Burford & Bourton in the Wolds

If you are in Bibury, you have to find your way to the delightful duo of Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water. I had written a post already on the town and village respectively but here’s a quick one on the knowhow of these two. The shots are of Burford from a year ago when I sported a short hairdo and went through life-without-long-mane-shedding-all-over-the-place moments. At one point, we dreamt of old age in Burford, of a future when we could buy a little cottage and go for long walks in the country followed by coffee and pottering around in the antique stores. It was actually quite wonderful to visualise it in our mind’s eye as my husband and I sat down at The Cotswolds Arms pub in Burford for lunch on a glorious and sunny summer’s day.

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You have to climb to the top of the hill in Burford and look down upon the row of limestone houses that descend in a straggly row.

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How to Get There: 

If you are not driving in the Cotswolds, wise up. Hired the car already? Then what are we waiting for. Burford is 20 miles west of Oxford and it sits on the crossroads of the A40 and A361. From London, it takes you about 1.5 hours to get to Burford. Parking is free in Burford, both in the riverside car park (OX18 4SE) and on the streets (though this kinda parking comes with time limitations). For coach and stagecoach services browse www.swanbrook.co.uk and www.stagecoachbus.com/oxfordshire/ for the timetables. Trains (www.nationalrail.co.ukwill bring you only till Oxford or Charlbury from where you have to figure out a coach or a cab to get to Burford. 

Where to Stay:

Traditional coaching inns pair well with the atmosphere of old English towns such as Burford. In the heart of town is Bull at Burford (www.bullatburford.co.uk), a coaching inn and brasserie where a small double room on bed & breakfast basis starts at £79.

If your pockets allow it, you can opt for a boutique country inn experience at The Lamb Inn (book through www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk). A ‘Good Double Room’ ranges between £150-£210. If you book early you can catch a ‘Very Good Double Room’ too for roughly £150. You are also paying here for the experience of staying within the walls of a 15th-century, former weaver’s cottage.

Where to Eat:

The Cotswolds Arms (www.cotswoldarms.co.uk) is one of our comfort lunch spots in Burford. It is a traditional 18th century pub with a good selection of ales and food – they even offer gluten free dining – and rates that will not rip your heart off.

Bull at Burford, the coaching inn from above, does some mean dishes. The rates are a bit more pricey than The Cotswolds Arms, but that said, they won’t leave you gasping either.

Mrs Bumbles (www.mrsbumbles.co.uk) deli for wonderful full-fat ice creams, cheese, chutneys and local Cacklebean eggs.

What to Do:

  • In Burford, look out for a Tudor building held up on stone pillars town’s museum. Medieval wool merchants used to meet up for trade at this spot called The Tolsey. Today it serves as the town museum.
  • The 15th century Parish Church of St John the Baptist is one of the churches built using money from the wool trade. I found a cute anecdote associated with its renovation when William Morris criticised the process and had the vicar responding with the words, “The church Sir is mine, and if I choose to I shall stand on my head in it‘.

  • You are within a half-hour driving distance of charming little villages and towns in the Cotswolds such as Bibury, Bourton-on-the-WaterUpper and Lower Slaughter, Stow-on-the-WoldOxford, Cheltenham and Broadway.

Bourton-on-the-Water

If you are staying at Burford and driving down to Bourton-on-the-Water, I would suggest pottering around the shops and the river Windrush. When you are done with that do not bother with the tourist to-do such as the perfumery or the museums, just head out for walks.

Where to Eat:

The Croft (www.chesterhousehotel.comis a restaurant with a view of the Windrush. You can have a spot of lunch here or just sit back for a relaxing tea-and-cake kinda evening.

Kingsbridge Pub (www.kingsbridgepub.co.uk) on the village green is a reasonable watering hole in the village where you do get a nice range of beers and ales. We always love a seat in its beautiful beer garden with a view of children and dogs splashing about in the shallow beds of the Windrush.

What to do:

  • Walk for 1.5  miles from Bourton-on-the-Water to Lower Slaughter (takes about 40 min). You can walk further up to Upper Slaughter through Lower Slaughter.
  • There’s a 3.5-mile circular walk from Bourton-on-the-Water that takes you through a landscape dotted with river and lakes for roughly 2 hours.

