Stow-on-the-Wold is undoubtedly one of the most charming towns within the Cotswolds. Its wide market square tells a story of times gone by when it would host one of the country’s most important annual sheep markets. But sheepish history aside, Stow-on-the-Wold also has a rich history due to its strategic position as the highest town in the Cotswolds. Initially, it was an Iron Fort, and then it became the location of the final battle of the English Civil War. So whether you come to Stow-on-the-Wold for the history, its ties to Lord of the Rings, or simply because it is a beautiful Cotswold town, then fear not, you will find plenty of things to do!
Things to do in Stow-on-the-Wold
Get a Dose of History at the Market Square
Like neighbouring Moreton in Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold has been hosting markets ever since King Henry I granted a charter back in 1107! However, it is the annual sheep sale that has shaped Stow’s wide market square. Since 1330 Stow-on-the-Wold has been hosting a week-long market that vendors travel to from far and wide. It is believed that up to 20,000 sheep were sold in a single day during the Stow-on-the-Wold fair during its hay days! The market square is wide to accommodate all the sheep and traders, while the alleyways leading to it are narrow and winding to help control the flow of sheep and therefore ease the task of counting them!
The farmers market still comes to Stow-on-the-Wold regularly. Between April and September, the market comes to town on the second and last Tuesday of every month. Between October and March, it only comes to Stow on the second Tuesday of every month. Don’t forget though, that Moreton in Marsh has a market every Tuesday year-round!
You can still enjoy the market square with its many shops, inns, cafes, and restaurants even when the market isn’t in town. There are certainly plenty of things to do in Stow-on-the-Wold to help keep you entertained!
More than just a market town!
Also in the square, you will find the old penal stocks, which date back to the 15th century. They were used to publicly humiliate and penalise the unruly. England’s Statute of Labourers required every town to have stocks, so it is a common sight in many medieval towns! Not only are they significant historical artifacts, but they make for fun photos too!
You’ll find the Market Cross at the opposite end of the square. The Cross’s four sides represent important people and events of the town: the Civil War, the crucifixion, the wool trade, and St Edward. This Cross was erected in the Market Square to remind business owners to conduct trade fairly and honestly.
Lastly, the English Civil War memorial is also an important monument worth checking out. This memorial was constructed after the Battle of Stow-on-the-Wold in the 17th century. A Royalist Army of over 1,000 soldiers was marching through the town to meet with King Charles when the Parliamentarians managed to stop them. They imprisoned almost all of the soldiers, later massacring them. It is believed that there was so much blood in the town that ducks could bathe in it! Digbeth Street actually got its name from this event since it translates to duck bath in Old English!
Admire Tolkien’s Door at St. Edward’s Church
Ever since the rise of influencers in floaty dresses, visiting St Edward’s Church has become one of the most popular things to do in Stow-on-the-Wold (and in the Cotswolds)! The church was built sometime during the medieval ages on the site of an earlier Saxon church. The current building was renovated in the 17th century and has been standing tall since. It is in this church that the Parliamentarians imprisoned and held captive over 1,000 soldiers from the Royalist Army before murdering them. The church is named after Stow on the Wold’s patron, Saint Edward. In fact, the town was originally known as Edwardstow before King Henry I changed it to Stow-on-the-Wold in 1107. The church is a grade I listed building known for its buttresses, stained glass windows, and large churchyard.
However, more recently, it is a side entrance that has attracted the most attention! The large wooden door on the North wing is flanked by an ancient yew tree on either side. It is believed that this same tree is the real-life Moria, which is the original inspiration behind ‘Doors of Durin’ in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Tolkien was a frequent visitor of the Cotswolds and often went to The Bell Inn in Moreton in Marsh to meet his brother. As a result, many think that Tolkien got much of his inspiration from the Cotswolds.
Experience the Gypsy Horse Fair
With the decline of wool, the previously famous annual sheep markets have now been replaced by a biannual Gypsy Horse Fair. It takes place in May and October every year and sees 100s of travellers coming together from all corners of the UK. Many arrive in their traditional horse-drawn caravans, making great subjects for budding photographers. Still, to this day, it remains one of the most important gypsy fairs in England. It is an experience not to be missed!
Stow is well known for its independent boutique shops, antique stores, and art galleries. So whatever form of art you are into, you will find a lot to your liking here. Of its many antique stores, a few really stand out for their location and quality of the goods on sale. Tara Antiques, Durham House Antiques, and Tudor House Antiques are some of the most popular antique stores in Stow-on-the-Wold. Expect to find many hidden treasures during your search!
