GLOUCESTERSHIRE

Gloucestershire is Cotswold country - a name with Anglo-Saxon roots [cots meaning a sheep pen or fold, and wold being high open land]. What immediately catches the eye when travelling around the Cotswolds are the local limestone buildings with their aged honey-colour. The lovely village of Painswick, with its connections to the old woollen industry, is a fine example.

Straddling the River Severn, Gloucestershire's landscape is filled with meandering lanes, and quiet corners - like the Churn, Windrush and Golden Valleys. To get a view of the Severn Valley visit Leckhampton Hill with its extraordinary Devil's Chimney - a 50ft rock pillar reputedly straight out of Hell.

Before the Anglo-Saxons lived here the Romans were fond of the area and there are quite a few historical sites from that period dotted around: a well preserved amphitheatre at Cirencester; a large villa at Great Witcombe south of Cheltenham; and another at Chedworth.

Long before the Romans, other peoples filled the landscape and a number of long barrows (earth covered burial chambers) can be seen at Notgrove [SP 096211], Nympsfield [SO 795014] and Belas Knap [SP 021254].

Iron was once mined from the Clearwell Caves (near Coleford) and the traces of the workings are still visible today. Mining also took place in the local Forest of Dean, this time for coal, albeit in small quantities. There's a Forest of Dean Heritage Centre at Soudley where you can find out more.

The Regency town of Cheltenham is gentile and a far cry from the grime of mining. However, there are relics of the early industrial age to be found in its Pittville Pump Room Museum. Tewkesbury is a fine small town to visit if you're interested in old timber structured buildings. There's also a 12th century Benedictine Abbey there, and a 13th century Cistercian Abbey at Haile [SP 050300].

For nature lover's there's the late Sir Peter Scott's Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust to the south west of Gloucester. You don't necessarily have to be a bird watcher to enjoy your day there, it's just a relaxing place. And there's even a Falconry Centre at Batsford.

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