Thursday, May 15, 2008

Medieval Shrewsbury: A River Runs 'Round It

All Aboard! The Old Station, Leaton, Shropshire

While in the Tourist Information Centre, in Shrewsbury town centre (see related posts for more on Shrewsbury), my husband and I were looking through the myriad of bed and breakfast lodgings on offer, scratching our heads. How could we choose? By our earlier drive in town, it seemed evident that it was going to be difficult to find accommodation that would offer parking, and we thought we might be able to save a few quid by staying outside of town.

Still, we couldn't decide...until we rested our eyes on a B&B that used to be an old station house. We decided it would be nice to try something a bit unusual, and they promised "luxury" bedrooms at similar prices to that on offer in town.

Luxury On Offer

Having booked a room earlier in the day, we decided to call our Shrewsbury sightseeing quits, as the sun was setting fast. The B&B wasn't difficult to find, as it sits right next to the Leaton rail road tracks, only four miles out of town. The first thing I noticed were the lovely stained glass windows dotted around the house, one of which was an exact replica of the house!

We were greeted warmly by Colin, who gave us our choice of the blue or green room. We immediately chose the lovely blue room, although the green one was quite inviting as well. After we expressed our admiration for the room, which was filled with antiques and thoughtfully decorated, Colin proudly gave us a tour through the other rooms. Each room is themed to a colour, and offers unique antiques from different eras, and special touches. Our room had a magnificent hunting scene carved into the bed, and a breathtaking wardrobe. Colin thoughtfully had left sherry and fruit waiting for our arrival, and let us choose what time we would like to dine, as we had decided earlier to have supper there. After a short rest, Dave and I went downstairs and were greeted with a glass of lager and bitter. After a short wait, our starters were served. Dave had chosen the oxtail soup, which he loved, and I had chosen the pate, which was homemade and very tasty. We were each also offered a glass of wine, and they didn't mind that Dave wanted red, while I chose white. Margaret, Colin's wife, came out briefly to say a friendly hello, in between cooking.

For dinner, Dave had a salmon filet, which he wolfed down. I on the other hand, chose the chicken, which was cooked to perfection. With this, we were given a serving plate of broccoli, carrots and potatoes. We were so full, that we passed on dessert...which I was very sorry about!

Trains and More Trains

After dinner, we chatted briefly to Margaret and Colin about the house, and other things. There was a train theme all over the house, and from one display, it was obvious Colin had done some work on the English Channel tunnel. He explained to us that he was a tunnel engineer, and still works down in Folkestone - and we thought we had a bad commute to London!

Before Dave and I retired to our room for the night, we went outside to watch a train go by. In the matter of five minutes, we saw a commuter train go by, and a freight train whiz by at over 100 mph. I was a bit worried about the trains keeping us up at night, but we slept soundly, and I only heard the train in the morning, as I was waking up. A lovely breakfast was served to us by Margaret's mum, who explained to us that the trains stop after 11pm, and start again at 6am.

Our room, one of the "king sized" rooms, was £50.00 per night, which included breakfast. Dinner was a good deal at £10.00 apiece. All of the rooms are non-smoking, and the television is in a shared lounge. Light sleepers may be disturbed by the trains, however the windows are double-glazed, and we probably wouldn't have noticed the trains as much had we not had one of the windows open. Unless this may bother you, I would highly recommend The Old Station for anyone visiting Shrewsbury.

Marks out of 10 for The Old Station: 9

A River Runs 'Round It: Medieval Shrewsbury

If you're looking to find a taste of medieval England, the traveller really can't go wrong with Shrewsbury, a lovely old town that lies in the embrace of the Severn River. The caress of the river nearly makes the town an island, however, as only a three hundred yard neck of land keeps Shrewsbury from being completely surrounded. The obvious defence possibilities of the river were not lost on early settlers. Fortifications were built as early as the fifth century in Shrewsbury by the Romans who left the nearby town of Wroxeter.
Today Shrewsbury is a bustling market town in Shropshire, not far from the Welsh border. With over 260 listed historical buildings in the town centre, travellers can easily see the influence of all who settled here, the Romans, the Normans, and the list goes on. These days, Tudor England is the most evident, with black and white half timbered buildings at seemingly every turn, no matter which medieval passage (narrow alleyways are known as "shuts" here) you duck down.

Market Madness

I started my day as I often do, at the Tourist Information Centre (enquiries: 44 (0)1743 350 761), which is located in the Music Hall, on The Square. Here you can find accommodation and plenty of free information and maps to help you make your way around town. It's worth checking out what's playing at the Music Hall, as they show art-house films as well as new releases. While I was there, the Christmas Pantomime "Aladdin" was being staged.

