Use my simple Cotswolds’ itinerary to discover where to go, where to stay, and what to do on a weekend in the Cotswolds.
Where is the Cotswolds?
The Cotswolds covers nearly 800 square miles across five counties: Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire – and is the biggest of the 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in England and Wales.
It is called the Cotswolds because of its “wolds”, or rolling hills. Indeed, about 80% of the Cotswolds remains farmland, criss-crossed by dry stone walls (approx. 4,000 miles of them) as well as numerous walking trails (the Cotswold Way is probably the most famous and stretches some 100 miles south from Chipping Camden).
Pretty towns to explore in the Cotswolds
What makes the Cotswolds special?
The Cotswolds is loved by many because of its miles upon miles of green fields, woods and hills, its picture-postcard villages (think biscuit-coloured cottages and pubs), and because its a region easily accessible for many thanks to good road and rail networks. Indeed, it’s only 100 miles from London and so makes an easy day trip.
The Cotswolds It’s also home to some of the country’s most cultured small cities: in the west you have Cheltenham; in the south-east you’ll find Cirencester, while Bath lies to the south-west and Oxford to the east.
Famous people living in the Cotswolds
Prince Charles and Camilla
Start your weekend in the Cotswolds here: Burford
Twenty miles outside of Oxford, before you reach Gloucester, you’ll find a dangerously seductive countryside sweet spot. Burford is known as the ‘southern gateway to the Cotswolds’ because it marks the start of a beautiful patch of England. And it has long attracted outsiders pining for a weekend in the Cotswolds with thatched cottages, buttery stonework, and dry stone-wall good-looks.
About Burford: Centuries ago coaches and horses stopped in Burford to refresh en-route to the West Country. Centuries later this medieval town, which owes its prosperity to wool, staggers under the weight of visitors on a Cotswolds’ weekend break, especially in summer.
Why use Burford as a base: Burford’s compact size means it can easily be ‘done’ in a day. It’s central location (off the A40) means attraction-hopping around the rest of the Cotswolds is possible. And because of its English Rose characteristics, there’s an abundance of pretty botlholes to choose from for your Cotswolds weekend base.
Saturday and Sunday Cotswolds Weekend Itinerary
Do this: Walk to the top of Burford High Street
Lace up your walking boots and head to the top of Burford High Street. Why? Because it’s from here that you get the classic view of Burford and the famous ancient cottages that have sold many a postcard.
Because Burford sits on a high wold and slopes into a valley, you need to walk up the high wold to reach the top of the town. It’s an uphill walk, but gently so – unless you’re an unfit feck like me and your heart tells you its the equivalent of Kilimanjaro.
Once your reach the top, unpack your camera and admire the view over the open countryside and down to the willow-fringed River Windrush in the valley. Try to resist cooing over the cottages – not easy – they’ve changed little since Tudor times and are crushingly cute.
Eat here: Huffkins Bakery and Tearoom
Huffkins Bakery and Tearoom has been sifting, kneading and whisking its magic in Burford since 1890. Independently-run and commercially savvy, Huffkins is now a well-rooted local brand in its own right and its success means you’ll now find a Huffkins in Cheltenham, Whitney, Stow-on-the-Wold, and Stratford-upon-Avon.
Despite being a draw for visitors, with accompanying queues on busy weekends, Huffkins is worth a detour thanks to local ingredients, friendly service and freshly-baked goodies.
My tip? Order the Cotswold Rarebit (£9.50) – adding Cotswold smoked back for extra decadence – or the heritage dish, Toast William. Poached pears, Cotswold ham and mature cheddar on slices of homemade bread finished under the grill. Drool.
Shop these: Burford’s independent shops
Skip back down into town and head to Burford’s pot pourri of shops. Alongside countryside stalwarts like Joules and Cotswolds regulars including a smattering of antique shops, you’ll also discover many curious independents. All uphold and subscribe to the same charter that was granted to the town merchants 900 years ago, allowing them to hold their own markets: to give good service and essential local goods to the townsfolk.
My favourite shops in Burford include: Huffkins Bakery and Tearoom– a strange but workable hybrid of bookshop and hat shop. Burford Woodcraft – where you can find an assortment of beautiful wooden gifts by local craftsmen. And an old fashioned Sweet Shop – don’t go in on an empty stomach or you will leave a penny (sweet) or two poorer.
Visit this: Blenheim Palace
Cotswold bling doesn’t get much more dazzling than Blenheim Palace, home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough and birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. This astounding work of baroque architecture was built as a gift to John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough, from Queen Anne and a grateful nation in thanks for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim on 13th August 1704.
Prepare to spend a whole day at Blenheim Palace – I suggest using Sunday as your discovery day – because there is just so much to see and do. As well as one of the most extensive furniture, sculpture and tapestry collections in Europe, there’s a fascinating permanent Churchill exhibition to explore, plus the extraordinary Landscaped Parkland and Formal Gardens with one of England’s most picturesque waterfalls.
Best of all, you can reach Blenheim Palace in just 30 minutes from Burford.
Details: (Open daily from 10.30 – 17.30, last admission 16.45). Costs £24.90 for adults, £20.90 concessions, £13.90 children 5 – 16. Rather smartly, if you choose to donate the cost of your ticket to the Blenheim Palace Heritage Foundation Charity, you get free entry all year!
Stay here: Lavender’s Cottage, Swinbrook
Make the weekend extra fragrant by booking into Lavender’s Cottage. Sweet by name and extra sweet by nature, Lavender’s Cottage is a one-bedroom stable conversion tucked beside the stone wings of an old monastic property where the cottage’s owners live today.
Home to a stone pub, cricket pitch, wooden pavilion, church and award-winning pub (all within walking distance), there’s little else in Swinbrook to disrupt the peace, quiet and seclusion of a stay in Lavender’s Cottage.
The loudest thing you’ll hear is the squelching of wellies across nearby paths and the honk of a swan on the River Windrush.
When we arrived at Lavender’s Cottage the air was soft, the wind sleepy and the 21st century a million miles away. Despite the rustic nature of it, Lavender’s Cottage is elegantly modish inside (much to the delight of two teenagers who were hyperventilating at the thought of no wifi or mobile signal).
Like a fist of fresh mint, the contemporary white downstairs is punchy and refreshing. The open-plan living, dining and kitchen area is spacious, clutter-free, functional and well-appointed (smart tv – check. Strong wi-fi check. Fresh milk in the fridge – check. Large cookies waiting in a jar – double check).
“The cottage sits in the sleepy nook of Swinbrook – 2 miles east of Burford; it’s a village peeled from the pages of an historical novel, untouched by the thundering marching of time.”
The furnishings add a touch of English decadence to the bareness, leaving you in no doubt this is country living: leather sofas, sheepskin rugs, stainless steel antler hooks. The only downside for me was the lack of a log-burner. The electric flame substitute was no replacement for the heat of real crackle and pop.
Upstairs, the bedroom comes with of a deep-pan super-king bed (which can become twin beds if needed) and an immaculate en-suite. The bedroom aesthetic is powerfully striped-back and minimal. Sure, it may be one-bedded but it defines exactly what a bedroom should feel like: safe, calming, nurturing and wholesome. I was extra pleased to discover there was no TV to disturb or disrupt this haven, and only a digital radio to let the shipping forecast in.
Unfortunately, despite falling in love with the room and face-planting onto the bed in bliss, I lost the draw to occupy it to two insistent teens and had to sleep on the downstairs sofa instead. Every silver lining…
(A long weekend at Lavender’s Cottage, Swinbrook costs from £500 with Manor Cottages.)