To imagine the Cotswolds, picture the beautiful manors and open fields you see in regency films. Envision the idyllic images of village life depicted in medieval paintings. You may think this is only the England of the past, but that past has been marvelously preserved and transported to the present in the Cotswolds of southwest England.
In the Cotswold Hills, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, you can experience a living meld of past and present where tradition and modern life co-exist as one. You will walk through the same gorgeous green hillsides and landscaped gardens you thought only existed in Jane Austen novels and visit the same stone and thatched cottages you’ve seen in medieval paintings.
What and where are the Cotswolds?
Located in the southwest of the land, the Cotswolds are a string of hills cutting through six counties from southwest to northeast, most notably Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. There are several theories as to the origin of the name “Cotswolds.” The term “wold” means hills. Typically the meaning is interpreted as “sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides,” but it is also thought that Cod might have been a personal historical name or an interpretation of “Cuda,” a goddess revered in the Cotswold Hills.
What will you see in the Cotswolds? A typical feature is the sweeping landscapes of patchwork green fields quilting the hillsides, separated from one another by famous Drystone walls erected in the 18th and 19th centuries. These walls were an important architectural advancement, but are also used by modern day farmers.
The history of sheep farming in the Cotswolds dates back to the 13th-15th centuries. In the Middle Ages, the sheep of Cotswold were particularly esteemed for their fine, heavy fleece. The wool trade was so successful in the Cotswolds that numerous wealthy wool traders were able to construct the gorgeous villages and market towns you see today out of locally mined honey-coloured stone. The beautiful churches the wool traders built were known as “wool churches” because of their funding.
Most of these sleepy, magical towns like Bibury and Witney retain their middle ages atmosphere. Some of the larger towns like Stow on the Wold are still bustling market towns. Others like Cheltenham have more of a regency character. All of these towns are home to numerous fine bed and breakfast establishments in historical buildings showcasing a range of time periods and architectural accomplishments. While there is a sense of continuity in the Cotswolds, that continuity takes the form of a preserved timeline of styles instead of a single motif.
The fame of the Cotswolds has spread far beyond England. You have probably seen the Cotswolds in popular films before and not even realized it. Vanity Fair, The Colour of Magic, Emma, Pride and Prejudice, The Canterbury Tales, Harry Potter and many more movies were filmed partly in the Cotswolds. The fame of the Cotswolds has motivated many affluent or influential people to move there both in the present and the past. The Cotswolds have served as a home or favourite place to visit for many historical figures including William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement, J. M. Barrie, Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde and Lewis Carroll.