Cirencester ticked so many of the Fancy a Cuppa? boxes that it goes onto the list of those towns where one day we may want to live.
Of course, we were in the ‘Capital of the Cotswolds’ because there’s an open air swimming pool here and we got lucky with the weather…
To get to Cirencester’s open air pool you have to leave the main road through town and follow a pretty path running alongside the stream, following this signpost for directions.
The setting hasn’t got the raw beauty of Ilkley Moor or the splendour of the sea off Gourock, but this place has to be in my Top 5 UK lidos from our tour so far. As well as the stream, there’s the majestic outline of the old barracks just visible over the wall around the pool. On a bright, sunny day like this, it’s an idyllic spot.
The pool was built in 1869, making it surely one of the oldest still in use in the UK today? These days, it’s heated, though it still gets its water from the same source as ever: a spring bubbling up nearby; and some of the equipment dates from when the heating was first installed in the 1930s.
At 28m, it’s a good length for a workout with just those extra couple of strokes over a 25m pool, and easier to handle for the unfit swimmer like me who was puffing a bit in Cheltenham’s 50m.
Coffee in Cirencester is a joy as well.
In the centre of town is the wonderful Cotswold Artisan Coffee, run by the extremely friendly Barry and Mandy. They moved to Cirencester from Swindon just under a year ago and changed the name of their business (well, Swindon is hardly in the Cotswolds…), but I have it on good authority (from Brian’s Coffee Spot) that, for the rest, they have simply transferred their ideas and approach to the new venue in Cirencester.
This is a real coffee lover’s dream venue, with espresso beans from the local roaster Rave Coffee (visited later in the day) and a guest roast from UE coffee in Oxfordshire. But there’s also a Brew Bar, allowing those ‘real’ coffee buffs to choose their V60, drip or aeropress…
But regular readers will know I’m always after the perfect cappuccino or flat white, for which of course the milk is just as important…And these guys have chosen to get their milk from a local dairy – you really can taste the difference, you know.
Amazingly, the coffee and the conversation (with both Barry and some fellow drinkers) were so captivating that I forgot to take notes on the cake. But I have fond memories of those too, and read on for more because I was forced to return later for my tea…
Cirencester is one of those towns you can happily saunter round for hours, just enjoying the feel and look of the warm Cotswold stone buildings and the quirky shops on – and off – the High Street.
The top attraction for me, though, was just on the edge of town, and actually a little bit hard to find. The Roman Amphitheatre is half way down a residential street with no dedicated car park, and just an inconspicuous wooden gate to go through towards the hilly area, which is in fact the tiering of the amphitheatre seating.
Yes, Cirencester’s Roman remains are totally covered in grass, so you just have to stand there and imagine what it must have been like 1,800 years ago. On one level this is probably preferable to those places that have completely rebuilt ancient settlements or buildings using modern materials, but I can’t help thinking it would be amazing to let archaeologists loose on the site, just to see what they unearth – I mean they could end up with something akin to what they have in St Albans, which is well worth a visit.
The amphitheatre is handily placed on the way out of town towards the local coffee roasters, Rave Coffee.
You might think there wouldn’t be much footfall on a semi-industrial estate on the outskirts of town. But there was a steady stream of people passing through during the half hour or so I was there, so they’ve clearly built up a loyal customer base in their two years in town.
It’s a great spot to take a pew (literally) and taste some of the coffee roasted on-site; and if you time it right, you can watch the whole roasting process through the clear glass windows that offer a gallery down onto the roasting area.
I went for the signature blend, based around a Sumatran Mandheling bean, a chance to taste some Indonesian coffee, since we have plans to be over that way later in the year.
And the great thing about real quality coffee is that it doesn’t make you all zippy and over caffeinated, at least that was my argument as I rushed back down into town to try to find tea…
Now, coffee in Cirencester may be everything the coffee gurus desire. But tea…Oh dear, oh dear.
I put my head round the door of a couple of the tea rooms in town and was just underwhelmed. I know for many people that run tea rooms the real interest lies in the baking, with tea being an added extra to wash down those cakes. And sometimes that suits me, too.
But I’ve said it before and I’m afraid I’ll be saying it again: I’m just not willing to pay a couple of quid for a pot of tea that I could make at home with big company tea bags I can buy at the supermarket for about 5p a cup.
So, having spotted earlier on that Cotswold Artisan Coffee stocked some interesting looking teas, back I popped for an afternoon cuppa…
The loose leaf teas sold here are actually blended in Germany by a company called Ronnefeldt, who I subsequently found out have been going strong since 1823, so never let it be said that the Germans don’t know much about tea!
There’s a great selection of black, white, green teas and lots more, though I stuck to my usual Assam (or was it Earl Grey this time?). With the handy egg-timer to ensure it brewed for the right amount of time, it made the perfect cuppa, light to the taste and refreshing in a way that those corporate bags just don’t manage.
So our top tip for tea in Cirencester is simply to go back to Cotswold Artisan Coffee. Barry and Mandy won’t mind! It gave me a chance to try another of their cakes too: this time a home-baked banana bread.
Now, that’s how to finish off a great day in the Cotswolds.