Custom Search


Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucestershire

Bourton-on-the-Water, a beautiful village in Gloucestershire, seems to perfectly illustrate a time before modern industrial life. Ironically it was industry that created the village's beauty.

The early existence of Bourton-on-the-Water is hinted at by clues in the name, burgh meaning fort and ton meaning camp. The Romans considered this crossing point of the river Windrush as strategically important, and built a fort near here. The village could, as the name suggests have been a camp close by. But the modern form of Bourton came about in the early seventeenth century as a result of early industrialisation. To benefit three water mills, one of which survives as the Cotswolds Motor Museum, the river Windrush was turned away from its natural course, and channeled through the village. This helped create one of the most typical characteristics of an English village, a sense of enclosure. English villages often use a bend in the road, or a natural bowl in the landscape to give a cosy sense of escape from the big world beyond. This is the case at Bourton-on-the-Water, where the road does a sharp ninety degree turn where it comes into the village centre, over the bridge beside the Motor Museum. To further emphasise the effect of enclosure, the river also bends under the bridge before it curves gently off through the rest of the village. In its curving course the river acts as a focus point, as well as giving a sense of definition to the village's "boundaries". Interestingly the bridges over the river were kept low, with no walls to break up the river's flowing lines through the village. It is fascinating that such a harmonious scheme should have come about through all the accidents of a village's history.

Today Bourton-on-the-Water is a tourist attraction, with its famous motor museum, a model railway collection, and an ornithological park called Birdland. The village is also notable for the survival of a form of medieval football. This chaotic game, once played by huge crowds between villages, survives in Bourton as a traditional summer match between two teams, taking place in the shallow river. Crowds line the river banks, and everyone gets very wet.

Click here for an interactive map centred on Bourton-on-the-Water.