Bourton-on-the-Water, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
PUBLISHED: 12:32 23 December 2010 | UPDATED: 15:49 20 February 2013
"...I went off in a car to have another look at certain villages that I remembered with particular pleasure......
Many travel journals undoubtedly contain similar accounts to that of novelist and broadcaster J.B Priestley, who in his 1934 travelogue, English Journey, couldn't help mentioning Bourton-on-the-Water's charm.
Despite its heavy annual swarm of visitors, this picturesque postcard setting, nicknamed the Venice of the Cotswolds, remains untouched. The peaceful, elegant River Windrush gently flows through its centre under a miscellany of attractive five warm-toned arched stone bridges. This alone draws the crowds, but the village also has its own impressive anthology of tourist attractions, stimulating all five senses with bird sound, exotic perfume, beautiful scenery and Cotswold culinary delights.
Bourton-on-the-Water, with its abundance of souvenir boutiques, attractive Cotswold stone cottages and calm beauty of overhanging willows and grassy lawns, dates back to pre-Roman times. Extensive remains of a Roman villa were discovered near the point where the Fosse Way crosses the Windrush. Archaeology students add to the swell of tourists, drawn to a Saxon pit dwelling, found north of the Roman camp - one of only five remaining in country. The Saxons changed its name to Salmonsbury and also named the village, Burghton or Boroughton, meaning "the town by the camp." Today, Salmonsbury Camp, a Scheduled Ancient Monument can be seen at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust-owned Greystones Farm, a traditional working farm, along with Salmonsbury Meadows, a rare example of unimproved wet grassland. The wildflower riverside hay meadows are one of the UK's most threatened wildlife habitats and provide an eye-catching summer floral quilt of southern marsh orchid, greater burnet, quaking grass and lady's smock.
Bourton-on-the-Water's no stranger to wildlife. Birdland, a private authentic bird zoo, nestling in woodlands, river and gardens, is a touch of paradise carrying a cacophony of exotic bird squawks from macaws, parrots, toucans, falcons and, hornbills to the flamingos, waterfowl and remarkable collection of penguins - including the only King Penguins in England - spotted on various aspects of water habitat. First established in 1957, Birdland was the dream of local builder, and developed by the Trigg family, who endeavoured to create this relaxing and tranquil haven.
Twenty years earlier on Coronation Day, a miniature version of Bourton-on-the-Water opened. Extremely accurate and detailed, it took eight men four years to build this excellent one-nineth size replica in local Cotswold stone, even managing to include a model of the model. It's a great way for tourists to appreciate the village in its entirety, taking in landmarks they may miss in reality. Set behind the Old New Inn, Bourton's model village is a magical place, enrapturing children of the past, present and future - myself included - with its painstakingly accurate features.
Next door The Dragonfly Maze, birthed in 1995, is a combination of Yew tree maze and a rebus puzzle. Once visitors find their way to the maze's centre, picking up clues on the way, they can enjoy the fabulous automated sculptures by artist, sculptor and writer Kit Williams. These are in the ornate central pavilion, which houses the mysterious Minotoad. Visitors can also discover the Golden Dragonfly's secret hiding place.
The world of childhood dreams continues at the Bourton Model Railway Exhibition and Traditional Toyshop, a museum dedicated to miniature railways. Established more than 30 years ago in a period farmhouse, it contains some of the country's finest operating indoor model railway layouts, where trains run automatically through imaginatively designed scenery of open countryside, mountains and streams.
Meanwhile the famed Cotswolds Motoring Museum and Toy Collection boasts one of Britain's finest collections of motoring memorabilia. Based in an 18th century corn mill, it's home to an enthralling assortment of classic cars, motor cycles, caravans, gramophones, radio sets, metal motoring signs, antique children's toys, knitted swimsuits and picnic sets from the 1920's and its most famous motor resident, Brum, the little yellow car, featured regularly on BBC television.
Bourton-on-the-Water is celebrated for its wealth of fragrances too, favoured by Her Majesty The Queen, no less. The Cotswold Perfumery in Victoria Street, has been blending perfumes for over 40 years from its magnificent traditional stone building. A small dedicated team hand-manufacture fragrances for some of the world's most famous perfume houses. The perfumery received its Royal approval in 2000 when owner, perfumer John Stephen, was commissioned to make a personalised perfume for the Queen.
"At first I thought it was a hoax! But I was soon persuaded that it was genuine," recalls John, who created, White Windsor, a floral fragrance as a personal perfume and a musky type, Royal Musk to fragrance linen drawers throughout Windsor Castle. Other famous clients include Prince Charles, Elton John, Ozzy Osbourne, but thousands of people world-wide contact the perfumery for their own perfect fragrance. One of only three manufacturers and retailers of perfume in Europe, the Cotswold Perfumery offers tours and demonstrations, providing a glimpse into this exclusive world where fragrances are King.
Another family-run business, Cotswold Pottery in the quiet cul-de-sac of Clapton Row, behind Coronation Bridge, also offers unique hand-made individual products in the form of high-quality ceramics. Established in 1973 by potters John and Jude Jelfs, the business uses traditional methods of the old English country potteries. The showroom is open most days to the public and includes John's traditional ash and soda-glazes ware and Jude's more sculptural pieces.
In Bourton's High Street is a tourist attraction challenging the onlooker to think future. The Living Green Centre, full of green gifts, eco-gizmos and inspiration, provides an intriguing educational insight into eco-friendly, environmentally-aware living. Brainchild of owner Diana Ray, the centre opened in 2005 and is full of ideas for following an improved green lifestyle. Although not yet available to the public, the cottage, easily seen under a grass roof from the Living Green Shop, has been altered in a sensitive planet-friendly way with its solar panel and rain-fall catching devices.
"What we are doing hopefully inspires people that they can take action on their own patch. With the economic turn around we need the know-how to make the most of what we have, grow food, mend things and use scarce resources wisely," explains Diana who is also spear-heading Fair Trade status for the village.
Her resplendent cottage, characteristic of its honey-coloured Cotswold stone neighbours, also represents the past - a past which includes the 14th century chancel and Georgian tower at St Lawrence's Church, the 16th century smithy, the school of 1846 and the Old New Inn with its sundial inscribed Silas Wells 1718.
Bourton-on-the-Water preserves its past but is realistic about the future. There's an unspoken happy decorum between visitor and villager, who recognise their elegant shallow river, protected by a Conservation Order, has and will continue to appeal. On August 31 2009, goal posts will go up under the bridges as villagers preserve a 70-year-old river football tradition and brave cold knee-deep water in bright coloured football shorts or fancy dress in a "splashy, noisy affair."
"The basic appearance of the village hasn't changed. This attracts visitors from home and abroad, and locals realise that income from tourism is vital to the maintenance of our businesses, employment and facilities," remarks Norman Jones, chairman of the village's chamber of commerce and resident of 40 years.
This is Bourton-on-the-Water's unique charm. It preserves an ambience of a true, living village regardless of the magnetic swarms of tourists who buzz in and buzz out, remembering this Cotswold honey pot with "particular pleasure" as J.B. Priestley once did.