Friday, 21 August 2015

Shrewsbury - new sandals and a superb park

We loved Shrewsbury! We spent yesterday afternoon there mostly
Flower bed in Dingle Gardens 
exclaiming at the varied architecture, doing a spot of shopping and exploring the streets and parks. Probably we should have gotten the historic buildings leaflet from the Tourist Information Office so we had a better idea of what we were seeing, but there are lots of helpful plaques and noticeboards around town too. Shrewsbury is a good hour's drive from our campsite. We had visited a couple of my ancestral villages en route - more about that in another post - so got to the Park And Ride not long before noon. Shrewsbury Park And Ride is superb value! For £2.50 we got our parking and a Group Of Two return bus ticket to the town centre. Friendly driver and clean buses too.

Our first photocall on arrival was this huge Darwin-inspired sculpture
Charles Darwin outside
Shrewsbury library 
(pictured below) down by the riverside. We had spotted it from the bus. Darwin is a huge deal around the town even having a shopping centre named in his honour - I'm not sure if he would be pleased about that! He was born and grew up in the town. The sculpture is entitled Quantum Leap and was erected in 2009 to mark Darwin's bicentenary. I have seen it described as a helix, a spine and even a shell. We also saw a large bronze statue of the man himself which was prominently placed outside the library where we took advantage of the benches to perch and eat our picnic lunch. The historic building used to be Shrewsbury School and has an impressive list of alumni including Michael Palin, Nevil Shute, John Peel and the aforementioned Darwin. There is a Greek inscription on the wall behind the statue which Dave unsuccessfully attempted to decipher (he does know some Greek!).

Quantum Leap in Shrewsbury 
Just over the road from the library and along from two fabulous old
Laura's Tower 
buildings is an anonymous paved path which led us unexpectedly to the grounds of Shrewsbury Castle. Exploring without a map is much more fun - especially in a small enough town that even I can't get too lost! The Castle is constructed from a gorgeously coloured sandstone and we thought its gardens were beautifully presented. All of Shrewsbury is decked out in stunning floral displays and, unknown to us at this point, the best was still to come. We were intrigued by a lone tower set above the Castle gardens and away from the main structure. Known as Laura's Tower although I have been unable to find out why, this now marks the site of the original Norman castle that was built in 1070 and lasted until the reign of Edward I. There's a pretty good view from the top of the semicircular steps, but it wasn't possible to actually get to the top of the tower. The Castle itself is now open to the public and is primarily a regimental museum.
Shrewsbury Castle 
Away from the Castle, we plunged back into the maze of fascinating
Grope Lane, Shrewsbury 
streets that make up the centre of Shrewsbury. The town nestles in a bend of the River Severn so is prone to flooding these days, but we didn't see any sign of that. There is a fantastic array of shops and cafes, independents as well as High Street names, with very few units standing empty which was good to see. I overheard a tour guide telling her group that this spot at the top of the brilliantly named Grope Lane is the most photographed view in Shrewsbury. It is a particularly narrow street where the medieval buildings lean in towards each other and was, apparently, named for the economic activity taking place within it i.e. prostitution. Wikipedia has an entertaining article about the history of this once common street name. (Probably best not to click this link if kids are reading over your shoulder!)

In my opinion, Grope Lane should now be famous for the lovely little Quirky Coffee Shop just to the left at its top. I loved the decor and the very comfortable armchairs set in the fireplace! Good coffee, great cake - I had the Red Velvet to match my armchair and Dave had an excellent Poppy Seed and Cherry Cheesecake which, we later discovered, shouldn't actually have been on the menu, but was delicious! The Quirky Coffee Shop also stocks dozens of blends of Morgan's Brew tea. I am happy to recommend the Pembrokeshire Peppermint as the perfect refreshing drink for a hot day! While we are talking tea, Shrewsbury has a
Russian Caravan tea at Whittard Of Chelsea 
Whittards into which I rushed to get some of their excellent hot chocolate. I struck lucky with the Summer Sale being on right now and picked up a set of five flavours for £12, reduced from £18, and also a pack of appropriately named Russian Caravan tea, reduced to £3 from £4.25. I love a Sale sticker and, having not bothered to look for new sandals in Jones Bootmaker when we were in Chester because I thought they would be way over budget, I did venture in to the Shrewsbury branch when Dave spotted 'sensible' prices in the window. Amazingly I had a choice of sale sandals in my size (8, never easy to find!) and came away with these super comfortable Birkenstock Gizeh Sandals for just £27. (Jones are running down their summery stocks now and have sold out of the Gizeh, so links here go to the same sandals on Amazon).
Birkenstock Gizeh sandals 

Our final delight of the day was walking alongside the River Severn on a
Percy Thrower bust 
tranquil wide footpath/cycleway bordered with weeping willows and lime trees. It's a wonderful green space and led us to the massive Quarry Park. The Shrewsbury Flower Show had not long finished and all the marqees were being dismantled so it was pretty hectic until we passed through an unassuming gate and found ourselves in the most beautiful bright garden. A true riot of flowers! Shrewsbury Parks department have certainly outdone themselves! We absolutely loved the flower beds and displays. We learned that Percy Thrower had been the Parks Superintendent here from 1946 until 1974 and was responsible for much of the initial design and creation of these Dingle Gardens in the Quarry Park. There is a bust of him overlooking the immaculate gardens and I am sure all Blue Peter viewers of a certain age will recognise his name.

Dingle Gardens, Shrewsbury 


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