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It contains unique features derived from the use of this mineral; the predominantly rural landscape contains stone-built villages, historical towns and stately homes and gardens. Its boundaries are roughly 25 miles (40 km) across and 90 miles (140 km) long, stretching south-west from just south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath.It lies across the boundaries of several English counties; mainly Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, and parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.The Cotswolds were designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1966, with an expansion on 21 December 1990 to 1,990 square kilometres (768 sq mi).In 1991, all AONBs were measured again using modern methods.The hills give their name to the Cotswold local-government district in Gloucestershire, which administers a large part of the area.The highest point of the region is Cleeve Hill at 1,083 ft (330 m), During the Middle Ages, thanks to the breed of sheep known as the Cotswold Lion, the Cotswolds became prosperous from the wool trade with the continent, with much of the money made from wool directed towards the building of churches.When weathered, the colour of buildings made or faced with this stone is often described as honey or golden.The stone varies in colour from north to south, being honey-coloured in the north and north east of the region, as shown in Cotswold villages such as Stanton and Broadway; golden-coloured in the central and southern areas, as shown in Dursley and Cirencester; and pearly white in Bath.

To the south the Cotswolds, with the characteristic uplift of the Cotswold Edge, reach beyond Bath, and towns such as Chipping Sodbury and Marshfield share elements of Cotswold character.However, the English Place-Name Society has for many years accepted that the term Cotswold is derived from Codesuualt of the 12th century or other variations on this form, the etymology of which was given, 'Cod's-wold', which is 'Cod's high open land'.It has subsequently been noticed that "Cod" could derive philologically from a Brittonic female cognate "Cuda", a hypothetical mother goddess in Celtic mythology postulated to have been worshipped in the Cotswold region.The Cotswolds AONB, which is the largest in England and Wales, stretches from the border regions of South Warwickshire and Worcestershire, through West Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, and takes in parts of Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset in the south.

Gloucestershire County Council is responsible for sixty-three percent of the AONB.The area still preserves numerous large, handsome Cotswold Stone "wool churches".