7 of the best market towns in the Cotswolds

The area boasts an overwhelming choice of delightful market towns distinguished by pretty main streets and characterful shops and inns.


Historic USP Research by the J. R. R. Tolkien Society has identified The Bell Inn as the inspiration for the Prancing Pony in The Lord of the Rings and the Four Shire Stone, two miles outside Moreton, as the original Three-Farthing Stone

Ambience Down-to-earth

Famous neighbours Lord Dulverton at Batsford Park (the Mitford seat), which has an arboretum, Richard Phillips and Charlie Longsdon (racehorse trainers)

Watering holes The Marshmallow restaurant, which has a two-page list of teas, from Russian Caravan to Egyptian Mint; The White Hart, where you can curl up in the snug with your dog; The Red Lion
at nearby Little Compton, a favourite with the Heythrop hunt

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Interesting shops Grimes House Gallery for an astonishing collection of cranberry glass, paperweights, paintings and art supplies; The Cotswold Cheese Company for succulent delicacies from the company’s original shop; The Toy Shop for every kind of toy imaginable except Xboxes in its nine rooms; the John Davies Gallery, in an old milk-pasteurisation plant, for post-Impressionist, modern and contemporary art

Useful knowledge Note train arrival times so you don’t get swept up in the flood of commuters

Avoid Pickpockets when the market takes over the town on Tuesdays

Date for the diary Moreton-in-Marsh Show, early September, a classic agricultural show with local farm breeds and horses (www.moretonshow.co.uk)

best market towns in the Cotswolds

Morris Men at Levellers Parade, Burford.


Historic USP An 18th-century bypass meant the town escaped the Victorian building boom, so it looks just as it did when Charles II brought Nell Gwyn for dalliances at The George in the 1660s

Ambience Bustling chocolate box

Famous neighbours Artist Jake Chapman, model Kate Moss, Benedict Cumberbatch’s actor parents Wanda Ventham and Timothy Carlton

Watering holes The Lamb Inn—sofas, games, scallops and dog bowls brought without being requested; The Angel turn off the main street to curl up by the fire in this 16th-century coaching inn; Huffkin everything from scones to steak-and-ale pies since 1890

Interesting shops Burford Woodcraft for unusual furniture, games and sculptures; Three French Hens for every sign, gift or fridge magnet that’s ever raised a chuckle; Manfred Schotten for antique sporting pieces, from bows to binoculars

Useful knowledge Park on the west side of the High Street: it’s free for as long as you want (traffic wardens patrol the other side, catching drivers who creep over their allotted hour)

Avoid Walking over the tiny medieval bridge when a lorry is passing

Date for the diary Levellers Day on May 14, 2016, commemorates the Burford Levellers, who protested against Oliver Cromwell leaving troops without pay after the Civil War. Cromwell was disinclined to negotiate and chased them to Burford church, imprisoning 340 and shooting three (https://levellersday.wordpress.com)

best market towns in the Cotswolds

Interior of the Medieval Market Hall built in 1697 by Sir Baptist Hicks in Chipping Campden.

Chipping Campden

Historic USP According to the British Olympic Association, ‘the first stirrings of Britain’s Olympic beginnings’ were felt on Dover’s Hill, where Robert Dover held the first Games in 1612 with the approval of James I. The Cotswold Olimpicks contests include tug-of-war and shin-kicking are still held on the first Friday after Spring Bank Holiday

Ambience Tranquil and artsy Distinguished neighbours Arthur Cunynghame, former cheesemonger to The Queen, Julian Lloyd Webber, the late horticulturalist Lawrence Johnston (at Hidcote)

Watering holes The Lygon Arms, where every beef dish comes from cattle on the pub’s own farm; Badgers Hall tea room homemade teacakes and a fountain of teapots in the garden

Interesting shops Cherry Press, a family-run letterpress studio of which William Morris would be proud; Sundial House Interiors, the home of Lloyd Loom furniture still designed by Geoffrey Lusty, descendant of W. Lusty who bought the manufacturing rights from Marshall B. Lloyd in 1922; The Gallery at the Guild, where C. R. Ashbee’s Guild of Handicrafts thrives in its original building

Useful knowledge Enjoy some peace in the Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden amid specimens from the plant collector’s travels

Avoid Tangling with enthusiastic Morris Men

Date for the diary Made in the Cotswolds on September 26–27, celebrating 21st-century arts and crafts in venues such as the excellent Court Barn Museum (www.madeinthecotswolds.org)

best market towns in the Cotswolds

The church of St. John the Baptist in Dyer Street, Cirencester.


