by Barbara Ballard
Bibury, nestled in the eastern hills of the Cotswolds, first earned its title of "the most beautiful village in England" from the artist and craftsman, William Morris (1834-96). It's not hard to see why. However you approach this village on the river Coln, it exudes charm from every house and tree and meadow.
On one side of the river is Arlington, reached on foot by crossing an old stone bridge. It's famous for its honey-coloured stone cottages with their steep pitched roofs. These 17th century cottages, known as Arlington Row, were converted nto weavers' homes from an original hall that was used to store wool.
The workers supplied cloth for fulling at 17th century Arlington Mill, which served, at one time, as a corn mill. The Mill now houses a folk and agricultural museum with one room dedicated to William Morris.
Just opposite the weavers' cottages is a water meadow, Rack Isle, a protected wildfowl breeding ground. Awkward Hill rises behind Arlington Row. It, too, is covered with cottages in the warm Cotswold stone.
The Mill, with its working water wheel, looks down on trout swimming lazily in crystal clear spring water. The Bibury Trout Farm, founded in 1902, spawns 10 million Rainbow trout each year. The visitor can buy them smoked or fresh or fish for their own. A park and gardens enhance the beauty of the spot.
Bibury, on the other side of the river, is grouped around St. Mary's Church. The Saxon part of the church dates from the 8th century. Norman and Perpendicular Gothic additions can be seen, including 13th century stained glass. Many of the pieces of original Saxon work were removed to the British Museum and today the replicas only are on view. The church is home to a collection of sheep corbels, which relate to the importance wool once played in the area.
The Swan Hotel, overlooking the river, was originally a 17th century coaching inn with stabling, a taproom and a few bedrooms. It was a popular place when the Bibury Races were held in King Charles day. Now its stone environs boast top class rooms and a restaurant. The Bibury Court Hotel, situated in 8 acres of grounds, dates from Tudor times, the main part built in 1633, while the Catherine Wheel Inn, the local pub, is a 15th century building.
The nearby countryside is home to many picturesque villages. Evidence of Celtic fields, an Iron Age hill fort, long barrow and beehive chamber shows man has long appreciated the beauty of the area. Surrounded by wooded hills, snuggled in the Coln River valley, Bibury can still boast of its 19th century title, "the most beautiful village in England".