These beautiful market towns have so much to offer. Here’s 10 reasons to visit these bustling Staffordshire towns this summer
Stafford and Stone are two towns which offer so much for visitors to discover. Just a few miles away from each other, both towns are equally steeped in history with interesting stories to tell – but with exciting futures ahead of them too. Stafford, as the county town, is firmly on the map as a centre for development and transformation, while Stone is full of life boasting a wealth of independent shops and cafes and plenty of exciting restaurants to try.
Want to find out more? Here’s our top 10 reasons to visit this summer.
1. Food and drink
Both towns are foodie heaven for visitors, with Stone in particular providing a huge choice of cuisine. You’ll find everything, from Indian and Thai to Chinese and Italian, as well as traditional British favourites.
The Stone Food and Drink Festival, held each October at Westbridge Park, has become one of the biggest events in the calendar, attracting visitors from all over the country. With stalls filling the park and the high street, demonstrations, music and entertainment for all ages it truly offers a gastronomic weekend.
Stafford, too, has its fair share of restaurants and quirky cafes, including the Soup Kitchen, which dates back to the 16th century.
The town’s Cheese and Ale Festival has become a regular fixture, attracting visitors who want to sample delicious food and drink and watch cooking demos. There are also regular Grub Clubs, providing street food and entertainment in Market Square.
Both towns have a rich and chequered history.
Legend has it Stafford was founded in about 700 AD by a Mercian prince called Bertelin who established a hermitage on a secluded marshy island.
In 913 AD, Aethelflaed, daughter of King Alfred the Great, established the Burh of Stafford, while in 1206 Stafford was granted its Charter of Liberties. The Stafford Charter was signed by King John on May 1, 1206, making Stafford a borough and giving the townspeople a number of rights, such as the right of inheritance.
Meanwhile, according to legend, Stone owes its origin to the murder of two Saxon Princes, Rufin and Wulfad.
A number of versions tell how the two Princes were converted to Christianity by St Chad, enraging their father, King Wulfhere. The King was so angry at their defiance that he swore he would kill his sons.
The Queen had their bodies buried together on the spot where Wulfad fell and in accordance with Saxon custom, a large cairn of stones was placed over the grave.
Wulfhere was later overcome with remorse and in about 670 AD allowed the Queen to build a small priory on the site of the Princes’ grave. Around which a small village began to grow which was known as Stanes (Anglo-Saxon for stones) after the cairn of stones and over the centuries the name became Stone.
Rufin and Wulfad are depicted in two of the windows in St Michael and St Wulfad’s Church.
Stafford’s Victoria Park is a Green Flag award winning site with the River Sow running right through it. Opened in 1908, it boasts a number of historic features, including a band stand and Mottram shelter. An aviary, glass house and bowling green, gardens, splash pad and play area also feature, attracting huge numbers of visitors in the summer months. The park is under-going major development, which will see an improved café and the restoration of the bandstand and shelter, and means even more events can be staged at the site.
In Stone there’s a choice of parks near the town centre, including the picturesque Stonefield Park, which features an aviary, bowling green, tennis courts and a play area, while Westbridge Park is under-going a £10 million redevelopment, which will include a new leisure centre.
Regular events take place in both towns to keep visitors flocking in. A packed calendar includes the Stafford Festival Shakespeare, which sees one of the Bard’s plays being performed in the grounds of Stafford Castle each summer.
Both towns hold Christmas lights switch-on events, bonfire night celebrations at nearby venues and a range of food and sporting events.
There’s no shortage of things to see and do in both towns.
For movie lovers Stafford now boasts the Odeon Luxe cinema right in the centre of town, while the town’s Gatehouse Theatre stages regular shows and comedy.
The Ancient High House Museum in Greengate Street is the largest remaining timber framed town house in England and was built around 1595 for the wealthy Dorrington family. It now provides an insight into the history of the people who once lived there.
