AN ENGLISH market town, rich in character and history, as neat as a pin yet with just the right degree of bustle, with interesting shops and free car parking - all compelling reasons for spending time in Thornbury.

In summertime, the flower-decked town is a sight not to be missed as the community pulls together for the annual the Britain in Bloom contest (it has been a gold medal winner) But even on gloomy winter days - and we've seen a few of those recently - Thornbury still manages to impress, thanks to its cosy compactness and its many-faceted architectural charms.

It has been a flourishing community for centuries, as demonstrated by the fact that 2002 saw the 750th anniversary of the granting of the town's charter by King Henry 111.

Given its size, the town boasts an unusually wide variety of shops - including those increasingly hard to find independent traders still offering the sort of personal service which in larger centres has sadly become almost extinct.

The popular St Mary (CORR) shopping centre, completed in 1984, remains a natural draw for those who appreciate convenient, weather-protected shopping.

St Mary's Way links the centre to Thornbury's old High Street with its delightful mix of specialist shops.

One of Thornbury's most attractive areas remains The Plain, with the parish pump (not the original, but a faithful reproduction) at its centre.

It is just this blending of old and new that makes Thornbury so special.

The town's open-air Saturday market has been revived and a Farmers' Market (first Thursday of the month), started last year , has quickly become a powerful attraction in the St Mary Centre.

As for refreshment, you'll find restaurants, bakery tea rooms and good pubs a-plenty, all of them offering good value fare in comfortable surroundings.

Thornbury's strategic location - just off the A38 and only five miles from the M4/M5 interchange - is another plus. Bus links are good and for motorists, conveniently situated parking facilities (including the large, free car park in Rock Street) are almost without equal.