Cotswolds and Yorkshire are not just about gentle hills, glorious villages, and old mansions anymore. Anand Kapoor takes the best drives in the country to discover stylish boutiques, vibrant cafes, Michelin-starred restaurants, and several charming villages.
Sitting beneath the dappled sunlight filters through the trees on the promenade and surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a pavement cafe with the smell of fresh coffee in the air, it was easy to forget that I was not at a small French Bistro in the middle of France but in the heart of England. I was, in fact, on a driving holiday through the Cotswolds and Yorkshire and had stopped in the most ‘English town’ in the region—Regency Cheltenham. Little alleyways that were once just passages used as shortcuts were now filled with stylish little boutiques that tempted you to enter and browse.
Cheltenham is in the heart of the Cotswolds and is surrounded by quaint Chocolate box villages that have doorways dripping with wisteria in the most vivid shades of purple. The wisteria is offset against the honey coloured buildings made from traditional Cotswolds stone giving the overall feeling that you are walking onto the stage set of a Jane Austin novel. Cheltenham has seemed to always attract the traveller mainly due to it medicinal waters. Nowadays, the Jazz and literary festival, the horse races and the coffee shops seem to bring in most of the visitors during non-term times.
Along the stream are a series of pubs and eateries some with outdoor space that allow the weary traveller to soak in the last of the summer sunshine and enjoy a locally brewed pint of ale. Bourton was always a pit stop for travellers to break their journey and the invigorating environment definitely ensures that you are refreshed enough to continue.
Our home for the next few days was the converted coach house of the Kingham Arms. It had a rustic sophistication about it and the chef proprietor Emily Watkins and her husband were incredibly gracious. Amidst the cosy atmosphere of the inn and sitting next to a crackling log fire, the comforting and satisfying food she serves only enhances the feeling that you are cocooned in a caring embrace—it’s not surprising that she has won Britain’s most prestigious food awards.
There is no better place to start a Yorkshire expedition than the quaint village of Haworth. It sits cosily on a steep windblown hill surrounded by the Moors with their deep bronze and heather coats that stubbornly hang on to the hills creating a palate of colours that is quite unique to the area.
A charming apothecary that has retained every Victorian element lies adjacent to the church here. Opposite the apothecary is a sweet shop straight out of Harry Potter with jars of sweets that contain traditional concoctions you would never have dreamed of. In the centre nestled next to a brook lies the magnificent vine covered Yorke Arms run and owned by the wonderful Frances Atkins.
The Yorke Arms is a Michelin-starred restaurant with rooms that allow you to indulge in the phenomenal local cuisine and then retire to antique filled rooms that are both welcoming and bright. The food is centred around the astonishingly beautiful vegetable garden that lies over the brook with an Onion Shaped marque in the centre that serves as the chefs table. Every detail at the Yorke Arms is carefully curated to provide a holistic experience for the guest.
During summer it is equally delightful with the river flowing through the centre and the wonderful cafes and bars, it’s a shame it gets missed by so many visitors to the UK. As a student in York, we were led to believe that there were more pubs in this small town than days in the year. After visiting many of them we ended up residing on a few favourites but with names such as House of the Trembling Madness and Ye Olde Shambles Tavern, it’s a shame I never got to try more. After a delightful lunch we headed to our final destination of Harrogate.
Harrogate is another spa town whose character differs considerably from Cheltenham. Whilst they are both in essence Georgian towns, they are a world apart. The first marked difference is that Harrogate is built on a steep hill with the old spa at the bottom. The Spa has been restored to its former glory with the unusual addition of a Chinese restaurant in the pump room. I guess this is true cultural integration. If one truly wants to experience Yorkshire hospitality, go fully British with afternoon tea at Betty’s. Betty’s is a Yorkshire institution producing cakes and pastries since Edwardian times. There is an air of reverence at Betty’s and afternoon tea is taken very seriously.
The best way to walk off the pastries is to take a walk in Harrogate’s sprawling 17 acres that make the famous Valley gardens. These are nestled to one side of the town centre and have their own micro climate, which allows a variety of plants to grow, earning the gardens renown within horticultural circles. The Wisteria here appears as thematic to the whole trip and links two incredibly diverse counties. One pink and one purple very different in character but belonging to the same hue of the multifaceted United Kingdom.