Tag Archives: spa town

Tenbury Wells

Tenbury Wells by Ian Guest, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Tenbury Wells by Ian Guest, used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Like Malvern, Matlock or Cheltenham, Tenbury made its most recent history out of its natural resources. The suffix to the town name was added in the 1840s when mineral waters were discovered in the local area, however the history of the town goes back plenty further than this. Chartered in 1249, the town was already well-established, boasting (probably) a motte-and-bailey castle, Castle Tump, that now sits administratively in Shropshire, on the north banks of the Teme. Today, it’s a sleepy West Worcestershire town that clings to its market tradition, its frankly odd Chinese-Gothic pump rooms, and its pretty lovely situation in the quiet, under-appreciated bucolic charms of the Teme valley.

The town is possibly most famous these days for its mistletoe festival in December, which is when we landed. I say festival, we made out a few sprigs here and there in shop windows. I think we missed the druids, which is a shame: I’d like to meet a real-life Getafix. Instead, there were a handful of inhabitants, even on a Saturday lunchtime, poking around the small high street and partaking in disappointing pasties. There are three charity shops. Near the historic Teme bridge is a somewhat ad hoc looking, generic armed forces shop selling furniture and a few clothes. It was very reasonably priced, but with a slightly overbearing, staring staff.

Further down Teme Street is the St Michael Hospice and Sue Ryder. Both were fine, in their way, but we left with no particular bargains. That’s Tenbury, I suppose. It’s fine, it even has its attractive little market area and riverside, and its various traditions and folklores: but there’s nothing particular to recommend it.

Find: Tenbury Wells Google Maps
Get there: You could kayak up the Teme I suppose, but as there’s no station you might have to drive.
Consume with: Don’t risk the lukewarm pasties, tempting as they might appear. You’ll be better off with some sort of traditional tea shop of which there are several.
Visit: Those of the industrial-historical bent might enjoy tracking the Leominster Canal which ran past the town.
Overall rating: two pet blankets

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Filed under 2/5, Worcestershire

Matlock

Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, under creative commons by Duncan Harris. Click pic for link.

Derwent Valley, Derbyshire, under creative commons by Duncan Harris. Click pic for link.

Although just outside the bounds of the Peak District national park, you won’t run short of scenery in and around Matlock. The River Derwent, which winds down from the middle of the park, through Bakewell, Matlock, Belper and Derby before meeting the Trent, has carved out an impressive path through the Derbyshire Dales, and the Matlock area is where you find some of the most dramatic parts. Maybe the best way to approach the town centre is from the South, from Belper direction – you’ll follow the Cromford Canal and the Derwent through a UNESCO World Heritage Site of mills and industrial history (I’m pretty much in love with all that at the moment, you’ll have to forgive me) and then pass into the really dramatic gorge around Matlock Bath – stop here for the Heights of Abraham with its cable car – and into Matlock town centre. If you fancy, you can walk all the way, or you can come from the opposite direction on the Peak Rail.

Matlock and its environs were a collection of unimportant villages until the discovery of thermal springs there at the close of the 17th century. With the industrial revolution just a few years after, and Victorian hydro-tourism, Matlock became the bustling county town of Derbyshire, and remains a busy rural town today. What that essentially means for our intentions is that there’s a pile of charity shops, plenty to look at, and something to eat.

If you arrive in Matlock from Cromford direction, you’ll find an Oxfam Books shop as your first charity shop on Dale Road. You’d be well advised to embrace the non-charity sector as well – although there’s one or two smartly priced antiques shops, we’ve found some excellent bargains in Second Time Around, just over the road from Oxfam, including books, blankets, maps and all sorts. Cross over the river and stop to admire the view towards Riber Castle along the Derwent and once again thank your lucky stars that you can come to such a beautiful part of the world. Chuck a penny in the oddly-coloured water of the wishing well, if you’re very grateful.

At the Crown Square roundabout you’re faced with three variably fruitful options. Turn left for the road to Bakewell, Youlgreave and into the Peaks. Along here you’ll find a handily located Wetherspoon’s for breakfast, the Railway Inn for other liquid refreshment (sadly, they seem not to do the breakfasts any more that we enjoyed on our first visit, watching England embarrass themselves in the Rugby World Cup over a plate of sausage and egg), and the slightly odd, crammed-full Lighthouse charity shop. There’s plenty of bargains in here including small electricals, if you can negotiate the over-stuffed room and inconveniently-placed staff.

