Meet Kerry, a member of the Solo Travel Society (STS) on Facebook. One day, she posted a note on the Facebook page: “As I am a newbie to solo travel, how about suggesting some solo ‘challenge’ ideas, and I’ll give it a go? I’ll try it and report back.” Well, here you have it: Kerry’s first solo trip in England, inspired by STS members.
Thanks to everyone who posted ideas on Facebook – there were some really great suggestions to get me out of the solo blocks!
So first, the confessions – the weather was awful and public transport is limited, so I drove. (Is that cheating?) I was feeling the pressure because I said I would do this and I didn’t want to let people down – and I did start out feeling a bit grumpy. But what I discovered was that there are a lot of positive things to learn and I actually really enjoyed it!
I decided to visit Tewkesbury – which is about 10 miles from where I live. On the surface it’s a curious place full of tea shops, charity shops and a spectacular abbey. For locals, think flooding. It sits on the confluence of both the river Severn and the river Avon. It floods almost every year to some degree, but in 2007 was devastated by some of the worst floods in history. There’s still plenty of evidence of the flooding – many properties still show tide marks!
So, I drove, I parked and I set off with my camera. To my dismay, pretty much everything seemed to be closed. Now I was visiting on a Sunday, but around here most things are open 7 days a week , so I felt really disappointed. However, instead of wasting time mooching around fairly drab shops, it did mean I really started to look closer.
One of the first things I noticed was all the flags mounted high above the shops. The more I looked, the more I saw. I was intrigued. If you live anywhere near Tewkesbury then there’s a certain time of year when you stay away – when the town hosts the Medieval Festival and is full of ‘weird folk’ in costume. Mind you, now I’m definitely going to go next year!
So, vowing to go home and research the flags (I have since found out that the town was involved in the War of the Roses!) I wandered on. Costa was open, but that seemed way too easy and not what this mini adventure was about at all! Wandering back down the high street I passed a fish & chip shop and that’s when I remembered the challenge from my fellow STS member to ‘eat the strangest thing you can find’. Well, while not ‘strange’ it is quite traditional – and I remembered that my parents say Tewkesbury has the best fish & chips. I decided it was sorth a try. Food wrapped and ready to go, I headed towards the infamous river. Suddenly, having crossed the high street, someone spoke to me!
All I heard was a voice saying ‘Have you done the ones by the town hall?’ Yikes, interaction!
I kind of looked twice – he was a very smiley chap standing outside a pub. He’d been watching me take pictures of the flags (he thought I was taking pictures of the masses of hanging flower baskets). I explained about the flags, exchanged pleasantries then, I have to admit, I legged it! Only a few metres away I remembered one of the other suggestions to ‘post a picture of someone you spoke to’. Could I? Could I really ask a complete stranger for a picture? Nervously, I went back.
Still standing there and still smiling, I introduced myself to the chap who turned out to be Neil. I explained that I was writing for a travel blog about exploring solo and he was happy to oblige – in fact he gave me his full name and said ‘Look me up on Facebook!’ Good old Facebook, eh? After being really nervous, I had done it! I had spoken to a complete stranger, had a nice chat and even taken ‘the picture’.
So, feeling a bit smiley myself now, I meandered down to the river and ate my fish and chips. Well, some of it! I have to say it was not the most impressive meal, but I did appreciate the irony of sitting there eating my fish, while watching fishermen on the other side of the river bank trying to catch…fish!
It was time to carry on exploring, so I took the back lanes. I passed houses (some built on stilts to avoid the flood water), a few small offices and shops, and then I discovered a real hidden gem – Tewkesbury Antiques Centre.
I never knew it existed – and it was open! A real Aladdin’s cave of bric-a-brac, books, china, furniture – I could have spent ages just rummaging around. After a quick explore I wandered on. I wanted to go and have a ‘quick look at the abbey’. After all, I couldn’t explore Tewkesbury without going there.
I think the phrase is OMG. It was staggering! I must have driven past the abbey (which turned out to be the second largest parish church in the country and a former Benedictine monastery) dozens and dozens of times and had never taken the time to go in.
I felt a bit ashamed that I knew so little about such an amazingly beautiful and historic place. The ceilings are incredible, as are the stained glass windows. I stood there looking up in total wonder, feeling tiny. There’s so much history there I couldn’t begin to take it all in, so I will definitely be going back soon.
Sadly, my time was running out. But even in just a couple of hours, I learned so much:
- Look more closely at what’s on your doorstep.
- Just because the shops are closed, don’t give up – in fact it made it far more interesting.
- Get off the beaten track and explore properly.
- People are generally friendly – or at least the lovely Neil was. I did look him up on Facebook and I’m going to send him a little thank you message and hopefully a link to this blog.
- I’m not too keen on fish and chips!
- Even this mini adventure in my own backyard gave me loads of confidence and the urge to want to do it again.