It’s a close run thing with Cumbria and the Lake District but Shropshire ranks as one of my favourite English counties. For beautiful, unspoilt landscapes and fascinating history, it’s hard to beat.
I’m not alone in thinking this. The Shropshire Hills were named an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ back in 1958. This is a quirkily English designation that nevertheless always seems apt.
English poet AE Housman (1859 to 1936) was a native son whose ashes are buried in St Lawrence’s Church in Ludlow. Housman wrote longingly of his home county in A Shropshire Lad:
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
I trust I shall be able to come again to Shropshire in the future. From the spectacularly brooding Wenlock Edge to magnificent Ludlow Castle, there was far too much to do in the time I had but here are some of my highlights:
Ludlow is Shropshire’s medieval set piece and the Norman fortress turned royal palace has a firm place in English history. Originally it was built as a bulwark against the rebellious Welsh. It’s not far from the border with Wales and an area that was once called the Welsh Marches. The guides at Ludlow Castle dress up in medieval attire and do a great job of bringing history to life (especially the privies).
Over the centuries famous inhabitants include Roger Mortimer (involved in the murder of Edward II and the lover of Edward’s queen), Catherine of Aragon and Queen Mary I, while the ‘Princes in the Tower’ spent their childhoods here before being done away with in the Tower of London.
Ludlow town itself is wonderful – a prosperous ‘black and white’ market town with half-timbered buildings and grand facades from over 900 years of history.
It doesn’t exactly look like a castle in the same way as Ludlow but the fortified medieval manor house of Stokesay is one of my favourites. It was built by a wealthy wool merchant near the end of the 13th century along the border with the unsettled Welsh Marches.
The yellow, half-timbered gatehouse, the stone parish church and the castle are just too pretty, especially when surrounded by English flower gardens and orchards in blossom.
Much Wenlock Priory
The picturesque ruins of this Norman priory were built on the site of an earlier Anglo Saxon place of worship and in its leafy setting it is highly evocative. The Cluniac sect of monks were known for their love of decorative architecture and this shows in Wenlock’s massive ruined cloisters and carved embellishments.
This Unesco World Heritage Site and a massive tourist attraction with its attached ‘working show village’ Blists Hill Victorian Town. It seemed quite strange, having spent days in Shropshire’s unspoilt countryside, that this was the birthplace of Britain’s Industrial Revolution.
Here a man called Abraham Darby worked out how to smelt iron cheaply and the world was about to change. The elegant grey span over the Severn River and the lush greenery of the riverside parks and gardens make a nice setting for an ice cream stop on a hot day.
Walking in the Shropshire countryside
I didn’t have time to complete any major walks in the Shropshire hills but spent a day making my own path through the idyllic English countryside. Fields of sighing green wheat and buttercups, hedgerows of blooming hawthorn, soft hillsides and moody clouds fighting with the sun.
I came across this interesting graffiti on a container standing on a farm during my rambles. I recognise a reference to Walter Scott’s The Lay of the Lost Minstrel but does anyone else have any ideas of the provenance here?
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you visited Shropshire in Britain? What were your highlights?