Views don’t get much more beautiful than Burford, framed by the Cotswolds from the top of the High Street.
This handsome street is like a timeline of English architecture, from slanting half-timbered houses to rustic stone cottages and refined Georgian townhouses.
Nothing on the High Street is new, and everything has been meticulously preserved for a snapshot of Englishness.
Burford is free of chain stores, and is somewhere to peruse antiques shops and galleries, and let yourself be tempted by old-time sweet shops and tearooms.
There are also volumes of stories to dig up in the town, like the grim fate of the proto-Socialist Levellers in the English Civil War or visits by epochal figures like Charles II, Nell Gwynn and Horatio Nelson.
Burford is on the east side a range of limestone hills home to some of the prettiest countryside in England.
The Cotswolds are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a bit like a national park, and are ecologically valuable for their Jurassic limestone bedrock, giving rise to a rare kind of grassland habitat.
The limestone is essential to the Cotswolds’ charm, and as in Burford, is used for most buildings, ranging in colour from honey to a bright gold further into the range.
Burford is handily situated for trips into the Cotswolds, stopping at National Trust properties and towns and villages of uncommon beauty like Bibury, beloved by William Morris, and the cosy market town of Northleach.
2. Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens
A couple of miles south of the town is a zoo and garden attraction in 160 acres of landscaped parkland on a historic estate.
Around a distinguished Georgian Gothic Revival manor, there’s an exotically planted walled garden containing a tropical house, aviaries and an enclosure for Humboldt penguins.
Madagascar is a memorable walk-through enclosure where ring-tailed lemurs, Madagascar teals, mongoose lemurs, collared lemurs zip through the trees a few metres away.
There are spacious enclosures in the parkland for rhinos, zebras, giraffes and lions, as well as a narrow-gauge railway and adventure playground.
Inside you can make your way through the Tropical House, Invertebrate House, Reptile House and a Farmyard Barn that will make a young child’s day.
3. Burford Walking Tour
An hour or two poking around Burford High Street will be well spent.
Starting in the north down on the River Windrush is the town’s three- arched Medieval bridge, and from there, curling up the side of the valley, is a continuous corridor of historic buildings in Cotswold stone.
There’s much to delve into, but at No. 105 is the Bull Hotel, the only brick building in the town.
Past guests here include King Charles II and his mistress, the famous actress Nell Gwynne, as well as Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton.
In 1649 the Levellers, a group of radicals in Oliver Cromwell’s army were cornered in Burford.
Some 340 were imprisoned in the Church of St John the Baptist.
You can still see where one prisoner, an Anthony Sedley, carved his name in the lead on the font.
Three ringleaders were promptly executed in the churchyard, and there’s a plaque remembering them on the side of the church.
4. Church of St John the Baptist
Burford’s grandest monument is a classic Cotswold wool church, made extravagant by the town’s rich Medieval wool merchants.
The building was started in the 12th century and was improved and enlarged over the next 400 years.
What you’ll see from a distance is the powerful 12th-century crossing tower, heightened and crowned with a spire at the end of the 14th century.
The south porch is glorious for its tracery-panelled facade, while inside there’s an array of beautiful tomb monuments, as well as Medieval wall paintings in the Chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury.
The 1569 memorial to Henry VIII’s barber-surgeon Edward Harman has one of the earliest depictions of Indigenous South Americans, while in the north chapel is the stunning 17th-century canopied tomb for Sir Lawrence and Lady Tanfield.
Also fascinating is an ancient carving, dating to around 100 AD and possibly showing the Romano-Celtic goddess Epona.
5. The Tolsey Museum
This local museum has a small but interesting collection on the history of the town, covering government, trade, culture, guilds and industry.
Some of the artefacts on show are a 15th-century charter from Henry VII granting Burford a fair, a long vellum roll of the burgess’s rules dated 1605 and a fine leaded-bronze mortar cast at the foundry of Edward Neale in Burford in 1659. Also worthwhile is the display of historic needlework samplers and an ornate Victorian doll’s house modelled on Burford’s Great House, a regal townhouse on Witney Street.
This is combined with an array of seals and ceremonial maces, as well as tools for local trades like quarrying, rope-making and brewing.
The venue, the Tolsey, is a gabled and timber-framed market/courthouse raised on stone pillars and first mentioned in 1561.
6. Crocodiles of the World
The only zoo in the UK devoted to crocodiles is barely five minutes on the A40 from Burford.
Lurking at this attraction is one of the most diverse crocodile collections in the world, from well-known species like saltwater and Nile crocodiles to more obscure varieties like the slender-snouted crocodile, Schneider’s dwarf caiman, the Cuban crocodile, Cuvier’s caiman and the tomistoma.
You’ll see 17 of the world’s 24 crocodile species here, but also an array of colourful exotic birds, mammals like meerkats, otters and tamarins, and all sorts of tortoises, turtles, snakes and lizards like monitors.
In-depth info on each animal is provided, and for the brave there’s a schedule of feeding sessions, as well as keeper experiences, whether you want to tend a crocodile or a harmless Giant Galapagos Tortoise.
