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Dursley (Gloucestershire)

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A small town in Gloucestershire, England.

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      29.06.2009 10:44
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      A well-kept local secret

      Lovely Dusrley! Beautiful, well-kept secret on the Cotswold Way! Where to begin describing your brilliantness....

      This small market town on the Cotswold Edge has at least two (literary) claims to fame: firsly it was a destination so despised by the childrens' author JK Rowling (who is from Yate / Chipping Sodbury by all accounts and thus a nearly local lass) that in her books she named Harry Potter's horrible relatives, an awful suburbanite family, after the town. Secondly, William Shakespeare may or may not have lived and worked (as a schoolmaster) briefly in the area; there is a reference to nearby Stinchcombe Hill in one of the King Henry (or is it King Harry?) plays.

      The setting - of which Stinchcombe hill plays an important, dominating part - of Dursley is hands-down specatcular. The town is situated right at the base of the Cotswold Escarpment; one of the - well, as close as you'll come in Dursley to a 'main' - roads leading into the town descends via a precariously steep and winding route through gorgeous hanging beech woods. The Escarpment surrounds two sides of town; from the (single, small, badly pedestrianized) main street you see stunning views of - this being south-west England - often mist-wreathed woodland on the hills, on the other sides are more hills: the low Cotswold 'outliers' of Downham Hill, Cam Long Down, Uley Bury and the oddly conical-shaped Cam Peak - and though you can't see it from the centre of town, another spectacular vista down to the Severn Floodplain, across the Severn to Wales and in the other direction in the distance, to the Malven Hills in Shropshire. The way this place looks - the sudden, spectacular vistas that open unexpectedly as you travel around the town and its nearby countryside - I've never seen anywhere else like it.

      The built-up areas of Dursley are also, to me, if nothing exactly special, very pleasing none the less. The aforesaid centre of town consists of one shopping street that is partly pedestrianized, but down which delivery vans and trucks regularly progress on their way to the shops. There are the usual small shops - a local pet shop, a florist, a couple of chemists, quite a few charity shops, a smallish 'Somerfield' supermarket, a mediocre bakery, an excellent branch of the small, local greengrocery chain 'Bramley's', and a really in some ways outstanding traditional butcher's. It sells meat like you'd get in the old days - which means excellent value and a range of traditional cuts, but also occasionally an olde-worlde approach to stock storage and refrigeration which in some cases can sometimes prove slightly unfortunate. Not of course to the extent that anyone's ever going to come to grief, and I understand that he's gotten his act together in this respect quite a bit recently, but in my previous experience, the pork he sells as a result sometimes used to end up tasting a bit 'meatier' than may be usual for modern palates.

      On the other hand, the Dursley town butcher - understandably, when you taste the wonderfulness of the product - sells a high through-put of traditional, out-door-reared, smoked and unsmoked bacon; it is very reasonably priced and is some of the best I've ever tried - really worth trying to get your hands on.

      There is an all-right cafe and a rubbish kebab shop on the main shopping street; just across the road from there are an all-right Chinese takeaway and two pretty good Indian restaurant / takeaway businesses. For excellent takeaway fish and chips without parallel anywhere else, you'll need to travel about half a mile out of town on the Dursley that runs to the A38; after about a half to three quarters of a mile on the left (in a built-up 30mph zone, just after the town's only speed camera) there in a small pull-in serving a little enclave of bottle shops, newsagent's etc. (next to the towns other, larger 'Somerfield') - the chippy 'Great British Takeaway' is
      there and is to be highly recommended.

      Dursley town planners, in their infinite wisdom, recently allowed the town's central fire-station to be demolished and a 'Sainsbury's' supermarket is being built in its place. Dursley town planners, demonstrably, appear to be utter eejits; in support of this I would refer you to the town's new library building, a concrete and glass monstrosity that jarrs in every possible way with its traditional, Cotswold-stone surroundings; also the new development at Rednock Secondary School (locally known as 'the new B&Q' because it is painted orange on the outside and now looks like familiar chain of warehouse-style DIY shopping outlets) which architecturally is so obscenely monstrous that it is almost worth a designated trip to gawk at.

      The projected arrival of a 'Sainsbury's' in Dursley town centre confirms slight stirrings I've noted in recent years towards steering the - at present, resolutely down-beat - town's development into something of a more up-market place. The new 'designs on dursley' website being a case in point. It is true that if instead of its dreary, whiny-sounding name Dursley (in fact 'Dursley' actually means something like 'agricultural bottom area surrounded by woods' - you find lot's of 'sley' village suffixes in this area) was called something more pretty, quaint or picturesque like, say, 'Wooton-Under-Edge' or 'Nympsfield' or 'North Nibley' or 'Cockadilly' or - my personal favourite - 'Waterley Bottom' (these are all names of actual towns / villages, within a stone's throw of Dursley) perhaps it would succeed in drawing in more of the passing Cotswold tourist traffic. Certainly all the necessary elements are already there: the old, Cotswold Stone buildings, some sense of local history - there is a town heritage centre but I've not been yet as it's only about the size of someone's front room - and the town even has it's own um, I'm not sure what you call it - it might be 'woolmarket': I'm referring here to an open-sided what, 17th or 18th century stone-built building in the centre of town that has a covered area and a sort of upstairs room / small hall over it; there's one just like it (only not so badly covered with painted concrete render) in the nearby, excruciatingly up-market town of Tetubury that they make much more of. In Dursley's they hold a fortnightly farmer's market (not much cop at the moment, I shouldn't bother if I were you) - and also, in defiance of any plans for upgrading the place, a weekly collection of stalls selling cheap dodgy t-shirts, workmen's tartan shirts and high-vis gear. In the high street there are also a couple of pound shops; they keep getting their windows broken however. This could well be down to vandalism on the part of some the high proportion of disaffected youth who inhabit the community (the town centre isn't a great place to go at night as a result as they tend to cluster round the bad kebab place; also visitors to Dursley have occasionally commented to me on the unusually large numbers of apparently teenage mums they see there pushing prams); though of course it is not for me to suggest that the 'designs on dursley' mob are becoming so disillusioned by their efforts that they're having to resort to vigilante action.

      Yes, in social as well as I suppose some local business terms, Dursley could do with a bit of upgrading although in my opinion - as someone who came here on a short-term job and liked the place so much we decided to settle here - that stands in danger of destroying much of the quietly bumbling charm of the town. If it was to become all kitchen design shops, and Cotswold interior decoration places, like you find in a lot of similar market towns in this part of the world.....urgh. I shudder at the very thought. So Dursely does at present make a rather nice place to stop on your day out in the southern Cotswolds. There is an excellent, traditional pub called the 'Old Spot' near the centre of town (just up past the eye-sore library) that regularly wins real ale and best pub -type awards, even if there isn't all that much else to tempt long-term visitors. And it is pretty, but not in the same league as the big-guns Cotswold places like Bibury, Castle Combe or Moreon-in-Marsh, where everywhere you look it could be a scene from a postcard or off a souviner biscuit tin - though I find it is a good place to live. For example it is greatly to Dursley's credit that there isn't a 'Next' or a 'Warehouse' or a baby bloody 'Gap' within miles and miles of the place....


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