The Abbey habit

Samantha Mayling steps back in time and lives the ‘park life’ at the Tewkesbury Park Hotel.

Set between the Cotswolds and the Malverns, the town of Tewkesbury is fiercely proud of its heritage.

A colourful array of medieval banners adorning many houses, shops and premises were just one highly visible example of how the town celebrates its tumultuous past.

The vibrant coats of arms painted on the banners commemorate those who fought in the famous Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 – a key turning point in the Wars of the Roses – and they add a vivid flourish to the streets during the summer months.

The town hosts an annual re-enactment of the battle as part of the Tewkesbury Medieval Festival in July and it is said to be the largest free medieval re-enactment and fair in Europe.

However, my visit was in September and coincided with the Heritage Open Days weekend, so I joined a guided walking tour organised by the Tewkesbury Heritage and Visitor Centre.

Half-timbered houses

The town’s history stretches back more than 1,000 years and, alongside the half-timbered medieval houses, visitors can see Tudor buildings, Georgian properties and Victorian houses.

The highlight is Tewkesbury Abbey, which we were told survived Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries because the parishioners bought it for the princely sum of £453 (and unwittingly helped future townsfolk to prosper thanks to tourism).

Our guide took us along several surviving alleyways that criss-cross the town, telling us tales of local trades, such as the weaving and brewing industries.

We also walked along the ‘leat’, a picturesque waterway built by monks in the 12thCentury, which now has a backdrop of quaint half-timbered houses and whimsical canal boats decked out with flowers.

Our tour was just a couple of hours but it’s such a compact town centre that we got a snapshot of most of Tewkesbury’s heritage, from Saxon times to the Industrial Revolution.

It certainly made me want to return next summer to see the battle re-enactment.

And looking further ahead, 2021 would definitely be the time to visit again, as the town celebrates two major anniversaries: 900 years since the consecration of the abbey and 550 years since the Battle of Tewkesbury.

Park life

Home for the weekend was the Tewkesbury Park Hotel, which also commemorates the famous battle with suites named after key knights. (I was in the Duke of Somerset).

The family-owned hotel stands on a hill overlooking the 1471 battle site, and was built in the 1700s, with views across to Cheltenham and Gloucester.

It’s not far from the M5 but as it is set in 163 acres of parkland and a golf course, it is beautifully tranquil and relaxing.

It recently underwent a £9 million renovation which included the addition of nine luxury historic suites, two new spa rooms, two meeting rooms, an orangery, a cocktail lounge and the Cotswold Suite for business events and weddings.

While the hotel makes an ideal base from which to explore Tewkesbury and the Cotswolds, guests could just indulge in the spa, or the sauna, steam room and indoor swimming pool – or get more active in the gym or 18-hole golf course, or even borrow a pair of the hotel’s wellies for a hike over the hills.

In the spa, I opted for a serene snooze-inducing massage but there are many options from facials and manicures, to body wrap treatments such as a detoxing tea wrap, ‘the Cleopatra’ and the ‘Mayday’ seaweed therapy.

An extra activity introduced this year is the ‘Full Steam Ahead’ package, which is just the ticket if guests want to ride on the vintage steam train from Cheltenham Racecourse to Broadway, stopping off at some of the Cotswolds’ prettiest chocolate-box villages.

Rooms start from £134 for a Touch of Class, including breakfast, and suites from £230. A round of golf is £38.