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The southern gateway to the Cotswolds, Tetbury has an abundance of history dating over 1300 years. This former wool town is home to an impressive array of architectural gems as well as being known for its antique shops and royal connections. And if you visit at the right time of year, you can witness the annual Wacky Races or Woolsack Races – key dates in the Tetbury calendar. Our local expert Kim shares her insider tips for visiting Tetbury in the Cotswolds.
The history of Tetbury
Tetbury lies on the site of an ancient hill fort, with its first recorded history in 681 when Tetta’s Monastery was mentioned in a charter by King Æthelred of Mercia. In the Middle Ages, Tetbury was an important market town for the Cotswold wool trade, and many of the original wool merchants’ houses still look like they did 300 years ago.
The town retains many of its historic features, including St Marys’ Church, the Chipping Steps – which were an old entrance to the town – and the Market House which was built by the Tetbury Feoffees in 1655, a group of local residents who took over the running of the town. The centre of Tetbury is a conservation area and many of the buildings have graded listing.
Things to do in Tetbury
A trip to Tetbury isn’t complete without visiting each and every one of its antique shops (there are around 25 of them at last count), ranging from specialist antique stores to Top Banana Antiques, a five-floor antique emporium. Antiques are Tetbury’s main contribution to tourism and people flock for miles to scour the shops, most of which are located on Long Street.
Whilst you’re exploring the antiques, also take in the stone and unusual shapes of the buildings lining the streets. Visit the Parish Church of St Mary’s (the Virgin & Magdalen), built by Francis Hiorn between 1777–1781 and described as one of the best Georgian Gothic designs. It has the fourth tallest spire in England which can be seen from all directions as you approach the town.
Tetbury’s wool heritage is celebrated in the annual Woolsack Races, held on the last bank holiday Monday in May. In this charity event, competitors carry a sack of wool up a 1 in 4 hill along a 240-yard course, with the first across the line crowned champion. There’s also the Wacky Races, a soapbox derby race through the streets of Tetbury held on May Day bank holiday.
Walk the Chipping Steps or take an amble along the Tetbury Trail, part of the old Rail Lands on the former railway line between Kemble and Tetbury. The Goods Shed Arts Centre in a restored Victorian railway building is a popular place to visit at the start or end of your walk.
Tetbury is known for its Royal connections, with both Prince Charles and Princess Anne living nearby. Prince Charles moved to Highgrove, two miles south of Tetbury, in the early 1980s and made it his home. The gardens are open to visitors during the year (booking is essential) and consist of a series of interlinked areas, each with its own character and purpose.
Each year there is a different colour theme to the garden which can be seen throughout its blooms as you navigate the stunning sections. You can buy treats and flowers from the onsite shop, or go back into Tetbury itself and visit the Highgrove shop located on Long Street.
The National Arboretum at Westonbirt, around three miles from Tetbury, is perhaps the most well-known attraction in the area. Open all year, it’s one of the finest collections of trees and shrubs in Europe, home to around 18,000 of them spread across its 600 acres. It’s particularly famous for its rhododendrons, azaleas, magnolias and the historic silk wood.
In autumn Westonbirt Arboretum comes alive with colour, and in winter it sparkles as the trees are illuminated for the Enchanted Christmas event.
About four miles from Tetbury toward Cirencester you’ll find Rodmarton Manor, a Grade I listed Arts and Crafts manor and home to one of the Cotswolds’ finest gardens. Rodmarton Manor is one of the last country houses to be build and furnished in the old traditional style when everything was done by hand using local stone, timber and craftsmen.
All the furniture in the manor was made according to Arts and Crafts ideals. The garden spans eight acres and is based upon a series of ‘outdoor rooms’. It’s open to the public on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons and bank holidays from May-September. The gardens are also open for its spectacular display of snowdrops in February, with over 150 different varieties.
And Poldark fans can visit Chavenage House, used as a filming location for the series as well as Lark Rise to Candleford and Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Originally built in 1383, this family-owned home two miles from Tetbury opens for tours part-time, normally from May–September.
Places to eat & drink in Tetbury
There is a great selection of places to eat in Tetbury, from bistro cafés to pubs and restaurants. Casa is pipped as Tetbury’s best Italian, serving a wonderful selection of authentic Italian favourites – from pizza and pasta to tiramisu and pannacotta – within its tastefully decorated restaurant. Situated on Long Street, this surprisingly spacious restaurant has a menu to suit all.
Located behind the Domestic Science home and lifestyle store, Café 53 is a popular place to get a bite to eat or a cup of the best coffee in Tetbury. Serving a wonderful selection of cakes every day, this quirky decorated venue is popular with locals and visitors alike.
If you’re taking the walk along the old railway line, you must head toward the Trouble House Inn, rumoured to have once frequently lived up to its name! They offer a range of seasonal, locally sourced tasty lunches, cakes and evening meals. It’s a popular destination for a Sunday roast and a pint of local ale – and you can walk off the roast on the way back to Tetbury afterwards.
The Royal Oak Tetbury is a charming free house dating from the 18th century, which has undergone extensive renovation in recent years, turning it into a cosy place to enjoy a pint and delicious meal. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, TROT changes its menu to suit the seasons. There are also six tastefully decorated rooms if you’re looking for an overnight stay.
Where to stay in Tetbury
Located just a couple of miles from Tetbury, the four-star Calcot Manor and Spa* exudes luxury. Treat yourself to a spa break and make the most of the facilities available, including outdoor and indoor swimming pools, tennis courts, two on-site restaurants and 220 acres of grounds. If it weren’t in such a spectacular area, we’d recommend not leaving the hotel!
The Surveyor’s House* lies in the heart of Tetbury, overlooking the historic Market House. This home-from-home self-catering option sleeps four to six people in the most spectacularly finished style, full of antiques with stories of their own. A historic townhouse, it boasts a woodburner for winter weekends and courtyard garden for alfresco dining.
The Hare and Hounds Hotel* is the perfect choice for those seeking quintessential Cotswold accommodation. It’s located next to Westonbirt Arboretum, just a couple of miles from Tetbury town centre. This traditional country inn has 43 stylish en-suite rooms to suit various budget levels and has a 2 AA Rosette restaurant and cosy brasserie bar.
How to get to Tetbury
By car: From the M4 (approx 20 minutes), exit the motorway at Junction 18, take the A46 north towards Stroud, after a few miles turn right onto the A433 (signed Cirencester) and continue on this road for six miles. From the M5 (approx 15 minutes), exit at Junction 13 onto the A419 (towards Stroud), take the A46 (towards Bath), after going through Nailsworth, come to traffic lights at the crossroads and turn left onto the A4135 to Tetbury.
Parking in the town centre can be challenging with short stay car parks and Long Street often full. The Old Railyard (GL8 8EY) car park is free and open seven days a week with around 75 spaces. It’s a little walk up the hill, but gives you chance to see the historic Chipping Steps. Car parks are also located at Church Street (GL8 8LL), The Chipping (GL8 8EU) and West Street (GL8 8LL).
By public transport: Tetbury is around eight miles from Kemble train station. The number 882 bus connects Kemble and Tetbury and takes around 20 minutes, but services aren’t very frequent (and don’t run on Sundays and public holidays) so you may need to take a taxi.
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