Stow-on-the-Wold. Highest town in the Cotswolds. Owner of a rich history and a handsome market square. Also, in an area of England where pretty places are thick on the ground, the one that caught my eye.
If you visit The Cotswolds, you’ll have plenty of lovely places to visit. Here’s why I’m recommending you pick this one…
The Sheep Connection
Wandering round the town, you won’t miss the sheep thing. There are sheep references in shop windows, in street names, in the names and signs of the local businesses. Quaint and cute, but not just clever branding.
Stow-on-the-Wold made its fortunes in the wool and sheep trade. In fact, if you look at some of the streets leading into the market square, you’ll spot that some of them are curiously shaped; narrow, high walled and tapering. These are ‘tures’ and were designed to funnel sheep into the square on trading days.
Now they funnel tourists who, hopefully, get neither slaughtered nor fleeced.
If history is your thing, this is a good place for you. For a small place, Stow-on-the-Wold packs a big ol’ historic punch.
The final battle of the English Civil war played out here and is commemorated with a plaque on the Market Cross. It’s said that the king’s commander Sir Jacob Astley sat on the bottom of the cross when defeated and dismissed what remained of his forces.
Did that really happen? Who’s to say. It’s a good story, regardless. Worth seeking out the plaque at the cross for a sense of history and the 360 degree views around the square.
Elsewhere, the small but delightfully grim penal stocks are a quirky sight… and a bit at odds with the pretty Cotswold’s cottages surrounding them.
On the edge of town stands the Gothic drinking fountain, complete with built in horse troughs and dog bowl. The fountain commemorates the first reliable supply of pure water to the town in the mid 1800’s. A grand monument to something we take for granted now.
Stow-on-the-Wold is also packed with old buildings, pretty cottages, historic pubs. The Porch House claims to be the oldest pub in England. It certainly looks the part and has a fascinating feature in the form of a fireplace featuring ‘witch marks’. Worth a look.
Take a wander, take your camera.
Looking for a bit of retail therapy, want to see what local producers are doing or just really appreciate a pretty shop front? There’s something for everyone. Tearooms tucked in courtyards, antiques shops fit for a treasure hunt, passageways lined with indy shops and festooned with pretty planting and strings of lights.
Even a traditional ‘Gentlemen’s Outfitters’ and ‘Country Master Barber Shop’. Does it get much more English country life than that?
A special mention for Borzoi Books. This attractive, independent bookshop is run by a team of avid readers and is named after the much loved Borzoi dogs of the original owners. Dogs and books? Winner.
The Church with the Famous Door
St Edwards Church, Stow-on-the-Wold must be one of the most photographed churches in the Cotswold’s. Not so much for what is inside the walls, but rather for what is around the North Porch doors.
The door of the Grade I listed building is flanked by two Yew trees that seem to be growing into the building. Not unusual to find Yew trees in British graveyards, but these ones seem to have taken root in a whole new way.
The heavy studded door flanked by the tree, the stained glass, the old fashioned lamp hanging overhead creates a fairy tale, whimsical feel. Cue all the thoughts of Narnia, Brothers Grimm and every 80’s fantasy film I ever watched.
The story goes that J. R. R. Tolkien visited Stow and was inspired by the door when creating his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Fact, or another good story that doesn’t let truth get in the way?
No idea. This I do know; the church is a beauty and the door fascinating. Well worth a visit. You never know, you might be inspired to pen your own fantasy . Possibly about a magic door to escape the crowds because here’s the reality check…
This place is beautiful. But it gets busy. Crazy busy. The above photo of me , bit awkward. I look a bit rabbit in the headlights. Because there were about twenty other tourists milling and lining up to get the shot just in front of me. Wish I’d snapped a shot of them for the ‘expectation-vs-reality’ picture.
Don’t be put off. Just get there early, or maybe at dusk.
The Practical Stuff…
There’s lots of info about Stow-on-the-Wold on the town tourist information website.
Parking is free but limited on the Market Square, and some spaces are limited to 2 hours.
Ample parking available adjacent to the Tesco Superstore a few minutes walk out of town. Use postcode GL54 1DN to find it.
I like a bit of conversation in the comments so let me leave you with a question. I love discovering place like the door at St Edwards. Places that fire up the imagination, fairy tale places, whimsical corners of the world. Where have you been, in the UK or beyond, and found that kind of place?