Cream of the Country: Tewkesbury

It's full of historic treasures and also ideal to commute from, discovers Nick Lloyd Jones
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The Independent Online

The charming little medieval town of Tewkesbury, on the north Gloucestershire border, sits on top of a hill and has a historic core that is defined by two rivers - the Severn and the Avon - which converge at its base. The elevated spit of gravel on which the town rests still occasionally becomes marooned when the flood waters rise on the plains below. However, the town itself always remains high and dry.

The charming little medieval town of Tewkesbury, on the north Gloucestershire border, sits on top of a hill and has a historic core that is defined by two rivers - the Severn and the Avon - which converge at its base. The elevated spit of gravel on which the town rests still occasionally becomes marooned when the flood waters rise on the plains below. However, the town itself always remains high and dry.

Tewkesbury's centrepiece is St Mary's Abbey which was founded as a Benedictine monastery in the 12th century and boasts the world's tallest Norman tower. Today the Abbey is principally known for its choir but it has a long and colourful history - the deciding battle of the War of the Roses was fought in its shadow, the poet John Milton played on one of its organs and the Duke of Clarence who, according to Shakespeare, drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine, is interred in one of its many labyrinthine tombs.

This town's commercial hub is known as The Cross - the meeting point of Church Street, Barton Street and the High Street - which was once the site of an ancient market. A market is still held twice weekly, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but is nowadays more prosaically located in Oldbury Road car park, to the back of the High Street.

Tewkesbury town centre is an architectural gem which is home to several hundred listed buildings, the principal among them being its timber-framed Tudor structures, with their distinctive carvings and overhanging eaves.

A prime example is the Hop Pole Hotel, in the centre of town, although quite a few of its other classic period properties are still in private residential use.

Another distinctive feature of the town is its ingeniously engineered and compact layout - most readily apparent in the warren of more than 30 narrow alleyways and backstreets to the rear of The Cross. These were added in the 17th and 18th centuries to cope with a spiralling population and were concentrated in such a small area to guard against flooding.

Although Tewkesbury is a genuinely historic town which attracts its fair share of tourists in the summer, it is never totally overrun and retains the refreshingly unpretentious ambience of a regular working town. It has a comprehensive selection of shops and services - including its own hospital and cinema. There are some good bars, too, notably the Black Bear, to the north of town, which specialises in real ale and claims, along with countless others around the country, to be the oldest pub in England.

There's a decent choice of restaurants, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian. My Great Grandfather's, on Church Street, is an old favourite for traditional English cuisine, while the newly opened Slatters, a few doors down, has recently been making a name for itself as an enjoyable Mediterranean-style bistro. The town even has its own nightclub - including Montells on the High Street.

There is no shortage of decent schools. Mitton Manor, Tewkesbury C of E and Tirlebrook perform well in the primary sector, while Tewkesbury state secondary has a distinguished track record in technological subjects.

A bonus is that Tewkesbury is perfectly placed for commuting, with good rail and bus links. Worcester, Gloucester and Cheltenham are all scarcely a 20-minute drive away. It also has the M5, just down the road, which means Birmingham, Bristol, Swindon and Cardiff can all be reached in well under an hour.

Apart from being a commuter's dream and all its other attractions, there is one other big reason why the town has increasingly been attracting buyers in recent years.

"Property prices are typically 15 to 20 per cent lower here than in Cheltenham - quite a dramatic difference, considering they're only seven miles apart," explains Ian Southall of local estate agent Chess Moves.

He puts the increased interest in Tewkesbury properties down to a variety of factors. "Obviously, the lower prices act as a magnet but I also think that people prefer the ambience here. Whereas Cheltenham is affluent and gentrified, Tewkesbury is a lot more down-to-earth and friendlier. People simply prefer living here."

It's easy to understand why. Quite apart from its medieval charm, handy position and comprehensive selection of shops and services, it is also set in a particularly lovely stretch of countryside.

There are plenty of delightful places to visit in the vicinity, such as Twyning, three miles to the north, with its classic pub on the banks of the River Avon or, a little to the east, the cluster of pretty little villages on the slopes of Bredon Hill, such as Kemerton, Overbury and Beckford.

This is prime Cotswolds countryside, with its high escarpments and beautiful honey-coloured cottages crafted from local stone. To the west, meanwhile, lie the luscious water meadows and orchards of the Severn Vale, with the bold profile of the majestic Malvern Hills looming beyond.

The facts

Cost of living: one-bed flat from £110,000; two-bed from £130,000; three-bed house from £150,000; four-bed from £180,000; five-bed from £250,000.

Attractions: market on Wednesdays and Saturdays; farmers' market once a month; theatre and cinema; swimming pool; fitness centre; marina, moorings and boating facilities; Cheltenham racecourse seven miles away, with its National Hunt Festival every March; good selection of restaurants and pubs.

How to get there: local train to Cheltenham takes 15 minutes; the connections from there to London Paddington take just over two hours.

Downside: About once every 10 years, the town is temporarily marooned by flooding.

USP: Bargain property prices - 15 to 20 per cent lower than in nearby Cheltenham.

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