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The Cotswolds: Exploring English Nature

Itinerary

Itinerary Map
Day 1: Oxford, United Kingdom—City Tour / Minster Lovell
Our Cotswolds sojourn begins this afternoon in Oxford with a guided walking tour of England's most famous university town. Admire the architecture of the 15th-century Bodleian Library and several of the colleges that comprise Oxford University, founded by King Henry VIII in 1546. Leaving Oxford, we head west into the heart of the Cotswolds. This bucolic region, whose name comes from the Old English "cot" for sheep enclosure and "wold," meaning hill—“sheep pens among rolling hills”—spans 800 square miles and is protected as Britain’s largest National Landscape. Arrive at Minster Lovell, where a welcome dinner awaits at our inn. This perfectly preserved village of stone cottages with classic thatched roofs enjoys a romantic setting on the River Windrush.

Day 2: Windrush Valley Walk / Private Garden Tour
The Windrush Valley is one of the prettiest walking destinations in the Cotswolds. We start the morning with a walk to St. Kenelm’s Church and the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, a 15th-century Oxfordshire manor house along the River Windrush. Later, an easy path leads through the postcard-perfect hamlets of Widford, Swinbrook and Asthall. In contrast to the Cotswolds' more heavily touristed towns, these are unspoiled villages that evoke the England of the imagination. The settings are quintessentially Cotswolds, with medieval churches, thatched cottages, cozy pubs, and bridges spanning the river. The scenery is as bucolic as it gets, with the trail skirting pastures filled with grazing sheep enclosed by dry stone walls. Expect abundant wildflowers in spring, a rich palette of warm colors in autumn, and varied bird sightings along the way. Have lunch at a classic inn in Asthall, and view the exterior of Asthall Manor, the childhood home of the six Mitford Sisters who gained widespread notoriety for their stylish, eccentric and controversial lives as young women in the early decades of the 20th century.

This afternoon we have a private tour of the gardens at 17th-century Barnsley House, enjoying a behind-the-scenes look with the head gardener that typical visitors don't get. The classic country gardens are the vision of revered English garden designer Rosemary Verey, who has also created displays for Prince Charles, Sir Elton John and the New York Botanic Gardens. Highlights include the knot garden and kitchen garden, which provides a bounty of produce and fresh herbs for the restaurant at the manor house. 

Day 3: Church of St. Peter & St. Paul / Chedworth Villa / Highgrove House & Gardens
This morning we visit one of the most famous of the Cotswold "wool churches," the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Northleach. In medieval times, the Cotswold region was famous for the quality of the wool it produced, and many wool merchants became fabulously wealthy, often lavishing some of this wealth on their local churches. The church at Northleach, which has stood at the heart of this small market town for at least 800 years, is renowned for having the best single collection of medieval and Tudor brasses in the country.

Continue to Chedworth Villa where a specialist-guided tour reveals some of the most elaborate Roman antiquities in Britain. The site is preserved in the style of a Victorian archeological dig, and we'll see impressive Roman mosaics, bathhouse rooms, remnants of the steam heating system, and the Nymphaeum, still fed by water that filters through ancient Cotswold limestone. The hidden valley where Chedworth is located offers glorious rural vistas, with fields hemmed by stands of poplar, chestnut, rowan and whitebeam. The area abounds in sheep, as it has for centuries, and numerous wildlife species inhabit the hedgerows. Raptor sightings are common, and we find scores of pheasants in season. Walk to Chedworth village and The Seven Tuns pub for lunch.

This afternoon, we have a guided tour of Highgrove House and Gardens, the country residence of HRH the Prince of Wales, who is an ardent supporter of wildlife conservation and rural landscapes in Britain. Such was his love for the landscape, history and people of the Cotswolds that Prince Charles chose to make this 1796 manor house his personal home. The gardens, 35 years in the making, reflect great diversity, from the genteel setting of the Sundial Garden to the unstructured beauty of the Wildflower Meadow.  

Day 4: Slad Valley Walk / Private Tour of Woodchester Estate
A morning walk through the Slad Valley reveals an idyllic vale untouched by development, with four small nature reserves to explore. We look for deer, foxes, badgers and hedgehogs, but the real attraction is the sublime rural scenery. This region was once the heart of England's wool industry in the Middle Ages, which generated so much wealth for the Cotswolds. Our walk ends in the village of Slad at the famous Woolpack Pub, Laurie Lee’s local. Lee, a novelist and poet, is the Cotswolds' most famous author, raised in this tiny town that remains largely overlooked by tourism.

After lunch, follow narrow country roads to reach Coaley Peak, situated along the Cotswold escarpment with views across the Severn Valley and into Wales. Managed by the National Trust, this reclaimed farmland offers recreation for hikers, mountain bikers and dog walkers, and wildflower meadows in season. Many archeological sites are present in the region as well, including Iron Age settlements and a Neolithic long barrow burial site, which we visit. 

