Secret Cottage is a fun Cotswold day tour just made for those of us who often want to look behind doors that say "No Entry" and are frequently curious about how other people live.
Let's be honest, we've all been there in one form or another - wanting to turn over the teacup to see who made the china or to peek into a stunning house to see how it's decorated. That's why reality TV real estate programs are so popular.
That was what first drew me to the pitch for Secret Cottage Cotswold Tours. After years of living in the UK and admiring those quaint, thatched cottages you drive by in its most picturesque towns and villages, I'd never actually been inside a real one. Were they gorgeous on the outside but dark, damp and gloomy inside? Would it feel weighed down by all the dark timber beams? How did all the mod cons of today's lifestyles actually work in such a setting? And where did they find room for the Aga?
So when Robin and Becky Simpson invited us to sample their new venture - which included lunch and tea breaks in their own picture postcard pretty Cotswold cottage, how could we resist?
Off the Beaten Path
If you've ever visited an area popular with tourists only to have every view blocked by great big tour buses disgorging endless streams of more tourists, you have a sense of what most tours of the Cotswolds are like. These terminally pretty villages are a magnet for visitors year round and the most popular places can become jam-packed in good weather or bad.
That's what makes Secret Cottage such a clever concept. The Simpsons are longtime Cotswold residents who know the region well. They've planned a route that takes visitors to out of the way villages and towns well off the usual tours. And those unheralded places are just as pretty and scenic as their more famous - and more crowded neighbors.
How It Works
- Make your way by car or train to Moreton-in-Marsh in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. Becky collects you in her shiny blue minivan at 10:15 at the village train station. Check National Rail Enquiries for times and prices.
- After a short drive and a stop to look over the grounds of a Jacobean house, you navigate narrow country roads and enter an almost hidden village, managed by the National Trust. At Secret Cottage, the Simpson's own pristine 16th century Cotswold cottage in the middle of this village, you stop for morning coffee or tea and cakes. The house, once three farm workers' cottages, knocked together many years ago, is everything you could hope for - cozy country kitchen warmed by a traditional country range, three sitting rooms with beamed ceilings and deep stone inglenook fireplaces, twisty little staircases leading to upstairs rooms. The Simpson's collection of primitive paintings and country antiques are artfully arranged, making the rooms look like a layout from Country Life, and a friendly little spaniel offers visitors a tail-wagging welcome.
- In the course of the day, you return to Secret Cottage for a lunch of finger foods and a modified afternoon tea. The Simpsons - Becky drives and Robin mans the kitchen - are friendly and considering that you and your fellow tour participants are strangers in their home, there is not the slightest awkwardness. From the first time you walk through their lovely garden to the kitchen door, you feel like you are visiting friends.
- The six-hour day is divided into virtually bespoke short tours to out-of-the-way villages. Though Becky has a planned route, she'll stop wherever you like so that you can hop out to take pictures, look around and take short walks. She's a fount of local information - history, local celebrities, bits of gossip - and can answer almost any question about the area.
Secret Cottage Essentials
- Where: Pick up and drop off at Moreton-in-Marsh station in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds. Everything else is a secret.
- When: Any day, year-round from 10:15 am to 4:30 pm
- Cost: The tour, including more than generous refreshments and lunch, costs £85 per person. Do factor in train fare to the pickup point. From London Paddington Station, off-peak return (round trip) fare in 2016 is about £49, but using the National Rail Enquiries Cheapest Fare Finder, we found a round trip for £12 when purchased as two one-day tickets.
- To Book: Telephone +44 (0)1608 674 700 or book online.
- Visit the website for pictures of some of the typical sights on this tour.
- The Verdict: Highly recommended. A great introduction to a lovely and interesting corner of England, suitable for all ages and reasonably tailored to your own preferences.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary services for review purposes. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our Ethics Policy.