Slow Cotswolds

  • Witch craft - a new tapestry exhibition in Stroud

    A new collection of tapestries by contemporary maker Anne Jackson is currently on show at The Museum in the Park, Stroud (pages 247-9) this autumn.

    In her current project, The Witchcraft Series, Anne Jackson presents a seroes of works exploring the history of witch persecution in Europe, and the metaphors which the idea of 'witchcraft' evoke in modern culture, through the medium of knotted tapestry.

    Referencing sources from the earliest printed books warning against the evils of witches to the repeal of the final Witchcraft Act in English law in 1957, the works explore the imagery and social attitudes that led to the trial and execution of thousands of people, mostly women, across Europe. Jackson's large and small-scale tapestries often depict evidence given in individual witch trials.

    Anne Jackson has exhibited widely across Europe, the USA and in Australia. Her work is held in public collections across Europe. Certaine Wytches: Fear, Myth & Magic runs until 5th November and is Anne's first major solo exhibition in the UK.

    To coincide with the exhibition, the Museum has a number of themed and autumnal events:

    Meet the Maker Afternoons: Anne Jackson will be at the Museum Gallery on Wednesday 18th and 25th October, Saturday 28th October and 4th November between 2pm and 4pm. Call in to meet her and find out more about her work.

    "Witchfynder": Gloucestershire witch trials, a talk with John Putney

    Thursday 19th October, 2pm £5

    "Wise Women and Witches" Haunting, Healing Tales with Fiona Eadle

    Sundays 22nd, 29th October & 5th November, 3pm £5

    "Magic Hats, Good Luck Charms and Secret Spells: Half term family drop-in workshops

    Tuesday 24th to Friday 27th October, 11am-3.30pm, £2

    Meet the Curator: Discover some strange and spooky objects found in the Museum stores

    Wednesday 25th October, 2pm-4pm, free

    "Dark Tales of Gloucestershire" by Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company

    Friday 27th October, 7pm £7 (family ticket £20)

    Apple Day & Evening Pumpkin Lantern Walk

    A community harvest celebration event in collaboration with Stroud Valleys Project

    Sunday 29th October, 11am-8pm

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  • A stay at The Lion Inn, Winchcombe

    If your thoughts are already turning to longer nights, I'd recommed settling into an armchair beside an open fire in The Lion Inn's Snug when the weather turns auburn. But meanwhile, enjoy summer with a refreshing thirst-quencher in the enclosed, sunny courtyard garden scented with lavender before retiring to your boutique bedroom at this recently refurbished north Cotswold country pub. There's no television in any of the rooms so a digital detox is considered the norm here. Besides, with a day's walking in the surrounding countryside, you won't need a telly to drift off to sleep by.

    The Lion Inn is situated in the centre of Winchcombe (pages 151-3), an unpretentious Cotswold town that dates back to the Saxons. Cafes, tearooms and foodie outlets abound and the romantic must-see Sudeley Castle, once home to Catherine Parr (widow of King Henry VIII), is a ten-minute walk from the cosy pub.

    Winchcombe also has Walkers are Welcome status (www.winchcombewelcomeswalkers.com), with six long-distance footpaths converging on the town, including the Cotswold Way and Gloucestershire Way. There's an annual walking festival held every May that offers an enticing selection of walks too.

    But after a day exploring on foor or in the sadlle, it's always good to come back to somewhere you can call 'home', however briefly, and The Lion Inn has a very relaxed, homely feel. Board games are piled high in the Snug, guests mingle with local residents in the bar while the restaurant occupies an old, converted barn painted in soft powder grey and lit with candles and wall lamps. Though on a day sprinkled with sunshine, step outside into the enclosed courtyard garden where shrubs climb the mellow Cotswold stone walls of the inn and giant bushes of lavender erupt with scent as you brush past.

    I wasn't so fortunate with the weather during my stay. Cats and dogs spring to mind, but still the lavender bushes perfumed every raindrop as I climbed the short flight of steps from the garden to my overnight room in a converted hayloft.

    Room 7 (my hayloft) is like a personal apartment with a trio of rooms. Overlooking the courtyard garden (with a private balcony from which to enjoy a drink) is, first, a living area with sofa (bed), chaise longue and an area for making tea (Clipper) and fresh coffee (Grumpy Mule). It's a space where you can truly wind down. While screen-free relaxation is encouraged, free WiFi is available.

