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Staycation: The Wood Norton, Evesham

by Christine Faughlin
Staycation: The Wood Norton, Evesham
Views from The Wood Norton

A spring weekend spent in the Vale of Evesham mixes English eccentricity with outstanding natural beauty

Tossing a dozen spears of freshly cut Vale of Evesham asparagus into the air, then watching them land with a bounce before self- proclaimed ‘asparamancer’ Jemima Packington, has got to be the most idiosyncratic way to spend St George’s Day. And here I am, sitting in an ancient apple orchard behind The Fleece Inn, a 15th-century pub in the village of Bretforton, awaiting the outcome of an ‘asparagus reading’ at a festival marking the start of the English asparagus season. Traditionally, the season runs from St George’s Day on 23 April to the summer solstice in June – and in this part of the world, its annual arrival is celebrated in patriotic fashion at the historic Fleece. Owned by the same family for almost 600 years before being bequeathed to the National Trust in 1977, The Fleece is as much a part of the region’s heritage as the celebrated spears themselves. Packed with antiques, including a pretty jumble of some of the most prized pewterware in England, its crooked walls, head-grazing beams and flagstone floors painted with ancient witch circles are all part of its charm. But today, no-one wants to be indoors, no matter how endearing it may be.

Morris Dancers
Morris Dancers

Outside, in a medieval courtyard festooned with St George’s cross bunting, the excitement is building. Cheerful festival-goers emerge from a timber-framed thatched barn after an ‘asparatastic’ brunch (I can recommend the full English asparagus breakfast) served with craft apple juice from nearby Pershore Press. Former mayor of Evesham Diana Raphael is demonstrating the traditional practice of tethering ‘a round of gras’ – 15 spears, which can then be combined into a larger bundle of 120 spears, known as ‘a hundred’ – with strips of willow. There’s a merry troupe of morris dancers, hankies and bells at the ready, a silver band warming up ahead of its performance, and Griff, a local singer, belting out a catchy song about, you guessed it, asparagus. And in the middle of it all there’s Gus, a towering ‘asparaman’ covered in so much green make-up he could teach the backstage crew at Wicked a trick or two. He’s in demand, posing for pics with his sidekicks – an ‘aspara- fairy’ and a chainmail-clad St George, who is clutching a sword and shield but is not, as far as I can tell, in possession of any slain dragons. Everyone is having such a jolly time, I’d hate for a bad asparagus reading to kill the mood.

Thankfully, the affable Jemima – who interprets the patterns, symbols and letters formed by criss-crossing asparagus stalks to make her predictions – isn’t too concerned by what the tossed veg is revealing. For me, she sees nothing more dramatic than some upcoming travel and a bit of paperwork that could do with being sorted. For my friend’s reading, though, she hones in on two spears touching to form a letter ‘V’, and advises keeping a wary eye out for anyone whose name begins with the same letter. Call me sceptical but I’d have thought it common for a straight-edged ‘V’ to show up in a pile of asparagus spears.

But who am I to question the process? Jemima has form when it comes to forecasting – she often pops up on telly before big events like general elections and sporting finals, and has correctly predicted everything from Brexit to the timing of the Queen’s death (a ‘broken crown' revealed itself in the spears just days before). The festival culminates with the delivery – by vintage Morgan car – of the season’s first-cut asparagus round to Wayside Farm Shop and Tearooms in Wickhamford. Here, it’s presented to the year’s chosen charity – Dog’s Trust Evesham – to be auctioned later on. With the formal festivities over, we sit down to a local blossom cider and a savoury asparagus cream tea.

The asparagus festival is the fun highlight of a weekend exploring all the picturesque Vale of Evesham has to offer. The region, sheltered by the Cotswolds, Bredon Hill and the Malvern Hills, stretches along the valley of the River Avon below Stratford- upon-Avon and through Evesham, where we’re staying at The Wood Norton, a wood-panelled country house hotel with a most curious history. It started out as a hunting lodge in 1872, then turned royal retreat for the exiled French Duc D’Orléans before serving as a broadcasting and monitoring centre for the BBC during the second world war.

From there, the BBC transformed it into a training and filming centre (several 1970s Dr Who episodes were filmed here) before it finally settled on its current iteration of hotel. The interiors reflect this mixed heritage with arts and crafts panelling throughout, extensive use of the fleur-de-lis emblem – we spy it carved across fireplaces, running down drainpipes and stamped into silver doorplates – and pictures of famous BBC productions lining the walls. Our room’s in Pear Tree Mews, a converted coach house just behind the main house that was initially home to the Duc D’Orléans’ collection of exotic animals. With far-reaching views over the surrounding countryside, it’s an appropriate base for a weekend of quirky rural fun.

Asparagus from the festival
Asparagus from the festival

As well as being the home of asparagus, Evesham is gateway to Worcestershire’s annual blossom trail, which runs from mid-March to mid-May and takes in acres of petal-laden orchards. This year, the season is slow to start, but at its peak visitors can expect bursts of continuous colour from seven types of native blossom, including plum, damson, pear and apple. To make the most of the trail, we join a guided coach trip, led by Helen Piper of Evesham Vale Tour Guides, which circles the 55-mile blossom trail, taking in quaint villages and smart market towns along the way. In the morning, we stop at the Vale Landscape Heritage Trust’s Hipton Hill Orchards, where manager Gary Farmer explains how the Trust is working to save the region’s ancient orchards by restoring them to their former glory and recovering and replanting old varieties of fruit trees.

Also on the tour are stops at the Almonry Heritage Museum, home to an eclectic collection that tells the story of the area from the prehistoric to the present day, and the just-opened Abbey Gardens where we explore what remains of the great Benedictine Abbey of Evesham. We also make time to call in at pretty Pershore for a poke around its cute shops followed by a relaxed lunch at The Angel Hotel, whose menu is crafted from tasty local ingredients, including pedigree lamb and rare-breed pork from their own farm. Later, we head to Deer Park Wines in Eckington to plant some of the Trust’s heritage trees before taking part in a unique English wine and cheese tasting session with friendly hosts Mark and Caron Steele. If the blossoms are slow to show when you visit, consider returning in late June for a wander through fields carpeted with delphiniums at The Real Flower Petal Confetti Co in the village of Wick.

The grounds are open to the public for only 10 days before the flowers are hand-picked, dried and sold as natural confetti. Tickets are released just weeks before, so you’ll need to be quick ( Or, if you want to be absolutely sure the blossoms will appear, you could always get in touch with Jemima and see what the asparagus has to say about that...

How to book

Rooms at The Wood Norton in Evesham cost from £159 per night on a B&B basis (based on two people sharing). For more information and to book, visit For information on the Blossom Trail, visit blossom. This year’s Asparagus Festival will commence at The Fleece Inn

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