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In search of tourists

We went to the Cotswolds one afternoon on a weekday in January and had such a lovely time, we decided to go back for an August Bank Holiday, the first weekend in ages - as C. put it - when the weekend was more lovely than the week. The weather was perfect. Our guidebook swore that the Cotswolds are some of the most touristed parts of England. And there were hardly any tourists at all.

It was a baffling - and welcome - turn of events. Yes, there were at least a handful of people everywhere we went, but a handful is no chokehold of tourists. We went for a six mile walk through the villages and forests around Guiting Power, occasionally going for fifteen minutes without seeing other people. There was no competition for the bushes laden with ripe blackberries by the roadside. There were free parking spots available in Stow-on-the-Wold. No one else had driven off to see the lovely little Saxon church with sixteenth century pews and screens and a Saxon sundial when we had. The handsome and comfortable town of Fairford was tranquil. Cheltenham (arguably not the Cotswolds) was quiet.

Further afield, our tours of Neolithic sites were nearly as peaceful. A handful of other people wandered around the three parts of the Rollright Stones, claimed by my guidebook as the third most impressive stone circle in England. We had the Whispering Knights and King Stone (part of the same set of stones) entirely to ourselves. Along the sunwashed ridge leading to the White Horse at Uffington, visitors flew kites and threw frisbees. The motorways and A-roads were free-flowing, except for a bit of a backup thanks to an accident - but that would have happened whether or not it was a Bank Holiday weekend.

There was one exception to the astonishing lack of crowds: of course there were crowds at Avebury. They weren't choking or delaying or in our way or problematic in any other way - but there were steady large numbers at what some argue is the most impressive stone circle in the country. The village which is partially in the middle of the enormous circle confuses the experience of visiting it. Far more effective are the rows of stones which lead up towards the village. What truly astonished me, however, were the earthworks: I'd forgotten Avebury's earthworks. They're monumental. Nearby is the equally impressive Silbury Hill, the largest Neolithic mound in Europe, a flat-topped cone of human-built landscape.

The crowds didn't go to the Cotswolds or northern Wiltshire this weekend, so where were they?

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
curtana
Aug. 27th, 2007 10:13 pm (UTC)
Avebury was defintely one of the highlights of our trip to the UK. We got there fairly early in the morning, so there weren't large numbers of people about, and we walked around the circle mostly on our own, which was lovely. It was less lovely walking the muddy mile-and-a-half 'path' between Avebury and the West Kennet Longbarrow, the last third or so of which was rather steeply up hill - I'm sure the journey would have been much more pleasant by car, especially when I was 6 months pregnant! ;) Still, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. It was amazing. I did wish we'd gotten to see the White Horse at Uffington while we were there, but we simply didn't have the time or transportation necessary to get there.
owlfish
Aug. 27th, 2007 10:30 pm (UTC)
It was C.'s first time at Avebury and he was disappointed in it. It was the village in particular which was the downside for him, I think. It sprawled half-across the circle and without it, not neatly enclosed or alive in any way much more than touristic. The shops were all catering to the captive markets and had correspondingly low levels of quality. The site as a whole felt undermaintained for a World Heritage Landmark - incoherent in the ways that the roads cut roughly through it, the way the paths were designed around the roads so that there was no sensible way to circle the site on foot without lots of walking around long stretches of fence and cars. I'm glad he saw a smaller circle first, but that was the more enjoyable overall since it was in the country and hills and open space, and you had a partial sense for how it might have been when it was built, give or take the row of trees blocking it from the nearby road.

I'd been to Avebury once before and remembered it being a really cool experience. (Village! Inside a huge stone circle!) Going back, I liked entirely different things about it - the earthworks, and the comprehensible sets of stones, the ones away from the village.

We didn't see the long barrow, but did stop by the Overton Hill mounds and the Sanctuary recreated circles. We'd had enough long walks from the previous day.
hungry_pixel
Aug. 28th, 2007 06:55 am (UTC)
My french colleague was with you in the Cotswolds!

The crowds were most certainly not in Milton Keynes, hurrah! (That well-known tourist trap :-) )

I have a theory that they all spent the weekend on the M1, M6 and M4 :-)
chamaeleoncat
Aug. 28th, 2007 01:05 pm (UTC)
I have no idea where the crowds were, but it sounds like you had a lovely trip. I've always wanted to see the Cotswolds.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )