MOTORHOME TRIP TO THE COTSWOLDS
By Gareth Butterfield
It’s often said that the countryside is at its most beautiful during the autumn months. So why does it coincide with the end of the holiday season?
Surely this magical time of year is the best season for exploring the prettiest parts of the British Isles and enjoying the riot of colour on display round every corner.
But holiday-makers, especially this much talked-about new breed of “staycationers”, tend to stay tucked up in their warm homes, reluctant to go out and enjoy the colourful countryside. It’s like they’re going in to holiday hibernation.
Among this bunch of seasonal recluses are campers. Campsites across the country are entering their wind-down phase, and preparing to shut their gates for the winter. Why, I wonder.
Now I’m not suggesting the frosty autumnal nights are ideal for a week under canvas but staying in a tent wasn’t the sort of camping I had in mind when my wife and I travelled down to the Cotswolds for a quick weekend getaway recently.
This summer we bought a motorhome. It’s nothing special, it’s a bit old, a tad rough round the edges and it has more rattles than my niece’s toy cupboard – but it’s warm and comfortable and a great home from home.
And the Cotswolds is perfect for a short break in a motorhome. It’s easy to get to, easy to find your way around and, in the main, well set up to accommodate a larger vehicle.
The area is known for being “quintessentially British” and as such it attracts thousands of tourists each year – many of them from the far east, who come in search of a true slice of rural England.
The place is quieter at this time of year, as you’d expect, but don’t be under any illusion you’ll have its popular towns and villages to yourself. The coaches still pour in and bring with them an army of selfie-snapping tourists, all enjoying the sights, sounds and shops of what they perceive as England at its best.
We stayed for two nights in Chipping Norton, at the Camping and Caravanning Club’s own site just a few miles outside the popular town.
It was the perfect location with a bus stopping right outside the gates and easy road links to other areas of interest including the fascinating market town of Stow on-the-Wold.
I think it’s fair to say there aren’t many places in the Cotswolds that aren’t worth a visit, but “Stow” was a highlight – its beautiful narrow streets lead to a huge square with interesting independent shops dotted around and a magnificent church towering over it.
Chipping Norton itself is nice, but a bit more “commercial”. A great spot for a night out, it transpires and “Whistlers” restaurant was our venue of choice. It didn’t disappoint. Its well-priced and creative menu was just what we were after for a posh departure from our otherwise rather primitive digs.
Chipping Norton, as with quite a few towns and villages in the Cotswolds, is a great spot to hunt out antiques – there are plenty of shops to choose from among the many gift shops.
It’s an area that is quite spread out, and there are many villages to tick off a must-see list, including the well-known Bibury, Upper and Lower Slaughter, Broadway and Bourton-on-the Water.
The latter is where we chose to head for on our full day in the area and is arguably the most popular of all Cotswold villages and, when you emerge from its enormous concrete lake of a car park, you’ll understand why.
The car park, incidentally, a short walk from the main throng of the village, and an important location for anyone with a motorhome, is well set up for larger vehicles.
In fact, motorhome owners have their own parking bays set to one side which makes a refreshing change. It is rather pricey though and, once I’d paid a rather naughty surcharge for having to use a debit card to pay we ended up spending nearly £6 on three hours of parking.
That said, Bourton-on-the-Water is worth it.
You’d never call it tranquil – there’s far too many people there, even in the autumn, but the stunning and crystal clear River Windrush becomes its glistening centre-piece, crossed over by a series of attractive bridges and flanked by the scores of tourists using it as a backdrop for their photographs.
The village is a shopper’s paradise. Gift shops are the mainstay but there’s some nice clothes shops, an excellent hardware/home ware store and even a nice little convenience shop.
It’s a great place to get a spot of lunch, too with a few nice cafes and, perhaps its most unusual outlet is a Christmas shop – which I gather is open all year.
If you like what you see in Bourton-on-the-Water you can even choose to take a short walk away from the hustle and bustle and explore the whole lot again – in miniature.
On its outskirts is a fascinating model village, lovingly constructed and kept to be a faithful replica right down to the river, the window displays and even some of the flora and fauna of the area. It’s well worth a visit.
Also on the outskirts is Birdland. A small but very interesting collection of rare, unusual and interesting birds including flamingos, finches, birds of prey and emus.
The undoubted highlight here was the collection of penguins. There are two breeds, the Humboldt – which are hugely entertaining to watch – and the King Penguins – which are incredibly impressive to see close-up.
Visitors can stand right at the edge of their enclosure, which means you are inches away from the birds – an unusual treat in animal parks these days and it certainly adds to the excitement of seeing such impressive creatures.
There’s little to spoil the Cotswolds, when all is said and done. The tourists add a unique atmosphere and the whole area oozes charm and character.
It really is “quintessentially English”. I hate that phrase but it’s honestly one of the few places that warrant its use.
In fact, the only thing I dislike about the area is the journey down. I live in Derbyshire and it’s an unfortunate part of the journey down to such a beautiful place. It’s like a river of Tarmac with a nasty bit of white-water in the middle.
But at the end of this grey river is a green and pleasant land (another sad but true cliché). And even though it’s not quite so green at this time of year it’s certainly still pleasant.
In fact, while it’s that little bit quieter and as its landscape becomes colourful as well as beautiful, it’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
And it may be colder in the autumn but I’d still thoroughly recommend a spot of camping. Why shut down during the winter? Why mothball your motorhome or caravan?
There’s still plenty to see and do and, it could be argued, now is as good a time as any.