With spring in the air and a spring in my step, I have decided to dedicate season to travelling locally, and with the weather on side this week, the nearest option had t be the picturesque town of Olney in Buckinghamshire. A 15-minute drive away from Milton Keynes, within easy reach of M1 J14, Olney is a great little gem for those who wish to take in the sights and sounds of the countryside.
A market town with a population of six thousand people, Olney’s claim to fame is “Amazing Grace” by John Newton collaborated with his guest William Cowper here on what became known as the Olney Hymns. What remains of the duo is the Cowper and Newton Museum located in the house where Cowper lived from 1768 until 1786.
Olney is also world famous for the Pancake Race, which dates back to 1445.
Years ago, this town was on my daily commute, and I always enjoyed stopping by to check out the local boutiques and second hand shops. In fact one of the main attractions of Olney has to be its unique shops and eateries. Forget about the chains which have invaded every high street across the land. I remember it was a big deal when Tesco Express opened almost a decade ago. Recently, Costa has joined but otherwise the town remains untouched by high street chains.
Unique shops are not all though, Olney also has on offer a weekly market every Thursday, which is a must if you are lucky to visit on the market day. From fresh farm produce and bread to hats and handbags you can find a wide array of goods on offer. I even happened on this stall which sells genuine Turkish peshtamal (Turkish hammam towels).
On a good day you are also likely to see town folk soak up the sun on the benches scattered around the market square.
Around the market square there are a range of boutiques and interior design shops which are definitely worth a peek. One little secret I will let you in on is the first floor of the nearby Willen Hospice charity shop which is a treasure trove of second hand clothes. On my visit I came across this beautiful pair of French Connection mules, sadly a size too small, and a Calvin Klein blazer, both a fiver each. Now that’s what I call a bargain!
When it comes to finding rare gems, Willen Hospice shop is not the only destination. Further down on the high street you will find Mercy in Action which always wows with the beautiful window dressings and quaint finds you will find inside. On the trip I was lucky to get my hands on a little vintage handbag.
Side by side right across the road are My Little Vintage shop with more upmarket vintage furniture and design knick knacks and Age Concern UK where you are always guaranteed to find something quirky. Just check out the range of hats – just in time for the wedding season!
If it is books and old records you are after though, the only place to visit is the Oxfam shop off the main street. Walk further down the high street in Lavendon direction and you are likely to see a range of beautiful terrace houses with real curb appeal.
Throw in a few pubs where you can stop by for lunch and a pint you have the quintessential countryside high street.
For the ultimate lunch al fresco though, I’d recommend you go off the beaten track and discover the lush Rose Court or Fountain Court where not only can you grab a bite to eat but you can also explore the neighbouring boutiques.
I stopped over at The Courtyard Brasserie for a quick lunch and enjoyed the sunny weather outdoors as I dug into my Spaghetti Bolognese. With plenty of seats outside and a large sun room, this delightful brasserie is the perfect place to enjoy lunch, drinks or event just coffee and soak up the sunrays on a lush spring day.
Post-lunch why not head over to Emberton Park where you can enjoy the views of the rolling countryside and the River Ouse? Pressed for time, I did not get the chance to explore but stopped by to enjoy the scenery of Ouse Valley with the St Peter and Paul Church in the background.
The walk back to the market square is equally joyous with a dozen or so cafes, pubs, shops scattered along each side of the main street. One shop you must definitely check out is Afterglow which offers handcrafted vintage upcycled furniture and the cutest shopping companion you could ask for who goes by the name of Meg. I got drawn in when I saw the vintage suitcase outside but walk indoors and I dare you to leave without making a purchase. Had I the space in my house, I would have easily walked away with the upcycled school desk.
Incidentally, afterglow which means “a trace of past brilliance” also means “the glow frequently seen in the sky after sunset”. If you can, stay on till after sunset and enjoy the serene solitude of the market square deserted by the market sellers, the elderly and the school kids.
You can even hang on until dinner at the cosy Kasbah which has on offer a wide range of delicious Mediterranean dishes or the exquisite Amaya which serves exquisite contemporary Indian cuisine. Whatever you do, however long you wish to spend, make sure you spend at least an afternoon in Olney.