The 8 Best Places to Visit in
What do you do when you are due to head to Sweden to see your brother, but you get a call from him 30 minutes before you arrive at Heathrow telling you there is Coronavirus in his son's school and that he is to avoid contact with anyone outside the household? You turn around, find a lay-by to sleep in, and then go explore the Cotswolds on your way home, of course! The chances of becoming infected were probably quite slim, but I felt it was somewhat irresponsible to go. And besides that, I didn't know what the protocol would be at the airport and whether I would end up getting stuck over there or, even worse, having to self-isolate for two weeks upon my return to Plymouth.
Stacey and I have explored some of the Cotswolds, but not huge amounts of it. We have visited Bath and Bradford-on-Avon several times, but we've always wanted to explore more. This was a solo trip with just me (Joel), so it was a little different to my usual travels with my travel partner. It's not quite the same travelling alone, is it? I miss the companionship, conversation and fun we have in a pair. Anyway, as I headed home for Plymouth, having driven six hours from Newquay airport to Heathrow after dropping my dad off (!), I saw a signpost for Shaftesbury on the A303. I've wanted to visit Shaftesbury for ages because of the very famous Gold Hill, which you might remember from the 1970's Hovis TV advert. If you aren't, or want to familiarise yourself with it, scroll to the bottom to watch the Hovis remastered version. So, I stopped in the next lay-by after the signpost I spotted and stayed the night. I had no prior planning to visit, I simply saw the sign and stopped. It was getting late at this point and I was tired, so needed an excuse to stop! And that's the beauty of a campervan, right? You can do just that (within reason). The following morning, I turned around and headed to Shaftesbury. Although it's not in the Cotswolds, it's worth mentioning because a) it's beautiful b) it's not that far from the southern edge of the Cotswolds and c) it was part of the adventure! My trip was cut ever so slightly short, sadly. I'd planned to visit Chalford, Bisley, Slad and Nympsfield, before heading back home. Read on to find out what went wrong!
When I think of the Cotswolds, I think of an area which is quintessentially English. If you have never been to England and want a taste of the best of what it has to offer, you should look no further than the Cotswolds. You will fall in love with the rolling hills, history, thatched cottages, and romantic views. It really is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, combined with architectural marvels, from Castle Combe to Gloucester Cathedral. The Cotswolds span five counties - Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire, covering almost 800 square miles and really is one of the most beautiful places in England. We are due to move to Shropshire in early 2021, which is about an hour closer to the Cotswolds than where we currently are, so we're really looking forward to exploring even more of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty!
The iconic view of Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset, which is not in the Cotswolds!
I had only ever heard of Corsham when referred to as MOD Corsham and I almost drove past it on my way to Castle Combe. I saw the signpost while I was approaching some traffic lights and decided to head in. I don't know why it's never been on my radar, but it's totally underestimated. What a gorgeous little town it is, even in the wet! I parked just outside on one of the main roads, Cross Keys Road, and walked in. I was immediately met by a random peacock walking about the streets. I guess it belongs to Corsham Court, which was a stone throw away, and managed to escape. But the locals didn't seem perplexed by it...it must be a regular occurrence! Corsham is full of independent retail and beautiful buildings, typical of any Cotswold town with the iconic yellow limestone. I took a walk from St Bartholomew's Church, into the field and then down the tree lined path, which is all owned by Corsham Court. There probably isn't a time of year which offers a prettier view of this path.
The tree lined path which leads to Corsham Almshouse and Schoolroom
Corsham Court, Corsham
Corsham, the Cotswolds
Don't you just love the autumnal colours?
High Street, Corsham
Castle Combe is quite possibly the most iconic village on the Cotswolds. Come in from the south, via Ford, and you will drive over the iconic bridge and up through the village. Once you leave the village you might find some parking on the right, heading up the hill. Failing this, follow signposts for 'Free Parking' at the top of the hill. There isn't much to Castle Combe other than it is a quintessential English village, but it's definitely worth a visit. There are two pubs, of which The White Hart has some covered seating outside so you can watch all the Instagrammers walking down toward the bridge. Am I included in that?! Ha-ha!
The view you never see of Castle Combe - looking south down The Street
The iconic view of Castle Combe
I passed through Biddestone as I headed towards Castle Combe. The weather wasn't on side, but I managed to get some editing done while I waited for the rain to pass... it didn't pass so I jumped out and had a little wander around. There's a cute pub called The White Horse and public toilets, which probably indicates this place gets a little bit of tourist footfall during the summer months. There is the most random massive giant redwood tree down where The Butts and Challows Lane meet, right by the church. A rather unusual spot and very imposing.
Biddestone, the Cotswolds
A gorgeous house which sits on the side of Biddestone's very own duck pond!
I crashed in Bumper on the second night of my tour on Rodborough Common. It was a little noisy until around 2245 and got busy quickly in the morning with lots of dog walkers. But it offered a good view over the edge of Stroud. It turns out there is a place called Rodborough Fort, which I didn't know existed at the time. How I missed it, I do not know!
When I visited Stroud, the weather was absolutely shocking, which slightly dampened the experience. But there was a farmers market on, which you can find more about HERE. It was full of local produce with everything to suit any need, from meat lovers to vegans and everything in between. I parked just out of the town in a free council car park. You can park there for up to 23 hours, but it's on a hill, so I wouldn't recommend an overnight stay. The car park was about 20 minutes away from the town centre. I took the long route and walked along the canal and back up the shortest way. I do not recommend parking here if you don't like walking up hills. It's steep and goes on forever!
