Clinging precariously to the steep southern slopes of the Windrush valley, Burford has been an important market town since the 13th century.
The settlement originally grew up around the best fording point across the river – there’s a hint in the name, with burh being Anglo-Saxon for a fortified town. That river can be a fairly modest stream in summer, but swells to a challenging torrent in winter, and so the ford was replaced with a bridge, possibly concurrent with the construction of the town’s Augustinian priory in the 12th century. The bridge that straddles the Windrush today is later, and dates from around the time of the Wars of the Roses, but has been rebuilt and widened several times. It continues to provide a memorable feature to any visit by car or coach, effectively slowing traffic to a standstill as turns are taken to negotiate its narrow walls.
As the town developed, it moved up the hill, above the risk of flooding and onto the steep sides of the valley, from whence the later Medieval and Elizabethan houses enjoy far-reaching views across the rooftops and towards the rolling Cotswold hills. The town is richly endowed with architectural gems from all periods of English history, including the former priory (which closed, an an ecclesiastical building, just ten years ago) and the parish church of Saint John the Baptist, with its fine stained glass and interesting memorials. There was a bell foundry in Burford for over three hundred years, before its closure in 1947.
Handsome stone-built and part-timbered inns and hotels pepper the High Street, while the former Market Hall, recently restored, stands at the heart of a bustling community where antique shops and tearooms vie with high-end boutiques and retailers for the attention of visitors. Those with an eye for history seek out the old Almshouses, and the old Weaver’s Cottages down by the river, while others just revel in the golden glow of the Cotswold stone.
It’s small wonder that Burford has become known as The Gateway to the Cotswolds, and why it is also the hub for several of our own tours through this glorious region.