Is Shropshire the proudest county in the land?
Is Shropshire the proudest county in the land?
Packed with history, quirky towns and trailblazing food festivals, nowhere engenders as much civic pride in its residents
By David Atkinson, TRAVEL WRITER
26 April 2023 • 9:00am
There are no signs. A lantern is the only clue that something of note lurks beyond the doorway. Inside, Ted, a miniature Schnauzer, is angling for titbits. An open fire takes the chill off an early-spring evening and the local stout is flowing freely.
Going for a beer at The Dog Hangs Well, a traditional Shropshire parlour pub, feels like I’ve wandered into someone’s front room. “No phones, no swearing, cash only. We’re old school,” laughs bartender Di Ward. “Oh, and peanuts, no pork scratchings.”
Pub snacks are not the typical culinary delight in Ludlow. This is, after all, the UK’s slow food trailblazer which once had more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else in England. But while the Shropshire market town remains known for its food and drink, it’s the artisan independents who now grab the spotlight at the annual autumn food festival and a new spring festival, running from May 12-14 this year.
“Ludlow’s was the original food festival – even before Abergavenny,” says Tish Dockerty, who, as co-chair of the Ludlow Marches Slow Food group, has championed Shropshire produce for nearly 20 years. “The Michelin-starred chefs have moved on but the new focus has shifted towards local provenance and slow-food events,” adds Tish, who manages the Ludlow Local Produce Market, held opposite the town’s 11th-century Norman castle, on the second and fourth Thursday of each month.
Shropshire is a fiercely proud place. This much became clear recently when, as part of our data-led search for England’s greatest county, we asked Twitter users for their verdict. In a series of polls, Shropshire beat the likes of Cornwall, Devon and North Yorkshire, claiming a whopping 63 per cent of the vote in the final.
Do our followers have a curious soft spot for Shropshire? Perhaps. But the identities of those retweeting the poll (Shropshire Council, Shropshire Family History Society, Telford Live!, Shrewsbury Town Council, etc) suggested our contest was hijacked by an admirably determined band of Salopians.
And it isn’t just the food scene that has locals beaming with pride. It also has an enviable history. The Welsh Marches were once the domain of the Norman Earls, appointed to secure the troublesome border after the Norman Conquest. To the north, Unesco-listed Ironbridge, first erected over the River Severn in 1779, was the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution.
Central Shrewsbury was home to Charles Darwin, the father of evolution theory, and southerly Ludlow served as regional capital under Henry VII in the late 1400s (walking around the compact market town today, with its mix of Tudor and Georgian architecture, it seems nearly every other building has a blue plaque).
Shropshire has less trumpeted claims, too, including being home to the UK’s only “poetry pharmacy”. Tucked away in rural Bishop’s Castle, the converted ironmongers’ shop is part cafe, part bookshop, part dispensary for “poetry pills”, each one including a stanza of inspirational verse. A blue-velvet chaise longue waits upstairs for emergency poetry consultations.
The quirky little town feels like an up-and-coming Hay-on-Wye and features a trail of elephant-themed artworks, based on a Second World War tale of a circus elephant, stabled at the Castle Hotel, which took daily promenades down the high street. It must have loved the widescreen views towards the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
“Bishops’s Castle is full of people who have stepped out of the world in some way,” says Poetry Pharmacy manager Deborah Alma, who previously delivered poetry in a beaten-up old ambulance. “We turn to words at times of heightened emotions,” adds Debrorah, who cites the poem Today by William Stafford (“The ordinary miracles begin”) as her “go-to cure”.
Browsing the shelves, I find self-help tomes from Ruby Wax to Matt Haigh sitting alongside Shropshire writers, including Second World War poet Wilfred Owen and A. E. Houseman, author of A Shropshire Lad. It’s a calming place to stop and think over coffee and walnut cake.
The Friday morning market on Ludlow’s Castle Square is, by contrast, positively bustling. The stallholders sell everything from homemade pottery to Shropshire kombucha, while there’s a plant market in the historic Butter Cross, and signs for the jazz evenings at Bill’s Kitchen within the Ludlow Assembly Rooms.
There’s a brisk trade in food-cupboard staples at the Broad Bean Deli and a queue has formed outside butchers A. H. Griffiths for their Paddington Bear pork and marmalade sausages. I can’t resist popping into the Mousetrap cheese shop for some Wrekin Blue.
The latest local visitor attraction to join the foodie ranks is the Ludlow Distillery, which will open at the Ludlow Farmshop, just outside town, this spring with a range of gin and whisky, plus distillery events. “Having built its reputation on Michelin stars, Ludlow now combines a host of good-value independents with the small-world charm of a proper high street,” says chief distiller Shaun, the former organist at Ludlow’s Parish Church of St Laurence and a man known locally as the owner of the most lustrous moustache in Shropshire.
“It combines this with life on the hinterland fringes of the Welsh Marches with the wilderness of nature on its doorstep,” adds Shaun, who uses gorse picked from the Shropshire Hills in his flagship Ludlow Dry Gin.
Back at The Dog Hangs Well, meanwhile, I’m finishing my pint and giving Ted a little scratch behind the ears. Landlady Di has locked the doors, but the locals show no sign of heading home. Salopians are indeed proud, she tells me, of their under-the-radar region and, after a weekend in Shropshire, I can see why. From parlour pubs to foodie hubs, Shropshire has plenty to shout about.
How to do it
A 30-minute poetry consultancy at the Poetry Pharmacy costs £50; poetry prescriptions from £8.50 (07720328741).
The Poetry Pharmacy package at The Castle Hotel, Bishop’s Castle, costs from £299 B&B per night, based on two sharing.
Self-contained apartments at Kin, Ludlow, start from £110 per night with breakfast extra in the Kin Kitchen café downstairs.
Eat at CSONS at The Green Café, Ludlow (01584 879872) and Bill’s Kitchen, Ludlow Assembly Rooms (01584 877956).
The Ludlow Distillery opens in April with 90-minute tours (£15pp) and gin-school sessions (£150 for two people, including tour, class and tasting) from May.
More information at www.visitshropshire.co.uk.
This article was kindly reproduced by permission from David Atkinson and The Telegraph. Original article can be found HERE
Published by Ludlow Guide on
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