Population: 37,000

Eat at… The White Hart at Fyfield

(01865 390585)

Why? The acclaimed White Hart has a grow-your-own, buy-local ethos. Its 15th-century chantry setting is worth the short detour from Abingdon.

Drink at… The White Horse

(01235 524490)

Why? This Ock Street pub, with its brick and stone façade, has a lively local atmosphere and a splendid garden.

Stay at… Crown and Thistle Hotel

(01235 522556)

Why? A boutique-style glamour and glitz combine with original architecture in the rooms of this 400-year-old Grade II listed building.

With thousands of years of history behind it, Abingdon stakes a claim to be the oldest town in Eng-land. It’s been shaped by the lives of monks, merchants and monarchs, but before them, settlers were attracted to the point where three rivers meet. Though many of the Cotswold towns had large abbeys, few had rival churches close by. Abingdon’s merchants set up St Helen’s, where they also had wharves and access to the rivers Thames, Ock and Stert. Today’s settlers are as likely to be commuters to Oxford and Reading as they are to work nearby. But, unusually for a Cotswold town, Abingdon has its own marina, which has been called the Thames’s best-kept secret, main-taining that town-and-river connection that’s been present for thousands of years.

Most noted for… Its 400-year-old tradition of bun-throwing; this event started for the coronation of King George III, but now takes place to celebrate significant national events. It most recently took place to mark the coronation of King Charles III. Councillors throw thousands of buns from the top of the old County Hall building, now Abingdon’s museum.

While you’re here… See the remains of Abingdon’s once-large abbey, destroyed during King Henry VIII’s Reformation. It’s said you should hold your breath as you wander under the Guildhall arch lest the gargoyles steal it.

But try not to… miss the election of the mock mayor in midsummer, a tradition that dates back to the 1700s. Ballot papers are delivered to residents in Ock Street, while Morris dancers vie for the mayoral title. The newly appointed mock mayor is carried on a ceremonial chair through Abing-don.

Who’s who… Best-selling author Ali Mercer and award-winning poet Ian Pindar live locally. Charles Dickens’ great-great-grandson, Gerald Charles Dickens, also has an Abingdon connection. The hugely successful band Radiohead was started by pupils who met at Abingdon School. Other nota-ble alumni include actors David Mitchell, Toby Jones and Eddie Eyre.

The County Hall Museum

Recently refurbished, its collections offer insights into the town’s history. Saxon objects from burial sites, a prince’s sword rescued from the river, and the last MG sports car manufactured at Abing-don all feature among the exhibits. If you’re a real MG fan, visit the old site of the MG factory in Kimber Road, now the headquarters of the MG car club.

St Ethelwold’s House

This 13th-century house is run as a sanctuary and retreat, in line with the hospitality once given by monks and merchants in the area.