is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
It’s probably fair to say that the opening of the M40 in 1991 did not do the town any favours. The thousands of people who used to drive through it on a daily basis are now the tens of thousands who drive straight past it at junction 11.
At its peak, it was the home of Banbury Cakes, Banbury Cross (the subject of one of the great nursery rhymes), Europe’s largest cattle market and what is reputed to be Europe’s largest coffee processing plant. It had a thriving town centre.
The coffee plant and the Cross are still there and Banbury is bouncing back from the retail issues that have affected it in recent years. There is much to see and do in the town with many surprises and discoveries to be made including one giant one from the world of literature.
Its geographical location in the centre of England makes Banbury an easy to reach destination either for a weekend break or longer. It’s a great base to explore the Cotswolds or Shakespeare’s England, both within half an hours drive.
There is accommodation to suit all pockets from really good quality bed and breakfast and budget hotels. There’s also the 17th century 3 star Whateley Hall adjacent to Banbury Cross, and on the outskirts of the town a couple of award winning camping and caravan sites, the best being Anita’s Touring park at nearby Mollington. Banbury Old Town is full of lanes and streets and free of traffic. It’s an interesting part of town with great shops. There’s always something going in in Old Town including street parties, food festivals, a hobby horse festival and the popular Canal Day. The Oxford Canal passes through the town alongside the Castle Quay shopping centre. 77 miles long, it runs from the city centre of Oxford to Hawkesbury Junction north of Coventry, one of the country’s new long distance footpaths. Banbury is an excellent base from which to explore it.
Tooleys Boatyard, a scheduled ancient monument is the oldest working boatyard on the inland waterways system and has been in continuous use since 1790. It’s well a visit and is opposite Banbury Museum where you’ll find exhibits relating to the Oxford Canal and Banbury’s role in the Civil War as well as a variety of temporary exhibitions. Beneath the museum is a café where outside seating allows you watch the activity on the canal whilst enjoying one of the famous Banbury cakes and a cup of coffee. If you’re lucky you may be able to buy some cheese from the boat that travels the canals of England selling welsh cheese and chutneys.
Talking of food, you will not go hungry in Banbury, Parsons street in the heart of Old Town has over 20 different places to eat or buy food, from Asian through to South African, the latest additions being Tapas and Sushi bars, it also boasts the oldest and best pub in town, the historic Reindeer. The surrounding North Oxfordshire and Warwickshire countryside has some great pubs and restaurants. North of the town at Farnborough, Anthony Robinson and his team are blazing a trail with their take on rustic British cooking at The Kitchen, whilst south in Kings Sutton Julie and Hendrik are winning awards at The White Horse.
There is something around every corner in Banbury including one giant of a surprise. In the 1700s writer Jonathon Swift stayed at the aforementioned Whateley Hall Hotel. During an early morning walk around St Marys Church yard opposite he wrote: “I have observed in the churchyard at Banbury several tombs and monuments of the Gullivers.” The graves have long gone but a plaque marks the site.
Another surprise in Banbury if the weather is right, is the Olympic size outdoor swimming pool, one of the few left in Britain.
History is everywhere here, the Cross, the statue of the Fyne Lady on her white horse, Broughton Castle home to the Fiennes family and location for many famous films. The National Trust properties at Upton House and Farnborough Hall are all just a few minutes’ way.
A little further afield are the Cotswolds, Shakespeare’s Stratford on Avon and the magnificent Warwick Castle, reputed to be the finest medieval castle in the world. There’s also Edge Hill, site of the first battle of the Civil War in 1642. They’re all within a half hour drive of Banbury.
Banbury is also at the forefront of technology with the proximity of Silverstone “The Home of British Motor Racing”. Two of the current Formula One teams are based within walking distance of the Cross. The all-conquering Mercedes team are just seven miles away and motor sport giants Prodrive are alongside the M40.
Eight miles north of the town is the old RAF station Gaydon, home of Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover. It is also the home of the truly fantastic British Motor Museum, open 7 days a week, it is state of the art, very much hands-on with something for all the family - not just the boys.
So Banbury offers something for everyone, next time you see the sign don’t just sing the nursery rhyme, everyone does, stop off, stay and explore… Banbury, don’t miss it.
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