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Taking a short break in the Cotswolds, Jane McGowan discovers a picturesque landscape rich with pretty, historic towns and villages
Arlington Row Bibury Near Bourton On The Water Club Campsite – Photo by member Cyril Long
Taking in five Club campsites and two Certificated Locations (CLs), this mini tour only covers 82 miles. Yet it still allows the visitor to experience the Cotswolds in all their majesty, offering the perfect mix of town and country, on a limited fuel budget.
The first stop on my getaway is Burford – known as the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’. And, within easy reach of the A40, the tree-lined Burford Club Campsite is a fine base for days out, offering access to a variety of attractions. There is really no excuse (especially where families are concerned) for not visiting Cotswold Wildlife Park & Gardens – the attraction is directly opposite the entrance to the site!
The opportunity to get close to animals including giraffes, lions – and even a wolverine – will obviously prove a hit with youngsters, but the beautiful gardens that surround the 19th-century manor house are also worth experiencing. They boast a colourful array of mature trees and plants, as well as an impressive glasshouse filled to the brim with exotic flora and fauna.
While we are on the subject of gardens, there can’t be many better in the whole country than those at Blenheim Palace – the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough, forebears of Sir Winston Churchill – which is a mere 30 minutes’ drive away.
Blenheim Palace – Photo credit: Alamy
The birthplace of our wartime Prime Minister is a must-see if you are staying in the area – and Club members enjoy a 30% discount on entry (see camc.com/greatsavingsguide for terms and conditions and date restrictions). In spring and summer, the 150 acres of formal gardens burst into life; these include Water Terraces, the Duke’s Private Italian Garden, the magical Secret Garden (packed with surprises that will fill little ones with wonder), the Churchill Memorial Garden and the exquisite Rose Garden. A recently developed accessible path offers splendid views of all that is on offer. It is also worth noting that golf-style buggies are available, if required, to take you from the car park to the entrance.
Over the Christmas period this year, the estate offers a plethora of treats, from an illuminated trail to a traditional market and a sparkling Snow Queen-themed walk around the palace (see blenheimpalace.com for details and tickets).
The palace itself is, of course, just as splendid as the grounds – the architecture is an exquisite example of 18th-century English Baroque. Inside, visitors can experience a true taste of history with an amble around the state rooms. A variety of tour options is also available, including a traditional audio version, or, for the tech-savvy, a comprehensive recreation of the lives of the various Dukes of Marlborough as you encounter their many portraits and personal items; information is accessed by scanning a QR code with your phone.
There is a specific section dedicated to Churchill, detailing his political career from ambitious young MP to his position as Britain’s most revered statesman. A couple of miles away you can see his grave at the Parish Church of St Martin in Bladon, where he lies alongside his beloved wife, Clementine.
It is just a few minutes’ drive (or 30-minute walk) from the church to the village of Woodstock, where you will find a lovely mix of independent retailers, cafes and pubs – try Alfonso Gelateria for excellent ice cream.
In fact high-street vibrancy seemed to be a feature of many of the spots I visited during this tour, and it was much in evidence in the town of Burford (about five minutes’ drive from the Club campsite).
Here, you can while away a good few hours among the many gift and clothes shops, as well as at an impressive selection of delis, cafes and pubs, most of which are dog-friendly and sell a fine range of fantastic locally grown or farm-produced goods.
There is a large, free car park behind the church, which is accessible for campervans and motorhomes (a 12-hour time limit applies).
Burford’s Church of St John the Baptist is a beautiful example of 12th and 15th-century ecclesiastical architecture, but it also boasts some important political history.
During the English Civil War, a group of radical thinkers known as the Levellers (who demanded equality and a more ‘level society’) were joined near Banbury by a group of disgruntled soldiers who had mutinied owing to their lack of pay.
A number were caught by troops near Burford and imprisoned in the church. The men, many of whom were later shot, left evidence of their time there, and it is worth examining a carving by one of the prisoners, Anthony Sedley, in the lead on the font, which is dated 1649. The parishioners mark the anniversary of the men’s execution every year, on ‘Levellers Day’.
Adam Henson's Cotswold Farm Park
To the north-west of Burford is Bourton-on-the-Water, another pretty village, easily accessed from the Club campsite of the same name – stop number two of this tour.
The River Windrush flows through the village under a series of honey-coloured stone bridges, leading to the moniker ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’. For walkers, at least nine waymarked routes are on offer, including Monarch’s Way and the Heart of England Way.
The campsite itself is peaceful and private (please note there is no toilet block or playground), but there is an abundance of attractions nearby should you want to go exploring.
