Worcestershire, just south of Birmingham, is one of those counties that seems to be so very English. It’s full of the rolling countryside that inspired the composer Elgar, small towns and villages tucked into the folds of hills, and your quintessential cathedral city in Worcester itself. Hear that sound? That’s leather hitting willow, or to be more precise, the sound of cricket on a lazy summer afternoon. Pack those picnics, and gather your walking boots, as we’re off to explore Worcestershire’s finest spots.
How To Get To Worcestershire
If you’re driving to Worcestershire, the M5 from the north or south will take you easily to most parts of the county. From Birmingham, it’s a short drive south on the M5 or the A38. If you’re taking the train, then the London service will drop you at Worcester itself, or else change at Birmingham New Street from the north, and Cheltenham Spa from the south. Your nearest major airport is Birmingham.
Worcestershire was part of the kingdom of Mercia, and in the years leading up to the Norman conquest, power was held through the church at Evesham Abbey, Pershore Abbey and Malvern Priory. The county played an important part in the English Civil War. The Battle of Powick Bridge was the initial skirmish, and the Battle of Worcester effectively ended the war.
The wool trade created Worcester’s wealth in medieval times, and many of the places that were forested, such as Malvern Chase, were designated royal hunting grounds. Some specialist trades developed in the nineteenth century: gloves in Worcester, carpets in Kidderminster, salt at Droitwich Spa and water from Malvern (said to be preferred by the Queen).
1. Take to the Malvern Hills
The Malvern Hills is an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The Malverns are made up of mixed volcanic, igneous and metamorphic rocks, dating back more than 12 million years. Flint axes and arrowheads found in the area are from the Bronze Age. The Wyche Cutting, which passes through the hills, was used in prehistoric times as part of the salt route from Droitwich to South Wales. Folklore states that the chieftain Caractacus made his last stand against the Romans at British Camp, where there are extensive Iron Age earthworks.
This is also a spot where you’ll find less common flora and fauna including dormice, skylarks and great crested newts. The Malvern Hills are home to all sorts of outdoor sports and leisure activities. You can go walking, mountain biking, riding, orienteering, hanggliding, paragliding, fishing and climbing. There are two waymarked long distance trails. The Worcestershire Way runs for 31 miles from Bewdley to Great Malvern and the Geopark Way, runs for 109 miles from Bridgnorth to Gloucester. There’s a visitor centre for this second trail at the Wyche.
2. Captivating Cotswolds: Broadway
It’s difficult not to have heard of the beauty of the Cotswolds, and Broadway is one of its most captivating villages. The Broad Way itself, a wide tree-lined street, is the heart of this small village. It’s lined with chestnut trees and honey-coloured Cotswold stone buildings, many dating from the sixteenth century.
The village is often used as a base to explore the Cotswolds and there are plenty of hotels including the Broadway Hotel and the Lygon Arms, dating back to 1600. You can also check out Broadway Tower, a 65 foot high folly built on the neighbouring Broadway Hill. The idea for the Tower originated with Capability Brown, and it served as an artistic retreat for William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.
3. Visit Pretty Pershore
Pershore, perched on the banks of the River Avon, is a small market town with a great deal of elegant Georgian architecture. It’s been called a “gem town”, worthy of preservation, and I can’t argue with that thought. Pershore Abbey, one of its beautiful buildings, is now much reduced in size from the original Abbey, with only the western part of the choir remaining.
If you’re visiting in August, you’re in for a treat. The Pershore Plum Festival celebrates local fruit production, and the streets are full of stalls containing jeweled bundles of purple, green and yellow deliciousness. There are plenty of products made from plums, together with all the kinds of things you would normally see at a food festival. You can also go and pick your own plums (from ground level, thankfully) at many of the farms on the road between Worcester and Pershore.
4. Take a Trip on the Severn Valley Railway
I’ve written before about the fabulous Severn Valley Railway, a heritage line running along the line of the Severn Valley from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth in Shropshire. It’s a sixteen mile stretch plied mostly by steam trains, with the occasional diesel service. Don’t be fooled by the lack of distance, as this is a great day trip. You can stop off at a number of small villages and halts en route.
For those of us of a certain vintage – ahem – and those more versed in the ways of one Harry Potter, the small compartment train carriages are a joy. If there are enough of you, you may even get your own compartment for the journey. The line is one of the most popular heritage railways in the country, and hosts numerous events throughout the year. Check out the Severn Valley Railway website for details, including the epic Evening Scenic Special – actually the fish and chip special – leaving Kidderminster at around 7pm on selected summer Saturdays.
5. Follow Elgar’s Route
Edward Elgar, perhaps most famous for Land of Hope and Glory, was born not far from Worcester at Lower Broadheath. You’ll find his museum there, comprising the Birthplace Cottage and garden, together with the modern Elgar Centre. In addition to music manuscripts, the museum collection includes a vast amount of correspondence to and from Elgar, and an insight into his hobbies such as golf and cycling.
The cottage at Lower Broadheath is part of the Elgar route, which can be driven non-stop in an hour and a half and covers about 35 miles. Although there’s no need to rush, as this is the kind of countryside that is is truly inspirational. The route wanders around Worcester, where you can start by viewing the Elgar window in the cathedral, then heads out over the Malverns. Don’t forget to stop off at Upton-upon-Severn, of jazz festival fame, and with plenty of exploration to be had. There is also a self-guided walking route of some two miles through Elgar country, details of which you’ll find here.
