Tag Archives: canal


Tavy Toy Town by Jamie Henderson. Image used under Creative Commons; click pic for link

Tavy Toy Town by Jamie Henderson. Image used under Creative Commons; click pic for link

There are some towns which are just lovely, and Tavistock’s one of them. It’s found secluded in the Tavy valley, nestled amongst foliage at the foot of the Dartmoor hills – just a short drive from Plymouth, but a world away in character. The town centre is chock full of local granite buildings, many of them named after the Russell family, Earls of Bedford and lords of the manor, who held great sway in this stannary town from Henry VIII onwards. The towns roots run much deeper than that though – today’s pannier market was charted in 1105, and the ruined abbey goes back to 961; but there’s plenty of evidence of habitation way before recorded history. It isn’t just an olde town though – Tavistock’s history continues through its favourite son, Francis Drake, a wide range of mineral mines, even a canal and two railways – although none of these are functioning today. These last do make for some highly attractive features though – you can walk the canal for several miles through this part of the UNESCO world heritage site. In fact, any direction you wish to strike out from the town you’ll find something rather beautiful.

So – plenty of history and plenty of scenery. But that does not make a charity shop tourist destination in itself, does it? Happily, Tavistock is just as good here. The outermost shop here is Children’s Hospice South West, on West Street, on the corner of Russell Street (that name again…). A large shop this, with some huge linguaphone sets and mad Pyrex dishes causing certain individuals trouble here. On the same stretch is Sue Ryder, opposite Brown’s Hotel, which served us very well for a coffee stop.

Further down there are two Oxfams, an ordinary one and an Oxfam Bookshop with a collection of beautifully illustrated children’s books. Thankfully, at this stage on our holiday we had convinced ourselves that when we returned to civilisation we were going to go and live on a boat, which rather limited our purchases (and somewhat relieved our bank accounts). I’m not even joking; if Diglis marina weren’t so overlooked, we might well have been living afloat by now. St Luke’s Hospice is large and bright and well-stocked; Woodside Animal Hospice is almost its exact opposite, dingy, cramped and crowded, and filled with all sorts of amazing gubbins you had no idea you needed.

We found several secondhand-by-commission shops in this part of the world – Handmedowns takes a small cut on any children’s clothing you want to sell on, which doesn’t seem a bad idea (although I’d a bit rather donate to the charity shop). That just leaves us with MacMillan, tucked away up a little shopping alley called Paddon’s Row, surrounded by hifi shops, art shops, vintage clothes shops and the like. In fact there’s plenty of this sort of shop scattered through the town. A few chains aside, the majority of shops here are independent concerns, some of a highly excellent nature – the cheese shop and health food shop in the market come very much recommended. The market itself is, to be honest, a bit pricey for the likes of me; but again it’s mostly individuals selling their own crafts and produce, and there’s a very lovely atmosphere indeed.

I feel I’ve probably failed to sum up Tavistock’s charm. We spent a whole day here, which is very rare for us, not just pacing the charity shops but exploring the alleyways, browsing the market, walking along the river and canalside through the very charming Meadowlands Park. We certainly have plans to return and will be walking the canal route, as well as lunching in the Tavistock Inn on Brook Street, home of pretty much the biggest pub grub portions ever, and a lovely pub to boot. If you’re ever in Devon, try and make a detour, this is my advice.

Find: Tavistock @ Google Maps
Get there: no railway connections anymore (as yet) – you’ll be after the A386 halfway between Okehampton and Plymouth.
Consume with: definitely lunch at the Tavistock, though bear in mind you’ll need that riverside walk afterwards.
Visit: plenty to go to, but to be honest our loveliest time was spent walking the canal and riverside paths in the park, trying out the outdoor gym equipment and chasing ducks.
Overall rating: five mad pyrex dishes


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Filed under 5/5, Devon


Sundown over the basin, by suesviews. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Sundown over the basin, by suesviews. Image used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

There are plenty of places around this part of the world that might describe themselves as canal towns (Stourbridge, Wolverhampton, Birmingham), but not even Birmingham (more miles of canal than Venice, don’t you know) can equal Stourport’s complete connection to the canal system. Prior to 1772, when James Brindley completed the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal from Stafford, through Wolverhampton, Stourbridge and Kidderminster to the River Severn, this part of the world was occupied by the small villages of Upper and Lower Mitton, on the banks of the Severn and the Stour. Then the industrial revolution hit them in full and a full-fledged industrial town grew up around the junction of river and canal, henceforward Stourport-on-Severn, one of the great legacies of the canal age. 

These days, not surprisingly, Stourport is not a thriving hub of industry. No longer will you find tanning yards, vinegar works, iron foundries or carpet factories lining the towpaths or the basins. But you’ll find plenty of evidence for these enterprises – the vinegar works are now converted, the huge canal basins are now home to hordes of holidaying boatpeople (the town is the hub of the Stourport Ring, a hugely popular route taking in some of the country’s finest industrial heritage), and the streets and paths are lined with classic Worcestershire red-brick houses from the time of the town’s initial growth, with huge machinery and converted warehouses and factories.

