Category Archives: Gloucestershire

Coleford

Coleford Market Place, by Roland Turner. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Coleford Market Place, by Roland Turner. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

As with its Forest of Dean neighbour Cinderford, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what made Coleford what it is. The Forest was one of the most intensively industrialised regions of the early Industrial Revolution and has a history back to the Romans of coal and iron working, and the crossing of Thurstan’s Brook in the west of the region, on the way to the River Wye, must have seemed like a reasonable enough place to set up a settlement. It was originally just a hamlet in the parish of Newland, now a nearby village famous for its massive church, the Cathedral of the Forest; it didn’t gain the market which defines the centre of the town until 1642. This was in the early throes of the Civil War when the nearest market town, Monmouth, was under Royalist control, which didn’t sit easily with the Parliamentarian Coleford. The market was reinstated after the war ended, and a grand new market hall was built – the clock tower in the centre of the modern marketplace is the remaining section of that.

Coleford these days is a mixture of the old market town, and the sprawling development characteristic of industrial towns – as such it’s got a lot in common with towns like Bilston or Stourbridge in the Black Country, or the cotton towns of the West Riding, where geography and geology collide with human history. The town is surrounded by relics of mining – Whitecliff and Darkhill Ironworks are nearby, and are both very significant historical sites (if you’re into your industrial history), and you can hardly venture into the surrounding forests without stumbling across disused mineshafts or other remains.

Back in town, what looks initially like a glorified village with added industrial estates actually turns out to be quite a hive of charity shops – although not much else. The action all takes place surrounding the marketplace and clocktower, from which four streets radiate. On Market Place, you won’t find charity shops. You will find the Angel Hotel, possibly the oldest of numerous pubs and beerhouses that characteristed the early nineteenth-century town. There are several of note, but my favourite was the Cobblers Micropub – looks… interesting.

On High Street, there are charity shops. Sue Ryder is between Mushet Walk (named after David Mushet, the Scottish steelman linked with both Whitecliff and Darkhill) and Kaplan’s Cafe, which we belatedly discovered serves a full range of Turkish food, including tavuk şiş (the one thing I miss London for). I am so there next time.

It’s actually a bit unfair to say that there’s not much in Coleford. Once you start to dig (and if you can forget that it’s first thing on an incredibly wet morning) there are plenty of interesting buildings and sites – if you continued up the high street you’d find the Coleford Great Western Railway Museum, and the possibility of walking all the way to Parkend and the Dean Forest Railway along the former Severn & Wye Railway track, if that’s your thing.

Head South East on Newland Street and you’ll Dial-a-Ride – I think this is the first time I’ve seen one of their charity shops, but unfortunately, given the overwhelmingly smell of boiled cabbage, I might be a bit wary of others. A somewhat nondescript Cancer Research is around the corner, but Forest Aid is much better, with an array of all sorts of stuff, including an entire men’s room where the books are kept. I don’t know if that’s rampant sexism or just space utilisation… Further round, on St John’s Street is Opportunity Box, a bit of a treasure trove, and the pick of the bunch, the massive Dean Forest Hospice. We were a bit rain-drowned and bought just the one thing in Coleford – happily it was from here, and happily it was a rather pleasant mid-century style mirror. That is, one thing aside from a sausage sandwich at Kaplans.

I liked Coleford, despite the rain. It’s tiny, which means you can hack it around the charity shops in under an hour, or take it at a more leisurely pace. It has a lot more to it than meets the eye and would bear a proper explore, and I’m fully expecting to return next time I’m in this neck of the (literal) woods – if only for tavuk şiş.

Find: Coleford @ Google Maps
Get there: Buses from Gloucester, Lydney, or Chepstow – but cycling through the Forest would be much more fun.
Consume with: there’s quite the range actually, from the Tram Road chippy, to Kaplan’s, to the various alehouses – take your pick.
Visit: Even if you’re not a rail enthusiast, there’s still plenty to look at. Try the Puzzle Wood, Clearwell Caves or Hopewell Colliery for starters. If you’re the outdoors type anyway, the Forest of Dean offers loads of great walking.
Overall rating: four cabbages

 

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire

Tewkesbury

Summer in Tewkesbury, by Jayt74. Image used under creative commons, click pic for link.

