Spring Days Out in the Cotswolds

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img_7549Five fabulous Cotswold gardens to visit this spring

The first sunshine of the year warming your skin, birdsong in the morning and at dusk, the smell of cut grass filling the air (if you could smell the colour green, that’s how it would smell) and colour lighting up the landscape. That is spring, a season you can enjoy in all its glory in the Cotswolds, where the landscape seems tailor-made to take the pastoral symphony to a virtuoso performance.

With the weather improving and the May bank holidays looming closer, the excitement is building; ahead of us are sunny days out in the countryside, to enjoy with our nearest and dearest. There are plenty of options, but if you are into nature and truly idyllic locations, the following destinations are not to be missed.

  1. Highgrove Gardens.  The Garden tours at Highgrove, the official residence of HRH the Prince of Wales, just outside Tetbury, are a truly delightful way to spend a morning or an afternoon. They are informative and entertaining and they give you a real glimpse of the man and inspiration behind the gardens. The gardens are varied and full of surprising and charming elements and reflect a personal touch and love of nature. You need to book in advance and you can finish your visit with a lovely afternoon tea in the garden restaurant.
  2. North Cerney House Gardens. A little hidden gem in North Cerney, between Cirencester and Cheltenham, North Cerney House Gardens are an enchanting example of a walled garden. Set on the hillside, the garden is eclectic in style, and reminiscent of a cottage garden. Ornamental plants and fruit trees, woodland and vegetable garden make for an eclectic and varied landscape and an interesting walk through the meandering paths. You can make a cup of tea and help yourself to biscuits for a small donation. It feels like visiting the home of a long-lost relative, it is homely and picturesque and entirely unique!
  3. Sudely Castle Gardens. Sudeley castle is a major attraction in its own right, having played host to kings and queens, from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, and most notably, having been the residence of Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s wives. A tip for those of you who want to capture the true spirit of this historic jewel: come on a weekday, outside of the school holidays. I did, and had the exclusive pleasure of wandering alone along the atmospheric corridors of the castle, hearing only the creaking of the floorboards under my footsteps. The gardens though, merit a special mention in their own right, delivering on a grand scale in spring when tulips and roses bring a vibrant burst of colour to the hedged lawns. The garden is as intriguing as the castle and steeped in its rich history. Queen Katherine used to cross it daily to the church, where she is now buried, accompanied by the ill-fated Lady Grey. Two topiary silhouettes have been erected in the garden to commemorate this. Take time to learn about the White Garden, the Secret Garden, the Queen’s Garden, the Tudor Physic Garden and many more.
  4. Westonbirt Arboretum. Always a great destination to feast in the glory of nature, no matter what the season. We have written before about how amazing this venue is. I have been a member for almost 20 years and can’t imagine life without it. It is a proper haven for the soul. In spring, it is a feast of azaleas, magnolias, rhododendrons and tender green buds signalling the awakening of the great woodland collection. There is a bird observatory too for your little ones to enjoy watching some nest building in progress. Take a picnic or feast on the lovely food at the Restaurant if you build up an appetite!
  5.  Painswick Rococo Gardens . Between Stroud and Cheltenham, Painswick is a small, sleepy village on the hillside, playing host to some rather spectacular gardens. The Rococo gardens, from the mid 1700s, are not about neat geometric patterns but about bucolic splendour, fairy-tale woodland with unexpected follies, chattering brooks amid valleys of wild garlic and meandering paths in dappled shade. At every turn, you are treated to another breath-taking, picturesque vista, punctuated by an Indian pavilion here, a Moorish temple there, a Bavarian castle over yonder. Quite extraordinary. . The valley must be echoing with oohs and aahs of past visitors. Imagine the fun this venue must have provided the illustrious guests of the lavish parties back in the 1700s. Apparently, they selected special plants with foliage that would help reflect the moonlight! Picture the ladies wearing flowing crinoline dresses, gently brushing against the ground, the sweet smelling evening breeze playing with their elegantly gathered locks.  It is a fantastic spot for a woodland walk and a period drama. And it has a maze where you can loose…I mean, keep your kids entertained for a while!

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