Typically for an English June weekend, our sojourn in Stow-on-the-Wold was characterised by rain. And then some: as I crawled out of the passenger door of my beleaguered Peugeot onto the market square of this quintessential Cotswolds town, we were met by a diluvian deluge. This forced us into a shambling run to the nearest public loos, only to find out that this well-organised tourist destination (you can tell by the sheer volume of coaches that this is on the Japanese speed-tourism Tour Of Englishness) charges 20p where I’d normally just spend a penny. So: a quick jog to the The Organic Shop to be met by pretty much the nicest man ever who made us a takeaway coffee (with 20ps in the change) from a little cafetiere and let us shelter amidst his cheeses and meats.
The rain didn’t ease so eventually it was hoods up, quick march to Sue Ryder. This is hardly a charity shop as you’d know it: very professional and classy looking, bustling, pleasant and in a windy part of an old marketplace building. A range of seconds quality M&S rugby shirts came in handy for Fathers Day; and I finally relented and bought grumpy Marxist EP Thompson‘s history of the English working classes, something I’ve seen I don’t know how many times but never so cheap.
We were balanced now – press on and explore and get wet? Or back to the car, dry (ish). We asked in the shop and found out another three charity shops, so onwards to the breach it was. Down Digbeth St (very much down – wold is an old English word for hill and at 800m, Stow is very much on the wold) is British Red Cross. A more run of the mill shop this. Back up, past a cook shop (this is very much a cook shop kind of town) selling ceramic goat’s cheese baking dishes and garlic roasters (if you’re the sort of person to buy this kind of thing, you deserve to pay what they were asking) and up towards the church and we have Helen & Douglas House Hospice. These shops are perhaps my favourite charity shops. The stock is always wide-ranging, beautifully presented, the shops are well-fitted and attractive, there’s coffee machines on the go – this one was no exception. We came away with a single sheet, but with cheery service from the assistants. That was repeated at the Blue Cross, nearly next door: here we got a friendly warning of the wet paint as we came through the door, and a long spiel about a dog called Brian that our purchase would help.
I came away with an overwhelming sense of the cheerfulness of the people of Stow. This was only compounded on poking around the flea market, where one vendor was so keen to get home that she kept throwing in free stuff to our purchase of a novely ice-cube tray. But then, when you live in such a pretty area, why wouldn’t you be cheerful? It’s far enough from the big city to avoid the lights and smoke, and the main road has been there for thousands of years. You’re surrounded by scenic limestone hills and chocolate box villages; what’s not to like?
Find: Stow-on-the-Wold @ Google Maps
Get there: The railway is a luxury you don’t get here – the nearest is Moreton-in-the-Marsh, four miles away. Plenty of coach trips up the Fosse Way though.
Consume with: Stow is very much a Destination for tea shoppe lovers so there’s plenty of choice. I’d recommend The Organic Shop for a takeaway though.
Visit: just drive around the hills all day. There’s plenty of scenic towns and villages nearby – how about Chipping Campden, home of William Morris’ Arts & Crafts movement?
Overall rating: four wee cups of tea.