The Cotswolds is the largest designated “Area of Outstanding National Beauty” in England. This region, which is just over two hours from London and stretches over six counties in the south west of the country, covers 790 square miles and is famous for its picturesque limestone villages, rolling hills (or wolds), unspoilt rural countryside, pretty churches, ancient market towns, historic inns, and sparkling rivers and streams.
This quintessentially English region is also teeming with tea rooms, with the tradition for taking tea dating back 300 years, so it is therefore the ideal place to embark on a tea room tour.
Afternoon tea can consist of tea and a slice of homemade cake, or perhaps a cream tea with scones, clotted cream and jam, or ‘the works’ -a full afternoon tea with cakes, pastries and small sandwiches. You are never very far away from a tea room in the Cotswolds, and here are some suggestions on where to visit when you are in need of refreshment.
This area stretches over parts of Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire with its main towns being Chipping Norton and Woodstock. This part of the Cotswolds is full of pretty honey limestone villages, manor houses and beautiful gardens.
Burford, with its wide high street cascading down the hill towards the River Windrush is lined with majestic merchants’ houses, shops and inns. This was once a coaching town and is a popular place to visit. For fine cakes and teas head to Huffkins half way down the high street, a family-owned bakery and tea room with branches in Cheltenham, Witney and Stow on the Wold. As well as afternoon teas, which include house blend loose teas, freshly made scones with cream and award-winning jams and sandwiches, Huffkins also serves breakfast and light lunches, along with hampers filled with chutneys, fudge, tea, coffee and their fabulous fruit cake so you can take it on the go.
The small town of Woodstock, most famous for beautiful Blenheim Palace, is filled with 17th and 18th century houses, pubs and shops as well as a 13th century hotel, The Bear. Pay a visit to Harriet’s Tea Rooms, housed in a 17th century honey limestone building where you can take a seat inside to admire its honey stone walls and beams, or you can sit in the back garden whilst indulging in a cream tea or full afternoon tea. They even sell tea pots to remind you of your visit.
In the town of Witney, situated in the pretty Windrush Valley, you will find the Church Green Café in an excellent spot overlooking the green and the church. It’s an informal and unique café with a friendly atmosphere. All cakes are homemade (such as the tasty blueberry muffins), as are the scones, bread, jams and soups. Loose-leaf tea is served in a teapot – don’t forget to use the strainer provided!
Search for the Rollright Stones, consisting of a stone circle, burial chamber and monolith dating back to the Bronze Age. It’s also worth visiting the Hook Norton Brewery (their great ale can be found throughout the Cotswolds), pretty Minster Lovell where you can wander the ruins of its atmospheric manor house, complete with dovecote, and Blenheim Palace, Churchill’s birthplace, with its large gardens.
This is arguably the loveliest region on this tea room tour, an area of incredibly picturesque villages set in rolling valleys with rushing streams. This area covers parts of Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, and many of the ancient buildings are constructed from the mellow ‘oolitic’ limestone.
One of the most attractive and best-preserved villages in the Cotswolds (and perhaps indeed England) is Chipping Campden, its majestic long high street lined with picture postcard limestone buildings including a Buttermarket, or an ancient market hall. You are spoilt for choice for tea here, but a couple of excellent tea rooms are the Bantam Tea Rooms and Badgers Hall. The Bantam Tea Rooms in the centre of the High Street overlook the 17th century Buttermarket, and it’s impossible to walk past once you spot the tempting array of cakes on display in the large bay window. This building which dates back to 1693 and offers B&B accommodation has an in-house bakery, and you can either sit inside next to a roaring open fire in the winter or in the tea garden in the summer whilst enjoying warm scones and fresh clotted cream – you can even take your afternoon tea away if you want to.
Badgers Hall is also situated on the High Street and is housed in another ancient building of Cotswold stone dating back to the 15th century. This is a typically English tea room, with low beams and a cosy atmosphere, not to mention the multitude of home-baked mouth-watering cakes and pastries. Accommodation is also available here if you find you can’t move after indulging slightly more than you anticipated.
The small market town of Stow on the Wold is a wonderful place to explore, with its large market square with ancient cross and town stocks surrounded by stately stone houses, tea rooms and antique shops and galleries. There is another popular branch of Huffkins here, but you can also try Cream Tea Room on Sheep Street, tucked away behind the market square, which has been awarded The Tea Guild’s Award of Excellence for three years running. This small and cosy tea room offers around 80 varieties of tea, as well as home-made cakes, some with unusual flavours such as chocolate and beetroot. Afternoon tea menus include the obligatory cream tea, the ‘hearthside tea’, consisting of crumpets, homemade cake and tea, and the full afternoon tea, with sandwiches, scones, cakes and tea.
For afternoon tea at a stately Cotswolds manor house, head to the picture-postcard village of Lower Slaughter, one of the gems of the Cotswolds, where there are several choices for afternoon tea. Lower Slaughter Manor, a 17th century country house hotel, offers full afternoon tea overlooking the beautiful gardens, or inside by the log fires in colder months. Alternatively, visit Washbourne Court, a 17th century building previously a school and now a hotel, and enjoy a cream tea, full afternoon tea or a champagne tea on the patio overlooking the gardens and ponds – a lovely spot. Another, less expensive, choice is the Old Mill, which is a museum, gift and craft shop which happens to have riverside tea rooms and an ice cream parlour, so you can take tea or have a light bite overlooking the river. Beautiful.
