RISMEDIA, June 27, 2008-(MCT)-Summer is the time that Americans celebrate independence and freedom from the Mother Country. Still, England remains a close relative. In the very heart of quintessential Englishness-the Cotswolds region in western England-visitors can find downright quirky places and personalities. You just need to know where to look. Here are four lesser-known tourism treasures to help you discover an unexpected side of Britain.

The Pudding Club

You don’t need to be a member to attend a weekly meeting of the Pudding Club at Three Ways House Hotel near the northern Cotswolds town of Chipping Campden.

Reservations, however, are required. It’s also helpful if you wholeheartedly support the 23-year-old club’s founding purpose-to prevent the demise of the great British pudding (a heartier version of American dessert). Otherwise, you might think it’s somewhat crazy to consume seven, albeit scrumptious, desserts in one sitting.

At a recent meeting of the club, 70 people from across the globe paid 28 British pounds each (nearly $55) for a place at the table. Each pitted their sweet tooth against a formidable line-up of traditional puddings, such as Very Chocolate Pudding, Syrup Sponge and Tutti Frutti. As in any contest, there are ground rules: You can have only one pudding in your bowl at a time, and bowls must be clean to get the next pudding. Tactical strategies ensure staying power, explained Peter Henderson, one of the hotel’s owners and the evening’s emcee and coach. “Have the chocolate pudding later in the evening,” he advised. “And, go ahead, have chocolate sauce on it. If you’re in that far, don’t give up.”

After sampling the seven, surviving guests voted for their favorites.

For help recovering from the marathon sugar intake, there are bedrooms upstairs in the hotel. Or guests can work it off-the Three Ways House coincidentally offers a series of walking weekends throughout the year.

Gloucester Cathedral

A trip to England isn’t complete without a visit to a cathedral. The choices are many, but only Gloucester Cathedral gives Harry Potter fans the bonus of deja vu. You have seen these hallways.

The cathedral’s beautiful cloisters, where monks once studied manuscripts, were transformed into the corridors of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the films of J.K. Rowling’s first two books-”Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” Of course, modern signs, light switches and stained glass had to be disguised or covered with a little Hogwarts magic.

Besides being known as a filming location, the magnificent cathedral, which has been a place of worship for more than 1,300 years, is renowned for its stunning Gothic architecture. The Great East Window, which is as large as a tennis court, shows Christ raising his hand in blessing, with angels, saints, bishops and monks.

And don’t be surprised to see the Stars and Stripes flying from the cathedral. John Stafford Smith, composer of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” was born in 1750 and christened in Gloucester Cathedral.

Abbey House Gardens

Check the calendar before heading to Abbey House Gardens in the historic town center of Malmesbury.

You’ll want to know what to wear. Or not. Owners Ian and Barbara Pollard, known as the Naked Gardeners, have now designated several clothing-optional days for visitors. Oh, yes, they’ll be clothed on other days, but as Ian succinctly explained the naked moniker, “Why not?” His wife added that the personal preference once was mentioned in a BBC report-and the tagline stuck.

Whatever the season, the five-acres of gardens demonstrate the Pollards’ creativity since moving into the 16th century Abbey House in 1994 and opening their gardens to the public. More than 10,000 species of trees and plants provide a year-round kaleidoscope of textures and colors. This is a must-see garden of ideas for horticultural enthusiasts. Or just relax.

The gardens, especially along the river, provide a wonderfully tranquil environment.

Footnote: The gardeners have a license as an approved venue for a civil marriage ceremony.

Potter Mary Rose Young

From her vivid pink hair to her vibrant, eclectic pottery, Mary Rose Young personifies her philosophy, “Life should be full of color.” And roses. Her trademark roses, along with her favored spots and stripes, are everywhere on her hand-thrown and hand-painted ceramics as well as in her home studio tucked away in the legendary Forest of Dean in western England.

She said her goal is to make pottery that is fun and childlike. But adults like it too. Her quirky, but captivating, pottery can be found in more than 150 U.S. shops as well as throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. (Online orders are accepted.)

Success, however, did not come overnight. Young graduated from art college more than 20 years ago and remembers the long hours of selling her wares in stalls in Bristol.

“I get a lot of pleasure now,” she said, “imagining my pieces winging their way around the world, equally at home in cottage or castle.”

If you go:

Don’t be pound foolish. Avoid weak exchange rates by paying for much of your British vacation in U.S. dollars before you leave home. VisitBritain offers free maps, brochures, vacation-planning advice, and a wide selection of passes and transportation tickets, including BritRail passes. Visit the Online Shop at www.visitbritain.com/us or call toll-free at 800.462.2748.

Getting there:

Getting to the Cotswolds from London by train takes about one and a half hours from Paddington Station. Trains run every hour, seven days a week. There also is a direct link from Heathrow Airport. For timetable and fare information, visit www.nationalrail.co.uk or www.thetrainline.com. Driving by car from London to the Cotswolds takes about two hours.

© 2008, McClatchy-Tribune News Service.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.