    Through the open, stone doorway, I step up into a boudoir bedroom where the cosiest room with a soft, plump feather duvet awaits my slumbers. The room is dressed in a soft purple and tender grey, softened further by the quiet light from a pair of bedside laps. A French-style armoire and a window-side plush armchair complete the interior design.

    Beyond is my boutique bathroom, with a roll-top, enamel bath/shower, and presented with organic lotions and potions. Three individual spaces in which to drift away!

    There are eight bedrooms in total at The Lion Inn, each individually designed; no two are the same shape or size. But every room is soothing and a little Cotswold haven. You'll also receive fresh milk to go with your tea and coffee and, for those that struggle with a feather duvet, hypoallergenic bedding is available. Other than my hayloft boudoir, all rooms have an ensuite shower.

    Downstairs - beneath the hayloft in fact - the restaurant occupies a long, timber-beamed room overlooking North Street with flag floors, rugs, mirrors and rustic wooden tables. Stoneware crockery (though, unfortunately, not the town's own Winchcombe Pottery) adds to the rural ambience. But you will be dining with locally produced Robert Welch cutlery (page 85) from nearby Chipping Campden.

    The restaurant has been awarded an AA Rosette and food is of an excellent quality. The menu changes frequently to benefit from seasonal produce and, frankly, I could have munched all evening on the introductory herb-infused rye bread. Best ever tasted? Probably.

    With the cool summer rain thumping the North Street pavement outside, I opted for roasted red pepper and tomato soup; slow roast pork belly, creamed potatoes, pancetta, apple sauce and Agen prunes followed by a divine honey and almon panacotta with homemade cinder honeycomb and candied almonds.

    I could have had a pear, walnut and chorizo salad with honey and lemon dressing, or confit duck leg, chorizo and borlotti bean cassoulet. I was tempted, too, by the wild mushroom tagliatelle with basil pesto and parmesan. And, after my dessert, had I not opted to sink on to that chaise longue in my own living room with a good book, I could have rounded off the meal with a selection of eight coffees, five liquor coffees and ten types of tea.

    By morning, I was back in the restaurant for breakfast and, oh my goodness, what a choice. A cold buffet is beautifully presented to include cereals and homemade granola, fresh fruit salad, natural yoghurt, dried fruit and nuts, juices and miniature pastries. Hot food is cooked to order to include six dishes from a full English (though including, somewhat bizarrely for breakfast, garlic-infused grilled tomatoes); Eggs Benedict with roast ham and poached eggs; scrambled eggs with locally produced Coln Valley smoked salmon; or crushed avocado on toast.

    Had I been staying with friends and family, we could have booked The Club Room. Seating up to 20 guests at one long pine table for business meetings, dinner parties and weddings, the room is designed with a luxuriously informal country style to complement the rest of the pub.

    As it was, I could have easily stayed longer and become a part of the furniture, waiting until the fire required lighting in the Snug and settling down to a long winter in a leather armchair.

    The pub is family-friendly (Room 7 is particularly suited to families, though take care on the stairs with young children) with extra beds and cots beds available in all rooms. It's also dog-friendly, with dog beds available too.

    Room rates vary on a daily basis according to demand, with direct booking prices from £99 to £165 for a double/twin room including breakfast. Non-residents may also drop by for breakfast (priced £14.50). What a treat before setting out on one of Winchcombe's six major walking routes!

    The Lion Inn is part of The Epicurean Collection, with other Cotswolds pubs in the same select group including the Seagrave Arms (page 80) at Weston-sub-Edge, The Horse and Groom (page 135) at Bourton-on-the-Hill and the Trout at Tadpole Bridge on the banks of the River Thames near Faringdon, in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. All are thoroughly recommended for food, drink and accommodation.

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  • The finest house in England

    You will not find better. I promise you. You may find grander. You may find more ornamental. You may find larger, more stately, more anything. Except beauty - and a sense of something that, actually, is hard to explain. Even for a writer! I think that is, perhaps, when you know that you have found the best; when it's not possible to put into words. That is Broughton Castle.

    In the chapter titled 'Four Shires' (Chapter 3, page 102-3), I write, "Of all the castles (it's actually a fortified manor house) in Britain, this is the one I love the most for its sheer visual impact, and the one I would recommend to visit more than any other. I'm not the first to say it sums up England (Historian Simon Jenkins describes it as one of the very finest), but it certainly does. As it is just about on my doorstep, I've visited the house on many occasions and driven by hundreds of times and yet I never tire of the sight of it." Today, it was more lovely than ever.

