South Cotswolds - Cirencester
Cirencester, the "capital of the Cotswolds", is a busy Cotswold market town with roots in Ancient Rome. When the Romans conquered Britain almost 2,000 years ago (43 AD) they built the town of Corinium, second only to Londinium (London) in size. Corinium became Cirencester and there are still Roman remains. Three Roman Roads meet in Cirencester - Fosse Way, Ermin Way and Akeman Street. There are remains of a Roman amphitheater outside of town.
Cirencester, Market Place
Cirencester is a large town (second only to Stroud in this list of Cotswold market towns) full of shops, pubs and restaurants. The River Churn, a tributary of the River Thames, runs through the town. The main highways use a Ring Road around Cirencester and do not go into the town.
Walk the High Street: Market Place is the main street in the center of Cirencester. The church is at one end and the rest is lined with historic buildings, some from as early as the Tudor era. They have been turned into commercial shops with modern fronts, but you can still see parts from earlier times.
Church: St John the Baptist is a beautiful 15th century "wool" church with a Perpendicular tower and porch (south porch, three storeys high, built around 1490), medieval stained glass, a painted "wine glass" pulpit, and historic brasses (15th century). The tower is the highest in Gloucestershire.
Historic Buildings: On Market Place, the Fleece Hotel, a timber frame Tudor building, and the Corn Exchange, with carvings on the outside. In Spitalgate, the arcade of St. John's Hospital, founded by Henry II. The center of Cirencester is worth exploring, especially these streets north of the church: Dollar, Thomas, Black Jack, Coxwell, Park and Cecily Hill. Many of the buildings on these streets are medieval.
Other Cirencester Sites
Abbey Gardens: A park open to the public, behind the church along the River Churn.
Corinium Museum, Park Street: A good collection of Roman remains, including mosaics. website
Cirencester Park: At the end of Cicily Hill, just a few blocks from the center of town, is the Bathurst mansion (built by the first Earl of Bathurst, 1714 - 18) and the fabulous Cirencester Park. This is part of the Bathurst Estate which covers a lot of the woodland in this area, and is open to walkers. The main walk in the park, the Broad Ride is lined with large beech and horse-chestnut trees and is paved until it reaches the top of the hill. After that it continues as a trail to Sapperton (4 miles).
Cirencester Amphitheater: Remains of one of the largest amphitheaters in Britain. It was built in the 2nd century and sat 8,000 people. Read more on Slow Europe - Cirencester Amphitheater.
There are several new interesting restaurants in Cirencester. Walk along Black Jack Street and Silver Street to find them.
Brewery Arts Cafe, Brewery Court off Cricklade St. There is a good restaurant in this newly renovated arts center. Breakfast, lunch and tea. Vegetarian options.
Cafe Mosaic, 12 The Woolmarket, Dyer Street. Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea.
Jack's Cafe, Black Jack Street. Very good tea room with excellent cakes.
West Cornwall Pasty, 2 Cricklade Street just off Market Place. This is one of a chain of restaurants with a good selection of moderately priced Cornish Pasties (meat and vegetables inside pastry). Vegetarian and vegan pasties. Have a quick and inexpensive lunch.
Food & Drink in Nearby Villages
Cirencester is surrounded by great villages, most with good pubs. I have listed a few of our favorites here.
Barnsley - The Village Inn Pub (pub).
Bibury - The Arlington Mill (tea room). Museum and tea room. There are several restaurants in Bibury.
Chedworth - The Seven Tuns (pub). A good place for lunch if visiting the nearby Chedworth Roman Villa or if doing a hike in the area. Good food, good service, large rooms with nice space.
Coates - The Tunnel House Inn (pub). We had a lovely lunch on a wet winter day in the pub and a few weeks later a Saturday lunch sitting outside on a sunny day. Good food, friendly service, lovely rooms in the pub. The pub is out in the countryside, and not easy to find, but is very popular with the locals and the Agricultural College students. It is on the Cotswold Canal, at the south end of the tunnel (Sapperton sits at the north end). You can walk along the canal to the source of the Thames River (about 30 minutes each way). website
Coln St Aldwyns - The New Inn (pub). Very good menu, outdoor seating, a good stop for lunch in a pretty village.
Sapperton - The Bell at Sapperton (pub). A great pub in a pretty village between Cirencester and Stroud. It is a bit expensive, but the food is very good and the setting casual. We have arrived here dripping with water and mud after a hike in the rain and been welcomed into the dining room to have a good lunch. Book ahead for Sunday lunch, which you can have outside if the day is nice. There is a very good hike from this village along a unused canal. website
There are small speciality food shops on the Market Place and surrounding streets.
M&S Simply Food, 42 Dyer St in the town center (east end of Market Place).
Tesco (supermarket), off the A419 and A429 roundabout on the south-east (third roundabout if coming from Stroud). This is outside of the central area of Cirencester.
Waitrose (supermarket), at the roundabout on the A419 at Sheep Street on the western edge of town (second roundabout if coming from Stroud). You can easily walk here from the center of town.
