Gloucestershire, pronounced Glostershire, is a pretty English county located south west of the English midlands yet not south-west enough to be truly part of the English south-west! The capital of Gloucestershire is the city of Gloucester, and that is where we begin our tour.
The city lies at the foot of the Cotswold Hills on the Severn River at its last point before the river widens and becomes the Severn estuary. There are still docks down on the river, yet today they are mainly used for pleasure and leisure boats. The huge stone warehouses and mills have for the most part been converted into sought after apartments and shops, particularly antique shops. The city is ancient, once Roman named Glevum, and that was by no means its earliest history.
Dominating the skyline is the majestic grey-stone Cathedral. You cannot visit Gloucester without visiting this stunning building. Oddly these days Gloucester is not the biggest town in the county, that honour belongs to nearby Cheltenham, a fast growing bustling town located just a few miles away. Only in England can the city be smaller than the town, but that is how it is here.
Cheltenham is famous for its Regency architecture, outside of the capital second only to Bath in quantity and splendour. The town is also rightly renowned for its National Hunt horse racing meeting, four days in March when half of Ireland seemingly evacuate their blessed isle and trek across the Irish sea to cheer on their favourites to victory (more often than not!) Visit in Cheltenham Gold Cup week and you will be fortunate to find vacant accommodation anywhere within 25 miles of the track. National Hunt racing is for races over jumps, and you won't find a celebration of jump racing anywhere to match the Cheltenham Festival.
Gloucester is a rugby city, rugby and cricket, Cheltenham for the racing and football, for they possess the only professional soccer team in the county.
Journey half an hour's drive north of the twin towns and you will come to Tewkesbury, another ancient town with a rich history. It is situated on a gravel spit just above the flood level close to where the rivers Severn and Avon merge. Particularly heavy rainfall makes the inhabitants nervous, and with good reason.
The Abbey dominates this town, the second senior church in the county, and another must see for those interested in such things. The Abbey was founded at the end of the 11th century. Today Tewkesbury still boasts an impressive array of half-timbered houses. Indeed remove the traffic and you could almost believe you were stepping back in time a century, or two, or three, or four!
Tewkesbury has another grizzly piece of history for which it is remembered. The Battle of Tewkesbury fought south of the town on May 4th 1471, a bloody affair in the War of Roses, Lancastrian against Yorkists, the Crown of England at stake. Edward, the Prince of Wales, son of Henry the Sixth was slain, and the Lancastrian cause was fatally wounded with his passing.
But enough of history, and fearsome battles from long ago. Venture south west of Gloucester and follow the Severn River to the Slimbridge Wild Fowl trust. This is a bird sanctuary where thousands of birds are fed and provided for everyday. It was established by the late Sir Peter Scott and is probably the most famous bird reserve in all of England. If you have any interest in bird watching, no matter how slight, a visit to Slimbridge is a treat in store for you.
Venture further east and south of Gloucester and you must climb the Cotswold Hills, a huge limestone ridge that runs diagonally across England almost from Bristol to Oxford. Take the steep road up to Birdlip and turn right at the Air Balloon pub. Look out for the fantastic views from the right as you journey further up and over. The stone is an easy on the eye cream and gold, and the houses, rarely thatched here, preserve the traditional stone colour throughout the county.
Once over the Cotswolds you descend to Cirencester, another ancient town, known as Corinium in Roman times. You can still follow the ancient perfectly straight Roman road from here all the way southeast to Sarum (Salisbury). Today it is a fast four-lane highway, but somehow you just know the ancient Roman road builders would have approved of the new modern highway that follows their route.
Within the Cotswold district you will find umpteen picture postcard villages and small towns with poetic sounding names, such as Bourton-on-the-water, Moreton-in-the-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, and the more oddly named Upper Slaughter, and Lower Slaughter. In summer these towns become crammed with tourists and day-trippers alike. Perhaps you may prefer quieter sleepier places, perhaps explore some of the lesser known and smaller villages, there are plenty to choose from, and all within easy drives.
The Cotswolds is a very pretty area, rolling lush pastures, rich farmland and no surprise then that Royalty choose to live here. Prince Charles and Princess Anne both keep their main residences in Gloucestershire. Gloucester and Cheltenham boast fast road and rail links to London, two to three hours with a following wind, the local produce is fine cheese, excellent meat, and local lush fruit and vegetables.
Continue your journey across the Severn westwards towards Wales, but before you reach there, explore the Forest of Dean that lies between the Rivers Severn and Wye. Hilly and thickly forested it is home to deer and more recently re-introduced wild boar, not to be trifled with, especially when they are chaperoning youngsters.
Then you descend into the Wye Valley, and once you cross the river, you are in a different country, Wales, home of the Celts. The huge ancient castle at Chepstow and another at Monmouth are reminders of wars gone past, and of the very fact that you are leaving Gloucestershire behind.
If you visit Britain for two weeks, and decide to spend one week in London, a second week in the Cotswolds will come as a welcome change. A chance to wind down. To do some walking, contemplating a slower pace of life, and none the worse for that. Enjoy.
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David Carter has written hundreds of articles published in a wide variety of publications. His latest work is SPLAM! A 240+ page property letting manual. Check out http://www.splam.co.uk for details. He also runs a holiday cottage website, http://www.pebblebeachmedia.co.uk where you can choose from over 6,000 fantastic holiday cottages, apartments and villas throughout the world. You can contact David directly at email@example.com on any matter.