Best natural places to ‘find tranquillity’ in the Cotswolds

PUBLISHED: 12:58 06 January 2020 | UPDATED: 12:59 06 January 2020

Dark skies over Cleeve Hill. Photo: Ben Hirst

Dark skies over Cleeve Hill. Photo: Ben Hirst

Ben Hirst

Wintertime is wonderful - and so is escaping the brouhaha for some peace and quiet now and then. Head to the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

It's a fantastic time of year, with parties, present-giving and mince pies. But amid all the frenzied preps to make Christmas perfect - and the deflation as January beckons us back to work - you can sometimes get that sudden urge to escape from the hubbub: to clear the mind, re-balance and re-charge.

Luckily, 'tranquillity' is a special quality of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB); in fact 'tranquillity mapping' by the Campaign to Protect Rural England has shown the AONB has a relatively high level of this precious attribute, especially compared with surrounding urban areas. Right on our doorstep and in good supply to enjoy is the balm of natural landscapes, birdsong, streams, woodland, seeing stars at night, hearing silence.

The recent publication of Julian Glover's government-commissioned Landscapes Review into England's National Parks and AONBs also sounds a timely reminder that our "national landscapes should be a positive force for the nation's wellbeing".

Add reports this year that access to green space reduces brain ageing and just a couple of hours a week in the natural world makes people happier, plus evidence that being in the countryside lowers stress - it's clear that tranquillity isn't just for Christmas, it's for a healthy life!

Want to rediscover your seasonal calm? Here are some favourite ways.

Starry, starry night

Enjoy Nature's grandest free show! Gazing up at the night sky's dark expanse studded with faraway stars and planets, almost immediately you feel so very small in a very big picture and little niggles shrink into perspective. Roam your eyes over mysterious craters on the moon; look out for a meteor shower. Good stargazing spots include Cleeve Hill and Dark Sky Discovery Sites the Rollright Stones (Oxfordshire / Warwickshire border) and Aunt Phoebe's Recreation Ground, Long Compton.

Find guides to the night sky at in-the-sky.org or pursue stargazing with your local astronomy group: cnaag.com, cotswoldas.org.uk, bathastronomers.co.uk, wasnet.org.uk

Dip into forest bathing

Immerse body and mind in oh-so-good woodland vibes to revitalise your senses: tingly breezes on your face, listening as hidden creatures stir, sniffing fresh-earth smells. 'Shinrin-yoku' - forest bathing - has been promoted in Japan for decades for its soul-soothing, stress-reducing, health-boosting effects, and winter woods seem like huge natural cathedrals. Stroll, pause, be in the moment and connect with your surroundings, from woodlands within the historic Wychwood Forest to Cotswold Commons and Beechwoods National Nature Reserve around the Painswick Valley.

Quiet as a church mouse

Slip into a church for a quiet moment - even at this time of year when more people than usual may be in and out you can find a calm corner to still your thoughts. Maybe light a candle and remember someone.

We are blessed with lots of famous medieval 'wool' churches, or take yourself off to more tucked-away places like Norman-origin St George's Church, Hampnett; or ancient St Nicholas Church, a spiritual haven in the woods at Oddington.

Winterwatch

As a previous host to BBC2's Winterwatch (and Springwatch / Autumnwatch), the National Trust's Sherborne Park Estate with its variety of woodland, farmland and parkland habitats is a perfect place to tune into Nature, from a woodpecker's call to glimpses of deer. Through autumn and winter migrating birds like redwings and fieldfares feed in small flocks in the fields; waterfowl including widgeon and mallard can be seen on the Broadwater. If you are lucky a hunting kingfisher might dart by and perch on deadwood on the side of the river.

Rise above

Escape the hectic brouhaha by rising above everything, literally, at breathtaking viewpoints like Bredon Hill with its panoramic vistas along the escarpment, Vale of Evesham, Malverns and Severn Valley. Stop and stare (after a puff up the steps) from the 111ft (34m) Tyndale Monument on Nibley Knoll, looking out over the Severn estuary and beyond, the wind whistling around your ears (northnibley.org.uk). Bath Skyline Walk or bird's eye views from Little Solsbury Hill can also clear the mind, before you return to the festive fray.

Age-old peace

People have settled in the Cotswolds for more than 6,000 years and there's nothing quite like the wordless wonder of coming upon a Neolithic long barrow to transport you away from the hurly-burly of modern life: who walked here before you, what rituals brought them, who was laid to rest here?

Such intrigues hover around the 'horned' forecourt of Belas Knap on the Cotswold Way above Winchcombe (one of 100-plus 'Cotswold-Severn'-style tombs), while crawling torch-in-hand inside Uley Long Barrow (aka Hetty Pegler's Tump) is like hibernating (spookily) in ancient history.

Walk and spin it off

Don't forget to check the AONB website for seasonal guided walks - share a ramble and get rid of those jaded feelings of over-indulgence, or put your best foot forward into the New Year. You'll also find lots of routes for self-guided walks and cycle rides, from challenging pulse-raisers to easygoing and family friendly jaunts - ideal for the kids to let off steam. Find ideas on the Walking and Exploring pages at cotswoldsaonb.org.uk. Happy Christmas and New Year!

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