The Cotswolds, they call it.
A land of stunning beauty, complete with sweeping landscapes of rolling hills, quiet woods, and sleepy villages, it is the perfect place for a quiet weekend. Or so you’d think, but it turns out that things may not be quite what they seem in the Cotswolds…
We travelled down on the Friday afternoon, stalked by dark clouds and heavy rain, as though the journey southwards wasn’t daunting enough! Due to a combination of the adverse conditions and Jen’s yellow belly, we took the scenic route and avoided the motorways as much as possible. As a result, we got to enjoy a bit more of the countryside… while staring at the back of a lorry we couldn’t overtake. Despite that, we arrived at our destination in just double the time Google Maps told us it would take.
Fair to say the journey was a little arduous, but our accommodation made it all worthwhile. There were five of us on this little adventure, which itself was a pretty spectacular Christmas present. We would be staying in a small cottage sat in the midst of a picturesque village, just a couple of doors down from the local pub.
Arriving in the dark, with nothing but the light spilling from the pub windows to guide us in, the place held a kind of magical warmth that welcomed us with open arms.
That feeling only grew once we got the fire going. I say “we” because it was my first time and it took a little guidance for me to get it going, but really it was all about the natural skills of my inner-caveman. Soon enough I had the fire roaring. I mean… that may have only lasted for as long as the paper and kindling did… but there were a few minutes there when it was really quite impressive. It had flames and everything!
Anyway, that first night was not just our arrival; once midnight struck, it was also the end of Dry January. After 31 days of alcoholic abstinence, me, Jen, and Charlie could finally join the two reprobates of our party, Matt and Jane, in getting well and truly smashed! At least that was the plan. But after the long, gruelling journey to get there, followed by a feast of Fish Lasagne, which, rumour has it, was populated with so many species of fish Captain Birdseye would have been proud, we were all done in after the first two glasses of sparkly.
Still, that set the tone for the rest of our stay. By night we would feast like kings, and by day we would roll our bloated bodies up and down the hills of the Cotswolds in an attempt to burn some of it off.
Yet it was during our guilt-driven walks that the sinister Mystery of the Cotswolds began to reveal itself…
The first trek took us over fields and through the local village, up past a couple of Grand Design-type houses and around the grounds of a massive estate, before coming back down, naturally, to the pub. We only went in looking for a refreshing pint and a few answers about the what we’d seen on our walk, but that was when things got really interesting.
First there was the dodgy barman, who seemed to know less about the surrounding area than we did. ‘Do you know what the big derelict building is around the back of the big estate is?’ asked Jane.
‘Big derelict building?’ the man mused. ‘No, I ain’t seen nothing like that.’
‘What about the building just up the hill, the one with all the work being done?’
He shook his head firmly. ‘I’ve never been up that side of the hill,’ he whispered. ‘We don’t like to talk about it. Are you not from around here?’
He thought we were locals! The man was clearly a plant. But for what possible reason!?
In the end, we found ourselves drawn to a table sat next to four real locals. They (apparently) didn’t know much about the buildings we were interested in either, but each one of them was brilliant.
There was the really old fella with the dog, who liked to tell stories; there was the sort-of-old fella with the massive beard and kind face, who sat quietly in the corner offering words of wisdom when the fancy took him; and there was the cheeky fella with the corny jokes and the general mirth.
But it was the woman with them who changed the entire weekend. She too was warm and welcoming. She said she worked at the pub but was off duty, but she promised if we came back in later on she’d look after us. Innocent enough, you’d think.
Then came Day Two, when we drove to a village some twenty minutes away for another post-feast walkabout. This one was a bit more challenging than the first. We crossed fields of mud that threatened to swallow us whole, dodged shotgun pellets from the last of the season’s hunts, and gave moral support to Jane after her knee gave way.
Eventually we had to stop at a pub (naturally) for another refreshing pint. Unlike the first, however, this was certainly a local pub for local people. We all clambered inside and made our way to the bar. ‘You wiped your feet?’ was the first thing the barman said, his eyes as cold as death. Awkwardly, we ordered our drinks and shuffled over to a table away from the hostile eyes of the regulars. I glanced over to the bar… and there she was – the same woman from the day before. Except she hadn’t said anything, so maybe it wasn’t…
She didn’t glance over at us once, so I dismissed it as a case of mistaken identity. Except I was the only one who thought it. ‘Isn’t that the woman from yesterday?’ asked Jen. Then, as we were leaving, Charlie revealed she’d bumped into her in the toilets and exchanged a pleasant greeting, only for the woman to look at her like she had two heads. So maybe it wasn’t her. But, no, it definitely was her…
Or was it…
We met her on the third day too. We started the day in the pub (naturally), to prepare ourselves for the journey home. And there she was, working her shift as promised. It was definitely the same woman from two days earlier – and the same woman from yesterday. Definitely! She was back to her welcoming, warm self, but she had nothing to say about our second encounter, and neither did we. She must have had her reasons for blanking us – and we did our best to think them up – but I suppose we’ll never know the answer to the Mystery of the Cotswolds.
All this and I haven’t even mentioned the time we accidentally ended up crossing some farmer’s swampy field. A four-by-four pulled up on the road nearby and the driver just sat there staring at us as we struggled across water and mud. He said nothing until he got a little closer, then he wound his window up and drove on. Probably off to get his shotgun…
All in all, we had a brilliant time and the Cotswolds is definetly worth a visit. But I did learn one valuable lesson: of all the TV mysteries, Midsomer Murders might just be the closest to the truth.