The Vale of Evesham: History, asparagus and beautiful blossom
PUBLISHED: 11:02 30 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:02 30 April 2019
Anna Bailey explores the Vale of Evesham and its enviable bounties
Nestled between the Malvern Hills and the Cotswolds, the Vale of Evesham is known for its fertile land, its timber-framed houses, and beautiful views. But dig a little deeper and you'll find this sprawling landscape is more than just picturesque – with its quirky festivals, ancient ruins, and Saxon myths, the road from Pershore to Evesham is home to more than meets the eye.
Arriving in the market town of Pershore, any history lover's first stop should be the abbey. It's an easy landmark to spot wherever you are in town, its elegant tower rising high above the line of trees and rooftops. The site actually dates back to the late 7th century, and its tumultuous history of Dissolution, fire, and even an earthquake is evident in its usual features – you can still see where walls have been torn away or windows bricked over, as the people of Pershore have come together time and again to patch up their beloved abbey. In spite of its past, or perhaps because of it, this former Benedictine monastery still cuts a grand figure, and is best admired whilst strolling through the trees and wild flowerbeds in the grounds.
While you're here, have a wander down the fine Georgian high street, and browse the many independent shops that Pershore has to offer. Unfortunately you're a few months early for the town's annual Plum Festival; while the Vale of Evesham is best known for the excellent fruit and vegetables it produces, this August event celebrates the particular local tradition of growing plums. Be on the look out for Pershore Purples, Emblems and Yellow Eggs.
From here it's a 15-minute drive over to larger, busier Evesham, but you would be doing yourself a disservice not to stop and explore a few of the Vale's villages along the way. There's an impressive 18th-century mill in Fladbury; there are some gorgeous views to be had in Badsey and The Lenches; Offenham is one of only six villages with a permanent maypole, and at 64ft it's the tallest in the country too.
Named after an Anglo-Saxon swineherd, Evesham (Eof's Ham) is one of those lovely Cotswold towns like Banbury and Stroud that embraces its history without shying away from the modern day. Here you'll find plenty of shopping opportunities, local eateries with lots of character, and luscious green public spaces, all within view of medieval ruins and timber-framed houses galore. Near the market square you'll come across a rather bewitching statue of Eof – a pig farmer who claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary. It was his vision that led to the founding of Evesham Abbey, which grew to be one of the largest in the country during its heyday, until it was dismantled during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The bell tower is all that's left standing now, and serves as a reminder of how majestic the original abbey must have been.
Where Pershore has its plums, Evesham has asparagus. As of 2006, the town participates in an annual festival to celebrate the popular spring vegetable, which has become a protected delicacy in the area. This year's festivities kick off on April 23 with the Great British Asparagus Run, and also include local St George's Day celebrations. Hop aboard the Asaparabus (you have to appreciate that pun) for a tour of the stunning local countryside and an asparagus history lesson; you'll learn how to prepare it, cook it, and you'll get plenty of chances to taste it, too. Also held at The Fleece are the Famous Asparagus Auctions: a decades' old tradition that first attracted attention to this remarkable little vegetable. The festival organisers certainly know how to have fun with it – don't miss Gus the Asparagus Man, a rather beloved local mascot, and be sure to catch Jemima Packington, the world's only 'Asparamancer', as she predicts the future by tossing asparagus shoots into the air like ancient rune stones.
The British Asparagus Festival runs from April to June, which coincides with another of Evesham's celebrated specialities: the Blossom Trail. Following a 45-mile signposted route, drive or cycle along the Vale's country roads and witness its famed fruit trees in full bloom. Look out for the white blossoms of plum, damson and pear trees, and the various shades of pink belonging to apples and cherries, as you explore the orchards that the people of Evesham and Pershore have been farming since the Middle Ages.
For the ramblers among you, it's only a short drive from Evesham to Elmley Castle and a whole host of country walks. With its 17th-century cottages and beautiful medieval church, the little village of Elmley Castle has been the location of various period dramas, including Martin Chuzzlewit. From here you can explore the nature reserve at Bredon Hill, where the remains of Roman and Iron Age settlements are nestled among the ancient woodlands. There are also a number of standing stones, including the King and Queen Stones, which are said to cure all your ailments should you walk between them. (Alas, fellow Outlander fans, none of them will send you back in time. Believe me, I tried.) For a shorter walk, you can hike to the earthwork remains of a medieval castle just half a mile outside of the village, and then finish up at the wonderfully friendly Queen's Head for a hearty lunch and a local pint from Pershore Brewery.
For more information about the British Asparagus Festival 2019, including bus tour dates, visit britishasparagusfestival.org.