Tag Archives: abbey


Summer in Tewkesbury, by Jayt74. Image used under creative commons, click pic for link.

Summer in Tewkesbury, by Jayt74. Image used under creative commons, click pic for link.

Things you might associate with Tewkesbury: floods; mustard; abbey; battle. For a fairly modest market town in Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury has a fair volume of history and contribution to society behind it. Floods first – perhaps more than anything, these define Tewkesbury in contemporary popular imagination. 2007 was only the most recent drama to affect the town – see here for a full breakdown of flooding in the Severn catchment – and not the first time the town has been completely cut off. The dramatic pictures on the TV revealed a low-lying town at the confluence of two of the biggest rivers in the country (the Severn and Avon), and Tewkesbury is essentially built on the wide meadows of the Severn plain, making it a prime spot for a bit of flood water. It’s a shame, because it’s a lovely town, but like Worcester and other towns on major rivers, there’s a risk to living here (and no doubt a significant chunk of insurance premium).

But beyond the obvious, Tewkesbury is home to a whole pile of Englishness. Tewkesbury Mustard combines the heat of mustard with the heat of horseradish. Genius! Tewkesbury Abbey is the third largest church that’s not a cathedral in the country; the Battle of Tewkesbury was one of the decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses (York won, much to my dad’s chagrin), and  Edward IV became the boss. (not The Boss, just the boss). Not just a market town, it’s a historic (sadly now historic only, and no longer operative) flour milling town, and the relics of this industry are clearly seen along the banks of the Avon, just off the High Street. It’s a delight too for historians of vernacular architecture – we met my folks there for the day and were regailed with all sorts of information about jettying and timber-framing, which hopefully didn’t push any other, more useful, information out of my brain. It’s also a pretty good charity shop destination.

Parking is available in several spots around town – next to the Saturday market is handy; so is St Mary’s Lane, overlooking the Avon. Be careful when you choose to go: hit Tewkesbury on Medieval Festival day and you’ll be hard-pressed to get a spot. Tewkesbury’s array of charity shops is strung along the High Street, between the Cross and the shopping arcade at the upper end. Don’t just stick to this stretch if you want to fulfil the Tourism part of our brief: some of the most scenic parts of Tewkesbury are on Church Street, including the Old Baptist Chapel, the Abbey itself, and ancient pubs like the Berkeley Arms and Royal Hop Pole (now a Wetherspoons hotel, but mentioned in the Pickwick Papers). At the bottom of the High Street you’ll find the slightly random Roses Charity Shop in aid of the town’s theatre and opened by Gervase Phinn, don’tyouknow; and close by, the Bookworm shop (I have to be very selective about going into charity bookshops like this as I’m quite prone to temptation).

Further along we have British Hearth Foundation, Cancer Research, AgeUKTenovus and Blue Cross (always proud of its medieval-themed displays), then a string of Guideposts Trust, St Richard’s Hospice and the Salvation Army. I wouldn’t say that any of these were remarkable shops, as such; but again none are poor or weird (always a possibility), and as a rule are fairly large. Happy hunting grounds, really, and a distraction from the biggest attraction Tewkesbury has (for me at least): Cornell Books, with its ramshackle side entrance and its boxes, and boxes, and boxes of old maps: Bartholomew, vintage OS and many more besides, many of them for a solitary pound. I could genuinely spend a day in there, but I am very careful.

I love Tewkesbury, actually. It warrants a whole day of exploring the alleys and ginnels, the antique markets and tea shoppes, the river walks and – of course – the charity shops.

Find: Tewkesbury @ Google Maps
Get there: the station is Ashchurch For Tewkesbury, on the mainline from Brum to the South West, but it’s a bus-ride for anyone who doesn’t want a hike.
Consume with: plenty of choice in terms of hearty pub food or cafe culture; my experience can recommend cheap-and-cheerful pub grub at the Berkeley, or coffee and cake at Caffe Ricci.
Visit: plenty to look at too, the obvious choice being the magnificent abbey.
Overall rating: four slotted spoons


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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire


Pershore Abbey, under Creative Commons. Photo by Timothy Rose, click pic for link.

