. Gloucestershire is the essence of England . Its lovely hills, verdant valleys and deep grassed pastures have an air that's unique, its views, such as Birdlip, are spectacular. The county is set with small towns and pretty villages, often constructed and roofed with golden Cotswold stone.
. This county shares with Oxfordshire the splendour of a part of Britain renowned for its beauty - the Cotswold Hills.
. The Cotswolds are actually chalk hills, the bare bones lightly soil covered and furred with fine grass. Once the sludge of prehistoric shelled creatures at the bottom of anancient sea these hills were long ago folded and forced up under enormous pressure to form the familiar heights, rising in soft blue outline and giving the county its romantic and rural appeal. Aside from estates with planned parkland there are many great gardens here.
. On its farthest, and some say wildest edges to the west,Gloucestershire embraces the Bristol Channel . Part of the county, the Forest of Dean , is actually across what might otherwise be its border, the lordly River Severn .
. The River Avon forms one of several waterways that made Bristol such an important inland port. The city that grew rich on rum and sugar is still thriving today on its links with communications, computing and finance. This attractive, hilly, cathedral city has its own museum, but the surviving Norman, 16th-century and Georgian buildings provide enough outdoor history to satisfy the most demanding sightseer, as do Bristol's two great engineering monuments: Brunel's SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge .
. Theatre-lovers should check out Britain 's oldest working theatre, the delightful Georgian Theatre Royal. Bristol is also home to the most vibrant nightlife, music and club scene in the West Country. More sedate visitors can relax at nearby seaside resorts or explore the surrounding rolling countryside.
. The first Severn Bridge connecting England and Wales was built between Aust in Gloucestershire and Beachley in Monmouthshire. A second Severn bridge was opened further downstream in 1996.
Origin of name: From the Brittonic Glouiu, meaning bright place or shining fortress, its Roman name is Glevum.
Name first recorded: 1016 as Glaucestrescir.
GLOUCESTER : Lies on the east bank of the Severn , its centre spread around a curve in the river. A city without airs and graces. It is well worth a visit. Other Towns:
BRISTOL : (Shared with Somerset ) Still an inland port with a canal opened in 1837 connecting the city's docks with the Severn taking ships up to 1,000 tons. The best city panorama is from the top of the 105- foot Cabot Tower , which commemorates John Cabot's voyage to America .
CHELTENHAM : Boasts not one but two famous colleges (one for boys one for girls).
CHIPPING CAMPDEN: Fine gabled stone houses advertise a wealthy wool industry with the 14th- century Woolstaplers Hall and medieval wool church.
CIRENCESTER: Capital of the Cotswolds.
LYDNEY: Roman remains and strong royal connections.
NAILSWORTH: Charming Cotswold town built in a chasm.
STOW-ON-THE-WOLD: Highest hill top town in the Cotswolds. The very large market square has stocks and a 14th-century cross.
STROUD: At the forefront of England 's broadcloth industry thanks to steam and canals. Billiard table baize cloth is still used to cover the world's tables.
TEWKESBURY : Timber-framed buildings predominate this pleasing town with one of the finest Norman structures in the country: Tewkesbury Abbey. A decisive War of the Roses battle was fought here.
. Almondsbury . Avonmouth . Chipping Sodbury . Kingswood . Mangotsfield. Shirehampton . Stonehouse . Thornbury . Yate
Severn , Windrush, Coin, Leadon. Councils in Wiltshire. Tidling Corner is under Wiltshire
. Mid February: Visit the Primrose Festival at Pass Nurseries at Marks Tey, which features up to a quarter of a million bloomin' primroses.
. End of March: Clacton 's traditional ale and jazz weekend makes for a heady mixture.
. Fighter Meet at North Weald Airfield in Epping is Europe 's premier fighter aircraft airshow; not for those of a sensitive disposition.
. Sailing events along the Blackwater estuary.
. Regular events through English Heritage at Audley End House from craft and country shows to sheepdog demonstrations and teddy bears' picnics.
. June/July: Harwich shows off with concerts, exhibitions, folk dancing and other entertainments.
. June: Essex County Show at Chelmsford .
Two tier government provides the services for the northern part of Gloucestershire with two single tier authorities controlling its southern part. Gloucestershire County in Council and the six district councils of Cotswold, Cheltenham, Forest of Dean . Gloucester , Stroud and Tewkesbury provide services for the north. The South Gloucestershire unitary council and that part of the City of Bristol unitary authority north of the River Avon Dursley administer the south of the County. There are three detached parts of Gloucestershire in Worcestershire, Kemerton is under Worcestershire County and Wychavon County and North Wiltshire Councils in Oxfordshire. Shennington is under Oxfordshire County and Cherwell Councils: in Warwickshire, Little Compton and Sutton- under- Brailes are under Warwickshire County and Stratford upon Avon Councils. In 1373 Edward ill decreed the City and County of Bristol "was a County by itself and separated (from the) Counties of Gloucester and Somerset and in all things exempt... (to be) called the County of Bristol for ever", in 1996 Bristol was made a separate ceremonial County.
WHEN I LIVED in Monmouthshire, which borders with Gloucestershire, I was often drawn to the Forest of Dean , once full of oak trees and then coalmines and ironworks.
