So for a break I took myself off to a little corner of the Cotswolds for a few days, staying just outside of Bourton-on-the-water.
My cottage for the week consisted of a converted barn next to an old mill. Down a long ‘private’ road before turning onto a long white gravel road. Lined with planted oak trees and those natty stone mushrooms. Round the back streams and weirs ran pass the house and all around it was just so very peaceful.
Upon arrival, I was directed to the cottage by the owner calling to me from her upstairs window. She must’ve been 200 years old, her wig was hanging off all wonky, but she seemed very sweet. Later one of her minions was watering the plants told me this is how she communicates to them- coo-ing from the window. I suggested they get walkie-talkies, but the fella turned pale, ‘for gods sake don’t suggest that!’
Inside the theme was a bit too ‘dead animal’ for my taste. Along with the dead rugs, antlers, horns and bits of animals, there was a vast amount of vintage books, an eclectic mix of art ranging from antique oil paintings, to what looked like decades old A-level art projects, and a faded, framed cut-out from the Sunday Times life and style section featuring romantic getaways such as Barbados, the Algarve and, erm, this very cottage! Meanwhile on the roof, crows ran up and down tapping at the skylights, and never, ever stopping crowing.
But vague mustiness aside it was just right for some peace and quiet (crows aside) lounging around.
There was a lovely little secluded, walled garden, with scented honeysuckle and a near tropical view from the window. One evening I sat in the fading light on the wee patio when there was a rustle in the trees. Two little bunnies popped in next to me. The look of their face was one of sheer horror when they noticed people. We stared at each other for a beat until I broke the spell.
RUN, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES’
and off they went.
Bourton is pretty much tourist central. Although summer, I was still off-season but there were coachloads of people everywhere.
And who can blame them. The whole tiny town is full of picturesque houses made form the sandy coloured Cotswold stone and roses and hanging baskets around the doors. The river Windrush meanders it’s way through the centre, merely inches deep. In warmer weather you will find people paddling. Low stone footbridges criss-cross every few metres as people stroll from ice-cream shop, to gift shop, to riverside pub and back again. You won’t find any ‘normal’ shops here other than a little newsagent but gotta shout out to a local hardware shop called Hartwells. Tourist tat (keyrings, name plaques, little paper baggies of ‘duck food’) at the front, shoe-boxes of nails and screws and other miscellany at the back. Places like that are on the endangered list and sadly so.
OTOH if you want a tiny scrap of wood (made in china), painted white with a aspirational quote on it (‘dance like the ducks aren’t judging you’) then you are in the right place!
And as such barely metres from the high street, a little sign said ‘public footpath’, ooh where does this go? Past a couple of houses and out into open ground! Fields to one side, the river, barely a stream really, to the other. Just a patch-ground of wild flowers and grasses. In many other places this might have an abandoned shopping trolley and plastic bottles. Not so here. The well worn path likely a popular route for local dog walkers and schoolkids. I did begin to wonder if it was going to cross the river before I reached fosse way, when a teeny tiny, ivy covered bridglet appeared. Skirting round some more back gardens it brought me back out onto the high street.
This I love, the local lanes and back paths, with pockets of wildlife.
But it’s not just cuteness and tat! Oh no, Bourton actually has a ton of interesting places. The model railway, the perfumery, the maze, the model village. The only grade two model village in the country, featuring a replica of…Bourton-on-the-water! Its all a bit meta tbh, and all very good.
As the Windrush heads out of town it diverts into Birdland, where penguin and flamingos frolic with the local ducks.
Also the Motor and Toy museum. This was much better than I thought it would be. I’m not really into cars, but as this crammed into ye olde town mill it was more like someone’s epic personal collection. In amongst the 1920’s cars, were equal-vintage caravans, random cabinets containing just about anything from the era (gramophone needles, powder puffs) and all the tin advertising signage that has ever existed. Meanwhile in ‘Windrush alley’ there was a brief history of Bourton, before we headed of into the toy section which was largely some bizarre toy bikes.
I really liked it because it was so crazy and fun.
Stow on the wold.
I drove through stow on my way the cottage, and i’ve been through it before. I always thought the likes of me were not allowed out of the car there. Passing through only, what with shops selling expensive wood burner stoves and Gloucester Old Spot sausages….
Well, no. what a disappointment. The fact that the town car park is at tescos (although free, I will give them that), is not a good sign. Then there was the lack of anything interesting there. Had I been woefully misinformed? Where were the antique bookshops? Anything museumy? Maybe I missed a street of two? It’s possible, but every time I went down a street it kept coming out at Scotts of Stow. You’ll know of them. Their catalogues fall out of magazines, and they sell good old fashioned household goods, like table top plate warmers, cellular blankets and Portmerion china.
Not being in the mood for a new acrylic blanket or an overpriced scone I think the most exciting thing was they appeared to have a brand new postbox outside the post office.
Maybe it was the drizzle but sorry Stow, I don’t know if I went wrong or you did.
There were walking tracks everywhere around me. One public right of way went right through the mill where I was staying. Follow it one way, it skirts the owners tennis courts, behind the garden wall and heads off into Bourton around fenced off fish ponds. Turn off at the gate and it cuts right through the sewage works before climbing over the fields. That was…interesting. And pungent. Literally fenced in by high barbed wire for about 50 metres between ponds of stirring, stinky, sludge.
Turn round and take the path the other way and you have two choices. I had a map. And actual proper one and a ‘walk ideas’ one from the tourist office. It was suppose to lead me over several fields and gates, up hill, to a tiny speck of village with a ye olde church containing a maze.
But as is usually the case when I try and follow maps, somewhere it all goes wrong.
It was going right. It was all so very pretty. Lovely little hay meadows, wild flowers everywhere, meadow brown butterflies, blue damselflies, birds singing. Proper gates with massive handles – it was also a bridleway so I suppose this is so one doesn’t have to dismount- and little yellow public right of way signage. All good. But then at the top of the hill, past an interesting rusty old shack, all signage and gates and and noticeable paths just disappeared. I checked and checked again. I was in the right place, but the route wasn’t.
Crap. So I backed tracked and took the other path. Through a green wheat field into a steep uphill grass meadow, filled with deep red flowers called great burnet. This is a sign of healthy, uncontaminated land. And so very pretty. At the top is the village church (not the church I was aiming for originally), with beautiful views over the valley toward Bourton. The church dates from the 12th century, and seemed oddly isolated from the village. The footpath down to the village, bordered on both sides with more wonderful wild flowers in bloom, meets with a gate over the stream. Traditionally a groom it supposed to lift his bride over the gate.
The village in question was as cute as I expected. A red phone box turned out to be a mini ‘take-one-leave-one’ library. Turning off the through road, past an old village spring, at the end of a residential lane the village just ended and I followed another yellow arrow along a bean field. Another gate brought me into someone’s fancy back paddock adjoining fancy gardens. Easy walking this, cropped grass and downhill! With more views across the trees the path ended at the main road, opposite the mill road.
All the time I met with other walkers and dog walkers, but it was all so immensely quiet and wonderful. I think I saw more butterflies in those few hours than I’ve seen all year!
I only had a couple of days, but the Cotswold has a lot more interesting places, The Slaughters, a pair of villages the other side of Fosse way, Burford and the wildlife park, Broadway tower, Snowshill manor and more.
Maybe next time.
ps. I apologise for the poor formatting in this post. wordpress was giving me such grief tryna edit. it has literally taken half a dozen goes to post this. I haven’t posted in a year, and based on this, I won’t for another year. lol.