Pershore Abbey, under Creative Commons. Photo by Timothy Rose, click pic for link.

Surprising (to me) as it may seem, I’ve yet to sit down and plan trips out on the basis of one road. At some point, however, I’d like to be able to write down my experiences of the A44 – an otherwise undistinguished route between Oxford and Aberystwyth, this ploughs through a great deal of what I love about the English countryside and its accompanying towns, then takes a nice hike through the mountains of mid-Wales to its final destination in the Irish Sea. For future reference, expect detailed accounts of the A449 from Stafford to Newport, the A458 stretching from home turf into deepest Snowdonia, and when I feel really brave, the A38.

Oxford is a destination that we’ve achieved once, and have been thwarted by breakdowns, newborns and all sorts in our attempts to revisit. It remains a future write-up, as do the Cotswold towns of Chipping Norton and Moreton-in-Marsh, which are to come much more quickly. After Evesham, Pershore is the next decent-sized (read, CST-relevant) town along the road. After that would come Worcester, Bromyard, Leominster (recently scoped out), Llanrindod Wells, Rhayader, and finally Aberystwyth – our hopefully-soon-to-be-purchased caravan might help add some of these names to our visited list.

Situated on the river Avon on its way to meet the Severn at Tewkesbury (also coming soon), Pershore is at the heart of one of the most fertile fruit-growing regions of the country (as evidenced by the annual Plum Festival, which will undoubtedly *cough* be on our list of to-do’s in 2012). Entering via a bridge over said Avon, the most notable sight is the restored Benedictine Pershore Abbey on the Western side of the town centre. You could park along the road here, or as we did around the corner at Asda, from whence a profitable and pleasant charity shopping trip. If you park in Asda, you’ll have the added convenience of being dead close to two large St Richard’s Hospice shops – one for clothes, another for small furniture and a vast array of crockery, kitchenalia and assorted bric a brac. Be warned – there’s some nice things here, but they may not be high up the bargain scale.

On the main drag, there’s a significant-sized Oxfam and an equally well-sized Blue Cross shop. Just off the high street on Broad Street is a poky but well-filled Cats Protection League – I found a pair of Levis here for £4 (a miracle because of my odd proportions), which was excellent until we got home and saw just how green they were. They’ll need consideration; possibly dying.

The pick of the bunch is Acorn Hospice. This is a huge shop with a couple of side rooms for various things. It’s not so much that they stock anything unusual, just a large quantity of it. This is particularly evident right at the back, where books are piled wall-to-ceiling and weigh down a large table as well. Six is not a bad haul for a town as little as Pershore, so it punches above its weight. It has a great location for us, as it could easily be combined into a big old day out by hitting up Worcester, Upton and Malvern as well, even Tewkesbury for the adventurous (I wouldn’t bother with Evesham). And it’s nice! A polite, charming little town with some things to see and do. Good work.

Find: Pershore Google Maps
Get there: Pershore station is on the Worcester to London line, so stops in all sorts of helpful spots.
Consume with: the standard cheese baked potato, in Sugar and Spice, was fairly basic but went down well. Don’t ask for something off menu though, you’ll enter a world of pain.
Visit: the abbey or Bredon Hill would make good trips.
Overall rating: four Peter Gabriel LPs

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Filed under 4/5, Worcestershire


Glastonbury by Andras Jancsik, under Creative Commons.

Glastonbury by Andras Jancsik, under Creative Commons.

Driving across the Mendips and into Glastonbury, one thing makes your location very clear: the eponymous tor rising slightly unnervingly above the small town. It’s almost artificial-looking in its proportions, like Silbury Hill, with the solid tooth of the church tower standing proud on top. It overlooks not only the town itself, but the whole of the Somerset levels. From its vantage point you would be able to see this massive flood plain, and how the town rises slightly above the average altitude. It’s this that leads many to believe that Glasto was once an island – some go as far as to say that it was Avalon, King Arthur‘s mythical final resting place. It would be just one of many mythical, fictional, romantical associations with the little town, ranging from Joseph of Arimathea and the holy grail, to the earth-dragon, a bi-gendered ley line superhighway extending from Cornwall to East Anglia. See the Glastonbury Tor website for maps, if you like that sort of thing (and who doesn’t?)