Summer in Tewkesbury, by Jayt74. Image used under creative commons, click pic for link.

Things you might associate with Tewkesbury: floods; mustard; abbey; battle. For a fairly modest market town in Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury has a fair volume of history and contribution to society behind it. Floods first – perhaps more than anything, these define Tewkesbury in contemporary popular imagination. 2007 was only the most recent drama to affect the town – see here for a full breakdown of flooding in the Severn catchment – and not the first time the town has been completely cut off. The dramatic pictures on the TV revealed a low-lying town at the confluence of two of the biggest rivers in the country (the Severn and Avon), and Tewkesbury is essentially built on the wide meadows of the Severn plain, making it a prime spot for a bit of flood water. It’s a shame, because it’s a lovely town, but like Worcester and other towns on major rivers, there’s a risk to living here (and no doubt a significant chunk of insurance premium).

But beyond the obvious, Tewkesbury is home to a whole pile of Englishness. Tewkesbury Mustard combines the heat of mustard with the heat of horseradish. Genius! Tewkesbury Abbey is the third largest church that’s not a cathedral in the country; the Battle of Tewkesbury was one of the decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses (York won, much to my dad’s chagrin), and  Edward IV became the boss. (not The Boss, just the boss). Not just a market town, it’s a historic (sadly now historic only, and no longer operative) flour milling town, and the relics of this industry are clearly seen along the banks of the Avon, just off the High Street. It’s a delight too for historians of vernacular architecture – we met my folks there for the day and were regailed with all sorts of information about jettying and timber-framing, which hopefully didn’t push any other, more useful, information out of my brain. It’s also a pretty good charity shop destination.

Parking is available in several spots around town – next to the Saturday market is handy; so is St Mary’s Lane, overlooking the Avon. Be careful when you choose to go: hit Tewkesbury on Medieval Festival day and you’ll be hard-pressed to get a spot. Tewkesbury’s array of charity shops is strung along the High Street, between the Cross and the shopping arcade at the upper end. Don’t just stick to this stretch if you want to fulfil the Tourism part of our brief: some of the most scenic parts of Tewkesbury are on Church Street, including the Old Baptist Chapel, the Abbey itself, and ancient pubs like the Berkeley Arms and Royal Hop Pole (now a Wetherspoons hotel, but mentioned in the Pickwick Papers). At the bottom of the High Street you’ll find the slightly random Roses Charity Shop in aid of the town’s theatre and opened by Gervase Phinn, don’tyouknow; and close by, the Bookworm shop (I have to be very selective about going into charity bookshops like this as I’m quite prone to temptation).

Further along we have British Hearth Foundation, Cancer Research, AgeUKTenovus and Blue Cross (always proud of its medieval-themed displays), then a string of Guideposts Trust, St Richard’s Hospice and the Salvation Army. I wouldn’t say that any of these were remarkable shops, as such; but again none are poor or weird (always a possibility), and as a rule are fairly large. Happy hunting grounds, really, and a distraction from the biggest attraction Tewkesbury has (for me at least): Cornell Books, with its ramshackle side entrance and its boxes, and boxes, and boxes of old maps: Bartholomew, vintage OS and many more besides, many of them for a solitary pound. I could genuinely spend a day in there, but I am very careful.

I love Tewkesbury, actually. It warrants a whole day of exploring the alleys and ginnels, the antique markets and tea shoppes, the river walks and – of course – the charity shops.