For how to go about them, take a quick peek into www.escapetothecotswolds.org.uk/userfiles/file/walks/jubilee/bourton-on-the-water-and-wyck-rissington.pdf.

 

The Wolds on the Windrush

What do you do when you have been particularly lazy on the Labour Holiday weekend, woken up at a leisurely pace, dawdled around the apartment with a mug of cold coffee and a book? But then you want to step out on a beautiful spring day too for a spot of pub lunch and browse around idly for knick knacks.

Our bank holiday weekend began in the above-mentioned way because we are just notoriously lazy – my husband and I. We live in the vicinity of the rolling hills in England that are dotted charmingly with sheep, cows, thatched medieval villages, churches and mansions. When the sun shines, the cottages in these villages glow honey gold and look so out of a picture postcard setting that they are generally deemed to be ‘chocolate boxes’. They were mostly constructed during the Middle Ages when wool trade brought wealth to the area, and alongside the cottages, merchants constructed ‘wool churches’ using the locally-quarried limestone.

The villages of the Cotswolds that run the length of five counties – Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire – make up the best of rural England and fall within the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the country.

We have spent most of our stay in the good old Blighty exploring them. There is no fighting it. The Cotswolds steal upon the senses. The list is long and varied in character and you can never associate ennui with the region, even if you end up visiting the same villages again and again.

When we go on these frequent trips, I imagine bumping into Laura Timmins tripping down a field in her pretty straw hat and postwoman’s sober ensemble or the sly Twister Turrill, hobbling down a country lane, muttering away to himself. They are characters from Lark Rise to Candleford, a trilogy of 19th century novels that were written by English poet and novelist Flora Thompson, inspired by her own life in Oxfordshire. You must have read them, right? If you are not much of a reader, you have to catch up with the eponymous BBC series. I promise you, you are in for a treat. When parts of it were enacted in plays in London in the late 70s, a theatre critic had observed: “It will send most spectators out wiser and happier human beings…one of those rare theatrical occasions with a genuine healing quality.”

It is crucial to have a car to drive around the Cotswolds. Unless you plan walking holidays around the place – there is actually a 102-mile long Cotswold Way walking trail which starts at an escarpment from Bath and continues up north to Chipping Campden. Maybe someday I can convince the husband to undertake a walk along this trail with me, though that might entail innovative bribes like carrying a massive bag of M&M’s to lure him from Bath to Chipping Campden. A plan to be pondered upon (If you are reading this, o husband of mine, and feeling suitable alarmed as I imagine you are, ‘tis a good reason to wean yourself off M&M’s).

The town of Burford in the Cotswolds was our chosen spot for lunching on a sunny Saturday. Though, as is usual, the weather gods were in a tizzy. The day alternated between inky grey clouds scudding across a bright blue sky, scattered drizzles and downpours. It would turn sunny, become slightly warmer in intervals and all over again the cycle would kick in – the clouds would come haunting the sky and dastardly cold winds lash out at us. There is never boredom to be associated with a day out in the English climes.

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Rapeseed fields
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Burford

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The delightful shop, Three French Hens, in Burford.

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A traditional 18th century pub in Burford, The Cotswolds Arms.
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Gammon, fried eggs and chips at the Cotswolds Arms
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Stilton and walnut salad with a portion of grilled chicken.

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The timber-framed houses on Burford high street

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The road from the university town of Oxford that enters Burford is a particularly leafy avenue that takes a sudden dip and opens up a vista of yellow rapeseed fields in the horizon. You find yourself driving through a bustling high street flanked by old Tudor and Georgian properties, pubs and antique shops. It is one of the most charming entrances in the Cotswolds. It is difficult to forget Burford in a hurry.

The once fortified Anglo-Saxon ford – the town gets its name from the Old English words ‘burh’ that means fortified town and ‘ford’ — was a wool town of considerable wealth on the River Windrush. Its geographical position, as a town at the crossroads, only heightened its popularity. Local industries such as tanning, weaving and sheep farming thrived in Burford. At one point of time, it had the best saddle-makers in Europe.

