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Worcester in General
Member Name: davidbuttery
Worcester in General
Date: 12/07/02, updated on 22/07/02 (206 review reads)
Advantages: Lots of variety, Good transport links
Disadvantages: The wreckage around Tramps on a Sunday morning..., Floods
**22/07/02 UPDATE AT END**
...the Faithful City. A title bestowed by King Charles due to its staunch Royalism in the Civil War (the populace are still generally very pro-royalty), and a title the local Evening News uses half to death...
Think of Worcester, and you think of salmon fishing on the cricket pitch. Well, you do if you live there - like many towns along the River Severn (as I know from personal experience) its winter floods can be very severe indeed. But assuming you've managed to visit on a day when the car parks aren't underwater, what can you expect to find? The answer is, a great deal. For such a small city (Worcester's population is only about 100,000), there's a surprising amount of interest packed into its small confines.
Worcester's most famous landmark, of course, is its cathedral, and it's every bit as lovely "in the stone" as it appears in photographs. Given Worcester's sometimes turbulent history, it's perhaps surprising that it has survived as well as it has, and for that we must give thanks (which is an appropriate thing to do in a cathedral in any case!). Walking along its beautifully preserved passages, especially on a quiet day out of season with the faint sound of choir practice echoing along the walls, you can easily believe that you are back in mediaeval times. Come through the cloisters, however, and you are back in the modern day as you enter the cafe, which is, to my mind, the best place in Worcester for fat-filled, gooey cakes, something for which I have a particular weakness. If the tower is open, it's well worth going up - the view from the top is quite sensational, and even the most hardened atheist can't deny that there's something rather spiritual about the feeling of elation you get up there.
Obviously, Worcester's other major feature is the River Severn, and not just during floods. Thomas Telford's elegant bridge blends perfect
ly with its surroundings to create some gorgeous riverside walks - though you will have to beware of the swans, who fear nothing and no-one! In summer, there are usually several companies offering various river trips, floating restaurants etc, and these can be recommended, as being afloat gives you a different perspective on the city from that experienced ashore. (In winter, on the other hand, the trick is finding a part of Worcester that *isn't* in the river...)
Shoppers are well catered for in Worcester, with a wide variety of places to spend too much money. At first sight, the shopping area appears to be simply the long, pedestrianised Foregate, but in fact there is another street (The Shambles) parallel to this, two shopping centres (Crowngate and Lychgate), and many side- and back-streets, all of which are worth nosing around. You can spend an entire day in Worcester's shops without even scratching the surface of what is available.
Going into a little more detail, then: Russell & Dorrell provide what every provincial town should have, an independent (and excellent) department store - there is also a branch of Beatties, the Midland department store chain, and a Debenhams for the less original shopper; bookworms (like me!) will be delighted with the new Hammick's bookshop, which is much more spacious than the very cramped Waterstone's, though the relatively recent loss of Bookends (a superb remainder/secondhand bookshop) is much to be lamented; and there's plenty of hi-techery - HMV, GAME (formerly Electronics Boutique), a fabulous independent computer shop called Format (which also sells jigsaws) and of course Antics - another independent shop for which many in Worcestershire have a soft spot, as it was there that they bought their first Sinclair computer games.
If you're looking for interesting little shops to poke about in, then Worcester can offer them too: the Reindeer Court "shopping centre" (t
here are only about a dozen shops in it!) is great for browsers, as you can find all sorts of things, ranging from irons to old records. It's out of the rain, too! Elsewhere, the part of the Crowngate centre built into the old town has some very interesting places to see, including the Britmex co-operative, which sells various handmade goods from indigenous peoples of America.
Eating out in Worcester is a pleasant experience. I've already mentioned the Cathedral's cafe, and indeed it seems that many of the best places to eat in the city are not dedicated restaurants. The cafe in Russell & Dorrell is considerably better than most shop cafes, though like most shop cafes it allows smoking (in some of its area), which is very much to be regretted. Harvington Hall, in the Crowngate centre, which is primarily a theatre, also has some quite excellent light meals on sale. For those who do want a more substantial feast, there are the usual collection of cafes and restaurants - thankfully they haven't all turned into those damned coffee bars, though the disease is spreading. And for fast-food junkies, the normal mix of greasy spoons is available (tip: go to Burger King rather than McDonald's, as the latter is packed with screeching kids. The fries are better too).
Getting to Worcester is straightforward: the main railway station, Foregate Street, is only a couple of hundred yards from the city centre, and has direct connections to Birmingham and Hereford. Be careful, though - Worcester's other station, Shrub Hill, is a mile or so away, and the hill in between is fairly steep. Bus routes are fairly good too, and the (reasonably clean but rather dingy) bus station is sensibly situated beneath Crowngate shopping centre - expect some crowding in summer, though. For those who insist on driving, there are several multi-storey car parks dotted around, including one above Crowngate itself and a pleasant open-air space by the racecourse at P
itchcroft (which is a summer-only racetrack - when you've seen what the river does in the winter, you'll understand why!).
Entertainment is reasonable - there's the aforementioned Harvington Hall, the Swan Theatre at Pitchcroft (constantly struggling for funds), two cinemas (an oldish Odeon and a newish Warner Village, both an easy walk from the centre, for once), any number of pubs of all stripes, and the inevitable Tramps nightclub, which for as long as I can remember has been the place where teenagers go for their eighteenths, and for equally as long has been a place to avoid if you want a quiet life. I'm way out of my depth in this area, so a trip to www.night-clubber.com will give you more info on Worcester's places to be seen, groovy guys and chicks (or something). Finally, of course, every three years the Three Choirs Festival is held in Worcester, and this is emphatically not something you want to die without having attended.
I love Worcester, and always have. It seems to me to be just the right size - big enough to have all the facilities one could need, yet small enough to walk around comfortably, without great treks across busy streets. The people are generally friendly (beggars included, which is good as there are quite a lot), you get a high class of busker (string quartets, steel bands etc) and the pace of life isn't too quick.If you have some time to spare, you could do a lot worse than come here.
** UPDATE - 22/07.02 **
And it's not a nice one, I'm afraid. The Lychgate area of the city centre (just across the road from the Cathedral) is going to be redeveloped in a few months' time. And that means, among other things, the end of the line for Russell & Dorrell (except for its furniture section, which will continue elsewhere).
Mr Dorrell himself made the announcement, and one has to give him credit for having the common decency to agree to
a lengthy interview on the local radio station, in which he was most willing to explain the reasoning - in brief, that pressure from Worcester's two chain department stores (Debenhams and Beatties) had made it increasingly difficult for an independent to thrive. So R&D will close in January, after just over 150 years. A very, very sad day for the city, and yet another defeat in the battle against shopping uniformity.
Another significant casualty of the redevelopment (unless it can find alternative premises) will be Format, the independent computer games and jigsaw shop, which will also be a sad loss to the place. With Bookends' brief revival as a remainder-only bookshop seemingly at an end too (the "closing sale" signs are already up), things are looking a little bleak for Worcester's much-vaunted variety of outlets. Let's hope that its character can be retained in the longer term.
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