Thanks to its status as one of the most beautiful regions of the UK, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there are no more quirky corners of the Cotswolds left to uncover. However, this truly couldn’t be further from the truth. After all, between ancient trees, little-known monuments, and independently-run shops, here’s your guide to the best of hidden gems and secret spots in the Cotswolds.
Not convinced why you should visit the Cotswolds yet? Well, set aside the fact that this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is just a couple of hours away from London, the region is also home to a plethora of wonderful foodie experiences, stunning settlements, and plenty of history. Read on to discover the most unusual things to do in the Cotswolds…
The yew trees of Stow on the Wold
Log into Instagram to peruse through pictures of Cotswolds villages for any length of time and no doubt you’ll stumble upon at least one or two images of the iconic yew tree at Stow on the Wold. Yew Trees have long since been found in graveyards and some of these ancient monoliths even predate Christianity itself.
Today, the yews of Stow on the Wold are said to be as old as the St Edward’s Church, which itself dates back to around the 11th-15th-century. One rumour even suggests that Lord of the Rings writer, JRR Tolkien, was inspired by the door to create the Doors of Durin, i.e. the west gate of Moria. All in all, the yews of Stow-in-the-Wold are easily my favourite of all the secret spots in the Cotswolds.
Tyndale Monument, North Nibley
Imposing, impressive, and towering above the quaint village of North Nibley on the fringes of the Cotswolds, the Tyndale Monument is a staggering 111 foot tall and was constructed in 1866 to honour local Cotswolds man William Tyndale, most famed for his translation work of the New Testament.
Today, you can climb the rolling green hill to reach Tyndale Monument (there’s plenty of parking in the village of North Nibley itself). Once at the structure, it’s possible to climb the 121 stairs to the top, where you’ll be rewarded for your efforts by a myriad of stunning scenery such as lush green woodland and teeny tiny houses.
The secret Perry and Dawes Almshouses, Wotton-Under-Edge
If there’s one town that’s ‘hidden gem of the Cotswolds’ down to a tee, it’s Wotton-under-Edge. Once home to no less than forty-something pubs, with many being no more than a simple set up in someone’s front room, today Wotton-Under-Edge has a fantastic café scene, stunning streets, and a welcoming visitor centre displaying small exhibits about the town.
But what is perhaps the best-kept secret of this part of the Cotswolds is the Perry and Dawes Almshouses, which are tucked away and hidden behind a timber-framed façade along Church Street. The oldest parts of the buildings date back to the 17th-century, and once inside you’ll soon discover a quaint courtyard, small chapel, and a very comprehensive set of rules for residents (look back above the porch upon entering the courtyard to see the rules).
Model Village, Bourton-on-the-Water
Though not so much of a ‘secret spot’ as some of the other Cotswolds destinations on this list, the perfectly scaled miniature model village of Bourton on the Water more than deserves its place thanks to its status as the only Grade II listed model village in England.
Quaint and delightfully accurate, this 1/9 miniature village was created in the 1930s, took five years to build, and has since become a staple of Bourton-on-the-Water attractions. Opened to the public on the Coronation Day of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937, the miniature Cotswolds Village was the brainchild of a previous publican of the Old New Inn and even has mini bonsai trees and its own trickling River Windrush!
The legend of the 99 yews, Painswick
Though, of course, I’m sure you’ve heard of the picturesque town of Painswick before, you may well not have heard of the legends surrounding this pretty settlement. Often referred to as the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds’ thanks to the sheer beauty of the buildings to be found there, within the churchyard, there are ninety-nine yew trees. Local stories tell of a one-hundredth tree planted, only for it to promptly die!
Oldest Chemist in England, Burford
Thanks to a steep high street offering magical views of the shops and tree-lined streets below, Burford is often said to have the prettiest main street of any town in England, let alone the Cotswolds. Burford’s independent chemist, Robert Reavley, has been in business for well over two centuries and can be found around halfway along the road.
Other highlights of Burford, whose local nickname is ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’ include its position close to the pretty hamlets of the Barringtons. The town is home to some incredible wisteria, a local museum, and some rather impressive tombs which date back to a time when the town grew rich from the profits of wool.
The historic water wheels of Nailsworth
A hidden gem of a Cotswolds settlement somewhere on the road between Stroud and the impossibly pretty village of Tetbury, Nailsworth is well worth a stop-off during any Cotswolds road trip, if only for a few hours. After all, the town features several quirky eateries and a number of riverside walks.
Like many of the towns in the area, Nailsworth grew to true prominence and wealth with the wool trade, specifically thanks to the water wheels. In fact, there are more mills per square mile here than anywhere else in the country. For a particularly historic experience, you may well consider booking to stay in the particularly well-reviewed Egypt Mill Hotel & Restaurant. Check accommodation prices and availability here.
The quaint village of Stinchcombe
Though there is little by way of attractions to be found in the pretty village of Stinchcombe, the charm of this place lies in its secluded nature and lack of other tourists. Off the beaten path, this little-known village has a population of just a few hundred and is home to just one church. Nearby, gems such as Berkeley Castle and the Jensen Museum are less than a ten-minute drive away.
The Police Museum & Courtroom, Tetbury
Free to visit and located within the most beautiful village in the Cotswolds, the Police Museum is set over two levels and features a variety of rooms exhibiting the history of policing in the Cotswolds and beyond. Created in the late 1960s following the move of Tetbury Magistrates Court to Cirencester, highlights of the cultural hub include a particularly accurate recreation of a courtroom and an old jail cell! Find opening times and further information on how to visit here.
The forgotten Cirencester Roman Amphitheatre
The ‘capital of the Cotswolds’ is the largest settlement to be found within this Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty and is home to a plethora of great eats, not to mention fantastic independent shops (be sure to check out Octavia’s Bookshop during your visit!).
During Roman times, Cirencester was actually known as Corinium Dobunnorum. And, though it may not look like much today, once upon a time, this ancient monument would have seated some 8000 spectators. Today, the rolling green space is a quiet place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the otherwise busy market town.
Of all the secret spots in the Cotswolds, Snowshill Manor is one of the more unusual destinations. Located on the fringes of a village of the same name (which coincidentally featured as the fictional village of Bridget Jones’ parents in Bridget Jones’ Diary) and not far from the pretty Cotswold town of Broadway, Snowshill Manor is the brainchild of the eccentric architect, poet, and artist Charles Paget Wade.
Purchased by Wade in 1919 so as to house his ever-growing collection- and believe me, he didn’t just take interest in the ‘items of value’, but rather also took note of otherwise ‘mundane’ objects. As a result, the house is now a dimly lit treasure trove of everything from spinners to bicycles. Now owned and operated by the National Trust, members get in free while members of the public can explore the house for a fee.