Why historic Shropshire should be your next English break

Vicky Smith

Vicky Smith

Half-timbered manor houses, hamlets of thatched roofs and honeyed stone, hilly vistas said to have inspired the Hobbits' Shire in Lord of the Rings, Shropshire has all the ingredients of an English tourist honeypot.

Whittington Castle near Oswestry
Whittington Castle near Oswestry © Jeremyabaxter - Adobe Stock Image

Yet, drive along its hedge-lined countryside lanes and you're just as likely to encounter an alarmed pheasant as another person. Tucked away on the border with Wales, this West Midlands county still hovers below many visitors' radar.

From UNESCO-listed industrial heritage to medieval market towns and a landscape steeped in myths and monuments, here are some reasons to take a Shropshire sojourn.

Where to stay in Shropshire: find your dreamy home-from-home in the county from the pick of characterful properties offered by both Sykes Cottages* and National Trust Holidays*.

The North

Low sandstone slopes and wide plains give much of northern Shropshire a different flavour to the hillier South.

You'll also find the county's 'most Welsh' market town, Oswestry, which is almost surrounded by Wales. Follow a meander around its intriguing heritage trail with a trip across the border or enjoy a Cambrian Heritage Railways ride, ending at the Stonehouse Brewery.

Nearby attractions include Whittington Castle, the British Ironwork Centre and the Iron Age hillfort of Old Oswestry*, now managed by English Heritage*, whose Shropshire landmarks range from abbeys to Bronze Age stone circles.

Elsewhere, North Shropshire serves up more quaint towns and a wealth of wonderful walks. Amble along the Shropshire Union Canal, spot wildlife around the Meres and discover Arthurian legend by the striking Hawkstone Park Follies.


When even the local branch of Costa Coffee occupies a Grade II* Listed Tudor building, you know you're somewhere special. Such is Shropshire's county town: a picturesque mishmash of architecture spanning medieval to modernist and everything in between.

Indie shops and cafés thrive amid half-timbered pubs, while the Market Hall site has been bustling with commerce since Victorian times.

Scenic Shrewsbury, Shropshire's main town
Scenic Shrewsbury, Shropshire's main town © Jdflatty - Shutterstock.com

Its imposing red sandstone castle and tours of the former prison are among various attractions in Shrewsbury, incidentally the birthplace of famed naturalist Charles Darwin.

But you feel like you're in an outdoor museum simply strolling through its maze of streets, where narrow 'shuts' (ancient passageways) and distinctive names, from Fish Street to Grope Lane, evoke centuries of stories and secrets.

Those who crave nature are in luck too, thanks to spaces like the Quarry: a vast expanse of parkland along the River Severn, home to popular events such as the Shrewsbury Flower Show.

Partial to a river cruise? You can also sail the Severn onboard the Sabrina, which has daily sailings from March to October.

Venturing just beyond Shrewsbury, you'll find the fascinating Wroxeter Roman City. And, if you fancy a tipple after all that exploring, check out Wroxeter Roman Vineyard: one of several such sites offering tours and tastings throughout the county.

Ironbridge Valley of Invention

Deep in a wooded gorge, in its scenic namesake village of Ironbridge, is the world's first major bridge to be made of cast iron. Not only does this look impressive, with its dramatic setting and symphony of arches spanning the River Severn, but it's also a symbolic icon; it was in this region that new techniques and rich deposits of materials like coal led to the mass production of cast iron, helping kickstart the Industrial Revolution.

The UNESCO site of Ironbridge Gorge
The UNESCO site of Ironbridge Gorge © Nspooner - Adobe Stock Image

Ironbridge Gorge is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an inscription that spreads across the surrounding 'Valley of Invention'. Here, no fewer than 10 museums, from the recreated Victorian town of Blists Hill to Jackfield Tile Museum, a jewel box of British ceramic design, delve into its illustrious manufacturing past.

If getting outdoors is more your thing, the Severn Gorge Countryside Trust suggests some great heritage hikes. Alternatively, take to the river with Shropshire Raft Tours or Ironbridge Coracle Hire (coracles are traditional round boats).

Did you know? RHS members enjoy free access to partner gardens in Shropshire*.

The town that inspired the Olympics

The modern Olympic Games is now a worldwide phenomenon, viewed by millions of spectators, but surprisingly its roots are in the sleepy town of Much Wenlock.

In the 19th century, inspired by the Olympic Games of Ancient Greece, local doctor William Penny Brookes founded the Wenlock Olympian Society whose flagship annual competition (still held today) would ultimately rekindle the Olympic flame.

These days an Olympian Trail tells the tale, weaving its way through Much Wenlock's small but pretty centre: also notable for landmarks like its priory and Grade II* listed Tudor Guildhall.

Bridgnorth on the River Severn, Shropshire
Bridgnorth on the River Severn, Shropshire © Marso - Shutterstock.com

Once you've had your fill of Ironbridge Gorge and Much Wenlock, why not check out a few more sites in midwestern Shropshire? Nearby walks include the Wrekin and part of Wenlock Edge, at the northern end of the Shropshire Hills Area of Natural Beauty (AONB), while on the other side of Ironbridge lies the RAF Museum Midlands, an acclaimed free family attraction.

Further south is Bridgnorth, whose High Town and Low Town, separated by a sandstone cliff, are linked by a funicular railway.

Bridgnorth is a stop on the Severn Valley Railway too, but you'll no doubt want to linger a while in its higgledy-piggledy streets, replete with vintage tearooms, antique emporiums and eclectic architecture. Plaques detailing its colourful history add to the considerable charm.

Shropshire Hills AONB

The Shropshire Hills AONB is an undulating landscape of windswept ridges, quartzite tours like Devil's Chair and tales of witches and Saxon warlords.

Popular walks include the wildlife-rich heathland of Long Mynd*, one of several Shropshire sites overseen by the National Trust*. Don't miss a visit to the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre, famed for its replica of a woolly mammoth skeleton found in Condover.

Heading up on to the Long Mynd from Church Stretton
Heading up on to the Long Mynd from Church Stretton © Andrew - Flickr CC BY 2.0

Regional settlements include Church Stretton, nicknamed 'Little Switzerland' for its picture-postcard setting, and the much bigger market town of Ludlow.

Sitting just outside of the AONB boundary, Ludlow is known as Shropshire's gastronomic capital, with a plethora of award-winning indie purveyors and annual food and drink events.

Among these is the unusual Magnalonga, a produce-themed ramble through the local countryside, inspired by a similar tradition in its Italian twin town of San Pietro.

It doesn't harm that Ludlow is easy on the eye, thanks to landmarks like its medieval castle and an embarrassing amount of listed buildings.

Climate in Shropshire

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Maximum daytime temperature °C
Hours of sunshine (daily)
Days with some rainfall

The above guide shows the climate in Shrewsbury. Find out more about conditions across the country in our complete guide to the climate in Shropshire.

Ready to experience Shropshire? Browse the latest offers on private accommodation from Sykes Cottages and curious places stay with National Trust Holidays.

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Vicky Smith

Vicky Smith

Posted on Wednesday 10th July 2024 in: City Culture UK

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