Travel: Five go walking in the Cotswolds
While the headline may give the impression it's about an undiscovered work by Enid Blyton, in reality it relates to a visit to several pretty Cotswold villages by five pensioners from a U3A (University of the Third Age) walking group.
We checked 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 the perfect walking holiday.
The Gloucestershire village attracts almost half a million visitors each year and has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Located just off Bourton-on-the-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 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.
A full cooked breakfast is served each morning on request, along with an impressive buffet including cereals, fresh fruit, various juices, yoghurts, croissants and pastries plus tea and coffee. Lunches are of the packed picnic variety with a huge choice of snacks and drinks to accompany your sandwiches.
For dinner 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 to help you in as many different walking grades. However as we had arranged our own walks, we chose a different walk plus a National Trust visit each day.
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 to The Slaughters – which in old English meant 'a muddy place'. En route we passed St Lawrence Church going out of Bourton before trekking to Lower and then Upper Slaughter, mainly along the Warden's Way for a 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 grazing sheep alongside the banks of the 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. Stopping briefly at the 19th century water mill and museum we saw numerous small trout in the stream before heading on to Upper Slaughter.
We also popped into the 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).
Our afternoon included the National Trust's Snowshill Manor close to the stunning but remote Cotswold village of the same name. The house itself is found after an uphill walk of around a mile from the large car park while it houses a mix of items collected by arts and craft artist Charles Wade including Japanese Samurai warrior costumes and bicycles of every shape and size.
The following day we visited Broadway Tower, parking at Fish Hill picnic area before negotiating slippery tree roots and lose rocks in a mile-long woodland. Then crossing the busy A44 to join the Cotswold Way, we finally arrived at the tower which was built as a folly at the whim of a lady who wished to look over to Worcestershire. After our picnic, we'd covered around 4.5 miles.
Passing Dover's Hill nature reserve, we visited our second National Trust property of the weekend, the 10.5 acres of wonderful landscaped Grade I listed gardens of Hidcote which have views to the distant Malvern Hills. 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.
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 the biggest attraction, Birdland. It's a proper bird zoo which claims to have over 500 different birds from all corners of the world on display.
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.