The Shropshire town of Shrewsbury, dubbed the “Town of Flowers”, is a pretty rare specimen. Not only is it a destination which, by and large, has managed to blend its old and new architecture rather seamlessly but it has resisted the temptation to let chain stores take over the high street.
So many UK towns have become predictable; you can almost second-guess what shops you’ll see because the big chain stores are tightening their grip on the UK high street. That’s not the case in Shrewsbury which boasts more than its fair share of independent traders.
As the Visit Shrewsbury brochure states: “In a world of identikit high streets and shopping centres, Shrewsbury is one of the few places where the independent shops outnumber the big chains. Shops with names you’ve never heard of before. Shops where the sales assistants have been learning their trade their whole lives.” So, if you’re looking for a gift with a difference, head for Shrewsbury.
Another aspect of the town we enjoyed (I visited with my wife and two children, aged 13 and seven) is the number of quirky and inviting cafés and restaurants, catering for all tastes. We’re vegetarian and didn’t experience any problems finding something worthwhile to eat.
One place you must check out is Eat Up!, a great little café-cum-restaurant in Milk Street, right in the heart of Shrewsbury. Located next to the Old Post Office Pub, it’s found upstairs in the 14th century Shearman’s Hall. Over the years, it’s been used for many purposes, including a theatre, chapel and courthouse. Now, it’s a trendy place to eat and drink.
This family-owned business is run by a husband and wife who’ve combined their passion for catering and interior design – and what a grand job they’ve done, too.
The décor is bright and breezy, the atmosphere relaxing and the food great. The bread was dished up in old Hovis tins, sugar cubes in Lyle’s black treacle tins and the very tasty cream of tomato soup in a flask – I’m sure you get the picture!
There is a kids’ corner, free wi-fi and an enticing menu. You can enjoy everything from tasty raspberry milkshake with rich, creamy ice cream to sweet potato falafels, halloumi crostini, Chantenays, hummus and pitta.
You’re spoilt for choice when choosing somewhere to eat in Shrewsbury, even if you only want to grab a cake. Try Taste of Shrewsbury at 70 Mardol for its delicious raspberry and white chocolate scones or opt for the strawberry and vanilla variety.
Feeling replete, you’ll enjoy wandering around Shrewsbury because it’s small enough to explore on foot. Ensure you turn off the main streets and explore the warren of tiny lanes heading in every direction.
Tudor buildings are everywhere; in fact, Shrewsbury – which is almost entirely enveloped by the River Severn winding its way around the town – boasts around 660 listed buildings.
Your itinerary should include The Music Hall, home to a very nice café called Stop, tourist information and the impressive Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery. It’s a fine museum with excellent exhibits and information boards. Sometimes, trying to read all the info displayed can get rather tedious but not here; this is really interesting material which we all enjoyed reading. For example, I didn’t know there are over 70 hill forts in Shropshire, more than almost anywhere else in Britain; and did you know that Romans introduced tombstones to Britain? It’s also exciting being able to cast one’s eyes on The Shrewsbury Hoard, more than 9,200 coins, many dating from 280AD.
It can be accessed at Quarry Park, a wide, open space on the edge of town. Once the site of a working mine, smelly tanneries and where women of the town washed their dirty laundry, it’s been transformed into a 29-acre park. There is a kiddies’ play area, wide swathes of grass and a refreshment hut. It’s a great place to sit down and relax by the river. Don’t leave without heading for The Dingle, a sunken flower garden with a small lake, designed by the late Percy Thrower, the famous gardener employed as the park superintendent for 28 years.
There are many others attractions in Shrewsbury, including many churches, the abbey and the castle. To see the town from a different perspective, take a boat trip around the River Severn loop.
When it comes to somewhere to stay, there are places to suit every taste and budget. Premier Inn’s Town Centre Hotel is one of the smartest I’ve stayed in and offers a decent dinner menu, although when we stayed in October the cost of an overnighter was over £100. There is an £8 charge for parking, too, with the hotel being assigned a number of spaces in the multi-storey next-door. Look out, though, for the two or three free spaces next to the car park, just at the bottom of the steps leading up to the hotel.
The Prince Rupert Hotel, situated in Butcher Row, is a Grade II listed 4-star hotel which was once home for Prince Rupert, the grandson of King James I. It’s situated in a central location and offers 70 ensuite bedrooms – some with four-poster beds – and a choice of restaurants. A member of Classic British Hotels, it’s a fine mix of olde-worlde charm and modern facilities, such as free wi-fi throughout. There is a free car park a short distance away. You drive up to the hotel door, unload your luggage and let a member of staff park your vehicle for you; they’ll also bring it back to the hotel door when you’re ready to leave – a reliable valet parking service.
The hotel’s décor is traditional in style. The main restaurant, where we had breakfast, is dominated by dark wood panelling and walls adorned with swords, shields and other forms of armoury: it resembled a banqueting suite and one can almost picture Prince Rupert entertaining friends in this environment; the wood theme continued up the stairs and along the corridors.
The hotel’s facilities include a gym, bar, lounge, snooker room, sauna, Jacuzzi and comfortable bedrooms; it’s just a shame the local council decided to build the relatively new toilet block adjacent to the hotel. Still, although we could see it from our bedroom window, it didn’t spoil what was an enjoyable stay.
Overall, we were impressed with Shrewsbury and would definitely return. We didn’t manage to see or do everything we’d planned so we’ve got the perfect excuse to go back.
NOTE: Since visiting, Eat Up! has sadly closed its doors – a real shame.
http://www.originalshrewsbury.co.uk/, 01743 258885
http://www.princeruperthotel.co.uk/, t: 01743 499 955
http://www.premierinn.com/, t: 0871 527 9402
http://www.shrewsburymuseum.org.uk/, t: 01743 258885
http://www.eatupshrewsbury.co.uk/, t: 01743 341181
Find Taste of Shrewsbury on Facebook, t: 01743 359783
Visited October 2014