Tag Archives: British Heart Foundation

Birmingham

As a wannabe historian, I’m wary of making pre-judgments of people, places or events based on paltry, secondhand information. It wasn’t always thus: time was that I was quick to judge places that I’d never been, in particular, and for the sake of winding up the (later-to-be) wife, Birmingham came in for quite a bit of derision. It’s a city of ring roads and concrete, I argued, like a town planner in the 1960’s tripped over and spilled all his tools onto a relief map. It’s all sinister canals and derelict factories, mid-table football teams and easily-ridiculed accents.

As it turns out, since moving to the vicinity, I’m quite a fan of sinister canals and derelict factories and I’m quite enjoying the accent. I draw the line at Aston Villa mind. I live in the Black Country, it should be noted – on a local scale, there’s plenty of rivalry there. But when it’s the Midlands against one of the other regions, those from the conurbation tend to be pretty proud of their big city. Not proud like the self-aggrandising Liverpool, and not the parka and monkey legs swagger of Manchester; Brum has always been strong on the self-deprecatory humour and it means that despite being the second city of the nation Birmingham is more often a figure of fun than a serious contender for a global city.

It’s a pity. I, like Telly Savalas, have become a big fan. Like him I can appreciate the Aston Expressway and New Street station of course, but to be honest they’re as much as most people know – or want to know – about the city. If you’ve never taken the time to get to know the city, you may well associate Birmingham with mind-numbing delays through Spaghetti Junction, on the M6 to anywhere else. Or you might have tried to negotiate the equally epic M5/M6 junction in Walsall, or got lost around the ring road. Birmingham is Motor City UK for sure: its wide roads matching the vast car factories such as the now-departed Longbridge plant; not, perhaps, the most elegant city to approach. That’s true by rail as well – entering New Street Station (even/especially after the recent renovations) is an ennervating experience as you descend into black tunnels, all watched over by brutalism’s cheerless eye.

That’s Birmingham – centre of the Midlands, on the middle of your journey to somewhere else. But Birmingham’s joys are just different to those of other cities, not less. Wander a while in the Jewellery Quarter if its gas street lights and old-fashioned workshops you’re after. Explore the canals which radiate in all directions from the hub beneath Broad Street – you’ll find waterside living and pavement restaurants every bit as pleasant as anything London can offer. Bit of culture? Try the (free) museum, the festivals in Moseley, the coffee and fine dining in the Colmore Row area, the balti triangle in Sparkbrook, join a revolution in Handsworth. Take your pick of monumentalist Victorian architecture, of Brutalism, of Georgian, of Tolkein-ian or of Jacobean. For as long as it’s been a city, Birmingham has been a centre of Enlightenment and industry, radicalism and controversy. It’s shaped in the popular mind by the bulldozed concrete behemoths of the city centre and the Birmingham Six, but in reality it’s more diverse and more interesting than you could hope to discover.

In fact, as I understand it, Birmingham has not only become a foodie destination but a shoppers one also. The Bullring is no longer the concrete hulk where a young Godber fell in love over jars of pickled onions; it’s high-end and fancy. It’s not to everyone’s taste mind – Birmingham’s alt.culture finds itself increasingly marginalised into the Oasis centre, for example, while Reddington’s Rare Records and Swordfish end up having to relocate – but if you like carrying giant paper bags with string handles, you’ll probably do well here. One area for improvement is charity shops. Historically there’s always been a handful, but more recently I could have had no justification to write about Brum at all. That was until the arrival of two British Heart Foundation stores in close proximity to one another. The first is a large, well-stocked and – unusually for BHF – they seem to have got the floorspace designers in so there’s far fewer “scuse me”s needed to get around the shop. The second shop is the really handy one. It’s huge for a start – possibly the biggest charity shop I’ve ever been in, occupying the site of the former Virgin Records store. And it’s full to the brim with every kind of homeware, from sofas to digital radios, fridges to rugs, bookshelves to spin dryers.

Birmingham is, sadly, not much of a charity shop destination. The suburbs are another matter, but the town centre is a bit too swish these days. These two BHF shops though are great and surprisingly well worth an investigation – much like Brum itself.