Historic USP The Royal Agricultural University is the oldest agricultural college in the English speaking world; it was founded by the 4th Earl Bathurst in 1845 and the Charter Market was mentioned
in the Domesday Book

Ambience Dignified and doggy yet with a student buzz

Famous neighbours The Earl and Countess Bathurst, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen

Watering holes The Kings Head glamorous yet comfortable with great cocktails; Made by Bob restorative brunch and high-quality deli from a former protégé of Simon Hopkinson; The Fleece, which is friendly, sunny and reputedly where Charles II stayed as he escaped from Worcester via the path now known as the Monarch’s Way

Interesting shops Wadham Trading Company in the Corn Hall for hunting prints and dogs in all media; Octavia’s Bookshop for a cornucopia of children’s books, plus well-chosen novels; New Brewery Arts for high-quality, locally made pieces in an impressive art centre; G. Horton Ltd for a traditional pharmacy and perfumery with the original signs

Useful knowledge It’s dog-walking heaven the Abbey Grounds (top right) lie behind St John’s Church in the centre of town and Cirencester Park, where there’s polo most weekends in the summer, is open to dogs and horses alike

Avoid May Ball weekend, when agriculture students descend

Date for the diary The Phoenix Festival, August (www.phoenix-festival.co.uk)—live music in the Abbey grounds

best market towns in the Cotswolds

The Rollright stones at sunrise.

Chipping Norton

Historic USP A warning against arrogance and treachery stands nearby in the form of the Rollright Stones, an ancient king and his knights turned to stone by a witch

Ambience Unvarnished centre with a polished outer circle

Famous neighbours David and Samantha Cameron, motoring supremo Jeremy Clarkson, actor Sir Patrick Stewart

Watering holes Wild Thyme, which has a resident Jack Russell, Mediterranean-inspired food and is a favourite with the Prime Minister; Delicacy deli and coffee shop, which has unusual homemade treats
Interesting shops Harpers for every kind of homeware in an Aladdin’s cave; The Fibreworks for yarns, ribbons and knitting patterns, plus workshops in the studio

Useful knowledge Leave the children at a drama workshop at The Theatre Chipping Norton the Chequers pub is next door

Avoid Mentioning the NHS: signs advocating nurses are everywhere

Date for the diary The Big Feastival in August, hosted by Jamie Oliver and Alex James on the latter’s nearby farm (www.jamieoliver.com/thebigfeastival)

best market towns in the Cotswolds

Woolsack races in Tetbury.


Historic USP The town’s antiquity is echoed by its 25 antique shops: Tetta’s Monastery was first mentioned in a charter by King Ethelred of Mercia in 681

Ambience Antique-y with a whiff of horse hair

Famous neighbours The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal, Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall, BBC commentator Mike Tucker, the polo-playing Tomlinson family

Watering holes The Cat and Custard Pot owned by five local families, it’s a favourite with polo players; The Snooty Fox an amusingly apt name and great setting opposite the 1655 market house (above left); Veloton, where you can choose a bicycle over a cup of coffee

Interesting shops The Highgrove Shop for quality products from Prince Charles’s estate; Twig for an eclectic mix of abstract paintings by the owner, giant clam shells and plants; Strictly Strings and Trove for a Dickensian mix of violins for hire, antiques and quirky secondhand clothing

Useful knowledge The place to gather after a day’s hunting with the Duke of Beaufort’s hounds is The Holford Arms, run by MFH Ian Farquhar’s daughter, Victoria. You might hear her sister Rose sing or even Harry Worcester of The Listening Device

Avoid Getting roped into the Woolsack Race (above) on Spring Bank Holiday Monday: this involves running up steep Gumstool Hill with a 60lb (men) or 35lb (women) woolsack on your shoulders

Date for the diary The Tetbury Music Festival, September 30–October 4, is world class (www.tetburymusicfestival.org.uk), as is The Festival of British Eventing at Gatcombe Park in August (www.gatcombe-horse.co.uk)

best market towns in the Cotswolds

Highly decorative horse drawn caravans or gypsy wagons on sale for £70,000 at the Stow-on-the-Wold horse fair.


Historic USP Some 20,000 sheep could be accommodated in the market square, entering through the narrow ‘tures’ that allowed them to be counted one by one. It would have been a more bucolic scene than March 21, 1646, when the Royalists were driven into the square and 4,000 men fought hand to hand in the last battle of the Civil War

Ambience Artistic and airy with a holiday atmosphere

Famous neighbours Lady Bamford of Daylesford Organic, racehorse trainers Jonjo O’Neill and Nigel Twiston-Davies, Sean and Simon Clarke of antique dealership Christopher Clarke

Watering holes The Old Stocks Inn, with colourful wooden chairs, truffle-scented fries and a garden pizza oven; Lucy’s Tearoom for proper old-fashioned cheese on toast, local ice cream and fresh flowers; The Porch House open since 947, it has a good claim to being the oldest pub in the country

Interesting shops Vintage & Paint for quirky home antiques, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and workshops; Wychwood Art for well-chosen originals and prints in an unpretentious, welcoming space; Scotts of Stow for every homeowner’s desire in the company’s flagship store; The Fosse Gallery for Seren Bell and Louis Turpin’s sheep pictures

Useful knowledge The Queen’s Head on The Square is the only pub in the town to serve the local Donnington ales; Stow is on a key route to the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival in March and traffic will be heavy

Avoid Stow Horse Fair during its May and October weeks unless you specifically want to go as few shops or pubs will be open

Date for the diary Tours of Daylesford’s 20-acre Market Garden in July and August (www.daylesford.com)