"On And Off The Beaten Path" Chipping Norton by johngayton
Chipping Norton Travel Guide: 53 reviews and 108 photos
"Chippy", as Chipping Norton is affectionately known to its residents, is a smallish market town straddling the A44 trunk road about halfway between Oxford and Worcester. Located in the northwest corner of Oxfordshire, on the fringe of the Cotswolds, the town is surrounded by a rolling rural landscape of fields, pasture and woodland within which it is one of the physical highpoints.
Although the town stretches for a good mile (a proper "country mile") along its main thoroughfare a couple of minutes walk laterally in either direction bring you into this open countryside which is liberally veined with public footpaths and bridleways. The land to the north, west and south is part of the designated Cotswolds "Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty" whilst to the east the fertile farmlands preclude any major development in that direction. Thus Chippy is, for the foreseeable future, an island of urbanity in its sea of rurality.
The name "Chipping Norton" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for "Northern Market Town" and Chippy's history pretty much revolves around its role as both a market town and as a waystop between Oxford and Worcester.
The Normans built a castle and church here and in 1204 the town was granted a Royal Charter by King John to hold a fair for the sale of wool. During the Medieval and Middle Ages the town prospered from the back of the sheep and in 1606, during the reign of James I, became a Royal Borough.
Much of the present-day town's layout was established during this period with a 19th century makeover in the Georgian-style adding the impressive facades of the main street's buildings.
The eye-catching centrepiece town hall was built in 1842 as a multi-purpose civic building with the council chambers on the first floor, almost level with the High Street, whilst collonaded underneath was the town's four jail cells, the garage for the fire engine, the weighbridge and a market space which was variously used for poultry, butter and corn dealing.
Not long after the original town hall was built the railway came to Chippy with the line being officially opened in 1855. According to one account over 400 navvies were involved in the construction which was a major boost to the town's pub trade. One guestimate has it that there were 4 inns and 22 public houses at the time when the population would have been less than 2,500.
These days the population has more than doubled, the railway is no more, passengers numbers and freight traffic decreasing as the infernal-combusting-engined vehicles took over. There are now a total of seven pubs/inns (maybe 8 if you include Whistler's cafe/bar).
The pubs though are a delight ranging from the uber-trendy Crown and Cushion to the traditonal cracker of the Red Lion with its open fire and genial shooting-of-the-bull banter. The in-betweenies cover the rest of the spectrum with something to suit all tastes and I even found a 2.8% beer at the Chequers which was suitably unimpressive as a beer in an otherwise excellent pub.
But more about the pubs once I get round to adding a few "Things To Do" tips.
- Pros:Pleasant Small Town Atmosphere and Friendly Pubs
- Cons:A Few Too Many Motor Vehicles For My Tastes
- In a nutshell:Metaphysically Middle England, Physically Middle Of The Road
With only a brief afternoon visit this time round, and several of the pubs requiring two (or in the case of The Chequers... more travel advice
I've given this one a mention under "Restaurants" and indeed the light lunch I had I thoroughly enjoyed. However as pubs... more travel advice
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