Find: Birmingham @ Google Maps
Get there: easy by any means – try out the new New Street station if you dare, but I prefer Moor Street.
Consume with: a vast range here, depending on your taste or budget, running from the awesome 99p baguette shops, to meat-heavy Brazilian grill Rodizio Rico, to the Balti Triangle, to Purnell’s, to the Flapper on the canal.
Visit: free museums? The centre of Britain’s waterway network? Bit of art at the MAC? Bit of animal at Cannon Hill Park?
Overall rating: three washing machines

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Filed under 3/5, West Midlands

Cirencester

Coxwell Street, Cirencester, by Graham_B. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Coxwell Street, Cirencester, by Graham_B. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

If there’s two things that have stuck in your mind from learning the Romans at primary school, I’ll bet it’s that all their roads were straight; and that if a town ends in “chester” or “cester”, then it was Roman. Good old Romans, making things nice and logical for us. Cirencester nicely fulfils the latter, its name a descendent of the Latin Corinium Dobunnorum. The town that’s now Cirencester was established as a fort in the earliest part of the Roman occupation of Britannia, and when the frontier with those crazy Celts moved towards Wales and the fort abandoned by soldiers, the local Dobunni tribe moved in, hence the name – it grew into the second largest city of the province. Approaching Cirencester, you’ll also not fail to see evidence of the roads as well: this was a major junction on the Fosse Way between Exeter and Lincoln, the long, strangely direct road through the Cotswolds (further evidence at Stow, Moreton-in-Marsh and Northleach); at Cirencester it met Akeman Street (between St Albans and Gloucester), and Ermin Street (between Gloucester and Silchester).

So, an important town for a long time, and it has retained this status despite being comparatively small compared to neighbours like Swindon or Gloucester. A quick google for “capital of the Cotswolds” places Cirencester firmly as the main town of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and therefore firmly within the aspirational urbanite dream of bucolic isolation. Let’s be clear here: the Cotswolds are not bucolic isolation in the way the highlands of Scotland, or the Welsh desert are; they’re very much on the trainline into Oxford and London, and you’re more likely to find pink corduroy and David Cameron’s children in the pub than pentagrams and scary locals. Nevertheless, in a reserved, chocolate-box, typified English way, this is a thoroughly picturesque part of Southern England and well worth a riverside stroll or a cream tea stop. Cirencester is the biggest town in the area, but still absolutely full of the local stone, as planning regs insist – charming to some, a bit much for me.

The town centre is dominated by this particular stone, and it’s most notable in the cleaned up medieval church of St John the Baptist, in Market Place. Rather than the rain-softened pale yellow generally found in the Cotswolds, the south porch has been polished to a bright magnolia effect, and really looks quite odd. Each to their own I suppose. This is the centre of town, no doubt: Castle Street broadens into a marketplace, and coaching inns and coffee shops line the facades. Here you’ll find Sue Ryder and an Oxfam bookshop, which is really a very pleasant bookshop. It’s the thoroughfares leading away from town that are the most propitious though. Head West on Castle Street (there’s no castle, not since Henry III) towards the vast Bathhurst Estate and you’ll come across Age UK and Cancer Research in close proximity. The opposite direction takes you into a more modern section of the town centre, or perhaps modernist, as the occasional 1960s precinct appears in an otherwise well-turned out country town. Here you’ll find Cotswold Hospice Care, British Heart Foundation, and Salvation Army. These are somewhat unremarkable shops all, but far from poor; in fact, the Sally Army has turned up Le Creuset cookware before now.

Head South off the marketplace (along yet another picturesque limestoned street, Cricklade) and you really hit the jackpot. In quick succession there’s a Barnado’s (just off the road in the understated Bishop’s Walk arcade), Helen & Douglas House (always worth a visit), British Red Cross, Blue Cross and RSPCA. All fairly worthy charity shops. Worth pointing out here is the back entrance to the market hall – besides the market, this is where the public loos are. Not a particularly interesting fact, until you consider the 20p charge to use the ones in the car park that get the letter-to-the-editor-writer in me grumbling. The market hall itself is a cut through to opposite the church, and is home to some boutiquey shops and a rather nice looking coffee bar.

