“The horizon of woods was the limit of our world”.
- Laurie Lee
William Shakespeare once wrote, “These high, wild hills and rough uneven ways draw out our miles and make them worrisome”. Referring to the landscape of the Cotswold country, where in Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare was born and raised, he paints the vast, verdant, and gold meadows in affectionate memory. Stretching approximately forty kilometers south of Bath, England, bounded by Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire, and Warwickshire, the Cotswold hills are an absolute charm to the travelling eyes—sterile landscapes dotted by slumbering sheep, horses, and cattle; limestone cottages in stone roofing slates, adorned by rosy tulips, playful daisies, and delightful yellow bell blooms.
Driving out from Oxford to the Windrush Valley, on one of the sunniest days ever that London could hardly offer, passing through Swinbrook village’s stone houses, then the breathtaking Burford, where century-old shops and inns line the majestic medieval market town, one instantly breathes the ancient air of a thousand years ago when this quaint, charming town flourished economically from the wool trade between the 14th to 17th centuries.
As one explores more stone cottages in Taynton, which houses the Taynton Quarry—its stones that formed grand limestone edifices, such as the Windsor Castle, and many Oxford buildings, the glittering meadows glide through olive green landscapes, revealing stolen glimpses of sheep on rolling hills that give the Cotswolds its name. “Cod” was an old English name, known to be a Saxon farmer from the River Windrush, currently the Cotswold region. Others identify the name with the English “cot” (sheep) and “wolds” (bare hills). So much history abounds in this south central territory, from the Iron Age, when tribes erected massive earthen fortresses along the Cotswold edge.
History further tails the Bourton-on-the Water, reminiscent of the era around AD 43-49, when Roman leaders constructed towns and farmlands, and brought sheep from the Mediterranean, stressing the presence of the Roman legions. This “Little Venice of the Cotswolds” is one of the prettiest villages in this picturesque region, where exquisite footbridges, dating from the 15th century, accentuate the townscape’s shades and colors. Honey-colored Cotswold stone structures abound all throughout, towards the Lower and Upper Slaughter, and the Stow-on-the-Wold, once a striving prosperous wool town. The Norman Conquest in 1066 accelerated the sturdy tradition of building stone houses and propelling wool production. The Cotswold sheep encouraged a large scale of wool fleets to sail across the English Channel. When cloth manufacture settled in Yorkshire, the Cotswold wool production unfortunately declined. By the 19th century, lost in its economic upheaval, but always consistent in its scenic appeal, the Cotswolds consequently became a poor settlement, only saved by the frequent arrival of wealthy travelers from nearby Cheltenham or Bath who flocked to the countryside to enjoy the sprawling, elegant estates. Examples of these can be witnessed in Stanway, the epitome of English Jacobean manor houses, and Stanton, at the edge of the Cotswold Hills, famous for the 13th century Church of Saint Michael and All Angels.
As it is today, the Cotswolds remain to be a much sought-after vacation home destination for many Londoners. Broadway, in Worcestershire, nicknamed as the “Jewel of the Cotswolds” with its “broad” streets and fiery, red chestnut trees, enjoys magnificent views of the fruit-growing valley. Other towns along the way—Snowshill, Chipping Campden, Moreton-in-Marsh, Chipping Norton, Woodstock, and more complete Cotswolds’ canvas of exemplary beauty.
Thanks to the Arts and Crafts Movement pioneer William Morris, who promulgated the Cotswold Heritage around 1871, the Cotswold region resurfaced its splendor after its pitiful decline, and has become since, the colorful landmark for argent yellows, beaming golds, ash greys, and fresh willow hues.
On the other side of the hemisphere, a distant glimpse of the Cotswolds carries vibrant images of the rambling plains of northern Hokkaido, Japan. Like the Cotswold scenery, Hokkaido’s boundless meadows shine in robust greens, sometimes lined by a colorful array of red poppies, pink cosmos, white tulips, orange and yellow marigolds, and silky lavenders—giving the graze land its name “Irodori” (various colors) fields.
Hokkaido, however, does not boast of a long history as pronounced as the Cotswold region. The early Ainu settlers first occupied the northern territory, and strived in agriculture, hunting, weaving, and crafts industries. Likewise, frequented by cross-country travelers from cosmopolitan Tokyo and other major cities in Japan, Hokkaido has always reflected a healthy reputation for fresh vegetation, horse and cattle breeding, and its prosperous dairy industry. Drive through the grasslands of Tokachi and Furano, one of the most photographed Hokkaido sceneries, painted in bright marigolds, and in spring and autumn, endless delicious rainbow fields of sage, Iceland poppies, dahlias, sunflowers, yellow mustards, and more. Surrounded by stunning mountain views, national parks and lakes, such as the ice-free Lake Toya, mysterious blue Lake Mashu, resort Lake Kussharo, “Marimo” moss-balled Lake Akan, and an unaccountable spread, Hokkaido perfectly blends all the gracious blessings of nature. Particularly during June to July, when the climate becomes less overbearing than its usual winter chills, the resplendent meadows and lakes bespeak of the charmed country life, so simple and rustic, and unpretentious towards one’s desire for flawless beauty.
"Landscape is my mistress – ‘t is to her that I look for fame – and all that the warmth of the imagination renders dear to Man…"
- John Constable
With Special Thanks to Absolute Touring, Oxford, and Martin Cowell.