Gloucestershire is everything people love about rural England.
The county is rich in history, idyllic landscapes, architecture, the list goes on.
Rising in the centre of Gloucestershire are the Cotswolds, limestone hills of incomparable natural beauty, sheltering gorgeous towns and villages, all built with a yellowy stone that resembles nothing else.
Gloucester is a fitting county city with a stunning cathedral and now bursting into life after its historic quays were regenerated, while the spa town of Cheltenham brims with Georgian splendour.
In Gloucestershire you can trace the source of the River Thames or plot a route through the ancient and fantasy-like Forest of Dean.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Gloucestershire:
On the River Severn, and between the Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean, Gloucester has rocketed to people’s attention in the last few years as a dynamic cultural centre.
This has come hand-in-hand with the regeneration of the old shipping Quays, where nightspots and restaurants abound.
There’s riveting history in Gloucester too, as the cathedral makes clear.
Constructed in stages between the 12th and 15th centuries it melds Norman and Gothic architecture.
A massive pane of medieval stained glass survives in the Great East Window, while there’s a shrine to King Edward II who was murdered nearby, as we’ll read about later.
On a different note, the maiden flight of the world’s first jet aircraft took place just outside Gloucester at Brockworth.
And to commemorate this there’s the Jet Age Museum, recounting the earliest years of jet-powered flight.
Right on the western fringe of the Cotswolds, Cheltenham has been a sophisticated playground for the wealthy for more than 200 years.
There’s luxurious shopping and dining, in one of the most regal backdrops you can imagine.
The springs in Cheltenham were discovered in 1716, but it was at the turn of the following century that the resort really took shape.
During the Regency period the spas were developed and the elegant Montpellier district got its palatial town houses.
You can no longer come for hydrotherapy or to take the spa’s waters, but much of the stately infrastructure is still here, like the Pittville Pump Room and the leafy Pittville Park.
This large Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty rolls out over a vast tract of the Gloucestershire countryside.
With bucolic farmland and adorable towns made from the local mellow limestone, the Cotswolds tally with most people’s image of the English countryside at its most beautiful.
The region has hills that rise to more than 300 metres, and culminates at the Cotswold Edge in the west, a dramatic escarpment over the Severn Valley.
If you’re feeling ambitious you could hike the Cotswold Way, a 100-mile National Trail that traces the escarpment in the west.
Days will be spent wandering through breathtaking countryside and in the evenings you can pamper yourself at cosy inns and bed & breakfasts.
4. Forest of Dean
Up against the border with Wales in the west of Gloucestershire is 11,000 hectares of ancient woodland, one of the last remaining expanses of this kind of wilderness in the country.
The Forest of Dean has been reserved as a royal hunting ground since before the Norman Conquest, which is partly why it has remained mostly untouched for so long.
What you get up to in this region depends on your idea of adventure; that could be rock climbing or long-distance hikes, or finding traces of the forgotten mining activity in the forest, or discovering historic sites like Tintern Abbey, just on the Welsh bank of the River Wye.
This stunning town with Roman origins is an excellent way to enter the Cotswolds.
We have to start by mentioning that beautiful Cotswold stone, a golden yellow limestone that imbues every venerable building in Cirecnester with extra splendour.
The 14th-century Church of St John the Baptist is glorious in the late-afternoon sun, and has a perpendicular gothic style dating to the 1300s but with earlier elements.
In the centre, the Corinium Museum uses Cirencester’s Roman name and has gathered all of the wonderful finds made around the town.
These number more than 60,000 and among them are detailed mosaics, carved marble, pottery and jewellery, all expertly presented by the museum.
The small town of Tewkesbury has a big medieval and Tudor character.
On Barton Street, High Street and Church Street there are lots of half-timbered houses to turn your head.
Among these is the Olde Black Bear, the oldest pub in Gloucestershire, which opened in 1308. In the space of just a few streets there are enough stories and points of interest to keep inquisitive visitors occupied for hours, and the Visitor Centre has booklets to tell you what you’re looking at.
The marvellous Tewkesbury Abbey, with the largest Norman tower in England, survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries as it was bought by the townsfolk and has kept a lot of its Norman detail.
Finally, check out the Mythe Bridge crossing the Severn and conceived by celebrated Georgian engineer Thomas Telford.
Just to the west of the Cotswold Edge escarpment and at the place where the Five Valleys converge, Stroud is an arty town with steep, winding streets.
Lots of artists, authors and musicians have settled in Stroud, including Damien Hirst who has a studio here.
On the Bank Holiday at the end of August there’s also a festival encompassing theatre, art, literature and music.
