Vale of Evesham
Jane Leigh explores the weird and wonderful world of the asparagus festivals
If it’s April, it must be asparagus time in the Vale of Evesham and Pershore, as Jane Leigh discovers
Spring is in the air, with blossom and flowers bursting forth to take away the memory of winter’s chill. It’s the time of year when nature really does put on a show: and nowhere looks more beautiful than the Vale of Evesham, as blossom from cherry, apple, pear and plum orchards signals the start of the new season while welcoming visitors and locals alike to sample the produce of the area. Star item on the locally-produced menu is asparagus, the tender shoots of a plant known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as both a vegetable and a medicine. The Vale, with its mild climate and sandy soil, is known as the asparagus capital of the UK with around 65% of the national crop of ‘gras’, as the delicacy is known, being produced here. ‘Gras’ is one of only seven UK fruit and veg to have been awarded Protected Food Status with the European Union. This year, the Vale sees the annual Asparagus Festival get under way on St George’s Day (Monday, April 23) when it will be full steam ahead for the ‘gras’ season. Morgan cars and other classic marques will meet at the Fleece Inn at Bretforton from 8am and, after Morris dancing and music, they’ll transport the traditional first cut of asparagus - ‘100 rounds of gras’ - in a convoy to the newlyreopened and refurbished Broadway station.
There the official ‘gras’ escort will be joined by rail fans in boarding the Asparagus Express, a steam train specially chartered for the Festival: this will be the first steam train to take passengers from Broadway to Cheltenham Racecourse station for almost 100 years. Those on board will be able to enjoy asparagus refreshments in the company of Gus the Asparagus Man, the Asparamancer (who uses asparagus spears to predict the future) and even St George.
At Cheltenham, the ‘gras’ will be presented to Edward Gillespie, Deputy Lieutenant of Gloucestershire and Vice President of Cotswold Riding for the Disabled (Cotswold RD). Also present
‘The Asparagus Express will be the first steam train to take passengers from Broadway to Cheltenham for almost 100 years’