The first-ever Rough Guide to The Cotswolds has uncovered some hidden gems in one of the most famous and iconic regions of Britain.
Matthew Teller - an award-winning journalist who has been writing about travel for almost 20 years, and is widely published in the national press as well as in newspapers and magazines around the world - spent almost two years painstakingly researching and revisiting the area several times, in order to write one of the most comprehensive guides ever produced about the English Cotswolds.
And while the result speaks for itself, Teller is now in a position to reflect on some of the experiences, people and places he encountered along the way.
"The thing that surprised me most about the Cotswolds was the food," he says. "I honestly wasn't expecting it to be that good. Several friends, when I told them I was researching the Rough Guide to the Cotswolds, started making jokes about fusty old tearooms and chintzy B&Bs - but in truth, I found hardly any of that. Instead, I found a cohesive, outgoing rural community who were genuinely enjoying discovering how food (and drink - mustn't forget the beer!) could act as an expression of identity. Food is rooting people to the place, and in return, the place is gaining new depth because of it. It was a revelation".
Another big surprise for him was the time when, in a popular tourist village famed for being a classic Cotswold destination (Teller is refusing to name names at this point!), he got chatting to people about his research, and happened to mention some of the places near where he lives in north Oxfordshire that he'd been researching for inclusion in the book.
"Oh, but, of course that's not the Cotswolds," came the reply.
Teller adds: "The lady I was talking to was convinced that where she was counted as Cotswolds, whereas ten miles away clearly didn't. With the AONB extending as far as Somerset, and when Cotswold history and landscape cover at least four other counties, it seems to me there's plenty to go round. That idea of exclusivity was a bit of a shocker."
Asked for his best discovery, Teller has no hesitation in answering, "Farmers' markets. They're fab!".
But the historical highlight is a different matter. "This is a tough one," he muses. "Sudeley Castle is in there, and I loved Chastleton House, but I'm going to go for an unusual choice - Chipping Campden's Market Hall. A small, simple, open building on Campden High Street, but it seems to sum up reams of Cotswold history in its old, worn stones - wool, commerce, food, noble patronage, Jacobean architecture, purposeful simplicity of design... it's a real all-in-one. And, unlike its grander counterparts, it's completely free!"
And finally, what was his favourite moment during all of that research? "Walking down the stony footpath towards the North Leigh Roman villa, and ending up - completely alone - beside the remnants of this ancient mansion, a few yards from the River Evenlode. Green wooded hills on both sides echoed with the bleats of sheep, a train passed on the Cotswold Line. It was utterly peaceful, at the heart of England, with 2,000 years of history before my eyes..."
Copies of The Rough Guide to The Cotswolds are available from all good bookshop, and from Cotswolds Tourist Information Centres. They can also be ordered online: http://www.roughguides.com/website/shop/products/Cotswolds.aspx
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