Slow Cotswolds

  • 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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  • Witnessing the birth of new life - another 'Cotswolds' must-see

    OK, so it's not exactly an exclusive for the Cotswolds but where else is better suited to witnessing the birth of a lamb than in the Cotswolds? After all, the entire area looks the way it does because of shee - the 'cots' (or 'cotes') being the sheep enclosures on the 'wolds', or open hillsides,

    And that's exactly what I and my children have had the privilege of witnessing this morning. A visit to Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm Park (pages 146-7) near Guiting Power was extended by an hour as we waited patiently and watched new life enter this world.

    In some respects, watching a sheep give birth, one can't help feeling slightly indecorous, as if we should turn away to provide this clever lady with some privacy. How many other mothers were 'sensing' every contraction and appreciating the discomfort of this ewe's labour?

    Onlookers - and there were many sat upon straw bales in the lambing barn, ranging from those still in nappies to grandparents - were put at ease by Rory, the shepherd keeping a watching eye on his flock. He provided explanations and a respectful running commentary on the process, from detecting the early signs of labour (did you know that sheep like to 'stargaze', a sign of a contraction?) to bonding. And it included the fact that the ewe, who kept looking us in the eye during the early stages of her labour, would not be aware of our presence once focussed on the birth. Thank goodness.

    And so it was that we witnessed the birth of twins and watched their very first tentative rising onto all fours. Three lambs had already been born earlier in the morning and there was evidence of more arrivals later today - and over the coming days. Though, as Rory explained, lambing starts on the farm in February and so this is the tail end of the lambing season. However, there are still a good few to still arrive, including some triplets and quads, so a visit over the coming days is particularly rewarding.

    That said, there are so many lambs, calves, chicks and kids (that's baby goats, not the human variety) at the farm, that the spring and summer months are a delight and you'll find youthful creatures to cuddle, stroke and handle. Experienced animal handlers are around to assist as children sit with overly cute fluffy bundles on knees while a widescreen TV offers live footage of chicks emerging from eggs within incubators.

    You'll see Primrose, the Gloucester Old Spot pig and her piglets, and many other wonderful creatures showcased along a historical timeline of rare breed domestic animals that are so important to the history of farming in Britain. And now, Adam Henson's work keeping these rare breeds alive is equally important.

    It was the BBC Countryfile presenter's father, Joe Henson, that set up the farm park - the very first of its kind in the world back in the 1970s - with a desire to keep these rare breeds in existence. He helped to found the Rare Breeds Survival Trust with the first animals on the farm. Now Adam continues this work.

    On this glorious sunny day, it was flocks of young families that were out enjoying the park and a picnic in the grounds, a tractor ride around the farm and a bounce on the mehusive trampolines in the large play area. For me, it was another opportunity to get up close to the Cotswold sheep, the rare breed that was introduced to the Cotswolds by the Romans and whose wool created the Cotswolds' riches in the Middle Ages. They are magnificent beasts - distinctive by their shaggy coat of luscious curls, and with a curly top-knot on their forehead. And the Cotswold lambs - adorable doesn't begin to describe them!

    Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm Park is open daily throughout the spring and summer months. The adjoining caravan and campsite, completely redeveloped for 2017, will re-open on 24th April.

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  • North Meadow is looking resplendent - a must-see natural phenomenon

    I have just returned from a visit this morning to North Meadow National Nature Reserve (pages 217-8) at Cricklade. This magnificent meadow is, to my mind, one of the must-see sights of the Cotswolds in spring - and this year, it is looking the best I have seen in six years.

    Why should you go? Although it's a traditional hay meadow that is managed, using traditional methods, by man, you could describe the sights of North Meadow as a natural phenonmenon. This 110-acre meadow, adjoining a youthful River Thames and with scenic views of St Sampson's Church in Cricklade, is home to 80% of the UK's fritillary 'population'. It is a wondrous sight.

