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The Cotswolds region epitomises English country quaintness. With names like Chipping Campden, Moreton-in-Marsh, and Stow-on-the-Wold, the Cotswold towns and villages have a fairytale like air. It's hard to ignore the rural tranquillity, with small bridges crossing shallow rivers, colourful gardens leading up to pretty stone cottages, and rolling fields broken up by manicured hedges and drystone walls. As one of England's most picturesque areas, visitors may well feel as though they've stepped into one of Constable's paintings.
Historically the Cotswolds region was famous for its wool production and the many beautiful churches, manor houses, and villages built on the back of this trade are testament to this period of wealth. The industrial revolution appears to have passed by the Cotswolds as life here does not seem to have changed much over the centuries.
The charming town of Cirencester is the self-styled capital of the Cotswolds and is a good base from which to explore the region. In Roman times, Cirencester was the second most important city in England, though little evidence of this period remains.
Other popular market towns include Bibury, Burford, and Tetbury, which is the nearest town to Highgrove, the Prince of Wales's country retreat, and Gatcombe, home to his sister the Princess Royal. There are many other quaint villages where a room can be taken in the local pub or bed-and-breakfast. The larger towns of Bath, Cheltenham, Stratford-Upon-Avon, and Oxford are on the edge of the Cotswolds, making the region a very popular choice with tourists.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Cotswold Hills, Sudeley Castle is steeped in history. With royal connections spanning a thousand years, it has played an important role in the turbulent and changing times of England's past. The castle was once home to Queen Katherine Parr (1512-48) following her marriage to Sir Thomas Seymour, and has also housed Lady Jane Grey. Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Queen Elizabeth I all visited Sudeley Castle in its heyday. King Charles I stayed here, and his nephew Prince Rupert established his headquarters at the castle during the civil war. Following its destruction by Cromwell's troops, Sudeley lay neglected and derelict for 200 years; however, its romantic situation and ruins attracted many visitors, including King George III. In 1837, Sudeley was bought by John and William Dent, successful businessmen from Worcestershire who began an ambitious restoration programme. Within the castle's apartments are a range of historic possessions dating from the civil war and an important art collection, including paintings by Van Dyck, Rubens, Turner, Reynolds, Claude, and Jan Steen. The romantic 14-acre grounds are worth a visit from March to September, and are the setting for outdoor Shakespeare performances, concerts, and other events in summer.
Warwick Castle's origins date back to before 1066, and although not used as a Royal residence but rather as the seat of the Earls of Warwick, its history is tied inextricably to the throne through the influence held by the castle's lords. Today, the castle is owned by the Tussaud's Group, which has refurbished most of the original grounds, and which has begun to use the castle as the setting for an annual wax pageant featuring historical figures. A new addition to the castle's programme of events and activities is the ghoulish Warwick Dungeon, which features a thrilling 'Witches of Warwick' exhibition that is guaranteed to delight young and old visitors alike. Note that children under the age of 10 might find the Castle Dungeon experience a little scary.
Gloucester is known primarily as a ceremonial city, and as one of the larger towns in the Cotswolds region. It is home to several popular attractions, including Gloucester Cathedral, whose richly-decorated halls contributed to the set of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films; Prinknash Abbey, with its monastery, Roman mosaic, and bird park; the 18-century Docks, home to museums, shops, restaurants and pubs; and the City Museum and Art Gallery, which houses many artefacts relating to Gloucester's Roman heritage. Just outside the city of Gloucester is the picture-perfect Gloucestershire village of Painswick, and any number of beautiful walks and hikes in the surrounding countryside.
The weather in the Cotswolds region is mild throughout the year but it does receive a large amount of rainfall. The warm Gulf Stream in the Atlantic Ocean passes by England's west coast moderating the weather and ensuring that year-round temperatures are more temperate and constant. During the winter months, from November to February, the average temperature is around 39°F (4°C), while during the summer months, from April to August, the average temperature reaches a pleasant 80°F (26°C).
The Cotswolds are home to some big attractions like castles and estates, as well as some historic towns and cities, but a holiday in the region is mostly punctuated by small tourist gems like speciality museums, gardens and quaint historic cottages.
For instance, Moreton-in-Marsh boasts the very popular Cotswold Falconry Centre and the Batsford Arboretum, which is home to one of the largest private tree collections in England. Bourton-on-the-Water will delight families with the Giffords Circus and the Dragonfly Maze, and is also home to the small but special Cotswold Motoring Museum.
Getting around the Cotswolds is best achieved by hiring a car which allows you to explore at your leisure, although organised tours are also a good option. The region is around a two-hour drive from London, along the M4 or M40.
Those wanting to explore this pretty region on foot should walk the Cotswold Way, a National Trail which winds from Chipping Campden to Bath. It takes about a week to walk the whole stretch but many people opt to enjoy small sections of the hike by walking from one village along the route to another.
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