Reader Club review: Gloucester

Date Posted: 23/07/2015

Reader Club members looking up at a statue in Glocuester

Sarah Holt joined GTOs from all over the country to explore the cathedral city of the Cotswolds.

The age-old nursery rhyme says that when Doctor Foster went to Gloucester, he stepped in a puddle, right up to his middle, and never went there again.

Well, Doctor Foster missed out. Because, as I discovered on our recent Reader Club trip, the city is one you can boomerang back to time and time again.

Gloucester’s events diary is one of the reasons for this. By the end of 2015, the city will have hosted more than 20 festivals in 12 months, ranging from the Tall Ships Festival in May to the Victorian Christmas Market in December.

I got a taste, quite literally, as our trip coincided with the annual Food Festival, which sprouts up around the Quays area every summer.

Thickets of stalls are set up by the Historic Docks and the Gloucester Quays Outlet Shopping Centre selling everything from British biltong to micro-brewery ales. Outdoor bars also serve the works, from cider to frozen cocktails, and the scents of caramelising sausages and smoky tempura plume out over a live music stage.

While the themes of each festival on the city’s events calendar vary dramatically, they all have one thing in common – they’re free to attend. The only exceptions at the Food Festival are the celebrity cookery demos in the Cookery Theatre marquee.

Paul Hollywood at Gloucester Food Festival

Pictured: Paul Hollywood giving a cooking demo at Gloucester Food Festival.

On our trip we caught a show by Paul Hollywood. Tickets were £8 each, and the demonstration lasted 45-minutes. In it, the Great British Bake-off star cooked a Bakewell tart and a middle eastern-inspired flatbread made with figs and blue cheese live-on stage. And, as part of the audience, several people on our fam trip – including me – were able to try samples of what the celebrity chef had made. Even a GTO who didn’t like blue cheese or dates braved a piece of the flat bread.

Festivals can often be a sticking point for groups. After all, it’s not always easy to take a coach party to an event when a few thousand other people have decided to go too. However, Gloucester puts on provisions especially for groups at the city’s busiest occasions, especially the Victorian Christmas Market in November.

Two thousand-year timeline

Events aside, the core attractions in Gloucester are enough to warrant a few repeat visits. The city is one big open-air history museum with more than 700 listed buildings. Even the innocuous-looking black brick tiles that pave parts of Southgate Street have a historical meaning behind them – they mark out where ancient buildings once stood in the city.

Of course, this is the sort of information you only really get to discover on a guided tour. So it’s lucky that Gloucester’s Civic Trust has 270 tour guides that can deliver tours on everything from the Siege of Gloucester to the city’s connections with America – did you know the American National Anthem was composed in Gloucester? On this trip, our group was split into three smaller parties and led around the city by three guides who seemed to know the historical relevance of every brick.

GTOs at Gloucester Cathedral

Pictured: GTOs on the Reader Club trip to Gloucester at Gloucester Cathedral.

The cathedral alone has a timeline that reaches back to the 7th century. It’s the place where King Edward II was buried and where King Henry the Third was coronated at the tender age of nine.

During our familiarisation trip I joined readers on a guided tour with one of the official guides that are on duty every day. As well as learning about the building’s distant past, we also learnt about the filming that has been written into its recent history books.

Harry Potter, Wolf Hall, Sherlock, and Dr Who have all been filmed at the cathedral and the guides can tell you about all the tricks used by the production teams. For example, a stained glass window image of Adam and Eve had to be given clothes for the filming of one Hollywood blockbuster.

In acknowledgement of the fact that you can’t fit all of Gloucester’s sights into one visit, Marketing Gloucester has just created a museum pass, which gives you unlimited access to four of the city’s museums for a full year. The museums involved are Gloucester City Museum, Soldiers of Gloucester Museum, The Waterways Museum and Gloucester Folk Museum.  

We visited the former on our Reader Club trip. The museum is a chronicle of the social history of the city and, perhaps more juicily, a tattletale of all its local gossip. Here, you’ll learn about the pin pointers who died early deaths because of all the dust they breathed in when working, and about the real Tailor of Gloucester.

Fables and food

The Tailor of Gloucester's house surrounded by GTOs

Pictured: The Tailor of Gloucester's house surrounded by GTOs on the Reader Club trip.

And there’s the white elephant in this article up until now. Of course, you can’t mention Gloucester without mentioning its famous folkloric tailor. The story of the Tailor of Gloucester was part of local legend long before Beatrix Potter published her children’s story in 1903.

But there’s no doubt that Potter put the tale on the map and you can now visit the Tailor of Gloucester shop, which is full of Beatrix Potter memorabilia and gifts.

And for every event or attraction that keeps you returning to the city, there’s a restaurant, café or bar. Both the city centre and the docks area are stringed with places to eat and drink. In fact, the fact that Gloucester takes its food seriously is proven before you even reach the city.

Gloucester services is actually a large-scale farm shop. You won’t find the likes of the golden arches here. Instead, you’ll discover a butcher’s counter, a deli and a canteen that serves locally-pressed fruit juices, artisan bread and homemade pies.

On our trip, Group Leisure readers were also treated to lunch on the Edward Elgar Hotel Boat, which takes groups on two to five-night cruises along the Severn Estuary. Cruise itineraries vary but stops include the Severn Valley Railway, Worcester and Tewkesbury Abbey.

Our lunch was a carbon copy of the food served on a typical cruise – a ploughman’s with all the trimmings, including a cake-sized slice of pork pie, pickles and relish.

Shopping sprees

You could even spend an entire visit shopping in Gloucester. The Quays are home to more than 50 designer outlet stores, including a Cadbury Factory Shop and Calvin Klein. The town centre, meanwhile, hosts a number of independent stores. On College Court, near the Tailor of Gloucester’s House, you’ll find a local arts and crafts stores and a crystal shop, for example.

To make a shopping trip to the city even more of a temptation, a Book of Treats is given to coach parties on arrival to the Quays, which includes a range of discount vouchers for restaurants, cafes and the outlet stores.

When our day ended at 5pm, we’d squeezed everything we could into a busy day, but we’d only just started on what the city had to offer. By my maths, I’ve still got 700 odd listed buildings, 100 shops, 100 restaurants, 69 different city tours and at least 15 more attractions to look around before I can say I’ve experienced all the city has to offer. So, unlike Dr Foster, I’ll be back.

Reader comment:

“I was surprised by the variety of attractions in Gloucester, the history and the architecture. The people working as volunteers here are first class.”

Judith Pursell, Ringwood U3A, Home Office Retired Staff Association

Reader comment:

“Gloucester is really interesting. I really liked the folk museum and seeing the bygones.”

Helen Cowell, Friends Travel Group

Reader comment:

“Gloucester would be a great place for our group because we have lots of families. The children’s fancy dress costumes in the folk museum are a great idea.”

Jane Collins, TNT Express Sports & Social Club Kingsbury

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