Whatever basis any of these legends have, they’ve brought out the hippies en masse in Glastonbury. Not for this town the mud-caked musos and designer-welly-wearers of Pilton Farm, walking down Glastonbury High Street the norm is dreadlocked hair, kaftans and tunics, roll-ups and organic vegetables. Surrounding the Market Cross at the foot of the high street sit a motley selection of hardened crusties drinking cider, hirsute teenagers and what seems like half the audience at Womad. Every other shop front has some sort of new age connection, be it crystals, incense, books or tarot readings.

That doesn’t include the charity shops of course, of which there are but three, but you’ll find generously-proportioned religion/philosophy/spirituality sections in each of the bookshelves. First up, on Northload Street, a non-descript Oxfam peddles its usual fair trade assortment along with a quite standard selection of books and clothes. The best action is found further up the High Street, past the church, opposite the curiously-named Truckle of Cheese.

Here we have the ever-lovely Shaw Trust, and as usual it’s filled with nice things. A pile of elderly, hardbacked electricians’ manuals? Vinyl stacked so that the outside sleeve shows the record (a surprisingly rare innovation when most shops sell vinyl out of a brightly coloured crate on the floor)? Check. The best of the bunch in Glastonbury, however, is, as so often, the local hospice, in this case St Margarets Somerset. A double-fronted beast of a charity shop, and packed on this Saturday afternoon, the store’s divided, quite sensibly, into two sections (clothing and misc.) by a dinky little passage filled with nicknacks. The ‘misc’ side is especially good: walls of books, a whole snug for bric-a-brac, even the odd sofa. Pick of the bunch here was a Tiffany-esque glass ceiling lampshade (at £25 not cheap, but I guess not expensive either. I don’t really know what the going rate for lampshades is). I managed to resist the temptation of what seemed to be the Observer’s Guide to the M6, although I was sorely tempted.

Glastonbury’s definitely worth a dip, because there’s plenty more than just the charity shops – it rates just as highly on the tourism tourism scale as the charity shop tourism. Plus all the hippies seemed so nice! Barking, but nice.

Find: Glastonbury @ Google Maps
Consume with: I recommend a nice cuppa at the cheerily wholesome HundredMonkeys, on the High Street.
Visit: Glastonbury Abbey, at one point supposed to be the oldest church building in existance; or the reall quite imppressive Tor.
Overall rating: four random crystals


Filed under 4/5, Somerset

Bury St Edmunds

The Sentinals, under Creative Commons by Andrew Stawarz

The Sentinals, under Creative Commons by Andrew Stawarz

Drive across the epically flat scenery of this part of Suffolk and you’ll come across the ancient Saxon town of Bury St Edmunds, a city redolent with history like the whole of the surrounding region. Locally you’ll find the spires and libraries of Cambridge, the archeological goldmine of Mildenhall, the Devil’s Dyke and Sutton Hoo, and the horseracing capital of the world, Newmarket. Bury is quite the local market town though, and it’s quite the bustling metropolis in Suffolk terms.

We parked in the brand new Cattle Market development, a huge great open air mall arrangement with all the shops you’d want out of such an affair. It did the job in terms of coffee, but we swiftly moved on to the town centre and the market. Here you’ll find streets radiating out which warrant exploring – first off try St John’s Street for a handful of excellent charity shops. Worth noting are Home Farm Trust, an Oxfam and a sizable Oxfam bookshop, and the pick of the crop, St Nicholas’ Hospice. The latter is great, with all sorts of rooms branching off from one another: one for books, one seemingly for be-sequinned bags, one for furniture stacked on itself. There was plenty of hardback book sets: I carefully left with just a complete poetical works of Byron.

The shops peter out the further you go in this direction, so turn around and head back up to the marketplace. It’s not a particularly fancy market or anything, just the usual stalls and the odd roast-pork-sandwich stall (always a winner), but carry on along here to find a Cancer Research and an RSPCA, and a little further on taking a left down the hill, you’ve got British Heart Foundation. Abbeygate St is the main drag really, once you’re off the market, the showpiece – plenty of quaint coffee shops and boutiques leading down to the eponymous abbey grounds.

