SHROPSHIRE


ShropshireLargely rural and sparsely populated, Shropshire is one of England’s most beautiful counties. It shares a border with Wales on the west, and Staffordshire on the east. Shrewsbury is the county town, sitting almost directly in the middle of the county with the main waterway, the River Severn, flowing through it. Shropshire is also home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Ironbridge Gorge, an important historical industrial site. The other main area of interest would be the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, covering a significant area of the southern part of the county. The Wrekin, a prominent hill rising over the plains, is the most well known landmark in this part of the county, and is popular with walkers.

 

 

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Shrewsbury MuseumThe charming medieval market town of Shrewsbury is the county town of Shropshire. Its layout has changed little from medieval times, and one cannot help but fall in love with the winding cobbled streets and beautiful tudor houses that give the town its characteristic appeal. No wonder, for Shrewsbury is home to more than 600 listed buildings, an impressive figure for a town of its size. For centuries Shrewsbury played an important role in defense against the Welsh, to which Shrewsbury Castle stands testimony. The town is also proud to have been the birthplace of Charles Darwin.

Layout
For the purposes of a visitor, everything that you’ll need to see and do is located in a compact area around the town centre, nestled snugly in a wide meander of the River Severn. The train station is also conveniently located, to the north of the centre and near the Castle, shops and other historic buildings. The Visitor Information Centre can be found on Barker Street.

Sights
Shrewsbury AbbeyShrewsbury Abbey [Abbey Foregate, +44 1743 232723, Admission by donation] immediately evokes the world of Ellis Peter’s The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, a series of mystery novels set in medieval Shrewsbury. Today the Abbey rides partly on the fame of that series and its television drama adaptation, attracting avid fans of the fictional monk and his escapades. The Abbey was founded in 1083 by the Normans as a Benedictine monastery, and flourished during the twelfth century. Look out for the interesting mix of architectural styles, and if you’re lucky, your visit might coincide with a recital – a treat because the Abbey is known for its fine acoustics.

At the very centre of Shrewsbury, The Square is the town’s traditional meeting place. Today you will find it to be the centre of activity, where markets and fairs are held and concerts and performances take place during the summer months. The Old Market Hall stands prominently on the Square, and served as the grand headquarters of the Drapers Guild in the 16th century. It was a fitting reflection of the wealth of both the guild, which dealt in wool from Wales, and the town on the whole. Today the Old Market Hall is home to a small cinema and café bar.

The Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery [Barker Street, +44 1743 281205, Free admission] is housed, together with the town’s Visitor Information Centre, in Rowley’s House, a magnificent timber-framed Tudor building, originally built as a merchant’s warehouse. This historical gem is worth visiting in itself as much as for the museum. A relocation of the Visitor Information Centre and Museum to the Music Hall is in the works, however, so visit them at this temporary location while you can.

Shrewsbury Castle & Shropshire Regimental Museum [Shrewsbury Castle, +44 1743 262292, A: £2.50, Concession: £1.50, Children free] This red sandstone castle cannot be missed as you pull into Shrewsbury on a train – it stands on a hill directly over the railway station. The great hall of the castle now houses the Shropshire Regimental Museum. The castle itself offers spectacular views of the town and surrounding countryside.

Before the 16th century, The Quarry, as its name suggests, was the town’s industrial centre, where stone was cut, tanneries were situated, and women did their washing. The Quarry is now a beautiful 29-acre park, where residents come to relax and escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The park’s centerpiece is the Dingle, an exquisite formal floral garden designed by world-famous landscapist Percy Thrower. The Quarry is also home to the Shrewsbury Flower Show each August, when the park bursts into colour with the opening of more than 3 million blooms, complete with fireworks displays at night.

 


 
Wroxeter Roman ruinsAbout 5 miles (8 km) southeast of Shrewsbury lies Wroxeter 
[Nr Wroxeter Roman Town, +44 1743 761330, , A: £4.80, C: £2.90, Concession: £4.30] the site of the ancient Roman city of Viroconium. The largely buried Roman ruins were rediscovered in 1859 when excavations began, and it was not long before the site began to attract curious visitors. Although the size of the ancient city is believed to be on the scale of Pompeii, most of the ruins still remain buried today, due to the huge costs of excavation. However, visitors can still marvel at the baths from the 2nd century, as well as a replica Roman town house painstakingly constructed by modern experts using traditional Roman methods. There is also a museum on the site, complete with audio tour, giving visitors an idea of what life was like in the ancient city of Viroconium during its peak.

 


IronbridgeKnown as the famed birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, the Ironbridge Gorge, through which the River Severn snakes, is today one of the most popular attractions in quiet Shropshire. It was here that three successive generations of the Darby family made groundbreaking changes to the iron industry, revolutionising the way heavy iron products were manufactured. This allowed the mass production of wheels, locomotives and railway tracks, paving the way for the advent of the steam railway industry. The innovations in iron production also led to the construction of the first iron bridge in the world, here in 1779 – hence the name of the gorge.