7. Burford Methodist Church
One building that looks at odds with the otherwise chocolate box townscape of the High Street is the refined Baroque mansion, now a Methodist church, at No.
75. Baroque residential architecture was only in fashion in England for a brief period at the start of the 18th century, and is rarely seen in a small, rural town like Burford.
Commissioned in 1715 by the local lawyer, John Jordan, this townhouse is very grand, with six fluted Corinthian pilasters on its facade, framing a pedimented door, below a cornice and balustrade.
In 1849 the house was turned into a Methodist church, when the top two floors were gutted, creating one large hall with gallery.
8. Kilkenny Lane Country Park
Loved by dog walkers and families with children, Kilkenny Lane Country Park is a long, rectangular parcel of nature and parkland just minutes south-east of Burford.
There’s a tricky adventure play area here for bigger kids, including rope nets, a zip-line and trampolines, and a playground for smaller children, both bedded with sand.
The park also has a willow maze and 2.5 kilometres of surfaced footpaths, cycle ways and bridleways, through wildflower meadows and little groves.
9. Church of St Oswald
Downstream on the River Windrush is the deserted Medieval village of Widford, the last remainder of which is a tiny church bursting with history.
Firstly the Church of St Oswald was built over the bathhouse of a Roman villa in the early Medieval period, and there used to be a section of mosaic in the chancel until this was moved to the Roman museum in Cirencester.
The current building goes back to the 1100s, but has vestiges from an earlier Anglo-Saxon or Norman building in the font and a chevroned corbel.
Restoration work at the turn of the 20th century uncovered beautiful 13th and 14th-century wall paintings
10. Minster Lovell Hall
Also next to the River Windrush in a very picturesque setting are the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall, an imposing 15th-century manor house.
Abandoned in 1747, the buildings were on three sides of a courtyard, and impressive fragments remain like the south-west tower and the 12-metre high walls of the Great Hall to the north-east.
In the ground you can make out the footprint of a stable, well and the large hearth fire of the kitchen.
Richard III was a guest at Minster Lovell Hall in the 15th century, and after the property was handed over to the crown following the Battle of Bosworth, the residents included Henry VIII’s gentlemen of the stool (courtier toilet attendants), William Compton and Henry Norris.
11. Arlington Row
One of the prettiest images in all of the Cotswolds is an implausibly charming row of 17th-century weavers’ cottages in the village of Bibury.
The history of this terrace swooping down to the River Coln on Awkward Hill goes back to the 14th century when there was a monastic wool store here.
The cloth made at these cottages would then be sent to be degreased at Arlington Mill, which is still standing just around the corner.
The famous Arts and Crafts designer and writer William Morris dubbed Bibury “The Most Beautiful Village in England” for scenes like this.
Emperor Hirohito (1901-1989) stayed at Bibury during his European tour, and the village has been on the radar of Japanese visitors ever since.
12. Lodge Park
Owned by the National Trust, Lodge Park in the nearby Sherborne Estate was built as a grandstand in the 1630s for John ‘Crump’ Dutton.
Dutton was a gregarious gambling man who loved entertaining, and Lodge Park was set at the finish line of a deer course.
Deer, kept in a park, would be chased by hounds along a mile-long enclosure, and people would bet on which dog reach the finish line first.
There was a kill at the end if the wagers were large, but the deer would be saved on smaller bets.
Guests would watch the sport from the flat roof of the building, which was altered and turned into a residence in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The surrounding 285 acres of parkland are mostly unchanged since the 1720s when they were laid out by Charles Bridgeman one of the first to work in the English landscape style.
For an excursion you could call in at the lovely town of Northleach, which like Burford rode a wave of prosperity thanks to the Medieval wool trade.
This is clear from the Church of St Peter and St Paul, in the Perpendicular style, while a 15th-century resident would still feel at home on the delightful Market Place.
On the little lanes leading off the square are some fabulous half-timbered houses with sizeable oak doors.
Northleach is at a crossroads on the Fosse Way Roman road, and at this junction is an 18th-century prison, later given a police station and court.
This is all now a visitor centre for the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and you can investigate the Victorian courtroom and a row of original prison cells.
14. Levellers’ Day
The ringleaders of the Levellers were executed on 17 May 1649, and since 1975 the date has been marked with a day of commemoration, celebrating the egalitarian principles that the group stood for.
On the nearest Saturday to the 17th, the event begins with a gathering at the church, followed by a march up the hill to Burford’s recreation ground, accompanied by music and songs.
Here there’s a busy programme of talks by historians, family entertainment, political debate and music.
15. Burford Golf Club
One way to immerse yourself in the Cotswold countryside is at this highly-regarded golf course in manicured parkland with mature trees and meandering fairways.
Despite its prestige, Burford Golf Club, founded in 1936, welcomes visitors with summer green fees of £55 before 14:00 and £46 after.
There’s a sociable but intimate clubhouse right beside the 18th green.
Ten minutes on the A40 there’s a championship course at the Witney Lakes Resort, which also has a driving range and pro shop.