Tag Archives: rspca

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

Marlborough

Old Appleby's Yard in Marlborough, Wiltshire, by Anguskirk. Photo used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

Old Appleby’s Yard in Marlborough, Wiltshire, by Anguskirk. Photo used under Creative Commons, click pic for link.

On these, shores, the word Marlborough is redolent with history. John Churchill, created first duke of Marlborough after a diplomatic switch of allegiance to William of Orange, was one of the foremost, and the most successful, of military commanders at the time of the Restoration/Glorious Revolution (for more info, see Neal Stephenson’s sprawling Baroque Cycle, in which Churchill features regularly). Visiting the town today, you’ll find an attractive medium-sized country town, with an apparently famously wide high street – nice, but not the sort of grand gesture you’d expect for such a hero. Never mind though – Churchill had to console himself with Blenheim Palace, which might have helped. Actually, Marlborough’s refined bustle harks back to a lengthy history – the town’s name allegedly comes from Merlin’s Barrow, the bearded wizard reputedly being buried in the grounds of the College. Certainly there are archaeological remains from older than 2000BC, progressing through iron age buckets and Roman coins (at Cunetio, two miles east) and a Norman castle and mint, and notables such as William the Conqueror (hunted here), King John (married here), King Henry III (held parliament here), Thomas Wolsey (ordained here) and William Golding (raised here), all passed through.

There’s a nice, quick run-through of a lot of things you forgot from school there. No doubt they would disapprove at the town’s big educational establishment, Marlborough College, site of the aforementioned Barrow. Marlborough today is actually a rather pleasant town, with plenty of quaint olde worlde buildings – you wouldn’t, perhaps, get a sense of the overbearing weight of history compared to some other towns who ham it up more; Marlborough is a bit too select to flaunt itself in such ways. You’ll notice that from the shops in the wide high street (after you’ve spent the most stressful half-hour of your life trying to park): plenty of these are just that cut above the normal high street fare (Phase 8, Joules, White Stuff, that sort of thing).

That bodes well for the charity shops though, of which there are several. It’s tricky to pick the best here, there are several contenders, all based around the high street. The sort-of exception is the always excellent Helen & Douglas House Hospice, which is slightly up the hill on Kingsbury Street, opposite the artfully tatty Cat’s Whiskers. It yielded two t-shirts for me, and cheerfully so: it turns out that I’m a size smaller than I used to be. Must be all that car-less commuting, I heartily recommend it.

A new discovery on me that morning, the Prospect House Hospice in Marlborough turns out to much less odd-smelling, and a little cheaper than its Hungerford counterpart (although not that much cheaper). It’s a big old shop, with a large upstairs full of interesting bread bins and vast racks of antique books. On the same stretch is a smaller, more typical Blue Cross shop – the wife got a mustard handbag here, as mustard is absolutely in, in this household. On the opposite side of the high street is a well-stocked Oxfam Bookshop (with two (two!) boxes of maps) and a charming RSPCA shop which winds all the way back into the building, into snugs and down steps. There’s huge displays of trinketry, and I even picked up a DVD of Blood Simple, which I’ve had an eye peeled for for ages.

If we had a longer day, Marlborough would make a great stop for some proper exploration. There’s all sorts of hills and side-alleys leading off the main street, and the river Kennet which flows through is quite charming. The sheer volume of history makes it worth a trip if you’re into that sort of thing – interesting for me, as I tend to write off Wiltshire as being bucolic to the point of empty. Marlborough was certainly worth a stop though, and might find itself a convenient break point now my family members have moved. No doubt we’ll be back, if only for a pub lunch (of which many options).

Find: Marlborough @ Google Maps
Get there: you’ll have to get there from Pewsey or Swindon if you’re coming by train, but there’s plenty of buses no doubt.
Consume with: there were many, many options for a pub lunch along the high street. We plumped for the Royal Oak, a Greene King pub, but there’s also the Castle & Ball, the Green Dragon and the Bear. If you’re after something a bit littler, how about the Mustard Seed bookshop and cafe sat right over the river.
Visit: Jazz festival, food festival, but my pick would be the intriguing Big & Little Mop Fair. No idea.
Overall rating: three bags in mustard

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Filed under 3/5, Wiltshire

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

Holyhead

Ffordd Caergybi (Holyhead Road), 2010, by Jeff Carson. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pick for link.

