Tewkesbury is a medieval market town lying at the point where two great rivers, the Severn and the Avon, join forces.
It’s also an ideal stopover for caravanners from the north who are heading towards Wales or Devon and Cornwall, because it is only a 10-minute drive off the M5.
As a result, the Caravan and Motorhome Club site, which lies tucked away behind Tewkesbury’s famous Abbey, is always popular, and always busy.
Once you arrive here and take a brief stroll around, it is not difficult to see why. A five-minute walk brings you into the centre of this historic town, which has much more than its fair share of ancient half-timbered buildings, looking for all the world as if you have wandered into a film set. Add to this a fine selection of restaurants to suit all tastes, as well as modern shopping facilities, and it’s no wonder the town is so popular.
Some Club sites remain open all year, but not this one. The most important reason for this is the fact that it floods regularly in winter, owing to its low-lying position and proximity to those rivers.
Luckily, the builders of the imposing abbey church next door were well aware of the problem and as a result, the Abbey often features in aerial views of the flooded town, standing proudly on its own island!
In recent years, the campsite reception block has been rebuilt on brick piers, so it is immune from the flood waters, and many of the pitches have been redesigned with hardstanding areas or as multi-surface pitches that are more resilient to the damp conditions. The hook-up points have also been placed much higher than usual, to minimise the risk of flood damage.
Having set ourselves up on one of the fully serviced pitches, we enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the caravan before setting off to explore this historic town.
Taking the Abbey road
The first port of call has to be Tewkesbury Abbey or, to use its full name, the Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin.
Building work commenced in 1102 and took the best part of 20 years. Originally built to house Benedictine monks, it has undergone many alterations and additions, like most ancient ecclesiastical sites.
Today, this wonderful building is very much a living, working church, but it also provides a wide range of visitor attractions, from performances by visiting choirs, to tours of the splendid towers.
One of our favourite walks is to head towards town and then turn left at the main road. Passing the Abbey on your left, walk towards The Bell hotel, turning right into Mill Street. Two minutes will bring you to the Abbey Mill, now disused.
There has been a mill here since 1190, when the monks had a channel dug from the Avon to power their flour mill. Rebuilt in 1793 with four great paddle wheels, this was replaced by an even larger mill further upstream, and in turn, this building has most recently been used as an upmarket restaurant and apartments.
Crossing the Avon here by the footbridge takes you to a large grassy area, the Severn Ham, which is a natural floodplain for the two rivers. Visitors with dogs will love this large open space, with plenty of room to run around and explore.
We, however, tend to follow the Severn Way footpath beside the river, which gives you good views of the fabulous riverside apartments and properties, some of which have their own landing stage. Walking as far as the ‘new’ mill (also now disused!), you can cross back over the river and continue strolling, or join one of the boat trips.
Any one of the next roads will take you back to the High Street in the town centre, from where you can turn left, back towards the site, or right towards the outskirts of town, where you will find Ye Olde Black Bear, which is reputed to be the oldest pub in Gloucestershire, dating back to 1308.
This was closed for refurbishment when we were there, but we look forward to being able to visit again when it reopens.
The Dickens connection
There are, of course, many other historic pubs in the town – on the High Street, you will find The Nottingham Arms, The Cross House Tavern and The Berkeley Arms, to name just three. One of the best known, though, is The Royal Hop Pole, parts of which date back to the 15th and the 18th centuries. The pub was mentioned in The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, which was published in 1836.
We have enjoyed many a good meal,or just a quiet drink, sitting in the main saloon, one of the alcoves, or even the front window, where you can watch the world go by. In summer, there is a lovely beer garden, and it is all just a five-minute stroll from the site.
As you are wandering around, look out for the tiny alleyways that link one street to another. There used to be more than 90 of these and about 30 still exist. Their names can be traced back to wealthy local citizens, or sometimes the businesses that operated in the alley.
Battle of Tewkesbury
Every July, Tewkesbury Medieval Festival offers a wide range of events suitable for all ages, in and around the town.
The original Battle of Tewkesbury, in 1471, was one of the most decisive actions in the Wars of the Roses, when Edward IV and forces loyal to the House of York defeated the rival House of Lancaster.
The main event in the festival is the reenactment of the battle, which involves hundreds of participants, all in full period costume, and is apparently the largest free medieval reenactment in Europe. People come from many countries to take part or watch – it is a hugely popular event.
Cities and waterways
There are many other places to visit nearby. To the north is Worcester, and to the south, Gloucester, while slightly nearer, there’s the elegant spa town of Cheltenham.
All offer a good choice of shops, and Gloucester has the bonus of the old docks area, recently extensively refurbished.
The dockside warehouses are now smart apartments, while the former Llanthony Warehouse has been taken over by the Canal & River Trust, and now houses the National Waterways Museum.
The docks were once a major terminus for freight traffic, with barges bringing cargo to and from the Severn via the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. Nowadays, though, the waterway is mainly used for pleasure craft and river tours.
There are several good restaurants in the area, and at the southern end, Gloucester Quays, an upmarket retail park. And don’t miss the magnificent 11th-century cathedral, tucked away behind Westgate Street.
Where we stayed in Tewkesbury
Gander Lane, Tewkesbury GL20 5PG
The Tewkesbury Abbey site has a total of 138 pitches, of which 33 are hardstanding, and 18 of these are fully serviced with water, electricity and drainage. There is a modern, centrally located toilet block on site.
When to go
The Tewkesbury Abbey site is open from March to early November, although the CAMC site at Broadway (just 15 miles away), is open all year.
The 2023 Medieval Festival is scheduled for 8-9 July.
Way to go
From the north or the south, the M5 provides the easiest route, leaving at Junction 9, and then following the A438 all the way into the town centre, across the roundabout into Church Street, then first left into Gander Lane.
From Evesham in the east, follow the A46 to Junction 9, then as above.
Find out more
Lead image: Colin Burdett
Head to our Best of British: Touring Adventures section for more inspiration for your next trip.
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