Introducing the Cotswolds - geography, history, getting around, weather, maps

About the Cotswolds

River Windrush near Burford, Cotswolds

River Windrush near Burford

In the heart of England is a rural idyll of peaceful rolling hills where life is unhurried and traditions abound. Historic villages contain stone cottages so perfect they're called "chocolate boxes". Footpaths cross scenic fields and valleys leading to rivers, canals, woods, and civilized pubs.

This is the Cotswolds, an area of limestone hills in the English countryside west of London, between Bath and Stratford-on-Avon.

The area has been known as the Cotswolds since at least Shakespeare's time (he mentioned it in Richard II). Its designating name is well-recognized though it is not an official county. Its boundaries are clearly demarked and spill over six counties, though the majority of the Cotswolds lie in Gloucestershire.

In 1966 the British government recognized the special nature of this area by designating the Cotswolds as an official Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). These hills occupy a roughly diamond-shaped swath between Gloucester, Bath, Oxford and Stratford.

Google Map

View The Cotswolds, England in a larger map

Things to Do in the Cotswolds

The Cotswolds draws an abundance of English and foreign visitors alike. It is the perfect area for a relaxed, outdoor-oriented vacation as activities abound to satisfy everyone. Here you can:

  • Explore the idyllic golden-hued villages built from the local Cotswold limestone
  • See the distinctive "wool churches", built in the late 14th to early 16th centuries when the wool trade brought great wealth to this area
  • Enjoy delicious, locally-produced food (much of it organic) in atmospheric pubs, pleasant tea rooms, and fine restaurants
  • Visit magnificent, historic manor houses and their perfectly-tended gardens
  • Take a hike on the famous Cotswold Way (over 100 miles), or an shorter walk along the miles of easily-accessible public footpaths
  • Visit ancient ruins from the Romans' occupation of this area more than 2000 years ago
  • Find the fascinating and mysterious stone circles built by the prehistoric peoples who lived here 4000 years ago
  • Take a lovely drive through some of the most beautiful countryside in England

Things to Do by Time of Year

End of January: Snowdrops are in bloom. See them in the Cotswolds - Great British Gardens - Snowdrops.

May: The woods are filled with garlic flowers (ransoms) and bluebells. If the spring was warm, they may start in April.

Summer: Throughout the summer villages and manor houses have "Open Garden" days. You pay a small amount (which goes to charity) to wander through private gardens. National Garden Schemes lists open gardens in every part of England. NGS Gloucestershire

What are the Cotswolds?

The term "Cotswold" is derived from the Saxon word "cote", meaning sheepfold, and "wold", meaning bare hill. The first written reference to the term was recorded in 1306 in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The Cotswolds is not an official region or county of England but is a well-recognized area of the English countryside between Bath and Stratford-on-Avon.

"The Cotswolds" is not a geographic designation so much as an area defined by its characteristics. Richly cultivated rolling limestone hills are sliced through with many rivers and forests, and liberally sprinkled with stone villages. Small-scale farms are found all over the region, lined with characteristic dry stone walls and hedgerows. The steeper hills found in the western part of the Cotswolds flatten out and open up in the eastern part of the district.

While the majority of the Cotswolds rest firmly in Gloucestershire, the defining boundary lines zigzag over five other counties as well: Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire, Warwickshire. Because it occupies these fertile central zones the Cotswolds is sometimes called "the heart of England". The district is basically encapsulated by the area stretching between the cities of Gloucester, Bath, Oxford, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Historically the Cotswolds was a wool-producing zone, and an abundance of sheep are still found grazing on the hills. The wool trade of the Middle Ages brought prosperity to this area, and the wealthy merchants used their riches to build finely-crafted villages and endowed them with "wool churches", all of which were constructed using the locally-quarried luminous golden-hued limestone. Known geologically as Cotswold stone, it gives the villages a distinctive appearance. The historical centers of many of these villages still look very much like they did in the 16th century – but with cars instead of horses and oxcarts. The old buildings have been lovingly preserved and restored, and the entire area has been largely un-ravaged from over-development. Farming continues to be the main occupation. Wool is still important, though all the fabric mills are now gone.

Today's Cotswolds offers idyllic countryside, sumptuous manor houses and gardens, unspoiled villages, and outdoor activities galore. Hiking, biking, riding and natural beauty attract a wealth of visitors from England and abroad.

Read More About the Cotswolds

History: The Cotswolds that we see today is formed from layers of history - pre-historic remains, Roman roads, medieval buildings, Industrial Revolution mills and canals.

Getting Around: Find your way around the Cotswolds, main roads running north-south and east-west, getting to the Cotswolds from London.

Upsides & Downsides: What I love about the Cotswolds and some common criticisms.

British History Timeline: The eras in British history and architecture.

The British Letter Box: The history of the red letter boxes and the Royal Mail.

Take a Wellness Vacation: How to plan a healthy week in the Cotswolds.

United Kingdom? Britain?: What is the correct country name?

Google Maps

Google Maps of the Cotswolds: Maps showing towns & villages, sites, and more in the Cotswolds and Southwest England.

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