The Square itself is dominated by the Old Market Hall, a heavy-looking stone structure that was built in 1596. Unfortunately, it was covered in scaffolding while I was there...but it was starting to rain, and Dave (the husband) and I were hungry, so after we secured some accommodation for the evening, we headed down Princess Street in search of a cafe. We didn't have to trek far to stumble upon The Gallery Tearoom (24-25 Princess St., enquiries: 44 (0)1743 355 550), which soon became a fantastic discovery. Dave enjoyed a hearty portion of beef lasagne, and I loved the pepperoni and mozzarella Provencette sandwich I had ordered. The cafe has a pleasant decor, with pictures and crafts on the wall for sale at reasonable prices. The menu offers a wide variety of lunches and light snacks to choose from, along with some unusual specials on a daily basis, at great prices. Dave and I each had a drink and plenty to eat, and walked away only £10.00 lighter. I highly recommend this lovely cafe. The sprinkling had ceased, and our appetites were appeased, so we decided to stroll the medieval streets and alleyways.

Fish Street (guess what was sold here?!) is a lovely shut, dominated at one end by St. Julians's Craft Centre (Wyle Cop, enquiries: 44 (0)1743 353 516), which should delight travellers looking for high quality crafted souvenirs to take home - all the wares displayed are by local artisans, and it's free to enter to browse. Fish street has some fine examples of half-timbered architecture, and winds into St. Alkmund's Square. St. Alkmund's cathedral, which was founded in Saxon times, was closed during my visit, but is worth a stroll around for the stunning stained glass.

Also worth a glance are the Bear Steps, which link the square with Fish Street. Here you'll find a cafe and the Bear Steps Art Gallery (Bear Steps, St. Alkmund's Place, enquiries: 44 (0)1743 356 511), which is open seven days a week with frequently changing exhibits. Again, browsing is free. From St. Alkmund's Square, you can head down Butcher Row, which offers more fine examples of medieval buildings to admire. You can also make your way to St. Mary's Street. On St. Mary's Street, St. Mary's Church is definitely worth a look. The original church was built around 1200, and has one of the tallest stone spires in England. You're free to wander the church and take photographs, as the church is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. Again, the stained windows are fabulous. If you take pictures, or borrow the literature offered during your visit, it is customary to make a small donation in the Church Fund box, which funds the upkeep and restoration efforts.

Shopper's Paradise

No matter what street you turn down in Shrewsbury, you're bound to find some shopping. Whether you enjoy antiques, small specialist boutiques, malls or high street shops, Shrewsbury won't disappoint. Much of the town is pedestrianised as well, allowing shoppers to window shop without fear of cars or buses. One such street is Pride Hill, which contains one of the malls and a multitude of multiple shops, many of which are housed in traditional buildings. If you stroll downhill from Pride Hill, it turns into Castle Street, which leads to...surprise, surprise, the town's castle! Shrewsbury Castle (Castle Gates, enquiries: 44 (0)1743 358 516) dates back to the 1080s, originally built by the Normans. It was dismantled during the Civil War, but was later rebuilt by Thomas Telford. Today, it houses the Shropshire Regimental Museum. Unless you're into military gear, skip the lacklustre museum and take a free tour of the grounds. A short climb up to Laura's Tower provides some stunning views of the town, river and the countryside.

A River Rises

After a good night's sleep in nearby Leaton (see related article), we headed towards town for some more sightseeing. The river had other ideas though! All the rainwater that had drained down from the Welsh mountains and hills had finally hit the Severn, and hit it hard. Our route back to Shrewsbury was cut off, as were most of the northern access points. The Severn had flooded over its banks, and over the Welsh Bridge and surrounding streets and grounds. We did manage to get into the city via Abbey, and had a wander around the shopping streets. Flooding? You wouldn't be able to tell by the number of people around doing their Christmas shopping! After a few hours, however, word came that the flooding was worsening, and had spilled over into the lower areas of the town centre. With the street we drove in on now flooded, we decided we had better head out of Dodge before we got stuck. I was disappointed, as we had yet to see the abbey, or the Rowley House Museum. I did get a nice taste of Salisbury though, and left enough for you to discover on your own!

Top Tips!
  • Parking in the compact town centre is very limited, so if you must drive into town, try the Raven Meadows multi-story car park, next to the mall. Alternately, Shrewsbury offers a Park and Ride scheme, which may be a better idea if you are visiting during high season.

  • Avoid the free public toilets at the bus terminal...the ladies was constantly closed, they are really nasty, and never have loo paper. Enough said!

Marks out of 10 for Shrewsbury: 8

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