    Lord and Lady Saye and Sele, mentioned in the book, have 'retired' from living in, and the day to day upkeep of, the house. But they were still there today, greeting visitors and chatting about plants in the garden and the state of the box hedges.

    The house dates back to the 14th century and it played a very important role in the English Civil War - as did the Fiennes family who have lived at Broughton Castle for centuries. Internally, it has both warm grandeur - The Great Hall has been used in numerous Hollywood film and television productions - and a comforting, homely feel. Everyone and anyone gets the sense they could quite easily move in tomorrow and put their feet up beside the log fire! Secret stone stairways (harking back to Civil War days), some of the finest linen-fold wood panelling in Britain and imposing, oil-painted portraits of ancestors that hang alongside photographs of more recent family members enjoying time together show that this is a house with a remarkable history.

    But, my oh my, it is the exterior that is even more remarkable. It's one of those houses that you can simply gaze at and not tire of looking: a fortified entrance that approaches the house across a pretty moat, magnificent parkland with extended views over open countryside - and gardens filled with colour.

    It is the gardens, in particular, that you should come and visit - right now. Yes really, right now. Talking to Lady Saye and Sele, she commented that the gardens, which should be at their peak next week, are probably at their best now. More than 150 rose varieties in bloom, some that tumble over gorgeously gothic archways, others that fall about along lengthy walls. The electricity of vibrant delphiniums that pull out the intense colour of the lichen-smothered ironstone walls. Scent hangs everywhere. It is sublime.

    The Ladies' Garden is about as pretty as a garden can get. It's ordered in one respect, with neatly clipped box hedging, yet rambling at the same time with roses that flop and flirt with passers by.

    Do visit - now, if you can. You won't be disappointed.

    Broughton Castle is situated on the fringes of the Cotswolds, in North Oxfordshire. It is open Wednesday and Sunday afternoons and Bank Holidays. There is a very pleasing tearoom, serving an excellent pot of tea and delicious homemade cakes.

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  • National Cycling Week 10th to 18th June

    This year marks 200 years since the 'birth' of the bicycle, a contraption that was created in Germany. And this week is National Cycling Week, an opportunity to celebrate all things two-wheeled.

    With Slow Travel: The Cotswolds encouraging the use of bikes to explore this beautiful region in detail, naturally, cycling features quite significantly within the guide. As does food - and pubs, tearooms and coffee shops - a decent match! Ambling along a country lane, finding a particularly fine pub for lunch in the garden, followed by a few more miles to reach one of the Cotswolds inimitable views is not a bad way to spend a day.

    Some of my fondest childhood memories of growing up in the Cotswolds are of disappearing off for the day with friends and a round of homemade sandwiches, a packet of crisps and a Penguin biscuit. There was never any need to say where you were going - most of the time, we didn't even know when we set off. But we'd cycle for miles, me on my not-so-cool Raleigh Shopper, and simply arrive home as hunger required. Field gateways and village greens made good interim lunch stops and sometimes we'd arrive home with punnets of strawberries from the 'strawberry farm' or baskets of blackberries from the hedgerows.

    So, in celebratiion of National Cycling Week, here are some of my recommendations for cycling in the Cotswolds. You don't even need a bike.

    Bainton Bikes (page 37): with HQ in Oxford, Bainton Bikes run the Official Oxford Cycle Tour alongside various other theme-specific cycle tours. There's bike hire, including children's bikes, either for use on these tours or for your own self-guided cycle rides. Free puncture repair and breakdown support is offered. And, since the 2nd edition of 'Slow Cotswolds' was published, Bainton Bikes has increased its spread of locations. Using a phone app, you can now rent a bike in Oxford (Chapter 1), Whichford and Moreton-in-Marsh (Chapter 3), Cheltenham (Chapter 4), Cirencester, Charlbury and Kingham (Chapter 5), Kemble and the Cotswold Water Park (Chapter 6), and Tetbury (Chapter 7). Several of these bike hub locations, such as Kemble, Charlbury and Moreton-in-Marsh, are at train stations, ideal for accessing the Cotswolds by public transport to enjoy a day's cycling. Visit www.donkey.bike to see the hubs within each location on a map. More bikes are due to be 'rolled-out' across the Cotswolds very soon. Great for doing your own thing and spending a day in the saddle.

