Banburyshire Rambles Photo-Journal:

Going slowly around the bend…

A full circuit of Evesham along the river, without wet feet

Thursday 5th March 2020
Route: River Avon around Evesham town centre.
Metrics: Distance, 6.4km/4 miles; ascension 50m/165ft; duration, 1½ hours.

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After many weeks visiting Evesham for meetings, I finally get to do the full circuit of the town beside the river now the floods have subsided.

The old town of Evesham has sat within a bend on the Avon for over 1,300 years. Blocked by a ridge in the landscape, the river runs fast and deep in a loop around the town, and makes for a great short walk – when, that is, the path isn’t covered by flood water.

Most weeks since last November I’ve been coming to Evesham for meetings. Where possible I’ve tried to fit in a walk as I rarely get this far beyond the edge of the Cotswolds. Problem is some of the best routes run alongside the river, and since last year they have either been underwater, or a saturated quagmire as the river level has still been too high to allow the plain either side to fully drain.

Last weekend in Stratford I went for a walk downstream, only to be blocked by flood water at Weir Brake lock near Clifford Chambers. As a result this week didn’t look too hopeful; but I give it a try anyway

I arrive a little late. My meeting is in a hour and three-quarters so I hurry off.

Picking my way through the snarled-up traffic, I go downhill to Evesham lock and then take the narrow path along the quayside and moorings above the lock gates. Last November the weir on the far side was not even visible – the river was one flat expanse of water from the floor level of the mobile homes on the opposite bank, to the first ground floor level of the newly converted flats in the old warehouses on this side.

The concrete is covered in a layer of extremely fine silt. Very slippy. That’s made worse a little later where the silt sits in shallow puddles which allows green algae to grow.

Past the slipway the path opens out into a broad grass strip alongside more recent housing developments, punctuated with little jetties for fishing. Rounding the bend is the imposing space-frame girder bridge that takes the Cotswold Line over the River Avon for the first time; and beneath, on the far bank, Evesham boatyard. For the last few months, travelling here on the train, this whole area has been underwater.

The bank under the bridge is still only just above water, and is very slippy. For the last few weeks this point has always barred my progress as it has been under water. Beyond it appears that some new duckboarding is being installed to take the path across the boggy ground alongside the river. I can’t try it today though as I take a left here back towards the railway station.

From the river the path winds alongside the railway. After passing under the railway bridge, the path takes a right-turn up the steep bank.

The disused bridge which crosses the tracks here used to carry the Midland Railway’s ‘Evesham Loop Line’ across what is now the Cotswold Line – formerly the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railway. If you take the train from Birmingham to Redditch it terminates at a forlorn single platform next to the shopping centre. Up until 1963 though trains continued on, through Alcester and Wixford to here. Back then Evesham had two stations: The Great Western station is one which survives today; ‘The Signal House’, opposite the present-day station, is what remains of the Midland Railway’s station, built in the 1860s.

The path climbs steeply giving a view over the allotments and across the town, with the misty backdrop of the Cotswold escarpment in the distance (look closely and you can see Broadway Tower on the ridge-line).

As I walk along the path the phrase ‘Peaceable Kingdoms’ comes to mind; not because of the series of paintings of people serenely farming the land by the Quaker artist Edward Hicks, but because this reminds me of a scene in a booklet called ‘Peaceable Kingdoms’ about the allotment culture of Tyneside – presented to me by some of the allotment holders after I helped them remedy a nasty problem with the local council back in the late 1990s.

Going back into the buzz of the town it takes a while to cross the congested main road and circumnavigate the station, and then try to avoid being splatted by the cars turning into Tesco at speed without using their indicators. Eventually I can take the left turn through the small galvanised steel gate and into the tree plantation beyond.

I pause to look downstream, then turn and start to walk. Now it’s a flat, but extremely slippy walk back around the long curve of the loop in the river to the town centre. The trees around me here have thatch and plastic bags stuck in their branches at head height – which would have been the water level a few weeks ago.

Under the Cotswold Line once more (a less impressive steel beam bridge) I come to another disused bridge – the next section of the Midland Railway which crossed the river and went south, around the southern flank of Bredon Hill, to rejoin the main line at Ashchurch. The bridge abutment is an impressive structure but it’s not too pleasant to stand here today; the outfall from Evesham’s sewage works is on the opposite bank of the river.

It’s a flat path, past the rugby club, and then on to Hampton. No ferry today, though I think it restarts soon. Beyond Hampton the path is surfaced so I speed up appreciably, back under the main road on its large stressed steel arch suspension bridge.

Off to my left Evesham Abbey is standing rather gloomily on the sky-line. Founded around 700, most of it has been demolished, then rebuilt, and demolished again at the dissolution. Historically it’s most notable as the burial place of Simon de Montfort who was killed at the Battle of Evesham in 1265. While de Montfort is famed for establishing Britain’s system of Parliamentary democracy, we have historically turned a blind eye to his role in promoting the persecution (and eventual the massacre) of Britain’s Medieval Jewish communities – in part, to avoid paying the money the aristocracy owed them.

Back into the town centre I leave the river just before the imposing Workman Bridge. Left into Bridge Street, I take a right into Cowl Street and arrive at the Quaker Meeting House with fifteen minutes to spare. Just time enough to remove my mud-spatters gaiters and take a scrubbing brush to my boots at the tap in the garden. Perhaps next time, if the river stays low, I can try the longer downstream loop around to Fladbury.