A visitor’s guide to Burford
PUBLISHED: 12:08 27 March 2020 | UPDATED: 15:50 27 March 2020
We’ve assembled a brief guide to help you to get the most from your visit to Burford, sponsored by Burford School
Burford School | 01993 823303 | burford.oxon.sch.uk
Burford’s houses and cottages spill down a hillside towards the River Windrush and its beautiful parish church, creating the prettiest introduction to the Cotswolds. One of several spots known as ‘the Gateway to the Cotswolds’, there seems little to recommend turning off the A40 bypass, but Burford is well worth the detour. Ten years ago, Burford made headlines when American magazine Forbes named it one of its top ten ‘Most Idyllic Places to Live’ in Europe, and it’s as glorious to visit today as it is to stay. The High Street shops sell everything from cheese, brushes, flowers and provisions, besides gifts and antiques, and the pubs and inns are welcoming and well-stocked.
Most noted for... its annual Levellers Day commemorations, scheduled this year for May 11, 2019. Burford honours democracy and equality with a day of live music, and historical and political debates in honour of three Levellers who were executed for their belief in religious tolerance and civil rights. Oliver Cromwell’s forces picked out three apparent ringleaders from a crowd who had taken sanctuary in the church and shot them in the town’s churchyard on May 17, 1649, forcing their comrades to watch from the church tower. A plaque on the side of the church marks their names. Past speakers at the event have included politician Tony Benn, and the writer and activist the Revd Giles Fraser.
While you’re here... drop into butchers W J Castle to get a glimpse of its fine old interior as well as its delicious sausages. Or make an excuse to visit Reavley’s to see original apothecary’s cabinets in the oldest pharmacy in England.
But try not to... miss the joy of Burford’s little alleyways and side streets. These lead to tucked away medieval timber and Cotswold stone houses nestled alongside hidden eateries and shops.
King Charles II is said to have met his mistress Nell Gwyn for assignations in the town and one of their sons, Charles, was made Earl of Burford in acknowledgement of his parentage. Now divorced media moguls Matthew Freud and Elisabeth Murdoch bought Burford’s former Benedictine priory and converted it into a home worthy of their power-couple status. The legendary Mary Keen oversaw the priory’s gardens design and the Cotswolds’ great and good gathered for parties there.
Writer Reginald Arkell was educated at Burford grammar school and the novelist Sir Compton Mackenzie and his brother-in-law Christopher Stone lived by the River Windrush. Author JB Priestley stayed in Burford in the early 1930s to research elements of his book English Journey. In the 1800s the town was home to the Prince Regent’s horses.
Once the town’s meeting place where medieval merchants paid their dues, the timber-framed Tolsey house has been turned into a museum full of artefacts. Exhibits include tools and tales relating to the trades that once flourished in Burford, from bell-founding, brewing and leatherworking to clarinet-making. The town charters are also kept at the Tolsey.
St John the Baptist church
The church of St John the Baptist sits along the River Windrush. It was so admired by influential art movement leader William Morris that he established the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. It was later painted in 1948 by artist LS Lowry, and features as one of Simon Jenkins’ top 20 churches in his book England’s Thousand Best Churches.
Just two miles from the town centre, Cotswold Wildlife Park is home to the country’s largest privately owned zoological collection. With over 260 species, expect everything from anteaters to zebras.
Move here for...
And get a fine Grade II-listed 18th century townhouse with an annexe and garage close to the parish church.
Eat at: Huffkins
Why? World-famed for its hand-baked goods, Huffkins café and tearoom serves good coffee and splendid afternoon teas, plus cakes worth breaking a diet for. Staff have been known to package up bread crusts to feed to the local ducks.
Drink at: The Angel
Why? Though you’re spoilt for choice in Burford, the award-winning Angel on Witney Street is one of our favourites. A fine wine list and locally brewed ale are accompanied by a cosy atmosphere and decent menu, a walled garden and sun terrace.
Stay at: The Lamb Inn
Why? Set on a peaceful side street, the Lamb has expanded from 15th century weaver’s cottage to dog-friendly inn, with 17 en-suite rooms furnished in different styles.