Weekend in the Cotswolds
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Our first weekend away with Zain was when he was around 5 1/2 months old, and we were pretty nervous, but after months in lockdown when the furthest we went from home was the Tesco a mile away, it was absolutely delightful. Since then, every couple of months we do a weekend trip to someplace (any place!) easily accessible via train.
So if you're nervous about travelling with your little ones - don't be! Just take the plunge, be flexible and instead of having any concrete notions about what the trip should look like, take it one day at a time and just enjoy the change of scenery and routine.
We've learnt to pack quite light and manage with two backpacks and a small trolley bag. For two adults and a toddler for a three-night stay, I think that is pretty good - although if you do better, tell me about it in the comments!
Here is a list of things to pack if you love lists but would rather not make one every time you're heading on a holiday.
Practicalities: We took the direct train from Beeston to Cheltenham Spa. At almost 18 months, Z loves the train now. No more falling asleep lulled by the chugging motion, he wants to be looking out the window, kissing the window, banging his head against the window, then banging on the table (try and get a table seat - if there is that one person occupying a 4-person table seat area just politely join them and chances are they will be either gracious or annoyed enough to leave you with that much needed space!) ...
Prime Time Train Entertainment:
Looking out the window and naming things (Baaahhh, says Z in a very good sheep imitation every time we pass sheep ... Or cows or pigs...)
Eat snacks that take a long time! Z spent half an hour munching an egg sandwich.
Read books (slowly)
Sing nursery rhymes
Jump on the seats
Jump on parent's lap
Attempt nap, fail attempt and make peace with more jumping
Where to Stay? AirBnbs have been my go-to stays for holidays even before Zain but now, with a child it makes even more sense to have more space than be confined to a hotel room where it would be lights out for us all at 7 pm.
I prefer to get a bigger place even if that means it is further away from the city centre (and lets face it, with a child in tow you're not really going to be clubbing at midnight or be out and about for 17 hours on your feet...). The AirBnb we stayed at was absolutely gorgeous (get in touch if you'd like to know where!). P.S. Did you know you can set the filters on your AirBnb search and find places that have travel cots and highchairs?
Keeping in mind we live in England, we know plans are going to be rained on at least one of the days we're away, so it is good to be in a comfortable, spacious place!
What's Good in Cheltenham?
Cheltenham is lovely, the walk from the train station to the town centre goes through a pleasant green space. The high street has plenty of shops, cafes & restaurants (although one end of it is very dodgy and rundown).
Pitville Park is a must visit if you've got children: it is a beautiful park with such fun adventure slides and gyms and swings it makes you wish you were 10. And like any good big park, it had a coffee stall handy too.
There are PLENTY of great places to eat in Cheltenham although we didn't try any that blew our socks off.
I think the number one thing to do with children would be try the GW Steam Railway. Old-fashioned steam and diesel trains that wind their way through beautiful countryside, stopping at quaint little English towns with funny names like Winchcombe and Toddington. I'm not sure if Zain liked the train more or I did - you can sit in the dining cart with romantic lamps hanging overhead the little tables, or find a booth all to yourself and stare out the window while your little one enjoys stamping on the wooden floor and making train noises.
Buying tickets in advance is recommended! The railway is run by the kindest and most helpful volunteers so take some time to explore the stations and chat with them. The train tickets are more expensive than other public transport but it is a fantastic experience. We took the train from Cheltenham Racecourse to Winchcombe and then back, about 15-20 minutes each way.
Without a car we were somewhat limited in our exploration but still managed to see two villages: the famous Bourton-on-the-Water and Winchcombe.
Our visit here was on a VERY wet day, despite which it was packed with people (and umbrellas). The fact that it is SO busy kind of takes away from the fairytale quaintness of the village. The best part about the village would be the beautifully clear and shallow stream that runs through the centre, with an inexplicable number of small elf-sized bridges going over it. On a sunny day it would be absolutely delightful to grab an ice cream from one of the cute cafes and walk around in the water (looked like it was only ankle-deep really). On a wet day - less so.
We had lunch in a super cute pub called Mousetrap. Definitely recommend it (a wee bit pricey) because of the cosy interior, friendly service and delicious food. We also went to the Motoring Museum so we could stay dry for a bit - although the museum isn't exactly made for toddlers (we had to keep Z in his pushchair) because of all the cool vintage bits and pieces that you're not supposed to touch, it is still a very interesting walk through the decades of auto history.
It is a pretty small village so half a day is great unless you're planning on doing any of the walks around the area. We wandered off the high street and down a few nice, quiet streets with lovely houses although I didn't see the picture-perfect thatched roof cottages I was hoping for ...
I found Winchcombe to be a nicer place to visit than Bourton-on-the-Water, simply because it was so much quieter. It was more hilly, with the same quaint houses and shops we found in the other village. We stopped at the Old Bakery Cafe for tea and scones, the cafe has the most beautiful little backyard garden. And then we spent the rest of the day at the gorgeous Sudeley Castle.
At almost £18 per person, the ticket to the castle isn't cheap but you can spend the whole day there. You can see the castle from the inside where they have a few exhibitions, there are several gardens and grounds you can explore, each unique and beautiful with exquisite landscaping and views. There is also an adventure park, two cafes and some fancy birds on display. I would definitely recommend a visit. You have to book online in advance (I'd say do it a day in advance at least).
Overall a lovely trip to the Cotswolds sans car! If you have any questions about travelling with a child, send me a message! Otherwise, plan a staycation now!