Bourton-on-the-Water

Bourton-on-the-Water has a high profile tourist image, so much is true. But that's on paper only. When you arrive at this idyllic village in person, it never disappoints.

It retains its air of a true, living place - which indeed it is - carrying on its life oblivious to those who stand and stare: those who can only dream of life in an archetypal Cotswold village where the pace of life is as slow as the Windrush which meanders through its heart.

In fact, so lovely is this village, that there are two of them - only one is a one-nineth size replica. Bourton's model village was opened on Coronation Day in 1937, and is extremely accurate and detailed. Eight men spent four years building it in local Cotswold stone. And they even included a model of the model!

That's far from being the only attraction in this village. Birdland is a private zoological garden, nestling in three-and-a-half acres in the grounds of a Tudor manor. Exotic birds are king in this fantasy-land of macaws, parrots, hummingbirds, sunbirds toucans, flamingos and penguins. It was the dream of a local builder, Leonard Hill, who set about bringing a little bit of paradise to the Cotswolds.

On a more practical front, the Cotswold Motor Museum, in an 18th Century corn-mill, houses cars, bikes, antique children's toys and advertising signs. And in the High Street, there's a Model Railway Exhibition too.

Once called "the little Venice of the Cotswolds", this village goes way back in time. There was, indeed, a small Roman settlement here, and, in the 1930s, an Anglo-Saxon hut containing the remains of an upright loom, was excavated nearby. Loom-weights and pottery were found.

One of the many attractions of Bourton, is just to walk round looking at the lovely houses. In the High Street are to be found the school of 1846, and the 16th Century smithy on the corner of Moore Road. Some of the houses bear inscriptions from the 17th Century, and the Old New Inn has a sundial inscribed "Silas Wells 1718".

At the west end of the green is the Manor House, built around 1200, but which underwent extensive alterations until its complete restoration in 1919. The beautiful Dovecote is 16th Century. Harrington House is one of the most splendid of all the residences, parts of it dating back over 300 years.

Perhaps loveliest of all are the bridges: Narrow Bridge, Road Bridge and, the most famous, Bourton Bridge. There was a bridge on that spot in Roman times, though the present one dates back to 1806 and was widened in 1959.

Standing in the peacefulness of St Lawrence's Church, with its 14th Century chancel and Georgian tower, the weight of ages can be felt. For Bourton has kept true to its own character. Its leafy narrow lanes, and its greens lined with willows, are so reassuring. No matter how the outside world dashes by, Bourton is on a different time scale.

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