A trip to the gorgeous and popular (busy) village of Bourton on the Water is a must when visiting the area. Known as the Venice of the Cotswolds, with its many low stone bridges stretching across the crystal clear River Windrush that flows through the heart of the village, it is a pleasure to stroll around. This village is teeming with tea rooms, especially along the riverside, but a good one just off the main street on quiet Victoria Street is the friendly and welcoming Mulberries. Full afternoon teas, including champagne strawberry sorbet if desired, (who could resist that?) are served inside the Cotswold stone building at tables with proper tablecloths and beautiful china, or at tables on the pavement outside. The clotted cream teas, Triple Chocolate Cake, and Victoria Sponge are all highly recommended!
Visit Snowshill Manor, a National Trust property with an eclectic, incredible collection of treasures from far and wide gathered by previous owner Charles Wade. From the northern fringe of the Cotswolds there are fantastic views to Wales across the Severn Valley – head to Cleeve Hill, the highest point in the Cotswolds.
Read more: Best of The Cotswolds
This area runs between the Cotswold escarpment and the Severn Vale, and encompasses towns such as Cheltenham, the ‘centre for the Cotswolds’, Gloucester, and Tewkesbury. This area has more timber-framed and brick buildings than the typical Cotswolds limestone.
Winchcombe is a delightful historic small town set in a valley and surrounded by hills, and is situated close to Sudeley Castle. This working town is not a typical golden Cotswold town, but is full of different historic building styles. One tea room worth a visit is Juri’s Tea Room on the High Street. This is run by a Japanese family and it won the UK’s Top Tea Place 2008. The tea room is housed in a Grade II listed 300 year old building with exposed honey stone walls, and tea can be taken inside, in the conservatory, or in the English garden amongst the flowers. The home baked cakes and pastries are made with local and natural ingredients. If you want full afternoon tea, book in advance; it includes finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, home-made cake and a tea of your choice, all for £15.95 per person.
The streets of Cheltenham are lined with fine Regency terraced houses and villas with wrought iron balconies, with its lovely Promenade lined with elegant shops. There is also a branch of Huffkins here, but another tea room worth taking in is the Well Walk Tea Room, a family-run olde worlde tea room next to historic St Mary’s Church. It has a quirky, eclectic décor consisting of antique china and tapestries. As well as afternoon tea consisting of scrumptious home-made cakes and sandwiches, light lunches are also available such as quiche, soups, plus vegetarian and tasty gluten free options. Tea sets, tapestries and curiosities are all for sale.
A walk around historic Tewkesbury on the banks of the River Avon and Severn will take you past half-timbered and brick buildings and the magnificent church of the former Benedictine monastery. Pop into the Abbey Tea Rooms and Restaurant, the oldest tea room in Tewkesbury dating back to the 15th century and winner of the Tea Guild’s Award of Excellence for 2010, 2011 and 2012. Enjoy home cooking by taking a cream tea, afternoon tea with sandwiches or scones and cakes, or for the works, book high tea for that special occasion.
As well as exploring Cheltenham and Tewkesbury, visit Sudeley Castle, the former home of Catherine Parr, famous for its lovely gardens. From Winchcombe take a walk up the hill to Belas Knap, a well-preserved Neolithic longbarrow. And the cloisters of Gloucester Cathedral were the location for two of the Harry Potter movies.
This area is where the large Cotswold cities can be found, such as Cirencester and Bath as well as many attractive villages. This area differs from the north and east, with heavier and darker stone, steeper valleys, and fast-flowing rivers and streams.
The pretty twin villages of Bibury and Arlington, situated alongside the River Coln make for a wonderful place for a stroll (William Morris said Bibury was the most beautiful village in England). The main draw here is Arlington Row, a well-preserved row of weavers’ cottages originally constructed in 1380 as a wool store and converted into cottages in the 17th century – get your camera ready. The Swan is a lovely former 17th century coaching inn on the banks of the river, and it offers full afternoon teas between 2.30 and 6 pm, or snacks including toast, cakes and crumpets all day. Extra-special champagne afternoon teas are offered at £26.45 per person.
Bath, on the southern edge of the Cotswolds and famous for its Roman Baths, is one of the loveliest cities in Europe with its Georgian architecture and the renowned Royal Crescent, all constructed from Cotswold limestone. The most famous tea shop here is Sally Lunns, located in one of the oldest houses in Bath and home of the Sally Lunn bun, dating back 300 years to when the French refugee first baked her rich buns – they are still baked to a secret recipe. These large round brioche buns can be taken with sweet or savoury toppings; afternoon teas consist of half a toasted bun topped with smoked salmon, or buns served with clotted cream and jam, amongst many other options. There is also a museum which shows the medieval and Roman foundations of the building as well as the original kitchen where Sally Lunn first baked her famous buns.
When in Bath pay a visit to the famous spa in the city, and visit Painswick, a historic wool town known as the Queen of the Cotswolds with its beautiful stone and mediaeval buildings. Chedworth Roman Villa is famous for its Roman mosaic work, and Castle Combe is another village considered to be one of the loveliest in the Cotswolds that has been used as a film location numerous times.
Practical Information – Getting to the Cotswolds
It takes around 2 hours to drive from London to the Cotswolds. The M4 takes you to Bath and the southern Cotswolds, whereas the M40 will take you to the Northern Cotswolds. Car hire is also available in the main cities such as Gloucester, Bath and Cheltenham, and classic cars are also available to hire to add to your ‘quintessential England’ experience!
By rail it takes about 1 ½ hours to travel to the Cotswolds from London Paddington, and regular services run to the main cities such as Moreton in Marsh, Bath, Cheltenham, and Gloucester. National Express coach services run from London Victoria Coach Station to Cirencester, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Stroud or Bath, from where you can catch local buses to towns such as Stow on the Wold or Bourton on the Water.
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- Louise Hanzlik