Cirencester is a remarkable town, a “must visit”, yet often overlooked. It’s the largest town in the Cotswolds, dating back to Roman times and continuing in importance through Saxon, Norman, Tudor and modern times. It’s even got the oldest agricultural college in the English speaking world.
Although it’s known for its Roman connections, there has been human settlement dating back much further, with artefacts from the stone and bronze age being unearthed. In Roman times, the town was known as Corinium. A fort was established to assist with the conquest of Wales. Once Wales had been conquered, the fort was demolished, but the town continued to thrive. Roman villas are still in evidence in the surrounding area, Chedworth being one of most notable and run by the National Trust, is open to visitors.
Evidence of Roman settlement is still in the town, with the amphitheatre just outside the town centre, free to visit and stroll around. It’s easily walkable from the town centre and well signposted.
In Saxon times, a minster church was built, but this was later demolished in favour of the Norman abbey, which took half a century to build. During Tudor times and the dissolution of the monestaries, Henry VIII ordered the demolition of the abbey buildings, but the Norman arch and part of a wall remain and are found in a beautiful public park in the middle of the town. The thriving wool industry provided the funds to build the large parish church in the early 1500s. Still standing and know as the cathedral of the Cotswolds.
The church (St John the Baptist) is worth a visit. There are restrictions during services, but outside of these, you are free to wander around and take photos. It is quite spectacular. Right in the centre of the beautiful old town and just next to the park.
Cirencester is full of quirky shops, pubs, restaurants, with several car parks tucked out of the way around the town centre.
I stayed one night at the De Vere Cotswold water park, just outside the town and one night at the King’s Head Hotel. The De Vere is a very modern hotel complex. Not the sort of place I’d usually opt for, but I had a wonderful stay and it was a shame that I arrived in the dark and only stayed one night. The hotel is very dog friendly. Many of the rooms look over the water and the staff couldn’t be nicer. Breakfast was good. But the wagging tails all around me at the were the highlight. They have doggie packages, so if you want to go away, but can’t bear to leave your trusty companion behind, this is the hotel for you.
The Kings Head is a boutique hotel. The rooms are quirky and all unique. Being a very old building, don’t be surprised by sloping floors and stairs. The main disadvantage is that it’s right in the town centre, so you will have to park overnight in one of the town car parks. They helpfully provide all details. Also quite noisy in some rooms, but I was around the back and had a peaceful night.
With so much to do in the town and surrounding areas, Cirencester has a bit of everything. You can do country walks, shopping, dining and visit a variety of historical sites easily. If you haven’t been, you should ask yourself “why not”.