The Cotswolds is one of the most beautiful places in England, filled with rolling hills, charming villages and picturesque landscapes. It’s a short two-hour car journey from London, making it the perfect weekend escape. Since I moved to London, it has been on my bucket list of places to see so a few weekends ago, I headed on a little day adventure with Rabbies Tours to explore the enchanting villages of Burford, Bibury, Bampton and Oxford.
It’s sunny and hot as we leave from Victoria Station on our small air-conditioned bus. The Rabbie’s Tours tend to be quite small with 16 people max, which is great because it’s a lot easier to make friends and makes the tour much more personalised. The bus is modern and comfortable, with plenty of room to stretch out and cool down from the heat outside.
We headed North West out of London, passing by some of London’s most historic landmarks and famous pubs as well as the gorgeous golden Chiltern Hills. Our driver, James, was fantastic and really made the tour awesome! He was like a walking history book so full of knowledge, recounting all kinds of interesting stories about the places we were passing by as well as the villages we were visiting. His stories were always really interesting and funny, never dull, making it all the more memorable.
One of the things I really liked about Rabbie’s Tours is that they are quite flexible. Instead of starting off in Oxford as the itinerary online says, James suggested we explore the Cotswolds first followed by Oxford, as it’s a much shorter drive back to London. I also really liked that once we were off the bus, exploring, we didn’t have to stick to the group and could venture off on our own. James made brilliant suggestions for what to see at each location and where to enjoy a quintessentially English cream tea.
Our first stop of the day is in Burford, best known as the “Gateway to the Cotswolds!’ Little has changed to this small market town over the centuries and it’s filled with character and history. It even made Forbes’ list of “Most Idyllic Places” in England, with its famous High Street lined with ancient shops, tea houses and quaint cottages; a three-arched medieval bridge and beautiful church. You can even visit England’s oldest pharmacy, a chemist since 1734!
With my camera in hand, I set off to see as much as I could over the next hour and a half. I wandered down alleyways and side streets to find rows of medieval almshouses and the striking St. John’s Church, a memorial to Burford’s medieval wealth. I discovered plenty of inviting pubs with vibrant floral facades, fabulous restaurants and amazing Cotswolds Stone houses that made me want to sell our flat and head to the countryside!
Our next stop is Bibury, the prettiest, most fairytale-like village I’ve ever been to! It is so stunning in fact, that Henry T Ford of Ford Motors, tried to dismantle the houses in the villages so that he could set up his very own Bibury in Detroit!
Bibury is home to the famed Arlington Row, a string of seventeenth-century weavers’ cottages that sit upon the banks of the River Coln. Arlington Row was originally built in the 14th century as a monastic wool store but was later converted to a row of small homes. They are all lived in by tenants, but you can book a holiday in number 9! How brilliant would it be to stay there?
The sheer beauty of Arlington Row is indescribable. It’s like something out of a storybook. If you want to get some incredible photos, I would go very early in the morning when there aren’t many tourists around as there are swarms of people in the afternoon. My other tip is to be respectful of the houses after all people do live in them! I saw a few tourists poking their heads through the window, which was very odd.
Our third stop is Bampton, which will look really familiar to all of you Downtown Abbey fans as it’s where they film the fictional Yorkshire village of Downton in the show. Many of the scenes, including Downtown Abbey’s key events, have been filmed at St. Mary’s Church, which is the main location for filming. This lovely Cotswolds village has a breadth of history, having enjoyed amazing prosperity in the early Middle Ages through its wool production and leatherworking.
I explored St. Mary’s Church, which has one of the largest spires in England and serves as the landmark of the upper Thames Valley, as well as the pubs and beautiful Cotswolds-stone homes surrounding the area, including the oldest Thatched Roof cottage in the Cotswolds.
James, our tour guide, told us that all of the beautiful, golden-hued homes and buildings in the Cotswolds are made from Oolitic Limestone, formed during the Jurassic period millions of years ago. Today, nobody is allowed to build their own home or business unless it is in Cotswolds Stone as the councils want to preserve the areas, which I think is great as it means that all of the villages keep their old world charm.
Our final stop of the day is to Oxford, the city of dreaming spires. Best known for its prestigious university established in the 12th century, Oxford is a bustling town filled with museums, restaurants and theatres. There is so much to do in Oxford, from visiting the different Oxford colleges, wandering down the high street to discover a number of restaurants and tea houses, to perusing the 10+ museums in the city, it’s hard to get bored here.
Rabbie’s gave us a great little walking tour map with all the major attractions to hit including the likes of Christ Church College, the Ashmolean Museum, the Covered Market and the Saxon Tower of St. Michael’s. We had two hours to visit before getting the bus back to London so I wasted no time getting my map out and walking around.
First things first, I set out to find the Covered Market for a bite to eat, which is filled with little sandwich shops, cafes and restaurants. I then made my way over to Christ Church College, which is absolutely beautiful. You have to pay to get in and there was quite a long queue so I decided for sake of time, to skip it this time, but I will be back soon! I climbed the steps up to the rooftop of the Saxon Tower, the oldest surviving building in Oxford and took in the sweeping views of Oxford’s many Spires. It was a nice respite from the crowds down below and I took a few moments to soak it all in before heading back down to the hustle and bustle to make my way over to the Ashmolean Museum, known for its art and archaeology, to finish up my day.
Around 5 p.m., we gathered back on to the bus, buzzing from all the stunning scenery we had seen throughout the day and made our journey back to London. Exploring the Cotswolds with Rabbie’s Tours was a fantastic day out and I learned so much about the history of the villages we visited. I can’t wait to bring my mom on one of the tours when she visits next year! If you have family and friends visiting, or want to experience a new part of England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland, I highly recommend booking a tour with Rabbie’s. My day tour to the Cotswolds and Oxford costs £46, which is great value for money considering all of the villages you get to see, the bus journey and the history you learn along the way.
*I was invited along on the Cotswolds journey with Rabbie’s Tours on a complimentary basis, but all views, opinions and experiences are my own. Thank you for a wonderful day of exploring Rabbie’s!
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