This was my most difficult post to write from our U.K. driving trip because all the destinations could have individual posts of their own. But some of them can be stops along your way to other places and for that reason I’ve decided to put them all into one “English Countryside” post that combines all our visits outside London and Wales.
These areas outside London are such beautiful places to explore. I think you can get a better idea of English landscape and the British people when you wander outside the major cities a bit. Rolling hills, lush forests, and dewy gardens with ancient hedgerow borders abound in this part of the country. It makes for a scenic, relaxing drive. Stopping at little villages for lunch and to browse a shop or two… You could really spend weeks exploring the countryside this way.
Stratford-Upon-Avon is about 90 miles northwest of London, making it a great stop on your way into or out of the city. It’s best known as the birthplace of Shakespeare and for that reason you will see a lot of tourists here. The town is filled with rows of Tudor buildings with gorgeous wood beams. Unless you’re a real Shakespeare lover, you probably don’t need more than a day here. Take in a few sites such as Shakespeare’s birthplace, former wife Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the Church of the Holy Trinity where he is buried, and perhaps the Stratford Butterfly Farm. There are often markets here which can be fun to browse, along with the plethora of cute shops lining the streets. The old pubs make for a historic spot to enjoy lunch. I would recommend traveling through on a Sunday… there’s nothing like a traditional British Sunday roast at an old pub.
Blenheim Palace is a magnificent palace outside London, the birthplace of Winston Churchill and the residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. It’s a sixty-mile drive out of London, so it’s perfect for a day trip. We stopped on our way back from the Cotswolds to see their Christmas market and take a tour through the palace. Each year at Christmas, the ground floor rooms inside the palace are decorated in a festive theme, complete with music, video, and animation. The theme for Christmas 2018 was Cinderella and it was magical; the final room, a ballroom, was decorated as the wedding reception of Prince Charming and Cinderella. I think this would be a great stop for families.
Thornbury Castle is a stunning Tudor castle outside Bristol where we stopped between Wales and the Cotswolds. It’s been restored into a hotel and restaurant and the castle is surrounded by beautiful Tudor gardens with beehives in the walls. You can have dinner here in the former dungeon next to a glowing fireplace; it really is like taking a step back in time.
The Cotswolds were my absolute favorite part of our U.K. driving trip. I love the quiet, quaint villages and the winding country roads framed by hedgerows and fields. Fantastic restaurants and streets full of little shops. Stopping for tea and browsing through antiques and galleries. I’ve listed some of my favorite villages and places to visit while you’re in the area, but the truth is, each village is more picturesque than the last; they just keep getting better and better as you go along. I wish I could narrow them down for you, but it’s really worth renting a car and taking several days to wander through several of them. The Cotswolds is an area meant for leisure… Take your time, pack your wellies for a few romps through the woods, and enjoy.
Lacock is a popular filming location for period TV shows and films because of its unspoiled nature; as you walk along, everything in the village seems like it has been there forever and you get a little lost in time. There were some charming shops, especially on and near the main street. I particularly remember a homemade bath products shop called Quintessentially English, where I bought a few bath bombs to enjoy back at our hotel. We had a fish & chips lunch at The Red Lion pub before driving on.
Lacock Abbey isn’t to be missed. This abbey, founded in 1232, and the architectural elements added throughout the centuries are preserved beautifully and the original cloisters and chapter house are still visible. Lacock Abbey is surrounded by lush grounds and gardens; take a walk or bring a picnic when you visit. You may even recognize the abbey’s interior from Harry Potter and other films.
We stayed just outside of Broadway at a beautiful hotel called Dormy House, where we had our own little cottage to stay for the week. It might be because of this, but Broadway quickly became my favorite village. I loved the wide street (hence the name “Broadway”) and the charming shops. I went back to Landmark for gorgeous British country clothes numerous times and loved hunting for antiques here. There was a fun Christmas market going on here one evening; we got cups of spiced wine and walked along, listening to Christmas carolers. We had so much fun; I’ll never forget that evening.
During the Christmas market, we ate at one of the food stalls where they served mince pies, Raclette, and sausage rolls. But as far as Broadway restaurants go, we ate dinner at the Dormy House restaurant one evening which was romantic and had a “farmhouse chic” atmosphere as they describe it. We also enjoyed dinner at The Lygon Arms, an inn in Broadway with a regal country house feel. You might make reservations for either as they were both full when we visited!
John says if I lived in the Cotswolds, I would live here. It’s not far from the truth! Lady Carole Bamford started Daylesford Farm after converting her family’s land to organic, responsible farming. She started the farmshop and café in 2002 and since then, it has grown into a beautiful destination for those who love organic food, beautiful gifts, and sustainably-grown plants and flowers. You can stay at the Daylesford cottages or at the Wild Rabbit inn and cottages, also on the Daylesford estate. If you’re going to visit, allow time for lunch and check their calendar of events. There was a cooking class, wreath making class, and Christmas reindeer arriving all while we were there. And take a peek at the Bamford Wellness Spa in case you’re in need of a little pampering.
More Cotswolds Villages
I could sit all day and type about the beauty of each and every one of these villages, but just know that so much of the fun of the English countryside is about driving to a new village, exploring the shops, stopping for a leisurely lunch, and taking a walk after. Here are some Cotswolds villages worth exploring: Moreton-in-Marsh, Upper and Lower Slaughters, Stow-on-the-Wold, Burford, Bibury, Chipping Camden, Castle Combe.