Set on the banks of the gentle River Stour, which rises just 10 miles away, Shipston-on-Stour is a beautiful small market town. Cattle once passed through here, following a network of ancient trackways that brought them from as far as Carmarthen in Wales, heading to London markets.
Indeed, Shipston owes its existence as a town to its location near a number of long distance routes. Nearby is the Fosse Way, an old Roman road that linked Exeter to Lincoln. It passes within a mile of the town and is now a fast thoroughfare.
The town was also on the old stagecoach route that ran from Oxford to Birmingham, evidenced by the number of former coaching inns and hotels that are still in existence today.
Shipston’s street plan, with its marketplace, courtyards and alleyways, dates back to medieval times. The town is a piece of living history, with a pretty mix of houses and shops in both local red brick and grey Cotswold stone.
It also once had an important sheep market and its name derives from ‘sheep-wash town’ as that activity took place in the local river in summer. Today the town retains its bustling independence, offering a warm welcome.
A shopper’s paradise
Perhaps surprising for such a small and self-sufficient a town (population 4,500) is the number of shops it has. It is a focal point for the surrounding rural area – and with more than 50 small independent shops it is shopping heaven.
Foodie shops include a butchers, selling meat named by breed that has been reared and slaughtered locally and “hung for maturity, tenderness and flavour.” Added to this are a poulterer and fishmonger, greengrocer, delicatessens, bakery, pharmacy, newsagent and cook shop – all within walking distance of free car parks.
Other small independent shops include an old-fashioned haberdashery as well as a shop specialising in needlework supplies and yarns. There’s an antiques shop, a clockmaker, a saddlers, a toyshop and also a supplier of artist’s materials.
Fashions are not neglected and there is even a shoe shop-cum-gentleman’s outfitter founded in 1901. Not to be missed is the excellent wine merchant, started in 1842 and still in the same premises with labyrinthine purpose-built cellars.
The town is home to The Stour Gallery which holds a number of exhibitions throughout the year. It also has a library, housed in the former Quaker Meeting House which dates from 1685. In addition there are heritage walks throughout the town, an annual Wool Fair, the Shipston Proms and a Victorian Christmas event.
Shipston is a Transition Town – a community-led response to the pressures of climate change and fossil fuel depletion. Its activities include harvest fairs, tree planting, creating outdoor play areas, and encouraging the use of local shops.
So far the town has avoided being dominated by national chains of shops. Some residents fear that the character of the town would change forever if a national supermarket proved successful in its aim to move in. For now, though, the town retains its very special atmosphere.
How to get there
The town is 10 miles south of Stratford-upon-Avon on the A3400.
Find out more
The town’s official website.
Talking the Walk
An audio walk is available to download free.
12 Church Street,
The library offers a leaflet of walks exploring the town.
Mrs Brown’s Tea Room
23a High Street, Shipston-on-Stour
Traditional and award-winning tea rooms.