I’ll be honest: I’m not such a fan of Cotswold architecture as much as I admire, say, the slate austerity of the Lakes, or the dusky red-brick of north Worcestershire. But I know it appeals to many and if that’s you, then Cirencester is a feast of quite lovely and interesting buildings. Quite besides this, there’s plenty to look at and in, and of course a sizable haul of charity shops. It’s been an excellent place to stop on the cross-country route between various parts of my family, and being smack in the heart of these famous undulations, it’s a lovely journey both sides. So Cirencester comes pretty highly recommended.

Find: Cirencester @ Google Maps
Get there: if not by Roman road, then it’ll have to be some other sort of road I’m afraid, unless you’re willing to schlep from Kemble station, four miles hence.
Consume with: there’s all the usual, but I’d like to try that coffee shop in the market arcade.
Visit: I’d suggest either the Corinium museum or the Cotswold Water Park
Overall rating: four straggly balls of wool

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Filed under 4/5, Gloucestershire

Bridgwater

Bridgwater 1921, by CarolineLD. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for linl.

Bridgwater 1921, by CarolineLD. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for linl.

I’m a hill-dweller at heart. Although my fell-running days never really materialised, I’m happiest when on higher ground. Around here I’m spoilt for choice: I can venture out to the Shropshire Hills or to the Malverns; or simply walk up the road to the heavily undulating countryside of the South Staffs/Worcestershire border. When down country visiting, it’s the same – we end up spending a lot of time in Cornwall and Devon, and these are heavily-contoured parts of the world. To get there though, it’s almost unavoidable that you’ll be either on the M5 or on the train in Somerset at some point, and you’ll go past Bridgwater. Some way to the west are the Quantock Hills, looming over the Vale of Taunton Deane; some way to the North are the Mendips, with their Holes and Gorges; you actually traverse some fairly spectacular scenery on the motorway itself. But around Bridgwater and the whole of the River Parrett basin, the flat extends for miles, and miles and miles. These are the Somerset levels, where the only things higher than a house are the distinctly odd Glastonbury Tor, and a weird Wicker Man-style running man statue just off the motorway.

Bridgwater is the most sizable town of the region, and its history is defined by the river flowing through the town centre. It’s the first bridging point of the River Parrett and became a shipyard, the terminus of a canal to Taunton, and a port for both inland and overseas vessels. Just outside the town you’ll also find evidence of the vast network of artificial ditches (rhynes, round here) which drain the Levels enabling the local agricultural and peat industries. It’s the birthplace of Robert Blake, and closely linked with everything ocean-related, but was  also apparently a hotbed of radical politics – treason and trade unions, protest MPs and radical non-conformism are found throughout.

Enter the town today of course, and you’re faced with nothing so exciting: a somewhat bewildering ring road-style arrangement seemingly completely surrounded by warehouse-sized retail outlets. So much for the radical local here; so far, so every other small town in the country. However, we drove around for some time and eventually found a car parking space so convenient that we searched up and down the street for a sign telling us we couldn’t be there. We didn’t find it, so parked right by the river on Binford Place. Convenient for the centre of town, even more convenient for the first charity shop, Scope. This is the high street side of the river, and progressing up Fore Street to Cornhill you’ll find the usual fare of this size and age of town: plenty of beautiful buildings occupied by chain stores. The worst offender here is the beautiful, Italianate Corn Exchange with its statue of Admiral Blake out front – now home to the least exciting chain (Prezzo) of the least exciting cuisine, pizza/pasta, our dilute Islington imitation of Italian food. Opposite, also in golden hamstone, you’ll happily find a huge St Margarets Hospice shop, perhaps the pick of the bunch in town, and certainly cause of a retail dilemma for us. We caved and left with a standard lamp, well-suited to our encroaching middle age.