Find: Tewkesbury @ Google Maps
Get there: the station is Ashchurch For Tewkesbury, on the mainline from Brum to the South West, but it’s a bus-ride for anyone who doesn’t want a hike.
Consume with: plenty of choice in terms of hearty pub food or cafe culture; my experience can recommend cheap-and-cheerful pub grub at the Berkeley, or coffee and cake at Caffe Ricci.
Visit: plenty to look at too, the obvious choice being the magnificent abbey.
Overall rating: four slotted spoons

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire

Moreton-in-Marsh

A Thought for Sunday from John Ruskin, by UGArdener, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

A Thought for Sunday from John Ruskin, by UGArdener, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

I’ve been reading about Roman roads recently, for no particular reason other than there’s one marked on the map near home. Apparently there’s about a bazillion, going everywhere – if there’s a long, straight stretch of road near you (and you live south of the Union Canal), chances are it was first put there by the Romans, by dint of mad engineering skills, legions of grunts to do the work, and a sheer bloody-mindedness which led them to insist almost exclusive on straight marching routes, hills be damned. It’s given me some respect for the soldier of the day – to march across the country on a regular basis is no mean feat – and renewed my lack of respect for my own fitness by comparison.

One of the best known of the roads is the Fosse Way, which cuts across country from Lincoln (Lindum Colonia) to Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum). There’s a turn at Ilchester (Lindinis), but between there and Lincoln the road is never more than 6 miles from a perfectly straight line. Considering that it traverses the Mendips and the entire length of the Cotswolds, that’s not bad going. Anyway, Moreton is found on that Fosse Way, in a direct line from Cirencester and Stow on the Wold to Leamington Spa and Leicester, and the long high street reflects that. It’s not a large town, Moreton; it wasn’t really a settlement area (so far as anyone knows) in the Roman times, and was just a stopping point for many years. It grew into a proper town about 800 years ago as a coaching stop, and got a market – it’s now a coach stop tour (£15 for a return to the Tuesday market from Thomas Cook in Stourbridge), its long high street ideal for some pootling, or apparently a cream tea – there are a hundred and one tea shoppes here.

Time was, I’d have been able to get a train here directly. Thanks to *cough* the rationalisation of the last few decades, the journey is far less convenient (and probably less stylish than boarding the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway in my bowler hat and spats); the station remains though, and will take you to Oxford or Worcester on the Cotswold Line. The last time we were here, it was at the tail end of a thoroughly enjoyable couple of days over Spring half-term; we called into Moreton as one of a number of stops on the way home. There was one difference to our previous visit: a pop-up mixed charity shop has now disappeared (it seemed to be sending it’s proceeds towards both Help For Heroes and the Bob Champion Trust), and the permanent charity shops are the only ones that remain.

The remaining shops are pretty good, happily. The largest is undoubtedly Sue Ryder Care, a double shop with a variety of oddments – it’s a particularly esoteric assortment given the somewhat clean-cut and anodyne nature of Sue Ryder shops generally. I tend to prefer a dark hole of a charity shop, a ramshackle, junk-shop feel, to the cleaner, modern, lighter shops; but this is a fine exception. Light and airy, yet full of random nonsense, perfect.

The other charity shops (including MindAgeUK and Break) reflect Moreton’s well-heeled population and bucolic setting – lots of nice things, lots worth a poke at. With just the four charity shops, Moreton is unlikely to detain the CSTourist for too long, unless you happen to get lost in the endless, wonderful maze of the Toy Shop, or stay for a cream tea. But it’s definitely worth a pass through, and there’s so many chocolate-box towns with a few places worth visiting around here, that you can easily make a day trip out of it.

Find: Moreton-in-Marsh @ Google Maps
Get there: there’s a dead convenient railway station at the end of the high street, with signs in Japanese for the benefit of the many visitors. Handy.
Consume with: for the most traditional of cream teas, Tilly’s looks like the place to be.
Visit: you could go and have a nosy at Dorn Roman village nearby (doesn’t look like there’s a lot to see).
Overall rating: three hipflasks

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Filed under 3/5, Gloucestershire

Cirencester

Coxwell Street, Cirencester, by Graham_B. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Coxwell Street, Cirencester, by Graham_B. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

If there’s two things that have stuck in your mind from learning the Romans at primary school, I’ll bet it’s that all their roads were straight; and that if a town ends in “chester” or “cester”, then it was Roman. Good old Romans, making things nice and logical for us. Cirencester nicely fulfils the latter, its name a descendent of the Latin Corinium Dobunnorum. The town that’s now Cirencester was established as a fort in the earliest part of the Roman occupation of Britannia, and when the frontier with those crazy Celts moved towards Wales and the fort abandoned by soldiers, the local Dobunni tribe moved in, hence the name – it grew into the second largest city of the province. Approaching Cirencester, you’ll also not fail to see evidence of the roads as well: this was a major junction on the Fosse Way between Exeter and Lincoln, the long, strangely direct road through the Cotswolds (further evidence at Stow, Moreton-in-Marsh and Northleach); at Cirencester it met Akeman Street (between St Albans and Gloucester), and Ermin Street (between Gloucester and Silchester).