Ffordd Caergybi (Holyhead Road), 2010, by Jeff Carson. Image used under Creative Commons licence, click pick for link.

There are times when the charity shop tourist seeks out the most picturesque, the quaintest, the cutest place to visit; the most historically enthralling, the most scenic arrival. But the professional knows that there are also times when it is just as worthwhile to seek out the less glamorous locations; those forgotten by the brochures, the dusty, windswept high streets, the endless 1960s architectural horror, those spots where describing the local character as colourful is definitely a euphemism rather than a selling point.  We’ve had plenty of success on the unloved precincts of, for instance, Waltham Cross, Newton Abbot, Letchworth or Kidderminster; we even had fun in Basildon. The little we knew about Holyhead before arriving was nothing to do with its architecture or general quaintness levels – probably about the same as you do, that Holyhead is a port. That’s about it – wasn’t sure if it was going to be quaint harbour town like Whitstable, or bleak industrial seaside town like, say, Sheerness in Kent.

The approach to Holyhead (or Caergybi if you like) is not particularly inspiring; or at least it wasn’t on the grey, drizzly day we arrived. This followed the obligatory drive through Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (disappointingly this turns out to be a fake name invented as a Victorian publicity stunt; the village is likewise a bit on the disappointing side) and a very worthwhile stop for excellent chips on the beach at Rhosneigr. From there, you take either the traditional post road, the A5; or the newer (2001) A55, the Anglesey extension of the North Wales coast road that’s such fine to drive on the mainland. I don’t know if it was the weather, or the fairly featureless expanse of Anglesey, but we didn’t leave with any misgivings – the island seems a particularly dull place. Holyhead actually isn’t on the island of Anglesey at all: the two main roads and the railway cross over on or parallel to the Cobb causeway onto Holy Island.

If the approach to the town doesn’t instill much confidence, the town itself won’t let you down on that front. First, the positives though. One of my most frequent grumbles in life is ticket machines in car parks. If I were to buy a coke or a bar of chocolate from a vending machine, I’d be extremely cross if it decided not to give me any change – probably to the point of the traditional tilt, shake and kick. But in a council-run car park it’s apparently OK to just not give change as standard. Here Holyhead made me happy – not only did the machine in the Hill Street car park issue my ticket for free, but it kept giving me change well beyond what I put in. This I like. 

Holyhead probably has plenty to sea if you’re a boat-y type. It has an epic breakwater and marina, and therefore some sort of Irish Sea-front promenade. But really, the town’s dominated by its massive container/ferry port (proud of its “first-class stevedoring skills”), its very prominent railway line and station, and a series of drab little shopping streets on the side of a hill. The other positive is that there is a fair smattering of charity shops of various types here. It has to be said that the majority of these are only half-removed from a church hall jumble sale in style and layout (there’s even a charity shop dedicated to Caergybi Parish Church). On balance, I think that’s probably a good thing – it feels more like a rummage for a bargain than the pristine shopping experience you’d get in say, Oxfam; but the bargains were few and far between, so you have to be in a certain sort of dedicated mood to get the most out of this sort of shop. The pinnacle of these was the massive A Team shop – I remain unsure if it’s a Dwight Schulz benefit or something else, but it was a huge rabbit run of rails, shelves and stacks. Not easy to navigate, and imbued with a certain sort of odour, but worth a look. 

