Northleach: Tourist-Free Cotswolds

By Rick Steves

The Cotswolds are one of England's most touristed corners. But, as is so often the case, the mobs go for the well-publicized places, leaving most of the area in peace. As one of the "untouched and untouristed" Cotswold villages, Northleach is so untouched, it's interesting only for a short stop. The town's impressive main square and church attest to its position as a major wool center in the Middle Ages. Park on the square to check out the TI (which has walking brochures), the mechanical music museum and the church.

A delightful little one-room place, Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music offers a unique opportunity to listen to 300 years of amazing self-playing musical instruments. It's run by well-respected people who are passionate about the restoration work they do on these musical marvels. The curators delight in demonstrating about 20 of the museum's machines with each hour-long tour. You'll hear Victorian music boxes and the earliest polyphones (record players) playing cylinders and then discs — all from an age when music was made mechanically, without the help of electricity. Admission includes an essential hour-long tour (tours go constantly, join in progress).

The fine Perpendicular Gothic Church of St. Peter and St. Paul has been called the "cathedral of the Cotswolds." It's one of the Cotswolds' finest two "wool" churches (along with Chipping Campden's) — paid for by 15th-century "woolthy" merchants. Find the oldest tombstone. The brass plaques on the floor memorialize big shots, showing sheep and sacks of wool at their long-dead feet and inscriptions mixing Latin and the old English.