The Cotswolds are celebrated as the honey-coloured stone heartland of England. Their spectacular backdrop of lush green hills, thatched roofs and quaint country pubs, are so perfectly charming they often seem otherworldly. The Cotswolds covers a vast area almost 800 square miles in size. The region runs through five counties (Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire). But where is the heart of the Cotswolds?
When considering the heart of the Cotswolds we must look to Cirencester, which is often referred to as the ‘capital of the Cotswolds’. Today it is a market town home to 18,000 people, and an important regional hub in the Cotswolds. But to understand its importance in the Cotswolds today, we must look at its history. Cirencester was the second-largest city in Roman Britain and the capital of Britannia Prima. The Romans called Cirencester Corinium Dobunnorum. By the 2nd century, the town covered 240 acres (compared with the 330 acres of London), with a population of around 15,000.
One of the most important Roman historical sites found in Cirencester today is the earthwork remains of one of the largest amphitheatres in Roman Britain. Built-in the 2nd century, the amphitheatre could hold about 8,000 people. Located just outside Cirencester, entry to the amphitheatre is free. Also, the Corinium Museum highlights Cirencester’s Roman past and is home to a large collection of important Roman antiquities.
It’s easy to understand why Cirencester’s important historical legacy makes it such a significant location in the Cotswolds today.
The Cotswolds is the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England. The region’s most famous towns and villages include Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford, Broadway, Chipping Norton, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stroud, and Winchcombe. But when celebrating the beauty of the Cotswolds your mind is likely to wander to Bibury, the jewel in the Cotswold crown. The beautifully distinctive Arlington Row, with its honey-coloured weavers cottages, is the most iconic Cotswold location. This 17th-century gem certainly serves as the embodiment of the Cotswolds quintessential English charm and unique beauty. So beautiful is Bibury that William Morris described it as “the most beautiful village in England” in the 1800s.
When considering where the heart of the Cotswolds is, it’s perhaps prudent to also think about logistics. In terms of geographical position and transport links, Cheltenham Spa ticks all the boxes to serve as your base when visiting the Cotswolds. A thriving spa town, Cheltenham has a population of 110,000 people and from it, you can enjoy easy access to London, the north of England, and each of the Cotswold towns and villages. The distance between Cheltenham Spa and Sudeley Castle is only 9 miles. You’re also only 14 miles to Cirencester and 23 miles to Moreton-in-Marsh. Cheltenham is home to a Michelin-starred restaurant and several great hotels.
So whether you’re looking for the logistical hub of the Cotswolds, its most beautiful spot, or the place known as its capital, you’ll be certain to find whatever the heart of the Cotswolds is for you.