Go straight up the hill from the bridge, on Bank Road, and you’ll find the majority of Matlock’s civic or historic buildings; importantly, you’ll also find Save The Children, British Red Cross and AgeUK, although you may not find much in them. Alternatively, right onto Causeway Lane will take you along the parks by the river and just round the corner to Firs Parade, home to Mind, Sue Ryder and British Heart Foundation. So that’s a fair haul of eight charity shops in a little town which happens to be one of the prettiest I know. As you can see, I’m in a generous mood, but I’ve no doubt we’ll be returning to Matlock any and every time we’re in the area.

Find: Matlock Google Maps
Get there: you’ve many options – walk the Derwent Valley Heritage Trail, catch the Peak Rail steam train, or get the normal train from Derby.
Consume with: I would have said breakfast at the Railway, but there’s plenty of other options, including the ‘spoons.
Visit: plenty round here! Masson MillsHeights of Abraham, Riber Castle
Overall rating: five china face dolls

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Filed under 5/5, Derbyshire

Droitwich Spa

Droitwich floods 2007 (2) by Ruth Flickr is used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Droitwich floods 2007 (2) by Ruth Flickr is used under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

In theory, there’s no reason why Droitwich Spa shouldn’t be a perfectly pleasant little town. Though home to a significant swathe of commuter development from the sixties onwards, Droitwich is its own community with its own salt-working industrial heritage stretching back to Roman times, when the town was called Salinae. The natural water of the town is ten times saltier than the Dead Sea, no less, and that led to DS becoming a Victorian spa town known for the restorative properties of a dip in its waters. Situated on the River Salwarpe and the Droitwich Canal, directly between the edges of urban Birmingham and the medieval splendour of Worcester, I repeat: there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be a lovely little town.

The problem with Droitwich is hard to pin down. Despite its Roman, medieval, Victorian and Edwardian heritage, the town centre is drab and lifeless. A sunny Saturday afternoon should bring the best out of a town, but this oddly warm October day saw a very few disinterested shoppers poking at a collection of pound shops and budget-end retail chains. The rail station is somewhat out of town, leaving some buses for the intrepid few. But why go to the effort of going into Droitwich when you have the full gamut of shopping facilities just a few miles down the road in Bromsgrove, Worcester or Birmingham?

Droitwich has it’s share of charity shops. On St Andrews Road there’s a mid-sized Salvation Army and a Blue Cross, next to a fairly massive, crowded secondhand furniture shop which is worth mentally tucking away. In the St Andrew’s Square shopping development, which seems to be what life there is to the town, there’s also a very standard Cancer Research shop. The rest of the shopping stretches down High Street – there’s one or two secondhandy shops, some quiet looking delis, that sort of thing, alongside Acorn Hospice and St Richard’s Hospice, which is hidden down a little side road towards the big Waitrose.

We didn’t come away with any purchases of note on that unseasonably hot Saturday afternoon, and in no way feel tempted to give DS a second chance, if only for the intense difficulty of finding something nice to eat for a late lunch. The town has potential in all its history, but needs some serious work to make it a viable destination for anything.

Find: Droitwich Spa Google Maps
Get there: the trainline is a little bit out of town, buses are occasional and walking is hard. Sigh.
Consume with: good question! You find me the answer and I’ll let you know.
Visit: the classy amongst you might enjoy the famous Droitwich Spa Lido.
Overall rating: two (just!) damaged headphones.

 

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Filed under 2/5, Worcestershire

Great Malvern

Grazing on the Malvern Hills, by Oliver Mallich, under Creative Commons. Click pic for olivern5's photostream..

Grazing on the Malvern Hills, by Oliver Mallich, under Creative Commons. Click pic for olivern5's photostream..

The town of Great Malvern has more than its fair share of outdoor shops, selling camping gear, waterproofs and the like, and well it might: it’s bang in the middle of the Malvern Hills, home of walking and mineral water. You might need them to tackle the high street, however. This is a serious hill. Thankfully, it’s certainly worth it – in central Great Malvern, but also scattered around, there’s a whole heap of charidee to be found. We were here for the Big Chill, but made the most of the time we had.

