Shropshire is England's largest inland county, covering an area of 1,347 square miles. It is a beautiful pastoral county with a landscape that has inspired visitors for centuries, a number of historic and prosperous market towns, and hundreds of sleepy, traditional villages.
Towns and villages
- 1 Shrewsbury – Shropshire's county town (population: 72,000 in 2011) and the birthplace of Charles Darwin. Home to over 660 listed buildings including magnificent black and white examples.
- 2 Bishop's Castle – a traditional and very small old English town near the Welsh border
- 3 Bridgnorth – a town divided into low and high towns, described by Charles I as providing 'the finest view'
- 4 Church Stretton – Shropshire's "Little Switzerland", and gateway to the Shropshire Hills
- 5 Cleobury Mortimer – a small town in south east Shropshire, between the Clee Hills and Wyre Forest, and known for its beer.
- 6 Clun – a tiny town in the south west corner of the county, described by A.E. Housman as "the quietest place under the sun"
- 7 Ellesmere – in the heart of Shropshire's "meres and mosses" and home to nine glacial meres (small lakes)
- 8 Ludlow – historic market town with an impressive castle and church. Has a number of shops and markets specialising in quality food and drink.
- 9 Market Drayton – a market town on the Shropshire Union Canal and the home of gingerbread
- 10 Much Wenlock – a birthplace of the modern Olympics, local games are still held every year
- 11 Newport – a market town with architecture from the 12th to 19th centuries, particular Regency and Georgian buildings
- 12 Oswestry – yet another market town, very near the Shropshire/Wales border, and one of the few places in the Marches to stubbornly cling to a Welsh identity and language. Nearby is the pretty little village of 13 Whittington, home to an impressive castle
- 14 Shifnal – a town to the east of Telford, once an important staging post on the London to Holyhead road
- 15 Telford – the largest town (population: 130,000) and named after the engineer Thomas Telford. With nearby Ironbridge, this was the first place in the world to industrialise.
- 16 Wem – a small market town where the modern sweet pea was developed, now home to a museum of myths and fables
- 17 Whitchurch – a market town on the Llangollen Canal
- 1 Ironbridge Gorge – home to the World's first Iron Bridge and home to the 10 Ironbridge Gorge Museums. The world's first iron bridge (oddly beautiful) spanning the River Severn. Birthplace of the industrial revolution, Ironbridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Ironbridge Gorge Museums are nine award winning museums and sites that tell this momentous story.
- The Shropshire Hills with magnificent views of Shropshire and its neighbouring counties
Shropshire's countryside culminates in the Shropshire Hills, an area of upland moor and heath with a varied geology and such landmarks as the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones and Wenlock Edge. Local history has been shaped by Shropshire's strategic location between England and Wales, and indeed the area changed hands many times over the years. Many towns have castles and other Medieval fortifications. From the 18th century onwards, the county led the way in Britain's industrialisation, and Ironbridge is considered the birthplace of industry. JRR Tolkien based his conception of The Shire region of Middle Earth on 20th century Shropshire and neighbouring counties, while the Wrekin is a peak near Telford that is said to have inspired the Lonely Mountain.
Since 1998, Shropshire has been administratively divided into two areas; Telford and the Wrekin is a borough that covers about a sixth of the county in the east, while the remainder is administered by Shropshire Council. However for most purposes it is still one county with the same media, press, emergency services, records service, etc.
The Shropshire Dialect of English is still spoken by many residents and dictionaries can be bought from some gift shops in the area.
Some parts of western Shropshire have a Welsh influence in their place names, and there are some Welsh speakers left in the county (particularly around Oswestry), though the vast majority of people living in Shropshire speak only English.
Shropshire is relatively easy to get to by road and rail.
The A49 (which runs from Lancashire to Herefordshire) runs through Shropshire from north to south, while the M54 and A5 run east to west and link in from the M6 near Birmingham. The A5 and A49 converge at Shrewsbury. London to Shropshire is 3 to 4 hours by car, while the Channel Tunnel is 4½ to 6 hours away.
- The main line from the south, with trains running from Cardiff, has stops at Ludlow, Church Stretton and Craven Arms.
- The main line from the east, with trains running from Birmingham and Wolverhampton, stops at Telford and Wellington.
