Tag Archives: worcestershire

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

Bewdley

Brrrrrr-bewdley, under Creative Commons by Michael C Clark. Click pic for link.

Brrrrrr-bewdley, under Creative Commons by Michael C Clark. Click pic for link.

If you’ve heard of Bewdley in the last 12 months it will have been for one of two reasons. Firstly, it might have been Becky Hill, the wild-eyed, somewhat excitable Worcestershire lass who made it to the semi-final of The Voice by virtue of a massive voice and the, erm, career help of letterbox-faced, Cleopatra-styled wigger extraordinaire, Jessie J. The other reason we figured out on our most recent day out in Bewdley. Working on our general laziness, we walked from the tiny village of Arley along the wonderfully scenic Severn valley towards this Georgian town – a highly recommended hike filled mostly with speculation about which house we’d buy given the chance (I think, on the way there, we settled on one of the wood-surrounded chalets on Northwood Lane). The return journey, on the western bank, was altogether harder work thanks to muddy and precipitous paths, blown-down trees and the like, but yielded some even more desirable properties. Anyone who knows me in person would tell you that gregariousness is not my defining feature, and the house outside of town, at the foot of a wooded hill overlooking a meadow and the river, would be just perfect. The house has recently become available, but on a less cheerful note, it was the scene of the murder of its most recent inhabitant, Betty Yates. That is entirely typical of my constant companion and I.

You’d have to admit that the setting is wonderful, and Bewdley has all mod cons you’d want out of a small town. Excepting perhaps a train station (the Severn Valley Railway is hardly ideal for commuting, and Kidderminster is only 3 miles away) Bewdley is a cute yet bustling Severnside town, more serene than Bridgnorth, more refined than Stourport. Served by an array of local food and drink shops, pubs, delis, cafes and boutiques on the main shopping drag of Load Street, I don’t suppose residents are particularly regretful that (aside from a Co-op) there’s no major supermarket in town. That’s one in the book for Bewdley really, and the very close Kidderminster has a bizarrely massive range of large-scale shopping experiences.

Charity-shop-wise, Bewdley also fairs pretty well, and is a relaxed and pretty place to wile away your time. At the top of the hill, near the church in the middle of the road, is Kemp Hospice. It’s a large shop with an extensive back room full of books, so obviously I’m in trouble. Recently renovated, over the road you’ll find the Richard House Hospice shop, which now also has a pile of books in a nice clean, new-looking shop. Still a little hard to navigate the various cases and shelves, however. On the same side is a small-ish but reasonable Sue Ryder Care. Finally, there’s a more ad hoc sort of affair through the back of the hardware shop. It sounds odd, and is, and using all my Google-fu I can’t remember what it’s name is.

When first thinking of moving to the Midlands, I drove through Bewdley (and Kinver, Bridgnorth and the surrounding countryside) and it was what sold me on the area. North Worcestershire is hardly a buzzing tourist hotspot, but with the Severn valley, the Clee Hills, Wyre Forest and plenty more right there, it’s a lovely part of the world. I’d cheerfully recommend Bewdley on a CST-style day out.

Find: Bewdley Google Maps
Get there: No rail link (except for the Severn Valley Railway, which is even pricier than the main line), but plenty of buses serving Kiddy, Bridgnorth and Stourbridge.
Consume with: Piccolo’s is well worth a coffee stop, or Merchants on the riverside for a chip lunch.
Visit: Bewdley Museum is set in the old butchers’ shambles, or if more active is your thing, the Worcestershire Way, North Worcestershire Path, Severn Way and National Cycle Network Route 45 all converge on Bewdley.
Overall rating: four ceramic egg cups.

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Filed under 4/5, Worcestershire

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

Pershore

Pershore Abbey, under Creative Commons. Photo by Timothy Rose, click pic for link.

Pershore Abbey, under Creative Commons. Photo by Timothy Rose, click pic for link.

Surprising (to me) as it may seem, I’ve yet to sit down and plan trips out on the basis of one road. At some point, however, I’d like to be able to write down my experiences of the A44 – an otherwise undistinguished route between Oxford and Aberystwyth, this ploughs through a great deal of what I love about the English countryside and its accompanying towns, then takes a nice hike through the mountains of mid-Wales to its final destination in the Irish Sea. For future reference, expect detailed accounts of the A449 from Stafford to Newport, the A458 stretching from home turf into deepest Snowdonia, and when I feel really brave, the A38.

Oxford is a destination that we’ve achieved once, and have been thwarted by breakdowns, newborns and all sorts in our attempts to revisit. It remains a future write-up, as do the Cotswold towns of Chipping Norton and Moreton-in-Marsh, which are to come much more quickly. After Evesham, Pershore is the next decent-sized (read, CST-relevant) town along the road. After that would come Worcester, Bromyard, Leominster (recently scoped out), Llanrindod Wells, Rhayader, and finally Aberystwyth – our hopefully-soon-to-be-purchased caravan might help add some of these names to our visited list.

Situated on the river Avon on its way to meet the Severn at Tewkesbury (also coming soon), Pershore is at the heart of one of the most fertile fruit-growing regions of the country (as evidenced by the annual Plum Festival, which will undoubtedly *cough* be on our list of to-do’s in 2012). Entering via a bridge over said Avon, the most notable sight is the restored Benedictine Pershore Abbey on the Western side of the town centre. You could park along the road here, or as we did around the corner at Asda, from whence a profitable and pleasant charity shopping trip. If you park in Asda, you’ll have the added convenience of being dead close to two large St Richard’s Hospice shops – one for clothes, another for small furniture and a vast array of crockery, kitchenalia and assorted bric a brac. Be warned – there’s some nice things here, but they may not be high up the bargain scale.

On the main drag, there’s a significant-sized Oxfam and an equally well-sized Blue Cross shop. Just off the high street on Broad Street is a poky but well-filled Cats Protection League – I found a pair of Levis here for £4 (a miracle because of my odd proportions), which was excellent until we got home and saw just how green they were. They’ll need consideration; possibly dying.

The pick of the bunch is Acorn Hospice. This is a huge shop with a couple of side rooms for various things. It’s not so much that they stock anything unusual, just a large quantity of it. This is particularly evident right at the back, where books are piled wall-to-ceiling and weigh down a large table as well. Six is not a bad haul for a town as little as Pershore, so it punches above its weight. It has a great location for us, as it could easily be combined into a big old day out by hitting up Worcester, Upton and Malvern as well, even Tewkesbury for the adventurous (I wouldn’t bother with Evesham). And it’s nice! A polite, charming little town with some things to see and do. Good work.

Find: Pershore Google Maps
Get there: Pershore station is on the Worcester to London line, so stops in all sorts of helpful spots.
Consume with: the standard cheese baked potato, in Sugar and Spice, was fairly basic but went down well. Don’t ask for something off menu though, you’ll enter a world of pain.
Visit: the abbey or Bredon Hill would make good trips.
Overall rating: four Peter Gabriel LPs

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Filed under 4/5, Worcestershire

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

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