Retire To The Cotswolds For The Best Of English Country Life

The Cotswolds in southwest England are a collection of honey-colored stone villages set amidst a range of rolling, wooded hills between the cities of Gloucester, Bath, Oxford, and Stratford.

Water is a constant companion in the Cotswolds and has shaped the region's prolific wool industry. The shallow and fast-flowing rivers that pass through many of the villages here were just right for washing wool. Mills have been built throughout the area, from the huge town mills at Stroud to private ones run by country squires. Originally a Roman fort, Cirencester, the capital of the Cotswolds, became the center of the area's wool industry.

This region is quintessential England, with more than 100 picturesque villages, making it an ideal choice for the retiree who likes history, antiques, outdoor sports, open log fires, and cozy pubs. And, right now, while the sun is shining, is a perfect time to visit to see for yourself all that this region has to offer.

Where, specifically, should you consider?

The artist William Morris called Bibury "the most beautiful village in England." Entering the village, you cross an ancient bridge over the translucent water of the River Coln, passing the Bibury trout farm on your left. Take a right turn following the river and you're at Arlington Row, one of the most photographed row of cottages in the world. Bibury village also has a small shop, a post office, a primary school, a Saxon church, and a pub, and is on a bus service to Cirencester.

Property doesn't come cheap in Bibury, but every piece of it is charming and features the honey-colored stone of the Cotswolds, leaded windows, wooden beams, open fireplaces, exposed stone, and gabled ceilings.

As an example, a two-bedroom, end of terrace cottage overlooking the River Coln is on the market for £298,000. The property has two reception rooms, a galley, a walled, south-facing garden, open fireplace, and original features such as exposed beams and window seats in the bedrooms.

Another appealing Cotswold choice for the would-be retiree is Uley, a tiny village set in a beautiful valley where the banks of the hills are covered in a blanket of bluebells each spring. Uley is home to the great Iron Age hill-fort of Uley Bury, built 2,500 years ago. More recent additions are the Uley Brewery, which supplies many local pubs, and Prema Rural Arts Center, where you can learn all sorts of creative skills (and enjoy coffee and cake).

Properties currently on the market in Uley range from £285,000 for a three-bed, three-floor, typical Cotswold-stone cottage to £1.75 million for a five-bed, oak-framed home built in a Conservation Area overlooking two large ponds.

Tetbury is a larger market town also full of history and honey-colored buildings. At the center is the Market House, built in 1655, where wool and yarns were sold; it's used today for the weekly market. Tetbury is a town that has everything from delis to antique shops, a superstore on the outskirts to a small but very well-equipped hospital. On the doorstep are Prince Charles' Highgrove Estate and Westonbirt Arboretum. Tetbury is also famous for the great Wool Sack races which take place each year; a tradition that requires participants to carry a 65-pound sack of wool up and down an extremely steep hill.

Property prices and styles in Tetbury are more wide-ranging, from a modern housing "estate" (that's British for subdivision) on the outskirts to magnificent, period family homes. A two-bedroom period apartment within a Grade II listed building in the town center is currently for sale for £141,500.

If you like the idea of living in a gated community, Tetbury has that, too. A modern, three-bedroom apartment is available for £325,000 in the Prince's Court development built in local stone following the styles of Regency and Victorian architecture.

All the beauty, history, serenity, and royalty of this region attract higher than national average house prices. However, if you want to experience the Cotswolds but are willing to live slightly apart from the most popular villages, you can find lower prices. The best bargain-priced Cotswold towns are Dursley, Wotton-under-Edge, and the outskirts of Cirencester and Cheltenham.

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