Often overlooked by its more ambitious neighbour Cheltenham, Gloucester sits quietly amid many Cotswold towns and cities more readily celebrated for their charms. Significant history dating back to the Roman occupation, beautiful examples of English architectural styles through the ages and picturesque waterways are just a few examples of the offerings it’s not given credit for.
I purposefully started this article in a style I use for many ‘top 5’ blogs and articles. Working in travel I am often singing the praises of locations around the world, and often the lesser-known areas to get ‘off-the-beaten-track’ in. Growing up in Gloucester, I struggled to find positive things to say about it; the town centre is run-down and levels of homeless people seem to have increased in recent years. It also sits in the shadows of Cheltenham which conversely attracts a lot of tourists with the races, annual Literature Festival and designer shops, but I feel a lot of people fail to notice Gloucester’s bewitching qualities which can’t be found elsewhere.
Having relocated to Oxfordshire, I now walk down the streets with refreshed eyes and notice many things I’d have previously ignored or failed to see. Maybe it’s because Oxford is full of demanding architecture at every turn that I now look at Gloucester more vividly than I used to.
This weekend I took my partner to some of my favourite places that I’d never shown her, seeing them through her eyes – those of someone who has never been before, with no preconceptions – made me see things I have seen a thousand times in a totally different light. It made me realise what an interesting place Gloucester actually is, and made me want to share some of its strengths.
Visit the majestic Cathedral
Likely the most impressive feature of Gloucester is its Cathedral encompassing over 1,300 years of heritage. Its tall, detailed finials are visible from almost anywhere in the city and approaching roads. Its formations were first laid in 1089 with art and sculpture at very heart of its grand plan. Dynamic stories of the past can be discovered throughout the building, from the monumental nave pillars to layers of intricate stonework. The graves and shrines of notable figures including royalty illustrate the changing face of England, local life and spirituality.
One of my favourite features is the stained-glass which date all the way from the 14th century to present day. In the summer or even a bright winter day, they send a kaleidoscope of colour across the sandy interior creating an ethereal atmosphere. The Dean and Chapter commissioned modern stained-glass work from artists such as Thomas Denny in 2014, the contrast of this sitting in such close proximity to grand pieces from hundreds of years ago reminds me that they were patiently painted by hand.
I also love the ceilings throughout the cathedral, especially the level of detail and precision in the curved ribbing throughout the cloisters which were used to depict the corridors of Hogwarts during the Harry Potter films.
Explore the Historic Docks
Originally built for the storage and processing of imported wheat, barley, oats, maize, linseed and cottonseed, the warehouses of Gloucester have now been turned into modern apartments or office spaces and one has been transformed into an antique centre. Uniform red brick walls with slate roofs built with practicality in mind stand handsomely on the edges of the narrow boat clad canals adding a depth of character to The Docks. The small windows were originally built for ventilation rather than light, and are one of the only unfortunate features of them as homes.
The Docks have undergone a facelift in the last few years with the introduction of Gloucester Quays; a sizeable shopping outlet centre hosting brands like GAP and All Saints with many new restaurants, bars and a cinema. This area is the most modern area to go out in the city, for a more characterful spot to enjoy a drink, head to Fosters which sits on the opposite side of the Docks or Café Rene which sits further into town.
Photograph architecture through the ages
Much of the strategic location of Gloucester near the River Severn, the layout of the city and even its name is down to the Roman occupation. Since then its direction has changed course endlessly, delivering with it a new face of the city each time. On a simple walk around the city centre near the cathedral and the grounds in which it sits are examples of pretty Tudor architecture.
Although some may see them as an eyesore, away from the developed side of the docks sit many derelict warehouses and mills. These abandoned buildings are actually incredibly poetic and would be interesting to photograph, paint or draw.
Festivals and celebrations at Gloucester Quays
With the commercialisation of Gloucester Quays came with it a venue in which to host festivals and events. The annual Tall Ships event is a great way to discover the heritage and specialism of the area. The Gloucester Quays Food Festival attracts visitors from all over the country with celebrity chef guests, live music and local cheesemakers, street food vendors and craft brews.
Each winter the Quays host an impressive Victorian Market where vendors sell everything from locally made gin, vodka and whiskies to hand-made handbags, all donned in Victorian clothing.
Whenever you are visiting the area, it’s worth checking to see what’s on, beyond the Quays Cafe Rene host jazz and reggae festivals which are also worth a visit.
Watch the Rugby
Synonymous with Gloucester is Rugby. It is definitely worth watching a match if it’s your first time in the city. Sitting on an otherwise unassuming street, Kingsholm Stadium is an energetic venue which has recently doubled up as an outdoor gig venue with acts such as Jess Glynn and Tom Jones making an appearance.
As someone who knows very little about rugby even though pretty much every male in my family is obsessed, I can’t say much about it, but it’s definitely a fun day out followed by drinks in one of the local pubs.