A postcard from Moreton-in-Marsh
PUBLISHED: 16:12 27 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:12 27 February 2018
It’s bustling, beautiful and it is a brilliant haunt for hobbit enthusiasts, history lovers and those who want an excuse to return to childhood. Moreton-in-Marsh has a timeless charm, a tremendous sense of place whilst offering the modern-day comforts, delicious choice of artisan foods, coffees and a unique shopping experience. I took my dear friend Siobhan Adam to discover the delights that make Moreton-in-Marsh what it is
• Parking is free in Moreton-in-Marsh, which is a great plus for any visitor, and we pull up opposite The Cotswold Cheese Company in the town’s long High Street. Siobhan makes a beeline for the cheese counter where shop manager Nicola Buckles gives her a sample of cheese of the month, Isle of Avalon. It’s a strong, smelly, creamy cheese with a flavour reminiscent of smoked bacon. Meanwhile I’m in olive heaven and enjoy the pitted Vinci olives marinated with mushrooms, sweet peppers and garlic dressed in herbs and paprika oil. Here you can also pick your own oils and dressings.
• Famous for many years for antiques, and visited by dealers, collectors and enthusiasts from all over the world, Moreton is still popular for its bounty of treasure whether it is jewellery, china, collectables or furniture. Siobhan and I enjoy a browse in London House Antiques Centre, a well-established antiques centre, where we meet one of the dealers Brian Walkley, who specialises in Doulton Lambeth, Royal Doulton, Doulton figures, Royal Worcester, Royal Crown Derby and good quality small antique furniture. Brian has been here 30 years and I ask him how Moreton has altered in that time. “It hasn’t changed much really which is one of the good things about this town. It has preserved its character and charm,” he says. Before we leave, a couple of Trench Art planes catch Siobhan’s eye. Both our grandfathers took to the skies during World War II.
• The link to planes is a strong one for Moreton. During WWII, an airfield – now the site of the Fire Service College – was used as one of many flight training stations. Although no longer used, the original runways are still in place. To find out more about Moreton’s RAF history visit Wellington Aviation Museum in Broadway Road, which is open on Sundays.
• While we’re talking history, Moreton-in-Marsh is an ancient site, dating back to the Saxon era. For 12 centuries, the Four Shire Stone has marked the meeting place of Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. The town’s name in a nutshell means a settlement upon which wild birds nest and originally Marsh was Henmarsh, which later became in. Located on the Fosse Way Roman road, it was a planned market town of the 13th century and its long and wide high street is full of independent shops, art galleries and eateries where you are guaranteed the personal service.
• One such shop which is a personal favourite in my household is The Toy Shop, which has been in Moreton for over 50 years. Being a big kid at heart like myself, Siobhan joins me as we enter this wonderful labyrinth of nine rooms full of puzzles, toys, games and everything to do with play. We can’t resist reminiscing, picking up play food, bricks, puppets and generally thrilled to be able to take off our mother hats and be the child again. Brother and sister Paul and Helen Jeffrey grew up with this enchanted toy shop, which their parents ran while they lived upstairs. Today they still live here and love seeing familiar faces. “It was magical growing up here and there is a real sense of memories especially when we see generations coming back. Children who came in for toys when we were younger are now coming back with their own children,” Helen tells us. Paul’s three-year-old son Jack is enjoying the same childhood experience. “He is good toy worker and toy taster. What people like is the fact that we demonstrate what the toys do and they can have a go. Some people drive over 50 years to come here.” I can’t resist buying a Paddington spoon and a Maisy Mouse cup or testing out the magic of ultra violet putty, which is a hit amongst today’s youngsters.
• We visit on a Wednesday, but if you want to see Moreton in market mode, the day to come is Tuesday. It’s the largest open-air market in the Cotswolds with more than 200 stalls selling virtually anything from books, leather goods, clothing, fish and fresh produce. The town was granted its market charter in 1227.
• Being the inquisitive sort, I am intrigued to know what other historic facts I can find. Sarah Clemo, who is Senior Customer Services Assistant at Moreton Area Centre Visitor Information Centre, gives us a map and a few landmarks to look out for. “I love Moreton because it’s a great community. It’s a bustling town, has good services – we have just had a new Aldi – and it isn’t too touristy which works for both the locals and the tourists,’ she tells us.