Despite Google suggesting a PDSA shop in the Angel Place centre, these were the only two charity shops on the left bank of the Parrett. The bulk of the old parts of town is here though, and a wander around the back streets and churchyards would be well worth your time. Head back to the river though and cross the Eastover bridge. To your right, the flat ground stretches off to the east. To the left, the quay is still used, as is the large terminal basin of the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal, a short distance downstream; further still and the river widens to become the port at Dunball, then off into the Bristol Channel. Over the river you’ll find the best charity shops: British Heart Foundation, a huge Oxfam, National Missing Persons, RSPCA and CLICSargent are all found here, and every one  proved worth a look. In the BHF I even found jeans in my size, which – as a giant – doesn’t prove easy.

The problem with Bridgwater is the same problem with the large majority of towns that we visit, and it’s probably a wider issue than one blog can cope with. The nice thing about going to these different parts of the country is that we can see the individual towns for what they were. The local stone of Chippenham defines the town as much as that of Kendal; the history of the industrial revolution is as big an influence in Stourport as maritime history is in Falmouth. But almost everywhere, to get to these towns you have to plough through the city walls of mass retail, as though the funnest thing to do in the twenty-first century is go to a giant Matalan and while away a couple of hours. Break through the fortifications and you’ll find that the narrow passages and the grand thoroughfares are swamped with the same shops selling the same things that you’d find in any other town. It’s a cultural condition, I suppose: having had our hand forced into getting rid of our car, we now notice that when we have to rent for a weekend, we revert to the same old pattern: parking in a massive retail park, checking the different Sainsburys in the area, doing no exercise whatsoever. In many ways, the potential restriction of no car is actually a great liberation from the consumerist bind.

Find: Bridgwater @ Google Maps
Get there: take your pick: car, rail, canal or sea-going vessel
Consume with: Prezzo?
Visit: there’s a few visitor attractions around – try the Blake Museum, tucked in a little street off the river
Overall rating: four standard lamps

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Filed under 4/5, Somerset

Kidderminster

Kidderminster Snow, Dec 2010, by Frosted Peppercorn. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link.

Kidderminster Snow, Dec 2010, by Frosted Peppercorn. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pic for link.

Ah, Kiddy. How do I start to describe Kiddy?

Kidderminster is a near neighbour to us now, a 20 minute bus ride from the end of the road. To get there from us one travels through the understated loveliness of the South Staffs/North Worcs borders and into the ‘burbs at Broadwaters. From then on, you have to somehow negotiate a large-scale system of one-ways and ring-roads to get into the town centre, and you’re usually best off just heading into the first car park you see: I’ve been there many, many times now and still struggle to orientate myself from one end to the other. If you’re on the bus, you’ll hop off at the bus station, conveniently situated for the new Weavers Wharf development. This is the best of Kiddy, commercially-speaking. Debenhams, for example, is housed in the former Slingfield Mill, its restored chimney towering over the town centre. Nearby, the college is housed in the sympathetically restored Piano Building. You’ll find all the big name shops you could want between here and the Carpet Trades retail park over the road (Kidderminster’s trade of repute is carpets, to this day).

However, Kidderminster is very much a split-personality kind of town. Cross the bridge over the Stour into the town centre itself, and you’re faced with somewhat crumbling 1960s office edifices, an unkempt wind tunnel of a main street with a dirty market, and several Greggs. That kind of town. For all that, I view it very affectionately: just like Waltham Cross was an ugly but fruitful source of bargain shopping, I can’t help but love Kidderminster. It’s a cheap place to live as well: all the fine Victorian villas around the town are much more fiscally accessible than the same would be in, say, Bromsgrove or Stourbridge nearby. The opening of Weaver’s Wharf in 2004 was no doubt intended to spark some gentrification in the prime territory skirting the town centre; but as yet, one road off the ring road will still find you in a street roughly resembling Hamsterdam.

