48 hours in Gloucestershire
Review by Sarah Raven
What To See
If, like me, you’ve never been to Gloucestershire, you’ll still have seen pictures of it – as any English garden calendar worth its salt includes a snap. Sandwiched between south Wales and Oxfordshire, the county is popular with Japanese tourists keen to experience the ‘real’ England – cream teas, pub lunches and quaint market towns.
The best way to see the area is by car, so you have the freedom to hop between villages. But with just 48 hours to spare, where should you start?
What To See : Back to top
A former royal hunting ground, the Forest of Dean is a now a public playground crisscrossed with walking and cycle trails. Oak, beech, sweet chestnut and larch span 27,000 acres, stretching from the River Wye in the north to the Severn in the south, with the city of Gloucester to the east.
My partner and I hired bikes from Cannop Cycle Centre (www.visitforestofdean.co.uk) and completed their family cycle trail, an old railway track that’s flat, smooth and shaded, so it’s suitable for any age. The route takes about two hours – more if you get lost, like we did. The map provided, along with cryptic signs, seem designed to make you train for the next Tour de France. But in theory, if you cycle in a clockwise direction, then towards the end of the 11-mile route you’ll come to Mallards Pike, a lake and lawn with picnic benches.
Once you’ve dropped your bikes back, head north to Three Choirs Vineyards (www.three-choirs-vineyards.co.uk), two miles north of Newent. Opened in 1975, its vineyard now stretches over 75 acres, so the estate is large enough to while away an afternoon and on a sunny day, it feels like California’s Napa Valley.
After relaxing on the terrace decking outside the restaurant, we explored the dusty tracks winding between the grapevines alone, although there are guided winery tours (with wine tasting) at 2.30pm Monday to Saturday. If you have more time, you can opt for a half-day cookery course or wine appreciation class – and if you have one too many glasses, stay in one of the 11 lodges on site.
On your second day, make for Chipping Campden, a small market town in the north of the Cotswolds. You won’t find a Clinton Cards here – just a handful of tearooms, a traditional sweet shop and the old market hall, built from Cotswolds stone in 1627. Stroll along its charming high street then pop into The Gallery at the Guild (www.thegalleryattheguild.co.uk), a cooperative of painters, sculptors and photographers, which has a cafe next door.
Next, visit Hidcote Manor Garden (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hidcote), a few miles north – even the journey is a pleasure, as you’ll drive past farmland and fruit orchards. Once a private home, Hidcote is now a National Trust property with a 10.5 acre sculpture garden which takes a good two hours to explore. Every time we thought we’d seen it all, we found another secret garden – which is exactly what the former owner, horticulturalist Lawrence Johnston, had in mind. He designed it as a series of rooms, each with its own atmosphere. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but mine was the upper stream garden, which was a wild tangle of blooms. A tennis court near the kitchen garden is included in the £9.05 entry fee.
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Eating Out : Back to top
Foodies will be pleased to know there are farmer’s markets in most villages in the area throughout the week, although most are one day a month at weekends – visit www.local-farmers-markets.co.uk for a comprehensive list. My trip coincided with Newent’s onion fayre, so as well as watching an onion eating contest I sampled onion bread, a sweet, chewy jerky which was good enough to eat on its own, although it would have paired well with brie.
When every pub you enter has stone walls, beams, antiques and hanging baskets above the door, it’s hard to choose one in which to eat. But The Cock Inn in Blakeney (www.thecockinnblakeney.com), between the Forest of Dean and Severn, has a good reputation for a reason – its head chef, Andrew Jeffs, trained under Nico Ladenis, the three-star Michelin chef. My cauliflower cheese soup was thick and buttery, but it was let down by the white bread spread with margarine that came with it. Never mind – my main, a generous portion of garlic roast king prawns with mushroom and sweet potato risotto – was delicious, and my partner declared his slow roast pork with chestnut stuffing and buttered cabbage to be in his top five meals of all time. Not bad for £35.90 for the two of us, excluding drinks and tip.
The Mermaid in Burford is a short drive from the Cotswolds villages of Stow on the Wold, Bourton on Water and Bibury, although it’s technically in Oxfordshire. The first floor and room at the back on the ground floor have been renovated and have lost their character, but the front part of the pub is cosy, with stone floors, an open fireplace and leaded windows. The menu is meat-heavy, but caters for diners following a gluten-free or vegetarian diet – veggies should try the Sunday nut roast.
If you want something lighter, Lucy’s Tearoom on the square in Stow on the Wold is a good bet. If it’s warm enough, opt for a cream tea in the courtyard, or sit in the window at the front watching village life go by.
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Sleepover : Back to top
My base for the weekend was a converted 19th Methodist chapel in the town of Cinderford, on the fringe of the Forest of Dean. Pew Corner has two double bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, a kitchen and dining area and a lounge with a balcony overlooking the kitchen. Thick carpets and cream decor make it modern and stylish, but it’s a shame that the only original feature is the floor to ceiling window at the front – especially when the forest views are at the back.
But it felt like home, especially as the owner, Lynda, had thoughtfully provided candles by the bath, magazines in the lounge and a basket stocked with local produce – including eggs, a fresh loaf and cloudy apple juice from Hayles Fruit Farm (www.haylesfruitfarm.co.uk). All the right ingredients for a picnic on our bike ride.
Premier Cottages features 1,000 four and five-star self-catering cottages around the UK. I stayed in A Forest Chapel For You’s Pew Corner, which costs from £659 for a week for up to four people and £387 for a two-night break. To book a stay, consult www.premiercottages.co.uk or call 01594 827311.
Direct trains to Gloucester from Birmingham New Street or Bristol take an hour, or one hour 55 mins from London Paddington, with www.thetrainline.com.
Hiring a VW Golf costs £98 for two days with www.1stcallautorentals.co.uk – you’ll be met at the station.