Don’t worry – this isn’t going to be a post about gory death and mass murder in the English countryside, 😉 but rather about my research trips to two of the quaintest – and most quirkily-named – villages in the Cotswolds region.
Following your enthusiastic response to my recent Scotland research trip posts and the many messages I’ve had from readers asking for more “travel stories & photos” on the blog, I’ve decided to share more of my travel and research for my books… starting with the place that most of my stories are set!
The Cotswolds is an iconic area in the central-south west of Britain which is renowned for its natural beauty and quaint charms. This is “chocolate box England” at its finest: all gentle rolling hills and picturesque villages filled with thatched-roof cottages and historic pubs, cobbled streets and medieval church towers.
The Little Stables Tearoom from my Oxford Tearoom Mysteries sits in the fictional village of Meadowford-on-Smyth, on the outskirts of Oxford, right at the eastern edge of the Cotswolds region.
Most of the Cotswolds lies within the counties of Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, and it is bounded by famous cities such as Oxford to the east, Bath to the south and Cheltenham to the west. But of course, what it’s really known for – and what gives it its unique character – are its gorgeously quaint villages and market towns. If you’re visiting England as a tourist, no trip would be complete without setting aside some time to wander through the Cotswolds’ iconic landmarks.
(In fact, I would say even if you’re a British resident, you should make the time to visit this beautiful part of the country. It’s something I really regret not doing when I was still living in the UK. Like many, I ignored what was on my doorstep until I’d moved to the other side of the globe and it was too late! Now, I think wistfully of all the inspiration I could have gleaned if only I’d visited the Cotswolds more often when I was still living in Oxford…)
For one of my research trips – taken back in autumn 2019 – I decided to base myself in the market town of Moreton-in-Marsh, as it’s easily accessible by train from London’s Paddington Station and it’s fairly central to several of the most “famous” towns and villages in the Cotswolds region.
Moreton-in-Marsh is a lovely market town in its own right, with streets lined with honey-coloured stone buildings and several quaint shops and tearooms. There are also some interesting attractions nearby, such as the Batsford Arboretum & Garden Centre – perfect if you’re a tree lover! – and the Cotswold Falconry Centre. (Sadly, I didn’t have the time to visit either of those places, even though I really wanted to! Sigh… next time…!)
But if you’re really pressed for time during your visit to the Cotswolds, then Moreton-in-Marsh would probably get left off the intinerary, since it is perhaps slightly less picturesque than some of the other villages and towns in the region, and there’s a main road running through the centre of town which can get busy with heavy traffic.
It does have a gorgeous hotel, though – the Manor House Hotel – which is housed in a 16th century historic building that used to be a coaching inn, until it was turned into a hotel with the arrival of the railway. It’s got lovely period-style rooms (yes, four poster beds in some!) and a cosy reception area complete with log fire, comfy seating … and quite low ceilings! I do love old buildings like this, though – all creaky and crooked and full of character – and the historic features don’t detract from the comfort levels at all.
The train arrived late afternoon that first day and I couldn’t do much, as it was getting dark quite early by then – but I was up bright and early the next morning to tuck into a hearty breakfast in the hotel’s beautiful conservatory-style restaurant. Nothing like a “full English” to start your day! 😉
Most tourists pour into the more “famous” towns of Burford and Bourton-on-the-Water when they visit the Cotswolds and while I did visit those places, I found that two of my favourite destinations were the twin villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter, where you really got a feel of what it was like to live in a quiet little village in the Cotswolds.
In case you’re wondering, the seemingly macabre names of the villages come from the old English word “slohtre”, which actually has nothing to do with death or killing, but rather means, “muddy place”. And in fact, the villages really are as ancient as their names, for they have remained pretty much unchanged for well over a century. Apparently, there’s been no building work there since 1906.
Lower Slaughter (the larger of the two) is – in my opinion – the prettiest village in the region. 😊 It is like a storybook Cotswold village, full of quaint, historic charm.
It is built over and around water – with many of the cottages along the banks of the Slaughter Brook (aka the River Eye) – and I feel that it’s so much nicer than the more famous Bourton-on-the-Water as it doesn’t have any of the touristy feel or rowdy commercial presence. It is simply beautiful and peaceful and absolutely idyllic.
