The most requested destinations for my customized tours are Bath and The Cotswolds, and here is a suggested tour to see the best of these delightful places. This tour can be enjoyed in early spring and late autumn as well as in season.
Day 1 Collect from London hotel or greeting at London airport. We shall drive south-west past Basingstoke and take back-roads to find the source of the River Test, and follow this on small lanes through very pretty villages of thached cottages. There is time to stop and walk, so remember to bring some bread to feed the trout and ducks! We go through Whitchurch, where the last remaining silk mill is open for visits. A little further on is the riverside pub, The Mayfly, a good stop for lunch. From there it is a few miles to the old market town of Stockbridge, where we leave the river and drive on to Bath, arriving mid-afternoon.
Bath is on a steep slope down to the River Avon, so we can use the car to see some of the top of the town, seeing the Royal Crescent, The Circus and Assembly Rooms, and perhaps visiting the museum at No. 1 Royal Crescent which is a re-creation of life upstairs and downstairs in a mid 18c. house.
There is a great choice of hotels in Bath, so you need to let me know your price-guide. We often use the delightful bed & breakfast at Marlborough House, close to and on the level of the centre.
The centre of Bath is mainly pedestrianised, so we take a walking tour around to enjoy the beauty of the complete Georgian architecture in lovely limestone. There is a good choice of restaurants for dinner.
Day 2 An important part of a visit to bath is to see the Roman Baths, and this will take up the first part of the morning. They are a major feat of stonework and still preserved after 2000 years.
Now we leave Bath to drive North-east towards the Cotswold Hills, past Cirencester and down the River Coln valley to Bibury, one of the prettiest towns where we can walk and take pictures. Further on is Fairford, where the church has 28 16c. stained glass windows, the finest in quantity in England. They tell the story of the Creation to the Redemption.
Our overnight stop for the next 2 nights is Burford, also with a church from several early periods. Burford is known as the Gateway to the Cotswolds. There is a choice of hotels. The Bay Tree hotel is the best, recommended in Johansen's world-wide guide in an entry of about just 20 in England. Next door, and equally oldy-world charming is The Lamb. Also very acceptable is The Golden Pheasant, and for the budget conscious and me there is a Travelodge at the top of the town.
Day 3 The Cotswolds are made of porous limestone which soaks up the rain which flows in small rivers to become tributaries to the Thames joining before or in Oxford. All the rivers flow southeast and the land rises in small mounds up to a sharp escarpment of the Severn valley on the North-east edge of the hills. Our circular tour starts by crossing the river Windrush at the bottom of the main street. We go over the bridge and along the gentle Windrush valley through the pretty village of Taynton to Great Barrington, where in the centre of the village is a large private estate which has its own church and very impressive surrounding wall. We go over rising ground to Great Rissington, to visit the church. Here there is an illustrated memorial to the 1st World War dead, 5 of whom are Souls, the greatest loss of any family at that time.
The hill falls away down to Bourton-on-the-Water, a pretty but tourist visited town with a wide street with the river alongside, crossed by several stone bridges. From there we follow little lanes to visit The Slaughters, two very pretty villages on the river Eye. Lower Slaughter has a water mill, now working, and the 17thC. Manor is a lovely hotel, as is the Tudor Manor in Upper Slaughter.
We follow the Windrush through Naunton, past a 15th C. dovecote to Guiting Power, where the church has Norman carving and stained glass, doubling back to go through Barton and Kineton to Temple Guiting. The road is high up to look down on the village, where the Windrush is in its infancy. After a visit we return to the northerly road, high up along a ridge past Ford and then descending into Snowshill. The Manor House is open (NT) and houses some eccentric collections. The Snowshill Arms is a genuine old pub with no music or machines and serves good home-cooked hot and cold lunches, well worth a visit.
Here we are on the edge of the escarpment of the Hills, and the road drops down with spectacular views of the Vale of Evesham to the left and the escarpment to the right. At the bottom of the hill is Broadway, where the wide street is lined with 16th C. and 17th C. houses including the best hotel, The Lygon Arms. There is now a bypass for the main road, so the top of the town is a dead-end, where we turn round to find it to climb back up to the Cotswolds. Atop the hill is the Broadway Tower, open in summer and worth the climb for spectacular views of 360 degrees, over the Severn valley and into Wales. It was built in 1800 as a folly to be seen by its owner the Earl of Coventry from his home in Worcester. William Morris lived here for a while and is remembered in exhibitions.
It is a short drive on the main road to turn off and descend towards Chipping Camden, my favourite of the main Cotswolds towns. Chipping means market. It's wealth came from wool, and it was a main market town, where you can see the pillared market and Woolstaplers Hall, 1487. St. James is a large church with impressive tower, and in front of this is the ruin of Camden Manor, but the gatehouse and East and West banqueting houses are still there and my daughter stayed there so I can tell you about it as we walk around. The almshouses in Church Street are from 1612, and the Lime trees towards the church are 600 years old. The Noel Arms is a 15th C. Coaching Inn.
From here we can make a visit to Hidcote Manor Garden (NT) if there is time. It is high on the edge of the escarpment, and one of the most famous of English gardens. It was started in the early 1900's by a rich American, and features individually themed areas separated by hedges and with joining vistas.
Chipping Camden and nearby Broad Camden have many beautiful thached houses, which take picture-postcard pictures. This is the turning point of the tour, so we turn South through Broad Camden and Blockley. It is a steady climb up to Broad Camden, and atop the hill is a bench for the walker to rest. One group of clients wanted to stop there to be photographed on the bench. They sat down and I walked in front of them.
'No No' they said. They wanted to be photographed from behind, enjoying the view! On my last trip, the bench had gone, what a shame.
It is a descent through Bourton-on -the-Hill (ask me about Sezincote) past an ornate church and Georgian Manor House down to Moreton-in-Marsh. It is not a bog, but 'March'; an old word for boundary. It was another market town, with a wide street for it and some handsome buildings. There is a market here once a week and many tourists. It has the only railway station in the north Cotswolds. The main road is the straight Roman Fosse Way, which takes us to Stow-on-the-Wold.
Stow is worth a visit on foot, and has many antique shops. Prices are not for dealers. It is the highest inhabited place in the Hills, 750 ft. The church is medieval, the market square is lively and pretty and there is good ice-cream! There is a short circular tour through Upper and Lower Swell to then return to Burford.
The driving time for this tour is about 3 hours, so there is lots of time for stops and to see Hidcote manor garden.
Overnight as above.
Day 4 There are many places to visit close-by, or we can return back to London. A tour could go North to Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick Castle, or to Oxford to see this historic university town. Also close is Blenheim Palace, the grandest private house in England, and of special interest is the landscaped grounds of Rousham House created by William Kent and little altered since. It is the finest example of his landscaping in the land.
My tours are custom made so contact me with your dates and interests.
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