    Windrush Cycle Tours (page 171): Based in Kingham, in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, this small company, led by Peter Hill, offers cycling holidays, mini breaks and short guided cycle tours of the Cotswolds. In addition, Peter has been operating an extension to the cycling holidays, Cotswold Electric Bike Tours. Using electric bikes, these tours enable visitors to discover some of the north Cotswolds hidden gems on guided e-bike tours from Kingham, Moreton-in-Marsh, Burford, Chipping Campden, Broadway, Northleach and Bourton-on-the-Water.

    Compass Holidays (page 130): A long-standing company that, for over 25 years, has provided full-on, multi-day packaged cycling holidays that include accommodation, bike hire and luggage transfers around the Cotswolds. Using quiet back roads, the holidays can be tailored to suit those who haven't been on a bike in years or for families with young children. Optional short-cuts allow the daily cycling distance to be adapted according to energy levels and what customers want to do. Except, you'll want to do everything! All holidays, which can be anything from a two to three-day weekend break or a 7 to 11 day vacation, are self-guided and customers are provided with a tour pack that highlights all the visitor attractions plus historical and cultural places en route.

    Pedego Cotswolds (page 233-4): Based in Thrupp, in the Golden Valley, here is an opportunity to explore the Cotswold escarpment and the Stroud Valleys on the western edge of the Cotswolds, Pedego Cotswolds rent electric bikes either by the hour or by the day. But great fun is the Cotswold Electric Bike Treasure Trail, a treasure hunt by bike. You'll receive electric bike rental for the day and be supplied with a map and set of clues to follow. I love this kind of thing as it really makes one look out and spot things you might otherwise not have noticed about the locale. There are three treasure trails to choose from and each includes a suitable lunch stop at a recommended pub and a break for morning coffee or afternoon tea. Unless you're a regular cyclist that's used to hill climbs, I thoroughly recommend the use of an electric bike to smooth out the contours of the Stroud Valleys - there are some punishing climbs if you're not used to cycling!

    There are lots more cycling recommendations, bike hire companies and suggested cycle routes, including traffic-free rides, throughout Slow Travel: The Cotswolds. Each chapter has a dedicated section on cycling and on public transport - and you don't have to be acknowledged as a 'cyclist' to take part. The suggestions are as much for a leisurely ride with little ones as they are for serious cyclists with all the gear.

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  • Burford Festival - 8th to 18th June 2017

    Beginning today is Burford Festival, a biennial event of eclectic content that begins with a fabulous Garden Weekend. Twenty-five private gardens are open on 9th/10th June together with talks from eminent people: garden designers Mary Keen, of The Telegraph, and Helen Dillon, queen of Irish gardening will be alongside Lord and Lady Heseltine who will talk about their Northamptonshire garden and arboretum. Plus, Clive Nichols, 'Britain's best garden photographer', will explain how to photograph your garden.

    Theatre and Film: talks by Deborah Warner who recently directed Glenda Jackson in King Lear at the Old Vic and Jan Harlan, who produced many of Stanley Kubrick's films. There are also open air performances beside the river from the Lord Chamberlain's Men of Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors.

    Literature: John Julius Norwich on Sicily, Catherine Merridale on her book, 'Lenin on the Train' and Dinah Jeffries on her book 'Before the Rains', set in 1930's India.

    Talks: Local historians Ray Moody and Robin Mills; Tricia Stewart - an original 'Calendar Girl'; Drew gardner on 360-degree photography from unreachable places; Lone Droscher Nielsen on her highly successful rehabilitation centre for orangutans, Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion, on 'Why Fashion Matters', and Antonia Bostrom, a senior curator at the V&A, will talk on current projects.

    Classical Music: The programme includes a string-based Summer Rhapsody Concert, Diana Moore celebrating Kathleen Ferrier's life in song, and the Finale Concert with pianist Maria Marchant, Brian Kay and members of the Burford Singers.

    Contemporary music: includes Jonathan Veira (raconteur, singer and entertainer), the Wychwood Singers, the Oxford Classic Jazz Band and a concert of Americana and Country Rock led by award winning Treetop Flyers, with pub music throughout the week.

    For a full programme and to purchase tickets, visit: www.burfordfestival.org

    Details of visiting the beautiful town of Burford can be found in pages 174-5 of Slow Travel: The Cotswolds.

