In geographical terms, Worcestershire can be compared to a huge saucer, with the low-lying plains of the Severn Valley and the Vale of Evesham, Britain’s foremost fruit-growing area, rising to a lip of hills, principally the Malverns in the west and the Cotswolds to the south. In character, the county divides into two broad belts. To the north lie the industrial and overspill towns – Droitwich and Redditch for instance – that have much in common with the Birmingham conurbation, while the south is predominantly rural. Bang at the geographical heart of the county is WORCESTER, an amenable county town where a liberal helping of half-timbered Tudor and handsome Georgian buildings stand cheek by jowl with some fairly charmless modern developments. The biggest single influence on the city has always been the River Severn, which flows along Worcester’s west flank. It was the river that made the city an important settlement as early as Saxon times, though its propensity to breach its banks has prompted the construction of a battery of defences which tumble down the slope from the mighty bulk of the cathedral, easily the town’s star turn. Worcester’s centre is small and compact – and, handily, all the key sights plus the best restaurants are clustered within the immediate vicinity of the cathedral.
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Worcester CathedralTowering above the River Severn, the soaring sandstone of Worcester Cathedral comprises a rich stew of architectural styles dating from 1084. The bulk of the church is firmly medieval, from the Norman transepts through to the late Gothic cloister, though the Victorians did have a good old hack at the exterior. Inside, the highlight is the thirteenth-century choir, a beautiful illustration of the Early English style, with a forest of slender pillars rising above the intricately worked choir stalls. Here also, in front of the high altar, is the table tomb of England’s most reviled monarch, King John (1167–1216), who certainly would not have appreciated the lion that lies at his feet biting the end of his sword – a reference to the curbing of his power by the barons when they obliged him to sign the Magna Carta. Just beyond the tomb – on the right – is Prince Arthur’s Chantry, a delicate lacy confection of carved stonework erected in 1504 to commemorate Arthur, King Henry VII’s son, who died at the age of 15. He was on his honeymoon with Catherine of Aragon, who was soon passed on – with such momentous consequences – to his younger brother, Henry. A doorway on the south side of the nave leads to the cloisters, with their delightful roof bosses, and the circular, largely Norman chapter house, which has the distinction of being the first such building constructed with the use of a central supporting pillar.