Slow Cotswolds

  • Celebrate American Independence Day in Bath

    The Cotswolds, Bath and American Independence - an unusual combination perhaps but it's perfectly possible to make the match. And for US residents in Britain and visiting the Cotswolds on July 4th who may be feeling a little homesick, the UNESCO World Heritage city of Bath, or Claverton Down to be exact, is the place to be.

    There, on Claverton Down sits Claverton Manor, a magnificent imposing stone house set in acres of equally magnificent and immaculately cared for gardens with the grounds overlooking the picturesque Limpley Stoke Valley. The house and grounds belong to the American Museum in Britain (pages 63-4). The museum, the only one of its kind outside the United States, is dedicated to exhibiting and educating about colonial America. And they know how to put on a summer party.

    Not able to fit all the partying into one day, this year the American Museum's Independence Day celebrations will span over two weekends. The first weekend of celebrations (June 30th and July 1st) will transport visitors back to 1776 in the guise of a living history weekend and the spectacle of the Crown Forces Association and the Society of King George the Third. You'll be able to marvel at the redcoats and revolutionaries as they display military might (plug your ears - expect loud bangs) and civilian comforts of the late 18th century America.

    Then it's on to the big day. Visit the museum on Wednesday 4th July between 10am and 5pm and you'll get free entry. In the evening there will be music from two folk performers: The Danberry's and Sarah McQuaid.

    To round off the celebrations on 7th and 8th July, the American Museum will have a weekend of razzamataz including music, a barbecue, fun and American games. Don't forget to wear stars and stripes!

    While you're there, immerse yourself in the museum's American culture with the fantastic folk art collection, amazing quilts and textiles. On display until 29th July is the oldest known patchwork coverlet in Britain. This year marks the 300th anniversary since the Coverlet was made, in 1718. It will join the Museum's own world-renowned textile collection that showcases more than 250 antique quilts, regarded as the finest collection of its type in Europe and equalling many premier collections in the United States. The Textile Room, which houses the collection, is indeed my favourite room in the Museum.

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  • It's International Museum Day - and here's the Cotswolds' finest

    In honour of International Museum Day, celebrating the importance of museums that enrich our lives, I thought I'd share some of my favourite museums in the Cotswolds. For the area is rich in museums, many of them small and run by a dedicated band of volunteers but all providing valuable insight into the area.

    Several of the museums are free to visit, or simply request a small donation in appreciation. I think you'll appreciate those I've included below. And the selection here, doesn't even begin to cover the many historic houses and properties in the Cotswolds that also have fine collections to view, or indeed the notable museums of gateway towns, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford and Bath.

    So, here's my pick of magnificent Cotswold museums (listed, roughly, from north to south in location):

    Court Barn Museum, Chipping Campden: celebrating a hundred years of the Arts and Crafts Movement in and around the town, which became (it still is) an important part of modern day creativity. The craftsman C.R. Ashbee is well represented.

    Gordon Russell Design Museum, Broadway: offering a glimpse into the world of Arts and Crafts furniture designer Sir Gordon Russell, one time head of the Design Council.

    Broadway Museum & Art Gallery, Broadway: if you're in Broadway to visit the museum above, you might as well visit two. With links to the formidable Ashmolean Museum, the Broadway Museum & Art Gallery offers displays of period furniture, ceramics and paintings, including works by Gainsborough and Reynolds.

    Chipping Norton Museum, Chipping Norton: come here to discover the roots of baseball and a history of this charming Cotswold town, including its connections to the Bay City Rollers, Status Quo and Duran Duran.

    The Wilson: Cheltenham Museum & Art Gallery, Cheltenham: I mentioned this fabulous museum in my last blog post. For that, I spoke of the permanent exhibition about polar explorer Edward Wilson. But the museum also holds an internationally recognised collection of furniture and artwork relating to the Arts and Crafts Movement. It's a vast collection and the information provided helps visitors to the Cotswolds understand the various connections between the area and the Movement.

    Cotswold Motor Museum, Bourton-on-the-Water: visit here for an interesting collection of historic cars (more than 40 on display), motorcycles and motoring memorabilia together with a historic collection of toys. This is a great place for lovers of nostalgia.

    Cogges Manor Farm Museum, Witney: there's plenty to do outdoors as well as indoors at this historical farm, with many daily activities in the beautiful gardens and grounds. A perfect museum for summer and a popular one with children.

    Corinium Museum, Cirencester: one of the larger museums in the Cotswolds and noted for its fabulous collection of Roman artifacts, including some spectacular Romano-British mosaics - some of the finest you'll see in the world.

    Churchill & Sarsden Heritage Centre, Churchill: this tiny museum has one of the most scenic settings of any museum in the Cotswolds, situated in the Evenlode Valley overlooking the 'lost' village of Churchill. The exhibits focus around the villages' famous sons including William Smith, the Father of English Geology and creator of the first geological map of England, Scotland and Wales.

    Oxfordshire Museum, Woodstock: a small museum with a gargantuan part to play in the history of the county. There's masses of fascinating social history here. Did you know that Woodstock was the place to purchase a pair of leather gloves in the 18th and 19th centuries? All thanks to neighbouring Blenheim Palace.

    Museum in the Park, Stroud: one of my 'favourite favourites'! Free to enter, you'll discover the history of textiles and its importance to the Cotswolds and particularly the Stroud Valleys. There's also a corner on Cotswold writer Laurie Lee, plus a magnificent, recently restored, flower garden (see my earlier blog post on the opening of this garden). The museum itself is set in a picturesque parkland setting.

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  • 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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  • 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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