Part 4: The Most Beautiful Village Street in the Island

Strolling through Campden today, it's hard to imagine that this affluent, honey-gold town in the Cotswold Hills was once a virtual Mount Olympus of shin kicking.

With its artists' studios, antiques shops, and upmarket hotels and restaurants, Chipping Campden seems too well-heeled to have ever hosted a blood sport like shin kicking (the "chipping" prefix is a reference to its former status as a market town, rather than the damage inflicted by footfighting).

For many visitors—Brits and foreigners alike—the Cotswolds in general and Campden in particular represent their dream of the English countryside made reality.

Green fields and hedges surround the town, and its gently curved high street seems to have been hewn from a single block of grey-gold Cotswold stone.

G.M. Trevelyan, a popular historian of the 1940s, called it "the most beautiful village street now left in the island", which naturally made it "the most beautiful in Europe".

Chipping Campden Market Hall by John Davis

Much of this beauty dates from the era of the Golden Fleece, when England's wealth came off the back of Cotswold sheep.

Campden's oldest mansion, built by a wool merchant in the 14th century, features a sundial, gargoyles, and a novel form of ventilation for the time (chimneys rather than holes punched in the roof).

Further down stands a timber market hall, the Jacobean focal point amid the rows of Georgian and Regency-era houses, wood-beamed tearooms and pubs and coaching inns with arched carriageways leading off into courtyards.

At the end of the mile-long high street, the large church towers over what little is left of Campden's 17th-century manor house, the exotic fantasy of Sir Baptist Hicks, one of the richest Britons of all time.

Still, not everyone has been bowled over by Campden and the Cotswolds.

William Cobbett slated the area in his Rural Rides in 1826. In the first place, he wrote, the name was all wrong: "Cotswold Hills" was a tautology, since wold means hill. Worse, he thought the region was "an ugly country" with "less to please the eye than any other I have ever seen".

Maybe that was because back then, the buildings were whitewashed, covering up their golden stone.
©J.R. Daeschner

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