A Timeless Tableau of the English Countryside
Whether by car or by foot, to tour this area of countryside is to experience the quintessence of rural England. Wool, once Britain’s biggest industry, was the key trade here in the Middle Ages. Almost every prosperous town in the region had a Sheep Street and an impressive church or cathedral built from the industry’s profits. Most of the villages built from the local honey-colored limestone (and therefore aesthetically unified like few others) have preserved their character despite being unabashedly devoted to tourism. The pristine town of Chipping Campden has a showpiece main street and the famous 10-acre Hidcote Gardens (which first pioneered the idea of a garden as a series of “rooms”).
Victorian arts-and-craftsman William Morris chose Bibury as the most beautiful village in England. Antiques shoppers make a beeline to picturesque Stow-on-the- Wold for its bucolic beauty and excellent browsing. Cheltenham boasts its Promenade, Burford its atmospheric 15th-century pub/inn The Lamb, a longtime charmer on—where else?—Sheep Street, and the nearby River Windrush is idyllic for afternoon strolls. Broadway deserves its popularity, given an architecturally striking High Street lined with interesting antiques stores. Broadway is also home to one of England’s great old hotels, the celebrated Lygon Arms. Serving wayfarers since 1532, it is something of a tourist honeypot itself, but when the last bus pulls out of town, guests can indulge in this inviting, many-gabled hostelry that once hosted King Charles I and Oliver Cromwell and have the picture-perfect town pretty much to themselves.
Close to Broadway’s hubbub, but so distantly removed, Buckland Manor hotel is an Elizabethan home that grew around a medieval core and was completed in the 19th century. Made from the locally quarried golden-hued stone, generously gabled and distinguished by mullioned windows outside, the house is impeccably furnished with choice antiques, and fresh flowers abound. Buckland is surprisingly unstuffy, a glimpse of the disappearing lifestyle of the landed gentry to the manor born, cocooned within an oasis of 10 acres of formal gardens. Part of the compound is a small 13th-century church whose bell sounds occasionally. Grazing Highland cattle and Jacob sheep can be seen from the sumptuous upper-floor guest rooms. A superb dinner is elegantly served amid silver domes and candlelight. It’s just 3 miles to Broadway Tower, the highest point around and a favorite picnic spot, where it is said you can see twelve shires on a clear day.