Se­crets of the Cotswolds

Wild­flow­ers, over­grown mo­saics and devil’s toe­nails – there’s more to the Cotswolds than its chocolate-box charms, says Louise Tickle

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

My in­tro­duc­tion to the Cotswolds, eight years ago, cer­tainly wasn’t all hon­eyed stone and rolling hills. “Turn off the M5 at junc­tion 14,” emailed the bloke who was soon to be­come my boyfriend. “Drive through Cam­bridge – no, you’re not 250 miles off track, it’s a smaller version, not nearly as nice as the other one – then fol­low the signs for Durs­ley.”

‘Durs­ley’ had an oddly fa­mil­iar ring. This was soon ex­plained.

“JK Rowl­ing ap­par­ently walked through the town when she was do­ing the Cotswold Way and thought it was as bad as the name sounded, so she used it for Harry Pot­ter’s nasty aunt and un­cle,” I read on. “You won’t get lost. See you in a few hours.”

Durs­ley, it turned out, wasn’t all that ter­ri­ble. It has a CAMRA-award-win­ning pub, the Old Spot Inn, for starters; though its grace­ful, gen­tly de­cay­ing Ge­or­gian town­houses don’t quite re­deem the pedes­tri­anised cen­tre from some shock­ing plan­ning de­ci­sions made 30-odd years ago. Set just be­low the western es­carp­ment of the Cotswolds, this was the place from which I be­gan to ex­plore. First via foot­paths lead­ing from the edge of the town that take you deep in­side dap­pled beech woods, where cen­turies old trees on ver­tig­i­nous slopes must reach straight and high for the light, and later, as I made this area my home, fur­ther east and north­wards.

If I’m hon­est, I’m not sold on the tra­di­tional chocolate-box im­age of the Cotswolds, all

caramel-coloured cot­tages and wonky win­dows. That’s the tourist version of an area in which I’ve now lived for six years – there’s an­other re­al­ity, less con­fected and far love­lier. Best of all, much of the Cotswolds is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble – the moun­tains and fells of wilder parts of the UK have their draw­backs, not least if you’re tot­ing small chil­dren about, which we soon were – and the best bits mostly cost noth­ing at all. Wild­flow­ers are an unmissable de­light. The Pain­swick Ro­coco Gar­dens are fa­mous for snow­drops, but Cher­ing­ton Lake, near the mar­ket town of Nailsworth, has swathes of this ear­li­est, most del­i­cate flower stretch­ing up through wood­lands that you can go and see for free.

In May, head for Clat­tinger Farm, just a mile or so south of Somer­ford Keynes in Cotswold Wa­ter Park (not, de­spite its name, tech­ni­cally in the Cotswolds), pull up on the side of the road and head for the nearby field. Once you’ve “got your eye in” – it helps to lie on your tummy so your sight­line is at flower height – it’s like a magic trick. First you’re star­ing at a field full of bor­ing old grass, then sud­denly, from be­ing vir­tu­ally un­no­tice­able, masses of del­i­cate pink and pur­ple orchids be­come ut­terly ap­par­ent and you can’t be­lieve you didn’t see them straight­away.

In July, head for the vil­lage of Tre­sham (about 10 miles south of Nailsworth along the A46) and scar­let fields of pop­pies sat­u­rate the view. Glow­ing red pe­tals are set off by scat­ter­ings of corn­flow­ers and ox­eye daisies.

It’s a glo­ri­ous set­ting for a pic­nic, so well worth a trip be­fore­hand to the Jolly Nice café on the A419 Cirences­ter road to pick up a game pie or sausage roll made with lo­cally sourced meat. It’s hard not to emerge from this for­mer petrol sta­tion fore­court, now classy café (look out for the Airstream car­a­van at the side of the road that houses the kitchen) with­out hav­ing dropped a wad of cash on cakes, bis­cuits and brown­ies – not to men­tion a tub of the fab­u­lous (and pricey) ice-cream made in the most so­phis­ti­cated flavour com­bi­na­tions I’ve ever tasted.

Where there are wild­flow­ers, there are but­ter­flies. Blue ones, I al­ways think, are the best. For a chance to see the most glam­orous but­ter­fly of all – aptly named the Ado­nis blue – search for a foot­path just be­low the Bear of Rod­bor­ough Ho­tel.

It leads to a steep fold in the hill­side, where on a sunny, ideally wind­less day, in late May to early June, and also mid-Au­gust to early Septem­ber, the vividly blue males will emerge to mate with the duller brown – though still slightly blue-tinged – fe­males. Glimpse one and it’ll take your breath away.

HID­DEN TREA­SURES

With Cirences­ter Am­phithe­atre and Ched­worth Ro­man Villa be­ing well worth a visit, it’s ev­i­dent that Ro­man history soaks the Cotswolds soil, but per­haps never more tan­ta­lis­ingly than in Wood­ch­ester, where the sec­ond largest Ro­man mo­saic ‘pave­ment’ in Europe lies buried be­neath the ru­ins of an old grave­yard. Last un­cov­ered to pub­lic view in 1973, fears were then ex­pressed that leav­ing it in the open would over­whelm Wood­ch­ester with visi­tors (those pesky tourists, bring­ing money and work to an area, can’t be hav­ing it), so the spades came back out, the sods went back in and nary a glimpse has been had since.