The Ironbridge Gorge was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1986 for its important cultural significance. Notwithstanding its pioneering history and the momentous events that took place here three centuries years ago, the gorge is now a peaceful wooded area of winding roads and small villages, where you can admire both its historical importance and natural beauty at the same time. Ten fascinating, family-friendly museums dotted along the gorge will tell you all you need to know about the Ironbridge Gorge and its role in changing the industrial face of the world forever.

Sights
If you plan on visiting all or most of the ten museums, take advantage of the extremely good value of the Passport Tickets that offer repeat entry to all ten Ironbridge Gorge museums, over a period of one year. The Passport costs £21.95 for adults and £14.95 for children/students. Information on all the ten museums/attractions listed below can be found at the Ironbridge Museum website.

Iron Bridge and Tollhouse [Ironbridge, +44 1952 884391, Free admission] The bridge that gave its name to the entire UNESCO site and also the small town around it has been attracting gawking visitors since 1779 when it was built by Abraham Darby III. In the Tollhouse (only open during weekends in summer) next to it you can view a small exhibition about the bridge and the history of its construction.

The Museum of the Gorge [The Wharfage, +44 1952 884391, A: £3.60, C: £2.35] is where you can get a good overview of the whole site. Housed in the Old Severn Warehouse, a short distance along the river from the Iron Bridge, this Gothic building was originally used by the Coalbrookdale Company as a warehouse. With touch-screens and videos, the museum provides information about the history of the area and the serious environmental and health consequences of the heavy industry that took place there, in an accessible way. There is also a fun twelve-metre-long scale model showing what the area looked like during its heyday in Victorian times.

Visit the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron [Dale Road, +44 1952 884391, A: £7.40, C: £4.95] to see the original blast furnace where Abraham Darby I perfected the technique of smelting iron ore with coke instead of charcoal. Here, the Coalbrookdale Company churned out cheap cast iron for myriad uses from kitchenware to the railway industry. Skilled craftsmen employed by the company also produced intricate decorative ironwork. The museum, housed in the Great Warehouse, displays some examples of these fancy works, as well as interactive models and films showing the company’s history and its production techniques.

Up the hill from the Coalbrookedale Museum of Iron are the Darby Houses [Dale Road, +44 1952 884391, A: £4.60, C: £3.00], the splendidly restored former homes of the Darby family. Rosehill House is still furnished with original furniture, and in Dale House you can see the very study in which Abraham Darby III worked on his plans for the Iron Bridge. 

Blists Hill Victorian Town [Legges Way, +44 1952 884391, A: £14.60, C: £9.35] In this open-air theme-park/museum, visitors can get spirited back in time to experience what life was like in a small town during the late Victorian era. Blists Hill is a commendable attempt to recreate an entire Victorian village, and visitors can talk to costumed staff going about their daily business in the Grocer’s, the Draper’s or the Post Office. You can even exchange your money at the Bank for “Victorian” currency that you can spend at the town’s shops such as the Bakery, Sweetshop, Fried Fish Dealers, or Pub. A recent addition to the town has been the Narrow Gauge Mine Railway, where, for an additional fee, visitors can ride a short distance through the woods and learn about the mining industries that sustained the Ironbridge Gorge area. 

Housed in the old Coalport china factory, the Coalport China Museum [The Lloyds, +44 1952 884391, A: £7.40, C: £4.95] displays the National Collections of Caughley and Coalport china. There are also demonstrations of different ceramic techniques, and a special area for children.

Enginuity [Coach Road, +44 1952 884391, A: £7.65, C: £6.55] is a modern, interactive centre that encourages visitors to explore engineering and design in everyday life, in creative ways. The hands-on nature of the exhibits makes this a hit with children, and the young and young-at-heart can have fun with X-rays, generating their own electricity, and a host of other activities and games.

Lit with gas lamps and set in period settings, the Jackfield Tile Museum [Salthouse Road, +44 1952 884391, A: £7.40, C: £4.95] gives visitors a sense of the many places and settings in England that would have used tiles made at Jackfield. Visitors can walk through an Edwardian Tube station, a children’s hospital ward, as well as the interiors of pubs, churches, homes, and even toilets. The museum also explains how different types of tiles are made.

In 1957, the last worker left and Broseley Pipeworks [Duke Street, +44 1952 884391, A: £4.55, C: £3.00] closed its doors, to be left untouched until reopened as a museum in 1996. This museum is thus a fascinating time capsule preserving 350 years of tradition. Eerily atmospheric, visitors can see the factory almost exactly as it would have been in the days when it churned out pipe after pipe to suit the gentlemanly tastes of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Pipeworks are located in Broseley town centre, about 1 mile from the Bridge. 

