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Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Cotswolds AONB

PUBLISHED: 11:26 11 April 2016 | UPDATED: 13:22 11 April 2016

Lodge Park

Lodge Park

National Trust

Whether you’re admiring the craftsmanship of a magnificent wool church, enjoying a meal made with ingredients from our beautiful landscape or noticing how our dry-stone walls enhance the mellow hues of the fields they border, man’s presence is everywhere in the Cotswolds.

The story of the Cotswolds is of course inextricably linked with stone and wool. If you wander through our rolling pastures dotted with sheep, stopping off at a picturesque town whose exquisite honey coloured houses and churches were funded by the wool trade, there are constant reminders. For 6,000 years, human beings have interacted with the Cotswolds, each generation leaving its own particular mark: Nympsfield Long Barrow from the Neolithic Age, Hillforts from the Iron Age, while all those mysteriously atmospheric spots with Standing Stones of local oolitic limestone (Rollright Stones near Chipping Norton and the Standing Stones at Minchinhampton Common) are evidence of the Bronze Age. The Romans introduced sheep to the Cotswolds and in the Middle Ages, Cotswoldians used the wealth generated from their fleeces to build cathedrals, abbeys and manor houses.

Today, so many of those living in and visiting the Cotswolds continue to make their mark on our unique landscape from farmers and stone-masons to artisan food-producers. For 2016 the Cotswolds Conservation board are organising a range of interactive events and activities to mark 50 years of the Cotswolds being designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Celebrating the wonderful way that so many people preserve and enhance our living landscape, the festivities will encourage us all to play a part in it – whether it’s captivating the beauty of the Cotswolds in artwork, supporting artisan producers or simply relishing our landscape by getting out and exploring it.

We may not all build a hillfort in 2016, but there are numerous tasty, artistic and fascinating ways for all ages to add to the richness of our Cotswold heritage.

Green fields and blue skies over the Cotswold way © allou, ShutterstockGreen fields and blue skies over the Cotswold way © allou, Shutterstock

Living countryside

The Cotswolds has a wonderful network of footpaths and bridle-paths meandering through fertile farmland, wildflower grasslands and commons into hidden valleys and through native woodlands. Three thousand miles of footpath in fact, allowing us to explore secret corners of seven counties, finding perfect picnic spots, hills to climb and hedgerows to forage in. Voluntary Wardens do brilliant work for the AONB, repairing stiles, kissing gates and dry stone walls plus leading guided walks which encourage others to appreciate our landscape.

Cotswold Voluntary Wardens will be joining Liz Eyre, Chairman of the Cotswolds Conservation Board, who is walking the Cotswold Way from Bath to Chipping Campden in several stages during 2016. School groups and other community groups will also join Liz on March 19 when she begins her walk – all are welcome to join her at the Bath roadshow which will feature rural skills demonstrations, information on other Cotswold walks and the opportunity for everyone to bring along their own images of the Cotswolds. See www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk for more info.

By following Laurie Lee’s example and just striding out on our footpaths ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ style (perhaps not quite to the Pyrenees as he did) enjoying our magical valleys and honey-stoned villages, we’re of course contributing to the AONB by keeping the paths used and open.

You can also combine exploration of our countryside with a cultural Cotswolds experience on a Golden Guided Tour – the Cotswolds Conservation board has teamed up with Go Cotswolds to provide day tours of the Cotswolds by mini-bus which will include lunch and a short walk:

- Cotswolds Arts & Crafts Guided Tour

From Stratford-upon-Avon to Broadway and Chipping Campden exploring the legacy of the talented designers and craftspeople such as C.R. Ashbee, Gordon Russell and Robert Welch who brought their ideas and skills to the Cotswolds in the early twentieth century. Tuesday, April 5, £40.

- Brewery to Distillery Guided Tour

Visiting the Hook Norton brewery which is brewing a ‘Cotswold Lion’ ale to commemorate the AONB’s golden anniversary and the Cotswold Distillery near Chipping Norton where you can sample their fabulous gin (botanicals include lavender grown at Snowshill) next to the wood-burner in their cosy Cotswolds visitors centre. Tuesday, June 7, £60.

Living art

Need inspiration? There are some wonderful courses across the AONB, including:

- Three-day photography course – based at Mill Dene Gardens, Blockley and Broadway, you can learn how to take good quality pictures in beautiful village settings.

- Learn how to paint and draw the Cotswolds with local Artist Alexandra Woods who captures the spirit of British farm animals in her own wonderful paintings. Three-day course starting at Blenheim Palace and finishing at the Cotswolds Discovery Centre in Northleach.

For details of these and other creative courses, visit www.cotswoldsaonb.org.uk/50

Living rural skills

Shepherds, farmers, blacksmiths, stone-masons, potters and weavers have all helped shape the living, working landscape of the Cotswolds over the centuries. Roadshow tours, starting at Bath on March 19 and organised by the Cotswolds Conservation Board, will feature rural skills demonstrations and there are opportunities to learn skills ranging from dry-stone walling and hedge-laying to weaving on courses throughout the year. Find out more at www.cotswoldsruralskills.org.uk

You can also learn more about how agriculture has changed during the last 50 years at the Cotswolds Discovery Centre at Northleach, where the ‘rural life collection’ of historic agricultural machinery collected in the 1960s by Olive Lloyd Baker is kept. Based at the 18th-century Old Prison building (you can see the cells too), the Discovery Centre has a café using locally-sourced produce.

Living edible landscape

Our Cotswold landscape is a fertile area in which to produce delicious food and drink and a wonderful place in which to enjoy scoffing it too. Local food has played a major part in shaping the countryside that produces it from the Cotswold lambs grazing our pastures to the fruit from our ancient orchards and there are some great local tipples perfect for toasting the AONB’s anniversary.

Sample delicious local food and drink at:

- Cotswolds Living Landscape Festival at the National Trust’s Lodge Park – Sunday, September 18, 10.30am to 4pm. Featuring a great array of rural skills demonstrations too from thatching to blacksmithing and showcasing crafts, live traditional music and dance.

- Cotswolds Food & Craft Christmas Market - Saturday, December 3, 10.30am to 4pm at the Cotswolds Discovery Centre, Northleach. A festive celebration of local produce with craft and food stalls, music and mulled wine.

Cotswold Conservation Board

The Old Prison, Fosse Way

Northleach, GL54 3JH

Tel: 01451 862000

www.cotswoldaonb.org.uk

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