From the pages of Victorian England came the declaration that Bibury is the most beautiful village in England. It was the observation of artist and craftsman William Morris who lived in a manor nearby and loved his saunters through the village. Walk into Bibury and you know why.
Most probably you will be walking along the River Coln with hordes of Asian tourists, especially the Japanese, because they have tenuous links with Bibury. Some say that a Japanese artist was inspired by the village during the ’70s and others maintain that Emperor Hirohito, the leader of their country during WWII who had led them into the Sino-Japanese War, had fallen in love with the idyllic environs of Bibury. Maybe he had, because in the year 1921 as crown prince he had left Japan in a battleship for Britain on a state visit (thus also creating ripples as the first person from the imperial family to step off Japanese soil). I can well imagine that a man who had as turbulent a life as he had – dealing with military coups and trying not to get assassinated require significant work and then getting around charges of being tried as a war criminal even more so – would have looked upon this time of travel through Britain surreal. His legacy is strong. There is such a steady influx of Japanese tourists that the village store owners have picked up tidbits of the language. It certainly makes you smile. The power of travel, eh?
We reached this picture-perfect village in the Cotswolds one summer with my husband’s sister and her kids. It was out of the books. Stone bridges and ivy-slathered country manor inns gave way to a sedate scene of drowsy willow trees by the banks of the Coln. The lush meadows along the tributary of the Thames were dotted with Holstein cows who looked suspiciously like they had been airdropped to charm the traveller with their black and white patched indolence while right opposite stood a straggle of limestone cottages trussed up in a row. The picturesque Arlington Row houses date back to the mid-1300s when they served as a monastic wool store but in the 17th century were converted to house weavers.
There is a tale of a Grey Lady too. Nothing like a bit of ’em wandering ladies to spice up your English travels. She, it is said, was a young girl who had married a miller older to her and then unfortunately fallen in love with his son. On a horridly cold night, the miller left his wife outside to die. Which she did and now is said to wander the paths around the river. If you see her, you know what to do. Take her home with you?
How to Get There:
Bibury is a stone’s throw away from Cirencester. The best way to get there is by car. If you are driving, take the B4425. Buses start from Market Place in Cirencester for Bibury. By train, you will be working a fair bit by reaching Kemble, the same station for Cirencester, and then taking a cab worth 20-25 odd quid for Bibury because Kemble is about 14 miles away from it. Drive drive baby…but arrive at off-peak hours because parking can be a bit of a bummer. The easiest parking spot is on the river bridge barring which there is extra parking along the river on the B4425.
Where to Stay:
Bibury is a convenient day trip from Cirencester. But if you want to stay in the village, there are options such as The Catherine Wheel (www.catherinewheel-bibury.co.uk), a 15th-century stone building. Standard double rooms are priced at roughly £90 per night.
Bed & breakfast double rooms at Cotteswold House (www.cotteswoldhouse.org.uk) are pegged at £90 per night.
Where to Eat:
Make Bibury your clotted-cream-and-jam-with-scone stop because it is an English holiday after all and also because the village has some twee tea rooms –William Morris Tea Room (www.thewilliammorris.com) and Catherine Wheel (www.catherinewheel-bibury.co.uk) – that will not leave your eyes bulging with the bill.
What to do:
After you have seen the Arlington Mill, the Bibury Trout Farm, Arlington Row, you can opt for an 18-mile Bibury-Aldsworth-Bibury fairly easy walking trail. The views during the walk are of the wolds, the lower Coln and the Leach valley.
Or, you can go on a shorter 4-mile circular walking route that lasts about two hours. It takes you past the row of cottages and the church into the Bibury Court Estate and onwards ho into pastures where the sheep roam and wait for a little natter with you.