With its rolling hills and pretty villages, The Cotswolds is the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales, and was made for BBC’s Countryfile. It’s pretty easy to get to, making it ideal for a one night countryside break with lots of walking and fresh air. Here’s how to do it…
Leave all your big-city worries behind, and stay at a bed and breakfast on a working farm. We loved Elms Farm B&B just outside the village of Gretton in the north of The Cotswolds, not too far from Cheltenham. You’ll get a welcoming cuppa and homemade biscuits from the friendly owner, Rose, a huge full English breakfast and plenty of peace and quiet. Guest are encouraged to walk around the farm buildings and see the animals, mainly sheep. You’ll be pleased to know there are no annoying cockerels here to wake you up at dawn.
The pretty town
The nearest town to Gretton is Winchcombe, a gorgeous old Anglo Saxon town with tea-rooms, independent shops and colourful Game of Thrones-style banners fluttering from the main street’s buildings. Winchcombe is at the crossroads of many walking trails, so you will see ramblers everywhere. If you’ve come here to start a walk, make sure you have a quick wander around the streets of this tiny town (population 4,500) and visit the superb little delicatessen Food Fanatics first.
Country House enthusiasts will probably like Sudely Castle, but we didn’t have time for that – we had a date with The Cotswold Way…
The Cotswold Way is a 102-mile long walking trail between Bath in the south and Chipping Campden to the north that conveniently passes through Winchcombe. The six-mile walk to Belas Knap and back is fairly easy and will take you through woods, across meadows, provide excellent views and give you a bit of a history lesson.
Following the signs past Sudely Castle and out of Winchcombe, you will soon reach this “long barrow”, a burial chamber, probably constructed around 3,000BC, where pre-historic people buried their dead. We didn’t see a soul on our way there, despite it being a Bank Holiday, although the Cotswold Way back to Winchcombe was busy with dog-walkers and hikers. Remember to take water with you, as there are no refreshment stops anywhere en-route.
The highest point in The Cotswolds, at 330m, is Cleeve Hill. You can cheat by driving to Cleeve Hill Golf Club and from there join The Cotswold Way which passes grazing sheep and the occasional golfer. Once you reach the highest point, the views are pretty special – you can clearly see the smoke rising from the steam railway’s trains, the town of Tewkesbury, Cheltenham racecourse and I’m told on a clear day you can make out Wales and Exmoor.
It wasn’t a particularly clear day when we were there, although we were grateful that the golf club, which has been there since 1891, is happy for non-members to enter its old fashioned bar to sink a well-earned pint after a long walk.
The country pub
The Royal Oak in Gretton is a new entry in my top five pubs with a beer garden in the country. We popped in for a cheeky half-pint on the Saturday afternoon, and liked it so much we decided to come back that night for dinner. The garden has a tennis court, the heritage steam Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway line runs behind it and the view of those famous rolling hills is fantastic.
While there is a separate outdoor “Garden Menu”, the food inside is posh pub-grub to remember. I chose Herefordshire beef (£16) which was very good, but the salted caramel cheesecake we shared was so good we were both gutted we didn’t have one each.
The pub is popular with members of the Bugatti Owners’ Club, who meet here before driving to the nearby Prescott Speed Hill Climb course. Our server told us that sometimes there are £7m worth of Bugattis in the carpark.
On your way home, try to stop at the sexy Gloucester Services and Farmshop on the M5 if you’re heading that way – it’s definitely worth going to, even if it’s out of your way. Stocking up on local ciders, cheeses and pies here is one of life’s joys, although that’s a different story.