SHREWSBURY, the county town of Shropshire, sits in a tight and narrow loop of the River Severn. It would be difficult to design a better defensive site and predictably the Normans built a stone castle here, one which Edward I decided to strengthen and expand in the thirteenth century, though by then the local economy owed as much to the Welsh wool trade as it did to the town’s military importance. In Georgian times, Shrewsbury became a fashionable staging post on the busy London to Holyhead route and has since evolved into a laidback, middling market town.
It’s the overall feel of the place that is its main appeal, rather than any specific sight, though to celebrate its associations with Charles Darwin, the town is now the possessor of a 40ft-high sculpture entitled Quantum Leap: it cost nigh-on half a million pounds, so most locals are ruing the cost rather than celebrating the artistic vision.
Arrival and information
Shrewsbury train station stands at the narrow neck of the loop in the river that holds the town centre; long-distance buses mostly pull into the Raven Meadows bus station, off the Smithfield Road, five minutes walk southwest from the train station, further into the centre. The tourist office is a fives minute walk south up the hill from the train station, off High Street and on The Square (May-Sept Mon-Sat 9.30am-5.30pm, Sun 10am-4pm; Oct-April Mon-Sat 10am-5pm (01743 281 200).
The best hotel in town is the Prince Rupert, which occupies an old building bang in the centre on Butcher Row, off Pride Hill. There are over seventy bedrooms here and although some are a tad too fancy for most tastes – ornate bed-head canopies and so forth – the rooms are very comfortable. Among central B&Bs, one good choice is College Hill Guesthouse, in a well-maintained Georgian townhouse at 11 College Hill, just south of The Square.
Click map above for a larger, printable version.
Poking up above the mansion-like train station, the careworn ramparts of Shrewsbury Castle are but a pale reminder of the mighty medieval fortress that once dominated the town, largely because the illustrious Thomas TeIford turned the castle into the private home of a local bigwig in the 1780s. Castle Gates winds up the hill from the station into the heart of the river loop where the medieval town took root. Here, off Pride Hill, several half-timbered buildings are dotted along Butcher Row, which leads into the quiet precincts St Alkmund’s Church, from where there’s a charming view of the fine old buildings off Fish Street. Close by is the most interesting of the town’s churches, St Mary the Virgin (Mon-Fri 10am-4/5pm, Sat 10am-4pm; free), whose interior boasts a splendid panelled roof, featuring angels with musical instruments, and a wonderful east window.
From St Mary’s, it’s the briefest of walks to the High Street, on the far side of which, in the narrow confines of The Square, is the Old Market House, a heavy-duty stone structure built in 1596. From The Square, High Street snakes down the hill to become Wyle Cop, lined with higgledy-piggledy ancient buildings and leading to the English Bridge, which sweeps across the Severn in grand Georgian style. Beyond the bridge, on Abbey Foregate, is the stumpy redstone mass of the Abbey Church (Mon-Sat 10am-4pm & Sun 11.30am-2.30pm; free), all that remains of the Benedictine abbey that was a major political and religious force hereabouts until the Dissolution.
Eating and Drinking
For daytime food, try the inexpensive Good Life Wholefood Restaurant (Mon-Sat 9.30am-4pm), on Barracks Passage, just off – and about halfway along – Wyle Cop; they specialise in salads and vegetarian dishes with main courses costing around £5. In the evening, many locals swear by Osteria da Paolo, a homely Italian place offering mouthwatering dishes from its premises down a narrow alley off Hills Lane near the Welsh Bridge on the north side of the town centre (Mon-Sat from 6pm, plus Thurs-Sat noon-2pm; 01743 243 336); main courses here average around £10.
One of the most distinctive pubs is the Loggerheads, an ancient place with several small rooms and great real ales; it’s located near St Alkmund’s Place at Church St. Other recommendable pubs include the Three Fishes, in an ancient building on Fish Street, and the cosy Coach & Horses, on Swan Hill just south of The Square.
The Greenhous West Mid Showground
The Shropshire County Agricultural Show was created in late 19th century when it was launched as part of a co-operative venture – The Shropshire and West Midlands Agricultural Society. Since 1875 the showground has provided more than just “an enjoyable day out for farmers”. The introduction of permanent roadways and improved facilities has seen a greater variety of events such as the Shrewsbury Folk Festival and UK Vapefest, as well as firework displays and flea markets – it’s not just cows, combine harvesters and compost!