6. Visit Witley Court
Witley Court is one of those wildly atmospheric places that deserves to be explored. It is a ruined Italianate mansion built in the seventeenth century, and later expanded in the nineteenth century by architect John Nash. It was restored again later that century after purchase by the Earls of Dudley, in a classic “doing out your new pad” moment. A later fire caused great damage, and the house was subsequently stripped of its fittings and left to decline.
Witley Court was later rendered stable and safe with government intervention. Both it and the attached church St Michael and All Angels are Grade I listed buildings. In 2003, the freehold made a surprise appearance on eBay for a cool £975,000. Management is undertaken by English Heritage.
The larger of two massive fountains, Perseus and Andromeda, has been restored to working order by English Heritage, and is a spectacle not unlike the fountains at Peterhof in St Petersburg. Check out Witley Court’s website for details of firing dates for the fountain and other information about visiting the site.
7. It’s cricket, Old Chap
Worcestershire Cricket Club was formed in 1865, and is now based at New Road, just across the river from the city centre of Worcester. New Road is traditionally the first stop on the national team’s touring side. The Club has won the county championship five times in its history. New Road can host 5,500 spectators, presumably excluding those daydreaming during lectures at the nearby Worcestershire University.
If you’ve never experienced cricket, I urge you to give it a go. It’s one of those games that has some rather convoluted rules, but once you crack the basic premise, then the charm of the game will have you hooked. It’s a game of strategy, focus, and slow-paced intrigue. And during a day at the cricket, there’s plenty of time to eat, seek refreshment and catch up on a little light crossword-solving. You might even try that most newly English of obsessions: getting dressed up for the match.
8. Get Afloat On the River Severn and Canals
The Severn is the UK’s longest river, and flows through the Georgian town of Bewdley, Stourport-on-Severn and Worcester. It’s a broad river and navigable via locks to reach as far upstream as Stourport. The Worcester and Birmingham Canal joins the river at Worcester, giving access to the wider canal network. The Droitwich Barge Canal, suitable for widebeam craft and the Droitwich Canal (narrowbeam) also join to the River Severn. There are hire craft available from many points throughout the canal network.
Worcester Boat Trips runs a variety of boat services up and down the Severn, including some with live music, known as Notes on the Boat. A foot passenger ferry, the Cathedral Ferry, operates on weekends from the steps of Worcester Cathedral. It is crewed by volunteers, and charges a small charity donation for the journey.
9. Wander In Worcester
Worcester’s skyline is dominated by its cathedral, built in stages between 1084 and 1504. It therefore captures many styles of English architecture from its Norman crypt and chapter house to the Transitional Gothic bays, and a central tower. If you had the old £20 note, legal tender until June 2010, you’ll have seen the cathedral on the back along with Sir Edward Elgar. The first performance of his Enigma Variations took place in the cathedral.
Worcester has a fine selection of Tudor buildings, along with plenty of little alleyways and arcades full of independent shops and ripe for exploration. Some parts of the city walls are still in existence. If you’ve got a yen for antiques, go and explore in The Tything, immediately past Worcester Foregate Street railway station. If you are heading out to Great Malvern from this station, you’ll be crossing the beautiful viaduct and bridge which gives spectacular views over the River Severn.
10. An Everyday Story of Country Folk And The Shire: Cultural Inspirations
Worcestershire has been a source of inspiration for some famous artistic endeavours. It is said that the county inspired The Shire, a region of Tolkein’s Middle Earth, as described in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Tolkein’s Aunt Jane had a farm in Worcestershire, and it is believed to be the inspiration for Bag End.
Stop off in pretty Inkberrow, and you’ll find yourself in what used to be called an everyday story of country folk, but is now less snappily known as a contemporary drama in a rural setting. The Archers is the world’s longest running radio drama at over 18,000 episodes, aired on Radio 4, the BBC’s main spoken word channel. Set in the fictional village of Ambridge, the Archers is effectively set in Worcestershire and Warwickshire, with the Bull pub modeled on the Old Bull in Inkberrow.
Berrow’s Worcester Journal is claimed to be the world’s oldest newspaper. Worcester itself is also one of the homes of the Three Choirs Festival. Border Morris is a particular style of Morris dancing – English folk dance – associated with Worcestershire. The Worcestershire Monkey is a traditional dance performed in groups of eight.
11. Explore Evesham
Worcestershire is still a significant agricultural producer, nowhere more so than in the Vale of Evesham, between Evesham and Pershore. Here you’ll find asparagus in season, plums, particularly around Pershore, and a wide variety of apples and pears. The county’s flag has three Worcester Black Pears, a now rare local variety.
As you would expect from this, the countryside here is beautifully green, and in season rather wonderfully pink and white with blossom. You can find the Vale of Evesham Blossom Trail signposted in the area, teasing you with its nod to the edible treasures to come. Don’t forget to stop off in Evesham itself, where the ruins of the abbey are listed as an ancient monument. The River Avon, which almost loops the town, is navigable to the Severn at Tewkesbury.
More Exploration in Worcestershire And Beyond
You’ll find Worcestershire’s Tourist Information site here. If you’ve enjoyed exploring Worcestershire with me, then why not come and explore further. I’ve also been checking out:
- England’s second city, Birmingham, and its Tolkien Trail
- the Forest of Arden in Warwickshire, and neighbouring Coventry, the city of peace and reconcilliation
- the beautiful foodie town of Ludlow, complete with castle, and neighbouring Shropshire and its rolling hills
- the home of so much innovation, the Staffordshire Potteries
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