This is royal ancient woodland and to me it has the presence of a Tudor chase. The prettiest of its settlements, Coleford, is a treat, and nearby is Cinderford, the main town of this unchanged land. Go further across and you are in the gentle uplands of the Cotswolds where time seems to stand still as in the lovely-sounding Moreton-in-the Marsh, Bourton-on-the-Water and Wotton-under-Edge.
Everywhere from market towns to straggling villages large. Ornamented stone churches rise, embellished by the medieval rich in a public display of prosperity. Gloucester 's cathedral, the brightest jewel among them, used artists imported from London to elevate it to the status of a modern marvel. In the spacious and fertile countryside imposing manors and solid farmhouses greet the gaze. From many points of view Gloucester 's countryside is splendid, but alas, Gloucester city is another story. To imagine the county town as it once was perhaps you should pick up a children's book - Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester . Written and illustrated before the city was modernized its charming watercolours still give an air of an ancient and magical Gloucester , cluttered with old buildings along narrow streets. Much of this was swept away under barbaric development, so there's little left to see. The few exceptions include the grouped half-timbered
houses of Bishop Hooper's Lodging, now a local andregimental museum. The atmosphere of the old city is
partially recaptured in the cathedral close. This amazing building with its fabled stained glass, beckoning bells (a carillon of ten with a huge medieval one) in its tower is not to be missed. One of the score of great English
medieval cathedrals, its cloisters are miracles of thepeculiarly English architectural style known as fan vaulting. There are tomb effigies of Edward II and Robert, the son of William the Conqueror. A mile from the centre of Gloucester engineers will be intrigued with Thomas Telford's single arch crossing the Severn at Over Bridge .
Cheltenham was laid out in the early 19th century with fine restrained terraces of typical late Georgian houses. It became Cheltenham Spa when saline springs were found in 1716. The city guards its elegance well, though
intrusions into the Regency splendour of the Parade have been made. Nevertheless the broad prospect from the foot of the town up to the white facade of the Queen's Hotel will still delight. Don't miss an exploration of squares, like Montpellier , and Georgian buildings such as the Pittville Pump Room and the Montpellier Rotunda. Cirencester's Roman origins can be explored in its intriguing Corinium Museum . There is a vast market place (where once wool was traded, as well as markets for corn and cheese). The town is dominated by beetling hedges of yew that surround Cirencester Park , stately home of the
Bathursts. The church of St John the Baptist is a particularly fine one, with an impressive tower and Perpendicular stone tracery. Within are many treasures, stained glass, monuments and fan vaulting. There are lots of nice shops here and coaching inns to stay at too. Famous settlements include golden Stow-on-the-Wold in its meandering river valley, with an Elizabethan mansion looming above it; Upper Slaughter Manor, which gains its name from a Saxon word for 'a muddy place'; Painswick, with its clipped yew trees in its churchyard and Fairford, which has famous sets of stained glass, misericordes and sculptures on the outside of its large church. Northwest of Tetbury, with its Georgian church containing large candelabra and box pews, is Chavenage, amedieval manor. A chilling story recounts that every Lord of Chavenage who dies in the house is carried off by a coach driven by a headless man - as the ghostly equipage and its black horse pass through the entryway it bursts into flames. Tewkesbury is a delightful compact town with half- timbered inns and an abbey Stroud has early 19th-century Subscription Rooms, which contain the local art gallery.
Between Gloucester and Bristol , Berkeley Castle is a striking medieval pile, buttressed and turreted, replete Highest point: Cleeve Hill near Cheltenham at 1,083 feet with splendid period furniture and silver. Below the castle (nearest place to London over 1,000 feet). walls are dungeons where King Edward II was hideously done to death with a red hot poker. As a relief from this horror, take a stroll along the castle's airy terraces beside wide herbaceous borders. Nearby is Badminton (home of the Duke of Beaufort and of several horse events). In its palatial entrance hall the game of badminton was invented. Opposite the gates is a house known and mentioned by Jane Austen - Petty France, now a well recommended country hotel of the same name; it retains a genial Austen air. In this part of the county look for Westonbirt, an historic arboretum offering peaceful walks among its notable trees, and Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust. Open year round and founded by the late Sir Peter Scott, ornithologist and wildlife painter, it is home to hundreds of water and wading birds and there are, usually impressive flocks to be seen from hides dotted around the preserve.
Close to the west, and to the county of Monmouthshire , Clearwell Castle is an early example of a large Gothic Revival house.
There is an elaborate Neolithic burial mound at Notgrove, one called Hetty Pegler's Tump near Nailsworth and another which contained 31 skeletons at Belas Knap. Roman remains are extensive: Ermine Street , Icknield Way and Acman Street all passed through the county. Corinium Dobunorum (Cirencester) was one of the most important Roman cities and there's a well-preserved amphitheatre just outside the town. There are fine mosaics at Woodchester Roman Villa, and a large bath-house and tesselated pavements can be seen at the Roman villa of Great Witcombe. Chedworth Villa south of Cheltenham is a particularly well- preserved Roman site. The massive 5th-century earthwork of King Offa's Dyke rims the western edge of the county and once defined the kingdom of Mercia . It was after the kingdom failed and fell apart in 910 that Gloucestershire was established.