At­mo­spheric ru­ins are some­thing of a fea­ture here­abouts: tucked deep in a wooded val­ley on the edge of the vil­lage is the un­fin­ished Wood­ch­ester Man­sion. Built in ex­trav­a­gant Gothic style in the 19th cen­tury and then aban­doned when the owner ran out of money, it’s now man­aged en­tirely by vol­un­teers, and is home to sev­eral thou­sand greater and lesser horse­shoe bats.

A pleas­ant walk from one of two start­ing points gets you there: the shorter route in­volves park­ing at the Na­tional Trust carpark near Nymps­field and an easy down­hill am­ble. Help­fully, there’s a free minibus both to and from the carpark for any legs that aren’t up to walk­ing, with teas, coffees and home­made cakes served through sum­mer and into au­tumn.

For more an­cient ru­ins, stride out to find some of the Stone Age ‘tumps’, also known as long bar­rows – mounds of earth con­structed as Ne­olithic mass tombs. Hetty Pe­gler’s

Tump near Uley should be vis­ited for its name alone, and it’s worth a hike to

Nymps­field Long Bar­row on Coa­ley Peak to look out over the sweep of the river Sev­ern.

WOOL STOCKED

If you’ve re­cently watched The Ca­sual

Va­cancy – it seems JK Rowl­ing is be­com­ing a lo­cal theme – and fancy a gen­tle stroll in one of the area’s his­toric wool towns, you’ll

“THERE’S AN­OTHER RE­AL­ITY, LESS CON­FECTED AND FAR LOVE­LIER”

be able to do a bit of lo­ca­tion spot­ting as you wend your way through the nar­row lanes of Pain­swick (count the 99 mag­nif­i­cent yew trees in the church­yard – per­fect hide-and-seek ter­ri­tory for kids, or grownups come to that) and Minch­in­hamp­ton, where you mustn’t miss Woe­ful­dane Or­ganic Dairy, an ar­ti­san cheese shop that makes its pro­duce just up the road.

Un­less you’re an avid hiker or biker, it’s back in the car to head out to the es­tu­ary where it starts to widen, and you’ll fetch up in Framp­ton-on-Sev­ern, where cricket is played in front of the Bell Inn on what’s thought to be the long­est vil­lage green in Eng­land. Con­tinue north-west through the vil­lage and look for Hock Cliff on the banks of the River Sev­ern. Here, fos­sil en­thu­si­asts who don’t mind get­ting dirty can bash away with their ham­mers to re­veal 100 mil­lionyear-old oys­ters known as devil’s toe­nails hid­den within the com­pacted muddy banks of the river.

REST­FUL NIGHTS

It’s al­ways worth know­ing good places to lay your head for the night. It might be imag­ined that there would be no rea­son for me to visit the lo­cal B&Bs. But but­ter­fly odysseys and trips to tumps don’t al­ways off­set the stress caused by two small but vo­cif­er­ous boys, so oc­ca­sion­ally I’ve fled the chaos for a night.

Nowhere I’ve stayed has beaten the 17th-cen­tury Ebring­ton Arms in the far north­ern reaches of the Cotswolds for style, food or wel­come – I nearly kid­napped the chef (www.thee­bring­ton­arms.co.uk). At the southern end, in the vil­lage of Sher­ston, is Car­rier’s Farm bed and break­fast, where Fiona But­ter­field’s beau­ti­fully dec­o­rated and com­fort­able bed­rooms are a per­fect haven at the end of a long day ex­plor­ing (www.car­ri­ers­farm.co.uk).

Durs­ley may not have been the most promis­ing of ini­ti­a­tions to the de­lights of the Cotswolds, but it proves that with a bit of cu­rios­ity, a map and a bit of lo­cal knowl­edge – pro­vided by the bloke-who-be­came-the­boyfriend – any­where, really, can be a good place to start.

LEFT Clat­tinger Farm Na­ture Re­serve hay meadow, speck­led with daisies and pink and pur­ple orchids TOP RIGHT Nymps­field Long Bar­row pre­his­toric burial cham­ber ABOVE RIGHT The sprawl­ing, aban­doned Wood­ch­ester Man­sion BE­LOW Spot the bril­liant Ado­nis blue but­ter­fly in the sum­mer months

The for­mer wool town of Pain­swick, which fea­tured in the BBC adap­ta­tion of JK Rowl­ing’s

The Ca­sual Va­cancy

ABOVE The 17th-cen­tury, Cotswold stone Ebring­ton Arms in Chip­ping Cam­p­den TOP Framp­ton-on-Sev­ern has the largest vil­lage green in Eng­land – per­fect for a game of cricket

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