Photo by Liv Cashman on Unsplash
The indifferent summer weather in Belgium has left many looking to think about an autumn getaway to foreign shores.
If you’re among them, you’d do well to consider a part of England that is often overlooked by people living on this side of the Channel – the Cotswolds.
The Cotswolds region around Cirencester is a fantastic part of the UK to visit for families (it was voted the No1 location for British staycations) and is within easy reach of Belgium.
There are trains from London Paddington, the nearest airports (Bristol and Birmingham) have good links to Brussels and, for those travelling by car, it’s virtually motorway cruising all the way after arriving at Dover or Folkestone.
The Cotswold Hills, a 25-by-90-mile chunk of Gloucestershire, are dotted with enchanting villages and visitors enjoy a harmonious blend of man and nature — the most pristine of English countryside.
As Google accurately says, the Cotswolds are “a famous area of picturesque hills & meadows dotted with villages, grand residences & castles.”
A logical starting point is Cirencester, often referred to as the Capital of the Cotswolds, which was at the heart of the woollen trade and the second largest town in Britain during Roman times. Today, Cirencester is an attractive, bustling market town steeped in history.
With a population of around 20,000 its handsome streets of golden stone are generously punctuated by green space and a creative spirit is reflected in its growing number of independent shops and seriously good restaurants and cafés.
Its market square is dominated by the cathedral-like Parish Church of St. John Baptist (one of the largest in England) while its market town status was mentioned in the Doomsday Book of 1086. Traders still set up their stalls every Monday and Friday.
A “must visit” place of interest nearby is Bathurst Estate, one of the country’s oldest and most beautiful privately owned parks. Unusually for a stately home, the park sits within the town of Cirencester, screened from it by the tallest yew hedge in the world. This remarkable feature has been much recorded in local and international history, especially when it comes to its annual trim – a job that takes two men two weeks to complete. Clippings have been used to further the research of the use of ‘taxol’ to treat cancer.
The estate has seen many changes over the years, most notably during the Second World War when the estate was an essential tool for the war effort on many levels. The core of the Estate has fundamentally remained unchanged and has a well maintained and thriving mix of property, parkland and farmland.The estate today comprises around 15,000 acres and is run by the 9th Earl Bathurst.
It is also home to that quintessential English pastime – polo.
Cirencester Park Polo Club, the country’s most historic (founded 1894), is located at the heart of the Estate, stretching across 11 polo grounds.
Over the last 100 years they have played host to some of the most influential figures of our time including George V & VI, Edward VIII, the Maharajas of Jaipur & Jodphur, the sultan of Brunei and the current Royal Family.
Also close by is the Cotswold Country Park & Beach, packed with excellent facilities and activities to keep you (and the kids) entertained and occupied for a whole day.
The area is located about two hours’ drive from the nearest stretch of coast but if you want a nice beach to relax on you will find one right here along with a couple of large lakes which are used for a range of water-based activities including SUP and pedalos.
A stopover, in truth, is vital to get the best from the area and a fantastic base is Ingleside House Hotel.
Opened in May 2021, this is the latest boutique hotel to open in the Cotswolds. Located just outside the centre of Cirencester, Ingleside is an independent hotel with top notch customer care and wonderfully designed interiors. Director, Rachel Wright, says, “With a maximum of 26 guests, our focus is delivering excellent service from the minute you arrive.”
The 11 bedrooms are all individually designed with excellent mattresses and great showers. Thought to the design starts the minute you walk through the front door and you’re greeted with bold wallpaper and dark blue walls. All the many original features of the building are sympathetically enhanced throughout the building, which dates back to the late 18th century.
On the ground floor is the resident’s lounge called the Garden Room, finished in a bold mix of green and pink, the main bar and Teatro restaurant (open for evening meals six days a week and Sunday lunch).
Upstairs is a lovely touch: all the rooms are named after “key people” who have worked at Ingleside in the past and today. Through each pale pink bedroom door is a room that has been painstakingly designed to be ‘dramatically different’.
It’s also well situated: Cirencester is the largest town in the Cotswolds,just 15 miles southeast of Gloucester and 13 miles northwest of Swindon (just off the M4 motorway). The town lies on the River Churn, a tributary of the Thames, and is the hub of a network of roads.
Ingleside has been owned and managed by Ian Carling, with Rachel Wright, since 2007. It is a delightful Grade 2 listed building and all the rooms have dressing gowns, nespresso machines,radios and TVs. Free Wifi is available throughout.
While it is great for a family visit it also offers corporate events, parties and weddings from 10 people to 180. It has four grades of rooms (doubles from £120 a night B&B) while, opposite, is a large pay machine car park. It makes an ideal base to explore the Cotswolds.
After expanding time and energy exploring the area, you will have worked up an appetite and one great place to sate any hunger is Roots + Seeds Kitchen Garden which is the perfect spot for a lunch or dinner visit.
It’s very family friendly during the day but in the evening is what might be described as more “adult focused.”
This is a café/restaurant with its own on-site bio kitchen garden located within the Grade 1 listed parkland of the Bathurst Estate, which you’ll find just on the edge of Cirencester. It’s open daily for coffee, breakfast, brunch, lunch and afternoon tea and “elevated evening dining” from Thursday to Saturday.
Head chef, Sam Idione, proudly showcases the finest local Cotswolds artisan produce, generally sourced from within a 25-mile radius, in his modern British menus which come with what might be called creative French touches. The fruit and vegetables are grown at the on-site kitchen garden. A full bar serves seasonally changing, bespoke gin cocktails, award-winning English and Old and New World wines and beers produced right next door by Corinium Ales. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are featured on every menu and a children’s menu is also available.
In the evenings, Roots + Seeds offers a more “refined dining experience” within its beautiful and newly-built space with 54 covers. It is all housed within a single-storey building and boasts stunning vaulted ceilings with exposed oak beams. Overlooking the surrounding parkland, the resto is furnished in a chic rustic industrial style with scrubbed farmhouse tables, oversized pendant lights, vintage garden tool displays and potted vegetables on tables. It all adds to a terrific ambience.
For families there’s also a fun, interactive and enclosed space for younger children with curtains to conceal it during evening service, and, outside, two courtyards with al fresco dining for up to 30 and a secure outdoor play area.
The focus is very much on sustainability and, according to its two innovative founders Sam Lawson-King and Toby Baggott, “creating a sense of community.” This resto takes particular pride in sourcing supplies of fresh produce daily and is even used for public talks about how to “grow your own.”
Roots + Seeds is wonderfully situated within Cirencester Park with its network of tree-lined avenues and is open daily. Next door is a large car park and, also worth noting, families and dogs are welcome to eat both inside and out.
So, if you are still searching for inspiration for a pleasant short break this autumn why not give this beautiful part of England serious consideration?
It does make for a truly great and relaxing break……whatever time of the year.