We recently visited Upton for a second (maybe third time), just after Christmas, after parting ways with our visitors in its near neighbour Pershore. It was a damp day, after many such damp days and even when the East of the country takes the worst of the rainfall, the Severn plain around is always badly affected. Worcester floods on a regular basis, but you don’t have to trawl your memories too far back to recall the disastrous floods at Tewkesbury in 2007. Come December 2012, and the rain has been falling, and when we approached Upton, just upstream, it was as though we were entering the Louisiana swamps – to say the river had burst its banks does an injustice to the water stretching as far as the eye can see. Whilst not as destructive as in 2007, that’s one of the defining characteristics of living in this area: you’re somewhat dominated by Britain’s biggest river. Mind you, Upton probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Severn. The small town of about 3,000 is located at one of the few bridges over the river Severn, the only crossing between Tewkesbury and Worcester; and combined with the meeting of the main roads between Gloucester and Worcester, and Ledbury and Evesham it seemed a good place to build a little harbour – and so a market town sprung up. This was boosted when the Severn Towing Company situated a crossing and toll office here, and the town gradually became what we see today, all little streets and coaching inns, large marina and fantastic bridge; and low-lying pastures usually filled up with Severn water.
Although you’re advised to pack some wellies if it’s been raining, Upton’s a lovely little stop-off. You can’t ask for much more than a sunny day by the river in the shadow of the Malvern Hills, and there’s plenty of attractive pubs and restaurants to accommodate that sort of lounging. There’s free car park at the far end of town, opposite the church: if you visit in the summer, look over onto the rugby pitch and imagine that when we last saw it, it was full up like a swimming pool, at a level disconcertingly higher than where we were standing. As you walk towards the shops you’ll pass by all kinds of curious, low buildings bowing out onto the street, filled with curio shops, a very pleasant secondhand book shop and little galleries. The town centre is really focused on the junction of the High Street and New Street, and this is where you’ll find the two formal charity shops. RSPCA is small and poky, but with a few interesting odds and ends. St Richards Hospice is larger and contains a better range of stock – there’s usually some nice clothes here, along with the usual trinkets and books. Note the distinctive aroma about the place though – not worked out what it is yet. These are both on the main drag, with plenty of other useful or cutesie shops, plus (best of all!) a Map Shop.
I’ve defined these as the two “formal” charity shops, but the actual thrifty highlight of Upton is a charity shop only in the loosest sense of the term. It’s not immediately clear what the charity is for a start, and to get there you have to follow the handwritten signs up the side street of London Lane. Once you’re there – and if it’s open, which it may or may not be depending on the day, the time of year, maybe the condition of the pet dog – you’ll see a sort of garage door, maybe some sprawling tables outside. Definitely go in. This is part junk shop, part garage sale, part charity shop, and it’s great fun. You might find everything from vintage tobacco tins, to candlewick bedspreads and old-fashioned eiderdowns; all sorts of crockery, kitchen implements, old magazines, books in piles around the place, lamps and electricals, bits of furniture, and clothes a-plenty. My guess is that this is seasonal, as it wasn’t open for our December visit, but has been on our two previous visits. It’s definitely the highlight.
For such a small town, Upton is always on our radar if we’re down that direction anyway, perhaps visiting Malvern or Tewkesbury. It’s not only a bit lovely, but can be good for a quick trawl, with free parking and a lovely riverside spot. Plus, if you’re feeling fit you can walk here from Bristol or mid-Wales on the Severn Way. It is only small, don’t forget, but a great stop-off.
Find: Upton upon Severn @ Google Maps
Get there: no trains here, so bus or drive – or even better arrive in style by boat to the Marina.
Consume with: we’ve not stopped for food here, but if we did, I’d be tempted to follow the lead of Alec Guinness, Brian Blessed and Kathy Burke by stopping into the White Lion Hotel, dating back to 1510 and offering accommodation as well. It’s one of several olde coaching inns.
Visit: handily for this coming weekend, how about the Wassailing and Frost Fair? Sounds like fun in a Wicker Man and Morris dancing kind of way.
Overall rating: three tobacco tins
EDIT: I’ve been very kindly informed that the charity shop in London Lane is Worcester Cancer Aid. Thanks Jackie!