I’ve always wondered why it is that with a whole world to explore, some people return to the same place year in year out. Is it the comfort that familiarity can bring? No need to stress about seeing somewhere new, picking up a few words in another language, trying to find your way around an unfamiliar location? It’s definitely not something that appeals to me because I’m greedy and life is too short to keep visiting the same place, and yet here we are having just come back from the Cotswolds for the third year in a row.
It’s definitely become one of our favourite locations and if those elusive Euromillions ever became mine we’d probably buy a house there, renting it out when we didn’t want to use it. Because I love London so much it’s easy to forget that I grew up in the countryside and big city living hasn’t always been my life. I don’t think I’ll ever return to country ways permanently but I love escaping the frenetic pace of London for something a bit more relaxed and low key. Even if it does feel like the Cotswolds especially at weekends, is just a mini London with less buildings and more greenery, so many people descend there.
This time we stayed in the small village of Kingham, in a place called The Old Smithy which is exactly what it says – a converted blacksmith’s forge approximately 600 years old. It was small but beautifully designed with an open plan kitchen/living area, separate bedroom and an en-suite shower room off that. Just perfect for one couple and a dog, and a super location to explore from.
One of my favourite things to do when we stay in a self-catering is to read the guest book, it’s the best way of getting tips for places to eat and things to see. There were 5 years of entries at The Old Smithy and I sat for a couple of hours reading them all when we arrived. We found a lovely little dog walk for Maddie through the community allotments into the Millennium Wood which the locals had come together to establish back in 2000, planting 3,000 trees. It’s a gorgeous spot that gave us the chance to stretch Maddie’s legs each day.
If you’re in the area, then The Wild Rabbit is definitely worth the dining hype. It’s pricey and you can’t escape that, plus there are limited options for vegetarians/vegans but it’s well worth trying if you can book in. It may have a reputation but there’s no element of pretension and the staff are all lovely and down to earth. The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays but you can still pop to the pub in the evening so long as all you’re after is a drink and crisps and we did just that on a rainy Monday evening, enjoying a cosy couple of hours in front of the fire.
Another suggestion from the guest book which ended up being an absolutely winner was the Cotswolds Wildlife Park. I won’t lie, I always feel conflicted about these kinds of places because of my love for animals but I know too without conservation many endangered species would cease to exist altogether. As soon as we pulled into the car park at the park though any fears totally dissipated – it’s just stunning. The animals all looked well and happy and all the staff gave off a really positive vibe too. We saw a baby rhino taking some milk from it’s mamma, a napping red panda and some very cheeky Madagascan Lemurs. Dogs are allowed on leads and if you book online before you go (tickets are valid for 30 days so you can be flexible), it’s £2 cheaper per adult so worth saving that £4 for a couple.
I have to mention the grounds though, which are absolutely stunning and definitely not what I’m used to seeing at a wildlife park. So much thought and detail has gone into making it a beautiful place to explore, animals aside. There is more pampas grass than you can shout “swingers” at, and so many different types of bamboo I was in my element. The Walled Garden also contains a beautiful succulent display that makes you think you’re somewhere tropical, not middle England.
Sticking with the subject of gardens, I also visited Bourton House Garden after seeing it a few weeks ago on Gardeners’ World. You can’t take dogs in so Pete took Maddie off for a walk whilst I spent an hour or so meandering through the stunning botanical displays. I had the place more or less entirely to myself since it closes at the end of October, reopening in April and it was absolutely beautiful, demonstrating that you can still have a stunning floral display in the garden well into autumn.
Of course we had to return to Broadway, our absolutely favourite destination in the Cotswolds. We stayed there last year but it’s very expensive compared to other locations. Out of curiosity we were looking at house prices and somewhere on the high street can set you back well over £1,000,000. We did the circular walking route up to Broadway Tower and then down back into the village before breakfast at the Broadway Deli and it’s basically my favourite place in the world to get breakfast.
We returned to a few of our other favourites including Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water. A first visit to Chipping Norton which is sadly suffering a bit from the effect of retail sales with many closed shops but there’s a super spot for coffee and shopping called MASH, and the independent bookshop chain Jaffe and Neale is beautiful for a combination of books and cafes (there’s one in Stow too). Dinner at The Chequers in Churchill is also really recommended, a really great selection of veggie/vegan options and again the staff were really friendly. I’m finding more and more that it’s often less about the food for me and more about being made to welcome at a place.
I can’t finish of course without a mention to Cotswolds stalwart Daylesford Farm. We had a pretty unpleasant experience there last year but we were staying just a 5 minute drive away and decided to put old ghosts to bed. It genuinely is a really lovely experience and well worth a visit if you can get past the 99649560976804 Range Rovers parked in the car park and again, the prices which are a little crazy. We popped over for breakfast a couple of times and again, the service was so much better than last year, we realised dogs are allowed in some of café areas and we did a little shopping for early Christmas presents. I’m glad I gave it another chance and would definitely go back next time we visit.
For now though, it’s time to plan a new adventure for 2020 and our annual autumn Maddie holiday. We did Cornwall for two years, the Cotswolds for three, next year we’re thinking about either the Peak District or the New Forest as possible changes of scenery. What I do know for sure is that we’ve come to treasure our little staycations each year, it’s so good for the soul to get out into the countryside and do lots of walking. Here’s to next autumn.