Visit the Fosse Art Gallery
Speaking of art, the Fosse Art Gallery has consistently been called one of the most important art galleries in the UK. It showcases contemporary British art, and it is located right here in Stow-in-the-Wold! Founded in 1980 by Brian Sinfield and Gerard O’ Farrell, it used to showcase only Victorian watercolour paintings. However, today, the gallery is mainly known to be a premier showcase for British contemporary artists. Located right at the top of Market Square, the Fosse Art Gallery organizes regular exhibitions while also selling art from both local and internationally renowned artists.
Address: The Square, The Manor House, Stow-on-the-Wold, GL54 1AF
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 10:30am to 5pm
Explore the Charming Tea Rooms
Nothing evokes a more quintessential British feeling than taking a break to enjoy an afternoon tea. And you won’t be left short of choice! My favourite? Huffkin’s, Lucy’s Tearoom, and the Old Bakery Tearoom. In Huffkins, you need to try the Lardy Cake. At Lucy’s, make sure you enjoy the afternoon tea experience, especially if it is nice weather and you can sit outside. At the Old Bakery, please don’t miss out on their Short Bread millionaire (my favourite!). And while you are eating it, make sure to read their story, which you will find on the table. It’s a tragic story yet inspiring at the same time. But I won’t ruin it for you and will let you read it for yourself.
Get that Insta-Worthy Shot at The Triangle
Like everything else in Stow on the Wold, even the smallest water fountain has some historical story behind it. In the triangle, you will find the Old Fountain, the Old Post Box, and the Horse Trough. These are three important historical landmarks of Stow-on-the-Wold, which you will find at the top of the High Street.
The Old Fountain, which also served as a horse trough, dates back to 1896 and was donated to the town by Piers Thursby to serve as the first source of clean water for the residents of Stow. The Old Post Box might seem like any other post box that dots the lanes of the UK. But what is special about this one is that instead of bearing the usual initials of “E R,” which stand for Elizabeth Regina or Queen Elizabeth, this post box dates back to the Edwardian times! It might also bear the initials “E R”, but these stand for Edward Rex, or King Edward VII on this particular post box.
Have a Play Date with Animals at Cotswold Farm Park
If you are familiar with Countryfile, a popular BBC TV series, then you will be familiar with Adam Henson, the owner of Cotswold Farm Park. Although he now runs the farm, it was his dad, Joe Henson, that founded it back in 1971 to help protect and breed rare farm animals. Since its inauguration, no farm animal breed has gone extinct in the UK! In addition to their great work protecting rare breeds, Cotswold Farm Park is also a leader in sustainable animal farming approaches. It is a brilliant place where both adults and children can learn about the importance of farming.
There is no end of activities to do at the Cotswolds Farm Park, from digging up your own potatoes to watching baby chicks hatch! So whether you want to feed the goats, pet a rabbit or go on a wildlife walk, there is plenty to keep a family of all ages entertained for the day. And once you get peckish, you will find several food outlets, from full sit-down meals at the Ox Shed restaurant to salad boxes and sandwiches in the café or ice cream from Dolly’s.
It is not the cheapest activity in the Cotswolds if you only plan to spend a short time there, but if you make an entire day out of it, it becomes great value for money! In fact, why not make a weekend out of it and stay overnight? You can either bring your tent at £20 a pitch or choose a little more luxury by glamping or picking out one of their lodges. It is undoubtedly one of the most fun things to do in Stow-on-the-Wold when visiting with family.
Address: Guiting Power, GL54 5FL
Opening Times: 9:30 am to 5 pm every day
Best Hikes to do in Stow-on-the Wold
If you are a regular of the blog, you will know just how much I love exploring the Cotswolds on foot. The entirety of the Cotswolds is criss-crossed with public footpaths, and Stow is no exception! Here are two of my favourite walks from Stow on the Wold:
Battle of Stow Loop
If you want to mix scenery with history, I recommend the Battle of Stow loop. The 9 miles of well marked-trail will take you through some of the most important historical landmarks, including St Edwards Church, Donnington Brewery, and of course, the site of the Battle of Stow, which was the final battle of the English Civil War. Unfortunately, the brewery is not open to the public, but there is a Donnington Way walk that takes in 15 of their pubs over a 62-mile walk! Since I don’t like beer, it isn’t one I’ve ever attempted!
Stow on The Wold to Upper Slaughter
The Stow on the World to Upper Slaughter walk is a beautiful out-and-back trail. It is 14 km there and back but relatively flat, so therefore pretty easy for most fitness levels. What I love about the route is that you get three great towns for the price of one: Stow, Lower Slaughter, and Upper Slaughter. The last two are probably the most beautiful ones in the Cotswolds (in my opinion). You could always make it slightly longer by taking a detour into Bourton-on-the-Water too, which would add an extra 9 km to your day, but perfectly doable for anyone with moderate fitness wanting to spend all day exploring the area on foot.
