This is one of the most charming parts of England, and much filmed owing to the Miss Marple effect. The butter coloured limestone houses with their stone roofs, beautiful churches with ancient yew trees guarding the entrances, show the wealth that the area generated during the middle ages. This wealth came off the back, and sides, of the humble sheep, and due to the quality of the wool produced this wealth was reflected in the towns and villages. The entrance to the area from London takes you through the village of Woodstock, not the hippy infested place but the home of the Dukes of Marlborough. Outside the village you will find Blenheim Palace, one of the largest houses in Britain. This was built for the 1st Duke by Vanburgh, who had previously worked on Castle Howard in Yorkshire, and has some wonderful works of art, most notably pieces by Grinling Gibbons. The park was constructed by Capability Brown in the late 18th century, however he had a lot of trouble with the enormous lake. This eventually had to be lined with clay, and as the 3rd Duke, who had commissioned the work, was running short of cash this was paid for by stripping the lead off the roof and replacing it with slate.
Picturesque towns and villages dot the countryside, with the most notable being Broadway, Chipping Norton, Chipping Camden, and the capital of the area Cirencester. During Roman times this town was second only to London in size and was even mentioned by the historian Plutarch. The prefix Chipping means market, and both Norton and Camden have these every week with wonderful local produce on sale. The other major shopping experience in the area is for antiques, and Burford is the centre for this with a selection of dealers lining the High Street. Chipping Camden, by contrast is much more quaint, and less spoilt by the influx of tourism, with charming inns and hostelries often with log fires to warm you on a winters' day. One of these even has a glass floor in one of the dining rooms that shows the passageway that the catholic priests took to escape Puritan Militia. What they were doing in the pub in the first instance is anyone's guess. Chipping Norton is much larger, and has had a Royal Charter to hold a market since 1205. It is also the home of the Hook Norton Brewery, ale much beloved in traditional circles perhaps because they still use an old 25 hp steam engine to create their product. Outside the town is a Neolithic stone circle called the Rollright Stones, and local folklore has it that when counting the stones you will never reach the same number twice.
Leaving Oxfordshire behind and entering Gloucestershire the first town you come across is Stow-on-the-Wold, an old market town that in its prime sold as many as 20,000 sheep at its annual fair. The market cross is a reminder to merchants that they must honour their word and the narrow streets that lead off the square were designed so as to better control the livestock. The parish church has two interesting features; an 88ft spire, and a living tree incorporated in the main door. Most of the houses in the town are constructed of the local stone and there is a wonderful old coaching inn that you will probably recognise from some costume drama or another. The town of Stroud, in the southwest of the region has various attractions in and around it. A lively commercial centre, at one time there were 150 woollen mills in the town, the antiques and art trade continue to thrive. To the north the village of Painswick is a gem, hardly touched by mass tourism, whilst to the south in Woodchester you will find two examples of the builder's art. A Roman villa, with a vast mosaic, and Woodchester Manor, a half completed Victorian country house. It seems that the builders just downed tools and went home, an early example of Bolshevism perhaps. Cheltenham, apart from its famous ladies college, is the spiritual home of National Hunt racing, and every year, for one week during its Festival, becomes an outcrop of Ireland as thousands of Irish descend on the town to bet millions on the outcome of each race. The proper name, as the railway station will tell you, is Cheltenham Spa, and the waters here were much admired in the 18th and 19th centuries and there are some glorious examples of the architecture from that period. As for the spa water, it is mildly antacid, diuretic, and laxative. Mmmm. One wonders what was thought to be bad for you. This area of the country is quintessentially English and has been filmed more times than almost any other. This is not to say that there is nothing to do for the more energetic as the Cotswold Water Park will cater to all tastes. As for Fairford airfield, the original launching point for the world's only supersonic airliner, this offers other activities. To say that this is an old fashioned part of England is not fair, and has something for all tastes, and all pockets.