One of the most popular local places to visit – which also offers a discount courtesy of the Great Savings Guide – is Adam Henson’s Cotswold Farm Park. Founded by the Countryfile presenter’s father, Joe, the land has been worked by his family since the early 1960s. Today, it offers a fabulous mix of education and entertainment as children can learn all about the animals and life on the farm through a series of fun walks, fruit- and veg-picking and attractions to climb, bounce and ride on. Once again, this is an attraction for all seasons, with great Halloween, Easter, Christmas and summer events carefully designed to get little ones involved in some fresh-air fun.
For the more mature visitor, there is another celebrity farmer in the area: Jeremy Clarkson. Just south of Chipping Norton, his Diddly Squat Farm Shop is a popular tourist attraction (open Wednesday-Sunday), selling a wide range of products.
Tewkesbury. Photo credit: Alamy
My third stay was at the Cheltenham Racecourse Club Campsite, which, as you may have guessed, sits beside the famous track. The friendly welcome and views of the course and glorious countryside beyond are worth the pitch price alone. From here, it is just a one-mile walk into Cheltenham, a Georgian spa town that offers a cosmopolitan mix of shops and fine dining in the sophisticated Montpellier district – Le Champignon Sauvage, Lumiere and Purslane are just three of the many excellent restaurants here.
En route you could pop into Pittville Park, which is a Grade II-listed green space complete with lakes and a magnificent Grade I-listed Pump Room if you are looking for that extra historical fix.
Aside from the racing, including the world-famous Gold Cup, Cheltenham draws crowds for its celebrated festivals throughout the year: Jazz (April/May), Science (June), Music (July) and Literature (October).
Heading north, my next stop was Tewkesbury Abbey Club Campsite. Once again, the name of the site gives away the location, the magnificent 12th-century abbey towering over this immensely popular spot.
As one of the few abbeys left standing following Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the historical significance of Tewkesbury Abbey cannot be overstated. What’s more, it is free to enter (though a donation is requested).
The town itself offers a whole host of attractions, from browsing for antiques to watching shows in the pretty theatre, to boat trips and battle walks that mark the area’s pivotal role in the Wars of the Roses (the Battle of Tewkesbury, in 1471, was one of the decisive skirmishes in a series of civil wars).
The busy campsite offers lovely grass pitches and the surroundings are awash with flowers – just what you would expect from a winner in this year's Club Sites in Bloom competition.
Near Broadway Club Campsite – Photo by member Katie Dudley
All too soon it is time to leave Tewkesbury Abbey and head towards my final Club campsite stop – Broadway. On the way, I stopped at Pardon Hill Farm CL, a beautifully managed five-pitch site situated on a working farm. With a bus stop just outside, it connects public transport users to Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and beyond. There are also plenty of walks in the area, but, as site owner Jo Marsh points out, these are quite challenging and hilly routes for the more serious hiker; it is advisable to wear suitable footwear no matter what the season.
And so to Broadway, now notable for not only being home to The Wanderer, the world’s first caravan built for leisure travel, but also for housing HRH The Duke of Edinburgh’s former tourer. Both are proudly displayed in a restored goods shed next to the site.
For rail enthusiasts, the lovingly restored Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway runs close to the site and has a station just up the road, with services running to Cheltenham Racecourse. The 55-minute trip features stops at Toddington, Gotherington and Winchcombe, the latter being most definitely worth a closer look for its ancient streets and Tudor architecture. It is also home to a fascinating church – St Peter’s – which features an impressive array of grotesques and an altar piece that is thought to have been stitched by Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, while she lived at nearby Sudeley Castle.
Walkers are spoilt for choice here, most notably by the Wychavon Way, which ends (or starts) in Broadway. Created to celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, the 40-mile route was revised in 2012 to mark the Diamond Jubilee. It offers wonderful views of the Vale of Evesham as well as canals, fields, rivers and meadows before reaching the spa town of Droitwich in Worcestershire.
Back in Broadway, there is plenty to keep the shopper – or refreshment seeker – entertained. Known as the ‘Jewel of the Cotswolds’, the town is another honey-coloured heaven, housing tea shops, confectioners, country clothing stores and gift emporiums.
The main high street is a 20-minute walk from the Club campsite but, should you need to drive, there are three small car parks. Following a recommendation from a fellow member, I popped into Tisane’s Tea Rooms – here you will find a great selection of lunch and drink options (there are more than 35 teas and infusions from which to choose), as well as some delicious cakes and pies.
Broadway Club Campsite marked my final stop, but should you fancy a few more days basking in the beauty of the Cotswolds, then Pyrton House CL should not be missed. Situated in Shipton-under-Wychwood towards the eastern edge of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this peaceful site offers members a wonderful view of field after rolling field of Oxfordshire splendour.
Like the Club campsites mentioned earlier, this CL offers access to the many villages and attractions that set this area apart – and it is also just a 16-minute drive from Burford, should you be tempted to start the whole trip again. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t blame you!