Exploring the Southern Cotswolds: Castle Combe, Tetbury and more

The Cotswolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which stretches across parts of Southern England. It’s characterised by picturesque villages made of yellow Cotswold stone and is what many people might think of as ‘typical England’. Although I’ve heard lots about the Cotswolds, and seen plenty of pictures of some of its famous villages, it isn’t an area that I’ve explored extensively. However, with some recent time off I was determined to change that, particularly as the Cotswolds are within surprisingly easy reach of Bristol. A number of locations across the Southern Cotswolds were what I had in mind, and I’ve shared a few in this guide.

Tetbury

Tetbury is seen by some as the gateway to the Southern Cotswolds. It’s a historic wool town with many of the wool merchant’s houses looking the way they would have done when the town was at it’s height of prosperity. Today Tetbury seems to be home to a multitude of antiques and interiors shops which dominate the high street. There are a number of other independent shops (I really liked the book shop) and the shop for Highgrove (the royal gardens are just outside the town). I also spotted some very nice looking places to eat, so there are plenty of options for food if you were there for a day or passing through over lunch time.

I didn’t have long to spend in Tetbury and easily could have spent a few more hours here, browsing the shops at my own pace and exploring things like the Police Museum with courtroom and original cells, or the GWR Goods Shed Art Centre. Tetbury is definitely somewhere I’d like to go back to. I suspect it would be a great place for unique Christmas gifts.

Malmesbury

Malmesbury is a market town known for its Norman Abbey and original Market Cross. Like Tetbury, I was short on time here and so didn’t see as much of the town as I could have done. However, what I did see of it I didn’t like as much as Tetbury – there didn’t appear to be the same number of independent retailers, although apparently there is a farmers’ and artisan market on a Friday.

Malmesbury was thought to be the first capital of England, and home to the first King of England, King Athelstan the Glorious. Malmesbury Abbey was built in the 12th century and is home to King Athelstan’s tomb. I’d recommend looking at the carved Abbey porch – it’s quite different to most churches that I have been to.

If I do return to Malmesbury I will make sure that I go to the Abbey House Gardens as from what I saw from a sneaky peak through the hedge, it looked beautiful. If I hadn’t been trying to cram one more stop into my day out then I definitely would have gone in. From the pictures online, it looks beautiful in every season and it’s somewhere that I would want to spend a decent amount of time – I didn’t want to rush five acres!

Castle Combe

Castle Combe is best known for Castle Combe Circuit just outside of the village, which is the West Country’s home to motorsport. There’s a full calendar where you can watch races, drive your car or bike around the track, or take part in an experience day. This isn’t really my cup of tea so I didn’t stop to see what was on, but it’s quite different to the tranquil village that is Castle Combe itself.

The village is beautiful but very small. I was there on a rainy  weekday at 9:30am so unsurprisingly, it wasn’t too busy. I was able to wander round and appreciate the place without too many other people around. I imagine it can get busy so I’d advise getting there early if you can, particularly if you want to avoid getting other people in your photos. Whilst there are places to eat, there isn’t anything in particular to do in the village (although I recommend getting some Mac’s lemon curd) so I would suggest visiting Castle Combe on the way to or from somewhere else.


Whilst it is very picturesque and has been used as a film location, if you are visiting please remember that there are people who live here. I was saddened that some of the houses had to have signs on explaining not to enter as they were residential property, so there have clearly been issues before. There are a few lanes marked as private so make sure you respect this and allow the people who live there to enjoy their home as much as you are enjoying the place.

Dyrham Park

Dyrham Park is a 17th Century mansion, garden and deer park now owned by the National Trust which is located just outside of Bath. There is currently a lot of restoration work taking place in the house, and I was a little disappointed by what there was to see in the property compared to others that I have visited. However, the house is in the midst of a major transformation and if you go on the right days you might even be able to see some of the conservation work in action. I’ll make sure that I go back once the work is compete! The exhibition is really interesting and helps give some context and history to the property. I visited Dyrham Park back in February so the gardens weren’t at their best, but I imagine that they look lovely now with all the spring flowers out.


The estate is quite extensive and home to almost 200 wild fallow deer which you can get surprisingly close to. We spent quite a while just watching and admiring the deer. I was pleased that we’d ventured further into the estate to do so even though we hadn’t been planning on a walk. As the estate has over 270 acres of parkland there is plenty of space for walks and picnics, although because of the deer you can’t have a dog with you.


Bath

Bath is one of my favourite UK cities and it never looks better than in the spring sunshine. You could easily spend a whole weekend in Bath as there’s plenty to do and see. You can wander round the centre easily enough in a couple of hours, perhaps taking in a quaint tea room and some boutique shops as you go. If you’re looking for a longer walk then the Bath Sky Walk is meant to offer good views – I haven’t done it yet but I have wanted to for a while.

If you’re in Bath for a little longer then there’s the Thermae Bath Spa, old Roman baths, Jane Austen museum, Assembly Rooms and more. I haven’t been on a boat trip on the river before, but seeing some people go on one over Easter weekend in the sunshine has placed this firmly on my list of things to do next time I’m there. 

Bradford-on-Avon

I would describe Bradford-on-Avon as Bath’s prettier, quieter cousin. It’s smaller than Bath but is very close and must be one of the most beautiful towns in the UK. There are lots of independent shops and I’ve made a mental note to stop visiting on a Sunday so that I can enjoy them. I think both times I have been has been after the shops have closed! The Bridge Tea Rooms are a charming place to go for afternoon tea, ice cream or a slice of cake. It’s quite quaint inside but I love how higgledy-piggledy the walls are.

As well as walking around the town centre, make sure you take a walk up to the Bradford Lock where you are likely to see some canal boats coming through. If you walk a little way along the canal then you’ll get to see more boats, chat to some of the boat owners, and some of them might even be selling craft goods that they make on the canal.

If you’re in the area…

If you’re in the Southern Cotswolds area then there’s plenty more that you can see and do. Depending on how much time you have and what you enjoy, you could head further west to experience the quirky city of Bristol, or further south to the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge. If you haven’t managed to get your fill of beautiful villages then I’d definitely recommend a trip to Lacock, something which I actually fitted in during my day trip to Castle Combe, Malmesbury and Tetbury. It’s not technically the Cotswolds, but it’s very close and worth the short detour.

I really enjoyed my introduction to the Cotswolds, and although the weather wasn’t the best as you can see from some of the photos, I had a really enjoyable time exploring. Now I want to explore more of the area, visiting other well known locations like Bibury, Stow-on-the-Wold, Bourton-on-the-Water and Painswick.

Have you been to the Cotswolds? Where was your favourite place?

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