Warm to Worcestershire
Date Posted: 04/02/2011
Jeannine Williamson visits the county that combines quintessential English charm and 21st century appeal.
Worcestershire is a picturesque county situated in the heart of England’s glorious countryside, and excellent road links make it easily accessible from different parts of the UK.
With a mix of traditions, heritage and natural beauty, the region offers groups a wide range of things to see and do. Enjoy the fresh air with a stroll on the stunning Malvern Hills or explore the woodlands of the forest of Wyre. Be inspired by the industrial heritage of Bromsgrove and Redditch and discover waterways and miles of peaceful riverbanks. Wander through the elegant spa towns of Malvern and Droitwich Spa and discover Worcester, the historic city famous for its porcelain and magnificent cathedral.
Fans of The Archers will be interested to know that Worcestershire has close links with the popular Radio 4 series. The programme’s creator Godfrey Baseley lived in the Midlands and based locations on places he knew. The Old Bull at Inkberrow inspired The Bull in Ambridge, where Archers’ memorabilia is on show. Publicity shots of villagers leaving St Stephen’s Church showed the cast stepping out of St Mary the Virgin Church in Hanbury, and the National Trust’s Hanbury Hall was used as a backdrop for the Pargetter’s residence, Lower Loxley Hall.
Visit Worcestershire can help with all aspects of itinerary planning, including group-friendly accommodation and places to eat. The dedicated group section on the website includes some excellent itinerary suggestions and another useful feature is an interactive map enabling GTOs to see the distance between various towns and attractions. The ‘what’s on’ calendar enables organisers to plan a visit to coincide with major events such as the Three Counties Show or sporting fixtures at the famous county cricket ground and racecourse.
When you plan your visit to Worcestershire check out what’s happening at Malvern’s Three Counties Showground, which hosts three major events - Malvern Spring Gardening Show, the Three Counties Show and Malvern Autumn Show - in addition to a year-round programme of concerts, fairs and shows.
National Trust treasures
This year there is even more for groups to see at Croome Court, the magnificent mansion set in the heart of Capability Brown’s first complete landscape - the project that launched his reputation as one of Britain’s greatest garden designers. Previously inaccessible areas of the house built for the sixth Earl of Coventry are now on show and groups can follow a circular route taking in the earl’s dressing room, the elegant stone staircase and tapestry room.
Croome and fellow National Trust property Hanbury Hall recently celebrated record-breaking annual visitor figures of 100,000. Hanbury, a beautiful William and Mary-style house built in 1701 by Thomas Vernon, a lawyer and whig MP for Worcester, had double reason to celebrate after winning a national conservation award. It received the accolade for an £80,000 project to preserve wall paintings that adorn the main staircase.
One of the trust’s most unusual Worcestershire properties is the Fleece Inn, a half-timbered medieval farmhouse. First licensed in 1848 it is now an atmospheric pub with meals showcasing local produce, including a special asparagus menu from April to June. Coach parking can be pre-arranged and it’s a great place to take your group for lunch, with catering available to suit group needs.
Walk on the wild side
Groups can embark on a wild and wonderful adventure at West Midland Safari Park, home to the UK’s largest pride of rare white lions and the country’s biggest groups of white tigers and cheetahs. Group admission rates include the drive-through safari where other residents include elephants, rhinos, giraffes, camels, African wild dogs and wolves, to name just a few.
Exciting encounters with the wildlife kingdom continue along the discovery trail, where exhibits include seal island, the sea lion theatre, reptile world, twilight cave and hippo pool. Set in 200 acres, the park also includes an amusement area with rides and attractions. It hosts annual events such as late opening throughout August and a festive winter programme. There is discounted admission for groups of 12 or more and free preview tickets for GTOs.
Hit the high notes
Founded in the 18th century and reportedly one of the world’s oldest classical choral music festivals, the Three Choirs Festival rotates between the cathedral cities of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester. This year it is Worcester’s turn to host the historic festival and there will be 55 ticketed concerts plus a host of free events.
The focus of the week-long festival, starting on 6th August, is a concert each evening in the cathedral featuring established favourites from British composers plus international choral works. There will also be daytime performances of chamber music, opera, theatre, organ music and jazz, plus lectures and exhibitions. Tickets go on sale on 19th April and group organisers can find detailed information on this year’s programme at www.3choirs.org.
Groups visiting in the summer should also look out for the Worcester Festival, a colourful celebration of music, art, drama, film, history, horticulture and family fun that runs from 8th to 29th August and culminates with a fantastic firework display.
Five outdoor attractions to think about
• Arley Arboretum: Tucked away in the beautiful countryside of the Worcestershire and Shropshire borders, Arley is one of the country’s oldest privately-owned arboretums and boasts more than 300 species of trees. Group benefits include discounted entry for parties of ten or more and special out of hours tours.
• Go Ape!: Thrill-seeking groups can swing through the trees at the new Go Ape! High Wire Forest Adventure in Wyre forest, one of Britain’s largest remaining ancient woodlands. Participants negotiate a tree top obstacle course using ladders, walkways and zip lines. For groups with children the minimum age requirement is ten.
• Severn Leisure Cruises: Enjoy a leisurely cruise on board the Conway Castle, promoted as the largest passenger vessel on the river Severn. Daytime and evening cruises run from March to October. There are discounts for groups of 30 or more and on-board catering is available, including afternoon tea and buffets.
• Spetchley Park: This 30-acre Victorian garden is full of contrasts, including formal gardens, herbaceous borders, rare plant species, woodland and a deer park. Guided tours are available for groups of 20 or more. The composer Elgar spent time in and around the garden and joint group tickets are available for Spetchley and the Elgar Birthplace Museum.
• Worcester Racecourse: Enjoy the thrill of jump racing, and maybe a flutter or two, at this picturesque track on the banks of the river Severn. There is racing from May to October with group benefits for parties of ten or more, plus packages that include enclosure entry, a race card for each member of your group, complimentary drink and a betting voucher.
Five great group attractions
• Elgar Birthplace Museum: The life and achievements of one of England’s greatest composers, Sir Edward Elgar, are celebrated at the country cottage outside Worcester where he was born in 1857 and adjoining Elgar Centre. There is discounted entry for groups of ten or more and pre-booked refreshments are available.
• Severn Valley Railway: Take a journey back in time on the vintage steam trains running between Kidderminster, famous in the past for its carpet industry, to the ancient riverside town of Bewdley, with its quaint quayside, gardens and lovely Georgian architecture. Groups of 15 or more benefit from discounts and reserved seating.
• The Commandary: Dating back to the 12th century and having recently undergone a £1.5 million refurbishment, interactive displays will transport your group members through six key periods in the site’s history from medieval times to the 50s.
• Worcester Cathedral: One of England’s loveliest cathedrals, with the royal tombs of King John and Prince Arthur, medieval cloisters, ancient crypt and chapter house, and magnificent Victorian stained glass. Group guided tours are available year-round and special themed tours, including architecture, monuments, pilgrimages and famous people, can also be arranged.
• Worcester Porcelain Museum: Set amidst Victorian factory buildings in the heart of historic Worcester, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of the city’s namesake porcelain. Behind-the-scenes tours are available for groups of 12 or more, which include an introductory talk and entry to the museum.