The Cotswolds covers an area of approximately 100 miles from Chipping Campden in the north to Bath in the south, and about 25 miles from Oxford in the east to Cheltenham in the west.
The region is covered in oolitic limestone, called Cotswold stone, which varies from honey colored in the north, to golden in the central areas, and cream or white in the south.
The stone is mined from local quarries (some still in operation) and used in building the distinctive cottages and churches, and walls, made without mortar or cement, that crisscross the area. Full of rolling hills and open spaces, The Cotswolds was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966.
The Cotswolds has been on my radar for a few years and as soon as I decided to visit relatives in London, I started looking for tours to the area. I opted for a walking tour so that, like a delicious meal, I could move slowly and savor the experience.
Unfortunately, after one too many glasses of wine at my cousin’s birthday party the night before, my enthusiasm lost the battle to exhaustion. Although I woke up on time, I felt tired and instead of pushing myself, I relaxed.
Later, as my energy and reasoning returned, I started to regret not forcing myself to go. I knew I’d kick myself when I returned to New York so I pulled out my iPad and began another search.
I looked for tours of no more than 15 people that offered pickup from a railway station. Several fit the bill. I was about to book one I thought I’d like when I saw Secret Cottage‘s 6-hour guided tour of “hidden villages that are inaccessible to public transport.” I was sold.
In addition, according to Secret Cottage’s website, Becky, the owner, would invite us in for a peek at her cottage offer traditional English cream tea and pastries, as well as lunch.
I was excited (did a little Happy Dance), relieved and justified that I didn’t push myself to do the walking tour. The Secret Cottage tour would definitely be better – I knew it!
A few days later, I was on the 7:50 a.m. train from Paddington Station for the 90-minute ride to Moreton-in-Marsh (such a descriptive name, isn’t it?) in the Northern Cotswolds where Becky’s driver would pick me up at 10:15.
Two Mercedes SUVs pulled into the station’s parking lot at 10:15 sharp. Once the drivers sorted out who was waiting for the tour, we split into two groups of seven and got into the cars.
As Robin, our driver, eased out of the parking lot, he explained that the name Cotswolds comes from the Old English words, Cots (sheep, sheep pen) and Wold (hill). He also gave us a brief history of wool and its impact on the area.
A Wooly History of The Cotswolds
England, in the Middle Ages, was famous for its wool and the best fleece came from the Cotswolds, from the local Cotswold sheep. By the 15th century, wool was the country’s main industry.
England was so wrapped up in wool that the Lord Chancellor of the House of Lords sat on a woolsack, a chair made of wool.
During Charles II’s reign, the Burial in Wool Act of 1667 and 1678 directed that all bodies (except those who died from the Plague) had to be buried in wool; the coffins lined with the material. Anyone who violated the Act had to pay a fine. This Act stayed in effect until 1814!
The demand for wool created great wealth for The Cotswolds area merchants built lavish homes and fine churches. Many of these churches (called wool churches) were so large they dwarfed the villages in which they were located.
By the 1700-1800s, however, competition from wool production in other parts of the world caused a decline in the English wool industry and without a diversified economy, the country and The Cotswolds suffered. The decline had another effect: that of preserving much of The Cotswolds architecture that now makes it special.
Though wool is no longer its primary product, you can still see sheep grazing in the fields, as well as acres of barley, wheat, corn and rapeseed.
Chastleton Village, Chastleton House
As we drove from Moreton-in-Marsh to Chastleton Village, which has about 30 homes and 75 residents, Robin explained that villages have about 100 people, towns about 1,000, and a city has a cathedral.
Villages typically had a large house for the landowner, smaller cottages for the workers as well as a church, a shop and a school. The cottages traditionally had a room with a fireplace and kitchen on the main floor, living quarters on the upper floor that were accessible by a ladder.
Though it wasn’t open yet, we stopped to have a look at Chastleton House, which was built between 1607 and 1612 for Walter Jones. The house stayed in the family until 1991, when the National Trust acquired it. Seen from the main gate, it is quite impressive.
Robin led us round the back of Chastleton House, which was protected by a wall however, I was able to climb up and snap a photo. The best view was of the Topiary Garden.
A church, St. Mary’s, which dates to the 12th century, is located near the house.
Across the street, there’s a dovecot or dovecote, basically a large birdhouse for pigeons and doves where workers collect the droppings to use as fertilizer. The size of the dovecote is usually a pretty good indicator of the wealth of the owner.
One famous resident of Chastleton House was Robert Catesby, the leader of the famous Gunpowder Plot, the failed 1605 assassination plot against King James I.
In 1866, croquet rules were standardized at Chastleton House. It was also one of the locations for the 2015 BBC series, Wolf Hall.
Chastleton House is open Wednesday to Sunday, 12:30 – 3 from March to October, 12:30 – 4 from April to September.
In Part II, we’ll go on a tour of Upper Oddington, Adlestrop, Great Tew, and Upper and Lower Slaughter. Hope you stay tuned.
Linking up this week with Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Jan at Budget Travel Talk, Ruth at Tanama Tales, and Rachel at Rachel’s Ruminations. Be sure to head over and check out more travel photos from around the world.