A few minutes from the town centre you’ll find Stafford Castle. Dating back to 1100, it is considered one of the best surviving examples of Norman earthworks in the country.
Shugborough, the ancestral home of the Anson family including famous photographer Lord Patrick Lichfield, is now owned by the National Trust. There’s a whole host of gems to be discovered, including Lord Lichfield’s apartments, a farm, gardens and play area. There are also places to walk and landmarks to find, such as the Essex Bridge, the Doric Temple and the Shepherd’s Monument, which has baffled codebreakers for years with its inscription. Some even suggested it might lead to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.
Between Stafford and Stone you’ll find Izaak Walton’s House. Izaak Walton is best known for his biographies and for his much published Compleat Angler. He also played a significant role in saving one of the Crown Jewels following Charles II defeat at the battle of Worcester.
Amerton Farm also offers family fun for the family, including animals to meet, a play barn restaurant and shop, as well as the Amerton steam railway.
In Stone there’s Flip Out trampoline park and the Wedgwood Museum and factory in nearby Barlaston.
Whether it’s Stafford’s new Riverside complex or the independent offerings in Stone and the many antiques stores, there are myriad options available
The Riverside Centre, which includes Marks & Spencer, Primark, H&M, River Island, Outfit and New Look among others, while the nearby Guildhall Shopping Centre boasts Poundland, The Works, Yours Clothing and The Entertainer toy shop.
There are plenty of stores along Greengate Street too, including high street favourites and independent stores, as well as an indoor market. A monthly farmers’ market takes place in on the second Saturday of the month.
Meanwhile, Stone boasts an array of independent shops and on the first Saturday of every month a farmers’ market visits, attracting many visitors looking for speciality produce. A craft and collectables market is held every third Saturday and other themed markets take place during the year. The town markets are also a regular feature in the High Street.
7. Sporting prowess
Stafford and Stone have had their fair share of Olympians.
Stone resident Joe Clarke, a slalom canoeist won gold at the 2016 Olympics in Rio and has won countless other competitions around the World. Paralympian Ian Marsden also won a bronze medal in the paracanoe event in Rio 2016. Olympic archer Alison Williamson, who lives in Stafford, also won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympics and has competed in five Olympic Games.
Stafford hosts a half marathon every year and a 10k race. The Iron Man competition, which takes place across the county, this year included a run through Stafford town centre.
There are sports clubs galore across Stafford and Stone and plenty of sports pitches, running tracks and courts to play on. There are leisure centres to enjoy too. Stafford’s includes a swimming pool, sports hall, studios and gym, while the new £10 million Stone Leisure Centre features a 25-metre swimming pool, fitness suite and exercise studios.
Nature reserves are dotted around both towns. Doxey Marshes wetland is minutes from Stafford town centre and Crown Meadow Nature Reserve in Stone features a disabled friendly access bridge, footpaths and small amphitheatre.
There are lots of others to discover too, including Kingsmead Marsh and Barlaston and Rough Close Common.
Further afield, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Wolseley Centre includes trails and a visitor centre with shop and café.
Surrounding the town centres, you’ll also find beautiful countryside. Visitors can explore the many villages, such as Seighford, Bradley, and Haughton with their eateries and walks, or you could discover the Gatehouse at Tixall and explore the historic church at Ingestre. Near Stone there’s Barlaston, where you’ll find TV star Neil Morrissey’s pub, The Plume of Feathers.
You’re never far from the water in Stafford and Stone. Stone is a canal town after all and the Trent and Mersey Canal runs through it.
Aston Marina is just a short walk from Stone town centre and offers a tranquil place to chill out and enjoy a meal and a drink. It boasts a restaurant and purpose-built wedding venue.
The River Sow also runs right through the centre of Stafford.
10. Bright future
Both towns are growing and with so many plans in place, neither is standing still.
Plans for HS2 trains to stop at Stafford Station opens up a wealth of possibility and with lots of housing and business developments taking place and others in the pipeline, both towns will see major transformation over the next few years.