One celebrated aspect of Cheltenham is its attractive mix of parks gardens and green spaces. Cheltenham parks define the town and are used as venues for everything from cultural festivals to recreational drug taking.
Here’s our guide to what’s going on out of doors in Cheltenham parks.
To begin with the most central, the Promenade is prime property in Cheltenham, an avenue of elms leads down towards a municipal bit of turf called the Long Gardens. Long Gardens is a handy space, occasionally a market runs along it, in front of the Council offices. There’s a fountain which some locals are fond of saying was based on the Trevi fountain in Rome. We’ve noticed that once these people have actually visited Rome’s Quirinale, they never say that again.
More Trevor, than Trevi: The Trevi Fountain (left) and the Cheltenham artistic response (right). Oh hang on, is it the other way around?
Nearby, there’s a statue of a true hero; Cheltonian Edward Wilson, the physician, botanist and artist who accompanied Scott on his tragic last journey to the South Pole.
Cheltenham’s garden planners and sponsors seemed to favour a straight edge back in the 19th century. It may be something to do with the mindset of all those military types who retired here in the days of empire and in fact the Imperial Garden (which shouldn’t be confused with any Chinese Cheltenham restaurants of the same name) lines a section of the Prom.
Imperial Gardens form an attractive green square that is sometimes roped to act as a venue for the bigger festivals, when they are dotted with marquees. In between events, 25,000 bedding plants a year keep everything colourful, albeit in a rather ‘civic’ way. In one corner of the gardens there is yet another Cheltenham Restaurant Cafe Bar called the Imperial Garden Bar which is a pleasant spot for a drink (especially before an event at the nearby TownHall), although Imperial Gardens is so central that it’s worth noting you have your choice of Cheltenham cafes and Cheltenham restaurants nearby.
Continue on out of the centre of town and you’ll find the larger Montpellier Gardens. This is the hub for major Festival events in Cheltenham and year-round there are tennis courts, a bandstand, a cafe and, a newish restaurant called Montpellier Lodge (which we will get around to checking out on our list of Cheltenham restaurant reviews).
Imperial and Montpellier gardens are key to Cheltenham’s status as a festival venue. There are occasional whimpers from the fustier element of the local population about this, but discussions are usually aimed at reducing the number of days use a year rather than dropping events altogether. 70 days a year seems to be about the mark.
More Cheltenham Parks: Pittville Park, Sandford Park and Jenner Gardens
Pittville Park is slightly further out of the town centre, necessarily so as it was a speculative project created during the early 19th century building boom. Pittville was a commercially built housing and spa project, designed to rival Cheltenham itself. As you leave town, a series of grass park areas (good for frisbee, footie, sunbathing) continue until you reach the Central Cross Cafe. By virtue of its location, this has become a meeting point for parents walking their toddlers and owners walking their dogs. Unusually amongst Cheltenham cafes, coffee on our last visit was (we thought) really quite bad and cakes were also sub par, but there are free newspapers and a friendly atmosphere, so have a cup of tea instead.
Continuing further on this, the largest of Cheltenham parks, there’s the small lake where some complete failure of a human being shot a swan with a crossbow in early 2017. A crowdfunded campaign saw George the swan treated and returned to the lake within a month, which thankfully illustrated the more attractive side of human nature.
Nearby, a large and beautifully made children’s playground is now a huge draw for families. This too was part crowdfunded thanks to an organisation called Friends of Pittville. At the top of the park, the eye is drawn to the beautifully proportioned Pittville Pump Room, now a venue for weddings, events and concerts. Over the road there are tennis courts and a skateboard park, plus some golf holes and a boating lake with a cafe.
Head to the south part of the centre of Cheltenham for Sandford Park, which has the mighty River Chelt trickling along one edge (chef’s note, we scrumped some wild garlic here, possibly the first in Gloucestershire to arrive). On the other side, Sandford Parks Lido is a real retro, 1930s heated Lido – a great place to cool off in Summer. Between the two are large grassy lawns where, from late Spring, groups of students sit in fairy circles and smoke dope and/or light impromptu barbecues. Heading towards town there are one or two less open garden spaces, a sedicente Italian Garden and an area called Annecy gardens. Despite leading to the High Street and being pretty central, the slightly detached and sheltered nature of these fringes of Sandford Park has led to some antisocial behaviour with one of the local rags rather gleefully reporting on drug dealing, public sex and late night assaults in that area. For my part, I’m completely happy to use the park although I keep my headphones out and my wits about me in quieter parts, and I wouldn’t use the park as a short cut at night. I’d apply the same rules to the much smaller Jenner Gardens at the other end of Cheltenham’s High Street which has a slightly intimidating air about it, despite hard work by local groups to cheer it up.
That’s not a positive way to end an article on Cheltenham Parks – they are by and large well kept and attractive places. Our favourite is Pittville Park.