In a southern corner of rural England the much-loved Cotswolds have remained sleepily unchanged for hundreds of years
As the gentle sunlight pours down to bake the honey-coloured stone of beautiful buildings in scattered villages, visitors from all over the world delight in the gentle rolling countryside, historic market towns and sprawling country houses of this remarkable area.
If you’re planning a visit to this timeless part of Britain, a good place to start is the pretty market town of Malmesbury, located in the southern Cotswolds in the county of Wiltshire. Once the site of an Iron Age fort, it is the oldest borough in England, created in around 880AD by charter from Alfred the Great. Historically Malmesbury was a centre for learning, focused on and around Malmesbury Abbey, one of the last monasteries to close at the Dissolution in 1539. A sizeable part still survives today.
Behind the Abbey you’ll find Abbey House Gardens, the 16th-century Abbey House surrounded by an impressive five-acre garden. Owners Ian and Barbara Pollard have created a truly spectacular space in the centre of town, and the gardens are open to the public seven days a week from late March until late October.
A few miles out of town is another of the jewels of the area, the magnificent Whatley Manor hotel. A beautifully restored Cotswold manor house, Whatley Manor offers the ultimate in luxury, with an elegant and relaxing spa, huge rooms and suites and two restaurants overseen by Michelin-starred chef Martin Burge. The highlights of this hotel are many, but the endless manicured gardens leading down to the river really stand out and make this place special. And for a top-end hotel the atmosphere here feels extremely relaxed, with friendly and attentive staff on hand to acre for your every need.
For a far more budget-conscious stay, but in no less beautiful surroundings, a wonderful discovery is the charming B&B run at Hovington House, approximately seven miles out of Malmesbury in Upper Minety. Hidden at the end of the village up a stunning tree-lined drive, this gorgeous house is a typical Cotswolds building, its limestone walls covered in creeping roses, boasting views of the lovely 15th-century church next door and a field of grazing horses.
Part of the Wolsey Lodges group, a fabulous range of privately-owned luxury B&Bs, Hovington is owned by Jonathan and Barbara Hall and guests have their own part of the house complete with a 30-foot drawing room, a Scottish-styled dining hall and several beautifully and traditionally decorated en suite bedrooms. Like many of the other Wolsey Lodges (though relatively rare with other B&Bs), former restaurant owner Barbara is happy to serve guests an evening meal. In the summer tea and drinks can be taken in the lovingly tended garden and it offers the perfect base from which to head out each day and explore the area. The source of the Thames and the start of the Thames Walk are nearby, as is Westonbirt Arboretum, with its lovely walks and open-air concerts.
Whatley Manor Hotel and Spa
Easton Grey, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 0RB Tel: 01666 822 888 www.whatleymanor.com
Upper Minety, Malmesbury, Wiltshire SN16 9PT Tel: 01666 860 256 or 07860 337 969 www.wolsey.lodges.com