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Stow on the Wold is a vibrant and busy market town in The Cotswolds that you must visit while you’re in the area.
It has a fascinating history dating back to Roman times and so you’ll find an eclectic mix of ancient buildings and a church dedicated to their patron saint, St Edward!
Although many people make a beeline for this famous church with its magical Tolkien door, there are plenty more things to do in Stow on the Wold that make it worth visiting.
You can explore the myriad of shops, tearooms, art galleries, and hidden gems. It’s the reason why I always find myself coming back – there’s always something new to discover.
Here is a list of the very best things to do in Stow on the Wold, Cotswolds in 2023!
Why is it called Stow on the Wold?
Stow on the Wold is an ancient wool town here in the Cotswolds and has a history dating back to the Roman Times.
Later, the Saxons settled in this area, and its thought that a missionary named Edward lived as a hermit at the well on the south side of town.
This then created the name ‘St Edward’s Stow’ or ‘Edwardstow’, Stow meaning Holy Place. This is where the name of St Edward’s Church comes from as it was built to honour him.
Wold comes from the Old English world ‘Wald’ which means forest. But, also could be loosely translated to ‘open place on high ground’.
Stow is The Cotswold’s highest town located on a hill that is 800 feet above sea level! So, Stow on the Wold literally translates to ‘Holy Place on the Hill’.
Stow on the Wold history
Ever since the Iron Age, there have been settlers in Stow on the Wold. But, the most prominent early settlers were the Romans.
Fosse Way, or the Roman Road, runs straight over the town. This used to lead all the way to Londinium or London and provided a route to Exeter, Lincoln, Bath, Cirencester, and Leicester. It still does to this very day!
Later, when the Saxons settled in Stow, they named this settlement Edwardstow due to the missionary, St Edward, the patron saint of the town!
Henry II then granted the town a charter in 1107 to hold a market. This is when he changed the name from Edwardstow to Stow on the Wold.
Later, Edward III granted Stow on the Wold a charter to hold the annual Stow Fair. This used to be one of the largest in the country and was held to trade sheep and wool products.
In the 17th-century, during the English Civil War, Stow on the Wold was the place where a massacre took place.
Known as the Battle of Stow on the Wold, a Royalist Army was marching through the area to meet with King Charles. The Parliamentarians managed to stop them here at Stow and then imprisoned over 1,000 Royalist soldiers in St Edward’s Church.
Almost all were slaughtered and it is said that there was so much blood running through the streets that Duck’s could swim in it. Hence why you’ll find the name Digbeth Street in the town, meaning ‘Duck’s Bath’!
You can see the English Civil War monument to mark this sombre event in Stow Market Square.
Best things to do in Stow on the Wold
So, what is there to do in Stow on the Wold? Well, although most visitors make beeline for the church here, there are plenty of things to see beyond that!
Stow is a wonderful busy town that comes alive with independent boutiques, art galleries, antique shops, and tearooms throughout the day to enjoy.
It all surrounds the ancient market square with historic buildings and hidden gems to discover. Here are the best things to do in Stow on the Wold!
1. Wander around the Stow market square
Most of the attractions in Stow on the Wold can be found from the busy market square that sits in the heart of the town.
You can take a stroll around here and admire many of the ancient buildings that have been built in a higgledy-piggledy fashion.
The central building with a tall spire is the Stow on the Wold Library and Visitor Centre, so you could pop in here to pick up a map of the town when you arrive.
Around Stow Market Square you’ll find many pubs like The Talbot, The Queen’s Head, The King’s Arms, and The Stag.
There is a traditional Organic Shop that sells fresh produce or you can find out some local history with the Stow Civil War monument that sits near the crossroads to Digbeth Street and Church Street.
2. Visit the Tolkien Door at St Edward’s Church
One of the most popular things to do in Stow on the Wold is to find the ‘Tolkien Door’ that is hidden behind St Edwards’ Church.
This gorgeous door that is flanked by two ancient yew trees is thought to be a real-life Moria that inspired the Doors of Durin in Lord of the Rings.
J. R. R. Tolkien was a frequent visitor of the Cotswolds and used to meet his brother at The Bell inn in Moreton-in-Marsh so it is a very real possibility, although never proven.
Regardless, this is one of my favourite doors in all of England as it looks like a magical portal that could transport you to another world!
3. Treat yourself to a coffee & cake at Huffkins
I love the Huffkin’s chain here in The Cotswolds and I always try to pop inside for a coffee and a cake if I can.
Stow Huffkin’s is a cosy retreat opposite the Stow Library and you can treat yourself to a coffee or tea. The perfect pairing is one of their famous warm Lardy Cakes, a house specialty!
As well as sweet treats they also serve up a selection of light bites and sandwiches throughout the day if you were feeling peckish. It can get busy on weekends, so booking a table in advance is highly recommended.
4. Have lunch at The Porch House, the Oldest Inn in England!
There are many inns in England that claim to be the oldest, but The Porch House in Stow on the Wold has a strong claim.
It used to be called the Royalist Hotel and it has been authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records as England’s Oldest Inn being certified as dating back to 947AD.
Today, most of the building dates back to the 16th-century and you’ll find some curious ‘witch marks’ on their fireplace.
The Porch House is open for drinks, lunch, and dinner throughout the day and has rooms to book for the night. Click here to see a menu.
5. Go Stow antique shopping
Another one of the most popular things to do in Stow on the Wold is to go antique shopping.
So, if you find that you are a bargain hunter, there’s an endless list of antique shops dotted around the town that you can visit!
