The magic of the Cotswolds is captured here by simply peering through the porthole-shaped bedroom window at the top of HF Holidays' Harrington House, located just off the pretty village centre of Bourton-on-the-Water.
Five go walking in the Cotswolds
While the heading may give the impression that this article refers to an undiscovered work by celebrated children's author Enid Blyton, in reality it's about visiting some of the pretty Cotswold villages with four fellow pensioners from my U3A (University of the Third Age) walking group.
Checking into HF Holidays' four-star Harrington House close to the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water for a three night stay, the property's mellow honey-coloured stone exterior mirrors the classic Cotswolds architecture while its location makes an ideal base for a relaxed walking holiday.
The stunning Gloucestershire village attracts almost half a million visitors each year and has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. While its popularity as a tourist hot spot has remained undiminished for decades, today much of the village is deemed a Conservation Area, thus preventing any unnecessary future development.
Located just off Bourton-on-the-
Alan Wooding is joined by four fellow pensioners on a weekend break in and around Bourton-on-the-Water
Water's High Street and with plenty of parking, the imposing Georgian-style Harrington House has 29 bedrooms – 17 in the main house, nine in two cottages and three in the garden room annexe.
Once inside the main house, the first thing you notice is the grand sweeping wooden staircase and the highly-decorated plaster ceiling. There are lounges where guests can relax, a popular bar plus a communal dining room which has fixed dinner times.
All the bedrooms are en suite and have tea and coffee making facilities and a television, while there's either a garden view or others which overlook the village rooftops. The gardens themselves are attractively kept despite the recent drought while unusually there's also a croquet lawn.
A full cooked breakfast is served each morning on request, along with an impressive buffet including cereals, fresh fruit, yoghurts, croissants and pastries.
There's also porridge, toast, various juices plus tea and coffee. Lunches are of the packed picnic variety with a hugh choice of snacks and drinks to accompany your pre-ordered sandwiches, thus enabling you to enjoy going out and about for the whole day without having to return to your accommodation.
For the evening meal - which starts on the stroke of 7pm every evening – there was always a choice of three starters, five main courses and three or four desserts along with recommendations for an accompanying wine from the well stocked bar.
Walkers can make full use of the house's Discovery Centre where a selection of maps and guidebooks help with understanding the local area and, should the need arise, then there's also a handy drying room for boots and wet clothing.
If you have booked an escorted walking holiday then there are three individual guides – last week Maurice, Jenny and Jill were on hand – to help you in as many different walking grades... easy up to six miles, medium to eight and slightly more difficult at between 10 and 12 miles.
However as we had selected to arrange our own walks with the aid of the Discovery Centre maps, we selected a different walk plus a National Trust visit each day… but more of that later!
While the evening entertainment was of the
low key variety and was put on by the walks' co-ordinators, sadly most guests seemed to disappear for an early night after a long day walking. Thankfully 16 of us enjoyed the hotel's version of nine-pin knockout skittles while on the following evening, an entertaining quiz kept us all guessing after we'd chased around the public areas looking for items that would later relate to a series of tricky cryptic questions.
As one of our party of five had a special birthday on the day of our arrival, assistant manager Richard Britton stunned us by presenting a bottle of Henri Benoit Brut NV Champagne from the bar... hopefully there'll be no comeback on him as his boss Julie was away on holiday!
Bourton-on-the-Water itself is always packed with visitors while there's plenty to see and do including the nearby Motor Museum, the ageing model village of the village itself and then the village's biggest attraction, Birdland. It's a proper zoo which claims to have over 500 different bird species from all corners of the world on display.
With the pretty River Windrush trickling its way through the heart of the village and with plenty of small bridges to cross it, it's not uncommon to see small children and dogs paddling in its shallow waters.
Obviously there are plenty of tourist-type shops lining the streets together with a good selection of restaurants and food outlets.
However we hadn't come to stay in the village as the five of us were determined to cover a few miles each day but without exhausting ourselves
Our first chosen walk on the Saturday morning was a circular route taking in The Slaughters – which in olde English actually meant 'a muddy place'. En route we passed St Lawrence Church coming out of Bourton before trekking to Lower and then Upper Slaughter, mainly along the Warden's Way for a total distance of 5.2 miles. The walk included crossing a busy main road – in this case the ancient Fosse Way established by the Romans! – before passing through sheep grazing fields and alongside the banks of the pretty River Eye.
