While in Stroud, discover the foodie heaven that is the farmers' market, observe beautiful views over five valleys, eat until you burst at gastro-pubs and stay in historic boutique hotels
Nestled at the edge of the Cotswold Hills, at the meeting point of five picturesque valleys formed by the River Frome and its tributaries, Stroud is one of the best untapped tourist destinations south-west England has to offer. Once labelled Notting Hill with Wellies, the district has something to offer for everyone from country walks and cycling to golf, gastro pubs and gliding.
The town itself is less prissy than some of its chocolate-box neighbours. The industrial heritage and landmark buildings give the town a stronger feel, not so delicate but still picturesque. Jasper Conran once described the town as “the Covent Garden of the Cotswolds” and its bohemian atmosphere certainly conforms to this.
Throughout the summer months the town comes alive with street entertainers and music. Towards the end of the summer the Stroud Fringe Festival takes off with theatres, pubs and other venues providing free and paid for entertainment.
When you need to take a break, head to The Imperial Hotel (Station Rd, Stroud). Ideally located, adjacent to Stroud Railway Station, The Imperial Hotel provides the perfect first port of call, or somewhere for that final drink before jumping on the return train. Built in the 18th century, the hotel has been restored to reflect the history of the building while providing a modern, elegant atmosphere in which to sample some fifteen different types of gin, local ales and cocktails as well as excellent Thai food to eat in or take away. Accommodation is available with nightly rates starting at £52 pppn, reducing as the duration of your stay increases.
The award winning farmers' market is continually attracting positive press coverage around the UK and with good reason; if you’re a ‘foodie’ this is the place for you. Every Saturday morning in the Cornhill Marketplace the stalls are brim-full of quality local produce and the stallholders are enthusiastically knowledgeable about the provenance of their goods. There is a mass of excellent quality food and drink to indulge in and if you’re self-catering the market provides the perfect opportunity to pick up everything, from the basic essentials like Jess’s Ladies’ organic milk, to local bread and eggs right through to a bottle of locally produced Cloud Nine Wine - perfect for a summer’s evening sitting on the Commons at Minchinhampton and Rodborough.
Once your sustainable shopping bags are full, forgo the chain coffee shop on the high street, instead drop into Woodruffs Organic Café (24 High Street, Stroud, +44 1453 759195), the first wholly organic café in the UK, for coffee and cakes. If you’re feeling a bit more peckish try JRooL Bistro (Union Street, Stroud, +44 1453 767123) for a spot of brunch.
See the sights from the Commons
Sitting high above Stroud, rising to over 600ft with spectacular views across the five valleys, the Commons of Rodborough and Minchinhampton (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-minchinhamptonrodboroughcommons) are home to several gastro-pubs, charming hotels, a golf course and, for about six months of the year, cattle. Heifers aside, this 600 acre area of National Trust parkland is the perfect place for walking and cycling but if you prefer a more relaxed approach it provides the perfect opportunity to take the weight off your feet and while away the long summer evenings.
If you like to enjoy a drink as you take in the scenery, the Black Horse at Amberley (Littleworth, Amberley, +44 1453 872556, www.blackhorseamberley.co.uk) is located just off Minchinhampton Common and has one of the best beer garden views in the country. You can sample the locally produced Stroud Brewery beers and peer across the valleys watching the hot air balloons as they float on by; and if you're lucky enough to be in Stroud on a Friday evening, you can visit the Stroud Brewery itself (Phoenix Works, London Road, +44 1453 887122, www.stroudbrewery.co.uk) where you can enjoy live music, great beer and even a guided tour with Greg, the man who started it all.
If you are looking for accommodation, the 300 year old Bear of Rodborough Hotel, (Rodborough Common) provides an excellent base for your explorations. Centrally located between the two Commons this historic coaching inn has been wonderfully restored and makes use of ornate antique furniture, rich fabrics and traditional Cotswold materials. Standard double rooms start from £115. The Hotel’s Box Tree Restaurant serves the finest local produce and the ‘Grizzly’ bar is well stocked for an evening's drink in front of the log fire.
However if you hunger for a more traditional, less flamboyant meal the Weighbridge Inn (Longfords, Minchinhampton, +44 1453 832520) is just one mile from Common serving real ale, traditional home cooked food and is famous for its truly delicious two-in-one pies. I really cannot recommend this pub enough; it truly is ideal for any occasion be it a quiet romantic drink or fully fledged family meal.
If you’re in the area for long enough you may wish to visit some of the other attractions the South Cotswolds has to offer, such as the picturesque town of Tetbury, the chocolate box village of Painswick, Westonbirt Arboretum (http://www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt) and further afield Cheltenham Racecourse or even the World Heritage City of Bath.
Stroud and the surrounding South Cotswolds are easily accessible thanks to a one and a half hour direct train service from London (www.fgw.co.uk). If you are travelling by road it lies at Junction 13 of the M5 motorway, only two junctions from the M4 Interchange, providing excellent access from all over Great Britain.