Bourton-on-the-Water: A day trip to the archetypal Cotswold village
PUBLISHED: 09:58 29 October 2019
With its sun-stained Cotswold stone buildings and the lazy River Windrush flowing through its centre, Bourton-on-the-Water is an idyllic destination for tourists and locals alike, says Anna Bailey
It's become a bit of an in-joke in the Cotswolds that Bourton is jam-packed with tourists, so for me to pretend otherwise would be a fairly see-through lie, but also a disservice to the village itself. There's a reason why Bourton has the draw that it does. The West Country, as we know, is full of beautiful little hamlets - traditional pubs, 17th-century architecture, picturesque walks: all the classics - but every summer, a phenomenal 300,000 visitors from all over the world flock to see one of England's most quintessential villages, and that's because Bourton-on-the-Water simply has a lot to offer.
Bourton is famed for its stone arched bridges - the oldest of which dates back to 1654 - that span the lazy River Windrush as it flows through the village centre, earning the nickname 'Venice of the Cotswolds'. Having been to Venice for the first time earlier this year, I have to say, I prefer Bourton. In Piazza San Marco you have to queue for hours in the blazing heat if you want to visit the cathedral, but here you can drop in and admire the 14th-century elegance of Bourton's St Lawrence Church without being jostled by quite so many impatient Americans.
Certainly one of the major draws of Bourton is the aesthetic. It is about as classic as they come: settled comfortably in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with its sun-stained Cotswold stone shops and houses, and even the occasional timber-frame thrown in for good measure. Most of the tourists do tend to stick to the High Street, and even in peak season there are very few cars, so wandering around the backstreets, you can almost convince yourself you're in another era altogether. Perhaps we take that for granted sometimes, living in this part of the country, but for those from further afield, this must seem truly idyllic.
And, really, it is. You can definitely beat the worst of the crowds by arriving early, but Bourton is such a lovely village, I find it's always best to adopt an if you can't beat 'em, join 'em attitude when it comes to tourists. First and foremostly, you really should visit Birdland Park and Gardens. Home to over 500 species of birds, including a rather fabulous king penguin enclosure, this is worth the trip even if it's the only thing you do today, especially if you catch the penguins at feeding time. The keepers are all so friendly and so enthusiastic about what they do, it's a genuine pleasure to listen to them talk about their animals. It's ideal for families with small children, but if you love animals then there's really something for all ages here.
Whilst you're down this end of Rissington Road, stop by the Dragonfly Maze next door. This traditional yew hedge maze asks you to solve 14 cryptic clues as you make your way to the centre, where you'll unravel the riddle to find the elusive golden dragonfly. Again, this is brilliant fun for families, or take a few friends and tap into your inner child. Honestly, who doesn't love running around a big maze?
Head on up the High Street to the Model Village. This one-ninth scale replica depicting Bourton in all its Cotswold stone glory was built in the 1930s, and spares no detail, from the shop signs to the arrangement of trees in people's gardens, and even includes a model village of the model village. Visitors can also see the Miniature Landscape Exhibition, which includes seven historic English cottages recreated in perfect detail and proportion by Somerset miniaturist John Constable. Alternatively, if model houses aren't your thing, mosey over to the Cotswold Motoring Museum. This 18th-century mill building now houses a fascinating journey through the history of 20th-century motoring, with vehicles dating back to the early 1900s, as well as a collection of vintage motoring memorabilia. On this side of the river you'll also find the esteemed Cotswold Perfumery, which offers courses on how to make your own fine fragrances.
If you're looking to get out of the heat come lunchtime, make a beeline for one of the village's excellent pubs. Watch the Windrush slipping by as you sit down to a spot of lunch and a pint of real ale in the Duke of Wellington's beer garden. Enjoy the 18th-century cosiness of the Old Manse Hotel, serving some hearty pub classics and excellent ales; or, right on the river, the Kingsbridge Pub is a family favourite that overlooks the lovely village green.
Equally, you can't go wrong with setting up a picnic rug on the banks of the Windrush and dipping your toes in the water while you eat. If, like me, you don't fancy packing lunch and carrying it around all morning (in the weather we've had this summer, no amount of IKEA cooler bags will save those pâté sandwiches), then fear not. Stock up on rustic sandwiches and traditional pastries from the family-run Bakery on the Water, or indulge in a freshly baked pasty, quiche or flatbread from the Cornish Bakery. At this time of year, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to ice cream, but I particularly recommend the blackberries and cream at Fresh4Lunch, which also serves delicious filled baguettes, right on the river.
If you fancy getting out of the crowds for a while, there are plenty of brilliant walks to be had in the surrounding countryside. Bourton is the starting (or finishing) point of the Heart of England Way, which runs all the way up to Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, but if that sounds a bit extravagant, it's only a mile and a half to beautiful Lower Slaughter and a pint of real ale at The Slaughters Country Inn.
Local artist Katie B Morgan designed this beautiful illustrated map of Bourton-on-the-Water for September's issue of Cotswold Life. See below the map for points of interest...
- Aquarium: There used to be one in Victoria Street
- Charles I and the Prince of Wales: Stayed overnight on their retreat from Oxford, June 1644
- Colletts Court: Named after John Collett Ryland, Baptist minister and author, born in Bourton (1723-92)
- Harrington House: Part of it was once run as a brewery
- Victoria Street: Used to be called Threadneedle Street
- Dragonfly Maze: Designed by Kit Williams
- Oasis video: 'I'm outta time' was partly filmed in the Model Village
- Sharon Laws: The cyclist grew up in Bourton
- Car park: Used to film the 007 movie 'Die another Day', 2002
- Model Village: 'Nativity 3: Dude, Where's My Donkey?!' was filmed here, 2014
- Penguins: Featured in Batman film 'Batman returns', 1992
- Missy: The world's oldest captive penguin
- Diamond: The mixed Macaw
- Brum: The star of the children's TV programme can be found at Cotswold Motoring Museum
- Golden conure or golden parakeet: Birdland is part of the international breeding programme
- Football: A match is held in The River Windrush
- Venice of the Cotswolds: Bourton is affectionately known as this
- Iron Age habitation: At Salmonsbury Camp - a national scheduled monument
- Heart of England: The walking route ends in Bourton
- Fosse Way: The Roman Road is to the north west of the village
- Shoemaking: In the past Bourton had more cows than sheep and was known for making shoes
- St Lawrence's Church: Possibly built on the site of a Roman Temple
- Coach and Horses: The pub is a 15-minute walk from the village
- John Churton Collins: Literary critic born in Bourton, 1848
- Wilfrid Hyde White: The actor who played Colonel Pickering in My Fair Lady was born here in 1903
- Adrian William Bay Becher: The first class cricketer was born here in 1897