    From a distance, the regal purple haze is heavenly. Up close, these fritillaries in number are simply mesmerising. This is one of those moment to which I allude, via the poem Leisure by W H Davies in my introduction to Slow Travel: The Cotswolds: one must find 'time to stand and stare'.

    The fritillaries last until the end of April but right now, I very much recommend you go as they are looking outstanding. The images here were taken today. In amongst are vibrant King Cups, lady's smock and swathes of cowslips. Orange-tip butterflies darted beside the Thames and a skylark was in fine voice overhead.

    The very best sections of the meadow are in the far north - the furthest to walk from Cricklade or the entrance on the B4553 - but the most rewarding.

    If you've time, stop by for a Fritillary tea in the pop-up tearooms on the north edge of Cricklade, right beside the River Thames. It's a popular fundraiser for the town and there are displays providing further detail about the meadow. The tearooms is open for the remainder of this weekend and the remaining weekends in April.

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  • Stars line up for Cheltenham Jazz Festival

    The Cheltenham Jazz Festival returns later this month with a bold, multifarious programme featuring a range of world premieres, festival commissions, unique collaborations and rare shows from an eclectic mix of established stars and emerging talent.

    Running across six days from April 26th to May 1st against the stylish backdrop of Regency Cheltenham, this year's festival presents a balance of classic and contemporary jazz, blues, soul and pop from a variety of pioneering acts including star vocalists, Gregory Porter, Jack Savoretti, Will Young, Paul Carrack and Laura Mvula. There's a solo set from cult alt-rock pianist and singer Ben Folds that will include a special, one-off collaboration with the festival's Artisitic Curator Jamie Cullum.

    Multi-million selling keyboard icon Rick Wakeman, with his specially reunited Green Dolphin Trio, will showcase material from his solo piano album Piano Portraits.

    Other high profile acts lined up are Mica Paris, who will perform the Ella Fitzgerald songbook with an eight-piece ensemble to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday, Booker T. Jones, Grammy award-winning drummer Steve Gadd, a rare UK show from Latin music matriarch Toto la Momposina, Benin-born guitarist Lionel Loueke, the debut of a new project from Mercury-nominated Polar Bear drummer Seb Rochford, iconic Afro-Cuban outfit Orchestra Baobab, an exclusive preview of Kit Downes' forthcoming solo album and much, much more.

    BBC Radio 2 continues its long-term association with the festival, who will broadcast live onsite festival-themed shows recorded by Jamie Cullum and Clare Teal, as well as a soul-themed 'Friday Night is Music Night', and Jo Whiley 'Live in Concert' featuring Jack Savoretti.

    This year's Cheltenham Jazz Festival is hosted in a tented festival village in Cheltenham's Montpellier Gardens, featuring a Big Top stage, Pizza Express Live Arena, food stalls, an on-site record shop, and the Family Tent with Town Hall, Cheltenham Ladies' College Parabola Arts Centre, Hotel du Vin and The Daffodil (see page 160 of Slow Travel: The Cotswolds) venues all within short walking distance of the stylish spa town's centre.

    Tickets are on sale from: www.cheltenhamfestivals.com/jazz

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  • Made to Measure at Upton House

    Have you good taste? That's a question I was asked as I wandered through the panelled rooms of Upton House, a National Trust-owned property that sits close to the edge of Edge Hill on the most northern reaches of the Cotswolds AONB.

    Far from being impertinent, the question posed was making me think, distinguishing my 'favourite' coffee pot and tea urn from that considered discerning by others, most notably the one-time chairman of Shell Oil Company, Lord Bearsted and his wife. My taste is quite possibly different to what was de rigeur in 1920s society - and Upton House is currently 'fitted out' (and will be for the next three years) with an interior style of the decade.

    Indeed, we're in 1927 to be precise. Lord and Lady Bearsted have arrived for a viewing of Upton House, contemplating its purchase from the present owners, the Motion family. A large 'For Sale' sign stands at the visitors' entrance. The society couple are measuring up the property to renovate and turn Upton House into their sporting country house.