The pros and cons of Kidderminster as a place to live are up for debate. What’s indisputable is that this is a serious charity shop tourism destination. I’ll explain the latter part first, and this might be just me. I am a fan of canals. I’ve yet to build a model set, but it’s certainly a possibility, and Kiddy is a canal town. The Stour flows through the town to the Severn, and alongside it the Staffordshire & Worcestershire canal, offering waterborn transport to Stourport and the big river one way, and Kinver, the Birmingham canal network, Wolverhampton, Stafford and onward the other. It’s also a train town: today the Black Country express through Smethwick and Cradley Heath continues on to Kidderminster, Droitwich and Worcester, but you can also change for the Severn Valley Railway through to Bridgnorth. For those slightly in thrall to industrial architecture as I am, there’s plenty to point at in Kiddy – in fact, it could be a real selling point for the town given its distinctive history. That’s my advice to the Kidderminster tourist board, and you’re welcome.

However, for the purposes of this blog (and our repeat visits): we count sixteen charity shops. Sixteen. If this was the Final Score vide-printer, that would say 16 (sixteen)  for clarification. I think it’s a record. For the sake of completeness, they are: Oxfam; British Heart Foundation (and BHF Furniture & Electricals); British Red Cross; Sense; Forces UK (and Forces Furniture & Electricals); Marie Curie; Salvation Army; Cancer Research; Scope; Mind; Happy Staffie Rescue; Forest Dog Rescue; YMCA; and Kemp Hospice. The highlights include Kemp Hospice, at least so I’m told – we often return with considerably more fabric than when we arrived; the large furniture shops are worth a gander as well – we bought our washing machine from BHF, and have espied a great quantity of furniture that we would have purchased, if only we still had the car. We’ve ended up with bits and bobs from most of these shops though.

We have problems with Kidderminster. It’s an easy place to get to on the bus, it’s got all the shops we need etc., but we find it hard to miss out charity shops. You know, just in case. So, it’s always a hike around the SIXTEEN charity shops, and you know what – it’s brilliant. It’s a funny old place, and it could be wonderful with a bit of love. But I like it as it is.

Find: Kidderminster Google Maps
Get there: the 125 bus goes to Stourbridge and Bridgnorth, or there’s regular trains from Birmingham and Worcester.
Consume with: there’s the normal array of chain coffee and a pretty rough-looking ‘spoons, but I’m still intending to visit Ye Olde Seven Stars, a CAMRA recommended pub where guests are encouraged to bring their own lunch.
Visit: whilst not neglecting the legendary WM Safari Park, probably the funnest day out is going to be on the steam train.
Overall rating: five fat quarters (1 1/4 wholes?)

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Filed under 5/5, Worcestershire

Ashbourne

Ashbourne, by John Bennett. Image used under Creative Commons, click image for link.

Ashbourne, by John Bennett. Image used under Creative Commons, click image for link.

If I ever found myself in my own, personalised Hell, it would probably be something like the Edinburgh Festival. Large crowds of non-purposefully-walking visitors, lots of people handing me leaflets and (ugh) street performers everywhere, trying to talk to me and trick me into having fun using theatrical whispers and exaggerated movements. Possibly pink tutus and a boombox. I recognise my own misanthropy, but I don’t feel the need to apologise for it: that would be hellish.

Regrettably, we turned up in this Derbyshire Dales town on the second day of the annual Ashbourne Festival, a miniature version of this sort of street art event. And yes, ugh, I didn’t like it. Being on the return leg of a journey to Manchester to see The Boss (I had to get that in), I feel like I know a thing or two about talented performers. Nevertheless, I am strong-willed enough to try and put my prejudices aside and see the town for what it is, and thankfully, what it is is very nice. Reading the Wikipedia article for the town is like reading a 9 year old’s school project; in reality, the town is a cute market town like many others, the central shopping area surrounding a triangular market square. There are many quaint cafes and delis, a market (although this isn’t really worth writing home about) and, of course, plenteous charity shops.

You know you’re in for a competitive afternoon when there are sandwich boards around town pointing you to Mind as the town’s best charity shop. It’s not all that, although not a bad place to start. It competes on St John Street with British Heart Foundation (who need to sack their interior designers stat), and on Buxton Road with Salvation Army and Cancer Research, both of which earn their keep on the main drag. Following the pedestrianised market area around brings you to a large Lighthouse Hospice shop (this time around a welcome relief from some prancing numpties just outside) as well as a monster bakers shop. Yum.