Best places to Eat in Stow on the Wold
The choices of places to eat in Stow are endless, and it was hard to pick just a few. For this reason, I have chosen somewhat quirky restaurants that offer more than just good food!
The Porch House Inn
The Porch House is thought to be Britain’s Oldest Inn. Just for that accolade, it is worth a visit! Just think, you could be sitting down to eat in the same spot where weary travellers have been eating for over 1000 years! OK, it has changed a little since it was originally built in 947 AD! That hospice has since been replaced with the now 16th-century building, but still, it’s a pretty special spot! Historical joint aside, the Porch House serves delicious quintessential English food with a focus on locally sourced ingredients and is a spot not to be missed when visiting Stow-on-the-Wold.
Address: 1 Digbeth St, Stow-on-the-Wold, GL54 1BN
The Old Butchers
The Old Butchers used to be… Yes! You guessed! A butcher’s shop! Pete and Louise Robinson bought and converted it into a warm and rustic restaurant in 2005. Today, this restaurant is one of the very best in the entire Cotswold region, but not for the reasons you would think. Based on the name, it would make sense for you to believe their meats would be their specialty. Unfortunately, that’s where you would be wrong!
Their primary focus is actually fresh, locally and seasonally sourced fish! Considering we are not close to the sea, it is incredible how good their fish menu is (and how delicious the dishes are!). If you are not a fish eater though, fear not. They have more than fish on the menu, including seasonal game, locally sourced meat, and delicious burgers! But what I love most is their nose-to-tail policy which focuses on minimal wastage while cooking their gourmet dishes.
Address: 7 Park St, Stow-on-the-Wold, GL54 1AQ
La Patisserie Anglaise
You might think it odd that I am recommending a French-inspired bakery on your visit to the Cotswolds, but honestly, the pastries you will find here will rival the best in Paris! Carl has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the art of making pastries. He has enjoyed a long successful career in some of London’s top restaurants before deciding it was time for a slower pace of life here in the Cotswolds. The menu is constantly changing, so you can always expect a surprise. What I can guarantee though, is that you won’t be disappointed! In fact, I still drawl a little at the thought of the Lemon meringue tart I had on my last visit!
Address: The Square, Stow-on-the-Wold, GL54 0GF
Opening Times: Open 9am to 4pm Monday to Saturday. Closed on Sundays.
Stow Town Coffee
Stow Town is one of the UK’s smallest coffee roasteries and is located in Stow-on-the-Wold, right in the heart of the Cotswolds. They bag their beans freshly to order and can even grind them to your particular taste! They also offer a coffee takeaway service should you need an immediate caffeine fix!
Address: The Barn, 2 Wells, Sheep St, Stow-on-the-Wold, GL54 1AA
Opening Times: 9am to 2pm Monday to Saturday. Closed Sundays.
What are you waiting for? It’s time to explore Stow!
Whether you come for the history, the art or the countryside, I am sure you will fall in love with the charm of Stow-on-the-Wold. There is no shortage of things to do, and you are perfectly located to explore the rest of the Cotswolds too. The market town of Moreton in Marsh is only 4 miles North. It also happens to be the only town within the Cotswolds with a train station! 11 miles away from Stow, you will also find the beautiful town of Broadway, as well as Broadway Tower, which happens to be the best place in the Cotswolds to watch the sunset! If you want to tick off the Cotswolds Instagram hotspots, then you will find Bourton-on-the-Water only 4 miles south and Bibury, with its amazing row of cottages, only 16 miles away. There is certainly plenty to see and do in the surrounding area too!
How do I get to Stow using public transport?
Most people assume that the only way to explore the Cotswolds is by car. Although a car does make it easier, it is also one of the major problems we experience here, especially at peak times. We still rely on the old roman Fosse Way road to travel from North to South, and it can get jam-packed, especially during the summer months. However, you don’t need a car to explore the Cotswolds.
You can travel to Moreton-in-Marsh by train and then get the 801 bus that will drop you off in Stow. An alternative would be to get the train to Cheltenham and then take the 801 North to Stow. If you are coming from the North, you will want to get the train to Stratford-upon-Avon and then get the 51 bus to Moreton and the 801 bus to Stow.
Once in Stow, you can choose several bus services to access most parts of the Cotswolds. However, I’m a big advocate for choosing to explore by bike or on foot instead. You will be amazed at the gems you will find when you leave the main roads and start exploring down the country lanes!
For more Cotswolds inspiration, please check out all my other Cotswolds articles. And if you have any questions, please feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. I love hearing from my readers!