Many of the shops specialise in certain types of antiques, like furniture, but many are a treasure trove of different items that date from years past all the way to the present day.
It’s worth popping inside a few to see what gems you can find. Click here to find a list of Stow’s antique shops
6. Head into the Fosse Gallery
The Fosse Gallery is often described as one of the most important UK art galleries that showcase contemporary British Art.
It was founded in 1980 by Gerard O’ Farrell and Brian Sinfield and initially, it featured Victorian watercolours.
Later, they started to showcase British contemporary artists. Today, the Fosse Gallery is managed by Sharon Wheaton.
As well as selling art, the gallery regularly holds exhibitions of local and internationally renowned artists. So, it’s worth stopping by to see what is on display during your visit.
7. See the Stow medieval stocks!
One of the more curious things to do in Stow on the Wold is to check out their old medieval stocks that sit in Market Square.
If you didn’t know, stocks used to be a form of punishment years ago for petty crimes. The prisoner would have either their wrists or ankles locked in the stocks for a few hours or overnight.
Passers-by would usually tease them, judge them or throw rotten food their way (yes, that actually happened – it’s not just in the movies)! Thankfully, we don’t use that as punishment anymore.
Stow’s medieval stocks are through to date back to the 15th-century and so they are quite a famous landmark in the Cotswolds.
8. Have afternoon tea at Lucy’s
Another café that is worth visiting is Lucy’s Tearoom which sits in Stow Market Square in a gorgeous grade II listed building.
Although you can pop in for breakfast, lunch, or coffee & cake throughout the day, they are famous for their Lucy’s Cream Tea!
You can order their cream tea with fruit scones and lashings of jam & cream. Or, their Stow Afternoon Tea is served on a cake tier with all the trimmings.
It comes with finger sandwiches, dainty cakes, scones, and a steaming pot of loose leaf tea of your choosing! Click here to see a menu.
Lucy’s do not take any advanced bookings and seating is on a first-come-first-served basis. So, I would get here early on weekends!
9. Visit the Old Fountain
Another historic landmark you can find in stow is the Old Fountain and Horse Trough. This sits in a place called The Triangle near Fosse Way road.
This fountain was donated to the people of Stow on the Wold in 1896 and provided a supply of clean water to the inhabitants of the town!
10. See the Old Post Box
You’ll probably find many postboxes around the country today read “E R”. These initials stand for our current monarch, Elizabeth Regina, or Queen Elizabeth in Latin.
But, if you visit The Triangle you’ll see an old postbox that dates back to the Edwardian Times!
It also reads “E R” but these initials stand for “Edward Rex” in Latin being King Edward VII. It was placed there sometime between 1901 and 1910.
10. Visit the Cotswold’s Cheese Company
If you wanted to try some of the local cheese here in The Cotswolds then The Cotswolds Cheese Company is the place to do it.
They have a few artisan cheese branches here in the Cotswolds and so you must stop by Stow’s if you’re in town.
They have a huge range of handpicked local cheeses as well as cheeses found across the country and beyond to Europe!
You can find their store on 1-2 Fountain Court on Digbeth Street in a quaint historic building.
11. Take in the incredible views!
Although most of Stow on the Wold is made up of historic buildings, you’re never too far away from amazing views being surrounded by the rolling hills of the countryside.
If you head beyond the Old Well to the A429 Road on Fosse Way, cross over it and you’ll find a gate there. You’ll be greeted with a surprise view!
From here you can see Lower Swell just to your left and to the right is Upper Swell. Plus, you’ll probably find some sheep grazing in the fields too. It’s as pretty as a postcard.
It’s a popular photography location found here and, although hidden, it does draw quite a few visitors.
12. Head on a road trip around the Cotswolds
After your visit to Stow on the Wold, you’re in the perfect place to explore even more amazing Cotswolds villages and towns.
Just beyond Stow on the Wold, you’ll find Moreton-in-Marsh which has a huge Tolkien connection. Indeed, you can visit The Bell Inn pub or the Four Shire Stone both inspired locations in Lord of the Rings.
Even further, you’ll reach the gorgeous towns of Chipping Campden and Broadway with the incredible Broadway Tower! Snowshill is also a hidden gem that’s worth a visit, click here to find more things to do.
Bourton on the Water is one of the most popular places to visit in the Cotswolds but don’t let that put you off. There are plenty of attractions here like the model village and the motor museum. It’s often called the Venice of the East.
How to visit Stow on the Wold in the Cotswolds
Stow on the Wold is a market town that is easily accessible on the A429 road, or Fosse Way, that snakes through the Cotswolds.
The easiest way to access the village is to drive as the Cotswolds has limited public transport in this area.
There is no train station in Stow on the Wold. The closest would be Moreton-in-Marsh which has a connection to London Paddington. You can then easily take a bus or taxi to Stow from there.
Stow on the Wold postcode is GL54 1AB. Click here for a Google Pin!
Stow on the Wold parking
There is plenty of roadside parking around Stow Market Square that is free and on a timed limit for two hours.
This gives you plenty of time to explore the village and pop into a tearoom (or two) while you’re here!
Is Stow on the Wold worth visiting?
100% yes, it’s a vibrant and historic market town with lots to offer visitors on a day out in The Cotswolds.
The must-see highlights have to be the Market Square and St Edward’s Church. But, there’s lots more to see and do around the town.
I would recommend spending an hour or two exploring all the historic shops and buildings and stopping to indulge in a tearoom while you’re here!
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