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  • A stay at The Old Kiln House, Shipston-on-Stour

    It has recently rained, the sky has recovered to a translucent blue and the fresh scent of a candyfloss pink rose, jewelled with delicate raindrops draws me to a 'secret' garden gate. Behind the softly-coloured old brick wall and the pale olive gate over which the rose petals drip and drape is a hidden garden; a reclusive retreat with the mesmerising gentleness of a trickling water fountain, pots overflowing with colour, roses rambling this way and that, and the cool shade of a damson tree throwing shards of light across a patio. I've had a hell of a day, sleep deserted me the previous night, and entering this retreat-like haven is enough of a tonic to make everything right with the world again.

    One of my recent commissions as a travel writer has been to review hotels, guesthouses plus Bed and Breakfast accommodation in Warwickshire for The Telegraph's online portal, The Hotelegraph. It has led me to familiar places that are already included within the 2nd edition of Slow Travel: The Cotswolds. It has also introduced me to notable others for a future edition! The Old Kiln House in Shipston-on-Stour is one such.

    There is a certain wow factor about opening the garden gate to The Old Kiln House. Tucked away behind the High Street, right in the very centre of Shipston (detailed on pages 113-14) you'd be forgiven for thinking you were stepping into the garden of a rural country cottage. There is an element of townhouse about the 300-year-old brick property but the tranquillity resembles that of somewhere far more remote.

    Bridget and Patrick opened the Bed and Breakfast in 2015. Says Bridget as she pours me a 'Welcome drink' at her kitchen table overlooking the garden, "The property had been quite unloved when we bought it. We completely renovated the house and did all the interior decoration ourselves so that we could get exactly the look and quality that we wanted. We uncovered 300-year old flagstone floors in the Grade II-listed former barn during the process and opened up spaces to reveal exposed stonework and brickwork." Bridget then selected the finest quality fixtures and fittings to create the luxurious feel that guests now receive today - brass light switches, elegant bedside lamps, the finest quality sinks in the en-suite washrooms and the most sensual of fabrics selected for curtains, cushions and bedsteads. Much of the furniture was sourced from a particularly attractive interior design shop, Richard Harvey, within the town.

    There are three double bedrooms at The Old Kiln House. On the ground floor, accommodated in the former barn and next to the low-beamed entrance hall, is 'Avalon'. Here, in a room filled with light, is a king-size bed and an en-suite washroom with roll-top bath and separate shower. Bridget has decorated the room in a traditional French style with elegant painted furniture.

    On the second floor are two further rooms, the 'Westminster' and 'Salisbury'. Both have super-king size double beds, the Salisbury having the option of becoming a twin room. The Westminster is large yet cosy, with sloping ceilings and exposed beams that were once part of a ship! The Salisbury - my room - is soothingly pale in background colour but warmingly inviting with touches of red and gold in the bedhead, cushions, curtains and contemporary paintings. I love 'my' room, where I can sit in the oh-so-comfortable Roche Bobois armchair beside the low window and look out upon the birds sitting in the damson tree as I work (and drink a delicious white wine and nibbles served on a tray, brought to me by Bridget).

    There's filtered water beside the bed, organic tea and coffee making facilities and Bridget provides a flask of fresh, chilled milk rather than those hideous UHT capsules. I've black-out blinds too and they, along with one of the most comfortable mattresses I've ever slept on, give me the outstanding night's sleep I've been craving. My en-suite washroom, with exposed brickwork and a huge, walk-in shower offers sumptuous morning comfort, with the softest and thickest of towels and Bulgari toiletries.

    Downstairs, Bridget is preparing breakfast in the open-plan kitchen and dining room. Light floods the agreeable space, casting a warm glow over the exposed stonework and oak floorboards. Had the weather been slightly warmer, breakfast in the garden with the scent of the roses would have been perfect. For now, I'm content to be indoors to enjoy my breakfast juice and freshly prepared homemade fruit salad, Bridget's homemade bread and damson jam (made from the fruits in the garden), served in baby Kilner jars.

    Breakfast is staggered between guests so that Bridget can offer personal attention. Anything cooked is to order - a full English using the tastiest of sausages and oak-smoked bacon from Taylors Butchers (page 114) and eggs from her neighbour. Even the tomatoes and mushrooms are full of flavour - not always the case with hotel-prepared breakfasts. Smoked salmon, omelettes, porridge and croissants are also on offer, as are bowls of delicious yoghurt and home-prepared muesli. Even the butter is served 'properly' rather than those silly little individual packets so often seen.