    Over the next three years, Upton House will present a 'Made to Measure Home', a project that focuses on the buying and renovating of a rural residence. Visitors are able to follow the unfolding story of how Lord and Lady Bearsted, guided by house and garden experts, made Upton House into a country home - a bolthole in the country - that was 'made-to-measure' to fit their own needs and desires.

    For Lady Bearsted, Upton's grounds offered the opportunity to indulge her passion for gardening. She envisioned the formation of great terraced gardens on the house's inviting slopes - and they are a truly magnificent place to enjoy a picnic or wander the kitchen garden, the Nuttery and the enchanting Bog Garden.

    In order to create the ideal home, the Bearsteds also needed to install all mod cons and home comforts, including central heating, electricity, light airy rooms and efficient plumbing - the hallmarks of a modern healthy life.

    The team at Upton House will be re-telling the story of its transformation, showing through a series of interactive exhibits how it went from a down-at-hell property in a neglected state to a great example of a 20th century country house.

    For my visit, at the launch of the 'Made to Measure Home' project, I'm greeted at the vast portico entrance of the house by Martyn. Today, dressed in 'auctioneer's tweeds', he is my property guide to show me around the house as a prospective buyer. A volunteer guide for the National Trust at Upton House, Martyn is a retired dentist from nearby Banbury. Volunteers matter to the NT; they are the vital lifeblood of the organisation and today all the house volunteers have turned up to celebrate the launch. There are clear indications that this house means a great deal to these local volunteers as a community.

    Says Martyn, "The aim of the project is to point out how people lived and get people thinking about what family life was like." Rooms have been 'put back' to the way they were before the Bearsteds began their full-scale renovations, with the use of large screens. As the three-year project evolves, these screens will come down to reveal the changes that were made to the property. It's a reason for returning again and again.

    One downstairs room has become the Architect's Office (Percy Richard Morley Holder, whom the Bearsted's appointed), incorporating a table filled with 3D models of the house (for children to play with), interior design notes and a draughtsman's bench complete with architectural drawings. In each room there are further architectural plans on view, illustrating how the property changed - where walls and ceilings were knocked down to create one vast room, how the kitchen moved from one end of the house to the other - or indeed how Lord Bearsted turned one room into a squash court. That didn't last when he needed somewhere to display his Canalettos. For now, the old squash court has been cleverly 'reinstated', the priceless artworks displayed in an unconventional form that actually makes you take notice of them far more so than in the usual setting of a traditional art gallery.

    What is clear as I wander through the house is that the entire project, which will evolve and change seasonally and annually to encourage repeat visits, is how it measures with slow travel. The launch is aptly special - the grand-daughters of the original architect were invited, along with the relations of the previous owners of Upton House from whom the Bearsted's bought the property. Representatives from the original estate agents are here to 'hand over the keys' and dozens of volunteers have turned up, eager to see how 'their' house has been transformed.

    Says Emily Knight, the General Manager at Upton, who has been overseeing the mammoth operation, "The purpose is to allow visitors to Upton House to become better connected with the property, to become emotionally engaged with it by arriving as a prospective purchaser and imagining what they might do with it, whether they like the interior design chosen by the Bearsted family or what one might do themselves.

    "Every department has been involved in some way. It is our volunteers that have done much of the research to bring the Made to Measure Home to fruition."

    It's human nature that everyone is a little nosey and curious at how others live - it's one of the very reasons we love wandering around NT properties, often making critical comment about personal taste. Whether you believe the Bearsted's had taste - you'll have to see for yourself.

    Upton House re-opens for the season today. And it is a special day for the property - for it is 90 years to the day that the Bearste'ds completed the purchase.

    (You can find general information about visiting Upton House on page 101 of Slow Travel: The Cotswolds.

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  • Five beautiful spring gardens for Mother's Day

    Struggling for ideas on where to take Mum this weekend? Nothing planned yet for Mothering Sunday? I've put together a collection of five gardens and parks that look beautiful in spring, here in the Cotswolds. Page references refer to the new, 2nd edition of Slow Travel: The Cotswolds. And, for gardening lovers, there's the Gardens Illustrated Festival this weekend too.

