Cotswolds Deliver Charming and Cliché

The second National Trust site we visited in the Cotswolds was Hidcote Manor House, or more accurately Hidcote’s Arts and Crafts style gardens, which were created by the talented American horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston.

Walking the narrow paved pathways through the maze of gardens I felt like Alice in Wonderland, as we went through arched openings in the hedges discovering one outdoor room after another. Suddenly I felt small among a forest of pink hydrangeas, or suddenly I felt like a giant as we came across a group of diminutive ballerinas dancing among a cluster of variegated red fuchsia. The gardens are spectacular! There are also impressive fountains, interesting sculptures, carved benches, and accessible pathways leading into the surrounding Cotswold hamlet of Hidcote Bartrim. Do not let the garden designer’s nationality discourage you from visiting; this is a proper English garden—one of the best!

Although Hidcote, like most of the National Trusts sites, had a café we chose to drive into Chipping Campden for lunch, some meandering, and shopping. This is a charming old wool merchant’s town that has retained its historic aesthetics, if you can look past the long line of cars parked along the High Street. Small museums, restaurants, teahouses, and shops occupy old stone buildings, with an eclectic mix of architectural styles spanning a number of centuries. It was in one of these shops that we discovered the artistry of Robert Welch—and I fell in love. Not with the man, as I did not meet him, but with the modern, sleek cutlery, candle-holders, and dinner ware he designs and creates at the Old Silk Mill in Chipping Campden. Although there was nothing I didn’t like, I could not purchase anything. After the trip to England with my sister, I was going to be traveling another five weeks with my husband in France, Germany, and Holland and I didn’t need to add weight to my suitcase. However, I left with a new passion for Mr. Welch’s artistry, and a good opinion of the charming town of Chipping Campden.

Our next stop in the Cotswolds, Burton-on-the-Water, was anything but charming. Although if you omitted all the boisterous, pushy tourists; the blaring signs; the too numerous ice cream shops; and the store-after-store offering cliché collectables, it would be charming. Certainly the river Windrush that runs through town with its low bridges and tree-shaded greens and stone banks is charming. Except it was hard to enjoy its quiet ambiance with so many people trooping though the shallows, their pants or skirts hiked up with one hand, while the other gripped a dripping ice cream cone. And when we tried to cross one of the low brides without a railing, I was almost pushed into the water by a group of people who were not willing to wait their turn and cross single file. It was not a good experience, and with so many other charming towns to visit in the Cotswolds, I do not recommend Burton-on-the-Water as one of your stops—unless you are desperate for  ice cream!

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