Saturday, 1 November 2014

A Shrewsbury Spree

Every Spring and Autumn Mr V and I meet up with friends who are scattered all over the UK, from Edinburgh to Cornwall.  On these occasions we love to ‘catch up’ with what’s been going on in all our lives.  Our Spring reunions usually take place in beautiful European cities, like Pisa, Florence, Venice or Prague, whereas Autumn takes us to British places never visited before.  This year the pin went into the map and came up with…Shrewsbury.
          ‘I’m leaving the office now,’ Mr V told staff last Friday afternoon, ‘and having a long weekend.’
          ‘Going anywhere nice?’ asked a colleague.
          ‘Shrewsbury,’ my husband replied.  He received an incredulous look.
          ‘You’re joking.  Aren’t you?’ asked another.
          ‘Why?  What’s wrong with the place?’ asked Mr V warily.
          ‘Well…nothing I suppose…it’s just…Shrewsbury?  Really?’
          So let me tell you about Shrewsbury.  Yes, me who flunked her History and Geography O’Levels, can’t drive without a sat-nav, and can only remember the direction of the compass by turning clock-wise and intoning
Never Eat Shredded Wheat (sorry Kellogg’s, it’s not personal).
          Firstly, Shrewsbury is in the county of Shropshire and only a stone’s throw from the Welsh borders.  I discovered this just before checking into our glorious hotel, th
Mercure Albrighton, a gorgeous eighteenth century manor house set in fifteen acres of manicured gardens complete with ornamental lake.  The hotel is only a short drive into the market town which is teeming with history.
          Shrewsbury is
the home town of Charles Darwin who was born here in 1809.  The centre of the town is crammed with medieval buildings and cracked flagstones.  As we walked through cobbled streets so narrow the occupants could surely have leant out of upper windows and touched hands, a part of me was transported back in time.  I could almost hear the cries of, ‘Watch out below,’ as something not very pleasant was emptied from an overhanging window.  It wasn’t hard to imagine how ‘Grope Lane’, little more than an alleyway, would have been in medieval times.  The more popular version of how this lane received its name is due to
it once being part of the Red Light District with the label describing antics taking place after dark.  However, the true origin of the name is actually due to folk literally having to grope their way along!
          The listed buildings were fascinating with their structure almost defying gravity.  Like a precarious pack of cards, the upper levels leant at crazy angles giving the feeling that a gust of wind could send layers of panels and beams tumbling in all directions.
          We also strolled around The Quarry, a park with tree-lined avenues hugging the river. 
If you fancy a lazy boat ride, you will be sailing on the meandering waters of the River Se
vern.  It is also here that you can find a beautiful sunken garden called The Dingle, designed by dear old Percy Thrower (only those of a ‘certain age’ will remember Percy, and yes I’m one of them).  The garden is full of alpine borders, shrubberies, water features and spectacular bedding displays.
          From there we walked to Shrewsbury Castle, a stunning red sandstone building dating back to Norman times.  As we strolled through archways and passed ivy-clad mullioned windows that overlooked grounds full of autumn flowers, a bride exited the main entrance, radiant on the arm of her new husband.
          We concluded our day going through the doors of St Chad’s Church, a beautiful Georgian church overlooking The Quarry.  It was here that Charles Darwin was baptised.  Inside there is a circular nave with pews arranged like a maze.  Now, I’m not somebody who ‘does’ religion, but I will go into any House of God and say hello.  As I stood before the altar gazing up at the stunning stained glass windows, the most beautiful sense of peace prevailed.  It really was as if something vast and divine was wrapping its arms around me.  Mr V, born and raised a Catholic and yet about as believing as a stone, froze to the spot.  At first he looked shocked.  Moments later, simply shaken.
          ‘What’s the matter?’ I asked.
          He shook his head.  ‘I feel…weird,’ he whispered.  ‘Can you feel …it?’
          ‘Feel what?’ I asked innocently.
          ‘A peculiar sense of…gosh, I don’t know…something?’
          ‘Yes,’ I replied.  ‘It’s called love.’
          Mr V basked in it for half a minute before deciding he wasn’t cut out for supernatural experiences.
          ‘C’mon,’ he muttered gruffly.  ‘Let’s go and get a cup of tea somewhere.’
          Tea shops are also plentiful in Shrewsbury
, as are restaurants.  We enjoyed dining at The Peach Tree, which caters for every taste including awkward wheat-free dairy-free vegetarians like me.  Located opposite Shrewsbury Abbey, this place not only serves wonderful cuisine, the diner enjoys surroundings that are a mix of Fifteenth Century splendour and stylish contemporary decor, complete with in-house pianist.  Later, if you fancy a boogie, you can walk through a beamed corridor to the Spirit Champagne Bar and Nightclub.
          Which reminds me.  Over the last three-hundred years, people have pontificated about wine.  From famous artists to politicians, my favourite quote is from Napoleon Bonaparte.  ‘In victory, you deserve Champagne.  In defeat you need it…’  So let’s crack open a bottle of bubbly and toast Shrewsbury.  Salut!

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