Cheltenham - capital of the Cotswolds

Cheltenham Cotswolds

Cheltenham dates back to an Anglo-Saxon settlement- the name derives  from Celtenhomme, 'the town under the hill' - and had a monastery by 803. King Alfred the Great wrote about the peaceful  settlement on  the River Chelt. It developed into a market town by the 13th century.

The discovery of the spa waters here in 1716 that really put the town on the map.  According to local legend - the spring waters were discovered by a  flock of pigeons  on the site of what is now the famous Ladies College. Noticing that the pigeons seemed to thrive, local people tried the waters and found that they helped cure many of the disorders that afflicted 18th century England. Realising that there was money to be made from this spa water, businessmen started to develop the town in order to attract the wealthy and famous to take the waters - something that was a bit of a popular pastime at that time..

Many famous and distinguished people like Samuel Johnson and  Handel came to take the waters. But it was the visit of George III in 1788 that really put it on the fashionable map of Britain. 'Farmer George' as he was popularly known stayed at Bayshill and after 'taking the waters' walked regularly around the town with his family.

Cheltenham continued to flourish een when the popularity of  Spa towns waned,   due to the fame of a group of fine craftsmen. After the Second World War, the town started attracting businesses that could benefit from being outside London -  the Government Communications Headquarters (G.C.H.Q) which has become one of the West's most important secret surveillance centres, Eagle Star, Gulf Oil,, U.C.C.A.S. and the Countryside Commission  have all come here.

If you want to take a short stroll round the town, you can walk from into Pittville Park which  has two scenic lakes and  verdant lawns with colourful flower beds. If you feel like tasting the spa waters that made the town famous, then stop at the Pittville Pump to "take the waters" - The Pump Room also houses the Gallery of Fashion. The displays of flowers in the numerous parks like Pittville and Sandford  have helped win the Britain in Bloom trophy.

Walking on towards the centre of town, you pass the Holst Birthplace Museum  which houses exhibits on Gustav Holst- the composer of the Planets Suite. In the centre of town is Art Gallery and Museum which always has a wide range of special exhibitions. On through  the centre of town via the wide, tree-lined Promenade (perhaps the finest Regency street in Britain) you go  past the Municipal Offices, the Imperial Gardens (which holds summer exhibitions by local artists) and  a number of other impressive Regency buildings

You will then reach the Montpellier district  with  another spacious park on one side of the road and a parade of speciality shops on the other. These shops are worth pausing at because of their architecture - between each shop is a statue of a Caryatid - a handsome figures based on the Acropolis in Athens.

Cheltenham is synonymous with National Hunt Racing. The National Hunt Season culminates every year with the The  Gold Cup. Gold Cup week is in March and  everyone is gripped by Gold Cup fever. The National Hunt festival is held at Cheltenham Racecourse just to the north of the town. It attracts visitors from all over the world, but it it the Irish who have made it their own - if there is an Irish winner, then the Guinness flows. The racecourse is set in a natural bowl with the Cotswold Hills making a spectacular backdrop. Apart from Gold Cup week, the racecourse is home to many other race meetings and events throughout the year.

Cheltenham itself offers some of the best shopping outside West London. Shopping offers rich diversity thanks to the wide variety of quality shops, plus lots of cosy tea shops that offer the visitor a chance to pause in the shopping from time to time.  Of special interest are the Regent Arcade with its Wishing Clock and Beechwood Place, the town's latest shopping mall.

There are lots of festivals every year - the International Festival of Music started in 1944 to foster contemporary British music, and is held each July and it  has become one of  the best regarded music festivals in the world. Performances and talks are given at various venues in the town and in recent years a well supported Cheltenham Fringe Festival has given an extra piquancy to the event.

The County Cricket Festival is another regular event.  Gloucestershire play host to other first class and international teams. This festival which was first run in 1872 takes place in the grounds of Cheltenham Boys College and the spectacular College buildings are right in character for county cricket.

A newer event is the Festival of Literature. During the ten days of this festival there are readings and discussions by famous authors and celebrities.

And all year round, the restored Everyman Theatre puts on  productions by various theatre groups. The Playhouse Theatre is the base for many amateur companies. In addition the Town Hall holds a number of concerts and exhibitions including an Ideal Home Exhibition.

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Cheltenham, capital of the Cotswolds