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The  Gloucestershire Countryside

Gloucestershire can be divided up into a  number of distinctive areas, each of which enjoys its own local  characteristics.

The best  known area of Gloucestershire is the Cotswolds , a band of limestone hills covering half  of the county. The steep scarp edge to the west runs down the middle of the  county and the hills slope gently away eastwards to the valley of the River  Thames. The Cotswolds are internationally renowned for their architecture, with  picturesque villages of mellow stone cottages nestling in the valleys. Barns and  churches are built along similar lines, with massive buttresses and stone-tiled  roofs.

The Royal Forest of Dean is one of  Britains ancient hunting forests with over 100 square kilometres of woodland  still standing. Here secretive villages fringe the forest while quiet glades of  foxgloves are hidden among great oak trees. The River Wye forms the western  boundary of the county with spectacular gorges and beautiful  woodlands.

In the Severn Vale lush meadows lie  alongside the lower reaches of Britains longest river, famous for its tidal  bore. Half-timbered buildings are in evidence and the curious solitude of the  widening estuary is a haven for thousands of wildfowl and wading  birds.

                                               The Leadon Valley in the north-west of  Gloucestershire has literary connections, including the influential Dymock  Poets, and is quietly attractive in its own right. The area is well known for  its display of springtime wild daffodils.

In the  south-east corner of the county two areas of flooded gravel workings form the Cotswold Water Park, an increasingly  important wetland area offering a greater area of water than the Norfolk Broads.  The area is a centre for water sports, nature conservation, walking, cycling and  angling.

Although  countryside accounts for 90% of Gloucestershire the remainder is made up of the  countys towns and cities. Gloucester is the countys capital, famous for its  Norman cathedral, restored docks and fine rugby team. Close by is Cheltenham, a  spa town renowned for its Regency architecture and a winner of the  Britain in Bloom competition. Tewkesbury has fine examples of half-timbered  houses while Stroud has a rich industrial heritage. Coleford is the  administra tive centre for the Forest of Dean and Cirencester fulfils the same  function for the Cotswolds.