A week ago I was down visiting a friend in Stroud, Gloucestershire for a well earned break after the stresses of the last nine months, buying and selling a house does nothing for personal stress levels.
The weather was glorious, blue skies but very cold (it was before the latest bit of cold weather blew in) priding an ideal opportunity to get out and about and explore the surrounding countryside.
Stroud is the capital of the south western Cotswolds and located at the divergence of the five Golden Valleys, so named after the monetary wealth created in the processing of wool from the plentiful supply of water power.
Five populated valleys converge at Stroud, ten miles southwest of Cheltenham, creating a bustle of hills. The bustle is not a new phenomenon. During the heyday of the wool trade the river Frome powered 150 mills, turning Stroud into the centre of the local cloth industry. Even now, Stroud is very much a working town, and one which doesn’t need its heritage in order to survive. While some of the old mills have been converted into flats, others contain factories, but only two continue to make cloth – no longer the so-called Stroudwater Scarlet used for military uniforms, but high-quality felt for tennis balls and snooker tables.
Our friend Liz too us along the Chalford Valley and we parked up outside the Lavender Bake House and Coffee Shop (excellent coffee and the best eggs Florentine I have eaten, it is pricy however!). We then walked back along the Thames and Severn Canal taking in a visit to an old textile mill, courtesy of the owner who went to get a key to unlock the mill and then gave us a conducted tour of the splendid working machinery in the mill (now that’s what I call customer service).
What struck me as we walked along was that the houses on the hill side looked very similar to those in West Yorkshire, another former wool producing area. Often four stories high with “under” and “over” dwellings and beautifully maintained. It was just like “being back in Golcar!!!” It is easy to forget that an area that is now associated with tourism was once part of the thriving industrial back bone of England.
In recent years, Stroud has become a thriving alternative centre, its town council Green since 1990 (whatever that means). You’ll see mountains of organic food and sustainable goods for sale in the centre, while the nearby valleys are home to a growing community of artists and New Agers. The Saturday open market in Stroud is well worth a visit for local produce, particularly in summer when fruit and vegetables of the highest quality are in abundance (I speak from personal experience after a visit last summer).
If you have an interest in the industrial heritage of this country then do visit this area.
Photographs (c) Kindadukish 2018