Stretching from the banks of the River Avon to the Cotswolds, taking in iconic flat-top Bredon Hill, flood meadows, fruit orchards, vineyards, farms, and truly rolling countryside, the Vale of Evesham is a beauty spot steeped in history but with plenty that’s new.
The whole summer is full of food festivals, plant sales, and river trips all starting now.
The Blossom Trail
Celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2023, the AA-signposted trail that started out eight miles long now takes in 55 miles of roads and lanes lined with, mostly, fruit trees – and overlooking countless orchards filled with many, many more.
For well over a century, thanks to its easy-going climate this has been England’s plum capital… purple Pershore, Pershore yellow egg, Victoria and more.
The Vale Landscape Heritage Trust now has 18 sites as replanting increasingly takes place. The spectacle – also taking in pear, apple, damson and cherry – is at its best from mid-March to mid-May.
The region comes alive on April 23, the opening day of the season (which lasts until June 21) when the first cut of local asparagus – gras as they call it here – goes on sale. Nowhere is the party bigger than at the Fleece Inn in the chocolate box village of Bretforton, a pub in a house that was owned by the same family from 1400 until the 1970s, when it was gifted to the National Trust. The Asparagus Festival starts with Gus the asparagus man, 6ft tall, green and bearded, along with Eve, the aparafairy and, because this year double with St George’s Day, a knight in chain mail, welcoming the masses. Breakfast is served in the pub, its timbered barn and the garden with its horsebox dining retreats – full English with asparagus, eggs benedict with asparagus, and so on), a lady asparamancer tells fortunes with asparagus, the 20-strong Silver Band, all wind instruments apart from a spirited drummer, play jolly tunes, not least Baggy Trousers and A Hard Day’s Night, morris dancers cavort, alpacas (a modern local tradition, more lucrative than sheep) pop their heads in and local cider is quaffed. A bunch of freshly-cut gras is £5.
Later at Wayside, a hilltop farm shop and tea rooms with cider barn, more alpacas and enormous Vale views, we lunch on pork and asparagus sausages and cheese and asparagus scones, with more cider.
The Fleece is also home to the annual asparagus auction, this year on May 28 d June 4.
The area’s main town was, until Henry VIII came along, home to one of the country’s biggest abbeys. A bell tower remains but asparagus weekend lined up with the opening of the abbey gardens, rescued from their allotment life and with a £1.2million, eight-year revamp starting to flower as a free attraction just above the riverside park. Gus the asparagus man wandered around chatting with chums in medieval costume and gaily-clad musicians played lutes and other curious instruments. In the days that followed there was the annual food and drink festival in riverfront Crown Meadow, local produce, especially asparagus.
A small market town on the Avon at the heart of the plum world with varieties named after it – and Pershore Plum Festival each August (in 2023 August 26-28) in Abbey Park, home to a 13th-century Norman abbey. Pershore College, a national centre for horticulture, sits in 60-acre grounds and has its own garden centre.
It’s the time of the seasoning for this historic spa town with ancient brine springs, important in Roman times, again being harvested at Churchfields Saltworks. The brine is turned into both fine and crystal salt – including beech smoked, wonderful to sprinkle on asparagus – using renewable energy. droitwichsalt.com
Deer Park Winery
Sitting on the slopes of Bredon Hill, this is both an award-winning vineyard and a place to gaze at a herd of red deer. There are views across the Vale, as far as the Malvern Hills, and nearby are a woodhenge, Roman fort and Bronze age remains. We walked among the vines, watched then retreated for a wine and cheese tasting session in the Oak Pavilion, a contemporary beamed barn with glass wall given fabulous vistas of a hazy sunset. Operating since 2016, making white, rose and sparkling wines, we celebrated Deer Park’s first red, a pinot, that left the barrels only the day before. There’s also a cottage and two lodges if you fancy staying. deerparkwines.co.uk
Where to stay
The Wood Norton
The Wood Norton Grand 19th century Wood Norton Hall, the hillside home for many years of Prince Philippe, Duke of Orléans, exiled claimant to the throne of France.
It later became a BBC base and its engineering training HQ can still be seen through the fence. It’s been seen on TV in Dr Who (as has the BBC’s nuclear bunker). Chateau-style wood-panelled rooms, from the bar, to elaborate suites, are decorated with carvings and fleur de lys motifs. Other rooms occupy historic adjoining buildings while the contemporary Orangery function suite sits father up the wooded slope. The Fleur de Lys brasserie, rich and dark, opens onto the South Terrace with views across the vale to Bredon Hill. The terrace is surrounded by formal gardens, beautifully planted and circled by clipped box.
More information: thewoodnorton.com
The Angel Tudor Coaching Inn
The Angel Tudor Coaching Inn, dating from 1485, is traditional but with contemporary flair, in the picturesque town of Pershore. The front door is on the high street but behind is a small field that runs down to the River Avon, on which several holiday cottages open in summer 2023.
The restaurant – and Gin Room and Cider private dining rooms – serves seasonal menus largely sourced from the hotel’s St Catherine’s Farm four miles away which produces all the pork (rare British Lop pigs), lamb, turkey, duck, chicken and eggs plus fruit and veg. The Banking Hall events in an adjoining former bank opened in 2022 Angelpershore.co.uk valeandspa.co.uk