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Wellington

View at dusk over Wellington, Somerset, by IDS.Photos. Pic used under Creative Commons licence, click for link.

View at dusk over Wellington, Somerset, by IDS.Photos. Pic used under Creative Commons licence, click for link.

“I’m so sorry,” my wife said as we drove past the Wellesley cinema on our way into Wellington; “looks like I chose a bad one.” We’re building up quite a catalogue of towns just off the M5 these days, on our semi-regular jaunts down country to visit either or both of our families. Usually, as resident geography nerd, I take the initiative about a town to visit as a stop-off en route; it’s not my fault if these typically have some sort of canal connection or industrial heritage (Bridgwater for example, or Tiverton). This time though, my constant charity-shopping companion made the choice out of the various promising destinations on offer at junction 27, and off we came. Quite why Wellington is signposted at this point, requiring a lengthy drive along the A38, when junction 28 is located just outside the town is anyone’s guess, but never mind – the Somerset/Devon border is plenty attractive.

As it turns out, Wellington wasn’t a bad choice at all. At first glance, it’s just one more of a multitude of similar small towns with similar amenities, similar histories and a similar. Wellington features in Anglo-Saxon records as a village in Kilmersdon Hundred owned by the Bishop of Wells, and grew mostly because of it’s handy position on the Bristol to Exeter road – the modern A38. It later became famous for cloth manufacture; for being the seat of one Arthur Wellesley, the first duke of Wellington; and for its connections to the Grand Western Canal and Bristol to Exeter Railway in the first half of the nineteenth century. See? not my fault that there’s a canal connection.

What it means for today is that Wellington is a fairly bustling little Somerset town with a small shopping area, some interesting shops, alleyways and buildings, and a decent place to wile away an hour or two on a journey home. First port of call was lunch, and we stopped at the extremely pleasant Garden Cafe – there’s a garden, as you might guess, with shady benches, but we stopped on the pavement tables. We’re getting used to carting a small dog around with us these days, and the staff here very kindly brought her a big bowl of water, as we munched our toasted tortilla and baguette. Then: on to the charity shops.

The first three of these are found on Fore Street, along from the slightly incongruous South African food shopSue Ryder was nice but ordinary; St Margaret’s Hospice was big and stuffed with stuff, including a rather nice Ercol table for a fiver, which has buffed up lovely. Also here is Children’s Hospice South West, which helpfully yielded up a 7″ single of The Specials doing Too Much Too Young, which is nice.

On South Street, just beyond the Wellington Cheese & Wine Shop and across from Artfully Made crocheting shop (it’s that kind of town, clearly) is Oxfam, replete with an antiques shop-looking display out front of various demijohns and contraptions for making fire-logs – plenty of goodies inside too. That just leaves the RSPCA – like the Sue Ryder shop, dog-friendly, only with the addition of a pet equivalent of an auntie – you know, the one that fusses the child, winds them right up then hands them back to their parents. Biscuits definitely exchanged hands/paws, I’m sure of it.

We had a lovely time in Wellington, as it turned out. Sometimes an ordinary little town is just want you need, because really, what is an ordinary town? Everywhere I’ve visited has been unique and memorable in its own way and despite the best efforts of chain pubs, shops, banks and everything else, that’s what our towns remain – each their own place.

Find: Wellington @ Google Maps
Get there: For us, the point was that it’s close to the M5. However- there’s plenty of buses.
Consume with: plenty of options, but we chose the Garden Cafe.
Visit: how about the Wellington Monument, perched on the highest point of the Blackdown Hills to the south of town.
Overall rating: four Ercol tables

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Filed under 4/5, Somerset

Tavistock

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

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

Stourport-on-Severn

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

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Filed under 5/5, Worcestershire

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

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