While you're in Stroud there are two places you should visit - the food court at the Five Valleys Shopping Centre and Made In Stroud. The shopping centre has a really cool food court, full of independent street food sellers and Made In Stroud is stocked with all sorts of local things, from beautiful gifts to artwork, jewellery and beer. I bought some beer to take home, of course.
The view from Bumper on Rodborough Common, overlooking the edge of Stroud
Stroud, the Cotswolds
Stroud, the Cotswolds
The rather wet High Street, Stroud High
The food court, Five Valleys Shopping Centre
The beer I bought from Made In Stroud
The food court, Five Valleys Shopping Centre
Nailsworth was another place, much like Corsham and Biddestone, that I just happened to be passing through to get elsewhere, but piqued my interest, so I decided to return once I'd visited Stroud. When I initially passed through, it was dark, but it looked interesting enough, much like the road which leads up the hill out of town towards Rodborough Common! It's full of twists and turns and offers pretty dramatic views over the town. Nailsworth is pretty cute and has plenty of character with its varied architecture and independent shops. There's a little place called Domestic Science, tucked down a little alley, which I would recommend if you like vintage interiors and curios.
Nailsworth, the Cotswolds
Market Street, Nailsworth
Part of the rather cool Egypt Mill Hotel & Restaurant, Nailsworth
Nailsworth War Memorial Clock Tower, sporting the annual Poppy Appeal decorations
Bradford-on-Avon is one of my favourite towns in the Cotswolds, if not my favourite...it's hard to decide! I feel it's in the shadow of Bath a little, unfortunately. If you are visiting Bath, you should make the effort to visit Bradford-on-Avon (it's only 20 minutes away). It shares the same iconic limestone that you find all over the Cotswolds, is steeped in history, and is much quieter than Bath. It's not massive, but there is a nice walk along the canal, if you fancy it, but you should plan at least a couple of hours here, if not a little bit more. If you want some free parking, there's a place on the northern side of the valley, which you will find on the map at the bottom of the page. It's quite a steep hill to get up and down, but it's well worth it. I suggest getting lost on the paths and alleyways as you head down. You will find all sorts of gorgeous little cottages and terraces which overlook the town. We stayed at a campsite not far from Bradford-on-Avon, called The Blackberries Camping Park. You can read more about that in our Freedom! post HERE, if you'd like.
Silver Street, Bradford-on-Avon
St Thomas More's Church, Bradford-on-Avon
The Shambles, Bradford-on-Avon
Bradford-on-Avon, the Cotswolds
Bradford-on-Avon, the Cotswolds
You can't visit the Cotswolds and not visit Bath. It has to be one of the most beautiful cities in the UK. There are oodles of things to do, whether you're a history buff, foodie, wanderer or have an eye for architecture, there is something in Bath to meet your needs. One of my favourite things to do anywhere is to simply wander the streets. You get to see the things you don't when you hit the mainstream spots, and Bath is large enough to offer tons and tons of streets to wander. But for some hot spots, I'd recommend the Roman Baths, Royal Crescent and head out to visit the National Trust site, Priory Park, which overlooks the city. It's a beautiful spot which offers unrivalled views over Bath.
Bath Street, Bath
Whichford, a tiny village which is home to a pottery place, a church and a pub, the Norman Knight. I caught up with a couple of friends - Rob (who you have previously seen on the Freedom! post) and Paul, another Navy photographer, at the Norman Knight glamping pods back in 2018, after I'd visited Waddeston Manor on the way from where I was working at RAF Halton. You can stay in one of the pods for about £85 per night, which are located around the back of the pub, and while you're there, you should definitely head in for a pint and some grub! Check out the Norman Knight website HERE for more info. Waddeston Manor is not on the Cotswolds either, but I've mentioned it so might as well tell you a little bit about it. It's one incredible place, owned by the National Trust and managed by the Rothschild Foundation and if you haven't been, you definitely need to visit! In 2019 it was one of the National Trust's most visited properties, and it's not hard to see why. It's about an hour from Whichford, London bound. Back to Whichford - it was this trip which gave me a flavour for what the Cotswolds had to offer. I passed through Stow-on-the-Wold on my way home and it's been on my list of places to go ever since!
The last place I stopped before the power steering failed...somewhere in the Cotswolds
Three things broke during the trip, would you believe?! I made a wooden window box during lockdown and as I went around a corner, it came apart and the stuff in it went everywhere! Will get around to fixing that soon. Then, I broke Bumper (mascot Bumper). He sits, suspended between the seats and I must have caught him with a bit too much force and pulled the fabric out of the top of him. He's fine, you'll be glad to know, we just need to figure out a new place for him. And on that note - do any of you readers know anyone who has the skills to make a large one? We found Bumper on a beach and think he's a one off. If you know someone, please get in touch via the Contact page! And the final nail in the coffin for the trip was the power steering! I'd just arrived in Chalford, turned into a lane and heard this weird whirly sound, followed by some unusual feedback through the steering wheel. I managed to get home without a problem and it's booked in for service this week, so they can take a look...how fortunate! I'll stick an update on when I know what the problem is, although I suspect it's the power steering pump. UPDATE - it was the power steering pump. There was also a seized brake caliper. Bumper went in for the repairs and service and I came out with £600 less in my bank balance! Ha!