OXFORD, COTSWOLDS, BATH, AVEBURY
Neolithic man to Roman forces, celebrated writers to contemporary filmmakers have all made a mark on England’s heartland. And this tour follows their tracks – covering Wiltshire’s ancient stone circles and movie-set good looks, Oxford’s ‘dreaming spires’ and Bath’s incredible architecture.
The Back-Roads Difference
Picture the poets and professors, scientists and sporting heroes that have strolled Oxford’s streets as we begin our journey with a walking tour. Take in this world-renowned university city’s classical architecture, from the ‘dreaming spires’ on high to the manicured grounds beyond the gates of each college – one of which we’ll have a privileged look into.
Later, we swap the city for quintessential English countryside. Our road takes us west as we meander along rural lanes to the Cotswolds. This charming region is a patchwork of gentle, green hills and farmland, peppered with centuries-old villages of caramel-hued cottages and rambling manor houses. Our final stop of the day and our home for the next two nights is the market town Chipping Campden. View the pretty, terraced high street with its traditional market hall, before we see in day one together with a delicious welcome dinner. (D)
Riverside Stratford-upon-Avon – where the life and times of William Shakespeare take centre stage and our stomping ground on day two. See the playwright’s Tudor timbered childhood home and his wife Anne Hathaway’s pretty thatched cottage – a stroll through the blooming gardens here, with their traditional shrubs and beds of wild flowers, is a must. Then it’s time to pay our respects to the Bard at his burial place at Holy Trinity Church – looking out for the macabre warning left on his gravestone. There’s even time to explore more Cotswold hamlets as we wind our way back to our hotel for an evening all to ourselves. (B)
It’s time to indulge our costume drama dreams at Lacock – a showstopper of a village that often doubles as a film set. We take time to explore every nook and cranny, from the historic streets strolled by the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice, to the 11th century church and riverside walks. We step inside the magnificent abbey – whose peaceful cloisters took a starring turn as the Hogwarts’ hallways in the Harry Potter series – and learn all about its unique architecture. Lacock is famed not just for film but photography too, as the home of 19th century pioneer Fox Talbot, who we learn all about at the museum.
Then it’s on to Castle Combe, a chocolate-box Wiltshire village on the southern-most edge of the Cotswolds. With its weavers’ cottages lining the riverbanks, it’s often called ‘the prettiest village in England’, making it the perfect backdrop for a traditional cream tea. We finish today in Bath, a UNESCO World Heritage city with true wow factor, where we make ourselves at home for our final two nights (B)
Every beautifully preserved building we pass in Bath tells a story. We get up close and personal with Roman life in the breathtaking Roman Baths. We see the spectacular 15th century abbey, standing on the site where the first King of England was crowned. And we marvel at Pulteney Bridge and the thundering weir below. Then we indulge in a fashionable Georgian pastime and promenade along the Royal Crescent, taking in sweeping views across the city to the surrounding hills beyond as we go. It’s here we pay a visit to No.1 Royal Crescent, a magnificent townhouse that paints a picture of life in 18th century Bath – from the leisurely lifestyle of the wealthy families who ‘took the waters’ by day and danced by night, to the hectic lives of the people who worked below stairs. After that, the afternoon is yours. You could enjoy a bit of ‘me time’ at Thermae Bath Spa, Britain’s only thermal spa where you can bathe in mineral-rich waters and scan the skyline from the rooftop pool. Or discover Bath’s proud independent side, browsing stylish boutiques and celebrated coffee shops. By the time we come together to enjoy a last-night dinner, we’ll have much to talk about. (B, D)
The best way to follow up a day in Bath is with a morning at Longleat. This English stately home, the current seat of the Marquess of Bath, blends classic architecture with creative interiors and stands amid a safari park. And we get a behind-the-scenes tour of the house. Afterwards, our journey continues to Avebury, an immense stone circle set within an ancient landscape of enigmatic monuments, tombs and roads that were first walked millennia ago. While Stonehenge attracts tourists from around the world, but doesn’t permit close access, at Avebury we walk freely among the standing stones. Steeped in mystery, these prehistoric stone circles are a fascinating sight – and a tremendous final stop on our tour. That just leaves a leisurely drive back to the bright lights of London, where we bid one another farewell until next time. (B)