.
If you want more excitement than feeding the ducks and filling up at one of the teashops, there is always the Windrush Way, a walking route along the river to the village of Winchcombe 14 miles to the west of Bourton. We did the first mile or so, but realised we didn’t have appropriate footwear so went to the pub instead – honest.
While there are a smattering of B&Bs in Bourton-on-the-Water, there is only one place you should consider for a slice of Gloucestershire glamour.
The privately owned Dial House Hotel & Restaurant, a member of Pride of Britain Hotels, is in the village centre but is set back a little from the High Street for real peace and quiet. The hotel has gardens and a car-park to the rear and cosy bedrooms with four-poster beds and massive bathrooms. But the highlight, other than the building’s exterior (which is made of the stone I mentioned earlier and pre-dates the bridges crossing the river) is the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant.
The 2 AA rosette restaurant is not Michelin starred, but can’t be too far off. This is no place for vegetarians, with the likes of Suckling Pig, Venison, Veal and Mallard on the menu. You might want to bring your dictionary along, as there are some things on the menu you’ll never have heard of. Cep and Yuzu anyone?
I went for the rabbit with gingerbread to start with, which I wouldn’t choose again – it tasted a bit too much like what I imagine cat food would be like. But my juicy venison main was sublime. Anyone who tells you deer meat is an inferior version of beef has obviously not eaten at the Dial House.
After a good night’s sleep and the poshest looking full English breakfast you will ever see, we were sad to check out of the Dial House. We’d had a really relaxing break, but it was time to say goodbye to Bourton-on-the-Water, or arrivederci as they say in these parts.