5 Breathtakingly Beautiful Cotswolds Castles

A trip to the English countryside in the Cotswolds will quickly squash any doubts that you might have, as to why the region was officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Here, you’ll find rolling hills of lush grassland, winding waterways, and a predominantly rural landscape that will seemingly transport you many hundreds of years into the past.

While you could very well enjoy a visit here by exploring what secrets lie in its famous stone-built villages, if you are a fan of the spectacular, some of the more grandiose attractions to go visit, are the large and historically significant castles that are a common sight throughout the area.

In this article, we’ll list some of the best ones that are worth visiting. In no particular order, these must-see castles include the following:

1. Sudeley Castle

Enjoy both a history lesson and spectacular garden views as you make your way around Sudeley Castle.

Sudeley Castle
Inside the grounds of Sudeley Castle

The castle was once home to many of England’s past royals, and you’ll get to see how they lived their lives in opulence.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped with formal gardens that are fit for a queen.

In fact, Queen Katherine Parr, the last of King Henry VIII’s wives and the only one to survive him, now rests eternally in St. Mary’s Church, an historic landmark that sits in Sudeley Castle grounds.

An aerial photo of Sudeley Castle, showing the extent of the buildings and gardens
The castle and St Mary’s church, with the parterre garden in the foreground

2. Broughton Castle

This moated manor is privately owned by the Fiennes family, but certain rooms inside the castle are open to the public. The manor itself is built atop an artificial island that’s fully surrounded by water. If you take the time to wander the grounds, which we advise that you do, you’ll be greeted by well-decorated rooms and scenic gardens that will surely inspire awe.

Although this manor-house/castle is slightly outside of the Cotswolds AONB it’s worth considering if you are going to be visiting the area.

3. Berkeley Castle

Another castle that is just outside of the AONB, this castle was built in the 12th century to be the home of the Berkeley family and up to this day, it remains under their care.

It’s a family-oriented attraction in that educational tours and history-inspired performances are a common feature to be found.

If you’re looking to do more than just explore medieval hallways and gardens (which you can), Berkeley Castle provides a more engaging experience than other castles on this list.

4. Beverston Castle

Also known as Tetbury Castle, Beverston Castle was constructed to be a stone fortress that stood tall against invaders. Today, however, it is considered a ruin, possessing only a portion of its former glory. The grounds are still worthy of visiting, though. You’ll find stunning medieval architecture and extensive gardens enriched further by the historic significance of the site.

5. Warwick Castle

Historic Warwick castle, in the city of the same name is a scheduled ancient monument and a Grade I listed building.

The castle is over 1100 years old but has been restored to its former glory, having survived many attempts to destroy it over the years.

Also just outside the AONB but if you are planning a visit to Stratford on Avon then it’s worth stopping off here too and you can even stay here overnight.

Conclusion

With picturesque views and strong links to England’s rich history, these castles are definitely an adventure that you shouldn’t miss. If you are interested in learning more about the Cotswolds and what you can experience here, sign up for our newsletter today and we’ll be happy to guide you.

Off the Beaten Track in Burford

Burford is a lovely Cotswolds wool town, but head off the pretty (and always busy!) High Street to St John’s Church for some offbeat sights and stories.

The Unwanted Tomb

Tanfield Tomb in Burford Church
The Tanfields’ tomb

Lawrence Tanfield was a politician, judge, and a highly unpopular local lord of Burford Manor because of his arrogant and mean behaviour.

When he died in 1628, both Westminster Abbey and Burford church refused to put up a memorial.

But his wife Katherine decided he should get one anyway and marched a team of workmen to the north chapel. 

The result was a huge, garish shrine depicting the Tanfields lying below six Corinthian columns surrounded by arches, obelisks and the family coat of arms.

Underneath the couple rests a skeleton carved in stone apart from one real, human thigh bone (origin unknown). 

Spirit in a Bottle

The townspeople tolerated the grand tomb (well, it was hard to shift), but burned an effigy of the unlovely twosome every year for a couple of centuries to show the hate lived on.

The vengeful ghosts of the Tanfields were said to haunt Burford by hurtling round the town in a blazing coach and a priest was hired to exorcise the town of these unwelcome visitors.

He captured their spirits in a bottle and hurled it into the nearby River Windrush. Locals were so concerned that the ghastly pair would escape if the river ran dry that they topped up the water during hot summers. 