Tar Tunnel [Coalport, +44 1952 884391, A: £2.50, C: £1.95] Located a short walk from the Coalport China Museum, this tunnel was originally dug for the purposes of supplying water, but that project had to be abandoned when natural bitumen started seeping through the walls. The bitumen was made into pitch, lamp black and rheumatics remedies. Today visitors are provided with a hard hat to descend into the tunnel and watch the bitumen oozing from the walls.

 

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Much WenlockThis gem of a town looks like it could have come straight out of medieval times, with its stunning black and white timber-framed buildings. It is the perfect place to watch the world go by, or stop and chat with one of the friendly townsfolk, who number less than 3000.  The town’s claim to fame is that it was purportedly the home of the modern Olympics. After a local surgeon’s introduction of physical education into the British school system, this town started holding the annual Wenlock Olympic Games, which inspired Baron de Coubertin to start the International Olympic Games after a visit to Much Wenlock. A leaflet is available from the tourist office [The Square, +44 1952 727679] describing a route for a walking tour that takes you to sights of relevance to the town’s link with modern Olympic history.

The Games aside, Much Wenlock is absolutely charming in its own right. The town’s Guildhall and the ruins of the Wenlock Priory are both worth a visit. The latter are situated amidst lush green lawns with animal-shaped topiaries, adding to the atmospheric experience.

Wenlock Edge
Wenlock EdgeThis breathtaking natural feature is a 16-mile-long (26-km-long) limestone escarpment that stands dramatically in the shape of a frozen wave. The escarpment was once a coral reef, and is hence particularly rich in fossils. It is very popular with walkers, offering panoramic views, as well as the opportunity to spot rare wildlife and flora. The ridge is unfortunately difficult to access other than by driving, along the B4371.

 

 

 


 Church Stretton landscape flickr PhillipCSet amidst the idyllic Marches, the town of Church Stretton is the only market town located within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The area is known for its geology, and is popular with walkers and nature lovers who make full use of its many walking, cycling and horse-riding trails. Church Stretton is a good base if you intend to do some outdoor exploring of your own, as well as visit historic sites such as castles and museums.

Market
Every Thursday and Saturday, the Church Stretton town square comes alive with vendors selling their freshest produce and home-cooked pies and cakes. The Stretton Antiques Market [36 Sandford Avenue, +44 1694 723718] is a good indoor alternative during bad weather.

The Long Mynd, or Long Mountain, stands within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Its popularity with tourists comes as no surprise, with many trails to walk, cycle or ride horseback along. The Long Mynd can be accessed from Church Stretton via a road which leads directly to one of the valleys along it, Cardingmill Valley.

 



The fascinating market town of Ludlow is located along the River Teme, close to the border with Wales, and is the largest town in south Shropshire. The town boasts an important castle and exquisite examples of Jacobean and Georgian architecture – around 500 listed buildings can be found in Ludlow. It also proudly claims the title of “Gastronomic Capital of Shropshire”, and indeed, was where the UK’s first food festival was held. With numerous cafes, restaurants, independent grocers, bakeries and so on, Ludlow is the perfect place to wander around on foot, wherever your fancy takes you. Foodies will not want to miss out on a visit to some or all of its highly-acclaimed restaurants, including two Michelin-starred and eight AA Rosette-starred establishments.

The town also hosts many festivals and events, in addition to its regular markets. The prestigious Ludlow Marches Food and Drink Festival takes place annually in September, the Ludlow Festival is held in June/July, and the Medieval Christmas Fair opens in November each year. With so much going on, and a plethora of independent shops to explore, the town is indeed a treasure trove of delights. When you’re done with shopping and feasting, there is always the surrounding countryside of the Shropshire Hills to serve as a good antidote. 

Sights
Ludlow CastleLudlow Castle [Castle Square, +44 1584 873355, A: £5.00, C: £2.50, Concession: £4.50] forms a stunning backdrop to the town, especially when lit against the night sky. It began as a Norman castle, built for defence against the Welsh in the 11th century. After seeing centuries of intrigue and power struggles, including two centuries as a royal castle, it finally fell to ruin in the late 17th century. Today the castle gives an insight into the lives of the medieval nobility. It also serves as the grand venue for events such as the Ludlow Festival in June and July each year.

St Laurence churchThe Church of St Laurence [King Street, +44 1584 872073, Free admission, donation encouraged] is one of the largest Parish churches in England. Of note are its medieval miserichords with their detailed carvings of scenes from 15th-century domestic life, and its stained glass. The church tower is open to the public and offers excellent views of the town. The ashes of the poet A. E. Housman are buried in the church grounds, where a cherry tree grows in his memory.

Ludlow Museum [Castle Square, +44 1584 813665, Free admission] was recently renovated in 2008, and gives visitors information about the history, archaeology and geology of Ludlow and the surrounding area.

 The 30-mile (48-km)
Mortimer Trail leads from just outside Ludlow Castle to Kington in Herefordshire. More information can be obtained from the Tourist Office, also located at Castle Square.