PUBLISHED: 09:36 14 July 2015 | UPDATED: 10:26 14 July 2015
Once people come to the north Oxfordshire town of Woodstock they don't tend to leave, as Lynn Ede discovers
Set in north Oxfordshire is the quiet Cotswolds town of Woodstock with much to offer. Pretty in appearance with Georgian architecture and a strong retail community, residents and business colleagues know each other well and tend to stay long in the area.
In Oxford Street – there is free parking throughout the town – you could pick up your rather special picnic needs at Hampers Food and Wine if you are headed to Blenheim Palace’s parkland of 2,000 acres including its lake. The street offers a good selection of shops amongst quaint Cotswold cottages. I meet James Burrough, manager of The Real Wood Furniture Company, one of the larger stores in town.
“We are proud of the amount of independent traders in Woodstock; I don’t think there are any empty shops at the moment, which is great for business.” he tells me. “I’ve been working here for 14 years. The shop is owned by Chris Baylis, and it began by dealing in antique chairs. Now, though we still do that, we are known as being new country furniture makers and like to demonstrate the process of the making to our customers with a small display.”
The shop is a space made of three rooms full of handmade furniture and interesting objets d’arts. One, a wooden dog by the door, is not for sale as they love it too much. Maybe he was guarding the place, in the absence of the real house dog, called Scrumpie and much admired, who was out for the day.
History of the region is rich. The Domesday Book registers the area of Woodstock as a Royal Forest. In 1554 Queen Elizabeth I was held captive at Woodstock; ostensibly for her own safety due to the uprising to depose Queen Mary. More fascinating details can be found at Cotswolds.info
Later, in the 18th century, the majestic Blenheim Palace was built on the site of the former Woodstock Manor which dated from 12th century. The new Palace was built and gifted to the 1st Duke of Marlborough by Queen Anne. It remains in family ownership of the present and 12th Duke of Marlborough. These days it has a busy, packed calendar of events to mark into your diary. You might wish to book tickets for the Grand Prix Ball on July 3, the Battle Proms Picnic Concert on July 11 or a spot of jousting on July 31.
Other popular events for the summer include the Mock Mayor tradition, town walks and the Farmers’ Market on July 4.
The triangular arrangement of roads that is the centre of Woodstock is all you need for an afternoon out picking up a few purchases and a bite to eat. Taking a stroll along Oxford Street, then down one side into High Street, past the Town Hall and up the other into Market Street means you encounter all sorts of inviting little shops, restaurants, antique centres and art galleries.
At the Natural Bread Company in the High Street I meet Cecile Whittaker who has been working there for some months.
“I used to come here all the time.” she tells me. “I love the products and the people who come in. We all know each other in the town, it’s very close and happy. Now I work here and really enjoy it. Woodstock is a great mix of people who are so friendly. The shop is owned by William and Claire. William worked previously as a journalist and his French wife bakes incredible cakes. The ingredients they use are French.”
Halfway along is a charming enclave connecting to Market Street where elegant, paper carrier bag-laden shoppers take a welcome break in the dappled sunlight. Sounds pretty idyllic doesn’t it? It is.
At the lower end of the town, as I see it geographically, past the Town Hall is a quirky gift shop called Bluedog and Sought. It’s full of unusual items and you just know you’ll find that unique present in there. Owner Suzanne Sherlock has been there for 10 years.
“Woodstock is a peaceful place with a great business community. It seems to come alive at night too, with so many restaurants to choose from. Most of us have known each other for years, it’s a really lovely area with the Palace being so close. With Oxford just eight miles away, it’s convenient if we need to go there too.”
Almost opposite to that is the Oxfordshire Museum where information on local art, history and archaeology can be found and children will love the Dinosaur Garden.
Nearby is Chaucer Lane, named after Thomas Chaucer, brother of Geoffrey, who was Speaker of the House of Commons and resident in the town. His house is marked by a plaque in the lane. Not least to mention and probably the most famous past resident is Sir Winston Churchill. He was born at Blenheim Palace and is laid to rest with his parents in the nearby village of Bladon.
Turning right there are more boutique shops to discover unusual purchases and 1 Market Street is fairly new to the scene. Owner Christina Broad is enjoying the experience and stocks garden and home items and art.
“We support local artists Rod Craig and Janice Hulme. I try to create a serene atmosphere within the shop. I want it to be a calming experience for my customers as they shop. Woodstock is a great place to work and I can walk through the Palace grounds to work each day, which is a joy.”
Further up on Market Street is the high-end Feathers Hotel, outside which are feathery palms befitting its name and an archway to more enticing courtyard tables, but even better it apparently has a well-stocked Gin Bar. Seems like an excellent way to end a very happy day spent in Woodstock. Cheers!