It is easy to forget, driving through the built up megalith of London, that England is in fact a patchwork of ancient villages, surrounded by fields of green, in shifting hues and shades. In fact, barely two hours out of London, in The Cotswolds, it is as though you have been thrust into the scenery of The Game of Thrones. Ancient and lush, all woods and fields and low stone walls covered with gooseberry bushes. Green abounds, but now and then, a flash of vibrant yellow – fields of canola or rapeseed – catches your eye and it is as though a sea of sunshine is held back behind the trees.
Burford, “The Gateway to the Cotswolds”, or so the advertising goes, is more Medieval town than village. The bustlingly high-street of tightly squished together old buildings appear to be slowly sliding down the steep hill, towards the river Windrush. A locally printed map points out buildings that have been there for half a millenium or more, but they are easy to see without direction, with their sagging roofs and bulging, uneven windows. Alongside the river, the church of St John the Baptist (built from 1175) is a highlight. Beautiful, grand and brimming with history, the grounds surrounding it are grassy and verdant, strewn with gravestones that pre-date the colonisation of Australia. Bluebells add contrast and ducks, shivering in the unseasonable cold, amusement.
After lunch in a local pub, we drive on, across the medieval bridge and into the countryside. We veer off the main approach, itself not overly large, and take the winding narrow roads, where we are hemmed in by tall trees and hedges grown head high. I hold onto my seat and hope we don’t meet a car travelling too fast in the other direction. In this way, we pass through villages that have probably been around for centuries. Hedges give way to a handful of honey-coloured stone houses and the odd pub, before we are thrust back between the fields that surround these little habitats. If you blink, you might miss them.
Our next stop is the entirely picturesque town of Bourton-on-the-Water (“The Venice of the Cotswolds”). Despite the obvious tourist bent, this is an exquisitely quaint and peaceful part of the world. The town straddles the river Windrush, here shallow yet fast moving. Ducks gather together and paddle like mad to stay in one place, hoping for some bread. A path is laid out on either side of the waterway, beneath trees with leaves the colour of burnt umber. A series of narrow stone bridges cross the river and bright red and yellow tulips peak out from gardens along the path. Countless tea shops offer tea and scones, carrot cake and coffee. We stop for a while and enjoy the peace and tranquility.
That night we stay in an old manor house, grand and full of creaking floorboards, rich dark wood, oversized fireplaces and oil paintings. The gardens in this hotel are extensive, with croquet on offer on the terrace lawn. A secret knot garden, an array of topiaried hedges and countless bunny-rabbits. We eat a spectacular degustation menu in the high-ceilinged, richly adorned dining room and contemplate that this was once someone’s house!