Tag Archives: river severn

Tewkesbury

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

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

Bridgnorth

Signs, used under creative commons licence, by R~P~M. Click for pic.

Signs, used under creative commons licence, by R~P~M. Click for pic.

CST’s first foray into the wilds of England’s largest inland county is a somewhat tentative one, but is definitely not the last. Going West from our new home we leave the West Midlands via a little Worcestershire and a little Staffordshire, but as the altitude rises towards the Welsh Marches we hit South Shropshire. Whereas the North of the county sweeps through from the Cheshire plains to the industrial heartland of Shrewsbury-Telford-Ironbridge, the South of the county is dramatic, rugged and massively rural. Bridgnorth is about the biggest settlement in the area, with huge gaps between civilization. To go any further West the intrepid charity shopper must set out over Wenlock Edge, Longmynd, the Clee Hills and more, looking on towards the mountains of Wales. Ideal for the fully experienced rambling hiker.

Bridgnorth itself is a bustling little burgh, an old and historic country town. There’s antiquated civic buildings on legs, city gates and the like. The most notable feature is the town’s split level – the high town and the low town. Approaching this as though you’d be making a day trip to Bridgnorth, the following is the recommendation. From Kidderminster (coming soon) take the Severn Valley Steam Railway through Bewdley and the Wyre Forest, terminating overlooking the Severn in Bridgnorth. Have a wander along the riverbank until you reach the large old bridge, and the low town spans either side of this. While there’s no charity shop action, there’s plenty of room to sit and have an ice cream, watching the Brummies on vacation that tend to throng the town on sunny days – bikers too. From there a pound will buy you a return ticket on the funicular railway, the steepest of its type in the country, no less.

The little railway drops you around the back of the town, next to the castle (which, trivia fans, leans at four times the angle of the leaning tower of Pisa), from where it’s just a short walk round the corner into the high street. There are four charity shops along here. They’re unremarkable, to be honest, and if you go on a Saturday they are sure to be heaving. For a start, the Saturday market butts right up against the pavement, causing all manner of crush for pedestrians. (Make sure you have a full explore of the market though, right around the back to near the supermarket, as there’s all sorts of fun tat to be found. The Old Curiosity Shop is worth a rummage through for army surplus and various randomness, and follow the road round for a lovely, sprawling antiques centre.)

Along the High Street you’ll find Oxfam, Hope House Hospice and British Red Cross, and at the end of the road, Cancer Research. The best of these is probably the Red Cross shop, which sported a nice looking accordion last time we were in.There’s nothing which sets Bridgnorth out as a charity shop Destination, really, but that’s only half the point isn’t it? On the tourism front it’s great fun, especially if you can time your visit to arrive on a 1940s recreation day when the town is swarmed by vintage uniforms…

Find: Bridgnorth Google Maps
Get there: if you can find the fare, go on the steam train!
Consume with: plenty of choice in terms of pubs, cafes and chippies along the high street.
Visit: the leaning castle would be worth a look around.
Overall rating: three RAF uniforms.

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Filed under 3/5, Shropshire

Worcester

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

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Filed under 4/5, Worcestershire