If like us, you sometimes feel life is getting too hectic and the thought of a busy beach abroad is a little overwhelming, then perhaps the answer is closer to home. The delightful Stow-on-the-Wold is an ancient Cotswold Wool Town and its charmingly named streets, such as Sheeps Street and Fleece Alley, reflect this.
Its market square is home to a collection of cafés, restaurants, boutiques and treasure-filled antique shops. And, with Oxford less than an hour away, Stratford-upon-Avon, Cheltenham and Cirencester just over half an hour and smaller towns such as Chipping Norton, Chipping Campden and Moreton-in-Marsh a mere 15-minutes drive, Stow is a convenient base to see the rest of the Cotswolds and its attractions.
There’s something for everyone, with buggy-friendly walks and petting farms for little ones, and kayaking, zorbing or just mooching around the town’s boutiques for teens – we especially like Vintage and Paint, a guaranteed winner with vintage lovers.
If you’re lucky with the weather, drive 40 minutes southwest to the Cotswolds Waterpark. Unlike the usual slides and chlorine pools that instantly spring to mind, this waterpark is a nature reserve, spread over 40 square miles, with more than 150 lakes. Here you’ll find the largest inland bathing beach in the UK, alongside activities such as zorbing, crazy golf and a mix of watersports including waterskiing and windsurfing.
Closer still is the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens, great for animal lovers and aspiring zoo keepers. Daily activities include penguin and lemur feeding. Or get up close and personal on an Animal Encounter, these include meeting the giant tortoise or giraffe.
As huge fans of Adam Henson’s slot on Countryfile, we jumped at the chance to visit his Cotswold Farm Park just 15 minutes from Stow, in Kineton. Say hello to the animals in the Touch Barn and petting areas, witness chicks emerging from their eggs and watch demonstrations on sheep shearing and milking, or take a ride in the tractor’s trailer.
Don’t miss: There are many beautiful walks around the Cotswolds that are buggy friendly and ideal for kids to let off steam. Just a few minutes from Stow are The Slaughters, two of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds. Perched along the banks of the crystal-clear River Eye, they are perfect for enjoying a leisurely stroll. Take time to explore the 19th century corn mill (with working waterwheel) in Lower Slaughter, before continuing on to Upper Slaughter.
Top tip: Avoid the summer daytrippers and take a magical winter break instead, you can smell the log burners as you drive into the village and cosy up in one of the many traditional pubs.
Where to eat
For an old-fashioned taste of the Cotswolds head to Lucy’s Tearoom, where a friendly face and stacks of scones, biscuits, cake and homemade lemonade will greet you. While over at family-friendly Digbeth’s, locally-sourced seasonal grub is served alongside colouring books and crayons to keep your little ones amused as you linger over a long lunch in its walled garden. If you’re on the move, get a quick sugar-rush at the market square’s traditional sweet shop, which sells sherbet lemons by the pound and melt-in-the-mouth handmade fudge.
We stayed at South View Cottage, a 17th century Cotswolds stone cottage situated just 5 minutes from the market square down a quaint little alley.
It’s well-equipped with all the usual amenities, a log burner for those chilly nights and a beautiful sunny walled garden complete with apple tree and two seating areas so you can follow the sun as it moves across the garden.
The charming shabby chic interior provides a harmonious combination of traditional country style with 21st century luxury. The attic room has a double and single bed, which is great for kids, and a cot and highchair are provided on request.
Prices for Southview Cottage start from £320 for three nights and £480 per week for a family of up to five people. A complimentary welcome pack is provided for guests staying for seven nights or more, containing bread, milk, butter, jam and wine.
How to get there: Stow-on-the-Wold is easily accessible by the M40, alternatively catch the train from London Paddington to Moreton-in-Marsh. Book on thetrainline.com.
Travel time: It’s roughly 2 hours by car from London, 2 hours 30 minutes from Manchester and 1 hour 10 minutes from Birmingham. The train from London Paddington takes 1 hour 40 minutes to Moreton-in-Marsh – it’s then a 10-minute drive to Stow. Book your trip to the Cotswolds on thetrainline.com