- The main line from the north west, with trains running from Holyhead and Chester, calls at Gobowen, the nearest station to Oswestry.
- The main line from the north, with trains running from Crewe and Manchester, calls at Whitchurch and Wem.
- The line from the west links the county with mid-Wales and the Cambrian coast; trains run to/from Welshpool and Aberystwyth.
- The line from the south west is a minor route with infrequent trains to Swansea via a very rural part of Wales.
Those arriving by plane normally fly into Manchester Airport, Birmingham Airport and possibly Liverpool John Lennon Airport. East Midlands Airport is also a possibility. London Heathrow Airport is a 3- to 4-hour drive.
Shropshire is a predominantly rural area and sparsely populated. Car transport remains essential to take full advantage of the county, despite efforts to increase public transport usage.
It is possible to see most of the major sites by public transport. However, trains and buses can be infrequent. Most towns in Shropshire have their own public transport and taxi service. Seasonal shuttle buses give access to remote beauty spots in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including the Long Mynd and Stiperstones (see Church Stretton).
With over 30 castles, there is plenty of history and heritage in Shropshire. If gardens are more your thing, then you won't be disappointed, as Shropshire has 20 national collections including English roses, clematis and tulips. Gardens include the Dorothy Clive Garden and the award winning Wollerton Old Hall Garden (both near Market Drayton), and Hawkstone Park and Follies near Shrewsbury.
Shropshire has over 90 other attractions to visit, including:
- Stokesay Castle. A very romantic and one of the oldest and best preserved 13th Century fortified manor house in England. North of Ludlow
- The Severn Valley Railway. One of Britain's most-visited heritage railways; historic steam and diesel trains chug through 16 miles of glorious countryside and restored stations. Shropshire has other steam train attractions.
- Wroxeter Roman City (Viroconium), near Shrewsbury. The fourth largest Roman city in Britain. Wroxeter was also the city of Camelot from the legend of King Arthur. You can follow the trail of King Arthur.
- The Royal Air Force Museum Cosford (Shifnal, Shropshire TF11 8UP). Aviation history brought to life, the largest collection of missiles in the country. Exciting displays of civil and military planes. Car parking available (charges apply). Home of the National Cold War Exhibition.
- Weston Park. Ancestral home of the Earls of Bradford. Lots of events, concerts and the occasional world summit. Near Shifnal
- Hawkstone Historic Park and Follies, near Market Drayton. Wooded land of grottos, caves, cliffs and follies. Filming location for The Chronicles of Narnia TV series.
Shropshire is an excellent place to find locally-grown produce at farmers' markets, delicatessens and small local shops. The county is home to a national winner of the retail cheese awards and a national finalist in the Taste of England awards.
Shropshire specialities include Shrewsbury biscuits, gingerbread, wimberry pie and fidget pie. Wimberries are small, hardy berries that grow near the ground on the moors, and their pie is obviously sweet and most commonly eaten after the August and September picking. Fidget pie is a savoury dish made with pork, bacon (or cured gammon), apples, cider, potatoes and onion, and is a deliciously-warming autumn or early winter meal. Local cheeses include Shropshire blue and Wrekin.
Traditional pubs and inns, tearooms and fine dining restaurants can all be found in Shropshire, though Ludlow is quite possibly the 'foodie capital' of the county (if not the whole region), with a fluctuating number of Michelin-starred and -listed restaurants, and many other specialist food shops and dining establishments.
There are traditional pubs, inns and microbreweries, and dozens of places where real ale can be sampled, including quite a few local tipples. The south Shropshire town of Bishop's Castle is home to two breweries, one of which (Three Tuns) has been continuously brewed since 1642. Other notable breweries are Hobsons of Cleobury Mortimer and Salopian of Shrewsbury. You should see a fair number of hopfields in the lowland and valley bottoms.
You can try Shropshire wine at Wroxeter Roman Vineyard, an historic site near Shrewsbury and one of the world's most northerly vineyards. It produces red, white and sparkling wines, and the named range includes Shropshire Gold, Wrekin Reserve and Wroxeter Medium. The vineyard also offers tours and tastings.
Cider is another popular drink at pubs, as it is throughout western England. There aren't as many cider producers as breweries, though there are a couple mainly concentrated in the south of the county, including Mahorall Farm near Ludlow.