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Clare Mackintosh explains why Chipping Norton isn’t ‘crap’

PUBLISHED: 16:16 20 December 2013 | UPDATED: 18:05 02 January 2014

Chipping Norton. Photograph by Ken Norman

Chipping Norton. Photograph by Ken Norman

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Resident Clare Mackintosh takes up the cudgels on behalf of the town unfairly branded ‘crap’

Chipping Norton. Photograph by Ken NormanChipping Norton. Photograph by Ken Norman

The latest edition of bestselling book Crap Towns: the 50 Worst Places to Live in the UK has put Chipping Norton firmly at number three. The ranking has caused residents to leap to the defence of their beloved Cotswold town, although if one delves a little deeper into the scientific algorithm behind the Crap Towns voting system, a likely cause for Chippy’s unpopularity becomes apparent.

It is, of course, because of the people. Not just any people – I’m confident Chippy locals aren’t turning visitors off in droves – but those infamous, irritating, indefensible members of the Chipping Norton Set.

I know you all know this, but let me say it just one more time, for the benefit of out-of-towners chancing upon a copy of Cotswold Life. NONE OF THESE SUPPOSED CHIPPING NORTON SET MEMBERS LIVES IN CHIPPING NORTON. Rebekah Brooks may shop here; David Cameron may bring his kids to swim here; Elizabeth Murdoch may once have driven through here on her way to Banbury. But they don’t live in Chippy. Deep breath.

Right, now that’s out of the way, let me offer a few reasons why anyone with an ounce of intelligence, common sense or a penchant for good pubs would put Chipping Norton firmly at the bottom of the Crap Towns list. Frankly, just standing in the market square and looking around should be enough to sway anyone: although not as chocolate-boxy as Bibury or Chipping Campden, beautiful buildings are everywhere, and the warmth of the honeyed stone more than makes up for Chippy’s micro-climate, which – I have to concede a point to the naysayers, here – is peculiarly chilly most of the time. The flowerbeds are cared-for, and even the gilt-topped railings have recently been given a lick of paint, thanks to a team of volunteers rounded up by Experience Chipping Norton, the town’s newest tour-de-force.

Chipping Norton. Photograph by Ken NormanChipping Norton. Photograph by Ken Norman

For a small town (population 6,000, at the last count), culture vultures are spoiled for choice with music, food and literary festivals, an award-winning theatre and an outstanding independent book shop, Jaffe and Neale. The local paper, the volunteer-run Chipping Norton News, is rammed with information on clubs and societies, and with updates from lively, academically successful schools.

Gone are the days when I would spend a whole day shopping – now it’s a quick dash round town after the school run if I’m lucky – but I am continually amazed by what Chippy has to offer. In amongst the gift shops, the jewellery stores and the clothes shops are the practical destinations which make a town a truly useful place to be. Newsagents, a fishmonger, a delicatessen, two butchers, and a weekly market mean there’s really no excuse for not shopping locally.

A town’s not a town without a decent local, and The Chequers Inn ticks my boxes. I’ve flirted with others, but I always come back to the Mother Ship for a G&T and a packet of salt and vinegar. Nestled by a roaring fire with the dog at my feet and the children bribed with ginger beer, I can catch up with everyone from my WI cronies to my plasterer. The food’s pretty good too, although with so many great places to eat I’m as likely to be found round the corner ordering Bitter & Twisted’s tapas, or a Friday night treat from one of the town’s many takeaway restaurants.

Not exactly the list of attributes you’d expect from a Crap Town, is it? But actually none of that is why I love Chipping Norton. I love it for the very reason people voted against it: for the people. Not the Chipping Norton Set – I wouldn’t give them a second glance – but the real people of Chippy. Whether they’ve lived here for two years or 20; whichever end of town they live, Chipping Norton residents are warm, welcoming and passionate about their part of the world. Where else would streets be allocated ‘snow men’: volunteer wardens equipped with miniature snow ploughs? Where else would major events be looked forward to, not for the celebrations themselves, but for the knitted objects hung around town in the dead of night?

Chipping Norton. Photograph by Ken NormanChipping Norton. Photograph by Ken Norman

Ten years ago my husband and I moved to Chipping Norton because we came for a day and liked what we saw. Six months later I took up a post in the historic police station as town Sergeant and fell in love with the place, warts and all. Over the passing years we have had children, made friends and put down roots, and at the heart of it all has been Chipping Norton and its people. I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

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This article is from the December 2013 issue of Cotswold Life.

For more from Clare Mackintosh, follow her on Twitter: @claremackint0sh

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