In this edition of the NKSC preview, I’ll be talking about the idyllic beauty of the Cotswolds — Shakespeare’s home turf. The Cotswolds region stretches through five of England’s western counties: Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire. The area is best known for its rolling hillsides and picturesque beauty — in fact, it is the largest designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England. Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon is just at the northern edge, and the region stretches all the way down to Bath in the south. Since medieval times, the area has largely been devoted to pastures, giving rise to the “Cotswold lion,” a particularly large and fluffy variety of sheep. It is probably from these sheep pastures that the word “Cotswolds” derives, though scholars have argued it might also be a derivation of an early British ruler’s name. The picture below is typical of the landscape throughout the Cotswolds:
Shakespeare mentions the Cotswolds directly twice in his plays:
Richard II, 2.3
I am a stranger here in Gloucestershire:
These high wild hills and rough uneven ways
Draws out our miles…
Yet your fair discourse hat been as sugar,
Making the hard way sweet and delectable.
But I bethink me what a wear way
From Ravenspurgh to Cotswold will be found
In Ross and Willoughby, wanting your company.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, 1.1
How does your fallow greyhound, sir? I heard say he was outrun on Cotswold.
As you can see, many of the buildings in this region still look much as they would have hundreds of years ago, with thatched roofs and honey-colored stonework or distinctive Tudor-era half-timbered walls. The Cotswolds have become a popular location for the second homes of wealthy Londoners, but even new buildings in the area often retain this aesthetic. A special conservation board oversees the maintenance of the Cotswolds’ particular character.
Our home base will be the Lygon Arms in the town of Broadway, considered “the jewel of the Cotswolds.” Broadway is a place of ancient heritage, with evidence of habitation dating back to the Mesolithic era. After the Norman Conquest, it became an important market town. The Lygon Arms began life as The White Hart Inn as early as 1532, and the inn served as a meeting-place for both the Royalists and the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War of the 17th century. Though it retains its early modern aesthetic, its comforts are 21st-century, with rooms updated for modern technology.
Our Cotswolds journey will also include a visit to the Hidcote Gardens. Colorful and verdant year-round, these gardens are designed as a series of themed “rooms” which get less formal and more untamed the farther you get from the Hidecote Manor House. American emigrant Lawrence Johnson began work on them before World War I and kept creating and expanding until the advent of World War II.
For those of us used to suburban sprawl or a tightly-packed urban lifestyle, the Cotswolds are sure to be a gentle respite. Strolling through the countryside will hopefully help everyone recuperate from their jet lag and relax into enjoying the character of the English countryside before we move on to Stratford!