Turn down Dig Street (steering around the be-tutu’d man and the wardens) for a very reasonable selection in Oxfam Books & Music, then towards the new-looking Waitrose where you’ll find Treetops Hospice and AgeUK.

We didn’t make any purchases (excepting a bunch of bananas from Derek’s fruit and veg to get change for the car park) (and a coffee) (and cake) on this visit to Ashbourne, but would certainly return. The frugality is more enforced than by choice, but come with a ready wallet and you’ll certainly find something worth stopping for in this little town. If nothing else, you’re at the edge of Dovedale and the Peaks, with some of the country’s finest scenery on your doorstep. Go look.

Find: Ashbourne Google Maps
Get there: Another one with no station, but plenty of car parking by the looks of things. Alternatively, trek here via the Tissington Trail or the Limestone Way.
Consume with: There are many cafes and coffee shops – we chose Costa (because it was closest).
Visit: no doubt there’s plenty in town, but I’d recommend striking out – you’re soon in Dovedale and the southern edge of the Peak District – there’s Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton and other towns close by, and more than sufficient viewpoints. You could also pick your moment and arrive for the annual Shrovetide football, a melée more than a match.
Overall rating: four Steig Larssons.

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Filed under 4/5, Derbyshire

Monmouth

Monmouth, Monmouthshire, by Oxfordshire Churches. Used under Creative Commons, click for link.

Monmouth, Monmouthshire, by Oxfordshire Churches. Used under Creative Commons, click for link.

For CST’s first foray into Wales, you could hardly accuse me of being adventurous. Monmouth is very much the border town, currently sitting two miles within Monmouthshire on the river Wye, the traditional South Wales border. But it’s quite suited to taking a digital look at: Monmouth is the country’s first Wikipedia town. QR codes have sprung up on any interesting building, any notable resident is having a thorough and multilingual write-up, and non-computer-literate residents are being encouraged to bring items and photographs to be scanned into the Monmouthpedia project. There’s plenty to find out about, as the project demonstrates, and even the most cursory wander around town reveals castles, town halls and a wealth of history.

As a visitor today, you’ll find plenty of things to occupy your time. As a walker you might emerge into the town from the Offa’s Dyke Path or the Wye Valley Walk; as a motorist you’ll no doubt want to swan around the nearby Forest of Dean, which remains as beautiful as it ever has been; as a lazier tourist you might want to visit the castle or the impressive town hall, the local food market or, of course, the charity shops.

Of the latter there are several, including a few particularly select offerings. Starting at the top of town (there’s free parking on the road between the river Monnow and the Priory), first stop is the charming Church Street – all cobbles and quaint shop fronts, and humming with local shoppers on a sunny morning out. PS – that didn’t last: given that this is Wales, by the afternoon we were being hailed, thundered and lightninged on at Symonds Yat. just over the border. British Red Cross is located here and we found some Emma Bridgwater mugs for cheap, and the appropriate Haynes manual. Proceeding onto Agincourt Square we’ll find the two best shops in the town close by one another, Cancer Research and Oxfam. Both were buntinged up to the eyeballs in light of the recent Queenly visit to South Wales, with a really good selection of vintage clothes and tat, some eye-wateringly retro records and, to my Constant Companion’s delight, Danish cookware.

Monmouthpedia Shire Hall Exterior, by Monmouthshire County Council, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Monmouthpedia Shire Hall Exterior, by Monmouthshire County Council, under Creative Commons. Click for link.

Monnow Street, the main shopping drag on the hill down to the Wye valley, has a fair few more to offer alongside more than its fair share of antiques-lite shops. You know the sort: few actual antiques, more of a gift shop with some sanded down old G-plan furniture. For shabby chic, read, distressed refurbished bedside table selling for several times what it was worth new. Ignore these, and you can cheerfully browse British Heart FoundationAge UKSue Ryder and St David’s Hospice (we are in Wales after all). As long as you’re aware that the free parking is for an hour only, you can probably rush around all of these. Stop for the cheap sausage sandwich (see below) and you might struggle – I’d advise taking a good couple of hours for a mooch, Monmouth’s a really pleasant little town.