    I'm sorry to leave. Bridget and Patrick - and their beautiful house - have been the perfect hosts. And the visitors' books supplied in each room tell you that I'm not the only one to think so. But, the scent of that rose - what a parting gift.

    The Old Kiln House costs £130 per night per room for two people with no seasonal variation. A single supplement applies. Guests must be aged over 16 years. No dogs are allowed (Bridget and Patrick have a small, very well-behaved dog of their own).

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  • Stroud's new garden (for bees and butterflies)

    As I was preparing the update to Slow Travel: The Cotswolds in 2016, Stroud's Museum in the Park (page 248) was still working on its, then, unopened Walled Garden. The Walled Garden is the original garden that accompanies the 17th-century mansion house, which was built by a wealthy Stroud clothier and now houses the museum.

    Fully restored in time for a magnificent display of Spring colour, with bulbs planted as a community event last year, the Walled Garden is now a rainbow riot and perfect for an early summer outing. Last autumn Cleo Mussi (an internationally renowned mosaic artist and the garden's 'patron') selected varieties for a 'cutting bed' within the raised beds; visitors are now able to buy a bunch of tulips to take home. The Walled Garden, in a small way, is serving its original purpose of providing fruit and flowers for the house.

    Dolly tubs are used as planters at the Pavilion for olive trees and three pots of black-stemmed bamboo from Cleo's own garden. The Pergola, made by nearby Gloucester Street Forge, is also now installed. Eventually this feature will become a fruit tunnel planted with heritage fruit trees and fruit bushes - volunteers recently planted the tunnel with raspberries, loganberries, strawberries and gooseberries. The orchard is also brimming with fruit trees.

    If you wish to know more about a particular plant while enjoying the Walled Garden, wander over to the Garden Volunteers Shed, where a folder is kept with details of every plant, shrub and tree grown in the garden.

    Opening times for the museum and garden can be found at: www.museuminthepark.org.uk

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  • BBC's Springwatch comes to the Cotswolds

    Springwatch returns to BBC Two this month, broadcasting live from a new location - and it's in the Cotswolds!

    Presenters Chris Packham, Michaela Strachan, Martin Hughes-Games and Gillian Burke will host the three-week wildlife extravaganza live from the National Trust's Sherborne Park Estate in Gloucestershire. Not least, the Watches will settle at the Cotswolds site, between Northleach and Burford, to cover the changing seasons for Autumnwatch and Winterwatch.

    With five tenant farms surrounding the village of Sherborne and the constant activity at the working NT estate, the Springwatch team will explore: the eighteenth century water meadow, which is rich in fish life, otters, dragonflies and damselflies; the discused Second World War airbase where arable crops grow and hares and farmland birds such as skylarks, yellowhammers and the 'red listed' corn bunting congregate - as well as reporting from historic oak parkland, riverbank environments where the River Windrush and Sherborne Brook meet, limestone grasslands, wildflower meadows and the miles of Cotswold stone walls that house weasels, stoats, rodents, lizards and colonies of lesser horseshoe bats. In essence, it's a festival of all that's fabulous about the Cotswolds countryside!

    Tom McDonald, Head of Commission, Natural History and Specialist Factual says, "I'm thrilled the Watches have found such an extraordinary home for the next twelve months. The Sherborne Estate is the perfect location to bring the very best of British wildlife to our loyal audience."

    Of course, those familiar with Slow Travel: The Cotswolds are already likely to be aware of the beauty of the Sherborne Estate. It's featured on pages 172-3 of the book. It's not only the BBC Springwatch team that are entitled to enjoy its charm though. As a National Trust estate it is open to all - and, as I mention in the book, I thoroughly recommend a visit. Not least now - in Spring!

    I was there today, and the village and its surroundings are looking quite magnificent. In the book, I mention that the focal point of the village is the very grand Sherborne House, once stayed in by Queen Elizabeth I but now private apartments. That's perhaps untrue on an environmental scale, for the sheer beauty of the Sherborne Brook, used as a sheepwash in bygone days, the River Windrush and the surrounding water meadows draw the eye away from any architecture - except possibly the exceptional prettiness of the traditional village cottages!

