If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting Greenfield Village in Dearborn, then you have experienced an authentic Cotswold Cottage, moved painstakingly, stone by numbered stone from a village in England over to the United States. From the very first time I had a school field trip to Greenfield, the cottage was one of my favorite buildings on the site. It had seemed so different from the other houses in the village, more storybook than reality, more a Goldilocks dream than actual real estate.
Imagine then, if you will, my exuberant excitement for the opportunity to visit the real Cotswolds with my husband and son on our latest jaunt across the Atlantic. Those same golden-colored limestone cottages, all gathered together in villages, pretty as a postcard and even more charming. Sweet little buildings, tenderly cared for by generations of families. Homes neighboring pubs, cafes and local shops, and antiques bursting out from the old wooden doors, practically begging to be bought.
At least this was my impression of the Cotswolds before I visited. Would the real place be able to compare with the Cotswolds of my imagination? Or was the dream of the Cotswolds just that … a fantasy from my own mind?
As in all things – it both exceeded expectations and provided a few disappointing surprises, as well. We began our trip with a long drive from Cornwall to our inn in the Cotswolds. I had thought I would see a few small, almost Disney-esque villages, all relatively near one another, easily accessed on foot, a mere few minutes rambling walk – but this was not so. The Cotswolds is a supremely large area, encompassing miles and miles, a region with open farmland and fields full of yellow flowers and crops, and each village was a surprisingly long distance from the next. Some of the Cotswolds villages were quaint and small, like Stow on the Wold or Little Barrington, while others were much, much larger, not villages at all – Cheltenham or Gloucester come to mind. Both of these larger cities are as cosmopolitan as you could ever want with many of the same high street shops you’d find in many large English cities like London, Manchester or York.
As far as bountiful antiques, they were simple to locate, as I had thought they would be, and most villages had no shortage of shops selling them – but begging to be bought? Perhaps if we were members of the Royal Family, this would be the case; but unfortunately, our pockets weren’t quite deep enough to justify the extravagant items that caught our eyes.
Why so expensive? Because most of the most picturesque villages in the Cotswolds are very posh, indeed, and with posh comes higher prices. The sweet little stone buildings I’d spent my school days admiring at Greenfield Village were also admired by most of the British public, it seemed, and property values in most areas were nigh on exorbitant.
But when it came to the beauty and charm of the villages, my imagination was not wrong – far from it. And within these towns, the pub is neighbors with the local school and the homes of townspeople, local tea shops and bistros, garden shops and antique stores. Bright-colored flowers sweetly planted in rows outside the houses, and the golden yellow of the limestone rocks that make up all of the structures in town.
The Cotswolds were bigger than my imagination, and somehow more. More expensive, more expansive, but also more beautiful, more charming and more substantial than schoolgirl me ever thought.