Famed for an oft mistold story about a bear and a bible, Congleton is now emerging as a hotspot for foodies from across the county and beyond.

Congleton’s history can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times and merits a mention in the Domesday Book. The town was granted a Charter in 1272 which, among other things, gave it the right to hold a market, and now, in the 21st century, it is Congleton’s food businesses that are helping to create a new confidence in 2023.

Whether you enjoy tapas, fine dining, or spicy delights from Bangkok, Japan, or Jamaica, you’ll find a dish to fire your imagination here.

Congleton is very much a self-contained town. It’s a popular place to set up home with good schools, shops of all shapes and sizes and easy access to larger conurbations.

It's also ideally located for exploring the Cheshire countryside and beyond with The Cloud and Jodrell Bank and the spectacular Peak District nearby, and then the historic six towns of The Potteries, just a few miles to the south.

Great British Life: Views over Cheshire from the Cloud on the Cheshire Staffordshire border near Congleton. (c) GuruJosh/GettyViews over Cheshire from the Cloud on the Cheshire Staffordshire border near Congleton. (c) GuruJosh/Getty

But it’s Congleton’s growing reputation as a foodie paradise that is driving the transformation.

Congleton’s annual Food and Drink Festival brings visitors flocking into town each June, though there are flavours to entice visitors here all year round.

Take a stroll along the revamped Capital Walk and you are transported from London to Rio, Tokyo to Kingston Town, Bangkok to Naples, Dublin to the USA and Central America. It’s a rarity, outside of the UK’s major conurbations to be able to enjoy a choice of authentic curried goat, jerk chicken, Japanese beef udon, traditional Portuguese bitoque, freshly made burritos and quesadillas or a New York-style burger.

Great British Life: Around the world in Capital Walk, where Boteco serves a taste of Brazil. (c) Nigel HowleAround the world in Capital Walk, where Boteco serves a taste of Brazil. (c) Nigel Howle

Meanwhile, plans have been unveiled for Congleton’s Market Quarter, promising more food and drink outlets, alongside a traditional market space.

In early summer, a digital impression was released showing plans for a major redevelopment. It’s hoped phase one could be open later this year, bringing back to life buildings that have stood empty for a decade.

Live music and yoga classes, as well as events put on by vendors from the market itself, are expected to be a feature of the new market and food hall. A regular outdoor artisan market is also planned for the square opposite the Market Quarter complex. The vision of the owners is to incubate smaller businesses, whether that’s local food vendors starting out, or young businesses needing office space.

Promotion for the development says: 'Congleton Market is, and will continue to be, a huge asset to the town. The vision is to bring a new life to the marketplace through reimagining the possibilities it holds – expect weekly artisan fairs, one-off seasonal events and more.'

Macclesfield-based R&G's Beer Vault announced it would be setting up R&G's Taphouse at the market. The company’s Macclesfield outlet is an independent bottle shop a tap room, with 10 keg lines featuring a range of craft and traditional beers.

Congleton is already home to Beartown Brewery, founded in 1994, and which has recently undergone a major transformation. The Manning family owns the Beartown Tap and the Wonky Pear, in Congleton, and last year opened its new taproom, The Den, which forms part of the brewery.

In a bold move, Beartown Brewery faced the consequences of the Covid-19 lockdowns head-on by planning this expansion, which lets customers to enjoy a Beartown beer in comfortable surroundings, together with a chance to view the brewing process. The venue is available for private hire and there are brewery tours, tasting events and entertainment.

Great British Life: The beautifully renovated and rejuvenated Lion & Swan, Congleton. (c) Kirsty ThompsonThe beautifully renovated and rejuvenated Lion & Swan, Congleton. (c) Kirsty Thompson

A new name on the High Street is the Higher Ground Café and Bar, occupying the former home of the RBS Bank, meanwhile the historic Lion and Swan has enjoyed a renaissance in recent times. The former coaching inn, with some parts dating back to the 15th century, was bought by Pear Hospitality in 2021 with around £1.5million invested in a tasteful refurbishment. Pear Hospitality is well known as the owner of Pecks, the fine dining restaurant, on the outskirts of town, and the Wheatsheaf in nearby Sandbach. Miam Miam (mission statement: 'Eat what makes you happy'), epitomises the global cuisine ethos with its small plates that range from haggis croquettes and katsu chicken gyoza to Brie De Meaux & fig arancini. The venue Lawton Street venue stages experience days and events and offers outside catering and home delivery.

And when the dining out is taking its toll, there is the newly revamped Congleton Leisure Centre, featuring a 100-station gym, 25-metre-long main swimming pool, a second pool for learners, relaxation suite including a sauna and steam room and a sports hall. The centre, which includes a café and a three-storey soft play area, was reopened in June by Congleton resident and Olympic Gold medallist Ann Brightwell (nee Packer).