• Needing an excuse to stop for coffee and digest the information, we opt for a comfy sofa in Victoria’s Coffee House, a dog-friendly and buggy-friendly home-from-home café which proves excellent on the comfort and culinary front. The cranberry, date and walnut flapjack is delicious. Moreton has a great menu of coffee and tea shops so café culture is a high priority here. There are plenty of inns, restaurants and hotels too and food buffs can eat round the world if they so choose.
• While we munch, we read up about the town’s Tolkien links. The Four Shires Stone, the Rollright Stones and the Bell Inn apparently inspired JRR Tolkien’s Three Farthing Stone, the Barrow Downs and the Prancing Pony in Lord of the Rings. The author visited the town many times on his regular trips from Oxford. Other famous visitors include King Charles I who stayed at the White Hart Royal Hotel during the English Civil War and didn’t pay his bill!
• Heading back outside, Siobhan and I hunt for key landmarks. The honey-coloured limestone architecture is impressive and we spot the 16th century Curfew Tower, also once used as a local lock-up. On the building is a replica board of the toll charges made in 1905. Adjacent to this is the Mann Institute, established in 1891 by Edith Mann in memory of her father John, a congregation church minister. Other notable buildings include the Redesdale Arms, a 17th century coaching inn and the Redesdale Hall, the town hall, both named in honour of Lord Redesdale, a major benefactor to Moreton. The hall was a subject for painter LS Lowry who visited the Cotswolds in the 1940s. His painting, now part of a private collection, once belonged to Sir Elton John who bought as a souvenir when visiting on a day trip to celebrate the launch of his Rocket record company in 1972.
• Connected to Redesdale is the famous Mitford sisters, granddaughters of Algernon Bertram Mitford, the first Lord Redesdale. Nancy wrote Love in a Cold Climate, first published in 1949 and adapted and filmed by the BBC on location at Batsford Park –the Mitford family’s home. It’s here you will find Batsford Arboretum, dog-friendly 56-acre gardens with trees and shrubs around the world. Other nearby attractions include Cotswold Falconry Centre, Sezincote House – built in the Indian Style, a unique combination of Hindu and Muslim architecture; Norton House Garden, Mill Dene Garden, Cotswold Distillery and Chastleton House.
• We continue our stroll past Manor House Hotel, reputed to be haunted; walk by the Old Parsonage and take note of the Edward VII post box on the wall. Not far away is St David’s Church, built in Gothic style in 1859. There are incidentally many country walks on offer at Moreton Information Centre including the Moreton Eight Walk Trail which enables walkers to reach Batsford Arboretum, Bourton on the Hill or the village of Longborough, promising stunning views across the Evenlode Valley.
• As we ponder Moreton’s merits, it is the peaceful, elegance and timelessness that we enjoy most, and the chance to just be and catch our breath before the school run. And I will just add, yes, there are lovely boutique shops to explore, but the charity shops are great too. I must pay tribute to Acorns, which as a charity celebrates its 30th anniversary this year supporting local childrens’ hospices. I leave the final words about Moreton-in-Marsh with Acorns Manager Sophie Joyce. “I have been working in this town for the past two years and love it so much I intend to move here next year,” she tells us. Siobhan and I can see why. It is self-contained, has historic significance, has plenty of quirky and interesting shops and is architecturally stunning – and has one of the best toy shops in the world!
Moreton Show, one of the country’s biggest one-day agricultural shows takes place on Saturday, September 1. With 350 trade stands showing or selling everything, from Combine Harvesters to Wellington boots and the very best locally produced food, there is plenty to see and do. There will also be thrilling entertainment in the Grand Arena and Attractions Ring, and according to organisers, even some dancing sheep. It is definitely a day of farming, food, fashion and fun.
Another event to watch out for is Moreton-in-Marsh Beer Festival, Friday, September 7 until Saturday, September 8 at Moreton-in-Marsh Cricket Club, 11am-11pm.