An A-Z Journey Around Britain

8 Cheltenham



My ex-wife settled outside Cheltenham. The Daily Telegraph judged Cheltenham the best place in Britain to raise a family. My children prospered.

The People Against Bureaucracy Party has four Councillors in Cheltenham Council, which is four more than Labour. Fortunately, the town does not endorse the Tories. Cheltenham residents vote for Liberal Democrat majorities. If Cheltenham is proclaimed safe, the town does not escape unpleasantness. The football team is followed by a hooligan gang called the Cheltenham Volunteer Force.

Every March the town hosts the National Hunt Festival and the famous race, the Gold Cup. Horse racing began in Cheltenham in 1831.

Cheltenham was awarded a market charter in 1226 but expanded after the discovery of a mineral spring in 1716. The rich visited for a wash. The town is dominated by Regency architecture. Cheltenham is chic.

Cheltenham has two famous public schools, one for boys and the other for girls.   Magnificent buildings and extensive grounds are endowed with exclusive entitlement. The front of Cheltenham Spa train station is painted magnolia and resembles the dwelling of a modest 18th Century gentleman, not a mansion but packed with self-effacing style.

Despite the chic affluence the river Chelt soon leaves town to join the River Severn. Memphis Slim said it all goes back to Mother Earth. He did not mean rivers but would have approved.

The car parks in Cheltenham are the most reticent in the country and hide behind a complicated one way system. The Cheltenham Literature Festival is well regarded. Various festivals enhance social life but the jazz festival is pious and dry.

Pittsville Pump Room is the original alkaline water spa. People marry in the Pump Room. William Tyndale, who also had faith, is honoured with a monument in North Nibley, 26 miles away. BBC viewers of Wolf Hall might think that Tyndale wrote the first Bible in English. He did not. That appeared as early as 1380.

The nearby Malvern Hills provide fine ridge walking. Bela Knapp in Winchcombe is a great burial chamber that has existed from 4,500 BC.   It is 178 foot long, sixty foot wide and four foot high.

Cheltenham unemployment is 2.8% and well below the 7.9% UK average.   The presence of GCHQ helps. A T shirt company has attitude produced the fake GCHQ logo, ‘Always listening to our customers’. Kraft Foods had their UK headquarters in Cheltenham but they bought Cadburys, expanded their UK operations and then closed it down, the surreal logic of modern accountancy. Meanwhile, we shop. Cavendish House, a department store founded in 1823, is worth a tour.

The nightlife is decent although visitors may be surprised by the many young men pretending to be Australians. The pubs include the authentic and the terrible. Zizzis is an all right Italian restaurant located in an old spectacular Gothic church. The owner of the 2 Pigs nightclub says he is ‘not impressed with trends’, so the place has hard core fans. The cool female DJ on Saturday nights, somewhere in between Northern Soul and Indie, shows a remarkable idiosyncratic loyalty to Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley. I can live with that.

Cheltenham - Eight Bells (2 Pigs)

Next week, a rare trip to Cheshire – Chester


Howard Jackson has had three books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His next book is a compilation of horror stories and is called Nightmares Ahead. It will be available in Spring 2015

If you want to read more about his travels click here.