Venice of the Cotswolds

Bourton-on-the-Water is a beautiful little village in Gloucestershire that lies midway between Stow-on-the-Wold and Northleach. Known as the Venice of the Cotswolds, its picturesque high-street is flanked by the River Windrush which flows under a collection of low bridges beside trees and well-kept greens.

Neolithic and Iron Age Origins

Neolithic pottery unearthed in the vicinity suggests the area was settled by humans as far back as 4000 BC. Additional excavations at the nearby Iron Age enclosure Salmonsbury Camp, also indicates continuous occupation during the Bronze Age and Roman times.

Roman Occupation

Evidence of Roman settlement is further evidenced by a treasure-trove of coins and pottery found near the village during the 1950s. Bourton-on-the-Water is also located on Icknield Street, a Roman road that runs off another well-known Roman route, the Fosse Way which links Cirencester to Leicester.

Fort Beside the Village

The existence of a camp or fortification appears to have given rise to the village’s name. ‘Bourton’ derives from the Saxon words ‘burh’ and ‘ton’ that roughly translates as ‘fort beside the village’.

Introduction of the Railways

In 1862, the Bourton-on-the-Water railway opened, connecting the village to Kingham on the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway (OWWR). Some twenty years later, the OWWR was merged with the Great Western Railway which in turn was extended west and connected to the Banbury and Cheltenham Railway.

However, unlike many popular UK tourist destinations, the introduction of railed travel did little to affect Bourton’s off-the-beaten-track aura for quite some time – in fact, tourism didn’t really take hold until the 1920s.

But because of its location in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as the chocolate box stone buildings, Bourton eventually became a major visitor attraction – an estimated 300,000 people now visit each year.

 Cotswolds Stone Houses

Cotswolds Architecture

Bourton’s charming stone houses and buildings were constructed using yellow limestone and include architectural features such as arch gables, mullioned windows, string courses and drip-moulds.

The inclusion of these decorative elements is indicative of the ‘storybook style’ of architecture found throughout the Cotswolds. One of the best examples of this style can be found at St Lawrence’s Church, part of which dates back to the 12th century.

Bourton on the Water Visitor Attractions

There are numerous Bourton-on-the-Water visitor attractions that are well-worth seeing. Here are some of the highlights.

Birdland Park and Gardens

Birdland Park and Gardens is another popular Bourton-on-the-Water visitor attraction. The 9-acre haven was established in the 1950s and is populated by more than 500 birds such as falcons, pelicans, flamingos and penguins.

The site also includes upwards of 50 aviaries that are home to parrots, hornbills and pheasants. As well as the abundant array of bird species, the park and gardens comprise well over 150 trees which provide a beautify canopy for the River Windrush.

Greystones Nature Reserve

Nature-lovers should also enjoy Greystone Nature Reserve, with its wildflower meadows, working organic farm and realistic replica of an Iron Age roundhouse. A series of way-marked trails meander through the reserve providing easy access to this blissful setting.

Within its natural boundaries lies the scheduled monument, Salmonsbury Camp – a major historic site considered to be an excellent example of an Iron Age fortified enclosure.

The recreated roundhouse vividly showcases this fascinating history as does the reserve’s Discovery Barn which displays local archaeological finds and allows visitors to don traditional Iron Age garb. There’s also a cafe which sells some of the delicious cheese produced by the Gloucester herds that graze nearby.

Bourton-on-the-Water Model Village

Model Village

The Model Village is a one-ninth scale replica of Bourton that’s located next to the 18th century Old New Inn. Opened in 1937, it took local craftsman five years to create and was unveiled for the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.

Featuring unerringly accurate and highly-detailed buildings crafted from Cotswolds stone, this amazing little village includes the Old Water Mill, Bourton’s two churches as well as local bridges, shops and gardens.

Model Railway

Bourton is also home to a 500 square foot model railway on which runs more than 40 British and European trains. Considered to be one of the best indoor layouts in the country, it comprises three main displays of OO, HO and N gauge tracks.

These wend their way through superbly-conceived landscapes of open countryside as well as highly-detailed industrial and suburban settings. The railway is housed in a period farmhouse in the centre of town which also includes a well-stocked toyshop.

Dragonfly Maze

The popular Dragonfly Maze is found in the village and was conceived by author Kit Williams. It opened in 1977 and features a variety of puzzles and cryptic clues which need to be deciphered in order to reach the centre and its golden dragonfly.

The dragonfly itself is imprisoned in the mouth of clockwork frog and can only be released by solving all of the riddles along the way. Visitors should allow for 20 – 30 minutes in order to complete the maze –an accompanying gift shop is available on-site stocking puzzles and traditional toys.

Cotswolds Motoring Museum

Those looking to discover the UK’s rich motoring heritage should pay a visit to this excellent museum which is brimming with all manner of vintage vehicles and memorabilia from times past. On display is a wide variety of historical cars from esteemed manufacturers such as Austin, BMC, FIAT and BMW.

Motorbikes are also well-represented and include the formidable Brough Superior, the Lambretta LD and the 1924 Levis. Additionally, there’s a blacksmith’s workshop and a recreated early 1920th century garage offering vivid, authentic reminders of a bygone era.

Cotswolds Village

Cotswolds Guided Tours

To enable visitors to truly appreciate this idyllic region, award-winning guided tours are operated from Bourton-on-the-Water. They last for six hours, taking in top visitor attractions as well as notable villages and historic market towns around the Cotswolds.

Led by husband and wife team, Lucy and Richard Lambert, the tours are run every day with collection points also at Stow-on the-Wold, Chipping Campden and Moreton-on-Marsh.

Learn more about Bourton-on-the-Water and its visitor attractons via its official visitor information website:

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Dale Shelabarger

Dale is the owner and founder of Cottages to Rent which he launched back in 2005. As well as promoting holiday cottages, Dale blogs regularly about top UK holiday destinations, visitor attractions and places of historical interest.