An expert judging panel visited locations across the UK, chatting to local people and looking at transport links and schools, to discover the best places to live in 2023. And Cirencester was crowned winner of the South West region.
Its position in the paper’s prestigious round-up won’t come as a surprise to those of us lucky enough to call Cirencester home. We enjoy our town’s friendly, welcoming vibe and the fact that as a market town it’s not too big, not too small but just right.
Cirencester boasts an impressive array of independent shops for a start. Blackjack Street (nicknamed little Notting Hill by some) is a picturesque avenue leading up to the stunning cathedral-like medieval parish church of St John the Baptist and the Market Place with its candy-coloured shop fronts. On that one street alone, there is an independent children’s bookshop; an old-fashioned sweet shop; an art shop; a butcher; a baker; a pub; cafés; restaurants; and fashion, beauty, interiors and gift boutiques. Across the Market Place there is a greengrocer and a fishmonger. The Market Place still plays host to regular markets and on a Friday and Saturday the quiet of the week gives way to a vibrant buzz with locals and visitors alike coming to shop or just to have a coffee and a browse.
When it comes to culture, we are blessed with the award-winning Corinium Museum which chronicles Cirencester’s history including its stint as a key Roman town (those Romans knew it was a great place to live even then) and the award-winning Barn Theatre, a small, independent playhouse which is going from strength to strength. Putting on West End-worthy plays it has a close relationship with Sir Michael Morpurgo who has entrusted the Barn to adapt two of his books for its stage. It also hosts the Barn Cinema, showing a range of new films. New Brewery Arts is a converted brewery which now houses artist studios, a café and shop and runs an inspiring range of art classes for adults and children.
Opened in 1870 the Open Air Pool continues to delight playing children and serious swimmers alike in its beautiful setting on the edge of Cirencester Park. Fed by a natural spring, it has a main pool and a small pool for children as well as a tuck shop. The community is also served by a library, which runs story time sessions for children, and a leisure centre as well as lots of sports clubs including the Polo Club with its royal connections.
Of course, Cirencester nestles in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so glorious countryside and life-enhancing walks are all around us. You don’t even need to go far – the entrance to Cirencester Park, a former deer park and the estate of the Bathurst family, lies in the town centre and is open to the public from 8-5 every day. A new visitor centre which includes Roots + Seeds café, restaurant and children’s play area, welcomes arrivals to the park.
On the edge of the town is the spectacular Roman amphitheatre managed by English Heritage. A wonderfully evocative place for a walk and the best place for rolling down grassy hills (or sledging in the snow).
There’s lots to do for families, and if you’ve got a dog, all the better. They are part of the fabric of life here and are welcome in many shops and cafes.
All this and trains from nearby Kemble get you into London Paddington in just over an hour.
As The Sunday Times says, ‘This delectable market town may brand itself as the capital of the Cotswolds, but it’s not your typical Cotswold town…It has markets, an array of shops, parks, cafés and a smattering of culture to elevate it above the coach-party, olde worlde norm.’