Visit Burford in 2022
Burford, also known as the Gateway to the Cotswolds, is one of Oxfordshire’s most scenic towns, with a steep high street that sweeps downward past Cotswold stone cottages, and Georgian mansions, a mediaeval church, shops, tearooms, and historic pubs to the River Windrush.
The History of Burford
A three-arched mediaeval bridge spans the River Windrush as you travel down Burford’s High Street towards Fulbrook or Stow-on-the-Wold. Burford gets its name from the Old English words ‘burh’ (fortified town) and ‘ford’ (river crossing) (river crossing).
It’s unclear when the first immigrants arrived in Burford, but the Domesday Book of 1066 mentions 200 people living there at the time. Burford was granted a charter by Robert Fitzhamon in the early 11th century, encouraging traders from all across the kingdom to visit and trade. Inns were established to provide them with a place to stay, and some are still standing today.
On May 17, 1649, during the English Civil War, approximately 300 ‘Levellers’ — a radical political movement – were arrested by Oliver Cromwell and imprisoned in the Church of St John the Baptist in Burford. The gunshot holes and carvings from captured captives can still be seen in the church walls, where three of their commanders were executed the next day.
The annual ‘Levellers Day’ commemorates the incident and celebrates the Levellers’ values of democracy, equality, and religious liberty. For nearly 40 years, it has been held in Burford, featuring a combination of political debates, music and dancing, guest speakers, and a street procession.
Burford prospered during the 1800s and 1900s due to the many local industries it supported over the ages, such as farming, agriculture, and construction. It has been a town for almost 900 years. Its strategic location on one of the country’s major thoroughfares has ensured regular visitation and brisk trade throughout its history, right up to the present day.
Things to do in Burford
Take a hike up Burford Hill for some of the best views in town. The hill is surrounded by charming Cotswold stone homes, each with benches from which to enjoy the view of the town and surrounding countryside. The hill leads to the High Street, and one of our favourite things to do in Burford is to spend a few hours visiting its independent stores.
Burford is an excellent area to go antique shopping. Gateway Antiques specialises in 17th to early 20th-century English and Continental furniture and decorative objects. At the same time, Burford Antiques & Interiors in adjacent Burford has a variety of vintage and contemporary furniture, mirrors, and lamps.
Along the High Street, there are also several charming interiors, home and gift shops. The Cook Shop for kitchen gadgets, Three French Hens for cards and gifts including candles and door signs, Burford Wood Craft for wonderfully crafted wooden goods, and the Oxford Brush Company for plastic-free, sustainable brushes for any occasion are just a few of our favourites!
The former Burford Corporation’s ‘Toll House’ is halfway up the High Street. This black and white building was built in the early 1500s and is where the Guild of Merchants used to meet to collect payment for local markets and fairs and be a meeting point for wool merchants. It now houses the Tolsey Museum, which exhibits local history, culture, and industry.
The Grade I listed Church of St John the Baptist towers over the centre of Burford. It was founded in 1175 and was developed and enlarged over the next 400 years as money from the wool trade flooded into the town. The spire was added in the fifteenth century, though not all that successfully as it started to move; and was shored up later and is still carefully monitored. The spire was erected in the fourteenth century, but it did not go over well since it began to move. It was later shored up and is today closely watched.
The church’s stained-glass windows, ancient wall murals, and magnificent tomb monuments are highlights. There’s a 1569 memorial to Henry VIII’s barber-surgeon Edward Harman, which features one of the earliest images of Amazon Indians, and a 17th-century canopied tomb for Sir Lawrence and Lady Tanfield in the north chapel.
One of the most popular things to do in Burford is to go to the Burford Garden Centre. It is located just outside of town and sells everything from food and beverages to homewares, flowers, plants, and indoor and outdoor furnishings. A large children’s section, rose garden, outdoor play area, and a café are all available. It’s especially worth seeing when it’s wonderfully decked during the Christmas season.
Circular hikes from Burford, visit the nearby communities of Fulbrook, Swinbrook, Widford, Asthall-Leigh, and Shilton if you want to get out into the countryside. The Cotswolds and Burford Circular is a 6.5-mile track that takes in Burford’s must-sees and huge sections of open farmland where you may relax before returning to the start by following the River Windrush.
On the A361, a few miles south of Burford, is the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens. The park, which is set on 160 acres of magnificently landscaped gardens, is home to over 250 animal species, including rhinos, giraffes, wolves, lemurs, leopards, and lions and one of the country’s largest reptile collections. A children’s playground, gift shop, and café are also available.
‘Madagascar,’ a walk-through lemur exhibit where visitors can get up and personal with free-roaming lemurs and native birds, is one of the park’s most popular locations. You can book an animal encounter or a “keeper for the day” event to get a behind-the-scenes look.
Burford is also only 3.5 miles from Crocodiles of the World, the UK’s only crocodile zoo, where you can get up and personal with these massive carnivores. With underwater viewing, discussions, animal encounters, and feeding sessions, they have approximately 80 crocodiles from throughout the world, including some rare and endangered species and other reptiles.
Burford is 7 miles from the National Trust’s Lodge Park and Sherbourne Estate, which offers a more peaceful experience. This remarkable 17th-century grandstand, flanked by gardens with water meadows for wildlife and bird watching, was created for deer coursing spectators.
Places to Eat & Drink in Burford
Burford is well-known for its lardy cakes. Lardy cakes, similar to Chelsea buns but without the icing, are a local favourite made with sugar, spices, currants, and sultanas.
Huffkins on the High Street is the greatest spot to get lardy cakes in Burford. Huffkins is a family-run bakery with eight locations founded in 1890 and used to transport cakes and bread by donkey and cart. Lynwood & Co and The Priory Tearooms, both of which serve delicious cream teas, are two other local cafés worth visiting when exploring Burford.
Burford boasts a superb selection of ancient pubs with loads of character where you can warm up by the fire in the winter or soak up the sun in the summer in a beer garden. Traditional pub meals and local ales are available at The Golden Pleasant, The Mermaid, and The Royal Oak noted for its handcrafted shortcrust pies with gravy. One of our all-time favourites, The Angel, has been the setting for more delicious meals than we can even remember.
Burford is also home to a plethora of excellent delis and food providers. Mrs Bumbles has some of the best meats, cheeses, pies, and sausage rolls in the Cotswolds. Many locally produced cheeses are available at the Cotswold Cheese Company, including their own Oxford Blue Cheese. Burford also features an old-fashioned Sweet Shop, a step back in time, with all the nostalgic staples.
A few miles outside of town, Upton Smokery smokes their own meats and fish, from classic smoked salmon to delectable smoked duck breasts. Their shop also offers various local goods, and there is a gin and vodka distillery and a brewery on the premises.