Brewery Arts, Brewery Court off Cricklade St: Locally made arts and crafts. Knitting groups, reading groups and other community activities. Reopened in 2008 after a renovation. website
Cirencester Farmers Market, Market Place, on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays each month, from 9am to 1pm. website
Bibury: William Morris said Bibury was the most beautiful village in England and not much has changed since he lived in this area (near Lechlade). Somewhat of a tour bus destination, but well worth visiting. See the historic Arlington Row (National Trust), sheep houses built in the 14th century and turned into weavers' cottages 200 years later. The village of Arlington is beside Bibury.
Chedworth: Pretty village on the banks of the River Coln. Roman Villa is nearby. Church of St Andrews with Norman features. Good pub here, The Seven Tuns.
Coln Rogers: Village on the River Coln with a Saxon church.
Coln St Aldwyns: Pretty village on the River Coln with an Elizabethan manor house.
Coln St Dennis: Near Coln Rogers, village has a tall towered Norman church with Normal corbel figures supporting the roof nave.
Cotswold Water Park: South of Cirencester, old gravel pits were filled with water to make lakes, which now attract birds and wildlife. There are parks and walking trails around the lakes. If you are looking for golf, fishing, canoeing and sailing, this is the place to go. The best outdoor store in the Cotswolds, Cotswold Outdoor, is near South Cerney. website
Duntisbourne: Three pretty villages in a row in a narrow valley north of Cirencester (parallel to the busy A417): Duntisbourne Rouse, Middle Duntisbourne and Duntisbourne Abbots. The road starts at Stanton, outside of Cirencester and is a narrow farm lane. Duntisbourne Rouse has a small historic church with a Perpendicular tower, Saxon nave, Norman chancel and late medieval stalls with misericords (tip up seats - you also find these in the Salisbury Cathedral).
Northleach: Quiet village at the intersection of the A40 and the A419, but off the main roads. It is on the River Leach, but you cannot see much of the river in the town. Wool church rebuilt in the 15th century (Perpendicular style), with brasses of wool merchants.
Sapperton: Beautiful golden Cotswold village sitting above the River Frome, north of the A419 between Cirencester and Stroud. 18th century church with a good interior.
Northleach - House of Correction, on the A429. The old prision built in the 1790s, has been restored and contains a museum and Blade's Coffee Shop.
Northleach - Keith Harding's World of Mechanical Music, High Street. website
Cotswold Canal Sapperton Tunnel: The Thames and Severn Canal runs through this two mile long canal tunnel which starts outside of Sapperton and ends outside of Coates. It was the longest tunnel in England when it was constructed in 1789. There is no towpath in the tunnel, so you cannot walk through. You can walk on a footpath to Daneway to see the end of the tunnel (or you can drive). This canal is not in use, but there is talk of restoring it. Good walks from here continue along the canal.
Chedworth - Roman Villa (National Trust): In Roman times this was the largest villa in England. One mile of its walls remain. Good mosaics and a museum. Remains of bath houses and a central heating system.
Walking in the Cotswolds: Recommended guidebooks and maps for walking in the Cotswolds. We use these guides: Cotswold Classic Walks (Goldeneye), Cotswold Short Walks (Pathfinder Guide), The Cotswolds Walks and More Cotswolds Walks (Pathfinder Guides). Using those books, I listed our favorite hikes in this area below. All are circular walks - begin and end at the same spot.
Cirencester Town and Park (Jarrold Short Walks - 1.5hrs): Good walk through the historic town center, into Cirencester Park and back via the Broad Ride - a magnificent wide walking road lined with huge tree, with views towards the town.
Bibury and Coln St Aldwyns (Jarrold Short Walks - 3hrs): Beautiful hike along the River Coln valley from Bibury to Coln St Aldwyns and back, with some parts up in the hills. We managed to get lost on this hike because the river had flooded and covered the trail. Pubs in both villages. Pathfinder has a different version going out along the hill tops and back along the river - Bibury and the River Coln - 3hrs. Same hike is in Goldeneye - Bibury - Coln St Aldwyns.
Chedworth (Jarrold Short Walks - 2hrs): There are many trails in this area and each hiking guide has a walk here, but this one is the is the best. Good pub in Chedworth, The Seven Tuns. The Roman Villa is very interesting. Pathfinder has a 5hr version (Chedworth and Withington). Goldeneye has a 3.5hrs/1.5hrs version (Chedworth/Chedworth Woods).
Sapperton - Golden Valley (Goldeneye - 2.5hrs): This is my favorite hike in the area. The walk takes you from the beautiful village of Sapperton to the start of the Thames & Severn canal tunnel (ends at Coates), along the canal, then up into the woods of the Bathurst Estate and back to Sapperton. Full of Ramsons (garlic flowers) in the spring. Pubs in Sapperton, Daneway, Frampton Mansell. Pathfinder has a longer version of this hike - Sapperton and Daneway - 3hrs.