By Rick Steves:
The Cotswold Hills, a 25-by-90-mile chunk of Gloucestershire, are a sightseeing treat: crisscrossed with hedgerows, raisined with storybook villages, and sprinkled with sheep.
As with many fairy-tale regions of Europe, the present-day beauty of the Cotswolds was the result of an economic disaster. Wool was a huge industry in medieval England, and the Cotswold sheep grew the best wool. Wool money built fiine towns and houses. Local "wool" churches are called "cathedrals" for their scale and wealth. A typical prayer etched into their stained glass reads, "I thank my God and ever shall, it is the sheep hath paid for all."
With the rise of cotton and the Industrial Revolution, the woolen industry collapsed. Ba-a-a-ad news. The wealthy Cotswold towns fell into a depressed time warp; the homes of impoverished nobility became gracefully dilapidated. Today visitors enjoy a harmonious blend of man and nature — the most pristine of English countrysides decorated with time-passed villages, rich wool churches, tell-me-a-story stone fences, and kissing gates you wouldn't want to experience alone. Appreciated by throngs of 21st-century romantics, the Cotswolds are enjoying new prosperity.
The area is provincial. Chatty locals, while ever so polite, commonly rescue themselves from a gossipy tangent by saying, "It's all very...ummm...yyya." Rich people open their gardens to support their favorite charities, while the less couth enjoy "badger baiting" (a gambling cousin of cockfighting where a badger, with its teeth and claws taken out, is mangled by dogs).
The north Cotswolds are best. Two of the region's coziest towns, Chipping Campden and Stow-on-the-Wold, are eight and four miles respectively from Moreton-in-Marsh, the only Cotswold town with a train station. Any of these — Chipping Campden, Stow, or Moreton — would make a fine home base for your exploration of the thatch-happiest of Cotswold villages and walks.
The Cotswolds are walking country. The English love their walks and vigorously defend their age-old right to free passage. Once a year the Rambling Society organizes a "Mass Trespass," when each of the country's 50,000 miles of public footpaths is walked. By assuring each path is used at least once a year, they stop landlords from putting up fences. Any paths found blocked are unceremoniously unblocked.
After a well-planned visit, you'll remember everything about the Cotswolds as quaint: the walks, churches, pubs, B&Bs, thatched roofs, gates, tourist offices, and even the sheep.