6 Delights of the High Cotswolds

6 Delights of the High Cotswolds

Take in some of the delights of the Cotswolds across Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire on some of high points of this part of the British Isles.

Explore some of the quintessential places of the Cotswolds - popular and less well-travelled.

See what you think?

  1. Broadway Village and Tower

  2. Churchill's Grave at Bladon and the World Heritage Site of Blenheim Palace

  3. Coaley Peak

  4. Down Ampney Church

  5. Painswick's Yews

  6. Selsley Common

1. Broadway Village and Tower

Broadway is a quintessential Cotswold village. Popular with tourists and local visitors alike, it offers much to see and do. The long-distance walking trail the Cotswold Way snakes its way down to Broadway from this high point.

The ridgeline overlooking Broadway and Broadway Tower offers a stunning panoramic view across the horizon. Come on a fine day and you could almost believe you could see forever.

On sunny days and summer days, this place is full of interested visitors, but come on quieter spring and autumn afternoons and you'll be free to wander at your will with the locals.

One of the most fascinating parts of Broadway is its role within the Arts and Crafts movement of the early twentieth century and this place became a beacon for artists and designers looking to design and create inspired by the local landscape.

2. Churchill's Grave at Bladon and the World Heritage Site of Blenheim Palace

At Bladon church lies the grave of one of Britain's most renowned statesmen - Winston Churchill.

And across the way lies his most famous family seat - Blenheim Palace. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Churchill died on Sunday January 24th 1965. His state funeral would become one of the most watched in history. On the 30th January 1965, hundreds of thousands lined the route of his funeral processions; whilst millions more at home in Britain and millions abroad watched in obscure intrigue and obligated fascination whilst this one-of-a-kind man disappeared from their lives. For many, this man had been off and on, seemingly ever present in theirs.

And so his final goodbye began with his body being carried on the Royal Naval Gun carriage last used for King George VI’s death in 1952. What followed was a cacophony of military glory, individual salute and international respect. A 17-gun salute. Pipers. Over one hundred state leaders commended him on his way to the beyond. Rare comments from the Soviet Union. Committed attendance by others. From the public, a shared silence that such a man like Churchill should finally be gone from the world. For there would be no more reliance on the man.

Thousands of service personnel lined the route. The Grenadier Guards had stood guard whilst he waited in state, and then marched with him on his route home. Overhead, Battle of Britain aircrews made homage to their commander. Respectful agreement to a man who knew the role of the few in beating Hitler and his Nazis.

His coffin was laid upon the Launch Havengore where it perhaps allowed the City of London to bid its final goodbye from the river Thames.

3,500 people were stuffed into St Paul’s Cathedral – quiet in atmosphere but staggering in providence. Charles de Gaulle of France. Sir Robert Menzies of Australia. Dwight D. Eisenhower, former President of the USA, Eamon de Valera, leader of the Commonwealth and beyond, past and present Prime Ministers and of course, his Queen – Queen Elizabeth II.

The fanfare over, Churchill’s body was carried by opulent train carriage to rural Hanborough Station in Oxfordshire and then to Bladon. The ancestral home of the Churchills, the historical residence of the Duke of Marlborough. To be buried with his family at the church at Bladon.

The village, tinier back then than it is now was shut to traffic and even the locals were discouraged from surrounding the church. Lady Churchill was looking for a truly family only funeral. His job was over, now the family could take centre stage.

But he had returned home, back to his ancestral home. Churchill had been born at Blenheim, and after such a life, it was time to return. He was 90 when he died.

Now, should you stand in Bladon churchyard, with your eyes running over the gravestone of the man that once was and is no longer, you might think of the who, the what, the effect, the why.

For his gravestone is a simple stone. With simple words.

A husband to Clementine. A child of Blenheim.

Take the opportunity if it arises to take in Blenheim and its grand estate but also wander to Bladon church and see the end of a one-off man Winston Churchill.

3. Coaley Peak

Coaley Peak lies on a plateau which overlooks the Severn Valley. The views open up around it taking in the river Severn and the Forest of Dean which climbs up beyond it.

