S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

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?
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