Muddy loves the Shropshire Hills
I’ve fallen in love with the Shropshire Hills. They’re in south Shropshire, and if you’d told me that I’d be dreaming about a landlocked county close to Birmingham, well, what can I say? And yes, it’s far more usual to love Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, and indeed I love them too. But seriously, Shropshire is heavenly. I discovered the land of Housman’s ‘blue remembered hills’ some years ago while doing an Arvon course at Craven Arms. Probably the best known town in south Shropshire is Ludlow, home to the famous food festival, on the border with Wales and in an area known as the Welsh Marches. But do you know Church Stretton? Bishops Castle and Clun? Have you gambolled across the Long Mynd with Welsh ponies? No? Well, you’re in for a treat.
Stay at the Victoria House, Church Stretton
The Victoria House, bang in the middle of the high street in Church Stretton, is perfectly placed if you want to explore the Shropshire Hills. And yes, I’m sure there are many other wonderful places to rest your weary head after a long day walking (or in my case, mooching and eating), but I absolutely love this stylish B&B. It’s run by Diane Chadwick and it’s a warm, nurturing and nourishing experience that is so delightful that I’ve returned several times. The Victoria House also has its own café, Jemima’s Kitchen, so if you’re in walking in the area, or visiting Church Stretton, Jemima’s is the place for food. If you’re staying here, you go to sleep dreaming about breakfast and you wake up to the aroma of scones being baked for that afternoon’s tea. Breakfasts are truly excellent, prepared with love and care and using largely local ingredients, and the food in the cafe – from the lunches to the cream teas and cakes – is unutterably delicious. This B&B is open year round and whether you’re a couple, with a group of friends or with your kids, you’ll feel at home here. Diane has great taste and the rooms are all different and brilliantly designed. Every detail has been thought about and the rooms have everything you could need or want, including a stash of design and food magazines – you’ll always find a recent copy of LivingEtc. The house is full of character and original features and the place feels upbeat and fun. In the bedrooms you can expect Zoffany and Matthew Williamson papers, fabrics and paints – and the bathrooms are tippety top. There’s also a fab garden, open to café guests as well as residents. I can only say good things about the Victoria House. It’s a real find.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
Church Stretton is a buzzing town, full of independent shops, including a wonderful food and gift shop opposite the Victoria House called Entertaining Elephants. Church Stretton also has a railway station which makes me love it even more. You can take the train to Ludlow (16 mins) and Shrewsbury (14 mins) but you also feel connected to Cardiff, Manchester, Birmingham and London. Church Stretton and the surrounding area is hugely popular with walkers and cyclists. This region is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the views are drop dead gorgeous. It’s also the perfect place to take to the air, and it has a well known gliding centre. With children, I would head straight for the Carding Mill Valley where there is a National Trust cafe and shop, and for half term they have a programme of activities including astronomy (this is an after dark event), rock pooling and newt identification. (I’ve seen this in action and it looks a lot more fun than I’ve made it sound). Children absolutely love it here and there’s something about the landscape that makes everyone – young and old – feel quite gung-ho about climbing and exploring. From the Victoria House, walk through Rectory Wood, inspired by Capability Brown, and it’s then quick and easy to get to Carding Mill and also to get up on the moorland of the Long Mynd, and that’s the spot where you can frolic in heather with wild ponies. It’s gorgeous all year round, but the colours in autumn are spectacular.
Ludlow is the most beautiful hilltop town jam-packed with swoony houses in Farrow and Ball colours. The Ludlow Food Festival is a vibrant annual event in September and Ludlow was the first town in the UK to be awarded Slow Food status. Year round, a great place for food is the Ludlow Food Centre and Ludlow Kitchen not far from the centre of town, just off the main road (A49) that runs from Hereford to Shrewsbury.
Eat at The Green Cafe, Ludlow
There are lots of great places to eat in Ludlow, but my absolute favourite is The Green Café. It’s a watermill on the River Teme, below Ludlow Castle, and the food is unbelievably delicious; the service is natural and caring and it’s just the bestest. Try goats cheese and curd, beetroot and walnut puree, caramelised red onion, pickled pear and walnut oil followed by panna cotta with berries or brandy marinated prunes. The boca negra will reduce you to tears of joy. The Green Café has a terrace where you keep an eye on your kids paddling while you get stuck in for the afternoon. There’s also a terrace, and blankets are provided. Dogs are also very welcome here.
Shop in Ludlow
Fortify yourself with delicious coffee and a Portuguese custard tart at the Harp Lane Deli in the market square. There’s a tiny gallery opposite, PhotoSpace, for the nimble (quite a few stairs) where I went to a wonderful exhibition of Martin Parr‘s work, and the photographer will be in Ludlow at the Assembly Rooms on Saturday 23 September. There are so many great independent shops: try Black Bough and The Bindery Shop for gifts and you absolutely must visit Dickinson’s Period House Shop. I love the clothes and accessories in Tiger Lily. If you’re in the market for a wood burner, the amazing Clearview Stoves showroom in Dinham House, the biggest Georgian house in Ludlow, is also worth a visit.
Eat at CSons, Shrewsbury
My first time here and I loved it, and look, I took my mum. CSONS is run by four brothers who are promoting #locally sourced and #globally inspired food. The menu is full of colour, with highlights including pork belly, soy, ginger, kimchi and black rice and CMum’s Lemon Yum. Excellent wine, made in Spain and born in Shrewsbury, from Paso Primero. I’ll definitely being going back here and Shrewsbury of course has a whole host of delights. If you have the time, a couple of other lovely small towns that you shouldn’t miss are Bishop’s Castle and Clun.
You’re never far from a walled garden in south Shropshire. I managed to fit in two: the first was The Flower Garden at Stokesay Court. Victoria Martin and her husband Barney restored this walled garden a few years ago and what a labour of love it is. They grow the most stunning seasonal flowers. Victoria is a creative and soulful person and also a talented floral designer who I would recommend for weddings and all kinds of occasions. You need to call or email in advance to make an appointment to visit and to buy directly from them. The garden is at Stokesay Court which is a whole other story, and if you remember seeing Atonement, the movie adaptation of Ian McEwan’s novel, it was filmed here. You can visit but you do need to book. The tour comes to a close with a proper tea, and you can smell the cakes in the oven while you’re admiring the library.
Another walled garden is Wildegoose Nursery, and the growers Jack and Laura Willgoss specialise in Bouts Violas, perennials and grasses. As well as the magnificent restored Georgian glasshouse, you will also find a tearoom. Recommended.