Stroud is an eccentric, colourful and somewhat Bohemian market town, nestled under the steep-sided south Cotswold Hills (infrequently these days known as the Stroudwater Hills). London’s Evening Standard is reputed to have called the town “Notting Hill with wellies”. It’s about 14 miles south west of Cheltenham and 12 miles south east of Gloucester. The town rises steeply from the valley floor, with individual shopping streets of character, especially the long, sheer High Street. Much of the town is dominated by an eclectic mix of independent traders and shopkeepers.Stroud proves that the industrial revolution wasn’t just in Yorkshire. The town’s origins are in the wool trade. What it lacked compared to neighbour Cirencester’s wealth, Stroud made up for in sheer industrial might. It was the industrialised heartland of the west’s wool trade. There remains much evidence of once working mills in near the town and along its five valleys. Stroud acts as a focus for life in the Stroud Valleys and the adjacent Cotswold hilltop villages. The valley floors are characterised by broken urban ribbon developments and light industry, plus the associated towns of Nailsworth and Stonehouse.The surrounding unspoilt Cotswold villages retain much of their character, owing to the grey charm of the local Cotswold stone. Painswick is the finest example, sprinkled with large former mill-owners’ residences. Other villages of note are Minchinhampton, Bisley, Miserden, Chalford & Woodchester. Practically any local village is worth exploring. Once relatively poor and dismal affairs, it is the car rather than the bus that has opened these settlements up to money, investment & gentrification. The upland Cotswolds that surround Stroud rise to some 700-800 ft and are characterised by large areas of accessible open land with ancient earthworks, known as The Commons. These are now in the ownership of the National Trust, the most famous of which are Minchinhampton, Rodborough & Selsley Commons. They all accord opportunities for walking and of course they all offer panoramic views from the right vantage points. Upland settlements can be pretty bleak in winter, however, hence the epithet “Beggarly Bisley”.