Unlike Bourton-on-the-Water, there aren’t really any specific “tourist attractions” in Lower Slaughter – the village itself is the real attraction and I was happy just strolling along the side of the brook, crossing the many tiny bridges and oggling the gorgeous cottages that lined the banks. (You don’t want to know how many photos I took!!!)
The first time I visited Lower Slaughter, it was in autumn and that was stunning enough with all the autumnal colours: the beautiful orange and gold foliage and the vivid red berries…
… then I returned for a second visit in 2022 – in the summer, this time – and OMG, it was even more beautiful, if possible!
I have to say, I do feel a bit sorry for the people living in those cottages as they must get thoroughly sick of strangers traipsing past all year, staring and pointing and taking pictures of their gardens & houses.
Imagine sitting down for a quiet cup of tea in your living room and having random people standing outside your window with giant camera lenses pointed in your direction! I suppose it would be one big drawback of living in such a postcard-perfect place.
Some of the residents do seem to have a good sense of humour about things – I love this sign I saw on one of the cottage doors!
As you follow the cottages around the bend of the brook, you come to the restored 19th century flour mill, which is the main “tourist attraction” in Lower Slaughter. It really stands out as its chimney is made of red brick, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the village which is built of the mellow, honey-coloured Cotswold stone.
The Old Mill is no longer used commercially but it does still have a giant working waterwheel, as well as the most delightful little museum and shop full of quirky knick-knacks. I think I could have mooched in there for hours!
I also discovered that the mill has a little café and ice cream parlour at the back, with views overlooking the brook. Unfortunately, it was just about to close the first time I visited, so I didn’t get to sample their menu, but I did get to check out their quirky outdoor toilets…
Ladies, don’t you just love the sign? – Haha!
I think this was the quaintest outdoor toilet I have ever seen! With a painting and flower arrangement and luxury magazines, on a vintage wooden table, no less… and a decorated wooden toilet seat too.
I did return to the mill when I visited Lower Slaughter again in 2022, in the hopes of checking out the cafe this time, but unfortunately, the museum & shop were completely closed! I didn’t realise that it doesn’t open on Mondays and Tuesdays…
** NOTE: (Apr 2023) Sadly, as I was writing this post, I checked its website and it looks like the Old Mill Museum & Shop might be closing permanently now. Maybe it was a victim of the pandemic… what a shame! It was such a lovely place to visit! ☹️
As I continued on around the village, I came to St Mary’s Church sitting serenely in its manicured graveyard. This church was actually the inspiration for the scenes in my book Fronds and Enemies (English Cottage Garden Mysteries ~ Book 5) where Einstein the terrier discovers a body under a yew tree growing by a corner of the church and then Oren the naughty ginger tom secretly observes a murder being committed… before helping gardening sleuth Poppy solve the mystery by a spot of judicious bra-stealing 😉 (read the book if you’re wondering what on earth that means – haha!)
I loved seeing how the same view changed from autumn to summer – you’d never believe that maple tree could turn such a vivid colour, would you? Overall, I think I preferred visiting in autumn as the foliage colours were just spectacular but I have to say, the flowers in summer were amazing too… especially the hollyhocks! After roses, hollyhocks are one of my favourite flowers (it’s why Poppy’s nursery is called “Hollyhock Cottage” in my English Cottage Garden Mysteries. 😉 )
Here I am in Western Australia carefully nurturing and fussing over my precious hollyhocks, with extra compost and mulch and seaweed tonic… and there in the Cotswolds, they’re growing out of cracks in the pavement, like giant weeds, in an endless rainbow of colours!! So unfair!
There are some great walks around Lower Slaughter; the “Great Cotswold Ramble“, in particular, is especially popular. It covers the two villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter (about 1.6km / 1 mile each way) and you can also add on an extension to Bourton-on-the-Water (another 4km / 2.5 miles) to make it a 4 hour hike.
I’m a keen walker and I really wanted to try the route leading from Lower Slaughter to Upper Slaughter but the path seemed particularly empty and lonely that autumn day when I was there and I was a bit unsure… I’m sure it’s perfectly safe and I was probably just being paranoid (this is what happens when you have a mystery writer’s imagination! 😉) but I sometimes think a woman alone can’t be too careful!
