After a whirlwind start in London, we ventured out of the city for a day in the English countryside. I had read about the Cotswolds during my travel research and was keen to see this historic area.
We found a well reviewed tour company called Rabbie’s and headed out in the morning to Victoria Station for our pick up. We met our driver guide and about a dozen other travellers for our trip westward out of London. The original itinerary called for us to start the tour in Oxford, but our guide suggested reversing the schedule due to concerns for bad traffic, as the Queen was being transferred to Buckingham Palace from Scotland this day.
Bibury: The prettiest village in England
Following a drive 130 kilometres northwest of London through rolling fields into the county of Gloucestershire, we arrived at our first stop in the Cotswolds — the village of Bibury.
Once described by 19th century artist and craftsman William Morris as the “prettiest village in England”, Bibury is a quaint village with a population of only 627 permanent residents. It is best known for Arlington Row, a picturesque street of cottages built in 1380 as a monastic wool store — which in the 17th century were converted into homes for weavers who supplied cloth for fulling at nearby Arlington Mill. The cottages are characterized by their honey coloured stone exteriors and have been featured in numerous films and television shows, as well as the inside cover of all British passports. Arlington Row has been designated a nationally notable architectural conservation area.
The area is lovely but I wonder how the residents feel about having hordes of tourists descend upon their village on a regular basis. Our guide told us that last year, a tourist actually walked right into one of the cottages, interrupting a family in their kitchen. Since then, the guides have made a point to clearly advise visitors not to peek into windows nor attempt to enter the cottages, as they are real homes. The fact that this needs to be said… 🤦🏻♀️
Other highlights of Bibury include St. Mary’s Church, and a trout farm where we stopped by to feed the fish (and ducks) before we moved onto our next destination.
Burford: Gateway to the Cotswolds
Looping back eastward toward the district of Oxfordshire, our next stop was the town of Burford. We enjoyed a delicious cream tea here at Hunters Cakery, preceded by a lengthy diatribe from our guide on the longstanding debate about the correct way to eat a cream tea scone — jam or cream first? I think I went with the Cornish method of spreading my jam first.
Then we wandered around to check out the high street shops, and St. John the Baptist church where I signed the condolence book for Queen Elizabeth II.
Our final destination of the day was the city of Oxford, home to the oldest university in the English-speaking world. We spent a couple hours here on a self-guided walking tour to explore the incredible historic architecture.
Highlights on and around the Oxford University campus include the Bodleian Old Library, Radcliffe Camera which houses the Radcliffe Science Library, and the Bridge of Sighs. We didn’t have enough time to fully appreciate any guided tours so just took a look from outside.
After a lunch break for peri peri chicken at Nando’s, we took a peek at Christ Church, a constituent college of the University of Oxford and jointly a cathedral of the Oxford diocese, founded in 1546 by King Henry VIII. The interior is apparently quite impressive and served as inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.
This wrapped up our tour and we headed back to London, returning to the city as scheduled in the early evening.
We went for dinner at Lima London, a Michelin star restaurant headed by chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz, whose flagship Central Restaurant in Lima, Peru was one of my favourite tasting menus ever. Lima London has recently undergone renovation so they did not have their tasting menu available on our visit; we ordered from their a la carte menu instead and had the ceviche and secreto iberico, along with the caramelized plantain and poached pear for dessert. The meal was delicious and one of the best we had in London. Would recommend!
A couple more days in London coming up next.