Pioneer Playwright

Elizabeth Cary in Burford Church
Elizabeth Cary

Standing by the Tanfield tomb is a ‘weeper’ effigy of their only daughter.

Elizabeth Cary (her married name) taught herself several languages and was such an avid reader that she bribed her maid for extra candles so she could study at night, defying her mother’s instructions to get some beauty sleep.

The reading paid off: Elizabeth Cary penned the first published play by a woman, ‘The Tragedy of Mariam’, in 1613.

She also found time to produce eleven children and learn a few more languages. 

Not Civil

Scratched into the font of Burford’s church is ‘Antony Sedley 1649 prisner’: He was one of 340 Parliamentarian soldiers locked inside.

Inscription on Burford Font

The group were known as the Levellers and had demanded reforms (and pay) after the victory of their Roundhead leader Oliver Cromwell in the Civil War against the king-supporting Royalists.

Cromwell decided to teach them a lesson.

The group were ordered onto the roof of their church/prison to watch as three of their leaders being shot – the bullet marks scar the church wall. Sedley and his friends were then released.

The rebellion was over.

Three ‘A’s: Arts and Crafts, Americans and an Antique

Stained glass window designed by Christopher Whall

Other highlights in the church include a memorial with the earliest known English images of American Indians, and stained glass windows by Arts and Crafts designer Christopher Whall.

Oh and one of Britain’s oldest mechanical clocks has been ticking away here since 1685. 

… and watch out for that blazing Tanfield carriage battling through the permanent traffic jam on the High Street!

A Bit About the Author

Seaan Callery in front of Bliss Mill in Chipping Norton

Sean Callery is a Blue Badge guide for the Heart of England and the author of Offbeat Cotswolds.

His website is offbeatcotswolds.com and you can also find him on Instagram and Facebook. (Facebook.com/tourcotswolds and instagram.com/offbeatcotswolds)

Get free UK postage when ordering a copy of his book by quoting the code DC20BK.

Chipping Norton: The Town that Moved Up Hill

Chipping Norton Town Hall

Chipping Norton, or Chippy, as locals call it, is one of the highest towns in the Cotswolds, but this was not always the case.

The town began down in the valley of the River Glyme – the earthworks of the Norman castle, built to keep the locals in order are still there. But the local lord William FitzAlan had ambitions to make the town a major centre, so he built a huge market square (bigger than the area it covers today) up the hill.

Alley way in Chipping Norton

Houses were built to surround the market space, and the long, narrow alleyways behind them remain, showing that these were burgage plots: long, narrow sites that gave every shop a window onto the High Street – this is the origin of the phrase ‘window shopping’.

The medieval buildings around the market place benefited from a makeover after 1704. The construction of Blenheim Palace down the road made the ornate baroque style fashionable, and lots of Chippy’s main buildings got a makeover with smooth-stoned, symmetrical frontages.

Bliss Mill

However, cattle, horses and sheep were still sold here, as well as wool, which led to the development of the town’s weaving industry and the building of the iconic Bliss Mill. The Bliss family played a huge role in the development of Chipping Norton, before they hit hard times and sold up in 1895.

The new management pushed down wages and resisted the rise of the workers’ rights movement. This led to a strike that is famous in trade union history, and one of Chippy’s alarmingly regular ‘riots’ as 50 policeman were needed to hold back picketing strikers when their fellow workers headed to do a shift at the mill.

Bliss Mill, Chipping Norton
Bliss Mill dates from 1872. Its distinctive chimney has been likened to a sink plunger!

Town Hall

Another uprising led to the 1845 trial of a policeman called Charles Knott who was over eager in calming down a belligerent pub customer, bashing him over the head with his cosh. The poor chap was flung into a cell underneath the new Town Hall. When they opened up the next day, he was dead. The policeman was found ‘not guilty’ because his victim, rather conveniently, was found to have an unusually thin skull.

Chipping Norton Town Hall
Mr Slatter, the pub brawler who got bashed over the head, was kept in the cells here in the newly built Town Hall.