31 comments on “The Secret Cottage Tour of The Cotswolds, I”
This sounds like a lovely tour! I have always wanted to visit the Cotswolds but wasn’t sure if it was possible to do it as a day trip for London – this seems like the solution!
I love it when we think we’ve missed out on something good and then something even more special comes along. Well done!
The Cotswolds have long been on my travel wishlist. I love the look of all the ancient buildings. This tour sounds like something worth considering, for sure 🙂
I soooo love the Cotswolds! It’s a very charming region and it’s the England that I’ve had in my mind.
“hidden villages that are inaccessible to public transport.” would have sold that tour to me too! I wish I saw that when I went there. :p
The Cotswold always conjures up images of beautiful scenery and lovely little cottages, and you have shown that my imagination is correct.
When I picture the English countryside, I think I’ve been imagining the Cotswold. This is exactly what I’d hope to see. Your tour seems great so far, and I like that you get a peek into the interior of a cottage at the end of the tour. Plus tea! I’m guessing that the Cotswold must get a lot of tourist based on that multi-lingual sign you photographed. Was it crazy crowded?
The dovecot is gorgeous. We don’t have those in Australia. I love the thatched roof of the Cotswold Stone house. We stayed in a white thatched roof house in Devon in our early 20’s. Such craftsmanship!
I agree on both counts, Jan! Aren’t they fun – thatched roof houses? I stayed in one in Johannesburg. Loved it!
Actually, Michele, that was one of the other things I looked for. It wasn’t crowded where we were. We saw one of the large tour buses in one of the bigger towns but those buses can’t access the smaller villages so the tour felt very intimate.
Marcia, I visited the Cotswolds last winter. It was dull and dreary weather, but those cottages are so charming and inviting. I found myself wishing I’d tried to book one, one with a fireplace…and who knows…a dovecote?
Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration!
I have actually never known what a dovecote is, I’d heard of one but I had never sat down to think of what it would mean. They have an interesting use. The cottages are gorgeous, I imagine that they’re super cosy inside.
One day we should make it to England to explore the history and old quaint villages. If only they could guarantee a dry and sunny summer in those parts of the world. 😉
What a picturesque place. It looks like something right out of a fairy tale. I appreciated all of the interesting historical information you included, too. I’m going to jot down the information about the Secret Cottage Tour – it sounds perfect!
It sure does, Vicki. Hope you make the Secret Cottage tour. You won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for visiting and commenting.
Having it dry and sunny is definitely better. I must have been very fortunate. My last two trips were almost rain-free. Don’t wait, though – they’re too many beautiful things to see there.
I didn’t either until I went to the Cotswolds. I can’t imagine having such a large birdhouse but I guess that’s what people do when they’re rich – the larger they are, the richer the owners.
You’re right, Rachel, the cottages are quite cozy.
Hi Corinne, I’m sorry about the weather but glad they cottages cheered you up. Hope you get a chance to rent one with a fireplace. That’s my plan for my next trip!
You’re welcome. Glad to join in the linkup fun. Thanks for hosting.
Glad to hear that, Paula. I guess that’s why they’ve designated it an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Glad to ‘meet’ someone else who’s been. Were you also in the North Cotswolds?
Hope you get to see it soon, Lyndall. You’ll love it!
Thanks, Jan. Me too. I’m very glad it worked out the way it did this time.
Oh yes, Lisa, it’s definitely doable from London. Hope you get to visit soon – it’s worth it!
This has always been on my things to do beyond London list too. I like how the tour is small and intimate. Wow..Charleston house is impressive. That first countryside picture is one of the many reasons I’d love to spend the day here. Thanks for a wonderful history lesson. Looking forward to reading the rest of your tour.
We went to Bourton-on-the-Water last weekend, and absolutely loved it. The weather was clear, though freezing cold. And the tiny river and all the bridges compensated for the absence of flowers. Thanks for giving me the woolly background history of this gorgeous area.
Oh, how lovely, Mette! We drove through Bourton-on-the-Water. I would have loved to stop – they say it’s one of the most beautiful villages in The Cotswolds. Sorry about the cold. It was cool when I was there – a sweater was enough. Glad to share the history of this lovely area.
You’re welcome, Mary. Hope you get to make the trip when next you’re in London. It’s a good day trip – or if you have time, a weekend or more. There’s certainly a lot to see.
You should visit India someday! And explore the villages, culture,traditions of India!
Lovely photos, Marcia! As a fan of Wolf Hall and of visiting filming locations in general, I’d love to visit Chastleton House–and the Cotswolds.
Wow. The Cotswolds looks amazing. It reminded me of Hoi An Ancient Town in Vietnam. I visited it 2 years ago but it’s impressed me up to now. Old wooden buildings, typical shops selling handcrafted lanterns and nightlife in this small town. All created an unforgetable trip of me. Thanks for the share. I hope that I would have a chance to visit The Cotswolds soon.
Oh, sounds lovely. I’ve not heard of Hoi An Ancient Town. If I ever get to Vietnam, I’ll definitely have to see it.
Hope you make it to the Cotswolds soon. Thanks for stopping by, Sophia!
Oh, Lesley, you should absolutely go. You’ll love it!
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