August 26-28, 2022
Does anyone else plan vacations for their dog, or is it just me? Either way, we decided to keep up our new tradition of treating Lily to a vacation over the late August bank holiday weekend (last year we went to the Lake District) by heading up to the Cotswolds for a lovely, relaxing couple of days spent in the English countryside. One of my childhood friends from Kansas City was visiting us, too, which made this weekend getaway even more special.
The Cotswolds covers nearly 800 square miles of grassland habitat that is quarried for its golden-colored Cotswold stone, which is heavily featured in the quaint villages, small towns, and elegant country estates found within the area. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966, the Cotswolds is now the third-largest protected landscape in England, and its charming limestone villages, beautiful farmland, and many public walking trails and footpaths have made it one of the most popular tourist areas in the country. It was truly the perfect place to go for a break from city life…especially for our Labrador, who was absolutely ecstatic about spending a whole weekend centered around long walks and dog-friendly pubs.
It took ~2 hours by train to get from London to Cheltenham Spa, which is where we picked up our rental car—a necessity for getting around the mostly rural area. We stayed at an unbelievably charming and cozy Airbnb in Coates just outside of Tetbury, a particularly lovely village that is nationally renowned for its antique and bric-à-brac shops, as well as being the primary residence of King Charles III (up until recently, of course). We couldn’t have been more pleased with the cottage accommodations, its location, and the hospitality of the owners, who lived in the beautiful home next door and had an entire binder full of recommendations for activities and restaurants, several of which I’ve included below.
My friend’s birthday happened to be the Friday we arrived, so we celebrated with a more upscale dinner at The Ox Barn at Thyme, a gorgeous, contemporary restaurant located in a restored 19th-century ox barn on a larger estate. It was the only non-pub restaurant we went to the entire weekend and everything about the dining experience was fantastic. We spent the rest of the weekend taking advantage of the absolutely perfect weather by taking long, ambling walks through the countryside, exploring some of the picturesque villages, and enjoying more than a few pints at the quintessentially English country pubs dotted throughout the area. It was such a relaxing trip, and I would highly recommend the area to anyone who is looking to experience the traditional English countryside.
If you’re planning a trip to the Cotswolds, click here to access and download my Google Maps list of saved locations in England and Wales.
Food & Drink
- The Ox Barn at Thyme (Southrop): Set on a 150-acre farm just outside of the charming village of Southrop, the Thyme country estate has curated a “village within a village” containing a country-chic hotel, spa, cooking school, sustainable homeware shop, and several dining options, including The Ox Barn. We had a wonderful (albeit expensive) dinner here on Friday night, which was the perfect way to celebrate my friend’s birthday. The menu was simple but refined, featuring contemporary takes on classic English dishes with a strong focus on local ingredients, and the wine list was equally excellent.
- The Bell at Sapperton (Cirencester): This independent, family-owned pub was highly recommended by our Airbnb host and it was just as lovely as advertised. The food was much more creative and produce-focused than what you would typically find on the average country pub menu and the wine selection was equally impressive.
- The Potting Shed Pub (Malmesbury): We went to one of the top countryside “dining pubs” (never to be confused with “drinking pubs”) for Sunday lunch and it was one of the best meals we had on the trip, in addition to being particularly charming. We sat at a picnic table on the lawn and everything we ate was outstanding.
- The Mount Inn (Stanton): We had originally planned to just stop in for a pre-walk pint at this traditional pub in one of the prettiest and most idyllic villages in the Cotswolds, but the weather was so lovely and the outdoor garden seating was so inviting that we ended up forgoing the walk in lieu of having a few more beers. As the name suggests, the 17th-century village pub stands on the mount at the end of the village of Stanton, which is famous for its ancient houses built from the honey-colored limestone quarried in the area. Its hillside location provided gorgeous views across the quaint little village.
- Rave Coffee (Cirencester): This local coffee roastery was another recommendation from our Airbnb host. It was surprisingly sleek and sophisticated for a roastery tucked away on a random road in a small village, and we were thoroughly impressed with both its coffee and its flapjacks (which in the UK are basically extra-chewy granola bars).
Activities & Attractions
- Walks: The #1 thing to do in the Cotswolds is take long, leisurely walks throughout the countryside, much to Lily’s joy. Aside from enjoying the incredible natural beauty of the area, the best part about countryside walks is exercising the quintessentially British “right to roam”, which is the general public’s right to access nearly all public or privately owned land, lakes, and rivers outside of London for recreation and exercise. Public footpaths, many of which are hundreds of years old, are clearly marked with signposts and included in Ordnance Survey (OS) maps of the area. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering through the countryside around our Airbnb in Coates, which happened to include the Thames Head, a group of seasonal springs traditionally identified as the source of the River Thames.
- Tetbury: Our Airbnb was just a few miles from Tetbury, a very pretty village known for its many antique and bric-à-brac shops and several important historic buildings, including Tetbury Market House, a Grade I listed, 17th-century Cotswold pillared market house in the center of town. It’s also the closest town to Highgrove House, the primary countryside residence of King Charles III and Queen Camilla. Although we didn’t visit the estate and its famously beautiful gardens, we did stop in at the Highgrove House Shop in Tetbury, which was an excellent place to buy locally made gifts and souvenirs.
- Stanton: This tiny village near Broadway is built almost entirely out of the local honey-colored Jurassic limestone and is known as one of the most beautiful and idyllic of the smaller villages in the area (several cottages even have thatched roofs). It’s also known as a great place for walkers: the Cotswold Way long-distance footpath passes directly through the village and The Mount Inn pub serves as the starting and ending point for a beautiful six-mile walk. Nearly all of its buildings are Grade II listed, and the village was refreshingly quiet and sleepy compared to some of the other areas.