There are just a handful of British towns that have been granted Royal status: Tunbridge Wells, Leamington Spa and Wootton Bassett. But a first-time visitor to Tetbury would be forgiven for thinking that this elegant Gloucestershire market town is
a member of that elite group.
It’s an understandable assumption, given that the place that made its wealth from the medieval wool trade is now known worldwide for its royal associations. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall live and farm just outside the town at Highgrove, the three-storey Georgian country house where the young princes, William and Harry, both grew up.
Princess Anne lives just a few miles away at Gatcombe Park and other members of the Royal Family are familiar faces at the polo matches and horse trials that take place at nearby Cirencester and Badminton. But the jewel in this rural crown must surely be the organic gardens at Highgrove. Lovingly created by the Prince of Wales over the last 30 years, the gardens form a sequence of themed outdoor ‘rooms’ where art, architecture and horticulture seem to melt into one. The gardens are open to the public, with profits donated to the Prince’s charities.
But be warned – demand for the pre-booked tours is high and ticket availability for 2012 is limited. Luckily, you can still get a flavour of the royal residence by calling in at the Highgrove Shop in Long Street. This warm, inviting emporium is the place to purchase exclusive gifts approved by the Prince himself. There’s everything from bone china teapots and willow picnic baskets to garden DVDs and Union Jack throws.
A taste of honey
Long Street itself is one of the finest old Cotswold streets to have survived virtually intact, and it’s dominated by the soft, golden-coloured local stone and town houses topped by steep, pitched roofs with gently weathered Cotswold tiles. The town centre is a magnet for antique hunters, with more than 20 shops selling bygones and collectables.
You can take a medieval meander down the cobbled Chipping Steps before visiting the two buildings that dominate Tetbury: one is the tall, slender spire of St Mary’s Church, which is one of the oldest and best-preserved Georgian Gothic churches in the country; the other is the 17th-century pillared Market House. It still hosts regular sales and fairs and, over the centuries, it’s been used as the town lock-up, the magistrates’ court and, at one time, it even housed the local fire engine.