Moreton-in-Marsh is the northern gateway to the Cotswolds so a good place to start your Cotswolds adventure. With a direct rail service to and from London Paddington, Moreton-in-Marsh is often the first Cotswolds town you set eyes on when arriving by train. Attractive and with a long history, Moreton offers a good choice of pubs, shops for provisions and a busy open-air market every Tuesday for stocking up on local produce. If you're lucky enough to visit on the first Saturday in September, the Moreton-in-Marsh Agricultural Show is definitely one for the calendar.
Parts of Gloucester look like any other English town until you turn a corner and suddenly you're hit with the impressive sight of Gloucester Cathedral in all its splendour, or the wonky walls and windows of the Gloucester Life Museum which is in a Tudor wooden framed building dating back 500 years. The museum's entry charge, particularly the family ticket, is good value as it gives access to both this museum and the Museum of Gloucester where you can find out more about the Roman influence on the town.
It wasn't that long ago that Gloucester Docks were in sad decay. A recent programme of rejuvenation has turned the area into a pleasant place to spend a sunny afternoon, with a good choice of restaurants and pubs for lunch or dinner. The Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum and the National Waterways Museum (which also has lots of useful information about the docks) are also by the Docks, and it is possible to take a boat trip along the canal between April and the end of October.
The best way to see the World Heritage City of Bath is on foot. There is a lot of information on the Visit Bath website, such as a free app, but you'll learn so much more if you follow an enthusiastic and experienced local volunteer guide from the Mayor of Bath's Corps of Honorary Guides. These tours last around two hours and are completely free, and will give you an insight not only into Bath's most famous features but also into the city's secret nooks and crannies.
In addition to the Roman Baths (expensive, but worth it if you've never seen Roman ruins up close, and with public toilets conveniently inside but before you have to buy a ticket!), Bath boasts more museums than any other UK city its size, including the Fashion Museum, American Museum, Museum of East Asian Art, Victoria Art Gallery, and Bath Medical Museum. It's also a great city for shopping and eating cakes. A visit to the famous tea house and kitchen museum, Sally Lunn's, is a fun experience and is one of the oldest homes in the city and birthplace of the Bath bun. It can get crowded, particularly around lunchtime and on weekends, so a good alternative is a gelato at The Real Italian Ice-Cream Co opposite the river on York Street (cash payments only).
The Cotswold Way
80% of the Cotswolds is farmland so, as pretty as the towns and cities are, make time to get out into the countryside. There are so many footpaths to follow that you can easily find one to fit in with your available time and ability. The Cotswold Way (information and maps available on the National Trails website) takes you through countryside and villages between Chipping Campden and Bath . You would have to be pretty energetic to cover all 102 miles of the route during your holiday, so most people opt to choose one or two shorter sections of the trail. Other routes in the Cotswolds include the Heart of England Way, Gloucestershire Way and the Diamond Way. If you only have the legs for one walk, make it the one between Bourton and Lower Slaughter (approx. 5 miles).
The market town of Stow-on-the-Wold is all the best bits of the Cotswolds neatly presented in one incredibly attractive package. For starters, it's old. Why choose a bland restaurant chain for coffee or lunch when you can dine in The Porch House, which dates back to 947AD and has staked its claim as England's Oldest Inn. Far from being some stuffy relic, the bar and restaurant is a good choice for breakfast for those who like an early start, and has a fantastic gin menu.
Stow-on-the-Wold's architecture may seem pretty and quaint, but it was built to serve the market that, in its heydey, was a hub for the booming British wool industry. The narrow streets leading to Market Square were built that way to be able to herd sheep to be sold at the annual fair, the biggest in Britain where up to 20,000 sheep could be sold at a time. St Edward's Church held prisoners of the last battle of the Civil War where the Royalists were defeated to leave the way clear for Cromwell; and many of the houses in the town's centre, which date from the 1600s and 1700s, seem almost modern in comparison to the Crooked House, which was built in the mid-1400s.
Don't miss the stocks which, although replaced, have stood in the same spot to punish, shame, and deter those from a life of crime for centuries. Stow-on-the-Wold is also perfect for browsing lovely shops. Take the kids to the Cotswold Sweet Company and watch their eyes bulge at the array of treats lined up in jars, and browse the shelves of the Borzoi bookshop to discover a new favourite author.
Burford is another 'must visit' town. With its iconic Cotswolds countryside views beckoning you down the High Street, past the tantalising shops towards the River Windrush, it is hardly surprising that so many celebs choose to live in and around this highly desirable medieval town. When you have exhausted the shops and pubs in the town itself, head out to Burford Garden Centre for some more retail and food therapy. Just a short drive out of town, Burford Garden Centre sells everything from chic interior homeware, to designer clothing all under one roof so perfect if the weather is inclement.
If you need more inspiration, go and discover the Roman history of Cirencester or the elegant Georgian shops and bars of the Montpellier area in Cheltenham.