I consider myself pretty well travelled when it comes to the UK. We lived in several different towns as a family and holidayed in the UK (mostly camping). While I have also come to love travel abroad, I still enjoy short breaks and road trips here on our beautiful Island, and like to make an effort to explore all its corners. So when an opportunity came up to visit Shrewsbury, “Original Shrewsbury”, a town I knew little about and don’t remember ever visiting, I naturally very happily found some time in my diary and started making plans.
Hercules in The Quarry, Shrewsbury
The Original Shrewsbury website, the home of Shrewsbury BID online and my host for this trip, says that Shrewsbury is full of higgledy-piggledy streets with names you want to say out loud, a river that scoops up the town in a loop, a mix of the very old and the very new, the quirky and the one-off. It sounds beautiful and enchanting, and a great place for a couple of days. And so that is what I did – a short two night break with the intention of exploring the highlights of what this town had to offer, with a spot of GetOutside time thrown in for good measure.
It turns out that I have a family connection with Shrewsbury. My late Grandma, Hilda Radford, was a Salvation Army officer here a few years back. Prone to flooding thanks to the lie of the land, my parents told me that she recounted the story of delivering food parcels by boat with the Fire Brigade to stranded residents. My Grandma was always a doer, and I can totally imagine her clambering in and out of a RIB with tins and packets and cartons of this that and the other.
High up in the Shropshire Hills on The Long Mynd.
But back to my visit. We arrived on Friday in the late afternoon, which meant we had to battle with what is apparently legendry Shrewsbury traffic. Worse than Lincoln, it took us such a long time to get through the town to our hotel. Thankfully we were not planning on using the car until we left again on Sunday, so we parked up in the public car park that the hotel website suggested, paid our dues, and relaxed.
Our room in Darwin’s Townhouse.
We stayed in Darwin’s Townhouse in the centre of Shrewsbury. A self-described “boutique B&B”, there are 20 rooms in total across the old main house and the newly built garden house. I’m not sure I know what a “boutique B&B” actually is, but having stayed here I would say it’s a B&B trying to be a hotel – fancy décor and some extra facilities for guests while maintaining that homely feel you get from a traditional bed and breakfast. Being right in the middle of town it certainly was convenient, and was a comfortable place to rest in between our explorations.
A Day in Shrewsbury Town
We spent Saturday in Shrewsbury itself, leaving the car in the public car park (£4 for the day) and exploring on foot. We’d been provided with a list of must-sees by the guys at Original Shrewsbury, and my friends on twitter had been helpful as always in adding to that. I think we did pretty well cramming in all the things we did, walking over 12 miles around this small town in what turned out to be a bit of a grey and drizzly day.
Shrewsbury alleyway. Leading to Henry Tudor House (see below!).
We started by walking through Wyle Cop, the winding shopping streets full of independent boutiques and chain stores. There was everything from designer clothing and jewellery to vintage finds and flowers, we could have spent a fortune but had purposefully left the credit card and shopping bags at home for this particular trip so the bank manager remained happy. Butcher Row and Fish Street were next, which as you may have guessed were once home to the town’s butchers and fishmongers but are now home to eateries, antique dealers, jewellers and rather swanky looking hair stylists – actually so many hair stylists I started to feel a little self-conscious about my foxes tail! I love how the streets had descriptive names, huge clues to the town’s history.
A tribute to Darwin, one of Shrewsbury’s best known children.
After window shopping we headed to the much recommended Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, which is at the old Music Hall in the heart of the town centre. If you’re new to Shrewsbury this is also where you’ll find the Visitor Information Centre, with maps and leaflets to help you plan your visit. The museum is small but crammed full of artefacts covering something like 650 million years; even the buildings themselves cover 750 years of history – and that’s just in the walls. What I particularly liked that the museums curators have concentrated on Shrewsbury and the surrounding area; history of the place where you actually are. One of the most interesting parts for me was the Roman Gallery, which is actually free (you’ll need a £4.50 ticket for the rest of the museum), where they have one of the earliest examples of Roman script found in the UK – the writing that Times New Roman is now based on.
Roman text in Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.
Back outside and to Quarry Park for the River Walk, a bit different to normal thanks to the Regatta that was going on – rowing teams from Schools and rowing clubs going head to head along a short stretch of the River Severn. It was great to watch, first at the finish line and then from the start line; I love watching the rowing, the power and technique is amazing to see – I wonder if any of the young people we watched will be future Olympians.
The River Severn.
The Quarry is Original Shrewsbury’s beautiful, 29-acre parkland, encircled by the majestic loop of the river Severn. It has been an important recreation site since as far back as the 16th Century, and I can see what it is popular; green spaces in urban areas are so important for everyone’s sanity! Right in the middle of the park is The Dingle, a hidden but delightful sunken flower garden created by Percy Thrower (yes, the guy off the telly), who served as Parks Superintendent for 28 years. Inside this little oasis it’s hard to believe you are in the middle of a bustling town – the alpine borders, bright bedding plants, shrubbery and water features take you a world away. If I lived I could see myself finding space here to eat my lunch each day.
The Dingle, Quarry Park. An oasis in the city.
There are great views across Shrewsbury from the Castle walls, where there is also a military museum. The grounds and walls are free, but you have to pay to go inside the keep (and museum). Close by is The Dana Prison (HMP Shrewsbury), which closed in 2013 but is now open as a tourist attraction. Apparently you can go on the “world’s most interactive prison tours” and take part in a prison breakout – run by Jailhouse Tours and ex-Prison Officer guides. Sadly we didn’t have enough time for a proper tour this time, but if we return to Shrewsbury we will definitely be going in.