Long-standing resident, Mark Edwardson, who recently retired from his role as a presenter and reporter on BBC North West Tonight originates from from St Helens and came to Congleton by chance. He's a town councillor (Independent group), and has really taken the town to heart.

'Landing in Congleton was an accident. At the time my wife was a teacher in Macclesfield and I worked for BBC Radio Stoke. We looked at a map and found Congleton was in between. That was 30-odd years ago and we love it now like we loved it then.

'Congleton’s got a positive vibe rarely found elsewhere. There’s more going here on than in much larger towns. The Peaks are on our doorstep. It’s a great place to raise a family too.

'For casual dining, such as brunch, I’d go to Higher Ground. The Lion and Swan’s refurbishment is excellent and it’s really good for high-end dining in contemporary surroundings. The Capital Walk shopping arcade has been transformed into an undercover street scene offering a wide range of food and drink. The Old Saw Mill is a hidden gem. It is run by volunteers and is now very popular.'

Great British Life: Capital Walk at the heart of Congleton's new status as a place to dine out. (c) Nigel HowleCapital Walk at the heart of Congleton's new status as a place to dine out. (c) Nigel Howle

Sarah Horton, an NHS diabetes specialist nurse, moved to Congleton with her husband and two children around six years ago. She said: 'We’ve never regretted the decision to move here. It’s a place with a community feel and we’ve made lots of friends from all backgrounds.

'Both the primary and secondary schools are fantastic and have supported our children brilliantly. When we were looking for a place to live, we found there was a wide variety of properties to suit most budgets, Transport links from here couldn’t be bettered, with easy access to the M6 and Manchester just a quick train ride away. There’s many good quality bars, restaurants, and places to shop; it’s a self-sufficient town surrounded by idyllic countryside.'

Sharon Neild, who champions Congleton with a News and Views Facebook page, said: 'Congleton is one of those rare towns where if you walk into the town centre, you'll always bump into someone you know.

Great British Life: Congleton Town Hall, the imposing Victorian Gothic style building in Congleton town centre. (c) Nigel HowleCongleton Town Hall, the imposing Victorian Gothic style building in Congleton town centre. (c) Nigel Howle

'It's a town with history but it’s modern enough that it doesn't get held back by the shackles of its past. I believe the “C” in Congleton stands for community. That was one of the reasons I started and continue to run the News And Views Facebook group, to shine a light and support the great community projects and people who do so much good for our town.

'We have amazing community projects such as The Old Saw Mill and Congleton In Bloom. We have Congleton Museum, an award-winning park, Little Moreton Hall, and we’re surrounded by amazing countryside and views. Congleton Cloud, which towers over the town is certainly something to not be missed.'

Great British Life: Little Moreton Hall, the landmark Tudor manor house near Congleton. (c) National TrustLittle Moreton Hall, the landmark Tudor manor house near Congleton. (c) National Trust

A favourite place for families is Glebe Farm, in nearby Astbury, which has a popular animal petting area and offers tractor rides. There's also a café, farm shop, and a butcher selling fresh meat from Cheshire farms with home-made sausages and burgers, and home-cured bacon.

Nearby Marton is home to La Popote, the French restaurant that was a finalist in the 2023 Cheshire Life Food & Drink Awards restaurant of the year category, and recently named in The Michelin Guide, where it is described as, 'a characterful converted barn with brick floors, exposed beams, and linen cloths, which add a brasserie deluxe feel. The chef-owner spent several years working in Paris, and this is evident in the cooking, which incorporates classic French techniques while displaying a subtle modernity in its presentation. Service is friendly and assured.'

Great British Life: The model of a bear clothed in mayoral at Congleton Town Hall. (c) Nigel HowleThe model of a bear clothed in mayoral at Congleton Town Hall. (c) Nigel Howle

Why Beartown?

In the 1600s, dancing bears were a popular attraction at fairs across England, including the annual Congleton Wakes. One year the bear became ill and died just before the Wakes were to start.

This was disastrous, as the bear was both a popular feature of the event and a good way of generating income for the town. There was no money to buy a new bear, so in desperation, the wakes' organisers approached the town alderman to ask for help.

A sum of money had been set aside to buy a new bible for the town, but the alderman suggested the fund could be used to buy a new bear, to be paid back from cash raised during wakes week.

As the story was told and retold, the legend of the bear grew and Congleton is now regularly called Beartown, with sporting clubs, including the town’s football and Rugby Union teams, being known as The Bears.

If you visit Congleton’s town hall, there’s a model of a bear clothed in mayoral robes.