- Hills and hamlets
- Gourmands, gardeners and golfers
Fabulous food, history-rich regions, and an array of outdoor pursuits: Shropshire is something of a crowd-pleaser.
Rewind to the early 19th century, and this peachy patch of the West Midlands was a pretty lively place to be. By the banks of the River Severn, men groaned and strained over the world’s first cast-iron bridge. In Shrewsbury, little Charles Darwin was busy bird-shooting, beetle-hunting and earning the nickname ‘Gas’ at school (pungent early experiments). In the handsome hamlet of Much Wenlock, athletes limbered up for the sporting games that would set the modern Olympics in motion. These days, the county is a calmer proposition. Shoppers shuttle around the market towns and farmers’ markets, stocking up on the freshest local produce; golfing, horse-riding or hiking is about as industrious as it gets here. If even that sounds like too much effort, relax: sip some cider, nibble some blue cheese, and pick which Michelin-starred restaurant to dine in.
Who knew a giant iron bridge could be beautiful? Iron Bridge, a 20-minute drive from Shrewsbury, swoops triumphantly across the River Severn. Built in 1779, the bridge was hailed as the birth of the Industrial Revolution. Unsurprisingly, the Ironbridge Gorge area is now a World Heritage Site.
- It’s easy to hop in taxis at the main transport hubs but if you want a car on the go, try Central Taxis (+44 (0)1743 441144) or Vincent’s Taxis (+44 (0)1743 367777), both based in Shrewsbury..
- Tipping culture
- Service is often included; when it isn’t, add on 10 per cent if you’re happy.
- Siesta and fiesta
- In the sleepier villages, shops close on Sundays. Don't expect to eat dinner after nine in some of the smaller pubs and restaurants.
- Packing tips
- City slickers: remember your country casuals (Barbour jackets, Hunter wellies, corduroy and flat caps). If seasonal blossoms induce itchy eyes and bouts of sneezing, stash hay fever tablets in your bag. Lug home plunder from Wyle Cop’s retro boutiques in a vintage suitcase. If you're cyclistically inclined, bring a bike – the Shropshire countryside is made for cycle touring.
- Recommended reads
- If you’re feeling poetic, bring a copy of A Shropshire Lad, penned by A.E. Housman and published in 1896. The complete works of Charles Darwin may not exactly be light bedtime reading, but they will be edifying. (Dip into On the Origin of the Species, if the whole cannon intimidates.) Mary Webb’s novels about Shropshire inspired the parody Cold Comfort Farm: try Precious Bane or Gone to Earth.
- Shropshire prides itself on its fresh, flavoursome produce, so expect markets and delis fairly heaving with juicy fruit and vegetables, milk and cheeses, and fresh-from-the-fields meat. The local restaurants and delis champion unfussy but flavourful British cuisine.
- Regional specialities
- When it comes to comestibles, cheese and ale are the area’s strong points. Cheese first: nibble on Shropshire Blue, Shropshire Red and Marches Blue. Shropshire played a key role in the homebrew revival, so visit one of the real ale inns or microbreweries, such as the Three Tuns Inn (+44 (0)1588 638 797; www.thethreetunsinn.co.uk) at Bishop’s Castle to learn more.
- Pounds Sterling (£).
- Time zone
- Dialling codes
- For the UK: +44; Shrewsbury: (0)1743; Ludlow: (0)1584.
Don't go home without...
visiting one of the area’s historic buildings: Shrewsbury Castle, a Norman sandstone fort built in 1070; Shrewsbury Abbey, which was founded in 1083, or Stokesay Castle, one of the country’s best-looking mediaeval manors.