10 unusual Cotswold experiences and activities
- Credit: arcticquest.co.uk
If you're looking for some exciting, unusual and wacky things to do in the Cotswolds, we've got everything from husky sledding to ghost hunting and gin tasting to caving
I suspect some members of my extended family consider me ‘boring’ (I’m teetotal, stick to the speed limit when driving (defo not ‘racy’) and often have my head in a book (antisocial so-and-so)).
To be fair, though, this 60-something nerd has had his moments. I once abseiled off an abandoned railway viaduct (don’t ask me why). I also had a go at rock climbing, and disappeared below the earth, as I sampled an activity known to its devotees as ‘pot-holing’. That was when the penny dropped that I might suffer from claustrophobia a tad, either then, or when I went on a submarine.
I’ve also been interviewed by the local constabulary on three occasions, although only once in connection with my own nefarious activities, when I was falsely accused of running amok with a cricket bat (as far as I know that’s not a bizarre calendar custom pertaining to the Cotswolds). Our region does have some odd goings-on though, as I shall report.
Anyway, to finally dispel any lingering doubts about my street-cred, to avow my hip credentials and demonstrate what an unashamedly ‘right on’ geezer I am, I’ve decided to deviate from my usual bag of history and heritage and set off in search of some of the Cotswolds’ wackiest activities.
Now, my favourite editor challenged ‘yours truly’ to tackle a few of the capers himself. The only issue I have with this first one is that dogs don’t always appreciate my sense of humour (I tried to teach one about quantitative easing once and it didn’t go too well), but, notwithstanding that, canines are lovely, loyal creatures. Head Tewkesbury way. Apparently, the huskies live normal lives by night, but during the day are transformed into sled dogs, conveying thrill-seeking personages about. ‘Arctic Quest’ is the only place in the UK where you could experience these sled thrills and learn how to ‘mush’ (transport by ‘dog power’) in the process. You can stay over in the 'Herder's Hut', too (arcticquest.co.uk).
A pop-up cinema
I used to have a pop-up book when I was a nipper, Pop-up Gothic Architecture or something (I was always a bit highbrow). Pop-Up hasn’t gone away, as you can enjoy the al fresco with Pop-Up Cinema at hand-picked venues in the Cotswolds. Now, this sounds like my kind of gaffe, picnic blanket (to recline on, then possibly insulate with as the evening lengthens), or maybe a deckchair or beanbag (‘premium seating), the essential popcorn, which goes with the movies like smartphones and the ‘Quiet Zone’, and, of course, a classic film by way of divertissement. Talking of mobiles, don’t forget the ubiquitous ‘selfie’ (alfrescofilm.co.uk).
A ghost tour (ooh!)
The Cotswolds is reputedly ‘well haunted’, with there being more hauntings than you could shake the average Ouija board at. I’ve read that our lovely Cotswold stone has something to do with it, limestone that somehow retains ‘spiritual residue’, which sounds almost as spooky as the ghosts themselves. ‘Bill Spectre’s Ghost Trails’ have been named among the Top 10 ghost tours in the whole world. There are popular Oxford tours, plus other local towns, all by private hire. Bill is far more knowledgeable and professional than ‘yours truly’ who once tried to do a ghost tour and ended up telling a spine-chilling tale in the wrong churchyard! (ghosttrail.org).
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The tiniest village
We all want to feel like giants on occasion. I do whenever I come across a ‘rabble of oiks’ (correct collective noun there). I just wish I was eight-foot tall so I could tick ’em off. At Bourton-on-the-Water’s model village, we can all feel gigantic whenever we wish. It’s the UK’s only Grade II Listed model village, which is a miniature version of Bourton itself. Its official opening was on the Coronation Day of King George VI (1937), which means it’s a snapshot of how the picturesque settlement looked the year before, so minus all those pesky cars that clutter up the streets and pavements today. Oh, and you need to get a ‘selfie’ looking like a giant (themodelvillage.com).
Crocodile spotting (eek!)
OK, so hounds aren’t really my thing (sorry four-legged-mates), but neither are crocodiles to be fair. A small, deceased one was found in my local Mill Stream once (1954), then, in 1971, we had five alligators escape from a local circus into our river. It makes you slightly wary. There’s only one croc-zoo (and conservation site) in the UK (Brize Norton), which is dedicated to caring for these noble creatures. If you fancy some ‘croc-spotting’, experiences range from the ‘basic’ to the ‘VIP’ (adults only), which involves greater interaction and a chance to actually hold a croc. There’s also snakes, otters and meerkats, although the latter may not be wearing smoking jackets. Although the zoo is currently closed due to Covid restrictions, keep an eye on the site for updates about reopening (crocodilesoftheworld.co.uk).
Gin sampling (with an alternative for teetotallers)
As an avowed teetotaller, I’m amazed at the number of times I end up writing about alcohol. I wrote a whole feature about a gin distillery recently so am now well up on juniper and the other ingredients, which bestow flavour and colour. If you fancy sampling some local gin and whisky, head for the Cotswolds Distillery (Stourton, Shipston-on-Stour), estd. 2014, where you can participate in a ‘distillery tour’. Learn about the craft, witness the distillation in progress, then do a bit of tasting in front of a cosy log fire (not in the heat of summer obviously). There’s a Distillery Shop, and just for me, a Distillery Café (cotswoldsdistillery.com).
All aboard for real ale
If you enjoy travelling by steam engine and love a drop of good beer, why not combine the two at one of Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway's Steam and Real Ale events? Other special events GWSR host are Diesel Enthusiast Days, Wartime in the Cotswolds, Festival of Steam Gala, and a Cotswold Food and Drink Fayre. With the extended line from Cheltenham Racecourse to Broadway - via their excellent Toddington Station - you can make a day of it, and explore the Cotswolds in style (gwsr.com).
