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A traditional market town in the heart of the Cotswolds

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High Street
Old Wool Mills
Stratford Park
Subscription Rooms
Farmers Market
Stroud is a town in the middle of the Cotswold Hills. It's bigger and older than many of its neighbouring settlements, making it something of a hub for the region. A few centuries ago, during the Industrial Revolution, the town was home to many water-powered wool mills, and other manufacturing facilities. This past has left its mark, with some buildings in Stroud being quite an eyesore. But these are contrasted by plenty of charming houses and pleasant streets.

Stroud High Street.
Photo Blisco
The old factories are also offset by Stratford Park, a large slice of greenery on the edge of town. It's almost an amusement park for the locals, as its full of sporting facilities and good walks. You can wander round the lake, watch the occasional brass band performances, or get up to something more strenuous at the leisure centre. There's also a museum in the park, which is imaginatively titled: "The Museum in the Park". It's inside the mansion of a wealthy 17th century wool merchant. The exhibits explain the history and geography of the local area.
In the past, as well as making wool and other goods, Stroud used to be a centre for trade. It's actually the oldest market town in the Cotswolds. Since then, the retailers have certainly changed, but the town still offers great shopping. Stroud is popular for its quirky little independent stores, which give the place a chic atmosphere. One newspaper described it as "Notting Hill with wellies". You'll regularly stumble across friendly cafs, small bookshops and other interesting places.
A key part of the shopping scene is the weekly farmer's market. It's a lively and popular occasion, regularly described as one of the biggest and best markets in the whole country. There are usually more than 50 stalls stocking plenty of locally grown foodstuffs. Some of the retailers cook their food on site, so the whole area is full of delicious smells. Among the farmers' stands you'll also find plenty of local craftmakers and artists showing off their wares.

Stroud Farmers Market.
Photo rvacapinta
If you're a fan of art, then make sure you properly explore Stroud's smaller streets. There are plenty of galleries tucked away in little corners. There's always been a strong artistic community in town. Previous residents include Damien Hirst and the Reverend Awdry, who created Thomas the Tank Engine. The cultural scene also includes venues like The Space, and The Subscription Rooms. Each have wide and varied programmes. They host anything from reggae, to stand up comedy, to theatre, so you never know what's coming up next.

Stroud Subscription Rooms.
You'll find even more diversity at Stroud's annual Festival Fortnight, held every September. It's essentially several festivals rolled into one. There's a series of food events, with tastings, cooking demonstrations, at big discounts at the town's restaurants. There are several dozen organised walks, which are led by knowledgeable guides. There's also a fringe festival, which features all sorts of musical and theatrical performances.
Stroud acts as a perfect base for trips out into the Cotwolds. The rolling countryside is covered in paths and trails, making it a hiker's paradise. In and amongst the hills you'll find gentle streams, pretty woodland and dozens of quaint little villages. It's an official Area of Natural Beauty, and one of England's most attractive places.

Painswick Rococo Garden

Photo Rictor Norton & David Allen
The "rococo" style dates from the mid 1700s, when fashions were changing from strict and symmetrical to playful and ornate. Painswick's Garden, therefore, includes both formal and informal elements. Rigid structures sit next to informal plantings, and straight vistas lead to winding paths. Unusual details hide round every corner. There's the Gothic Alcove, a bowling green and a fishing pond. There's the Red House, named for obvious reasons, and a shack called the Eagle House, named for reasons nobody can remember. A hedge maze was planted at the turn of the millennium to celebrate the garden's 250th anniversary; appropriately enough, it's shaped like the number 250. Painswick's showstopper, though, is its winter display of snowdrops. To say they're a highlight is possibly an understatement; this is arguably the spiritual British home of that particular plant. Nevertheless, they only hang around for a few weeks, in late January and early February.

Woodchester Mansion

Photo Matthew Lister
Lurking in a green, wooded valley near Stroud is Woodchester, a Gothic revival mansion house. From the outside it looks finished, but one step inside proves that to not be the case. In the 1870s, following the death of its owner, construction halted and the place was abandoned. Despite the state of the mansion's interior, its outer appearance rivals almost anywhere else in Britain. The south front contains as much glass as it does stone. Inside, the few completed fixtures hint at Woodchester's intended grandeur; for example, the bath is carved from a single block of stone. This will always be an unfinished masterpiece.
Visitor Information
Stroud Tourist Information Subscription Rooms, George Street, Stroud, GL5 1AE. Tel: 01453 760 960
Painswick Rococo Garden is open daily January to October, 11am to 5pm. Entry costs around £7. Painswick, near Stroud, GL6 6TH. Tel: 01452 813 204
Woodchester Mansion is open Easter to October, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 10.30am to 5pm. Entry costs around £7. Nympsfield, near Stroud, GL10 3TS. Tel: 01453 861 541

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