There are a host of lovely eateries in the town. One of our particular haunts is The Cotswolds Arms, an ivy-covered rustic 18th century pub that serves good ales and home-cooked pub grub. My husband had his favourite pub meal of gammon and chips and an ale, I tucked into a light but tasty beetroot salad served up with chunks of Stilton cheese, caramelised walnuts and roasted chicken.

After a prolonged lunch, we set off to do our cherished browsing around the boutiques and shops of Burford which are small and mostly family-run affairs.

My picks of the lot are The Oxford Brush Co. where there is a brush for every need in the household. Think on the lines of hair brushes, shaving brushes, computer brushes, shoe brushes, bottle brushes. The bristles on these brushes are so incredibly soft that you could bury your face in them and sigh away. They are apparently crafted out of hairs of horses, badgers and Chinese long-haired goats. Only the prices make sure you do not go bonkers about ‘em brushes.

I almost always fall for foxed books at a former coaching inn which is now Antiques @ The George. This time I picked up a translation of Bede’s Anglo Saxon Chronicles and an old tome of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury for nostalgia’s sake. They cost me a mere 7 quids. If you are into rummaging for vintage finds, this antique centre has some treasures and pre-war memorabilia that makes the heart skip a beat. Our treasured buy from Antiques @ The George is a 19th century iron – it is deceptively small but packs a punch on the weighing scales, made as it is of cast iron . Skip across the road and there’s The Burford Emporium with its collection of wooden carts, old maps and books.

Lastly, do not miss out on the cuteness of Three French Hens, with its treasure chest of collectibles and gifts. I have to put on blinders and exert all my self-control when it comes to not raiding this shop.

There is a Burford walking tour that orients visitors with the area but the main two buildings of note are the church and the 16th century Tolsey building on the high street. The church, in 1649, served as a prison during the Civil War 340 prisoners were held inside it. The Burford-ians celebrate the incident by organising an annual Levellers Day in town during the month of May. They commemorate the Burford Levellers who protested against Oliver Cromwell for not paying his troops post the Civil War. Three of their leaders were executed by Cromwell’s men in the church yard. Their graffiti and carvings have been left intact in the church. While the Tolsey market building with its white Tudor façade has been transformed from a medieval merchants’ meeting grounds into a museum on the trades that flourished in Burford – clarinet-making, brewing beer, bell-founding and rope-making. A big incentive is a famous doll’s house that reflects the Georgian era style in which Jane Austen lived.

Leaving ‘the gateway to the Cotswolds’ behind in Oxfordshire, we puttered into the ‘Little Venice of the Cotswolds’ in Gloucestershire. Bourton-on-the-Water, a beloved village of ours in the Cotswolds, also sits pretty on the Windrush. A series of low-arched stone bridges span the shallow river that runs along the high street. On any sunny day in summer and even winter, children and dogs are the popular occupants of the river. The ducks are quite used to them by now. The ice cold waters of the river reach my ankles but the sharp-edges of the pebbles in the river bed is enough to make me hop out as quickly as I hop in.

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Bourton-on-the-Water
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Bourton lies on the River Windrush

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You can do a lot of touristy things in Bourton. Visit its small perfumery, gawk at the exotic birds in the Birdland and spend time in the model railway museum and motoring museum, but for us, Bourton has become a ritual, of walking past the willow trees that droop elegantly over the river, the riverfront stone cottages that make me yearn to live in one, tucking into full-fat ice creams, browsing the cutesy shops around and relaxing in the lovely garden of The Kingsbridge Inn, chugging on frothy beer.

Yet, on this bank holiday weekend, the clouds rolled in again and the evening started getting unaccountably cold – a bit of shopping done, the husband amused me by shivering away and gorging on a massive dollop of mint-chocolate chip ice cream, while I had the most bitter cup of cappuccino I have had in some time. It did the trick however and we drove back home in pelting rain followed by a full rainbow appearing in the lavender blue sky of the evening.