Rock ‘n’ Roll

There were 20 coach houses in Chippy at one time, giving customers and horses a welcome respite from the bumpy roads. When rail took over, many continued as pubs, and legendary drummer with The Who, Keith Moon, briefly owned one here from 1970

Many of his mates from the music industry would have been the other side of the bar, for the town had a recording studio from 1972 to 1997. Its walls echoes to hits such as ‘Bye Bye Baby’ from the Bay City Rollers, ‘Too Shy’ by Kajagoogoo, and ‘Baker Street’ by Gerry Rafferty.
Today the town is a hidden gem in the Cotswolds, with independent shops, a wonderful ‘Woolgothic’ church, and a terrific theatre that lives in an old Salvation Army chapel and puts on one of the top pantomimes in the country every year.
… Oh yes it does!

A bit about the author

Sean Callery runs regular walking tours of Chipping Norton through his Offbeat Cotswolds guiding operation ( www.offbeatcotswolds.com ).
He is a Blue Badge Guide for the Heart of England.

A Walk in the English Countryside

3 Must-See Attractions in Castle Combe

Castle Combe, otherwise known as the Prettiest Village in England, is nestled in the southernmost corner of the Cotswolds. Visiting this sleepy, rural community is like stepping back into the 14th century.

Elegantly crafted stone houses, weavers’ cottages, stately gardens and narrow byways combine to create a traditional and picturesque English village.

While the castle on the hill made famous by the Normans no longer exists, the village of Castle Combe is a beautifully preserved example of the way life used to be in the English countryside. If you are out on a walking tour of Wiltshire, be sure to stop here to have a pint and explore its ancient sites and quiet charm. Here are three must-see highlights.

1. A 14th century Market Cross can be found in the centre of the village. These stone landmarks were used to signify the market squares in medieval times. Adjacent to the Market Cross, you will also find a Buttercross. This stone structure is where traders and market goers would tether their horses.

2. Located in the centre of the village, St. Andrew’s Church was built in the 13th century. The tower was added in the 15th century. Wealthy wool merchants funded the tower. The tower’s clock, which was designed by a local blacksmith, is the most famous attraction at St. Andrew’s Church. The clock is not only faceless, which makes it unique, but it is also considered to be one of the oldest working medieval clocks in England.

castle combe church

3. Take a stroll from the Market Cross to By Brook. By Brook is the river that powered Castle Combe’s wool industry in the Middle Ages. The Town Bridge and the Roman Bridge both span this river, and they are charming, well-preserved relics of a bygone era.

Gloucester Cathedral

History at its Finest

England is full of history, most of which is deep rooted into the culture of the people that live here. In addition to many historical buildings, churches and castles, the wide open pastures and fields are ideal for anyone who’s the adventurous type.

While all of England is rich with culture and history, the Cotswolds in particular are home to one of the oldest cathedrals in the land: Gloucester Cathedral.
Built in 678 CE by an Anglo-Saxon community, Gloucester Cathedral has stood the test of time, as it has seen everything from indoctrination to coronations of kings.

Around 1000 CE, the cathedral became a Benedictine Monastery, and by 1100 CE, St. Peter’s Abbey was consecrated.

In 1216, King Henry III was the first king to be coroneted there, with several other chains of monarchies being reconnected thereafter.

Various historical ceremonies took place up until 2006, when the last known activity there was the replacement of gargoyles on the south aisle of the cathedral.
In addition to learning about the history, what else can you expect when visiting Gloucester Cathedral?

Situated in the British countryside you’ll see centuries of some of the finest architecture seen in the area, active services because the church is still operational, music and even guided tours and group visits of the cathedral, tower and surrounding areas.
If you decide to tour the grounds and cathedral in a tour or by yourself, you’ll eventually pass the east window in the Chapter House. Crafted by Christopher Whall, a key member of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century, the east window features arguably his finest work in the form of stained glass named The Lady Chapel.

The Great Hall in Harry Potter…

Gloucester Cathedral also plays a momentous backdrop to the Hollywood series, Harry Potter. The interior and many areas around the outside of the cathedral featured extensively as locations in the film series.

Considered by many to be the finest stained glass exhibition of that period in England, visitors will be able to witness one of the most beautiful examples of fine art in all of England.

So, if you’re ever in the Cotswolds, don’t forget to visit Gloucester Cathedral.

While the Cotswolds contain more sites and history than you could possibly get to in a day,  Gloucester Cathedral is one destination that you’ll be glad you fit into your schedule.