Welcome to wonderful Worcestershire

Date Posted: 14/09/2012

Historic houses, heritage transport and picture-postcard English countryside await groups in Worcestershire, reports Jeannine Williamson.

This beautiful county in the West Midlands is easily accessible from all parts of the country and offers a vast range of group-friendly attractions and things to see and do.

Worcestershire is steeped in history, and groups can discover miles of rolling countryside and winding waterways coupled with the cathedral city of Worcester, with its cobbled Tudor streets and elegant Queen Anne architecture, and quaint honey coloured Cotswold villages such as Broadway and Great Malvern set high on the slopes of the Malvern Hills.

The county is also renowned for its sports including premiership rugby, first division cricket, basketball and horse racing fixtures. And when it’s time to take a break there’s much more to local produce than Worcestershire sauce. Groups can visit cider producers and vineyards for tastings or savour tasty local meats, cheese, ice cream and much more in pubs and restaurants. Worcestershire is particularly famous for its asparagus and although heavy rain unfortunately forced the cancellation of the this year’s British Asparagus Festival, GTOs can plan ahead to the 2013 event held in May or arrange a visit during the asparagus season from late April to mid-June.

The group travel pages on Visit Worcestershire’s website provide comprehensive information on planning a trip to the county, including details of attractions, events and accommodation plus an online planning tool to create your perfect itinerary.

What’s happening at Witley?

There have been some changes at Witley Court and gardens; the palatial 19th century mansion famous for its fountains. The largest fountain, depicting Perseus and Andromeda from Greek mythology, has been restored, and its high cascades – once described as ‘making the noise of an express train’ – can be seen at set times daily from April to October. 

The land surrounding the house was laid out by William Andrews Nesfield, whose skill in designing intricate and elegant parterres was complemented by his great ability as an artist and engineer. English Heritage carried out extensive research into the design and has restored the magnificent east parterre to the original layout. Group benefits include discounted admission for parties of 11 or more and guided tours that are timed, where possible, to coincide with the fountain display.

Take a trip back in time

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the original Severn Valley Railway line between Worcester and Shrewsbury. Today groups can relive the golden days of steam on the 16-mile heritage line from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth, which saw more than £250,000 spent on track renewals last winter.

Your group can enjoy a leisurely journey from the town famous in the past for its carpet industry, to the ancient riverside town of Bewdley with its quaint quayside, gardens and attractive Georgian architecture. The journey then takes you to the timeless village of Arley, next to the river Severn and on to Highley where groups can visit the Engine House Visitor Centre, containing the railway’s reserve collection of steam locomotives. The final terminus is Bridgnorth, a medieval market town in neighbouring Shropshire. The Severn Valley Railway offers discounts and reserved seating for groups of 15 or more.

Animal magic

Groups are guaranteed to have a wild time at West Midland Safari & Leisure Park. Highlights include the drive-through safari and seeing two UK firsts: the largest pride of rare white lions and the largest group of cheetah. There’s also the new penguin cove, African village, meerkat enclosure and the largest walk through lemur wood in the UK.

The self-drive safari covers 150 acres and is home to rhinos, tigers, giraffes and elephants, to name just a few. In other areas of the park, groups should be captivated by close-up views of penguins and all weather exhibits that include reptiles, creepy crawlies and the sea lion theatre. If you have youngsters on board there’s plenty more fun in the amusement area that includes two thrilling water rides.

New building at Avoncroft

A historic Edwardian garden pavilion that stood on the site of the former asylum is the latest addition to Avoncroft Museum at Bromsgrove. The pavilion was a key feature of hospitals of the time, providing fresh air for patients. Now the shelter will provide a resting point for visitors near the museum’s old ice house.

Avoncroft provides a fascinating glimpse of Worcestershire in times gone by. The museum is home to over 27 different structures that have been rescued and painstakingly rebuilt at the open-air museum spread over 19 acres that also include a wildflower meadow, period gardens and traditional cider and perry orchard.  In addition to a collection of telephone boxes exhibits range in date from Worcester Cathedral’s 14th century Guesten Hall roof to a post World War Two prefab.

Groups of 15 and more benefit from discounted rates and joint visit packages are also available with the Jinney Ring Craft Centre, where groups can watch skilled craftsmen and women at work, and Hanbury Hall.

Tried and trusted

Worcestershire’s diverse collection of National Trust properties provide plenty of group appeal. Greyfriars House and Garden is a late medieval merchant’s house in Worcester city centre that dates back to 1480. The timber framed house was rescued from demolition after World War Two and has been carefully restored and refurbished

Moving into the countryside Hanbury Hall is a fine William and Mary-style house, garden and park built in 1701 by Thomas Vernon, a lawyer and Whig MP for Worcester. Inside groups can discover a mix of interiors, from the recreated gothic corridor to the recently re-decorated smoking room and stunning staircase wall paintings by Sir James Thornhill which underwent major restoration work earlier this year. Another rural property is Croome, where the park was recently voted as the nation’s second favourite National Trust walk. The trust is carrying out an ongoing series of restoration work and the garden has largely been returned to its 18th century beauty including the newly opened shrubbery and renovated rotunda folly.

Five great group attractions

1. Arley Arboretum: One of the oldest and most spectacular arboretums in Britain, Arley boasts more than 300 species of trees in formal and informal plantings and gardens.

2. The Falconry Centre: Exciting flying displays and exclusive evening visits for groups are among the attractions at the Hagley centre where groups can see more than 70 birds of prey including owls, vultures, buzzards and kites from around the world. 

3. The Transport Museum: Home to 100 buses and electric vehicles including milk floats and bread vans, mostly Midlands related, GTOs can organise a visit to coincide with one of the event days when nostalgic bus rides are available.

4. Worcester Racecourse: Enjoy the thrill of a day at the races with special packages that includes admission to the enclosure, a race card, two drinks and a discounted bet.

5. The Worcester Story: Join a costumed guide from Discover History for a stroll through  yesteryear, one of a series of informative themed walks that can be privately arranged for groups.

Five historic highlights

1. The Commandery: A glorious Grade I listed building dating back to the 12th century the Commandery has a long and varied history that reflects its range of architectural styles from medieval to Victorian.

2. Great Witley Church: Widely regarded as Britain’s finest baroque church the ornate gilded interior includes paintings by Italian artist Antonio Bellucci, decorative carving and painted glass windows depicting Biblical scenes.

3. Tudor House Heritage Centre: Situated in Worcester’s most historic street this 500-year-old building showcases its life over the centuries when it has been variously used for weaving, as a tavern, school clinic and wartime billeting station.

4. Worcester Cathedral (pictured): A place of worship for 14 centuries this glorious cathedral includes royal tombs, medieval cloisters, an ancient crypt and chapter house and Victorian stained glass.

5. Worcester Porcelain Museum: Set in a Victorian factory building the museum’s collection date back to 1751 when an eminent local surgeon and an apothecary perfected a secret recipe for the manufacture of Worcester’s famous porcelain.

Useful contact:
Visit Worcestershire:
0845-641 1540
www.visitworcestershire.org/groups

Photo credit: VisitBritain - Britain on View

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