So I abandoned the idea and headed to Upper Slaughter by car instead. Now, that is a tiny village – a little more than a hamlet really – which is perched on a hill above the same River Eye that runs through Lower Slaughter.
There are 2 ways to approach Upper Slaughter but by far the more scenic option is via the bottom of the hill, where you have to ford the River Eye in order to enter the village. Well, cars and horses have to ford the stream – if you go on foot, there is a handy bridge you can use to keep your feet dry 😉.
(And unless you’re in a four-wheel drive or similar vehicle, I would probably avoid trying to cross the ford with your car in autumn/ winter when the water levels can be really high!)
It’s a really beautiful spot and worth visiting just to experience the ambience and snap a photo there, even if you intend to then drive around and enter the village by the more orthodox route.
But the best thing would be if you could do what I did and be dropped off at the ford (there is no public parking nearby) so that you can walk up the hill on foot, while the car goes around to pick you up in the village. It’s a great way to arrive in Upper Slaughter and a lovely experience! In summer, with climbing roses billowing from the dry stone walls, it’s a really gorgeous spot.
It doesn’t look like it from the bottom but it is a fairly steep uphill walk, so it might be a bit of a challenge if you’re frail or not very fit – especially in the heat of summer!
In fact, when I arrived, puffing and panting, at the top of the hill, I found that I obviously wasn’t the first person to have that thought, since a traditional phone box had been thoughtfully modified for medical emergencies!
Upper Slaughter has even fewer official “attractions” than Lower Slaughter – it’s really a residential hamlet – (in fact, the village is so tiny, there isn’t even a shop or pub or anything, so make sure you don’t need the toilet when you’re visiting!) – but their lovely medieval parish church is open to the public. I really enjoyed peeking into St Peter’s church, with its Norman tower arch, and simple but beautiful interiors…
… but my favourite part was actually the unusual approach to the church, with a path that was cut between 2 high banks of gravestones on either side and guarded by ancient yew trees carefully trimmed into topiary shapes. It made for an interesting photo!
(In fact, I’m sure I’ve seen this exact same view in a British TV crime show somewhere… maybe an episode of Midsomer Murders? – I just can’t remember where!)
After the church, I spent a blissful 10 minutes just wandering around the village. There really isn’t anything specific to look at and yet just strolling around, admiring the houses and gardens, was more than enough to keep me happily occupied.
In fact, I came across the village post box, embedded in a garden wall, and the small print on the sign got my imagination buzzing… ooh… so there is a second, later collection on a weekday, something a murderer might not realise and which might leave an inadvertent trail of clues…hmmm…
Well, I hope you enjoyed coming along to explore the Slaughters with me! If you can spare the time, I really do think it’s worth adding them to your itinerary if you’re visiting the Cotswolds – it’ll give you a chance to get away from the tourist hordes and experience some of the genuine unspoiled character and charm of a traditional Cotswold village.
The one thing that is unfortunately lacking in either villages is a traditional tearoom! Luckily, there’s a wealth of those back in Moreton-in-Marsh and on my first visit back in autumn 2019, I finished the day in a lovely tearoom back near my hotel, called the Cotswold Tearoom (now renamed as Rixy’s Cotswold Tearoom.)
It’s a lovely little place and I thought the owner was very kind to serve me, even though she was obviously minutes from closing for the day. It’s very cosy inside, with the decor a nice mix of traditional and modern…
… and I was delighted to find that there was even a table by the window which looked as if it was just waiting for four nosy Old Biddies to take their seats! 😉
I ordered a slice of teacake accompanied by a pot of Earl Grey tea…
… and it really was the perfect way to end a lovely day!
What do you think? Would you like to visit the two Slaughters? Or have you been already? Leave a comment and tell me!
I’ve got lots more photos and stories from my research trips around the Cotswolds – I also visited the quaint village of Burford, the famous market town of Stow-in-the-Wold and the popular Bourton-on-the-Water, known as the “Venice of the Cotswolds” – and sampled the scones at a variety of tearooms… so do let me know in the comments if you’re enjoying these posts and would like to see more! 😊