An elegant Regency spa town, Cheltenham is known for its festivals, horse racing and first-class schools. Offering year-round entertainment, culture and shopping and surrounded by the famously beautiful Cotswolds, this gem of a town gives its residents a wonderful lifestyle.
By Lucy Rathbone. llustrations by Caitriona Tamlyn.
Where to Live
Less than a hundred miles from London, this small but perfectly formed Gloucestershire town is a stone’s throw from Stratford upon Avon and Bath with the Cotswolds to the East and the Malvern Hills to the North. It is not really commutable to London – just over 2 hours from Cheltenham to Paddington – part of its charm residents would say. However if you live in the villages to the east (towards Cirencester) fast trains from Kemble take less than an hour and twenty. If your city access shifts, it is within easy reach of Bristol (half an hour by train) and Birmingham (45 mins) whether for work or going out in the evening.
Cheltenham became fashionable in the 18th century when George III adopted it as his favourite holiday destination. The wealthy followed him south west to escape the smog of the City and take the healing spa waters. The rich legacy of this time can be seen in the magnificent Regency architecture and stunning historic gardens.
The traffic can be tricky at rush hour and the new one-way system causes much consternation amongst locals and visitors alike. However, most town centres suffer in this way and parking, whilst pricey, is easy to find.
iStock Photo/Caron B
If you have your heart set on a property with traditional Regency features such as intricate ironwork balconies and painted stucco facades, the areas in which to start your search are Montpellier, Lansdown, Pittville and The Suffolks/Tivoli. These parts of town are easily walkable to the centre. Montpellier is situated to the south of the centre and has a continental atmosphere with boutique shopping, wine bars and cafés in abundance. A short walk down the shopping mecca of the Promenade brings you into the town centre where you will find all your favourite branded shops including Superdry which was born in Cheltenham.
Pittville is to the north and has a more relaxed suburb feel. It is home to the open splendour of Pittville Park and the Pump Rooms where you can experience the “interesting” taste of the spa water. It is a lovely place for an afternoon stroll and offers some of the best examples of Regency and Victorian houses with some Art Deco thrown in for good measure.
To the east, but still only a skip and a hop from town is the pretty Suffolks/Tivoli area with its popular community of independent antique and clothes shops, super coffee shops and Michelin-starred dining options.
A longer walk or short bike ride away from town on the south east side is Charlton Kings which has become one of the most popular residential areas for families partly due to the location of the highly acclaimed Balcarras School. For those who wish to be near town but with easy access to the countryside, Charlton Kings is a perfect option as is neighbouring Leckhampton.
For those who want to live the country life, this can be achieved in as little as a ten-minute drive from Cheltenham. To the north east, the thriving town of Winchcombe set in the AONB Cotswolds Hills has every amenity you could need and even its own privately owned Tudor Castle, Sudeley.
Cheltenham is surrounded with a plethora of chocolate-box villages full of honey-coloured stone properties. The Slad Valley, immortalised by Laurie Lee in 'Cider with Rosie' and 'As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning' is breathtakingly lovely. Painswick is located on the road to Stroud with its beautiful church, lively family-centred village scene and award-winning pub with rooms. Cowley, Birdlip and Salperton are lovely alternatives close to the outskirts of town with great village pubs and views to die for.
4-bed town house – £500,000 to £2m, 5-bedroom house in Charlton Kings/Leckhampton – £700,000 to £2.5m. 3-bedroom cottage in a village (south and east of Cheltenham) – £400k to £700k.
With thanks to Nick Chivers of Knight Frank Cheltenham 01242 246959 knightfrank.co.uk
Cheltenham is fortunate to benefit from a good selection of highly Ofsted-rated state primary schools. Often oversubscribed Leckhampton, Naunton Park, Charlton Kings and Holy Apostles lead the way.
The state secondary provision is also excellent. Pates Grammar School attracts the best brains of Gloucestershire and beyond and achieves academic excellence nationally. Balcarras School is non-selective but the teaching and the pastoral care are outstanding and the children have a strong connection to their local community. This has resulted in the Balcarras catchment being squeezed as an increasing number of families move nearby to gain a place there. Bourneside and Pittville secondaries are well regarded and popular.
185 Hewlett Rd, Cheltenham GL52 6UF 01242 523263
Ages 3–11, co-ed. A nurturing school with small class sizes.
Parent view: “An inclusive school where children can try everything. Strong music department.”
Bath Rd, Cheltenham GL53 7LD 01242 265600
Ages 3–18, co-ed day and boarding. Suits the specialist and the all-rounder and achieves good academic results with fantastic facilities. The new Head, Nicola Huggett, is very popular with parents, pupils and staff.
