Taking a staycation in the UK has never been more popular and with a wealth of destinations travellers really are spoilt for choice, but England also has a lot of really special destinations beyond the obvious tourist draws and Shropshire is a prime example. If you are looking for genteel English countryside, chocolate box villages and a fascinating history brought to life, Shropshire has it all. Here is why you should make Shropshire your next travel destination.
This is a paid article written in partnership with Visit Shropshire with products or services supplied by them. Full editorial integrity is maintained at all times. The views and opinions expressed are entirely the authors own based on personal experiences when travelling and are honest and factual without any bias.
When imagining a trip to England’s green and pleasant land you instantly conjure images of vast rolling farmland, patchwork green pastures and vast ancient woodland punctuated by the odd castle or two, and Shropshire fits that bill perfectly with a few hidden surprises up its sleeve to boot! Shropshire is a picture perfect, unspoilt example of that genteel Englishness with much of the county designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty, but Shropshire is not just an archetypal English destination scattered with chocolate box villages, it is also a nostalgic trip into England’s Victorian and industrial past, with heritage focused attractions that are so significant they have been recognised with World Heritage status.
Shropshire is quaintly and quintessentially English, and whether you are taking a staycation to explore more of your home country or are visiting the UK and want a special and rare taste of England that has almost been lost, Shropshire has to be on your list.
Shropshire’s very own lake district – a nickname that frankly does not do its unique beauty any justice – is a watercolour of picturesque canals, shimmering meres and lakes and protected wetland. The connected labyrinth of lakes and wetlands are an ideal haven for wildlife and the perfect escape for birding or wildlife enthusiasts, whether you choose to hop on a passenger boat for a relaxing mini cruise around the river Severn or simply enjoy a walk on one of the many walking routes, and north Shropshire is perfect for both. The famous 200 mile Shropshire Way main route takes in almost the entire county with a scattering of quirky market towns to stop at and rest along the way.
A lunchtime pint watching a canalboat slowly idle by is perhaps one of the most perfect ways to spend a Sunday afternoon!. But a trip to the English countryside wouldn’t be complete without a castle or two, and being right on the edge of the English and Welsh border Shropshire has you covered here too with the impressive Whittington Castle. These ancient medieval ruins instantly conjure up images of romance, legend and ancient battles between the Welsh and English armies, and if exploring ancient ruins gets too much for you there is of course a quaint English tea room for a cup of tea and maybe a teacake!
As the lakes and wetlands of the north start to peter out the further south you get, south Shropshire offers up more rolling farmland, dramatic hills and ancient woodland, a countryside that is so conducive to the natural habitat of wildlife and for the health and wellbeing of its residents that much of south Shropshire has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
And this is part of what makes Shropshire so special. The unique landscape is a part of English heritage that should be cherished and protected as much as any historical building or archaeological site. It is so intertwined with our culture it is a part of who we are, a part of our innate English identity and that is something that is being lost in the mad rush of gentrification and modernity. There is nowhere quite like it on earth, and I should know!
Of course sitting back and admiring the landscape is one thing, getting out and breathing in the fresh air is quite something else, and with hundreds of way marked walking and hiking paths, not to mention cycling routes, you have no excuse not to get out there and enjoy it! The town of Church Stretton’s prestigious Walkers Are Welcome award, the first in Shropshire and the West Midlands, is testament not only to the beauty of the countryside but just how well hikers and walkers are catered to here.
The Long Mynd – meaning Long Mountain in old Brittonic – is one of the most spectacular stretches of land in the country. An ancient heath and moorland plateau dating back to the bronze age, the several miles of steep valleys and hills are full of walking and hiking trails and reward those who make the effort with unbeatable views across the county and even into Wales.
With such stunning natural beauty on display it is hardly surprising that the Long Mynd is one of four spots in Shropshire alone to be awarded official Dark Sky Discovery Site status, which means that even the night skies here are so special they are protected for their scientific, cultural, educational, heritage or public enjoyment status.
Myth, Legend and History Collide.
But Shropshire is far more than an area of outstanding natural beauty, and it’s connection to English heritage goes far further than it’s quaint chocolate box villages and towns. Local lore – and some historical evidence – shows that King Arthur himself had local connections, and Lady Guinevere herself is said to have come from Owestry. No one knows for certain if the legendary King sat at the round table here, but the myth adds an old flavour to the heritage of the county and an interesting twist to exploring Shropshire via the King Arthur Trail. Given the legend has always had strong links with the Welsh border it is not something to be dismissed entirely, especially with the links to the fabled sword in the stone at Mitchell’s Fold Stone Circle and the Holy Grail at Whittington Castle.
One thing that is certain is the Royal connection to the medieval market town of Ludlow. Ludlow castle is an impressive backdrop to this impressive foodie town, but it is Castle Lodge, next to the castle itself which was once home to Catherine of Aragon, first wife to Henry VIII.
With so much history on display, it’s hardly surprising that Shropshire also has the only UK entry on the list of the world’s top dark tourism sites according to the BBC, in the form of Shrewsbury Prison. This may be a more recent historical entry with the prison only closing its doors in 2013, but gives visitors a grisly glimpse into the darker side of humanity going back to the Victorian Era.
And with over 660 listed historical buildings and not to mention yet another castle, the county town of Shrewsbury is aiming for the historical tourism crown by also being the birthplace of Charles Darwin himself! His statue still sits outside Shrewsbury Library, where he once went to school.
The Industrial Revolution.
Despite these already impressive historical connections, it is the relationship with the industrial revolution that really put’s Shropshire on the map in more ways than one. Now turned over to tourism, Ironbridge Gorge near Shrewsbury was once an explosive powerhouse of industry, firing up the first forges and furnaces that built the world’s first iron bridge in 1779 – at the time an unheard of marvel of modern engineering – and soon after that its very first steam locomotive. This recent past has won Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage status in recognition of the pivotal role it played in shaping England’s history.
Now home to ten museums that celebrate the many industries that grew from the explosion in industrial manufacturing, including the Coalport China Museum, the Jackfield Tile Museum, the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron and the Museum of the Gorge among others, all possible to explore on a single ticket, perhaps the most impressive tourist attraction is the impressive Blists Hill Victorian Town.
Stepping Back In Time.
Blists Hill Victorian Town is exactly what it says on the tin, an entire attraction recreated as a Victorian town at the start of the industrial revolution! You can come face to face with actual period workers, watch smiths ply their trade in the forges and factories and buy some traditional sweets and authentic beef dripping chips from the local shopkeepers, all dressed authentically in period attire and giving as close to an authentic Victorian experience as you can get! Blists Hill is literally the next best thing to owning your own DeLorean for stepping back in time!
There are plenty of accommodation options for all tastes and budgets in Shropshire, from stately homes and hotels once owned by Royalty, to farm stays and Glamping sites. I recommend the unique Field Studies Council Preston Monford Hostel. As an environmental charity as well as a pretty awesome hostel they have an eco friendly ethos and promote a back to nature and back to basics message, perfect in a location that is as stunning as Shropshire!
Shropshire may be a placid and tranquil slice of old English heritage and you certainly won’t find the heady excitement of a major metropolis here, but therein lies it’s ultimate charm. Shropshire is a place to come if you want to step away from everything for a while and get back to nature, a place to slow down and enjoy the peaceful English countryside and a place where you can step back to a more simpler, harmonious time.
Shropshire is a destination that is drenched in history and natural, unspoilt beauty, and travellers who discover it will want to keep it to themselves as their own special secret and keep coming back here again and again.
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