In contrast to the rural country atmosphere of many of the small Cotswold towns and villages, Cheltenham is an elegant, sophisiticated place with a number of attractions for visitors. Medicinal springs were discovered here in 1718, and Cheltenham saw its heyday as a spa in the 18th and 19th centuries, when entire streets of elegant houses sprang up. In keeping with the spa ambience are the chic boutiques; the town is known for its shopping.
Another nostalgic element are the horse-drawn carriage rides offered Sundays in Pittville Park. Sights include the Art Gallery and City Museum (containing archaeological finds, Chinese porcelain, English ceramics and Dutch paintings) Room and Museum. At the beginning of the 19th century, the great writer Jane Austen (1755-1817) occasionally worked on her novels in Cheltenham (including Pride and Prejudice).
In the city of Tewkesbury, many of the black-and-white half-timbered houses now accommodate little shops and cafes. The Abbey Church is one of the most attractive Norman churches in the country. Visitors with a taste for the Gothic should ask the prior to let them see the crypt with the bones of the Duke of Clarence. He was murdered by being drowned in a butt of malmsey on the orders of Richard III.
Head west of Cheltenham on the A40 to Gloucester, a major industrial center on the river Severn. The old docks and Victorian warehouses have been converted into a blend of specialty cafes, shops, countless antiques stalls, and museums – including the Opie Collection of Advertising and Packaging, the Waterways Museum and the Gloucestershire Regimental Museum.
The Beatrix Potter Museum in Gloucester Court will entertain young and old alike. Nearby is the cathedral, where William the Conqueror commissioned the Domesday Book. The southern transept and choir of this partially Anglo-Norman building were rebuilt in the Perpendicular style. Some of the stained-glass in the east windows is still the original article from the 14th century. There are superb cloisters with fan vaulting, as well as the tomb of King Edward II, who was, after systematic maltreatment, murdered with a red-hot poker at Berkeley Castle, southwest of Gloucester.
Not far from here is the world’s largest wildfowl park at Slimbridge. These wetlands inspired many paintings by the Wildfowl Trust’s inaugurater and naturalist, Sir Peter Scott.