Lower Slaughter was reached first, the village having a large 17th century Manor House built by a local Cotswold quarry owner while its oldest building is a 16th century dovecot, reputed to be the largest in Gloucestershire.
Stopping briefly at the 19th century water mill and museum (we didn't go in)
The National Trust's Snowshill Manor has an ecletic mix of items collected by Charles Wade
we saw numerous small trout in the stream before heading on to Upper Slaughter which is universally know as a 'Thankful Village'. That title was bestowed on it as remarkably, like Cayton in Yorkshire, Upper Slaughter had every single one of its menfolk return home safely after they had fought in both the First and Second World Wars.
We also popped into the ultra posh 'Lords of the Manor' Hotel for a hot chocolate after viewing St Peter's Church and then walked past Eyford (a navigable ford which crosses the River Eye). It was then back towards Lower Slaughter and Bourton itself on a different path after we enjoyed a picnic lunch while sitting by the River Eye accompanied by the sound of bells from the nearby church where a wedding was taking place.
It was then briefly back to the hotel to collect the car ahead of an afternoon ride out to the National Trust's Snowshill Manor close to the stunning but remote Cotswold village of the same name.
The manor house itself is found after an uphill walk of around a mile from the large NT car park while it houses an eclectic mix of items collected by arts and craft artist Charles Wade.
From costumes worn by Japanese Samuri warriors to bicycles of every shape and size, Wade was a man of mixed race who spent much of his time between St Kitts in the West Indies and Snowshill while scouring shops and junk yards for items to add to his odd collection – and clearly it was even better if those items had an oriental connection!
Snowshill is easily the darkest museum that I've ever visited as Wade didn't ever want electric lighting installed. However today the National Trust has gone part way to agreeing with him as they've installed only limited illumination as you pick your way up and around three floors filled with all manner of odd objects.
The following day we chose what was offered as a new walk to Broadway Tower by Harrington House's Discovery Centre maps… and what a mistake that turned out to be!
Walking from the Fish Hill picnic area, we crossed a recently cropped wheatfield on a good path but then found ourselves walking alongside a rather busy road.
But a ridiculous climb up a steep embankment into a large wood which really had us all cursing the author of this particular walk. Slippery tree roots and lose rocks under foot are bad enough for sighted people, but as one of our group has only very limited vision, it was decidedly dangerous.
However after around a mile at a snail's pace crawl, we finally arrived at the busy A44 which we crossed with relative ease before joining the Cotswold Way whose track took us through more trees and across another field of sheep, then up to the magnificent tower itself.
Built purely as a folly at the whim of a lady who wished to look over to Worcestershire, with Lancelot 'Capability' Brown having also had a hand doing 'a bit of landscaping', we popped into the nearby cafe for a cuppa before picking our way back to the car for our midday picnic. But before the picnic we walked along another road which completed a round (but very slow) walk of around 4.5 miles.
Thankfully our afternoon proved to be a hit as we passed by Dover's Hill nature reserve and travelled for around 20 minutes to visit our second National Trust property of the weekend, the 10.5 acres that make up the wonderful landscaped gardens of Hidcote which are not surprisingly designated as Grade I listed.
Created by Major Lawrence Johnston, work started just before the First World War while Hidcote must be a gardener's dream. There are many walkways, different types of plants and special areas – plus a large 'bathing pool' filled with newts and water boatmen – along with views over to the distant Malvern Hills. It really is a delight.
The large manor house and whole estate was gifted to the National Trust in 1948 who now have the obligatory plant centre, barn cafe and book shop housed in the old chapel.
While our three night break was filled to bursting, visitors to the area around Bourton-on-the-Water have plenty of other choices as TV farmer Adam Henson's family Cotswold Park Farm is just up the road while Jeremy Clarkson is still coining it in at his Diddly Squat Farm Shop at Chadlington near Chipping Norton.
We stayed at HF Holidays – www.hfholidays.co.uk – Harrington House in Sherborne Street, Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire GL54 2BY for three nights on a full board basis. I also wish to thank my Bedford U3A companions – Mark and Chris Haines, Wendy Atkinson and George Ruscoe – for their company.