The Cotswolds, England
This is the little patch of green hills nestled within England's mid-south-west-ish area where I grew up and where I officially call 'home'. The Cotswolds is a group of villages and towns which are famous for their honey-coloured houses, built using famous Cotswold stone which is quarried within the local area. It is known officially as 'The Cotswolds: Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB)', is protected by a Conservation Board and the upkeep of the area is provided by grants, donations and volunteers. It is the largest of thirty-eight areas of outstanding natural beauty within England and Wales.
With sprawling hills and fields stretching for miles on end, the landscape is lined with original dry stone walls - another traditional feature of the area. Farming is a regular part of everyday life, with sheep and cows grazing in the greenery and tractors squeezing past drivers on narrow one-track lanes.
Some people may be intimidated by the 'way of the Wolds', an environment where everyone seems to know everyone else. There appears to be no escape and before you know it, the whole community knows your biggest darkest secrets! Whilst there is an element of this, people are friendly, helpful and genuinely considerate of others. The area has a very low crime rate due to neighbours looking out for each other. The community feel within the Cotswolds definitely adds to its charm as a tourist location. Of all the places I've ever travelled to, I have seen very few where front doors could be left unlocked!
I grew up in a small village called Willersey which is about 30 miles from Oxford and located slightly north-west of London. The village is inhabited by less than 1000 people and has a school, shop, hairdresser, petrol station, recreation ground, industrial estate and, more importantly, two pubs. The pubs are popular with local walkers and tourists on road trips who want to stop and sample the local ales and cider, as well as having a bite to eat. I'm part of the fifth generation of my family living here - and that's not unusual! All the pictures below are of Willersey - famous for its duck pond! Sadly, no ducks were present at the time of taking the pics.
A few things about The Cotswolds, growing up here was certainly an experience. As a teenager life was filled with trying to convince someone's older sibling to buy you a couple of cans of cider and then drink them in the park or around the back of the local Co-Op. It was a wild time where making our own entertainment was key for survival. If you were lucky enough, there would always be a pub that would serve the 'almost legal' among us a half pint of shandy to share three ways. Failing that, there would be someone with an old 'banger' (car) on a piece of land that we could drive around aimlessly until the fuel ran out and it was revealed that no one actually had any money anyway. Fortunately, near us we had a campground with a swimming pool. We would ride our bikes the three miles to the hedgerow and, if the timing was right, sneak in to join the paying campers in the pool. We got away with this for years!
Culture plays a big role in shaping these Cotswold hills. Welly throwing, morris dancing, village fêtes and scarecrow competitions are just a few events that come to mind. Particularly during the summer months, there are many traditional happenings across the whole region. Whether it is a fête with hook-a-duck games, lucky dip stalls and pony rides; a horticultural show with Mr. Brown's giant cucumbers on display or an afternoon of folk music and dancing; the area has preserved the 'most English' of all traditions. It is not unusual to hear the town crier in his formal outfit, ringing his his bell and calling out 'Here ye! Here ye!' to announce the official opening of an event. You may find yourself driving through a village and seeing some strange sights within people's gardens. A theme is set and the creative among us set to designing the best scarecrow for which a prize is awarded. Put simply, it's a relaxed and charming way of life.
The Cotswolds isn't just fields and hills - though these are good for hiking and sightseeing (and capturing some incredible sunsets), there are plenty of villages and towns to stroll through too. Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Hill, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bourton-on-the-Water... these may all sound like made up places from 'Hobbitville', however, they are actual real-life, utterly quaint and picturesque, places that are a must-see for any Cotswold visitor. The locals take pride in their gardens and enjoy seeing visitors stroll through admiring the unique beauty that each village presents.
My Cotswold recommendations: Don't miss the lavender fields at Snowshill. Get an ice-cream in Broadway. See the Old Mill in Lower Slaughter. Visit the marketplace in Chipping Campden. Walk part of the Cotswold Way (a public footpath stretching 102 miles from Bath to Chipping Campden). There's Hailes Abbey, the Maize Maze at Hidcote, Kiftsgate Court Gardens, many National Trust properties, Broadway Tower, Cirencester town, take a ride on the steam train from Cheltenham to Toddington, visit the beautiful city of Bath or if you're more adventurous, take part in the Mud Run at Blockley. The Cotswolds have also been home to many a movie: see where Harry Potter was filmed in Lacock; visit the set of Downton Abbey in Bampton; Bridget Jones features scenes in Snowshill; Braveheart was partly set at the Cotswold Farm Park; and Pride & Prejudice took place in Cheltenham Town Hall.