    Dyrham Park, Dyrham (page 280)

    National Trust-owned, Dyrham Park's West Garden is 'behind' the vast Baroque mansion (actually the garden is officially the original entrance to the house) and catches the sun as soon as it makes an appearance. Wander the lawns, search for life in the vast pond or climb the 'Lost Terraces' for a birds-eye view of the garden layout. The orchards are perfect for a gentle stroll, filled with naturalised daffodils, tulips, cowslips and fritillaries. Indeed, tulips are a big thing at Dyrham Park, the one-time owner and 'builder' William Blathwayt obsessed with Dutch everything during the Tulipmania years.

    You can take a brisk walk through the landscaped parkland to reach the West Garden. Stopping, of course, for lunch or afternoon tea, available in the courtyard tea room.

    Corsham Park, Corsham (page 287)

    Corsham Park is not strictly a garden in the sense of finding borders filled with spring bulbs. Nonetheless, it is a picturesque place for a family walk. Adjoining the impressive and ornate Corsham Court, Corsham Park was designed and landscaped by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown. There are magnificent specimen trees throughout this traditional and quintessentially English park and a 13-acre lake that's always teeming with waterfowl.

    Two public footpaths and a permissive footpath cross the park, taking in clumps of woodland in addition to the more open parkland.

    If you're looking for somewhere to eat before or after, I'd recommend The Methuen Arms, situated within two-minutes' walk of the southwestern end of the park. Alternatively, Neston Farm Shop and the Garden Restaurant at Lowden Garden Centre are notable for serving deliciously fresh, locally produced and reared food.

    Hidcote Manor Gardens, Hidcote Bartrim (page 75)

    Also a National Trust-owned property, this time in the north Cotswolds, Hidcote is regarded as a 'must see'. Designed in the Arts and Crafts style by American-born Major Lawrence Johnston at the start of the 20th Century, Hidcote has a series of garden 'rooms' focussed around the idyllic Cotswold manor house (not open to the public). Some gardens are tranquil, others raging with vibrancy such as the Red Border. Some are incredibly formal and symmetrical, others rambling with mystical paths to follow and enchant.

    There are two venues to eat, either the small, outdoor Barn Cafe for coffee and cake or the more formal Winthrop's Conservatory for lunch.

    Cerney House Gardens, North Cerney (page 193)

    Regarded as a classic Victorian plantswoman's garden, Cerney House Gardens are brimming with daffodils, snowdrops and hellebores at this time of year. Tulips and bluebells follow. The swathes of snowdrops and daffs form colourful carpets beneath the woodland canopy, creating a magnificent woodland walk, while the parterre and borders of the walled garden are crammed with early spring colour. Sited down a long drive away from the village of North Cerney, the garden is romantic and something of a 'secret' hideaway.

    If you like things simple, there's a small honesty-box kitchen with a kettle to make Mum a drink and a selection of homemade cakes. It's very endearing. For something a little more substantial, the Bathurst Arms has its own picturesque riverside garden in North Cerney and serves good food.

    Whichford Pottery, Whichford (page 120)

    This is not so much a garden as a place to pick up beautiful, handcrafterd terracotta pots for your own garden. A wander around the ornamental flowerpots of all shapes and sizes is an artistic experience in itself, though, and the Pottery has an intimate, informal garden where pots are planted up with seasonal shrubs and flowers. The whole experience is inspirational and you'll leave with lots of ideas for your own garden, be that an acre of ground or enough patio space for a couple of pots.

    There are plenty of Mother's Day gifts on sale in The Octagon and delicious coffee and cake or nutritious lunches in The Straw Kitchen, a quirky cafe on site.

    Gardens Illustrated Festival, Westonbirt School

    Last but definitely not least, you could spend Mothering Sunday (or the day before) at the Gardens Illustrated Festival, taking place at Westonbirt School near Tetbury. A strange place for a garden event you may think, but the school resides in Westonbirt House, the original home of the Holford family that created the world famous Westonbirt Arboretum opposite.