    Park at Ewepen Barn, just off the A40, and you'll come across four possible waymarked walks. My favourite is the 2.5 mile 'Family Fun Walk' as it provides a little of everything - views of the Sherborne House, St Mary Magdalene Church and the hills beyond, woodland walks, site of the ancient Beech Avenue (the original entrance to the house) and a stretch through the village with views of Sherborne Brook.

    For a stop-off, do make use of the Sherborne Village Shop & Tea Room (open Mon to Fri 8am to 6pm; Sat 8am to 5pm; Sun/BH 10am to 4pm; tea room closes 45 minutes prior to shop closing times), near the war memorial in the centre of the village and less than a 25-metre diversion from the Family Fun Walking route. Both the shop and tea-room have either won or been a finalist in major national competitions and it really is excellent. On the menu today was homemade Curried Heritage Carrot Soup or Cream of Asparagus Soup, a selection of magnificent sourdough breads and a selection of amazingly fresh cakes. I opted for a Tartiflette pie made by Todenham Manor Farm (also in Slow Travel: The Cotswolds) and a piece of gluten-free toffee cake. Yum. There's also a notable deli and wine selection. And an array of teas and coffees.

    Springwatch will air from Monday 29th May to Thursday 15th June at 8pm on BBC2.

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  • Last minute ideas for the Bank Holiday Weekend

    So you're driving home from a busy week at work, unlocking the front door and you haven't given the Bank Holiday Weekend a moment's thought. What bank holiday? The one that's starting - right now. This weekend.

    Nothing planned? Not even a takeaway pizza and a bottle of beer? Here are some last-minute options to have a great weekend, a fantastic day out or even to snatch an hour or two in the Cotswolds:

    Saturday: My money's on Malmesbury. Take a tour of the town for sure - there's a great circular walk outlined on page 276 of Slow Travel: The Cotswolds - but a must-see are the Abbey House Gardens (page 277-8). They are spectacular and especially at this time of year when the borders are a riot of tulips. You'll find knot gardens, topiary, sunny lawns and a wooded dell that slopes down to the old monastic fishponds and the River Avon. Tranquility personified.

    Sunday: It's got to be a Sunday bike ride hasn't it? If you don't possess a bike or you don't want to spend the time strapping them onto a roof-rack, it doesn't matter. You can hire one from Bainton Bikes in various locations - including Kingham Railway Station (page 169 - direct trains from London Paddington), Moreton-in-Marsh (page 124-5), Cirencester (page 194-7), Tetbury (page 266-8) and the Cotswold Water Park (pages 214-6). There are great cycle routes from all these destinations but one I'd particularly recommend is the Windrush Valley Cycle Route (page 170) which uses the quiet lanes of the National Cycle Network Route 47 to create a 17-mile wiggly cycle ride through through the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. It's a waymarked route and perfect if you're arriving by train to Kingham.

    Monday: To really find out what makes the Cotswolds tick, a visit to the Sheep and Wool Day at the Old Prison Cotswolds Discovery Centre (page 181) in Northleach is a must. This ia a great family day out that celebrates all things woolly - which is what the Cotswolds is all about! The day starts at 10.30am and goes on 'til 4pm.

    But, if you're after a lazy morning - and you happen to be in Oxford (see the Cotswold Gateways Chapter) - I'd head to The Rusty Bicycle (page 48) on Magdalen Road. They serve brunch on Bank Holiday Mondays from 10am to 3pm - with a tasty menu. The food is fabulous and the ambience - just right for 'one of those days'. By the way, they also serve amazing pizza and bottles of beer.

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  • The need for speed when you're going slow

    It may sound like an anomaly but 'Slow Travel' doesn't have to mean that everything is slow. On the contrary, it's about taking time to discover what makes a small locale look, feel and sound the way it does; exploring the senses. And I can say that a visit to Nottingham Hill, a couple of miles north of Cheltenham and three miles west of Winchcombe is as relaxing and invigorating in equal measure.

    Nottingham Hill (page 154) is on the far western edge of the Cotswold escarpment, a knuckle that protrudes ever so slightly into the Tewkesbury (or Severn) Vale. It's one of many hills in this particularly knobbly environment, with lumps and bumps appearing like eruptions out of the vale. Its southwestern slopes, hugging the edge of Woodmancote, are fearsomely steep. Its northerly slopes are ever so slightly gentler - just.

    It's here that the 60-acre Prescott Estate is situated - and it's the home of the Bugatti Owners' Club. It's also the location of the Prescott Speed Hill Climb (page 154-5), considered one of the world's greatest motor racing venues. It's certainly very picturesque.