A large grassy area allows for picnics and flying kites when the wind cuts loose.

But if you're lucky enough to emerge up here at sunset, a glorious array of golden sunlight fills the horizon. Sit, stand, and take in the view. It's good for the soul.

4. Down Ampney Church

The Music of the Landscape

Tucked not far from Cirencester, the little village of Down Ampney has more than one reason to drag your attention here. Take a walk down to the airfield memorial - for more on this head over to our alternative Cotswolds article.

But take close note at the church hereabouts for its connection to the well-known composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams. Vaughan-Williams was born here in Down Ampney in 1872, a son of the vicar. This was his church. Although Vaughan-William's life took him elsewhere, Gloucestershire was always a part of him.

You could perhaps imagine his wonderful 'A Lark Ascending' across the Cotswold landscape around this village imbued with the spirit of the man.

Down Ampney Church
Down Ampney Church

5. Painswick's Yews

Yew trees and churchyards. Churchyards and yew trees. It’s a bit different at Painswick. The yews outside the mighty church of St Mary’s Church in Painswick represent more than the churchyard but more the character and imagery of this Cotswold place. They have become synonymous with this Gloucestershire cornerstone.

The sheer number of them. Their coiffed silhouette. Their symmetry. Their alignment through the Lych Gate. Their comforting presence.

As with all intriguing object and sources of interest, there is of course the story of the place. The people of Painswick tell the story that there were once ninety-nine yew trees in the churchyard and should there ever be one more – that if one hundred yew trees were to take root in St Mary’s then the Devil would destroy it.

Now of course when reality met myth and in this particular case, the church was gifted a new yew tree for the millennium, the number of their yew friends did indeed go up to one hundred and it would appear that all are just about still standing.

But a more interesting note is that despite all that – these yew trees are a force for good. Clippings from the yews are taken for use in anti-cancer drugs. Can you even imagine it? Symbols of Painswick helping to fight not the devil but cancer.

So it seems that trees are indeed a force for good.

If you have the time, take in the popular Painswick with its shops and eating places. Or stretch your legs up on the walk to Painswick Beacon on the ridgeline above.

6. Selsley Common

Selsley Common is a place of common land. A land for all people and for all purposes. Whether to protest or to preach, to wander or to graze your animals. This land has been a common land for all ages. Despite the fact that there have been attempts to enclose it many times over the centuries. Freedom has endured on this space of land high atop the Cotswold escarpment.

This is a place set amongst the high common lands above the Stroud valley. Where once sheep and cattle took ranging opportunities now ramblers and walkers take centre stage. The Cotswold Way, the long-distance walking route passes up and along the beautiful edge of this land – venturing up, up and away from Selsley village where the Cotswold yellow limestone and Georgian architecture accrue.

The Long Barrow reminds us of a time from a previous age. But they are dotted about along this area. A call back to an ancient time. But the glory of this place like in those ancient times are the staggering views.

It is the panorama which ranges below you and across your heart. Down, down into the Severn River Valley and then across to the Forest of Dean and then beyond to the cities which can be peeked beyond the skyline and the landscape to just, well beyond.

This edge. This edge of the Cotswold plateau is a call to arms to explore further, think bigger and take it in. Just take it all in. The cattle still graze this grassy lane. But are intrinsically linked with the ecology and biology of this common land of ours.

I like to think of it in summer when wanderers and believers abound. The speed of whom are no more than an amble. Their eyes bewitched in the blue and yellow wild flowers, the long cats-tail grasses, the butterflies and ground-nesting birds which startle and surprise.

Paths criss-cross this land. Follow any which way and it will take you on a journey. For as locals climb up to find their dose of this pleasant medicine so too others looking to engage with something else, maybe something more.

Look to find a bench. Rooted near the edge. Stay awhile here. Stay in silence. Watch for the sunset or sunrise. Watch for infinite changes in the horizon. But just stay awhile. Let this land wash over you.

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