Three Counties Road, A Vicar Without Dog Collar And A Damp Disappointment
Three counties road, a vicar without dog collar and a damp disappointment.
Maybe not the best blog title ever but I doubt anyone has dared to come up with a combination quite like this before. And I do try very hard to notice and remember things like these. Especially when away from home on an adventure.
Which we are. Or were.
A trip out into the English countryside for a winter break.
So let me explain more about the three counties road . We were in Tewkesbury, a lovely little town tucked away between two well known rivers, the Avon and the Severn. We decided to take a drive to Ledbury, a beautiful market town only just over 10 miles or so away. So we did. We took the road and proceeded to leave Gloucestershire, popped into Worcestershire for a just a few miles before ending up in Herefordshire. And Ledbury.
Three counties. All on one short road.
Well, I was impressed.
As I was with the towns we visited. And the weather. There is nothing like clear blue skies when you want to go visiting and do the whole tourist thing.
So what about Tewkesbury, I hear you asking? Was it any good and would you visit again?
Well, yes and yes.
An historic town with a very impressive Norman Abbey, it is a slightly peculiar contrast between old and new with some rather dilapidated industrial buildings thrown into the mix. Oh, and of course plenty of beautiful views. The history is impressive. On the main road is, allegedly, Gloucestershires oldest public house, The Black Bear, dating back to 1308, and also The Royal Hop Pole Hotel, mentioned in Charles Dickens The Pickwick Papers and complete with a former medieval banqueting hall in the structure. Over the River Severn just outside of the main town is a cast iron bridge designed and built by Thomas Telford and opened in the early 19th century. And if you take a slow stroll along the main part of town you will see some very well cared for Tudor buildings, most of them utilising the name for all it's worth. The Tudor dry cleaners, the Tudor gift shop, the Tudor Chinese take away. You get the picture I'm sure.
We stopped off at the Nottingham Arms on the High Street for a break and a beer. It looked old from the outside and even older once inside. Narrow with low ceilings and conspicuous beams, it dates back to the early 16th century and is Grade 11 listed. Historic, friendly and a wonderful place to people watch.
And we managed to watch some wonderful people.
I particularly loved the old flour mill, on the River Avon and no more than a stones throw away from the main street. Not for its aesthetic value unfortunately but more for the run down and derelict photographic opportunities it offered. Tewkesburys industrial heritage seems to be something that not only helped the town to develop and prosper over the years but also something that it is proud of. Sadly, the numerous empty shops and general low key feel of the place with a few slightly rough edges suggested that the prosperous years may be long gone. If true, then it's a shame. I liked the town.
A short drive along the three counties road we found Ledbury, an altogether smaller but more picturesque place than Tewkesbury with more than its fair share of timber-framed buildings. The most impressive, the very “Tudoresque” Market House, dating back to 1617, is located on the main street and difficult to miss. Looking similar but substantially larger is Ledbury House, identified as one of England's finest timber-framed buildings and built in 1600.
I always believe that you can spot a tourist hot spot by the number of coffee shops. We checked out five before my wife found one she was happy with and I suspect there were a few more we may have missed. The Snug, our final choice, was, well, a little snug, but the coffee, tea and cake were fine. In my experience this normally results in a very happy wife. What was not so fine was when what we believed was the owner of the coffee shop decided to verbally, and rather inappropriately, lay into a member of her staff whilst we were still working our way through a slice of Victoria sponge. Not big or clever, although I suspect she may have thought that it was.
We took a stroll up a delightful cobbled street to the church of St. Michael and All Angels and met a very friendly local who decided to show us around. He was very well informed and we both suspected that he may have been the vicar but that all telling dog collar seemed to be absent. A clue or two sometimes helps. Whatever position he may have held he was warm, pleasant and entertaining.
In fact, apart from our rather unfriendly experience in The Snug, Ledbury seemed to be a very friendly place. The vicar without dog collar was not the only local who took some time out of their day to make us feel very welcome and we both reacted positively. A great reference for a small town surviving, one feels, on a steady stream of visitors looking to take in a little history with their tea and cake.
And then, sadly, we come to our slightly grey and disappointing part of the visit.
A trip to the city of Gloucester.
In the spirit of fairness, we only visited for a few hours and there may be parts that we missed which are wonderful. The day of our visit was also wet and miserable, which is not always conducive to a bright and positive mood. But overall it wasn't great.
We visited the famous cathedral. Grand, beautiful and very old, it was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. And it was also warm and dry.
We were advised before visiting by two completely unconnected people that the centre of Gloucester was not all that good. They were correct. It had a run down feel with way too many homeless people in the doorways of closed and empty shops for comfort. We took a walk around the historic dockyard area and were slightly more impressed. Refurbished warehouses, cafes and shops mingling with what was left of the city's industrial past. Mostly empty of customers it has to be said but I could imagine it being busy and buzzing in the warmer months. It also had a reasonably large retail centre with plenty of designer shops which is no doubt great if you like that kind of thing.
But our lasting impression was one of disappointment and sadly we both agreed that we would probably not chose to return.
So another interesting trip to a new part of the country for us. As adventures go it was rather low key but we had some positive experiences and some slightly less so. But by it's very nature, an adventure often brings the unexpected and who knows what can happen when you try something new.