Find: Monmouth Google Maps
Get there: No rail link, post-Beeching, but there are plenty of buses from all major towns in the area.
Consume with: Eat Your Crusts, on St Mary Street, does a mighty fine and might cheap hot sausage sandwich.
Visit: Andy Hamilton is performing at the Savoy Theatre on Church Street soon.
Overall rating: four Danska dishes

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Filed under 4/5, Monmouthshire

Leominster

Leominster Old Market Hall, under creative commons by sally-parishmouse. Click pic for link.

Leominster Old Market Hall, under creative commons by sally_parishmouse. Click pic for link.

There’s a segment of the west country that sits across the borders of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, that’s rapidly becoming one of my favourite parts of the country. When I look on the map I come to the conclusion that its borders would be difficult to define: certainly it incorporates the Teme valley through Ludlow and Tenbury, the Clee Hills and down to the Severn below Worcester. It would also stretch north to the Longmynd and Church Stretton, and probably as far up as Shrewsbury. If I go that far I’d have to include Bridgnorth, oh, and Ironbridge, then down the Severn valley through Bewdley with a detour to the Kinver/Clent area, taking in Stourport, then right down to Upton and back west to Great Malvern and Ledbury. The problem is, every time we find a town/hill/river/misc. scenery that fits just outside that area, we’d have to push the envelope until most of those three counties are included.

Leominster does fall squarely in this lovely part of the world, though, on the A44 between Hereford and Ludlow – Welsh mountains to one side, lush Elgar country on the other. Towns around here are pretty well-heeled, with plenty of local produce markets, antiques shops (Leominster is very well-stocked on this front) and the like. There’s an Aldi here, but the Cooperative is bigger. Nevertheless, the usual image of charity shops being the last desperate resort of tatty town centres is far from true here – no less than nine charity shops nestle alongside antiques markets and secondhand shops, making Leominster a bit of a destination for vintage-seekers.

We visited for a second time this past Saturday afternoon, in the pouring rain. St Michael’s Hospice and another unnamed animal shelter shop were as closed as they were last time we visited, but a pile of others were open. The bulk of charity shops cluster around the high street, which splits into two narrow roads. Here you’ll find large Debra and YMCA shops, both of which include some furniture (although not much). There’s also Tenovus and British Red Cross on this stretch, then it’s just a matter of nipping along one of the side streets into Corn Square where you find Oxfam and British Heart Foundation.

Down the hill is Broad Street, which is pretty much that – a wide street with a barometer shop, rows of antiques markets and the ubiquitous shabby chic reclaimed furniture stores, who will quite cheerfully ask £85 for a decoupaged G-plan bedside table that would cost you £5 to reclaim and make for yourself. The antiques centres are pretty good mind – we’ve bought beautiful rugs from here before now, and even in this Age Of Austerity I could have bought a pile of records. As it turned out, I came out with just a Dubliners album – but After The Goldrush was cheaper here, too, than it was in Keswick Oxfam.

Back up and along West Street there’s a fairly nondescript Sue Ryder, and one of the more tempting shops of the town, Utter Clutter (which, if I overheard correctly, is closing soon, so get at those half-price vinyls). I came out of there with more Bruce Springsteen vinyls at reasonable cost.

There aren’t any spectacular charity shops in Leominster, but there’s certainly a decent enough volume. It’s a lovely little town though, in a lovely setting, so I can cheerfully recommend your visit.

Find: Leominster Google Maps
Get there: Leominster station is a little outside the town centre, but not too far.
Consume with: Savery’s is a nice little caff, with some mega cakes.
Visit: Leominster’s in the heart of the Lugg valley – small and very pleasant, and near to much of olde worlde Herefordshire.
Overall rating: four melamine bowls

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Filed under 4/5, Herefordshire