PUBLISHED: 11:53 16 December 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013
Good Neighbours with...Great characters.Despite the demands of modern tourism, Winchcombe has retained its genuine, ancient quality, says Lady Ashcombe
Winchcombe and Sudeley have marched side by side in neighbourly good spirits for over a millennium. Well, perhaps I should say, mostly in good spirits, as like all fellow citizens living in close proximity, there are the occasional differences of opinion, inconsiderations and other exasperations that tend to ruffle feathers. We are not unlike an old married couple who have put up with each other's annoying habits for so long that we barely bother to comment, unless caught on a bad day.
Emma Dent, in her diary entry of May 3, 1879, wrote: "Long conversation with my housekeeper who told me many discouraging things of the ingratitude of Winchcombe people! I said how I have loved, prayed for, worked for, and devoted myself to Winchcombe and did not think there was any love in return."
Obviously something she had done had miffed the locals and Emma was enjoying a moment of self-pity. She, however, truly did devote her energies, interest and generosity to the community and is kindly remembered to this day for the many benefits she brought to the town.
Sudeley may be splendid and admirable in many ways, however some may not particularly choose this demanding flamboyant old lady as their ideal next-door neighbour in today's world. For a start, she gives noisy late into the night parties and entertainments for boisterous clients, attracts hordes of out-of-towners and their cars through narrow streets, particularly on fine summer days, and could be thought to appear proud and aloof in her grandeur on the edge of the town.
However, despite occasional niggles I see Winchcombe and Sudeley as great and supportive partners. In simple terms, the thousands of castle visitors bring business to Winchcombe and in turn Winchcombe not only provides Sudeley and the estate with an excellent and up-to-date back-up of services, but its ancient history and charming buildings add appeal and interest to tourists exploring the Cotswolds.
When I first arrived at Sudeley in the early 1960s, Winchcombe could be described as a sleepy backwater- an 'interruption' on the road between Cheltenham and Broadway - hardly gaining a mention in the guidebooks. I have a hazy memory of George the Barber, the butcher, Mrs Mason's popular sweet shop, and the George Inn where our weekend guests often slipped off to for a G and T before lunch under the guise of going for a healthy walk. My mother-in-law seemed unaware of the pre-luncheon drink custom that many of our friends enjoyed, although she did produce a silver tray with a bottle of sherry on occasions when entertaining more serious personages for lunch.
Broadway, Chipping Camden , Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water, were among the picturesque Cotswold villages to explore, maybe stopping to browse in an antique shop, before finding a pub or a hotel dining room for a traditional English meal. Over the years, as tourism became a principle activity in the Cotswolds, these towns have kept up with demands and a burgeoning of B & Bs, quaint shops, souvenir emporiums, country markets, elegant country house hotels, caf's and trendy restaurants - even shopping malls - have sprung up on the landscape. But often congested by coaches and sightseers these lovely towns, while catering to popular tastes, may have lost a measure of their original character.
Winchcombe on the other hand has retained its genuine ancient quality, while also moving with the times, and providing locals and visitors alike with an impressive list of traditional and sophisticated shops, boutiques, B&Bs, a high-class hotel, restaurants, and services. There is nary a souvenir shop or coach park in sight and I have become impressed with the quality and variety of the shops, and businesses - which could stand up well in a more urbane community of worldly clientele.
A great ladies' day out, if you have already visited Sudeley that is, would be to arrive in Winchcombe mid-morning, browse the shops and specialist boutiques, go for a delicious light lunch at one of the many good eateries, and wind up with a relaxing beauty treatment in Bull Lane, or hair-styling in one of Winchcombe's fine hairdressers.
For those with less indulgent and more active interests there are many wonderful walks from the town. My favourite is down Vineyard Street to the River Isbourne and up the old Brockhampton Road to the glorious valley beyond the castle and on to Spoonley Villa to discover its Roman ruins where they lie abandoned in a dense wood. This, of course, is provided you have well and truly exhausted the delights of Sudeley and its magnificent gardens, which out of loyalty to the home team I must encourage you to visit often. It would be difficult to take in all of Sudeley and Winchcombe in one day, so I recommend a two or three-day visit.
Find out more about the historic town of Winchcombe at www.visitcotswoldsandsevernvale.gov.uk
Rose Week at Sudeley will be taking place between 8th to 14th June. There will be walking tours of the gardens with the Sudeley gardeners on Monday - Wednesday and Historic Garden Tours from Thursday - Sunday. Visit the website at www.sudeleycastle.co.uk for more information or call 01242 602308.