After spending the morning at Bibury, we went to Burford, popular as the Gateway to Cotswolds. This nickname is apt because Burford is 18 miles west of Oxford and 22 miles southeast of Cheltenham. It is only around 2 miles from the Gloucestershire boundary.
This charming town sits on the banks of River Windrush and offers visitors some unique sights and experiences. The town got its name from Old English words ‘burh’ and ‘ford’. They meant a fortified town or hill town and a crossing of a river, respectively.
First Impression of Burford Town
As we enter the town passing from the top of a hill towards River Windrush at the bottom, the first thing that strikes us is the traffic and noise. Unlike the quiet, somewhat deserted villages of Cotswolds, Burford seems to be more of a modern-day town. Although the setting gives you a hint of Cotswolds charm, the contrast between Bibury and Burford strikes you right from the first moment.
As we drove through the slope towards the parking lot, we couldn’t help noticing the long line of cars ahead and behind us. Lined on either side of the high street is an unbroken row of houses. But, as we approached the bottom of the hill, they turned into shops and commercial establishments.
Soon we parked our car and got out into the drizzle. It had been raining on and off since noon. Since it didn’t look like we will be getting any respite from it soon, we decided to go out in the wet. Otherwise, we run the risk of spending time cooped up in the car the whole day.
Parking is free of cost and there is a toilet facility too near the entrance. A big shout out to the Burford council for such small, but thoughtful gestures.
Exploring Burford on a Wet Day
There is nothing like a damp day to put our spirits out – no matter how hard you try, the wet, windy conditions put you in a foul mood. Exploring a new place in the rain is not a pleasant experience, especially when you had hoped and dressed for some sunny weather. But then, travellers cannot let the weather stop them and so off we went in search of new sights and sounds.
Gateway to Cotswolds
We walked up to the top of the hill – the view was worth the effort. The road (high street) winded down and disappeared somewhere at the end. Beyond the line of trees and buildings at the far end stood some rolling hills as if to remind us we are still in Cotswolds. In a sense, we needed that reminder.
Although beautiful, honey-coloured yellow limestone buildings and floral decorations surrounded us, the noise and traffic were too much. After the tranquility and quietude of Cotswold villages, the noise and traffic were a crude reminder of our everyday world. Burford was nothing like the Cotswold villages we saw. Both felt like different planets.
But, as we got used to the hustle-bustle of the town, we were able to see the beauty beneath it all. The buildings lined up on either side of the road offered the perfect setting for an evening. There are wide walkways on both sides and all you had to do was enjoy the sights and follow the road down. The cottages on both sides had beautiful gardens and flowers – a very common sight in Cotswolds.
Few Different Buildings
Most of Cotswolds buildings are of the famous honey-coloured yellow limestones. But we could see a few timbered houses/buildings in Burford. These black and white buildings stood out from the others because of their colour difference. It was both surprising and interesting to see them there. We don’t know why or how these buildings came up here – if any of you reading this know more about it, please do tell us in the comment box.
We walked further downhill to reach Tolsey Museum. This is a black and white timbered building, built in the early 1500s. It used to be a market house where traders paid tolls to use market facilities. The Borough Court met here. There was a prison at the back, and its door is on display in the museum that functions here today.
The Tolsey Museum is free to enter between 2 to 5 pm, Tuesday to Sunday. It has a good collection of insignia, charters, maces, and other relics related to the city and its trade. A visitor will find items related to industries like quarrying, bell-foundry, rope-making, brewery, farming, and leather-works, among others.
We recommend a visit to this museum as it will give us a better idea of the socio-cultural fabric of the town. As it is not a huge museum, it will not much of your time. A unique attraction here is a huge dollhouse set in an 18th-century style.
Oldest Pharmacy in England
As we walked down the hill we came across Reavley’s Pharmacy, which is the oldest pharmacy in England. The building housing the pharmacy was a village public house. In 1734, it became an apothecary providing locals with medicinal remedies. It has continued to serve the people of Burford ever since.
When you stand outside the pharmacy, there is nothing to tell you about its uniqueness other than a small plaque with some details. But don’t let appearances fool you. Inside, you’ll find a collection of prescriptions records from the olden days. If you have time on your hand, you might want to go in and take a look around. We decided not to go in and proceeded further down the hill.
Antique and Curios Shops of Burford – Shopper’s Paradise
There are several antique and curio shops in Burford. Some of the antique shops had wares spread in three floors! There are many curios, art and craft shops too. We did a bit of window shopping and later bought a fridge magnet to take back home as a souvenir. We are not great shoppers – but we always try to buy some little things (fridge magnets) from the places we visit as a reminder of the time we spent there.
River Windrush and Bridge
Soon, we arrived at the end of the high street. We saw a bridge there, but it was not possible to cross over because it was too narrow and the traffic was never-ending. There was no pedestrian way. So, tried to get a closer view from underneath.
By then it had started raining. Braving the rain, we walked through some alleyways and reached a small clearing by the side of a hotel. From there, we got a decent view of the river and the bridge.
The bridge was also built with Cotswolds stone and looked charming, But, the rain and noisy traffic were too much that we decided to walk back to our car.
As we entered an alleyway, we passed by Burford School. This school is celebrating its 450th anniversary this year and we found it amazing that this school has been here for almost five centuries! We didn’t expect to find such an old school in this small town. Talk about hidden gems!
Almost all villages in the country have a parish church. Burford is no different. The Church of St John the Baptist is an Anglican church built in the 12th century. They finished the work in the 15th century. Several rich wool merchants and wool farmers donated money towards it. Hence, it became one of many ‘wool churches’ in the region.
It is a magnificent building that displays all the grandeur and splendour the town enjoyed in its prime. It is quite impressive on the inside, with incredible stained glass windows and other architectural features. The Harman memorial on the north wall with its Gill-like South American Indians in relief is a unique attraction here.
The church also saw some gruesome battles during the English Civil War. We read that many were imprisoned and even executed in these premises during that time.
The Warwick Hall near the church is an impressive church and community hall that catches our attention.
Driving Back from Burford
After a quick visit to the church, we returned to the car park with mixed feelings. We were happy to explore Burford and know more about it. But we couldn’t enjoy the visit to the fullest as rain played spoilsport the entire time. Also, after spending a quiet, serene morning at Bibury, the traffic and noise in Burford were a bit annoying.
However, we did enjoy our walk from the top of the hill – the view was really good, even though the endless line of vehicles were kind of an eyesore. But then, life is like that – a mixture of nice and not so nice. As travellers, we have to take it all in our stride. On that note, we drove back to our BnB at Moreton-in-Marsh. There is much more to come. We shall tell you all about it in our next blog. Stay tuned!