    It might sound as if this is somewhere that's exclusive to members, owners of Bugatti vehicles or petrol heads obsessed by cars, motor racing and tinkering under the bonnet. Not so. I took my family for a day out to watch the racing at the British and Midland Hill Climb Championship. We're not avid motor-racing fans, we don't follow the sport, we can't name a driver outside those mentioned on the News in connection with the F1 Grand Prix and we don't spend all day buffing up and polishing our daily runaround. That doesn't matter with a visit to Prescott, where you'll get as much enjoyment from the magnificent environment, the views and dipping into a picnic box as you will watching vehicles whizz past. Besides, motor racing fan or not, who doesn't love the sight of a glossy Ferrari-red contraption from time to time?

    On a day that shone blue from the break of dawn, we were one of the first groups of spectators to arrive at 8am. Parked up in an old orchard decorated with apple blossom, first thoughts were that we might be a little out of place. There was a line-up of classic cars each with its bonnet up and we wondered whether we needed to have an anorak interest in carburettors, the shift pattern of an Austin Cooper or the quirks of a 1973 MGB Roadster. As it turned out, the bonnets were simply up to allow the engines of these classics to cool down, nothing to do with talking engine oil at all.

    Bacon butties and vats of tea were already on sale in the open-to-all Clubhouse and there was a relaxed frenzy of activity in The Paddock, another section of orchard where gleaming motors of all shapes and sizes, from a Hillman Imp to a brand new racing car on its first outing were lined up beneath the apple trees. Quads of tyres stood ready for a wheel change of less than lightning speed, husband and wife teams stood over the gleaming love of their life (not necessarily one another) and young children helped Dads set up pup tents filled with spare parts, tools and mechnical this and that. An event and venue that is very well organised,yes, but this is not inaccessible motor racing with inexplicable sums of money. These are people - mostly from the surrounding area according to the programme - that race their own car, have a passion and enjoy the pastime of coming together at a weekend and having a good time.

    As spectators, we could walk pretty much anywhere, admire or dismiss the cars in what we did or didn't like the look of, enjoy the hospitality of the Clubhouse and even sit in our car to watch the racing had it been a less than glorious day.

    As it happened it was a glorious day and we soon got to grips with the motor racing. There was everything from motorbikes with sidecars, classic cars of the 1970s and 80s, sporty versions of road-going cars of all ages and racing cars. We thought that hill-speed motor racing might be slow to watch, but the vehicles leave the start line at roughly 20-second intervals so there's always two cars on the track at any one time (it takes between 35 and 45 seconds to reach the finish line at the 'top' of the hill) - and you can watch from any vantage point on the single-route track. It's an opportunity to explore the grounds, which are extraordinarily magnificent.

    We were as much enamoured by the striking beauty of the admirably maintained grounds as the action going on around us. Climb the hill along the Pace Pathway and you're greeted with outstanding views of nearby Dumbleton Hill, Oxenton Hill, Bredon Hill and other notable Cotswold knobbles. Even the spine of the Malvern Hills are in view. We passed through glades of Bluebells that coloured up the woodland banks, Red Campion was just beginning to bloom and the petals of Lady's Smock were proving fodder for Orange-Tip butterflies that paid no attention to the roar of engines.

    The toot and the steam of the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway chugged by as we watched the classic and modern racing cars negotiate hairpin bends on the time trial ascent. Coronation Chicken sandwiches and sponge cake devoured, we'd got to grips with the timing and the nature of the course by the afternoon, as the commentator explained which of the bends is the favourite of racing supremo Stirling Moss and cars hurtled at speeds of up to 100 miles an hour. Not slow then.

    Watching the old classics was as enjoyable a part of the day (does my daughter really want a Mk1 Ford Escort or a 1960 Austin Mini, complete with racing numbers on the side panels) as seeing the speed and elegance of the modern racing cars. And, as it happens, it's not the cars that will stick in the memory in years to come, but the beauty of the Cotswold location.

    The British and Midland Hill Clib Championships continue today (Saturday was race practice day/Sunday is race day and there are a dozen or so events in the Prescott programme throughout the year. Each is varied, some incoporating modern racing, others dedicated to vintage and classic cars. Camping is available for the public at two of the events in spring and autumn. You can find out more at www.prescott-hillclimb.com.

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