So, an important town for a long time, and it has retained this status despite being comparatively small compared to neighbours like Swindon or Gloucester. A quick google for “capital of the Cotswolds” places Cirencester firmly as the main town of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and therefore firmly within the aspirational urbanite dream of bucolic isolation. Let’s be clear here: the Cotswolds are not bucolic isolation in the way the highlands of Scotland, or the Welsh desert are; they’re very much on the trainline into Oxford and London, and you’re more likely to find pink corduroy and David Cameron’s children in the pub than pentagrams and scary locals. Nevertheless, in a reserved, chocolate-box, typified English way, this is a thoroughly picturesque part of Southern England and well worth a riverside stroll or a cream tea stop. Cirencester is the biggest town in the area, but still absolutely full of the local stone, as planning regs insist – charming to some, a bit much for me.

The town centre is dominated by this particular stone, and it’s most notable in the cleaned up medieval church of St John the Baptist, in Market Place. Rather than the rain-softened pale yellow generally found in the Cotswolds, the south porch has been polished to a bright magnolia effect, and really looks quite odd. Each to their own I suppose. This is the centre of town, no doubt: Castle Street broadens into a marketplace, and coaching inns and coffee shops line the facades. Here you’ll find Sue Ryder and an Oxfam bookshop, which is really a very pleasant bookshop. It’s the thoroughfares leading away from town that are the most propitious though. Head West on Castle Street (there’s no castle, not since Henry III) towards the vast Bathhurst Estate and you’ll come across Age UK and Cancer Research in close proximity. The opposite direction takes you into a more modern section of the town centre, or perhaps modernist, as the occasional 1960s precinct appears in an otherwise well-turned out country town. Here you’ll find Cotswold Hospice Care, British Heart Foundation, and Salvation Army. These are somewhat unremarkable shops all, but far from poor; in fact, the Sally Army has turned up Le Creuset cookware before now.

Head South off the marketplace (along yet another picturesque limestoned street, Cricklade) and you really hit the jackpot. In quick succession there’s a Barnado’s (just off the road in the understated Bishop’s Walk arcade), Helen & Douglas House (always worth a visit), British Red Cross, Blue Cross and RSPCA. All fairly worthy charity shops. Worth pointing out here is the back entrance to the market hall – besides the market, this is where the public loos are. Not a particularly interesting fact, until you consider the 20p charge to use the ones in the car park that get the letter-to-the-editor-writer in me grumbling. The market hall itself is a cut through to opposite the church, and is home to some boutiquey shops and a rather nice looking coffee bar.

I’ll be honest: I’m not such a fan of Cotswold architecture as much as I admire, say, the slate austerity of the Lakes, or the dusky red-brick of north Worcestershire. But I know it appeals to many and if that’s you, then Cirencester is a feast of quite lovely and interesting buildings. Quite besides this, there’s plenty to look at and in, and of course a sizable haul of charity shops. It’s been an excellent place to stop on the cross-country route between various parts of my family, and being smack in the heart of these famous undulations, it’s a lovely journey both sides. So Cirencester comes pretty highly recommended.

Find: Cirencester @ Google Maps
Get there: if not by Roman road, then it’ll have to be some other sort of road I’m afraid, unless you’re willing to schlep from Kemble station, four miles hence.
Consume with: there’s all the usual, but I’d like to try that coffee shop in the market arcade.
Visit: I’d suggest either the Corinium museum or the Cotswold Water Park
Overall rating: four straggly balls of wool

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire

Stow-on-the-Wold

In a small Cotswold town, by hans s. Used under Creative Commons - click pic for link.

In a small Cotswold town, by hans s. Used under Creative Commons – click pic for link.

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.

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire