A Day Out With Elspeth in Tewkesbury

My favourite small town so far

Tewkesbury sketch

Tewkesbury’s status as such comes from having an abbey in cathedral league, for alleys and attractive main streets – one which looks like a village, the other a small town. There’s a mill and meadows, a brilliant arts centre – the Roses, and a large for a town of its size library. The bookshop is also big for an independent, two storeys and with a good range. Tewkesbury’s got cheapies and chains next to Marks and Spencer’s (not a favour easily bestowed, and after their workfare use, not one I reciprocate with my custom) and small shops and cafes: some feel upmarket, some long term local.

The image many of us may still have is of when this little town was waterlogged. I have an aerial postcard of that. So I did some Christmas shopping here that year to help with their economy. I wish I’d had a camera to capture that gorgeous lazy sunset that day – and the morning I awoke in the Hop Pole hotel to hear and see the Abbey, again in a haze. The Hop has a corridor made out of a medieval hall house, an era well represented in Tewkesbury.

Although in Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury looks more like Worcestershire than the Cotswolds, being of the red brick and black and white timbered school rather than golden stone. Some of those timbers house museums, and for a little town, Tewkesbury again is excellent. It has a local free one, one about wildlife conservation (though the touching table was rather small, I was looking forward to that part especially), and Out of the Hat, which is the expensive and modern one. And there’s a disguised old Baptist Chapel to visit too. So along with the abbey and the arts centre, and those little shops and alleys to browse, there’s quite a bit to see here.

The issue though is if you don’t drive. I’d recommend buses as they go from the centre of town and drop you off likewise in Cheltenham or Gloucester. The station was right near the Roses, but now it’s at a church with an industrial estate called Ashchurch. One can be alone a long time here, especially at night, and there is NOTHING here – only a vending machine for company and even taxis are of the prebooked variety. During the day, there’s a bus service. It’s not a road you’d really want to walk as it’s a main one without a proper pavement. So one can feel stranded and island like even without floods at Tewkesbury. So it’s a good thing it’s so attractive and with so much to do, because you will need it.




A Day Out With Elspeth in Swindon

Your joy is complete

That’s what I want to official town tagline to be. If you read the Thursday Next stories by Jasper Fforde, you’ll be forced to go to Swindon against your will. I wasn’t the only one who felt that. You’ll want to see the croquet stadium and the magic roundabout. 1960s town planning will never have looked so good!


There is an old part to Swindon, not old by most place’s standard, but it’s an escape if the concrete centre gets too much. In the Old Town, I liked the dead Italianate Town Hall, and there’s a little museum and a few shops/restaurants approaching interesting… and there’s the arts centre with a festival. It’s quite a slog back into the glory of the high street and malls, but I think the best part of Swindon is the old railway area further along from today’s glorious pile of a station.

Swindon7 Swindon6 Swindon3 Swindon2

There’s a Victorian chapel and railway cottages and the designer shopping bit in old rail sheds (take note other towns, these are better then the sheds we now build, and combine history and commerce). Steam museum is excellent – even if you don’t think you care about Brunel and old trains, you will (you’d better, there’s nothing else to care about here). I cannot get over how both the National Trust and English Heritage (ie the nation’s keepers of all things OLD) moved their HQ here… from Queen Anne Saville Row in London to a dead shed amidst more dead sheds and access by a tunnel which makes you wonder if you’ve missed something (or will be missing something when you come out, if you do) in a town that’s synonymous with soulless and, er, new. The NT’s eco friendly new building is named after Beatrix P’s married name, the woman who gave us ducks, rabbits and a lot of the Lake District so developers couldn’t get it.



Hm, I’m running out of things to tell you about… I spent much of one of my visits in Marlborough, which you can access by bus from here: a sort of Wiltshire Woodbridge of shops and cafes on a long high street, but apart from the Merchant’s House and a college where a certain lady went, there isn’t loads to report here either.


You might also want to find Malmesbury, whose half ruined abbey (home of Naked Gardeners) is a happy sight after the gruelling bus ride, but beware – it’s easy to get stranded as the last bus (only late afternoon) comes in early as one number and leaves as another! And the whole town seems asleep by then! EEk!

Well, I’d often wondered what I’d do with those Swindon pictures and why I took them – now I know, to share them with you. Read The Eyre Affair before visiting. It will be a sweetening pill. It might also be an irresistible magnet.