Gloucestershire Echo is a local newspaper covering Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and surrounding villages.
Their WEEKEND magazine, put together by a team of five, was shortlisted in the Supplement of the Year category of the Society of Editors’ Regional Press Awards. And we were thrilled to be featured in the magazine recently.
The magazine has a wide range of lifestyle articles covering health and fitness, food, travel and fashion.
Here’s what editor Helen Blow had to say about the Cotswold day trips we offer our guests:
Interiors: Spend a day at the Cotswolds’ Secret Cottage
You can live in an area all your life and yet still find hidden corners that you never knew existed.The Cotswolds has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to chocolate box villages and stunningly pretty views.
Once you get into the countryside, it seems whichever way you turn, you will come across scenes that take your breath away.
When Becky Simpson and her husband, Robin, moved into their very own picture postcard cottage five years ago, they realised they had a hidden gem that would appeal to tourists.
Tucked away in one of those quintessential Cotswold villages completely off the beaten track, Becky knew it was the kind of place visitors would love to visit.
“Whenever we used to look round places, I would say to Robin how much I’d love to be able to go into some of the homes to see what they were like inside,” said Becky.
“And I know how much some tourists love traditional English villages, particularly those from places like the USA and Japan.”
She came up with the idea of running tours from the thatched cottage for tourists, which would include visiting nearby places off the beaten track, as well as the chance to experience life in a real Cotswold cottage.
So she started Secret Cottage and now spends most weeks acting as host and guide for groups of tourists based at her home near Moreton-in-Marsh.
Becky collects small groups from the station before bringing them back to her cottage for the day, with lunch and cream teas, interspersed with short tours to hidden spots nearby.
“Some of the villages and beauty spots near where we live are out of this world but probably unknown and unvisited by most people, so it really is a special tour,” she said.
But it is probably her 400-year-old cottage that remains as a special memory for most visitors after they return home.
With its low, wooden-beamed ceilings, stone mullion windows, winding wooden staircases and hidden corners, all surrounded by pretty gardens, Secret Cottage is the image that most people would conjure up if asked to describe their archetypal English country cottage.
“When we moved here we realised that this is a very special village and we had tourists passing by, peering into the property, trying to get a closer look,” said Becky.
“We have turned that into a business, offering exactly that; the chance to spend a day in a Cotswold country cottage.”
From tea and cakes in front of a roaring fire and lunch by the Aga to cream teas taken outside among the flowers and trees, it is a day that visitors will remember long after the holiday itself has faded.
Secret Cottage is just that. Even from the lane outside there is very little of the house you can actually see until you make your way up the stone pathway to the front door. A wooden door leads you into the spacious kitchen, dominated by a large wooden table and pale yellow Aga, where Becky bakes the scones for the cream teas and prepares the lunches.
A doorway leads into one of several living rooms that lead on from each other on the ground floor, each separated by a low door archway that the taller among us have to stoop slightly to get through.
Both Becky and Robin are on the tall side but say they are used to bending at various points in the cottage and it doesn’t bother them.
“Friends who visit us sometimes ask how we can live with the low ceilings and doorways, but we love it,” said Robin. “It’s so cosy in here during the colder months, when we sit in front of a roaring fire with the flames flickering off the walls.”
The couple are avid collectors of Folk Art, items made to be practical rather than just decorative, and their pieces include a collection of cricket tables, weather vanes and wooden shore birds.
“Cricket tables were used in old taverns where the floors were uneven,” said Becky. “They are very heavy tables with three legs that would remain steady despite the crooked floors.”
Becky’s collection of shore birds comes from trips to France and they include a curlew, waders and several pigeons.
Other pieces of furniture, including chairs and cupboards, are also fine examples of primitive or ‘naive’ art – art that is classified by its simplicity or child-like subject matter and technique.
Two rooms are dominated by massive stone fireplaces and the couple make the most of this feature by surrounding them with comfy armchairs and sofas and lamps.
One of the most surprising features of the old house is in fact no more than a few years old.
Becky pulled up a rug in the kitchen to reveal a door flush to the floor, which reveals a hidden cellar.
“We had this dug out when we moved in,” she said. “It goes three metres down and we use it as a storeroom.”
A spiral staircase leads down into the depths of the ground and the perfectly round walls are completely lined with shelves from top to bottom.
“When the workmen dug down, the hole filled up with water and they had to set up a pump to keep the water at bay.”
Upstairs there are four bedrooms as well as a substantial back storeroom and bathroom, and further up into the eaves and another staircase is Robin’s study.
Outside the garden is another treasure of the cottage, which Becky keeps looking trim.
“We were lucky that it was mature when we bought the cottage and we’ve just had to keep it trimmed and pull up the weeds,” she said.
Visitors can take tea on the lawn or sitting on wooden garden chairs on the patio in fine weather.
“Between the refreshments we run short tours to picturesque hidden villages that most tourists rarely find,” said Becky.
“They can vary from visiting a village fete and watching Morris dancers at a local pub to visiting a farmers’ market and watching a duck race.”
The six-hour tour begins and ends at Moreton-in-Marsh railway station, where Becky picks up their visitors in a minibus in the morning and drops them back off in the late afternoon.
“Since we started the tours, they have become amazingly popular and we get visitors from all over the world,” she said.
“We also get lots from the UK, including people who don’t live that far away but want to discover more about the area around them.”
Tours cost £85 per person, including all refreshments and tours.