We’re milling around next to a lush green synthetic ‘lawn’ as a glitterball twirls and little hands waggle in the air, disco pumping from a mobile sound system. The aroma of freshly ground coffee beans peps up the smiling crowd on their quest to find treasures among the flea market stalls. And the third person we’ve spoken to that day has told us that they came to Frome for a party… and have never gone home.

Talk about a wake-up call. When it comes to buzz, most towns should want what Frome is having.

Oxford Mail:

  • Opal necklace by Annette Gabbedey


This market town, its streets tottering up and down the Mendip Hills, is teeming with historical buildings – more than any other town in Somerset, in fact. However, it’s the thriving arts scene which makes it a honeypot well worth a weekend away – or longer if you get hooked.

Among the artistic London refugees who have nestled here to enjoy the hip markets, gorgeous shops stuffed full of local crafts and performing arts are Kevin McCloud and Mariella Frostrup. Another is designer/maker Mary Kilvert. “It was love at first sight,” says Mary, who spotted a For Sale board on the potential venue for her new shop in the trendy Catherine Hill. Although, as little as two years ago, the area was run-down, lacking investment and vision and barnacled with boarded windows, you wouldn’t know it now. Her shop is a rainbow nest of fairytale illustrations and blankets woven from Frome lambswool. A few steps down the steep street are more examples of retail buzz: Sisters Guild (kaleidoscopic homewares), Deadly Is The Female (funky, sexy vintagewear – of which Nigella is a fan), OWL Gallery (fantastic costumes and the kind of wonderfully trippy artwork that merges festival chic with Frome’s weirdness) and jeweller Annette Gabbedey.

Annette is a magpie for opals and diamonds, crafting them into gleaming one-off pieces and we are immediately drawn into her shop of sparkling swirls to commission an engagement ring worth celebrating. Amazingly, and even more amazing because it’s one of the least remarkable things about this vivacious woman, Annette was born without fingers, forcing you to readjust your own ideas about what it takes to be creative.

Oxford Mail:

  • Ring by Annette Gabbedey


“What I have learnt, ever since I was a small girl passing my mother sewing pins, is that there is no such word as ‘can’t’,” says Annette.

“I believe the skill of making something is not just to do with your hands – it’s the skill within you that matters just as much. “On Christmas Day I like to think about all those people who are opening my boxes. It’s lovely having that connection with people.”

On our trip to Frome we stayed at The Grange, five minutes out of Frome in Wately and run by the inspiring Jane Averil. Cookery at The Grange started life more than thirty years ago, and is renowned around the world for its residential cookery courses – Pippa Middleton is an alumna. Set amid the Grange grounds (think bohemian West Country wedding setting) – it includes a walled garden which produces fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers for use in the restaurant. Having lived around the world (which infuses the restaurant’s ever-changing specials, a mix of Mediterranean and Asian flavours), Jane’s kitchens are filled with the sort of infectious enthusiasm that urges you to sign up for a cookery course and learn how to make silky seasonal soups, soufflés and hearty meaty feasts to high-end catering standards.

Another success story is Silk Mill, a hub of artists’ studios and galleries (there was a full-blown orchestra practising during our visit) in the town’s industrial guts. The dilapidated site was transformed by the Moore family (one of their sons, Dickon, is the local mayor – the youngest in the country) using their own small pot of cash, earning them a nomination for an English Heritage Angels award. In fact, there is a revolutionary, can-do attitude that runs deep into Frome’s DNA. The Frome Spring of 2011 was sparked when five mates sat in the pub, moaning about how austerity measures were strangling the town they loved as the council planned to take over arts venue the Cheese & Grain. Though none of the men were ‘political’ they placed an ad in the local paper for independent candidates and – much to their own surprise – they found 86 takers, winning ten of the town’s 17 wards.

Vocal local Mel Usher, sitting in La Strada café (speciality: Willy Wonkaesque ice cream flavours, including a refreshing gin and tonic) says: “The lunatics had taken over the asylum and and some predicted that within six months we would implode, instead we have an ambitious programme based on a few principles, one of which is ‘Keep Frome Weird’.

“We are independents – watermelons – green on the outside and red in the middle. Frome is not twee – it’s a bit rough round the edges and there is poverty, but it is infectious and people from all walks of life come here for a day and stay a lifetime.” It’s well worth joining that revolution – even if it’s only for the shopping.