Shropshire - Eating and sleeping


Savouring the taste of Shropshire

It may not seem true when we visit supermarket chains, stocked as they are with air-flown produce and international brands, but in the past decade Britain has undergone a quiet food revolution. We’re rediscovering, where practical and affordable, the importance and pleasures of the local, the seasonal and often the organic. We’re more aware of the unnaturalness in eating Peru-grown asparagus with our Christmas dinner, and enjoying food and drink in the way it was grown, sold and consumed in the not too distant past.

Ludlow Food Festival Shropshire UK by Christopher Elwell ShutterstockLudlow, the Slow Food capital of Britain, is home to the country's original food festival © Christopher Elwell, Shutterstock

In parts of Shropshire, where supermarkets are few and far between, one gets the impression that local sourcing has always been the norm; that the rest of the country is simply returning to this older, yet more enlightened, way of thinking. Farmers’ markets aren’t just a Saturday morning treat for middle-class hipsters (although I promise you’ll find some very rock’n’roll cheese in Shropshire) – rather they’re reflective of the way things have always been done. And all around the county you’ll find beautifully presented farm shops; food festivals (including the country’s first, the Ludlow Food Festival in mid September) and innovative chefs pushing at the boundaries of what can be achieved with produce from Shropshire and its neighbouring counties. While you're visiting, don't miss out on an opportunity to try the local speciality, fidget pie – a one-time lunchtime staple baked with gammon, onion, potato, apple and cider, named perhaps for its ingredients’ tendency to shuffle around in their pastry case when baked.

Food festivals

Established in 1995, Ludlow Food Festival was the UK’s first food festival and is still perhaps the most famous. It was originally set up in response to the building of a supermarket on the outskirts of town, understandably taken as a threat to Ludlow’s independent shops and producers. ‘The local Chamber of Commerce couldn’t fight the supermarket development so a group of us looked instead for a way to showcase everything great about our region’s food and drink,’ one of the founders, Phil Maile, told me. ‘No big companies are allowed in, and everything seen at the festival comes from Ludlow and the Marches.’ The festival, which takes place in September, is centred on the grounds of Ludlow Castle where revellers can sample treats and enjoy more substantial dishes from producers, restaurants, farms and smallholdings from the region, listen to live music and watch demonstrations from celebrated chefs. Trails take visitors into shops and pubs around Ludlow, in search of the best sausages, artisan bread and real ale. Look out for Slow Food workshops, organised by Slow Food Ludlow Marches.

An offshoot of the September celebration, the Spring Festival in May is described accurately as ‘like a beer festival but better’, adding bangers, classic cars and live music into the mix. July sees the annual Green Festival and August brings the exciting Ludlow Magnalonga.

Farmers’ markets

Shopping at farmers’ markets is a great way to source fresh food that hasn’t racked up many miles, boost Shropshire’s rural economy, help to preserve environmentally friendly small-scale production, and meet the people who made, grew or raised your lunch. Here’s a guide to when and where you’ll find farmers’ markets (the day refers to its place in the month). Most towns have other markets, too, often selling farm produce, so please don’t assume this list is exhaustive:

Bishop’s Castle third Sat, 09.00–14.00, Town Hall & Market Square 
Cleobury Mortimer third Sat (April to October), 09.30–12.30, in and around St Mary’s Church
Ludlow second and fourth Thu, 09.00–14.00, Castle Square
Market Drayton quarterly on Sun, 10.00–14.00
Much Wenlock first and third Fri, 09.00–13.00, The Guildhall
Oswestry last Fri, 09.00–13.00, Bailey Head
Shrewsbury 
first Fri, 09.00–16.00, The Square
Wellington first & third Sat, 09.00–13.00, High Street and Wellington Community Centre
Whitchurch first Sat, 08.30–14.00, The Bullring

Accommodation

Stretton Hills © Gordon DickensStretton Hills © Gordon Dickens

There are many ways to holiday in Shropshire. Pitch a tent in the wilderness and indulge in some stargazing. Snuggle up with your beloved in a shepherd’s hut for two – or a camping pod, fire truck, or even a former showman’s wagon. Check into a cosy B&B with an honesty bar and crackling fire. Or pull up outside a country house like a lord or lady of the manor, knowing your seven-course dinner (with wine flight, naturally) and four-poster bed are waiting...

Here is just a selection of Shropshire accommodation options: welcoming, heartwarming and occasionally quirky places I’ve either stayed at myself, or which have been suggested to me by people in the know. It is by no means exhaustive and I’d be delighted to hear your own recommendations via www.bradtupdates.com/shropshire.

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