    Westonbirt House has both formal Italianate gardens and pleasure grounds of its own that open to the public in April. But for now, the Gardens Illustrated Festival has taken over the location. On 25th and 26th March you can enjoy a fascinating programme of talks from leading garden experts, self-guided garden tours, garden plant and design clinics and a shopping marquee full of beautiful garden wares. Tickets for the event are available at www.gardensfestival.com.

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  • In search of a Cotswold hare - the Cotswold Hare Trail

    Giant hares are about to leap across the Cotswolds and hare into more than 20 towns and villages across the region. From 25th March, eighty 5ft sculptures will be in place, nestling in hotel lobbies, tucked into shop doorways or proudly taking centre stage on town High Streets.

    The hares have been decorated by amateur and professional artists, including schools and community groups. All lovingly designed and crafted, they are unique works of art. All 80 hares have been placed to form a trail for 'harers' to follow until 10th September. Festival Director Florence Beetlestone, who previously ran the Cirencester March Hare Festival, explains, "We want to encourage people to explore all the delightful corners of the Cotswolds and to use public transport, walk and cycle the route wherever possible."

    The Trail Festival has been designed to promote local businesses through tourism and to showcase the wonderful artisitic talents of the many creative people living in the Cotswold area. It gives towns and villages a fantastic opportunity to showcase their businesses, their heritage and culture with individual trails of small hare sculptures 'leverets' plus linked hare themed activities and events.

    'Harers' are asked to record their sitings of each hare by uploading selfies to social media. There will be prize events for people to enter. It will be a challenge to find all the hares but to help, a Trail map has been divided into four locales with suggested links in each section. The Festival website contains a map of the Cotswolds, showing the towns where the hares are located and the number in each town. Linked town maps will show further details. These will be regularly updated in case any new or travelling hares leap on board over the six month Festival period.

    In October the hares will be auctioned with net profitis going to National Star (see pages158-9 of Slow Travel: The Cotswolds for more details about this wonderful organisation) and to local historical projects such as museums.

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  • Win an overnight stay in a Pudding Room!

    To celebrate the release of my new Slow Travel: The Cotswolds guide, the publishers Bradt Travel Guides are running a special competition to find the most perfect day in the Cotswolds.

    To enter, simply write a description of your perfect day in no more than 500 words. Your day might have really happened or be something imagined: it might include investigating the birthplace of the Bard in gateway town, Stratford-upon-Avon, hiking a section of the Cotswold Way or sipping on a cold ale from one of the Cotswolds' many breweries. Whatever shape your perfect day might take, Bradt want to hear what makes the Cotswolds special for you.

    The entries will be judged by me, choosing my favourites based on passion, colour and originality.

    The prizes

    The winner will receive an overnight stay for two at the Three Ways House Hotel, Mickleton (www.threewayshousehotel.com) - home of the world famous Pudding Club. You'll be staying in one of their wonderfully quirlky pudding themed rooms - will it be Oriental Ginger or the Sticky Toffee and Date Room? Maybe it will be the Chocolate Suite, the ultimate in adventure for chocoholics. Three runners-up will each receive a free copy of Slow Travel: The Cotswolds. The winning entry will also be published in an edition of the Wilts & Glos Standard newspaper, in addition to Cotswold Living magazine.

    Entry requirements

    Your description must be no longer than 500 words. The deadline for entry is 31st May 2017 and winners will be notified by 30th June 2017. Either email your entry to competitions@bradtguides.com (with the subject line 'Cotswolds competition') or send it to: Holly Parsons (Cotswolds Competition), Bradt Travel Guides, IDC House, The Vale, Chalfont St Peter, Bucks, SL9 9RZ. Please be sure to include your name, email address and/or a daytime telephone number. Full terms and conditions, see www.bradtguides.com/my-perfect-day

    I look forward to reading your entry.

    Read more...

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