When you’ve walked the walk and shopped the shops, it may be time to expand your London trip to include some out-of-town sights. On our last visit, we took the plunge and rented a car to do a day trip out through countryside, stopping over in the Cotswolds and finishing at Salisbury Plain with a visit to mystical Stonehenge.
Visiting the Cotswolds
If you have more time, I can definitely advocate staying longer in the Cotswolds. I’d only ever heard older family friends talking about this destination—and thus assumed it was a place for shuttle-bused retirees to stroll through. In truth, the Cotswolds are utterly charming regardless of your age, and I regretted not being able to stay longer in the dun-colored villages.
Titled as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” (or AONB), the Cotswolds are a group of villages dotted across some 500,000 acres. They are picturesque almost beyond belief, like illustrations from a fairy tale. We stopped in Chipping Camden and Stow-in-the-Wold, two of the more touristy villages, for a snack at the pubs and a walkabout on a gray day in October. Though these two villages are high on the tourist track, we were pleasantly surprised to find them quite quiet.
When you go, make sure to budget plenty of time for the drives between villages—I imagine in high season, the roads will be very congested, and parking a beast. The plan was to linger longer, but we underestimated the traffic and quality of the roads, which, in keeping with the area, tend to meander leisurely through the rolling hills, rather than purposefully. Because Stonehenge has a hard close, we skipped the last two villages on our list and headed straight there.
Like Neuschwanstein, Stonehenge has been a fascination of mine since childhood. My eyes roved the emerald hills as the GPS signaled our approach—but I couldn’t see anything. Maybe the stones were smaller than I expected? To my surprise, Tim pointed out the opposite window to a ring of gigantic stones barely 800m from the highway. It seems we’d taken the back way in.
Seeing the stones in person took away none of their magnificence, even with their proximity to traffic. They look smaller than you might think, but only because there’s nothing close enough to compare scale. You can no longer approach the stones unless by a special tour, but walking around the ring of them was otherworldly. The weather—gray, drizzly, and chilly—certainly helped set the mood.
On the way out we stopped at the visitor’s center, which has the artifacts collected around the site and some conjectures about the purpose of the circle. (You can also attempt to pull one of the stones, and have a digital monitor tell you how many people of your strength it would take to properly move this monolith the way the ancients did). It really puzzles me how we can know so little about them, given how much we know—or appear to know—about other ancient monuments.
And yet, on the other hand, in a time where we know so much, it’s nice to still have a great unknown.
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