Slow Cotswolds

  • A day - and a night - in Cheltenham

    The sky was summer blue as I arrived in Cheltenham. No cloud dared to show its face and the 50-metre outdoor pool at Sandford Parks Lido was a tempting proposition as I wandered through the sprawling 'countryside-meets-town' park.

    Crossing Montpellier Gardens, another of Cheltenham's notable green spaces, the celestial greatness inadvertently forced my gaze to look up more than usual and I made a wrong turn - thank goodness. For I discovered a street I've not walked along before but realise, owing to its splendour, that I really should have done. Cheltenham is laced with lacy balconies adorning the facades of its grand Regency terraces. But there would appear to be no terrace grander than Lansdown Terrace, which occupies the Malvern Road. Here, in place of lace, columns to rival the finest of Greek temples ascend to the Gods, holding up pediments to frame the grandest of Georgian windows. The sheer scale, the height, the length of the Grade II listed terrace is quite remarkable.

    But it was to the very heart of Cheltenham that I was destined to wander, passing an anthology of ever more opulent-sized properties along The Promenade, tempted but never swayed by the parade of boutiques that line the pedestrianised boulevard (well, ok, maybe I did nip into an exalted chocolate shop, just for a look) only to be drawn towards and stand in front of Cheltenham's most famous son, Edward Wilson. His statue, in thermals, fur-lined wellies and galoshes are more coastal than Cotswold and, therein lies the clue to his departure from his native town.

    Edward Wilson, born only a couple of hundred metres away, in Montpellier Terrace, from his bronze lookalike, was a physician, natural historian, painter and polar explorer. He accompanied Captain Scott on two British expeditions to Antarctica, the Discovery Expedition and the Terra Nova Expedition which, in 1912, claimed the lives of Wilson and his fellow explorers.

    A detailed exhibition of his life and work, including artefacts recovered from the Antarctic, is displayed in The Wilson, Cheltenham's Museum and Art Gallery. It is an exhibition that is both informative and moving, and I never tire of visiting. The Paper Store, which is a part of The Wilson, incorporates the Wilson family archives and there are countless sketches and watercolour paintings that Wilson prepared as part of his scientific and natural history observations on the two British expeditions. I thoroughly recommend a visit and, on Thursday 14th June 2018, there's a talk at the museum on 'Wilson's Wonderful Watercolours', given by Dr David Wilson, the great newphew of the explorer.

    From the museum, I took the easy-to-miss footpath that runs along the side of the museum and leads into the usually peaceful haven of St Mary's Minster churchyard. The diminutive-sized parish church is Cheltenham's oldest, dating back to the 11th century and is not grand in stature like the surrounding Georgian terraces but beautifully modest and unimposing. It's a sweet little thing.

    The exit from the churchyard brought me onto the not so remarkable High Street but within a few yards I was back to The Promenade with a chance to enjoy the Imperial Gardens, where sun seekers sat around the statue of composer Gustav Holst (Cheltenham's other famous son) waving his conducting baton. The floral displays for which the Imperial Gardens are renowned throughout the summer are not yet in place, though the beds are ready and waiting for the sumptuous festival of colour.

    With a stroll up Montpellier Street, brimming with artisanal boutiques, bars and restaurants (including The Ivy, newly introduced this year), I looked back to spy, in the distance, Cleeve Hill Common, which boasts the highest point in the Cotswolds. If the Cotswold skies remained as happy as the present day, I knew where I would be going the following morning, walking boots laced on.

    My residence for the night was The Bradley Hotel, a ten-bedroomed, five-star bed and breakfast that exudes all the airs and graces of a comfortable Regency family home. Located on the attractive Bayshill Road (parallel with the fashionable Montpellier Street), and within the elegant Royal Parade terrace, the hotel's prospect is just right for enjoying the tranquility of a residential street but within a five-minute walk of the town centre.

    The bed and breakfast is owned, and was refurbished earlier this year, by the De Savary family, renowned for their collection of independent up-market hotels and leisure facilities throughout the UK, the USA and the Caribbean. The Bradley is one of the family's latest hotel refurbishment projects and, having redecorated all the rooms with respectful heritage colours and rich ornamentation, they have filled it with period furniture and antiques from their private collection.

    Eight of the rooms are within the terraced property but two contemporary 'Garden Rooms' are located in a separate annexe to the rear, with doors that open direct onto a paved courtyard, a sunny space in which to enjoy a delicious summer breakfast.

    Climbing the stone steps at the front entrance, I was greeted by Bea Seidler, the General Manager who oversees all aspects of your stay at The Bradley. Bea welcomed me into the sumptuously comfortable guest lounge, a large, high-ceiling room where fresh flowers bloomed and 'Eat Me' slabs of homemade coffee cake sat beguilingly on a glass-domed cake-stand. Among the antiques lurked bowls of sweets, fresh fruit and a table full of reading matter that would prevent the keenest of bibliophiles from ever setting foot out to explore Cheltenham. Settle down here on a winter's evening with a good pageturner and a glass of something pretty from the adjacent Honesty Bar and you'd mull over the need to go anywhere else. In place, I settled down in a comfy chair in the privacy of Room Four with an ice-and-a-slice G&T prepared for me by Bea.

    The high-ceilinged Bedroom Four faces west, overlooking the front of the property. Its walls are richly decorated with a bold print and the dominating antique four-poster bed is trimmed with cream and woodland green taffeta silk. A bespoke mattress the depth of an ocean and layered with superior cotton bedlinen cradles the heartiest of insomniacs. On the walls hang gilt-framed mirrors and, on the mahogany writing desk, sits a bowl of fruit and a complimentary snacks basket. In the en-suite black-and-white bathroom, fluffy bathrobes hang on the back of the door waiting for your soak in the contemporary, freestanding bath or a drenching beneath the large rain shower.

    I lifted the sashes from the floor to ceiling windows to welcome some tranquil birdsong. It came from a giant plane tree that dappled the light flooding into my room and sheltered me from the sun's illuminating heat. Later in the evening, after an exemplary 'Early Ticket' meal at The Daffodil (£15.95 for three courses including a drink, though visit simply to peek at the former Art Deco cinema in which the restaurant occupies), the sun dipped and the sky glowed. Room Four is made for watching sunsets.

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