We departed at 6:55 am on the circle line from St. James Park tube to London Paddington for the 7:50 am GWR train to Moreton-in-Marsh, for our scheduled Secret Cottage Cotswold Tour. We purchased our rail tickets in advance consisting of a 2nd class rail ticket on the outward journey, and a 1st class return. The cost of the tickets totaled 27.50 pounds per person. Our train consisted of 6 coaches and made stops at Slough, Reading, Oxford, Hanborough, Charlbury, Kingham, and Chipping Northern before arriving at Moreton-in-Marsh at 9:32 am.
With about 30 minutes free time until pickup, we wandered up into the town of Morton-in-Marsh, snapped a few preliminary photos, and visited a quaint art shop on the main road. When we arrived back at the station, the Secret Cottage tour operators were assembling the group. Our tour consisted of 14 guests, and two tour guides, Claire and Jeremy. We learned later in the day that Claire recently lived in the United States and had a speaking part in the Orlando Harry Potter attraction.
The tour started precisely at 10:10 am as we split into two separate minivans consisting of seven guests each. As we exited Moreton-in-Marsh, we learned that the United States sent military tanks to this town in 1944 in preparation for the D-Day landing. The guides also shared that JRR Tolkien took some inspiration for The Hobbit from the Cotswold’s area.
The drive took us down Grey Goose Drive, which is a public access road across private land. We arrived at the Chastleton House, in a small village with a population of just 153. The television show Wolf Hall was filmed at this location and the setting is quite peaceful with St. Mary’s Church and accompanying graveyard. We took photos of the manor home and the some of the gravestones, with the oldest legible headstone dated November 10, 1718. The manor house once belonged to the Jacobite’s rebels who sought to restore the Catholic leadership to Great Britain. Across the road from the manor house was an odd building called a Dove Cote used to attract doves, for gathering their eggs.
Back in the mini-van we quickly arrived at 10:45 am for our first of three visits to the Secret Cottage. We entered through a narrow path and gate and immediately everyone was awestruck. The setting is as serene as you could imagine, and immediately the curators Becky and Robert offered refreshments.
The Secret Cottage, as at least 80% of the homes in the Cotswolds’ area, sported a thatched roof which lasts for approximately 40 years and averages around 35,000 pounds to replace. The cottage, built in 1580, housed around 12 to 15 people. Of special interest is the wallpaper in the rooms which is a painted-on effect to help present the appearance that everything is straight and proper.
Our refreshments were coffee or tea, along with English pastries, scones, and cookies. We also saw the hidden room (pantry) under the Kitchen floor. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the Cottage, except the Kitchen area, as this is a private home.
By 11:25 am we were back in the Mini-vans heading further into the Cotswolds which originated due to the wool industry. In its heyday, up to 20,000 sheep were sold daily in this area. The tour guide explained that the homes were called cottages because Cotters the workers often lived in them. At 11:30 am we have arrived in the village of Icomb. We strolled around the village for about 20 minutes then headed on our way at 11:50 am.
Our next stop was Lower Slaughter via the village of Wyck Rissington and the Old Roman Road, known as the Falseway. Arriving at 12:05 pm, we took a leisurely walk through the beautiful community to the Old Mill. We had free time to purchase items at the gift shop or to walk around and enjoy the surroundings. The group walked back to the parking area at The Slaughters Manor House, departing at 12:40 pm.
The tour now took us through Upper Slaughter, Lower Swell, and Stow on the Wold. The latter is the sister town to Appomattox, the last battle site of the American Civil War. While driving, we passed the oldest inn of the Cotswold’s area established in 978 A.D.
Our next stop was the small village of Adlestrop, arriving at 1:10 pm. We parked outside of St. Mary Magdalene Church and walked a hundred yards down the road to the Adlestrop House and Coachman’s Cottage. The former was visited several times by the novelist Jane Austen, who may have used the house and grounds of Adlestrop park as the setting for her novel Mansfield Park.
We returned to the Mini-van and took a short drive back to the Secret Cottage for lunch consisting of sandwiches, pastries, meats and a variety of beverages. There was something for everyone to enjoy.
After enjoying a delightful lunch on the property of the Secret Cottage, we left at 2:10 pm to tour Great Tew, a small village of approximately 100 cottages, 80 of which have thatched roofs. Once at Great Tew, we walked a circular route around the community, this time across a public footpath on private land until we returned to our starting point. The beautiful scenery lent itself to many photo opportunities.
Our guide pointed out that the Lord of Great Tew, Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount Falkland village, once lived in a manor house above the town and close to the local Falkland Arms pub. The Viscount, who sponsored expeditions, was honored by John Strong, the English naval officer who first sailed through what is now called the Falkland Islands.
We promptly departed at 3:10 pm and proceeded to drive through Little Tew, then Chipping Norton and Cornwell village where the film The Holiday was shot. At 3:50 pm we arrived at the Secret Cottage for our final visit.
We enjoyed cakes, cookies, and chocolates while we sat outside and conversed with our guides and the curators of the house. All in all, it was a most lovely, educational, and beautiful day in the Cotswold’s. Sadly, at 4:15 pm our guides transported us back to the Moreton-In-March station arriving at 4:28 pm with plenty of time to catch the 4:46 pm train back to London.
We bid our guides goodbye and posed for one final photo. We boarded our 1st class accommodations for the 1 ½ hour trip back to London. Several in our group had not pre-purchased the return ticket and learned that no return seats were available until after 6 pm.
We arrived at London Paddington station at 6:04 pm in just enough time to take the tube to a 7:45 pm showing of Peter Pan in the Regents Park Open-Air Theater. The play is a great option to keep in mind if you are trying to fill your day as it teams up perfectly with the timing of the Cotswold tour. We pre-purchased our tickets for the play when planning our trip.
Cruise Port: London, England
Tour Name: Secret Cottage Tour
Tour Operator/Guide: Claire / Jeremy