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Do you live in Britain’s most independent town?

Here at Do Not Disturb we rejoice in the unusual, the characterful, the quirky – which is why we’re on the hunt for Britain’s most independent town. In an age when our country is becoming a place of ‘clone towns’, offering a dull, homogenised retail experience, it’s time to celebrate the different, the individual, the bloody minded.

So which British towns really still have characters – and minds – of their own? And which is the most independent of all? For Do Not Disturb reader Gill Wright from Shropshire it’s Shrewsbury, a place of cobbled alleys and black and white buildings. Christina McDowall from Devon chose Looe in Cornwall with its tiny winding streets and harbour full of bobbing boats, while Andy Robinson from Rotherham loves the quaint and quirky charms of Whitby in Yorkshire.

We’ve a few other suggestions of our own. Perhaps it could be Totnes in Devon. A magnet for artists, druids, therapists and hippies, this bohemian little market town at the head of the Dart Estuary was declared the ‘capital of New Age chic’ by Time magazine. It was the first town in the UK to launch its own currency, the Totnes pound, to boost local trade, and rickshaws fuelled by recycled cooking oil carry passengers up the steep hill from the river to the High Street.

Maybe it’s Louth, a Georgian market town in the Lincolnshire Wolds that has become something of a foodie mecca. Spirited resistance to incursions from supermarkets and retail chains, spearheaded by the Keep Louth Special campaign, has ensured a diverse and thriving town centre with specialist grocers, poulterers, a fishmonger, and no less than five butchers.

Or could it be Keswick, a town that counts a 25-foot pencil, the Batmobile and a 664-year-old stuffed cat among its tourist attractions? On the shores of Derwent Water and in the shadow of Skiddaw, Keswick is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts, but when the rain comes (as it frequently does), you can take shelter in the weird and wonderful Cumberland Pencil Museum, the Car of the Stars Motor Museum or the Keswick Museum and Art Gallery with its quirky collection of artefacts.

Llanwrtyd Wells in Powys in Wales must be in the running too. Britain’s smallest town had its heyday in the 18th century as a spa retreat, but it has reinvented itself by playing host to some of the country’s quirkiest events. Highlights of the calendar are the Bog Snorkelling World Championships, the Man versus Horse Marathon and the Real Ale Wobble.

But do you know a ‘town of character’ you want to shout about? A contender for the crown of most independent place in Britain! Tell us where and why in the comments box below.

 

 

About the author

Jane Jane Dunford, a travel journalist and co-editor of Do Not Disturb magazine, likes to poke around Britain seeking out the entertaining and unusual. The annual Toe Wrestling Championships in Derbyshire and the Baked Bean Museum of Excellence in Wales are two recent discoveries.

9 Comments

  1. I suggest beautiful Dorking. Next to scenic Box Hill & Ranmore Common, Dorking has boutiques and antique shops, lots of independents mixed with chains, Denbies (the award-winning winery), a variety of restaurants (even Mexican), and there is the wonderful Dorking cockerel statue which has been sporting Bradley Wiggin sideburns since the various cycle races went through town. We’ve even had the BBC here filming a new detective mystery. Soon Dorking will be hipper than Scandinavia!

  2. The little known county of Rutland (where I grew up) sandwiched between Peterborough and Leicester hosts the small but by-no-means lacking town of Oakham. With its own ‘Castle’ (the word though correct, is definitely up for debate) filled with Horseshoes of the small and large variety left by visiting royalty and peers and surrounded by beautiful lush green gardens, the town is also able to boast the local private School, Oakham School and the beautiful architecture that dominates much of the town. A successful market town, well known high street brands are merged and hidden by the independent shops aplenty. Can you work out the history behind the Buttercross and its stocks? For those of us who are of a ‘limited growth’, why not pay a visit to see the house where the smallest man (from the smallest county) lived, Jeffery Hudson. Or pay a visit to the museum (opposite the library) to catch up on the agriculture and life of ages past from the local area. Or if none of that takes your fancy, just escape to the 25 mile circumference of Rutland Water one of Europe’s largest artificial lakes – maybe a trip on the water to try and spot the village that still exists beneath its waters. Oakham is a constant town, whilst things have changed, much of it remains the same as when I was a child – for its history, its fierce independence as the town of the smallest county in England and just its general beauty, Oakham is absolutely one of Britain’s most independent towns.

  3. Wow some great suggestions for places to visit, and fantastic knowledge of your towns here. Thanks!

  4. Malvern, Worcestershire has something for everyone, with a wealth of independent shops, cafes & restaurants, an independent cinema, three theatres, regular farmers markets & craft markets. A great place to visit for a long weekend. Take a breath of fresh air with walks across the Malvern Hills. Retrace Elgar’s footsteps. Visit the factory where Morgan cars are handbuilt. Drink from the original source of Malvern Spring Water.

  5. Hebden Bridge must be in with a shout. There’s hardly a non-independent shop in the place. And it’s so quirky, with a 30-year mix of new-agers, hippies, ageing hippies, dropouts, writers, artists, musicians – not to mention the title of lesbian capital of Britain – all co-existing with more ‘normal’ folk. Put’s a smile on your face just going there. Pity it drowned several times in floods earlier this year, hope the authorities get that under control soon.

  6. Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire well known in 2012 for its 3 floods has picked itself up, worked together and is again a flourishing little town. Apart from Boots, a couple of banks and the Co-op, all the other shops are unique to Hebden: butchers, baker, excellent greengrocer, hardware, decorating, needlecraft……independent cinema, thriving Theatre, performance venue for live music – and the most beautiful and dramatic countryside all linked my miles of (often stone paved) steps and footpaths.

  7. Melrose. A beautiful characterful village in the heart of the Scottish Borders, set amidst hills and rolling countryside, with history all around. Independent shops fill the high street. Many locally owned pubs and restaurants. Floral displays all through the village. A Gold Award winner in Britain in Bloom this year. Well worth a visit.

  8. I would suggest Holt, in North Norfolk. It’s a very small town, but has some terrific independent pubs and cafe-restaurants, a small but wonderful department store, and no less than 10 art galleries (plus antique shops, naturally!) You can eat very well here! It is just 3 miles inland from some of the quaintest bits of Norfolk’s gorgeous North Coast, and rolling hillyness.

  9. I agree Holt is wonderful, probably my favourite in Norfolk

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