You could venture out into the countryside on the Five Valleys Circuit, or pay a visit to Woodchester Mansion a wistful Gothic revival house left in stasis since work stopped suddenly in 1870.
8. Chipping Campden
In medieval times the wool trade generated a lot of money for the merchants of Chipping Campden, and this gave rise to this small town’s beautiful church.
St James’ is known as a wool church for being exceptionally grand for a town of this size as wealthy benefactors helped fund its construction in the 1400s.
The town is a pleasure to tour, being constructed with that Cotswold stone and dotted with eye-catching old structures like the covered market hall and almshouses, both from the early-17th century and with renaissance influences.
Two very different things contribute to Berkeley’s fame, and we’ll start with the earliest of them.
The majestic Berkeley Castle has hardly been changed since the 12th century and has belonged to the Berkeley family all that time.
A momentous but also mysterious event in English history happened here in 1327, when the deposed King Edward II was supposedly murdered, although nobody is sure by whom or how.
You can even see the cell where the deed is claimed to have been done.
Edward Jenner, the physician who invented vaccinations, was born In Berkeley and came back to work in the town in the late-1700s.
His beautiful Georgian house is a museum dedicated to the “father of immunology”.
This town has royal ties thanks to Prince Charles who lives on an estate in the area.
First, get to the centre of the town to see the unique Market House, which was constructed in 1655 and is supported by three rows stone pillars.
It’s just one of a multitude of listed buildings in Tetbury, which was a wool and yarn town centuries ago, but now does a roaring trade in antiques.
And as for Prince Charles, book ahead to be able to enter Highgrove Gardens.
This was planted and designed by the prince, with the help of botanical experts, in an attempt to conserve and highlight plants and wildlife native to Britain.
In a broad, shallow valley deep in the Cotswolds, Bourton-on-the-Water is a very picturesque village by the River Windrush.
The green waterside area stands out for its beauty and draws the crowds in summer, browsing the arts and crafts shops, lingering by the river and treating themselves to ice cream, pub grub, and cream teas.
There are some fantastic little attractions to keep you in the village a while longer, like the Dragonfly Maze and the Bourton Model Village.
But you should also make time for the larger Birdland, a wildlife park, and the Cotswold Motoring Museum, with a fleet of vehicle going back to the earliest cars and motorcycles.
In this town the stone has a richer honey colour than further south, best observed at the marketplace where you can get a good sense of Stow’s historical importance.
If you’ve seen a few market towns you’ll realise that Stow’s square is unusually large.
Tens of thousands of sheep changed hands on this spot during semi-annual livestock fairs that were first granted in 1330 by Edward III. Now it’s a less hectic place, with tea rooms, quaint family-run shops and ice cream stands in summer.
But the market cross and town stocks (under an ancient elm) are here, and every October there’s a famous horse fair in a field outside the town
At Moreton you’re a stone’s throw from both Warwickshire and Oxfordshire.
But before the boundaries were changed in 1931, Worcestershire also made up a quadripoint.
There’s a marker for this boundary just west of Moreton, dating to the 1700s.
As a stop on the Roman Fosse Way, the town has long had an important market and been a place for travellers to stop on their journeys.
Moreton’s staging post days are recalled by the many inns around the marketplace, which itself is filled with stalls every Tuesday.
You’ll have lots of family-friendly things to see in the area, like the Cotswold Falconry Centre or, for grown-ups, Chastleton House, a magnificent Jacobean property that recently featured as the home of the Seymour family in BBC’s production of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
In the county’s furthest southeastern nook, Lechlade is a pretty village with a very interesting location.
That’s because this is the highest point at which the Thames becomes navigable to barges.
At Lechlade the Thames is swollen by its tributary the Coln and then by the Leach, which gives the village its name.
The Thames Path National Trail passes by the south side of the village in a bucolic landscape of rich green meadows.
You might be tempted to amble along the river for a while, and if you do you’ll go past numerous concrete pillboxes.
These were installed in the early 40s on the 300-mile-long GHQ line, a defensive system in case of a land invasion in the Second World War.
Close to the Forest of Dean, Newent has a town centre crammed with historical buildings, and is listed as a conservation area.
Dating to the 17th century is the half-timbered Market House, which is raised on wooden piles and once covered a butter market.
In September this spot is taken over by merrymaking for the annual Onion Fayre when there’s live music, market stalls and competitions for judging and eating onions.
Another fab time to be here is early spring, because Newent is in an area known as the Golden Triangle thanks to the profusion of daffodils growing of their own accord in the meadows and forest around the town.
There are even guided walks at this time of year to show you to the prettiest spots.