Road trip around The Cotswolds

The Cotswolds, you’ve probably heard of them. This corner of the English countryside dotted with old villages, cute tea houses and postcard-ready cottages. It’d been in my travel bucket list for a while, but somehow I’d always postpone the trip in favour of closer – and better connected – locations. Even though I spent nearly a month driving on my own in New Zealand, took my best friend to Snowdon and road-tripped around Scotland, the idea of driving in the UK always holds me back.

In the spirit of adventure and wanting to bring my mum and me closer, I took the plunge. I booked a room at The Wheatsheaf Inn for three nights and hired a small car in Oxford.

Chipping Campden

Manor stone entrance, with two stone dogs and small bushes flanking a grey wooden door above steps

A small market town in the North-East corner of the Cotswolds, Chipping Campden sits comfortably in the middle of the countryside. The drive from Oxford was simple enough and will take you through other villages. It was a little bit cold and rainy, so we drove straight into our destination.

Cue an overload of fairytale cuteness. In my typical fashion, I knew where to go but not what to do there, so we struggled to find a place to eat. However, a couple of cheese scones and Earl Greys at The Bantam Tea Rooms sorted us right up.

Chipping Campden is the perfect introduction to this part of the Cotswold’s – it’s dotted with antique shops, tea rooms and beautiful stone manors. By far, my favourite was walking up to St James’ Church and paying the Court Barn Museum a visit. 

Painswick Rococo Garden

A small salmon pink palace-like construction atop of a hill, with a cloudy sky as the background.

Second in my list was Painswick. The main reason I chose it was because it was a modest 30-minute drive from our accommodation, thus breaking our journey to Castle Combe and filling our day nicely. 

I knew that Castle Combe had a high chance of becoming the highlight village of the trip, so after some research, we visited Painswick Rococo Gardens. I’m so glad we did.

Miniature castle carved from a dead tree trunk in Painswick Rococo Gardens. The Castle is in the bottom left corner with the trees taking up the rest of the frame letting the sun in.

Painswick Rococo Garden is the brainchild of Benjamin Hyatt, who wanted to have a garden for intimate parties, in the late 18th Century, but were refurbished in the 1970s before being opened to the public. The gardens feature a cafe, outdoor sculptures, seasonal wild-flowers, a maze, an orchard and other magical corners. I’d heartily recommend a visit if only to spend a day away from village after village.

Castle Combe & The Manor House

It is one of THE VILLAGES you’ve seen splattered all over your social media. Cutesy cottages, “that bridge” and a lovely stream. Our predictions were correct, and it was one of our favourite spots. During our visit, many of the local business owners and artists had gathered in the town hall for their monthly craft market so it was great to stop by and speak to some of the vendors. After that, I’d encourage you to leave the village behind and explore the small walking trail around the golf course.

A woman wearing a blue cape walks away from the camera and into the village. The houses are lit by the sun while the bridge she's walking on is in the shade. Two onlookers look at ther in the background.

Anyone planning a visit to the Cotswolds must remember this: you will want an Afternoon Tea. It’s a fact. While, initially, I’d hoped to book a slot at The Rectory Tearoom, they weren’t opened that day, so I made a reservation at The Manor House.

The Manor House, covered with green and purple ivy, against a background of moody grey clouds in the golden hour sunset

The Manor House is a golf club-cum-hotel that sits on the edge of Castle Combe and is everything you ever wanted. Getting there is easy, I’d recommend leaving your car in the guests parking lot and taking a stroll around the village before you enjoy your meal. The building and the grounds reminded me of Manderley, the manor in Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel Rebecca, which made the whole experience even more memorable.

Afternoon tea at The Manor House will set you back £32.50 for the classic selection, or £42 with a glass of local sparkling wine. My mum went for the glass of bubbly (I was driving), but I hear it was lovely.

Where to stay: The Wheatsheaf Inn in Northleach

We stayed at The Wheatsheaf Inn since it was at the heart of our circuit. Our stay was, without a doubt, outstanding. 

A slightly pink house, with the walkway framed with a rose garden that's heavy with flowers in bloom
This is NOT a picture of our hotel. I took this during our walk the first evening. As the sun was setting, all the local cottages came to life.

They have a FANTASTIC selection of gins (including Brecon Beacons gin, my utmost favourite), are pet-friendly and the staff is accommodating of your every need. We’d booked a late dinner, but as we grew more tired the restaurant manager did literally everything in her hand to seat us early. And it was delicious, too.

The Wheatsheaf Inn is in Northleach, a village with only a few streets at best. Nonetheless, its’ quietness, a surprisingly popular wine bar and the walkable parks made our stay perfectly memorable.

Bleinheim Palace

Blenheim Palace in the center of the frame, atop the main meadow, with a thick grey cloud mantel behind.

Bleinheim Palace is the largest privately-owned state in the UK. It was gifted to the Duke of Malborough as a reward for military accomplishments but is more notoriously known for being the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. 

The interiors of the palace are absolutely gorgeous – particularly as we visited when Maurizio Cattelan had some of his works exhibited. I’d highly recommend visiting with one of the audioguides, but do spend most of your day perusing the endless gardens.

A lake with calm water, with a view of the palace in the far distance, with a row of green tree canopies by the shore.

What I missed: Bibury & The Slaughters

Arlington Row near Bibury by Riley's Roves
Bibury. Photo credit by Riley from Riley’s Roves

We set off in a jolly mood, but driver’s anxiety got the best of me so we had to cut three villages from our itinerary. Luckily, here are some of my blogger friend’s guides to The Cotswolds, featuring Bibury and The Slaughters.

The Slaughters: special thanks to Solo Sophie for her guide to these twin villages. Read Lower Slaughter and Upper Slaughter in her blog.

Bibury: thank you Blogger on Pole, Riley’s Roves, Holidays to Europe and Travel With Mansoureh for sharing your experiences. Check them out for gorgeous pics and great tips.

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