Shrewsbury in Shropshire has a little something for everyone, as Tania O’Donnell discovers…
You couldn’t do much better, if you wanted to immerse yourself in a picture postcard idea of England, than visit Shrewsbury. Encircled in a loop of the river Severn, this medieval beauty boasts exquisite half-timbered houses, a castle and an annual regatta on the river, but the town is most famous for being the birthplace of Charles Darwin, the naturalist whose work On The Origin of Species forms the basis of our understanding of evolution.
The fame of Shrewsbury’s most illustrious son means that you will find all manner of things named after him from the local Salopian beer (a Salopian is a native of Shropshire) to the new boutique hotel in which we stayed, Darwin’s Townhouse. There are a number of statues in the town that commemorate his work and there’s even a Darwin shopping centre…
History and heritage
Shrewsbury has a number of bridges, most famously the English Bridge (below) and the Welsh, indicating its position as a Welsh border town. The boat that runs regular trips up and down the river during the summer season (from March to October) is named Sabrina, after the Roman name for the river Severn. Packed full of interesting facts about the town, the tour is also a great way to discover ghostly goings-on in Shrewsbury as the captain will regale you with a few spooky tales.
If the weather is less benign, head over to the Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery (below) as their permanent collection is often supplemented by special exhibitions. Younger visitors will love the exhibition in which they can wear Tudor headdresses rigged with audio content and listen to the characters come alive. The staff are extremely enthusiastic and well-versed in all the exhibits so you can have a free impromptu tour if you catch them when they’re available.
Shrewsbury Castle is worth a visit for the spectacular views and is home to the Shropshire Regimental Museum if your bent is for military history.
For keen gardeners, a trip to the Dingle to see the pond where a young Darwin would fish for newts is a must. These are now formal gardens created by the famed Percy Thrower. The Quarry Park, in which the Dingle is located, is also great for an early morning or twilight constitutional.
Food and drink
Shrewsbury is far more foodie than many tourists realise, with a number of restaurants and gastropubs providing a wealth of different cuisine options. Particular stand-outs were Csons, a family-run restaurant that provides an eclectic mix of modern dishes using fresh, local produce, and Henry Tudor House, one of the oldest half-timber buildings in Shrewsbury. The modern British menu here is meticulously well done – the salmon was the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve had rather a lot) – and the décor is quirky with portraits of modern famous folk such as Amy Winehouse and John Lennon painted in Tudor outfits.
Be sure to save room for a slice of cake at Lily’s Tea Garden, a sweet little place on the river that is a bit like sitting in your aunt’s back garden with fairy lights and gnomes a-plenty. Spend an enjoyable afternoon watching the wildlife on the river, the peace only broken by the pleasureboat Sabrina passing by and the captain bellowing a cheery hello to the owner on the tannoy.
With many towns and even villages in England having been taken over by chains, you can be forgiven for not knowing where you are at times. No such danger here, for Shrewsbury remains resolutely independent. This is not to say that you won’t find the occasional familiar signage, but streets such as Wyle Cop and some of the quirkier passages and nooks in the town are filled with independent shops selling everything your heart could desire. Talking of nooks, look out for Grope Lane – it is usual to see giggling tourists, whatever their age, taking photos in front of the saucy sign.
If the weather turns against you, nip into the indoor market where you can find fresh fruit next to secondhand books and records. There’s plenty to choose from for inexpensive and unique gifts and mementoes too.
Where to stay
Darwin’s Townhouse is a new Shrewsbury boutique hotel with Darwin-inspired décor. The breakfasts are exceptional and the lounge with an honesty bar is the place to round off your day with a game of Scrabble and a nightcap. Rooms start from £75. Visit www.darwinstownhouse.com or call 01743 343829.
How to get there
Trainline provides tickets from London Euston to Shrewsbury with an average saving of 43 per cent when booking in advance versus buying on the day of travel. At the time that we travelled, it was £57.10 return per person. Book your train tickets via the Trainline app or website at www.trainline.com
For more information about visiting Shrewsbury, please visit www.originalshrewsbury.co.uk