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Farnham 2014: where to eat, shop and visit

PUBLISHED: 20:00 20 January 2014 | UPDATED: 21:10 20 January 2014

Steeped in history

Steeped in history

Peter Gardner

Known as 'England's craft town', there is much to see and do in the historic streets of Farnham

A potted history...

A beautiful Georgian town with some stunning architecture, Farnham’s history can be traced back literally thousands of years with evidence of prehistoric animal bones found in nearby gravel pits. Later on, the town’s geographical location made it an important area through the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman times. At the heart of the town is the castle, built in 1138 by the grandson of William the Conqueror, and one of the oldest continually inhabited buildings in England. St Andrew’s Parish Church can also be dated back to the 12th century and the town was home to the first Cistercian Abbey in Britain. With a great tradition of arts and crafts, which itself dates back to the time when the town exported white clay to the Romans, today Farnham has a reputation as ‘the craft town of England’.

Out & about…

Recognising the importance of the town’s history, Farnham Town Council has laid out a Heritage Trail that can be followed round the local streets with plaques along the way giving a short description of each area. Details can be found at farnham.gov.uk where a Heritage Trail leaflet can be downloaded to help you on your way. It’s a circular walk, so hopefully you should end up back where you started!

The other great thing about the trail is that it is mainly around the centre of the town, so you can also shop and stop for that much-needed coffee as you learn all about the area.

Not far away is The Farnham Maltings, an important cultural and community venue that always has something going on. Purchased from the Courage brewery in the 1960’s, it is now a vibrant arts centre with theatre companies, a museum, exhibitions and vintage and knitting fairs. Plus, it’s a great place for a bite to eat: The Riverside Café Bar is a lovely, relaxing bistro and tea room with a sofa, big tables, cheerful staff and a tempting menu.

Food & drink…

As you’d expect for a town this size, there are lots and lots of places to settle down for an hour or two. The predictable outlets are here – Costa, Nero and Subway for example – but why not try one of the many pubs or independent cafés in the town centre?

A popular favourite is The Wheatsheaf (tel 01252 717135), a recently refurbished pub in West Street offering a huge selection of meals that you can watch being prepared thanks to their open kitchen.

Just off West Street is The Lion and Lamb Yard – a lovely Dickensian style cobbled courtyard where The Lion and Lamb Café (tel 01252 715156), originally opened in 1926, will serve you ‘fresh seasonal English food…’ They have a Bring-Your-Own arrangement too, so for a small corkage you can take your own favourite tipple.

Last but not least, don’t miss The Riverside Café at The Maltings (see details on the right) – their chicken and pesto pannini comes highly recommended.

Famous faces…

Quite a mix of notable people have connections with the town. John Henry Knight, who built the first British motor car, lived here, as did Mike Hawthorn, the first British Formula One World Champion in 1958. Jonny Wilkinson, England’s former rugby captain, played for Farnham Rugby Club, as did Peter Richards, England scrum half. Persistent rumours also have singer Robbie Williams either living here or owning a pub or two, but you can’t really beat the fact that King John, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII, Queen Victoria and numerous other minor Royals have visited Farnham in years gone by. Oh, and just nearby, there is also the famous Bourne Wood, beloved of any film-maker worth their salt, with everything from Gladiator to Harry Potter to the latest Robin Hood shooting scenes there.

Shop till you drop…

Like a number of large Surrey towns, Farnham has a huge mix of the usual big names and small independents. The town seems to lend itself to this with numerous side streets and alleyways hosting an astonishing selection of outlets – ranging from stylish boutiques to vintage cake shops to colourful market stalls.

One shop not to be missed is Elphicks Department Store (it’s actually difficult to miss it as they occupy a large proportion of West Street!). Trading from the same location at number 13 since 1881, when it first opened as a drapery business, the store still has a splendid old wrought iron sign hanging from the building. Selling everything from linen to lingerie, it’s well worth a visit.

Just up the road, there is a rare find – called simply 101 Collectors’ Records. This astonishing little corner shop holds a huge assortment of music on vinyl, CD, DVD or video. While dealing in new material as well, Andy Hibberd, who runs the shop, can probably find you that elusive album you’ve always wanted to hear again… he can be contacted on 01252 734409.

For the creative types, at the Ceramics Café, found at 13 Downing Street, you can sit down, design and paint your own pottery and take it home (tel 01252 727555). Oh, and talking of Downing Street – there is a number 10 - but oddly it is a shop called…”Sixteen”…

Now, if you really want to take something home that is useful, fun to wear and terribly expensive, er, how about a pair of bright red welly boots – Bowleys Fine Shoes at 40 The Borough have just that very thing – but they will set you back a toe-curling £89…

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My Farnham weekend...

“Fittingly, with its quaint cobbled streets and historic buildings, Farnham has a wealth of markets and second-hand shops, which are great fun to browse for vintage and craft finds,” says Lucia Genziani, press and publicity officer at Farnham Maltings.

“The Maltings Monthly Market on the first Saturday of every month has been a perennial weekend fixture long before I started working at the Maltings, and here I have picked up many much-loved knick knacks and wardrobe items.

“Weekend afternoons are spent with friends having a coffee in one of the town’s many wonderful cafés. Favourite haunts include The Vintage Cake House in Downing Street, who make a delicious goat’s cheese pannini, and the Lion and Lamb Café, which always has a tempting array of cakes on offer!” 
• For more information on Farnham Maltings, see farnhammaltings.com

“Farnham is a great destination for a day out and as a place to live ,” says Dr Outi Remes, director of the New Ashgate Gallery. “It is small but cultural.

“On a rainy day, you can visit some of Farnham’s many craft organisations: the Craft Study Centre, the New Ashgate Gallery or 316 Ceramics. Farnham also has a great arts centre, the Farnham Maltings, and exhibitions at the university too.

“On a sunny day, I love walking in the Farnham Park, a 320-acre medieval deer park overlooking the town with an impressive 1km tree-lined avenue and a large children’s play area. Nothing is better than a picnic in the park with friends and family, overshadowed by the 900-years-old Farnham Castle.”

• For more information on the New Ashgate Gallery, see newashgate.org.uk

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Getting there…

Lying about 10 miles west of Guildford on the A31, Farnham has good road links and excellent parking in the town centre. The railway station lies on the Waterloo line and is a few minutes walk from the town centre. Buses run through Farnham regularly on route 19 (Stagecoach) between Aldershot and Haslemere.

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