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The Cotswolds are a range of hills in west-central England, sometimes called the "Heart of England". The name Cotswold means "sheep enclosure in rolling hillsides".
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The Cotswolds are characterised by attractive small towns and villages, built of the underlying Cotswold stone (a yellow oolitic limestone). In the Middle Ages the wool trade made the Cotswolds prosperous and some of this money was put into the building of churches, leaving the area with a number of large handsome Cotswold stone "wool churches". The area remains affluent, which has encouraged the establishment of many high quality pubs, restaurants and antique shops.
Cotswold towns include Bourton-on-the-Water, Broadway, Burford, Chipping Norton, Cirencester, Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold, Stroud and Winchcombe. The town of Chipping Campden is notable for being the home of the Arts and Crafts movement, founded by William Morris at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. William Morris lived occasionally in Broadway Tower, a folly, now part of a country park. Chipping Campden is also known for the annual Cotswold Olimpick Games, a celebration of sports and games dating back to the early 17th century. Famous places close to the Cotswolds include Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, Cheltenham, home to the famous horse racing festival, and the beautiful university city of Oxford.
The Cotswolds is the largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in England and Wales. Whilst the beauty of the Cotswold AONB is intertwined with the villages that seem to almost grow out of the landscape, the Cotswolds were primarily designated as an AONB for the rare limestone grassland habitats as well as the old growth beech woodlands that typify the area. These habitat areas are also the last refuge for many other flora and fauna with some so endangered they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The uniqueness and value of the Cotswolds is engendered in the fact that five European Special Areas of Conservation, three National Nature Reserves and over 80 Sites of Special Scientific Interest are contained within the Cotswold AONB.