We then arrive at the private Woodchester Estate, once a Tudor deer hunting ground, where a nature walk may reveal muntjac and roe deer, plus kingfisher, herons, and mandarin and tufted ducks around the lakes. Learn about important conservation efforts as the National Trust, which manages Woodchester, continues to restore the parklands to the original hardwood forest and pasture. Before dinner, view the 200-year-old boathouse and tour the unfinished Victorian mansion. Afterward, we'll hear a talk on greater horseshoe bats and watch them roosting in the mansion via monitors. Then, as the sun sets, we'll watch them fly off to hunt (in season) while trying our hand at using bat detectors outside at dusk. In addition to long-running research on these endangered bats, the badger population is also monitored here by the British government. 

Day 5: Classic Cotswold Villages

Explore a collection of small Cotswold villages today, beginning in Stanway, which is famous for its Jacobean manor house with a gravity-fed fountain that reaches heights of nearly 300 feet. Neighboring Stanton is considered one of the most picturesque towns in the Cotswolds. Many of its cottages were built in the mid-1500s, and the church dates to the 9th century. Walk on to Laverton, built of golden Cotswold limestone, which lies near two long-distance footpaths, the Winchcombe Way and Cotswold Way. We follow the latter a short distance into tranquil Buckland on the northern edge of the Cotswold escarpment, where we stop for lunch. As we walk, keep an eye out for native wildlife that may peek from the hedgerows that line country lanes—we may see songbirds, butterflies or, if we're especially lucky, an elusive hedgehog. Later this afternoon, continue to the tiny hamlet of Upper Slaughter and our luxury country house hotel, where we spend three nights.

Day 6: The Slaughters / Batsford Arboretum / Cotswold Falconry Center
Awaken this morning in one of the Cotswolds' most enchanting settings. The villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter have names that derive from the Saxon word slothre or sloh, meaning "slough" or "marshy place," rather than any grisly heritage. Connected by a peaceful mile walk along the River Eye, the villages look straight out of a fairytale with their tiny cottages, steepled churches, stone walls, trailing roses and picturesque old mill. After a walk between the villages this morning, visit Batsford Arboretum. It holds more than 2,850 different plant specimens, including 1,300 trees, shrubs and bamboo as well as the National Collection of Japanese Flowering Cherries. Home to some of the most endangered Chilean conifers in the world, Batsford takes part in the International Conifer Conservation Project, which acts as a living gene bank of DNA material in case of extinction in the wild.

On a visit to the Cotswold Falconry Center, learn about the more than 130 birds of prey of 60 different species, including Cotswold natives like sparrowhawks, common kestrels, red kites and peregrine falcons, and other raptors that are critically endangered in the wild. Watch birds of prey in flight and hear about how different species hunt and catch their prey. Since its founding in 1988, the center has made raptor conservation its mission, and in the breeding aviaries, we may see nest sites for critically endangered species.
 
Day 7: Daylesford Farm / Broadway Tower / Hidcote Garden 
As we weave our way through more bucolic landscapes, we'll observe how the traditional rural heritage of the Cotswolds has shaped the region over the centuries. More than 80% of these rolling hills are agricultural land. Nature here has been managed and conserved by the farming community, which continues its commitment to careful stewardship and sustainability today. At Daylesford Organic Farm, we learn about contemporary care and cultivation of the land. On site are a creamery, artisan bakery and 28-acre market garden that produces over 300 varieties of seasonal organic fruit, vegetables, salad greens and herbs, with many unusual and heritage varieties. Livestock roams freely on the farm's lush pastures, including rare breeds of sheep, Gloucester and Aberdeen Angus beef, turkeys, geese and chickens, and rare farmed venison. Lunch featuring the farm's bounty is a special treat.

Atop 1,024-foot Broadway Tower, gain a dramatic view into 16 counties from a beacon hill that is one of the highest points in the Cotswolds. This landmark was the vision of 18th-century landscape designer Capability Brown, who enlisted renowned architect James Wyatt to complete it in 1798. Members of the Arts and Crafts movement used the tower as a country holiday retreat, and it was here that William Morris started his campaign for the preservation of historic monuments. A walk on the 50-acre estate surrounding the tower may reveal a look at the resident red deer herd.

Continue to Hidcote, a National Trust property regarded as one of the finest gardens in England. Hidcote's designer, Lawrence Johnstone, sourced plants for the gardens from around the world and donated the site to the National Trust in 1948—making it the first of many significant British gardens the Trust would acquire. To make the most of the natural light and avoid crowds, we have a private introduction to the gardens in the late afternoon and remain for a private farewell dinner when the property closes to the general public.

Day 8: Transfer to London Heathrow Airport / Depart
An early morning transfer is included to London's Heathrow Airport, about a 90-minute drive for those returning home or onto other travels. If you choose to remain in the region for further exploration on your own, you can leave any time before check-out from Upper Slaughter—consider a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Blenheim Palace, Sudeley Castle, the Roman city of Bath, and Shakespeare's childhood home of Stratford-upon-Avon—all are nearby.

Please Note: While all activities listed on our itinerary will be included, some may take place on days or times that are different from what is shown, depending on local schedules. 

Physical Rating: Easy

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