We hope you have been enjoying the beautiful weather the UK has been experiencing over the last few weeks; fingers crossed it carries on through August. With all this sunshine to savour, we’ve been looking at where to stay in the UK this summer instead of jetting off abroad.
Italy is famous for its rustic towns and villages replete with villas that boast lush gardens. Pauline Kenny, one of our resident experts, takes us on a tour of the Cotswolds and reveals how we can enjoy a similar rural experience in England.
You don’t have to go all the way to Italy this summer to visit historic towns and villages or to walk through lush gardens. We have that and more right here in England, in the Cotswolds. By car, the Cotswolds is only two hours from London, one hour from Birmingham or Bristol – close enough to make a very easy travel day. Come out for a short break or for a week or two and experience the variety of things there is to see and do on your own doorstep.
Italian towns are layered in history and beauty, but so are the Cotswold market towns and villages. Baskets overflowing with flowers hang from lampposts, colourful bunting stretches across shop windows, tea rooms and pubs move their tables outside, walkers clutching Ordnance Survey maps stride down the streets and out into the countryside, stalls are set up on the village green for the local fete, Morris dancers put on their bells, and Giffords Circus sets up on the edge of town to entertain everyone. Italy is a great travel destination but in the summer there is no place I would rather be than in a Cotswold town or village.
Gardening is a serious passion in the Cotswolds. Walk through any village and you will find the local residents outside tending their gardens, whilst ever willing to halt their work in order to chat with passers-by. The Cotswolds is home to several large public gardens.
Manor house gardens
Hidcote Manor Garden, in the north Cotswolds near Chipping Campden, is a good place to start. This Arts and Crafts style garden, run by the National Trust, is laid out in “rooms”, each with a different garden style. They even have a “ha-ha”: a hidden wall that separates the grazing animals from the garden, but without interrupting your view. Hidcote has easy parking and a very good tea room.
After visiting Hidcote, pop over to Kiftsgate Court Gardens, which is almost next door. This garden sits on the edge of the escarpment with views out to the countryside and the Malvern Hills. They also have a very good tea room.
Further south, go to the charming village of Painswick and their Rococo Gardens. This 18th century garden, famous for its winter snowdrops, is in full bloom in the summer. Wander the paths through the flowers and woodland, try your luck in the maze and stop to admire the surrounding farmlands. Like Kiftsgate, Rococo Gardens has a good tea room. While you are here, visit the village of Painswick, known as the Queen of the Cotswolds, with its streets of fine Georgian houses. Walk through the quaint church yard with its unusual 99-shaped yew trees. For lunch or tea, join the locals at the Patchwork Mouse in the village.
In the south Cotswolds near Tetbury lies Westonbirt, the National Arboretum, with over 2,500 species of trees. This is the perfect spot on a hot day where you can keep cool wandering the paths that wind between the trees. There is a lot to explore in this large woodland with open meadows and fields of wildflowers. The on site restaurant also provides a very good lunch.
Enjoy the royal blooms of Highgrove
My final recommended garden is one you have to book in advance but which is well worth the trouble: HRH Prince Charles’ personal garden at Highgrove, his country estate near Tetbury. Tickets are available for limited dates and come on sale in the spring, but more tickets are released during the summer. The gardens are visited in small groups led by a volunteer tour guide. Highgrove was created under the direction of Prince Charles over the last 25 years and is organic and sustainable. Parts are formal, but many areas are pleasingly unfettered. The whole garden fits naturally into its surroundings. And, you guessed it, they have a tea room and a shop.
Cotswolds open gardens
Don’t forget Open Gardens, the annual event run by the National Garden Scheme. Throughout the summer, devoted gardeners throughout the Cotswolds open their private gardens to the public. Talk to the gardeners, see parts of the villages not normally on display and enjoy tea and cake on the lawn.
On a more practical note, Transitions Stroud offers Edible Open Gardens showcasing vegetable gardens in the Stroud Five Valleys area. Visit thriving vegetable gardens and get gardening tips as well as recipes.
The Cotswolds bloom in the summer. Come for a visit and see for yourself!
Pauline Kenny is an American expat living in the Cotswolds, England. She writes about her new home on www.cotswolder.com and blogs on www.slowtravels.com. On www.sloweurope.com she writes about her love of Slow Travel in Europe – staying in holiday cottages and taking the time to learn and experience the area. She is a frequent holiday home renter and regularly browses the HomeAway sites looking for new adventures.
If you have been following our series on summer in the UK, so far you will have read about the great cafe culture of London, how Cumbria equals Tuscany, the festivals of Edinburgh and the beaches of the Scilly Isles. We still have more great tips for where to go for your UK based summer holiday, from family trips to great music festivals. Why journey abroad when you can stay close to home and enjoy the best summer we have seen in years!