The abbey is what gave Bury St Edmunds its cache in the region, one of the richest Benedictine priories in the country. The abbey itself is now but ruins, but there’s also St Edmundsbury cathedral which was the church for the abbey – not ungenerous in its proportions for the role. The town built up around the trade and regional importance the abbey gave it, until you have today’s bustling, charity shop centre. It’s as if it was all leading to this point.

The abbey may have been dissolved by this year’s historical icon ‘enry the eighth, but the town continues and while it’s a bit too bustling for my tastes, there’s some charity shops worth having a poke at if you’re in the region.

Find: Bury St Edmunds @ Google Maps
Consume with: a hot pork sammidge sufficed for me on the day, but previously I’ve been to Harriet’s; it’s a bit like some sort of railway station cafe from the golden age of steam.
Visit: If you’re doing the tourist thing, then you should at least have a wander in the direction of the abbey.
Overall rating: three lickle candlesticks

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Filed under 3/5, Suffolk


Romsey Abbey, by Paul Cummings

Romsey Abbey, by Paul Cummings

There must be hundreds of small market towns around the country filled with historic churches, market stalls on a cobbled square, community charity shops (natch) and a bustling, be-corduroyed local crowd. I could talk about Hitchin, Hertford, Saffron Walden, and the like, and I could go on – and the nice thing is, I’ll never get tired of visiting these places. They’re so unfailingly English, even in this day and age, that they feel like a tourist’s day out for me, sat on my convalescent’s chair here in sunny Haringey, perhaps one of the least English places in the country.

Romsey’s not far from where I grew up, so it was a good place to take the companion when last visiting my family. A town of butchers, market stalls selling unusual herbs or flavoured oils, coffee shops situated in low-beamed old houses, a historic abbey, and the rare option of medium-stay car parking, though quite what the point of the latter is, I’m still undecided. Parking in said medium-stay car park pops you out next to Bradbeers, the town’s own department store next to the River Test, then straight into the genteel melee of the marketplace (held on Corn Market, rather than the more expected Market Place) – you’ll reliably be able to find herbs and oils, fruit and veg and artisan bread here, although it’s not a large arrangement. This echoes the town centre itself: compact but classy.

Starting at this point, turn left and immediately you’ll find an Oxfam bookshop – as usual, an excellent range of stock but Oxfam always know how to price their sales, and you’ll rarely find a bargain. On passing a couple of excellent butchers (get your faggots here…), turn right past the town hall cum makeshift cinema to the old market place and progress up Church Street past one entrance to the Abbey. On this stretch we have three charity shops in close proximity. I have to confess that I was slightly distracted at this stage due to being followed around by a man in a lion costume (if only I were joking…) so the three blur in my memory, but we have the Tenovus cancer charity (I think this gave us a posh frock for a wedding (not for me obviously)), Cancer Research and Marie Curie Cancer Care. It’s probably a little glib to label this the cancer quarter, but you understand what I mean.

Back down to The Hundred, the main drag, we have a second Oxfam and British Red Cross, both worth a visit, and on the other side of the road, Wessex Cancer Trust, looking lost away from its kith and kin around the corner. The remaining trove is Help The Aged, along the charming Love Lane – another decent stop-off.

I didn’t end up with a massive haul from Romsey – being a well-to-do sort of a place, it’s hard to find genuine bargains, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Aside from the obvious draw of eight charity shops, there’s plenty of history, other shops, and olde town charm here.

Find: Romsey @ Google Maps
Consume with: Caffe Nero operates from a charming little old town house right on the market – busy, but cute.
Visit: This depends on who you’re with and what you like: the gentlefolk amongst you will enjoy Broadlands, seat of Palmerston and Mountbatten; outdoors types might enjoy the Hillier Arboretum; kids would be better off plonked at the Rapids, the big draw round these parts when I were but a lad.
Overall rating: four sandwich tongs

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Filed under 4/5, Hampshire