The other shops fit somewhere in between normal shop and jumble sale: you’ll find TenovusRSPCA, Gwynedd Hospice At Home, and a massive YMCA. Our bargains on the day were limited to some melamine storage to go in the caravan (now sadly departed 😦 ), which matched what we had already. Other than this, the run-down feel of the town centre pervaded the mood even of the normally chirpy charity shop sector on a grey summer afternoon. Google Maps suggests a shop for African Orphans, but locates it firmly within a Chinese takeaway, so we didn’t see anything

Run down is the only expression, really. As always, perhaps we missed the scenic delights of Holyhead; we didn’t visit the marina or walk on the wacky bendy bridge, for instance. But some things you can’t patch up with a strategic bit of public art. Holyhead is stuck right on the edge of the country, and the town centre is sufficiently bleak to match it. The hilly geography of the town centre and its undoubted history mean that Holyhead was probably once both interesting and attractive – today it’s neither of those things, and most will have little motivation to drive past the massive warehouse retail outlets on the edge of town. The same problem is found in so, so many towns we visit (cf. everything within a ten-mile radius of Merry Hill): what’s the attraction of the town centre? More thought required.

Find: Holyhead @ Google Maps
Get there: all the options: trains and roads come here, as does the ferry from Dublin or Dun Laoghaire.
Consume with: if you do want to hang around, you’ll find a few locally coffee shops and caffs – we didn’t stay long enough to check them out.
Visit: how about Ireland?
Overall rating: two melon ballers

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Filed under 2/5, Anglesey

Upton on Severn

P1000116, by Iain Cuthbertson. Image used under Creative Commons, click on pic for link.

P1000116, by Iain Cuthbertson. Image used under Creative Commons, click on pic for link.

We recently visited Upton for a second (maybe third time), just after Christmas, after parting ways with our visitors in its near neighbour Pershore. It was a damp day, after many such damp days and even when the East of the country takes the worst of the rainfall, the Severn plain around is always badly affected. Worcester floods on a regular basis, but you don’t have to trawl your memories too far back to recall the disastrous floods at Tewkesbury in 2007. Come December 2012, and the rain has been falling, and when we approached Upton, just upstream, it was as though we were entering the Louisiana swamps – to say the river had burst its banks does an injustice to the water stretching as far as the eye can see. Whilst not as destructive as in 2007, that’s one of the defining characteristics of living in this area: you’re somewhat dominated by Britain’s biggest river. Mind you, Upton probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the Severn. The small town of about 3,000 is located at one of the few bridges over the river Severn, the only crossing between Tewkesbury and Worcester; and combined with the meeting of the main roads between Gloucester and Worcester, and Ledbury and Evesham it seemed a good place to build a little harbour – and so a market town sprung up. This was boosted when the Severn Towing Company situated a crossing and toll office here, and the town gradually became what we see today, all little streets and coaching inns, large marina and fantastic bridge; and low-lying pastures usually filled up with Severn water.

Although you’re advised to pack some wellies if it’s been raining, Upton’s a lovely little stop-off. You can’t ask for much more than a sunny day by the river in the shadow of the Malvern Hills, and there’s plenty of attractive pubs and restaurants to accommodate that sort of lounging. There’s free car park at the far end of town, opposite the church: if you visit in  the summer, look over onto the rugby pitch and imagine that when we last saw it, it was full up like a swimming pool, at a level disconcertingly higher than where we were standing. As you walk towards the shops you’ll pass by all kinds of curious, low buildings bowing out onto the street, filled with curio shops, a very pleasant secondhand book shop and little galleries. The town centre is really focused on the junction of the High Street and New Street, and this is where you’ll find the two formal charity shops. RSPCA is small and poky, but with a few interesting odds and ends. St Richards Hospice is larger and contains a better range of stock – there’s usually some nice clothes here, along with the usual trinkets and books. Note the distinctive aroma about the place though – not worked out what it is yet. These are both on the main drag, with plenty of other useful or cutesie shops, plus (best of all!) a Map Shop.

I’ve defined these as the two “formal” charity shops, but the actual thrifty highlight of Upton is a charity shop only in the loosest sense of the term. It’s not immediately clear what the charity is for a start, and to get there you have to follow the handwritten signs up the side street of London Lane. Once you’re there – and if it’s open, which it may or may not be depending on the day, the time of year, maybe the condition of the pet dog – you’ll see a sort of garage door, maybe some sprawling tables outside. Definitely go in. This is part junk shop, part garage sale, part charity shop, and it’s great fun. You might find everything from vintage tobacco tins, to candlewick bedspreads and old-fashioned eiderdowns; all sorts of crockery, kitchen implements, old magazines, books in piles around the place, lamps and electricals, bits of furniture, and clothes a-plenty. My guess is that this is seasonal, as it wasn’t open for our December visit, but has been on our two previous visits. It’s definitely the highlight.

