The county town, Gloucester, boasting 2,000 years of history and famed for its beautifully preserved Victorian waterfront on what is England’s most inland port, is well worth exploring if you are staying in the Stroud valleys and hankering for a spot of city life.
Don’t miss a visit to the imposing Gloucester Cathedral in the city centre, where you may recognise the fan-vaulted medieval cloisters if you’re a Harry Potter fan because scenes in the hit movie series were filmed there.
Just a short walk away are the historic Gloucester Docks and Gloucester Quays, perfect for people-watching, dining and drinking with the waterfront warehouses converted into museums, restaurants, bars, cafes and outlet shops around communal squares and walkways. Antique lovers will have a field day in the Antiques Centre that covers 11,000 square feet, packed with antiques and collectables of all sorts.
Seek out solitude in the intimate and fantastic Painswick Rococo Garden, designed for gentlemanly leisure and pleasure, hidden in its own valley setting.
If you’re interested in maritime history head for the West Quay where you can see shipwrights and riggers in action pursuing their traditional crafts. The Gloucester Waterways Museum is housed in one of the Victorian warehouses on the docks and is packed with exhibits and hands-on experiences outlining the story of the River Severn and local canals.
The Gloucester Life Museum in Westgate Street is the place to go to discover the city of yore, and the quaint Beatrix Potter Museum and Shop in College Court is a magical spot to celebrate the beloved author’s tale of “The Tailor of Gloucester”.
Laurie Lee is remembered too in the ancient woodland which has been named for him in the Slad Valley. Take a ramble through the three-hectare wood which teems with native flora and fauna. The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust opened the wood next to its Swift’s Hill nature reserve in 2014, to mark the centenary of Lee’s birth.
If you want to learn more about the wonders of Painswick and the nearby villages of Slad, Sheepscombe and Pitcombe, pop into the Tourist Information Centre in Painswick – which bizarrely happens to be located in the Gravedigger’s Hut in the marvellous churchyard of St Mary’s.
A few miles from Stroud on the Gloucester Road, Painswick, lies a sweet and pretty surprise in the form of the only surviving rococo garden in England. It’s a tranquil haven spiced up with some very quirky and fanciful features, including a very unusual maze.
This rather strange garden, nestling in a hidden valley, was designed in the 1740s by the then owner of Painswick House, Benjamin Hyett, as a place to hold intimate and entertaining garden parties. More theatrical than horticultural, the garden is furnished with some fanciful ornamental features, follies and decorations – almost a party playroom for frivolous wealthy Georgians.
The heyday of the Rococo garden was relatively short-lived, and it underwent numerous alterations in the succeeding centuries, ending up abandoned and planted with timber in the 1950s. A descendent of the original designer came to the rescue in the 1980s and the garden has been restored to its former glory, now run by a charitable Trust.
Take a woodland stroll, explore the garden features, sit and enjoy the peace and serenity, then plunder the shop for locally-produced goods, plants, and enjoy a cuppa with some homemade cake in the café.
Before you visit the Rococo Garden it’s worth checking online to see what’s on – there is a long list of seasonal events to enjoy at the garden from bat walks to arts and crafts sessions and an autumn harvest festival.
Prinknash Abbey (St. Peter’s Grange)
Just a few miles north of Painswick, off of the A46 near the village of Cranham, lies Prinknash Abbey – a very active community of Roman Catholic Benedictine monks who welcome visitors.
Prinknash Abbey is the perfect place for quiet contemplation and prayer. Visitors can join in with Mass and other solemnities every day in the Monastery Chapel, and there are accommodations for male guests who might want to stay a few days for “prayer and quiet reflection”.
The peaceful ambience of the monastery extends to a shop and café, where local homemade cakes and refreshments are offered and a large selection of Christian books, cards and gifts are for sale. A speciality of the Prinknash Monks is the blending and production of incense. Their range of incenses, created from age-old secret recipes, are shipped to customers around the world and are, of course, available to buy at the Abbey.
The picturesque Abbey building also has a walled garden that is open to the public.
The nearby Prinknash Bird and Deer Park has no connection with the Abbey or the monks, but it provides an entertaining side visit, particularly for families, having a varied and interesting selection of exotic birds, pygmy goats, miniature donkeys and sundry small wild animals.