A chilly dip!
Well, I’m not one for swimming at any time of year. I prefer my water depth to be shallow bath, temperature ‘hot spring’, and all in the comfort and privacy of my bathroom, preferably with some Elgar playing in the background. If you fancy being a bit more intrepid (not so hot, more people and deeper water) why not try the Christmas Day dip at Sandford Parks Lido? (Keynsham Road, Cheltenham). The ‘plunge’ is at 11am It pays to sign up in advance, you have to be aged 17 or over and must sign a disclaimer (to be fair you should probably do this for all wacky activities). Fancy dress is permissible and the rotund fellow in the red get-up could show up. Folk have been dipping for over 40 years now, but for those who prefer a more relaxing dip, the pool opens for the 2021 summer season on May 1 (sandfordparkslido.org.uk).
Now, I like my pud. For me the main course is just the waste of time you have to endure before you can tuck into pud (which surely should be renamed ‘the main course’). I recall an evening once when one of our party flaked out immediately after the main course, so I was deprived of my pud. ‘Gutted’ doesn’t cover it really. If, like me, you can’t resist a crumble, cheesecake or spotted dick, then try the Pudding Club at the Three Ways House Hotel, Mickleton, which has been running (i.e. worshipping the British pud) since 1985. A suitably light main is followed by, well, considerable amounts of pud. There are even pud-themed rooms if you don’t feel capable of making the tiresome journey home afterwards (threewayshousehotel.com).
So, yes, I did go pot-holing once. You could try a bit of caving yourself by visiting Clearwell Caves in the Forest of Dean, where there’s over 250 acres of passageways and caverns, with more waiting to be discovered. There’s a popular ‘Christmas at Clearwell Caves’ where all kinds of magical things transpire, but you can explore the ‘wonder of under’ all year, round a natural cave system that’s been mined for some 4,500 years. The ‘show caverns’ only scratch the surface (as it were), so if you fancy going deeper, try a bit of adventure caving. You’ll reach caves, and parts of the mine, not normally visited by the public. You can try ‘semi-deep’ or ‘deep level’, when you’ll end up around 200 feet underground (clearwellcaves.com).
A Cotswold Life Challenge
How many of these activities can you tick off during 2021? Give it a go and let us know.
Other comical (or considered) capers
Making perfume – The Cotswold Perfumery offers courses in concocting your own perfume (I fancy a new manly essence called ‘Nerd’). Head for Bourton-on-the-Water (cotswold-perfumery.co.uk).
The Cotswold Falconry Centre (est.1988) – get up close & personal to those lovely owls, where the ‘owl evening’ lasts from 6.30-9pm. You get to hold and interact with them and there’s lots of other birds to enjoy too (cotswold-falconry.co.uk).
Hart Gold & Silversmiths, in Chipping Campden, is the place to go if you’d like to witness the old skill of silversmithing, as practiced by a family concern that’s been operating in the town since 1902. Visit the workshop and see how it’s done (hartsilversmiths.co.uk).
The Dragonfly Maze was opened in 1997 (Rissington Road, Bourton-on-the-Water). It’s a yew hedge maze with a difference as you search for the golden dragonfly at its centre. It takes around 20-30 minutes to complete.
The Ship Graveyard – at Purton, on the banks of the Severn, you’ll find the largest ship graveyard in Britain. There are around 100 beached vessels reinforcing the banks (friendsofpurton.org.uk).
Snowshill Manor has oft been described as England’s ‘weirdest stately home’ thanks to its eccentric and eclectic onetime owner Charles Wade (1883-1956), who collected, and, well, collected until his home overflowed (nationaltrust.org.uk/snowshill-manor-and-garden).
August Bank Holiday Monday sees the annual 5-a-side football match in the River Windrush at Bourton-on-the-Water. It’s been held for around 100 years now and ‘splash off’ is at 4pm.
The next staging of the Cotswold Olimpick Games is on Friday, June 3, 2022, at Dover’s Hill, Chipping Campden, and will include the usual favourites such as Tug O’ War and Shin Kicking (olimpickgames.co.uk).
The Tetbury Woolsack Races are held on the last bank holiday in May, at Gumstool Hill, Tetbury. Competitors carry a sack of wool up and down a hill that attains a gradient of 1 in 4. The next races will be held in 2022 (tetburywoolsack.co.uk).
The Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling, dates back to the 1800s, at Cooper’s Hill, near Gloucester, although the event has been ‘officially’ cancelled previously for both health & safety, and, naturally, Covid-related reasons. Visit the Facebook page for further updates.
Pig Face Day is still celebrated every two years on September 14 in Avening. A feast is held in the village hall to commemorate Queen Matilda, wife of William the Conqueror, who consecrated the village Church of the Holy Cross in 1080. The next feast is in 2020.
The Onion Eating Contest is a part of the annual onion fayre in the Forest of Dean. It takes place at Newent (next staging is Saturday, September 10, 2022). There’s a grand parade, stalls, live music, street entertainers etc (newentonionfayre.org).
The Bibury Duck Race takes place on Boxing Day on the River Coln, with hundreds of yellow ducks participating. The owner of the successful duck chooses the charity to benefit. The event has taken place for decades.
Calendar customs (calendarcustoms.com)
I Heart Britain (iheartbritain.com)
The National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk)
The Culture Trip (theculturetrip.com)
Visit Gloucester (visitgloucester.co.uk)
Loving the Cotswolds (lovingthecotswolds.com)
Character Cottages (character-cottages.co.uk)
Cotswolds Info (cotswolds.info)
Gloucestershire Live (gloucestershirelive.co.uk)
Glos Info (glos.info)