The Cotswolds - Upsides & Downsides
Everyone has a favorite destination, a place you frequently go to for vacation and where your mind wanders off to in day dreams. For us it is the Cotswolds. The overall atmosphere draws us back continually. We find it a delightful place to visit because it fulfills our notion of the ideal trip: an abundance of walking trails; charming villages abuzz with life; beautiful countryside; lovely tea rooms and atmospheric pubs; pretty cottages to rent by the week…it all adds up to a wonderful travel experience.
The Cotswolds seems to present itself in contrasts. It is rural and yet tame; country yet cultured; close to cities and yet a completely different lifestyle; well-connected and encircled by major thoroughfares yet full of narrow country lanes; idyllic with an industrial past.
But, no place is perfect. The contrasts in the Cotswolds are also seen in the praise and criticism the region receives. For every item that we consider an upside, someone else pipes up with a corresponding downside. Below are the things that I find appealing about the Cotswolds, along with what the critics have to say, and my powerful rebuttal. :)
The Cotswolds offers a lovely almost uniformity of cottage style built from the golden Cotswold stone. They are hundreds of years old with well-worn stone floors, cozily-low ceilings with heavy wooden beams, hewn-stone walls and doors that even someone of average height must duck beneath. They make you feel like you've traveled back in time. Many of these lovely cottages are available for weekly rental at reasonable prices, located both in villages and in the countryside all over the Cotswolds, and provide a marvelous base for exploring the area.
Downside: Sky-High Real Estate Prices
It's true; the Cotswolds are expensive. This is the weekend and summer playground for the very wealthy Londoners and many of these picturesque cottages are their vacation homes. It has become an upscale escape and most of the cottages sell for upwards of $700,000.
The fact that many of them are holiday escapes means they are available to us as vacation rentals, too! Lots of Londoners with homes for let means lower rental prices.
Because most of the towns have staved off suburban-type sprawl, they retain a large degree of their original street plan and architecture. The historic aspect can be clearly seen and enjoyed. Pretty buildings still have most of their unique characteristics intact. Market towns still have a plethora of services: bookshops, newsagents, food shops, bakeries, clothing shops, tea rooms, pubs and delis. It is easy to find plenty of ingredients to cook meals in your cottage; many towns still have outdoor markets, making it a pleasure to go shopping and then stop for a cup of tea.
Downside: Too-Perfect Towns
Some, like Broadway or Bourton-on-the-Water, are so picture-perfect they have attracted a huge number of tourists and have changed over from "real town" to "tourist town," where things may be spiffed up so much that you won't find a hardware store or dental office. Everything centers around services for travelers rather than residents.
It's unfortunate, but it doesn't mean there aren't still "real towns" out there. While Broadway has "sold out", nearby Winchcombe remains true to its roots and residents. And Broadway is still a good town to visit with lovely tea rooms, good shops and a nice walking trail up to the Broadway Tower.
Abundant Walking Trails
Public footpaths abound and are freely accessible to everyone. Walking trails criss-cross fields, plunge through woods, skirt canals, and traverse barren hilltops. Many begin or end at an historic inn or pub, making them very civilized and practical forms of exercise. What could be more enjoyable than an afternoon-long trek that culminates in High Tea? Just leave your muddy boots at the door!
Downside: The Cotwolds are Tame and Lame
There is no wilderness to explore. Gently rolling hills, fields, and small woods translates to tame, and the trails are correspondingly easy. This is the kinder, gentler zone.
Part of the appeal is the rolling hills and lazy rivers. It is not a wild area at all; if wilderness is what you crave head further north to the Lakes District, or perhaps to Wales or Scotland. But to those who say the walking trails are easy, I say try walking the entire 100 miles of the Cotswold Way!
Despite much press to the contrary, England has some fantastic food! Especially in the Cotswolds where emphasis is frequently placed on using locally grown, organic produce, dairy products, and meats. Some renowned cheeses are made in the vicinity. Tea rooms bake home-made scones, delectable goodies, and serve the finest teas (this is England after all!). Most pubs hire chefs who are well-trained and care about food and presentation. Upscale restaurants and ethnic eateries, especially Indian and Thai cuisine, can be readily found, as well.
Downside: English Cuisine is an Oxymoron
It is frequently stated that one goes to England for the countryside, for London and all her history, and for gentile society - and one must suffer through the mediocre meals as a trade-off. At best, it is bland. At worst, greasy, heavy, and meat-laden fare are the staples all over the country.
I can tell you on good authority that it's not all kidney pie and fish and chips - I know, because I am a vegetarian! And I eat very well when I am England. What may have been the case in the past is no longer true – trust me, things have changed and you can eat well throughout England, but especially in the Cotswolds.
The English really are a rather friendly lot. They'll stop and have a chat about the trails, the weather, or what to see in the area. The Cotswolds is still very down-to-earth and laid-back.
Downside: The Crowds
This upscale paradise is overrun; friendly they may be, but they create long lines, traffic jams, and pack the pubs. Summer crowds are more unbearable than the heat.
Because it's relatively easy to reach from London it does get crowded on spring weekends and bank holidays. Ditto for summer. Weekdays and non-summer periods are best to experience the Cotswolds without the crowds. But, even with the peak of summer crowds, the smaller villages will not be overrun and the walking trails are never full.
Sloping hills culminating in steep valleys and woods alternating with fertile farmlands are beautifully accented by neat dry stone walls and trimmed hedgerows. The narrow lanes that transport you through this pastoral scene just add to the attraction of it all. Grazing sheep, peaceful expanses, and tiny villages make you feel like you're getting away from it all.
Downside: Lack of Communication
Getting away from it all means getting away from modern conveniences (even necessities) such as cell coverage and wireless internet. Cellular reception is spotty and may be only achievable on one of those pastoral hilltops. Vacation home owners do want to get away from it all and don't bother installing internet much less wireless in their cottages.
I don't have one! I admit that the bad cell reception and lack of internet is one of the true downsides. But then, the lack of unsightly cell towers keep the landscapes more pristine.