Sunday, August 10, 2014

Stratford and Cotswolds

We built in a break to Stratford upon Avon not so much to learn of its Shakespearean history and visit the places he grew up, which you can read more HERE, but as a stepping stone into Cotswolds which is just 15 minutes away to the south. But Stratford by itself, I discovered, is good enough to spend a day or two outside of London even if you don't fancy the British country sides and old fashioned villages and towns.

We booked into a guest house along Alcester Road some 15 minutes walk from the Stratford rail station. It was an intentional choice as we want to avoid using taxis as much as we can but walk. We spent one and half day in Stratford town and rode on the Avon cruise to feel the sights and sounds of the river.

Stratford is a small town easily covered in a day, even by walking. It is complete by itself with most things tourists need, including the Morrison Supermarket nearby the rail station. In fact I think the locals are feeling the traffic inconvenience especially in summer when tourists flock into this tiny town to enjoy the boat rides, have picnics and pamper their eyes to hanging baskets of flowers all over the town. Even if you are not a Shakespeare fan you will be a fan of Stratford town and return to it for even an overnight trip just to 'get away' from city life. It is just 2 hours away from London and more affordable than going to Bath which is further away.

I took a calculated risk in deciding to stay in Stratford to tour the Cotswolds. At the time of booking my room (using www.booking.com which I trust for not charging me upfront) I had no idea who can show us the Cotswolds, which is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or AONB in 1966 by the British government. Read more about this HERE.

I was fortunate to get help from TripAdvisor. Tom Benjamin of Go Cotswolds was about to launch his tour business in June/July. I signed up with him for the Aug 1 trip. Tom is the only tour operator into Cotswolds from Stratford and is getting good reviews from his customers. Driving a 16 seater minibus he offers both group and private tours. We're happy with his services.

Tom arrived on time at our guest house soon after we checked out. After picking up two other couples he drove us into the Cotswolds. Some people think Cotswolds is a definable place like a town. Instead it is a huge area covering 2038 sq. km. which is nearly 3 times the size of Singapore at 716 sq. km. But the entire population is around 150,000 compared to 5.4 million in Singapore. It is completely country spotted with little quaint towns and tiny villages with populations in hundreds and low thousands. My first impression of Cotswolds is vastness. We saw wheat fields and barley fields. Farming is the principal economic activity. Other agricultural produce are oilseed rape, oat and grass. Rearing of cattle and sheep are on diminishing scale. We saw only a small flock of sheep up on Dovers Hill, the first place we visited. I asked Tom about orchards. He said no, the Cotswolds doesn't produce fruits for sale.

The 7 hours tour took us only to the northern area of Cotswolds. We visited Chipping Campden, Broadway Tower, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water, a secret off-the-beaten track village and the Rollright Stones before we returned to Stratford. You can google about these names to find out more.

The Cotswolds has a quiet beauty and charm uniquely its own. It isn't exciting nor stupendous. But it makes you small and traps you in a world you are typically not used to unless you were born and grew up in similar environment. For me it was somewhat like revisiting my childhood years. Cotswolds is worth a visit. Make it a double treat with Stratford and Tom can help you make the outing memorable.

Stratford upon Avon


Cotswolds

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