There always seems to be some places – and there’s quite a few I might add and I’m sure you can think of plenty yourself – where you can’t imagine anything ordinary happening. It’s so picturesque, almost like it was created for tourists, that you can’t quite picture the behind the scenes stuff that normal people do: people who live there ever going elsewhere on holiday, or putting the bins out, or going to work – unless it’s in an ice cream shop or quaint post office. I’m basically describing the classic kids TV town Trumpton here, I know, but this is also how I felt about the chocolate box Cotswold village of Bourton on the Water.
We visited Bourton on the Water on a term time Friday – which, as it happens, also turned out to be their bin collection day. I hadn’t properly researched much in advance or booked anything, but knew there were a few attractions there that a four year old would like. Here’s the hits and misses from our day out:
Arriving on a term-time weekday worked out well for us, as we nabbed a space in the small car park right outside the Model Village, fairly close to the centre of Bourton on the Water. It’s a Pay & Display car park which doesn’t take card, so make sure you carry cash – you can always get change from the ticket office if you only have notes.
The model village itself is sweet and quaint; but it doesn’t really matter what grown ups think because it’s miniature, and all kids love things that are miniature. However, you can’t take pushchairs in at all, and wheelchairs can’t make it round the narrow paths – they can enter the model village area (free of charge) but can only view from the front.
For an adult and a four year old it was just over £6 and that entitled you to readmission throughout the day. You might think that you wouldn’t want to go back more than once in a day but in fact we headed back there after exploring the rest of the village to seek out the landmarks in the model village which was lots of fun.
If you really want to blow a four year old’s mind then show them the model village of the model village inside the model village of the real village.
Bourton on the Water village
Leave the car at the Model Village (or the larger municipal Pay & Display further along Risington Road) and wander round the village. There’s plenty of places to eat and drink in the centre of Bourton on the Water – the pubs and tearooms were proving very popular – and on a nice day people flock to the titular water: a shallow stream running through the centre of the village which is actually the River Windrush.
There’s lots of shops that enjoy passing trade from the village’s many visitors, including a year-round Christmas shop (en route from the Model Village to the centre of Bourton on the Water village). Picturesque and very instagrammable; no wonder it’s such a hit with tourists from Britain and overseas alike.
We enjoyed ice creams from a street-facing counter, and later pasties and soft drinks at the Bakery on the Water. Be prepared to pay tourist prices – we’re not talking about cheap and cheerful Greggs here, although I suspect their products are made inhouse rather than mass produced. Still, if I’d been better prepared I would’ve taken a picnic and sat on the grass next to the river.
From the centre of the village you are mere steps away from the Motor Museum and the Model Railway. We didn’t go into the motor museum on the basis that you had to pay to get in and yet they didn’t display the prices anywhere. I don’t have time for this kind of user un-friendly secrecy, so we spent twenty minutes in the gift shop which sells toy cars and other vehicles. If you look hard enough you can find a bargain bin of Hot Wheels for around £1 instead of forking out a fortune for a model of a James Bond Aston Martin.
If you want to go into the museum itself (which I later googled will cost over £10 for 1 x adult and 1 x child) you can enjoy a selection of vintage cars and ‘Brum’ from the children’s television programme.
From there we headed to the Model Railway, which I hoped would be fun for my four year old. I remember these being really popular when I was a kid; if you were lucky you’d get to go somewhere where you could ride on them too. No such luck in Bourton on the Water though. Instead, you pay over the odds (I’m talking over a fiver for one adult and one child) to be ushered through to the back room of a musty model railway shop (there were some toys in there and Big Jig trains, but no Brio that I could see) with strict instructions not to film or take pictures. I can only imagine it’s so they can’t be put on blast on Trip Advisor.
The displays themselves (there were three of them) obviously had many hours of work invested in them. They would be a nice diversion if you didn’t have to pay to get in. You have to lift small children up to see the displays, and I imagine if you have more than one child who needs lifting up it would all get a bit draining and sweaty. There is opportunity to press some simple switches (in some case doorbell buttons) to set the trains off which is quite fun if you are the only people in there; less so if there’s other visitors who also want a go. Definitely one for model railway enthusiasts.
A short stroll back towards the Model Village and Birdland is not far beyond. There’s a local car park very nearby, which has public toilets (that you’ll need coins to access), and disabled parking, but Birdland doesn’t have its own parking. Once is, the routes around the park are wheelchair and mobility scooter friendly, according to their website.
Admission for one adult and one child on the gate was about £17. There are offers if you book online in advance, and – like the Model Village – you can re-enter throughout the day if you purchase an All Day ticket.
In the summer it’s open from 10-5pm and in winter only until 4 o’clock, so worth planning your day to Bourton on the Water with that in mind.
We enjoyed the penguins, emus, and flamingos. Spaghetti Legs’ favourite birds with the lovebirds and mine were the spoonbills – a throwback to a bird book my dad had when I was a little girl. There’s a nature trail around marshland that’s done in a bit of a Jurassic Park style which is fun for dinosaur fans. We started to do it, but when I realised it’d probably take us a long time, and it was already late afternoon.
Although we didn’t check it out, there’s the Flamingo Café for hot and cold sandwiches, Cotswold cream teas, and hot drinks. There’s also picnic spots dotted all over Birdland so you can save money if you bring your own food.
We loved the little adventure playground that we had to ourselves shortly before kicking out time, and although I was dreading the inevitable exit via the gift shop, I was pleased to see they had some little dinosaur egg toys for as little as 30p. More places should offer cheap options like that!
There were a few misses in the Bourton on the Water ‘hits and misses’ review but don’t let that put you off. If you want to save money then booking online in advance and taking your own food will save you a small fortune. The verdict from the four year old was that he “loved Bourton on the Water” and didn’t want to go home. There were tears for many miles until he eventually fell asleep. It should be an easy enough drive from Cheltenham, Oxford or Gloucester, and maybe an hour or so from Stratford upon Avon, Swindon, Worcester or Bath. Well worth adding to your Staycation destination list for this year.