Tracy Spiers sends a postcard from the town with a warm community heart
It may be the highest point of the Cotswolds and a few degrees colder than its counterparts, but it has a warm community heart. Stow-onthe-wold the lives up to its famous line “where a wind doth blow cold,” but it has everything visitor or local could wish for – great scenery, from fantastic individual and specialist shops and coffee, patisseries, antiques, art, chocolates most fine dining and a fascinating history. But go out of of all the people here are friendly and much so their way to make you feel at home. So and I my mum Jan, 14-year-old daughter Megan spent a few hours more than we had intended. TRACY SPIERS
We start our visit at St Edward’s Hall, one of the most photographed buildings in Stow, home to the library and the Visitor Information Centre. It is the best place to begin. Staff here are wonderfully helpful and friendly and visitors will leave well-informed as to what they can do in the time they have to spend in Stow, whether it is a couple of hours or more. It’s exactly four years since the VIC moved to the library and thanks to the dedication of the team including Sue John and Valerie Goddard, it is now bucking the trend in terms of numbers of locals and tourists visiting both library and VICS. Other town and parish councils are now looking at them as a shining example. It’s a lovely library too and being an illustrator who loves children’s books, I am drawn to the children’s section, which colourful and attractive. On Saturday April 7, 10-2pm, a Spring Craft Fair takes place and marks the first Saturday of summer opening hours, with the library open until 4pm. St Edward’s Hall, built in 1878 is also home to the Captain Crawfurd Christie painting collection. Both Sue and Valerie admit they love the sense of community in Stow and are proud to be a part of it.
As teenagers are always hungry, Megan quickly eyes up the tea and coffee shops. There is a plethora of them – New England Coffee House, Coach House Coffee, Lucy’s Tearoom, In the Mood Tearoom which is 1940s style… to name but a few. I offer Megan food on condition she poses in Stow’s stocks for me. I ignore the “that’s so embarrassing,” comments and prolong the picture-taking on purpose. I leave her with Mum in Huffkins, an independent family business which dates back to 1890. I am always intrigued by the upper windows of this property as they lean heavily on one side. I am instead hungry to meet Stow’s traders and grab a delicious take-away coffee from Coach House Coffee in Talbot Court and have a chat with owner Emily Hopkins, who uses local hand-roasted Rave Coffee, and specialises in gluten-free and vegan cakes which are
‘As well as providing access to houses at the rear of the ancient ‘burgage’ strips, the ‘tures’ proved useful on fair days for counting sheep into the markets’
homemade by local bakers and producers. On the menus there’s turmeric latte, cashew hot chocolate and Emily also offers six different variety of milk including tigernut, cashew and almond.
Next door is The Talbot, and to its left is a narrow alley, known as a ‘ture’. There are three more of these leading South from Sheep Street to Back Walls. As well as providing access to houses at the rear of the ancient ‘burgage’ strips, these proved useful on fair days for counting sheep into the markets. Today, I enjoy discovering the little shops and boutiques and pop into Evergreen Livres, specialising in second-hand and antiquarian books. Here I meet Nick O’keeffe who has been trading for nine years. As well as stocking 8,500 titles on an eclectic range of interests, plus a selection of O/S maps and sheet music, he says visitors enjoy the collection of classic Penguin Green Crime editions. “The reason we are here is due to the many visitors we get in Stow. We get about 150,000 visitors every year. Normally a town this size would not be able to support a second-hand book shop. When we moved here there were three, now there is just ours. It is the tourists that keep us going. The other day I was asked if I had a book on pre-stressed concrete – that was a first for me,” Nick says. “However, I love the people of Stow, they are so friendly and they have been very good to me. I will never forget a comment the estate agent said to me when showing me around: ‘If Stow likes you, Stow will keep you.’ And it’s true, it’s kept me!”
Not far away in this same ture is The Stow Flower Shop, a relatively new business, which opened in June last year. This beautiful florist and gift shop is run by sisters Sophie and Melissa who are successfully combining their years of knowledge in floristry and retail. Their ethos is simple: to provide bespoke floral designs using top quality flowers to enhance any occasion. I watch Sophie, an award-winning florist, in action as she helps a customer choose her wedding flowers.
Something unique to Stow is the French inspired authentic patisserie in the town’s square. Pastry chef Carl Asimakopoulou hand-makes delicate fancies and pastries each day and is a master at his art. Carl treats us to one of his mille-feuille, an exquisite melt-in-the-mouth three-layered