Parent view: “After only one term in third form, I think the teachers really understand my son’s strengths and weaknesses and I’m confident they will enable him be the best he can be. Most importantly, he is very happy, loves school and his teachers and enjoys learning. He wants to achieve and College have instilled this in him.”
Cheltenham Ladies College
Bayshill Rd, Cheltenham GL50 3EP 01242 520691
Ages 11–18, girls day and boarding. GCSE, A Level and IB results are consistently excellent. Top girls’ boarding school in the country for IB results for three consecutive years since 2015. Prides itself on educating girls to become independent thinkers, creative and have self-belief. State-of-the-art facilities inside and outside the classroom.
Parent view: “CLC educates, encourages, empowers and more importantly enhances my daughter’s childhood. Many schools promote nurturing your child’s abilities as well as maximising their academic potential – CLC actually delivers this in every way.”
Shelburne Road, Cheltenham GL51 6HE 01242 258000
Ages 2–18, co-ed day and boarding. Renowned for focusing on individual development and providing a warm and friendly learning environment. Ethos based on the Christian faith.
Parent view: “Dean Close offers something for every child whether they are sporty, academic, musical or interested in drama. So many of the children are multi-dimensional and they are encouraged to get involved with as much or as little as they like. Given the opportunity, they can just “have a go”.
Cirencester Road, Cheltenham GL53 8EY 01242 388555
Ages 1–18, co-ed day. A strong and vibrant school community which is based on Christian values with a Catholic foundation.
Parent view: “The school focusses on the person as a whole and one of their strengths is drama which my daughter loves.”
Minchinhampton, Stroud GL6 9AF 01453 832072
Ages 3–13, co-ed day and boarding. An academically strong and traditional prep school located in the dramatic Stroud Valley.
Parent view: “Beaudesert is a ‘real’ school. Children are allowed to have a childhood, climb trees, make dens and have fun. Pastoral care is excellent. Academically the children all excel to the best of their ability and are encouraged to ‘do their best’."
Pull Court Bushley,Tewkesbury GL20 6AH 01684 293156
Ages 7–18, co-ed day and boarding. Specialises in supporting students with dyslexia, dyspraxia and other specific learning needs to achieve their potential in a caring, nurturing environment with high staff-to-pupil ratios.
Parent view: “Bredon has taken the stress of learning away for my son. The environment is stunning. The children can experience the working farm on site and explore the acres of land surrounding the school. In the classroom his confidence has increased because he no longer feels different and behind his peers”.
Rendcomb, Cirencester GL7 7HA 01285 831213
Ages 3–18, co-ed day and boarding. Located in the picturesque village of Rendcomb, pupils benefit from extensive on-site facilities within a 230 acre estate. New Sixth Form Centre opening in 2020.
Bristol Road, Stonehouse GL10 2AF 01453 822432
Ages 2–18, co-ed day and boarding. Pupils accepted with a wide range of abilities and individual successes are celebrated. New boarding house, Ivy just opened.
Parent view: “My three children thrived at Wycliffe Prep. They were actively encouraged to take advantage of the varied opportunities and experiences offered to them in sport, drama, music, public speaking and in the classroom. ”
Things to do
In terms of Festivals Cheltenham punches above its weight. The internationally acclaimed big four are Jazz (May), Science (June), Music (July) and Literature (October). The town has a buzz about it when the marquees and big-top theatre venues appear from nowhere to shadow the ornamental flower beds in the Regency gardens of Montpelier. Well-known speakers draw the crowds from miles around. Most local schools take full advantage of the festivals’ child-friendly activities and talks with exciting and unique educational trips.
Open from April to October, the iconic Sandford Parks Lido offers family fun and fitness. It has a 50-metre outdoor pool with slides, two heated children’s pools, play areas and a café. It also holds events like the Christmas Day Swim, Dog Swim and Nightswimmer. Become a family member and jump the queue on sunny summer mornings.
The Everyman Theatre in the heart of town gives Cheltenham folk access to touring West End productions, operas and musicals and its annual pantomime featuring Tweedy the Clown is hilarious! It is always worth keeping an eye on The Wilson Museum for travelling exhibitions and interesting historical talks.
When you mention Cheltenham conversation will often turn to the Races (or GCHQ/James Bond!) The most famous meet is Gold Cup Week in March when the town swarms with racegoers and the atmosphere is lively. It’s a marmite event for local people but the revenue it brings to the town is huge. There are several other meets a year which attract more serious and sedate racing fans.
Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe has 10 magnificent gardens to explore and you can learn about the Castle’s famous inhabitants.
A 25-minute drive to the east of the town are the Cotswold Water Parks, an area of 40 square miles with more than 150 lakes. The list of activities available both on and off the water is vast. You can have a go at water skiing, go crazy with some friends on a large inflatable or, if you prefer something more peaceful, try windsurfing, sailing, paddle boarding, or kayaking – tuition is available for all of these activities.