The town is located just a short distance from Kidderminster, so if you’re like me and a geek for this sort of thing, you can walk quite easily along the towpath, or indeed along the Severn Way from Bewdley. The most obvious reference point in the town is the bridge over the Severn – it’s hard to miss, not just because it’s the only bridge for miles but because of a noisy, light-flashing permanent funfair next to it. Actually, there’s plenty of space for kids to get over-excited here, as there’s a huge playground and park opposite – beware if you’re visiting in monsoon season though – you’ll find it pretty much underwater (though not quite as bad as some). Walking up into town you’ll pass several pubs (a large ‘spoons is a preferred stop-off here) and fish’n’chip shops, and pass Engine Lane – here’s a cut through to the marina complex, as it is now, replete with moorings, chandlery and plenty of boats to gawp at. Stourport is the furthest point an oceangoing boat can trek inland on the Severn, so there’ll be a variety of gaily-painted narrowboats, large cabin cruisers, and everything in between. Continuing up Bridge Street brings you to a mini-roundabout, the start of the High Street proper, and the first of our charity shops. On your right is a slightly esoteric non-charity-specific shop (so far as I can tell), which ranges from vintage cameras and hardbacks, to some randomly stacked stuff – there’s not really another word for it. Another charity shop with a distinctive odour this; perhaps it’s to do with the propensity of the proprietor to wander round in bare feet.

Opposite is a more normal (comparatively) charity shop, Shaw Trust (although my notes say “shaw trust mental”, my memory fails me as to why). Passing up the street, you’ll notice a distinct change in the type of shops. Lower down, by the river, the day-trip market is well catered-for, with the funfair, the park, the chippies, the souvenir shops selling inland equivalents of a kiss-me-quick hat. Above the junction with York Street you’ll find game butchers, florists, outdoor shops for the nearby Abberley hills, and the like. That’s not to say Stourport is elegant and sophisticated exactly: it exudes a sort of chippy charm throughout, certainly more than the slightly bleak-looking Streetview suggests. The charity shops on this stretch are a pretty good bunch, all quite sizable and worth a poke at. There’s a St Richard’s Hospice, Oxfam and British Red Cross up here.

Continue up Lombard Street for the remaining charity shops. Small RSPCA and Hospital League of Friends are found before you get to the large Coop supermarket; across the road is SOS Animal (another slightly creepy, slightly aromatic place. I advise you not to look too interested in any particular thing, if you’re the sort that doesn’t like getting into sales chats with the staff); around the corner are two Kemp Hospice shops, one of which is a furniture and electricals shop, although it seems like you have to view the products through the window, then go and ask in the other shop to have a look.

That’s a pretty good haul. We’ve returned with numerous bargains from Stourport, and it’s definitely a town worth visiting as well as shopping in. I’d mark it down for the awkwardness in getting to without a car; but I’ll mark it back up because you can get there via narrowboat, which is always a winner. Absolutely worth a stop off and explore.

Find: Stourport-on-Severn@ Google Maps
Get there: if you don’t have a boat, then it’ll need to be a bus – you can get these from all around Worcestershire, and there are limited-stop routes from Redditch, Worcester and Kiddy.
Consume with: The Olde Crown Inn (Wetherspoons) is a nice pub, but there’s plenty of caffs, takeaways and spots to eat your chips by the river.
Visit: if you’ve exhausted all the opportunities for looking at canals and rivers, how about Worcestershire County Museum – it’s not far down the road in Hartlebury Castle.
Overall rating: five world maps


Filed under 5/5, Worcestershire


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?)


Filed under 5/5, Worcestershire


Worcester, under Creative Commons, from OliverN5's photostream. Click pic for link.

Worcester, under Creative Commons, from OliverN5's photostream. Click pic for link.

I grew up in (or just outside of) a small but bustling cathedral town, one with numerous cookshops, antiques markets and cobbled, pedestrianised streets; a well-to-do locale, near enough to the big city to be a commuter rail hotspot, far enough to be out in the country and command high high property prices; a city beginning with a W, noted for its scenic river and medieval architecture and civil war history. It wasn’t Worcester, but it was very similar.

So I felt right at home in Worcester, browsing the charity shops on a morning off from the Big Chill, just up the road in the Malvern Hills. It’s a bustling market town, the biggest in these westernmost counties of England. Worcestershire was home to Tolkien and Elgar, and there’s a very rarified English air, particularly in the surrounding countryside. But this is also the biggest town between Birmingham and Bristol, and as such is pretty much buzzing with a comfortable-to-high level of shoppers.