So, by altitude. At the top of the hill and nearly opposite the old-style department store Brays is Sue Ryder. A common enough charity shop with the distinction of being manned staffed by a full-strength transvestite whose label said ‘Josie’: not for long was the underlying implication. Descending Church Street via back views of the priory is Shaw Trust, St Michael’s Hospice and a nice Oxfam with book section I was led swiftly away from, for the wallet’s sake. That’s central Great Malvern in terms of charity shops, though there’s plenty of nice enough shops and distractions to wile away your time if you’re visiting.

Take a stroll down the hill and past the station (and our B&B) to the local retail enclave of Barnard’s Green, and there’s three more: Acorn Children’s Hospice on the main drag, and another two which, shamefully, I forget the names of. Don’t forget to wander down the track to the side of the butchers, as there’s one tucked away down there – that had a sealed bid auction going for a shopmobility scooter, so would be worth keeping an eye on.

Just when you think you’re done and you’re on your way out, back towards Worcester, you’ll happen across the suburb of Malvern Link. A funny place this, with not a lot going for it except a train station, but do visit St Richard’s Hospice or, even better, Harper’s Bazaar – nothing to do with the glossy rag, it’s an army surplus of the old school, replete with trenchcoats, periscope and helmets.

I’d recommend a trip to Malvern for the scenery, if nothing else. There’s few towns where natural features dominate the topography and views of the town itself like Great Malvern: the juxtaposition of urban and mountainous reminded me of Cape Town. The Hills seem to rear out of the ground from a distance, and loom at you up close. It’s also good for the shops, but it’s nice to be in the shadow of creation every now and then, to make a change from consumerism – even the eco-friendly secondhand kind.

Find: Great Malvern @ Google Maps
Consume with: lunch at the Unicorn, all in very good order.
Visit:
the hills, of course. Try listening out for Edward Elgar whistling.
Overall rating: four WW1 helmets

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Filed under 4/5, Worcestershire

Royal Leamington Spa

from magdzia_ss photostream

from magdzia_s’s photostream

For a tourist, a day of horizontal rain and unseasonable cold do not make a good start for a day out in Leamington. Much head-nodding appreciation of the town’s Georgian architecture, pump rooms, parks and attractive stretch of river are duly foregone, then, in favour of a heads-down, hoods-up stomp around the town centre.

The delights of Leamington appear to be many: on the one hand, most of the ugly shops (your mobile phone shops, your Top Shops) are all tucked away in the shopping centre, leaving the main streets for some homeware stores, the odd designer outlet, some classy-looking coffee shops and, to my delight, some excellent charity shops. The old faithful are here (two Oxfams; Imperial Cancer Research) plus an odd local shop (Myton Hospices), and there’s an excellent mixed bag of things here.

Now, this being a first post, it’s as well to set out my stall: my main interests tend to be the books and records section. Despite my record player costing £17 off of eBay, it’s a pile of junk, in essence, although it looks very nice. This rarely stops me buying something I want, however, so I have a significant stash awaiting the day that I can afford a USB record player.

CDs of course have their place, as do the shelves of tat (if I see another rice bowl I might just… buy it), and I’ll always have shufty at the stripy shirts and jackets. My regular companion is mostly interested in frocks, or so it seems.

So: Leamington. The big draw is an excellent Oxfam bookshop. We spied vinyl versions of Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love & Hate here, as well as UB40’s Signing Off, replete with actual UB40 form styled front cover. In books, I had to put down a Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere) otherwise I may have bought an entire shelf-full from the American Authors section – many Updikes, Mailers and Fitzgeralds.

Elsewhere, we found baskets of wool, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a purple frock worth having,and a random Nick Hornby (The Complete Polysyllabic Spree – I don’t know if I’m alone in that my favourite Hornby is 31 Songs, entirely non-fictional. If this is like that but with books, then I should be chuffed). Overall, a damp but very much productive afternoon.

Find: Royal Leamington Spa on Google Maps
Transport: Leamington Spa Rail Station on Chiltern Railways
Consume with: double macchiato, Caffe Nero, Regent Street
Visit: Royal Pump Rooms
Overall rating: four Daniel Bedingfields

1 Daniel Bedingfield point

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Filed under 4/5, Warwickshire