I went because my daughter booked a cottage in Stamford for us to stay for a weekend and a table at a Michelin star restaurant nearby on the Saturday. It was a wonderful birthday present and fabulous surprise when she told me about it. Her decision was based on finding the restaurant first and then somewhere nearby to stay. But we both knew Stamford a little. However, my own experience of the town had been skirting round the edge to visit friends who lived in a village a few miles out and I don’t think I’d ever ventured into the centre before. Well, I’m sure I didn’t, because it was all a lovely surprise and I’d never realised how special the town is.
A lot of people will know it as the location for many films and TV series, including Pride and Prejudice (2005) with Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfayden (my favourite version!) and the 1994 BBC TV adaptation of Middlemarch. It also appeared in The Da Vinci Code and The Golden Bowl. Movie fans might well want to go simply to experience the familiar setting.
But Stamford is a lot more than a famous movie setting. The town is made up of beautiful stone buildings dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. We didn’t really see more modern buildings and talked about how it was a bit like staying in a living museum – everywhere was beautiful and well preserved. There has, however, been a settlement there since Roman times. Boudica was there in 62CE and it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Stanford. Its name was passed to Stamford, Connecticut in 1641. In 2013 it was rated as the top place to live in UK by The Sunday Times. It certainly gives the appearance of an affluent town.
A bridge passes over the River Welland which gives a great view both ways and along the river to a green space known as the Town Meadows.
On one side sits The George of Stamford, which is known as one of Britain’s greatest coaching inns. It is thought a hostelry has been there for over 1,000 years and the main block of the current building was erected in 1597. A plaque on its wall states that ‘In medieval times when the House of the Holy Sepulchre stood on this site knights of St John of Jerusalem were entertained here’ and a gnarled mulberry tree dates from the time of James I. At least three kings have stayed there and many other famous travellers. We didn’t get round to going in, though we thought about it – however, there’s a limit to how much you can do in two days. You can stay there but you could pop in for just a drink or a meal.
How to get there
I drove from south west London and it’s about a 2-hour journey. Trains run from King’s Cross station in central London and take just over an hour.
Where to stay
There are plenty of hotels in Stamford but my daughter booked a cottage through Airbnb. It turned out to be a fantastic choice for not only was this 300-year-old cottage beautiful, it was set in one of the town’s most famous squares: St George’s Square, which was turned into Middlemarch for the BBC series.
It was such a pretty square as you can see above, and our cottage was gorgeous. It was a perfect place to stay, not only because it was special in itself, but it was only a two-minute walk to the High Street for shopping and cafes.
Where to eat
A friend who lives in nearby Melton Mowbray recommended Fika – a Swedish cafe – and that’s where we headed when we arrived on the first day to have lunch.
It was brilliant – fantastic food (click here for full review).
We noticed another Scandinavian cafe a couple of doors down – Scandimania Coffee House – and went there for coffee the next couple of mornings.
They did great coffee and smoothies and wonderful cakes.
We did wonder why there was so many Scandinavian places around and a little research revealed a connection to the Vikings and part of the town – back in around 972 – was ruled by the Danes.
We ate out twice. The first night we went to The Slanted Door where we had a great meal. (Click here for full review.)
The second day was when we were booked for lunch at the Michelin star restaurant, Hambleton Hall. It was a 13-mile drive so didn’t take long but you might need to get a taxi if you didn’t have a car.
It was an exceptional meal and very special, but unsurprisingly expensive too. (Click here for full review.)
Shopping in Stamford
We were close to the High Street and within easy reach of any shops we might want. There was an M&S Simply Food at the top of St George’s Street, a couple of minutes away, and where we bought some food for a simple snack supper after our special lunch. There’s also a Tesco Express in the High Street and a Cook for excellent ready-made meals. Other supermarkets lie a little further out.
Stamford, we soon discovered, was a great shopping place … well, for us women anyway. With so many shops having closed down where we both live over the last couple of years, we were delighted to find here Joules, Fat Face, White Stuff, Seasalt, The White Company, as well as a Neal’s Yard shop, Boots, Superdrug, Mountain Warehouse …
Our most delightful find was Walkers, a wonderful bookshop. The downstairs was more like a newsagent, but go upstairs to the 1st floor and you’ll find a brilliant bookshop, well laid out in sections in a way to really tempt the bookworm to spend a lot of money! This independent bookshop opened first in Oakham (which I also went into during my Melton Mowbray stay) in 1972 and the Stamford branch opened in 1978. It’s still owned and run by the Walker family.
Stamford is a great centre for exploring the area and there are some great things to see. On the edge of the town is Burghley House, a grand 16th century country house. To visit the house and gardens costs £20 and we didn’t really have time – though we’d like to go back. Burghley is also well-known for the horse trails, held in early September, which are regarded as one of the world’s greatest equestrian events.
Rutland Water lies nearby and is one of Europe’s largest man-made lakes and the largest in England. There’s a sailing club and people like to hike round the perimeter (23 miles) or cycle.
In the town, there’s a theatre, an arts’ centre, Browne’s Hospital and Museum with beautiful cloister gardens and many other things to do.
We really enjoyed our weekend in Stamford and felt we’d like to go again sometime and see more of what it has to offer.