For many, Gloucestershire is the Cotswolds, the delightful limestone hills that sweep across the county from Dyrham in the south to Chipping Campden in the north. As well as providing some of the most glorious scenery and the prettiest villages in the country, the county is also home to the historic towns of Cirencester and Cheltenham. “The most English and the least spoiled of all our countryside.” So wrote J B Priestley in 1933 in his English Journey and, more than 70 years later, his verdict would surely have been the same.
However, Gloucestershire is not all about the Cotswolds. To the west, on the River Severn, is the ancient city of Gloucester, while further down river is the Vale of Berkeley and historic Berkeley Castle. On the opposite bank of the river lies the Forest of Dean. Wild woodland, royal hunting ground, naval timber reserve, important mining and industrial region: the Forest has been all these, and today its rich and varied landscape provides endless interest for walkers, nature-lovers and historians. Bounded by the Rivers Severn and Wye, the area has been effectively isolated from the rest of England and Wales and so has developed a character all its own.
Capital of the area of northwest Gloucestershire known as the Ryelands, and the most important town in the Vale of Leadon, Newent stands in the broad triangle of land called Daffodil Crescent. The rich Leadon Valley soil was traditionally used for growing rye and raising the renowned Ryelands sheep, an ancient breed famed for the quality of its wool. The town was one of the county’s principal wool-trading centres, and the wealth produced from that trade accounts for the large number of grand merchants’ houses to be seen here. The most distinctive building in Newent is the splendid timber-framed Market House, built as a butter market in the middle of the 16th. - century, its upper floors supported on 16 oak pillars that form an open colonnade. The medieval Church of St Mary has many outstanding features, including the shaft of a 9th-century Saxon cross, the 11th-century Newent Stone and the 17th-century nave. During the Civil War, Royalist troops had removed the lead from the roof to make bullets, an act that caused the roof to collapse during a snowstorm in 1674. A new nave was started after Charles II agreed to donate 60 tons of timber from the Forest of Dean. The church’s 150ft spire is a landmark for miles around.
There aren’t too many windmills in Gloucestershire, but at Castle Hill Farm, just outside town, is a working wooden mill with great views from a balcony at the top.
A mile south of Newent is the International Centre for Birds of Prey housing one of the largest and best collections
of birds of prey in the world. The 110 aviaries are home to eagles, falcons, owls, vultures, kites, hawks, caracaras, secretary birds and buzzards. Between 20 and 40 birds are flown daily at the Centre, which is open every day from February to November. Also on site are a tearoom, children’s play area, pets corner and picnic area.
On the road north towards Dymock, set in 75 acres of rolling countryside, the Three Choirs Vineyard is the country’s largest wine producer. Unusually, there’s also a brewery here, Whittington’s, named after Dick Whittington who is believed to have been born in the nearby hamlet of Pauntley. The vineyard also has a restaurant, shop and offers bed and breakfast accommodation in rooms overlooking the rows of vines.