'Where the wind blows cold.'
I hadn't been to Stow for decades, so decided to pay a visit on a sunny mid-October Saturday.
I already knew the Cotswolds were hugely popular with visitors (from the UK as well as from abroad), that they make a good daytrip from London.......and that many of those who live there are pretty well-off (has been the same since Roman times).
But I was surprised by the sheer number of visitors in what I thought would be low season, and by the myriad of antique shops, art galleries, tea shops, designer clothes chops etc etc which made up by far the majority of the retail outlets I saw. Goodness knows where the local ordinary folk go shopping: presumably at the nearest supermarket (there's one at Moreton-in-the-Marsh).
But yes, it is pretty. There's a huge amount of history attached to the Cotswold (from prehistory onwards) and Stow, like other Cotswolds towns and villages, still has a visible past.
Stow grew as a market town, mainly for sheep, set on a hill (hence the cold wind in the traditional rhyme). It stands at the junction of seven major roads, including the Roman Fosse Way (which runs from Leicester to Cirencester, and down which I drove) and must, in its day, have been a most impressive place.
The market square is enormous, with narrower streets and alleyways ('tures') leading up to it so that livestock could be handled more easily. It is said that over 20000 sheep changed hands during one market during the 1800s. There were horse fairs too, and these have long replaced the sheep market. Two of them still survive, held in May and October. Many travelling folk (Irish and Roma) attend these, as they are great horse-traders in the UK (and Ireland).
The rather lovely church, St Edward's, dates from the 11th - 15th centuries and reflects the wealth of the town with its impressive 14th century bell tower. It is a 'proper' English church, built (as are most of the old buildings in Stow) of the honey-coloured Cotswold limestone, with yew trees in the churchyard and Medieval carvings inside. It's worth taking the time to go in: as with all such churches, the silence you experience on closing the outside door is almost tangible. Do walk round the outside to see the wonderful ancient yew trees, planted right by by the north-facing door to ward off evil spirits. Read some of the gravestones too: they are always fascinating. More about the church in my travelogue.
Stow was also important as a coaching town. Many of the pubs/inns have an archway through which coaches and horses passed. At the rear there would be stables, and tired horses could be exchanged for new ones whilst the passengers revived themselves at the inn (or stayed the night, if the journey was a long one).
So......Stow is still worth a visit to admire its architecture, to wander its streets and explore its church. Maybe to take tea (or a pint) in one of the many tea-rooms and inns as well.
But best to do it out of season, I think. It was busy enough with visitors when I visited (and parking was a nightmare): goodness knows what it must be like on a summer weekend!