Including us, of course. I’m not convinced we even saw some of the charity shops in the town centre, let alone any of the rest of Worcester (I think there’s at least on in St Johns). But then the streets are a maze of arcades and cut-throughs, shopping centres and shops with two entrances. The big daddy here is Age UK, a vast charity emporium rather than shop – furniture, nick-nackery and the like all feature in abundance. There’s also a gaggle along Mealcheapen Street: Oxfam, British Heart Foundation, St Richard’s Hospice and Acorn Children’s Hospice sit side by side with the biggest cookshops and homeware dispensaries you could imagine on such a narrow street. There’s a separate Oxfam bookshop (which is always a worry for the wallet), not to mention a British Red Cross on The Tything, heading out of the city centre and a Cancer Research as well. Also look out for GR Batley: not a charity shop, but apparently something of an institution and handy for whenever you need rugs or crockery or mounted animal heads.

There’s a fair abundance here, and what’s even nicer is that there’s plenty of nice things to look at other than charity shops (if you’re of that persuasion): it’s a beautiful city, nestled along the river Severn and overlooked by a glorious cathedral, and it’s right by some lovely spots. It’s pretty much lovely.

Find: Worcester at Google Maps
Transport: Worcester Fore Street or Shrub Hill rail; or you’re right on the M5
Consume with: plenty of coffee to be had, plenty of pub grub too.
Visit: the cathedral, the Commandery, many choices. Maybe Sixways, hallowed home of the Warriors.
Overall rating: four handy/useless kitchen utensils


Filed under 4/5, Worcestershire



Newbury Lock, by Michael Keen, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link to photostream.

Newbury Lock, by Michael Keen, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link to photostream.


Newbury is somewhere you don’t really visit on purpose, just as you don’t, say, call a utility company on purpose: you call because you have to, and the same would appear true of Newbury. My experiences of Newbury mostly involve circumnavigating it on the controversial bypass, looking out of the car window at Watership Down, which is nearby, and some implanted grain of knowledge that Vodafone is based there: it’s probably an office town. However, as I find far too often, my uninformed pre-suppositions are entirely wrong: Newbury is actually pretty charming.

We ended up in Newbury quite by accident: after a holiday in Cornwall, the increasingly-less-reliable car broke down at Chieveley services, and we ended up staying in the Travelodge there. The car had been towed to a garage in Newbury, so we were left with a day to wander the city streets while some expensive tinkering was going on in the fuel tank. It turned out to be a happy accident. The day was sunny and an October kind of warm, and the smartened-up wharfsides of the Kennet & Avon canal provide a very pleasant meander into the town centre, emerging by a large Costa onto Bridge Street. There’s pubs and restaurants (and yes, a charity shop) backing onto the canal on the other side. The bridge itself, like a miniature Bridge of Sighs, is the central point of the semi-pedestrianised town centre. North is Northbrook Street, home to a very nice, long Oxfam which yielded a bumper set of tapes for the car, and smaller Scope and YMCA shops – still all very well presented and kitted out.

Heading South from the bridge is Bartholemew Street. St Nicholas’ church towers over the shops and the passers-by – directly opposite that is the wonderfully-named (and generally wonderful) Kitchen Monger, from which we started Christmas preparations in the shape of a pudding basin, and were tempted by various see-through toasters, silicone jelly moulds, and coffee machines. As per usual for a cookshop then – just wait until I write up Worcester, the spiritual home of the cookshop. More importantly though is possibly my favourite charity shop chain, the Helen & Douglas House Hospice. As found in Abingdon, Beaconsfield, Chesham and elsewhere, this is always the best-looking shop in town, and possibly the only charity shop to feature a coffee shop upstairs: a slight stretch of the imagination, given that it’s a coffee machine nestled amongst the bookshelves, but we’re forgiving types here at CST Towers.

Also on the street is a Blue Cross, slightly scruffier perhaps, but home to the bargain of the day: juicer, £3.95, wham bam thankyou mam. Go East from the bridge and you’re in the market place (Thursdays and Saturdays), with its looming Corn Exchange Arts Centre and pavement cafes. It really wouldn’t look out of place in a provincial French town. You’ll find a typically poorly laid-out British Heart Foundation (the one whose rear can be seen from the canalside), a large Cancer Research and a smaller Save The Children here, bringing the total we found on the day to a healthy eight: not bad for an accident. I’d definitely commend making a day of it and coming back again, on purpose perhaps, hence a very generous score.

Find: Newbury @ Google Maps
Consume with: plenty of pubs and restaurants along the canal – the Costa is vast as well, and a pleasant enough place to wile away time waiting for the car to be fixed.
Visit: the downland to the South of Newbury is very lovely – I’ll point you towards the hill-fort at Beacon Hill and the talking rabbits of Watership Down.
Overall rating: five Billy Ocean cassettes


Filed under 5/5, Berkshire