Shrewsbury has both a Cathedral and an Abbey which are both open to visitors and offer a little peace from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the town, and an opportunity to take a moment. We spent a few minutes wandering around the Abbey, which is where the Cadfeal books and TV series are set and is also the home of a memorial to Wilfred Owen called “Symmetry”. A visit to a third large church, St Chads, was not quite so successful, though – I’m a big Christmas Carol fan and was hoping to see the famous headstone prop of Ebenezer Scrooge that was used in the 1984 film. Unfortunately, the now disused churchyard was locked up with chains and padlocks and we didn’t think jumping the fence would be quite right so no recreating my 1994-ish role as Scrooge in my Sunday School play this time!
Commit No Nuisance. A note for the children of Shrewsbury from the builder of the Welsh Bridge.
Our final touristy stop on our day was a boat trip along the River Severn on Sabrina. The regatta meant that our trip went up stream towards Darwin’s House rather than downstream alongside Quarry Park, but it was still a lovely way to spend 45 minutes or so drinking tea (included in the ticket), learning something about the town and generally watching the world go by.
On board the Sabrina.
The view from Sabrina.
Walking The Long Mynd
The beauty of being somewhere like Shrewsbury is that you are not very far from lush green scenery and hills with great views of England and Wales – the perfect contrast to wandering around the town the previous day. We drove to Carding Mill Valley near Church Stretton, just half an hour away, for a walk at The Long Mynd, which was absolutely the number one recommendation when I asked what I should be doing when in the area. We parked up in the National Trust car park (£3.60 for the day with access to toilets and all the trails and the promise that the money goes to the upkeep of the area), met up with a couple from Original Shrewsbury who knew the area well, and headed straight up onto the hills.
Starting our ascent.
We had a lovely walk up onto Long Mynd and around on what turned out to be the most beautiful blue-sky day. The walking here is hilly as you might imagine, but this makes the views all the more stunning from the top – well worth the effort. The path took us on a meandering course up before heading across moorland with its peat and gorse, through fields with sheep, lambs and horses, and then back down to meet the “main path” that followed the river back to the car park. By the time we got back into the valley (around lunch time) the car park was heaving (chaotic even) and the absolutely path bustling with people, and who can blame everyone on such a nice day?! I’ll write up the route properly and share my gpx file soon so you can follow it when you’re next in the area.
Worth every step. What a view! That’s the car down there somewhere!
Where We Ate
Being based in the town centre meant we were able to take our pick from a huge range of restaurants and cafes – there must have been hundreds to choose from, from the usual chains you expect to find in any popular town centre to independent pubs and restaurants serving all kinds of food. Thankfully Original Shrewsbury did the hard work for us and we headed to dinner in a couple of well-liked places serving local food.
Inside The Armoury.
The Armoury is a trendy pub serving fresh food, cask ales and wine. On the banks of the river, the huge building has a stylish interior with walls of books, open fires and huge windows. Clearly a very popular place, you can either order at the bar or take a seat and wait for service, which was a little confusing but it seemed to work well and the servers were as attentive as we needed them to be for our relaxing meal. Being a Friday night we were surrounded by people meeting for drinks after work, and it seemed the perfect setting for that. The dinner menu is primarily British food and ingredients with a few twists, with a new menu every day, and we enjoyed our choices. We spent £52 on two courses and a soft drink each, not bad for a trendy meal out in the heart of the town.
Chocolate Brownie at The Armoury. So. Much. Warm. Chocolate. Sauce.
The following evening we ate at Henry Tudor House, another super trendy place down a little alleyway in the Wyle Cop area of the town. On the outside it is an old Tudor house, as you might have expected from the name, but the interior décor couldn’t be much more different. The huge mirrors, white tiles, booth style tables and fancy fittings was strangely enjoyable – and the two Tudor style portraits on the wall, one depicting Freddy Mercury and the other David Bowie, made us smile. The menu didn’t offer a lot of choice, but we’d been told that the burgers were excellent so we each plumped for those. We were warned that meals were taking around half an hour to make it to the pass, but that’s no bother when you’re happy to sit and chat and drink and comment. And when the food arrives and it’s freshly made, well presented and super tasty any wait becomes insignificant. For desert I had an Earl Grey Panacota, which was absolutely gorgeous. Our two courses and soft drink each cost just under £50, so on a par with The Armoury.
Modern decor inside old buildings. Henry Tudor House.
Burger and chips. Perfect for after a day on our feet!
I will also give an honoury mention to the Stop Café at the Shrewsbury Museum, where we took an opportunity to take a load off with great tea and even greater cake. It was the sign outside the café that said “world’s greatest cakes” that prompted our visit, and we were glad we did. I had a vegan parsnip cake that was absolutely divine. And some proper decaf tea to accompany it. More please!
“The warmest welcome and the best homemade cake in Shrewsbury”. Now there’s an invitation!
Parsnip cake from Stop Cafe.
Shrewsbury, Original Shrewsbury, much like my home town of Lincoln, is a great place for a short break or long weekend. When you’re done exploring the town you head the amazing Shropshire hills on the doorstep for walking and other things. We crammed in a lot and had what can only be described as a proper weekend break – away from home, spending time outdoors in the town and the countryside, learning, relaxing, eating great food, and generally having a rather nice time. And we only had to jump in the car and travel for three hours from home to do it. What more could you want?
If you are thinking about heading to Shrewsbury, make sure you check out the Original Shrewsbury website for loads of tips and ideas of things to do while you are there.
*I was invited to spend a couple of days in Shrewsbury by the lovely people at Original Shrewsbury. They organised my hotel, evening meals and provided a list of places to visit, but I was left to enjoy the area in the way I like most. I thought you’d like to know that it’s a fab place to spend a weekend.