For such a small town, Upton is always on our radar if we’re down that direction anyway, perhaps visiting Malvern or Tewkesbury. It’s not only a bit lovely, but can be good for a quick trawl, with free parking and a lovely riverside spot. Plus, if you’re feeling fit you can walk here from Bristol or mid-Wales on the Severn Way. It is only small, don’t forget, but a great stop-off.

Find: Upton upon Severn Google Maps
Get there: no trains here, so bus or drive – or even better arrive in style by boat to the Marina.
Consume with: we’ve not stopped for food here, but if we did, I’d be tempted to follow the lead of Alec Guinness, Brian Blessed and Kathy Burke by stopping into the White Lion Hotel, dating back to 1510 and offering accommodation as well. It’s one of several olde coaching inns.
Visit: handily for this coming weekend, how about the Wassailing and Frost Fair? Sounds like fun in a Wicker Man and Morris dancing kind of way.
Overall rating: three tobacco tins

EDIT: I’ve been very kindly informed that the charity shop in London Lane is Worcester Cancer Aid. Thanks Jackie!

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Filed under 3/5, Worcestershire

Farnham

Which Way To The Town Centre? under Creative Commons, from foilman's photostream. Click pic for link.

Which Way To The Town Centre? under Creative Commons, from foilman's photostream. Click pic for link.

I do my research intensively for this blog, as I’m sure is apparent. *cough* Now that my Athens log-in has expired I tend to head to the trusty Wikipedia first, and so I did for Farnham – here is one healthy wiki. Someone clearly has an interest, and I have no need to look any further for history, climate information, local newspapers… It even mentions my lovely charity shops, and I quote:

Farnham is also known for its numerous secondhand charity shops (Oxfam etc.) which offer plenty of high-quality items, especially clothes. 

I wouldn’t dare argue. Lying on the river Wey, Farnham sits at the edge of a swathe of well-heeled market towns that have become commuter magnets for the glittering conurbation on the horizon. It’s the edge of War of the Worlds territory – when HG Wells’ alien pods landed on the Surrey heathland and marched inexorably towards London, they pre-figured the daily lives of so many on the Waterloo line. I lump it in with Woking and Chertsey, Guildford and Farnborough; you could just as easily associate with David Brent’s list of alternative working towns, Bracknell or Aldershot, Maidenhead or Slough. It’s a town of which the residents are proud, even though they work in the City.

Socio-geographical over with, and onto the charity shops of which there are, truly, an abundance. The town’s main drag is West Street/East Street/The Borough, depending whereabouts you’re standing, and it’s along this strip that the thrifters make their way. From East to West there’s RSPCA (which yielded up some overly tempting Agatha Christie hardbacks and some vampire trash), Oxfam (entirely less trashy, entirely too tempting – I had to pull the wife away from some 30’s-ish pitchers), British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research and Age UK. Down Downing Street (not that Downing Street) there’s the two hospice shops: Phyllis Tuckwell and the Downing Street Charity Shop.

Despite knowing full well that we have to move house in a few weeks, we came away from Farnham with armfuls of charitable, eco-friendly, pre-loved stuff, and could have purchased much more. It’s one of those towns where the charity shops display that rare combination of both the wealth and taste of its residents, and you’d be well-advised to have a good rummage.

Find: Farnham @ Google Maps
Get there: An excellent rail service between London (obviously) in one direction, and Alton, Southampton and Winchester the other.
Consume with: While there’s no doubt plenty of good places to eat, we saved our money with the reduced counter at Waitrose. You’d better ask someone else
Visit: There’s a castle, and by nature of it’s being a castle, is a good place to visit.
Overall rating: four random crockeries

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Filed under 4/5, Surrey