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Gloucestershire is split into three areas, these being the major part of the Cotswolds, the Royal Forest of Dean and finally the Severn Vale and has a total population of 565,000.
The Cotswolds region covers an area of 790 square miles and is the country's largest officially designated 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'
Popular with both British and International visitors from all over the world, the area is well known for gentle hillsides (‘wolds’), outstanding countryside with river valleys, water meadows and beech woods, sleepy ancient limestone villages and historic market towns. For many the area is ‘typically English’ where time has stood still for over 300 years.
The villages and town's owe much of their charm to the use of the warm, honey-coloured limestone which was locally quarried by hand and used alike for cottages, mansions, and churches.
Bourton-on-the-Water ( main picture ) straddles the river Windrush with its series of elegant low bridges beside neat tree-shaded greens and tidy stone banks. Standing back from the river are traditional Cotswolds buildings, many of which are now tourist shops for day-trippers and visitors. It has been described as the 'Little Venice' of the Cotswolds and is one of the most popular tourist spots in the region and is serviced by the many shops, cafe's and attractions.
Stow-on-the-Wold is a delightful market town and along with Moreton in Marsh, perhaps the best known of the small Cotswolds towns. It stands exposed on a 700 feet high hill at a junction of seven major roads, including the Roman Fosse Way. At the height of the Cotswold wool industry the town was famous for it's huge annual fairs where as many as 20,000 sheep were sold at one time.
The vast Market Square is testament to the town's former importance and around the square the visitor is faced with an elegant array of Cotswold town houses. Stow is an important shopping centre and has many fine Antique shops and Art galleries and is a centre for walkers.
Chipping Campden is one of the loveliest small towns in the Cotswolds and has become known for its unusual and attractive High Street which is flanked on either side by an almost unbroken single terrace, made up of many different architectural styles.
Lower Slaughter's unusual name stems from the Old English name for a wet land 'slough' or 'slothre' (Old English for muddy place) upon which it lies. This quaint village sits beside the little Eye stream and is known for it's unspoilt limestone cottages in the traditional Cotswold style.
Nestling between the Wye Valley, the Vale of Leadon and the Severn Valley is the Royal Forest of Dean. This is one of England's few remaining ancient forests and covers and area 27,000 acres of woodland. Designated as a National Forest Park in 1938, this ‘Queen of Forests' boasts a spectacular range of natural beauty combined with an aura of magic and mystery that has been the inspiration for many great artists and writers including Tolkien and JK Rowling.
In the Severn Vale lush meadows lie alongside the lower reaches of Britain's longest river, famous for its tidal bore. Half-timbered, black and white buildings are in evidence and the widening estuary is a haven for thousands of wildfowl and wading birds.
Gloucester is a vibrant multicultural city that combines historic architecture with a unique blend of visitor attractions, festivals and entertainment. The city is overlooked by the Cotswolds Hills in the lush Severn Valley and is easily accessible from all corners of the country.