Big in size and charm, but small in numbers, Shropshire is a hilly and rural county on the border with Wales. The settlements are old, often ancient, and always well cared-for. Ludlow and Shrewsbury are a delight, but you could point to anywhere on the map and find a picturesque village or market town close by.
In these once tempestuous borderlands are more than 30 castles, surviving from medieval campaigns against the Welsh. Later, the first sparks of the Industrial Revolution ignited in Ironbridge Gorge where there are now ten superb museums about this world-changing chapter in British history.
Lets explore the best places to visit in Shropshire:
A town of immense beauty, Ludlow has won constant acclaim for its architecture, food culture and enchanting street scenes.
Some 500 buildings in the town are listed, and almost all of these are either half-timbered or have the flat fronts that were in style in the 1700s.
Ludlow is a place made for milling around, not least because of its pavement cafes and markets six days a week.
And when it comes to history Ludlow delivers in a big way: Stokesay Castle may well be the most complete medieval manor house in the country, while Ludlow Castle is a substantial ruin that’s a symbol of might for the Yorkist kings in the 15th century during the Wars of the Roses.
Antiquarians can lose themselves in the drama that unfolded within these walls 500 years ago.
Settled in a kink on the River Severn, Shrewsbury was the birthplace of naturalist Charles Darwin.
There are Darwin references throughout the town, which is also rich with endearing Tudor and Georgian buildings.
Like Ludlow, Shrewsbury is somewhere to get to know on foot, and has a lot of personality thanks to its independent shops on the high street and in the bustling Market Hall.
As Shrewsbury is almost totally surrounded by water, a cruise on the Severn is a treat, floating below the town’s nine bridges.
The Quarry, dating to 1719, is a heavenly park by the water with a landscaped parterre at the centre, known as the Dingle.
Get to the Shrewsbury Museum to pore over the town’s former times and go see the neoclassical Attingham Park for a cultured excursion.
This village is named for the original “Iron Bridge”, a 30-metre cast iron structure crossing the River Severn and breaking the mould when it was completed in 1779. The wider Ironbridge Gorge area is often labelled the “Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution”, and is a dreamland for scientists, historians or anybody fascinated by the technological advances made in the 18th and 19th centuries.
And you can really indulge that interest because there are 35 historic sites and ten museums to uncover.
What’s cool is that they all deal with a different trade or aspect of engineering, so there’s museum of iron, one devoted to china and one, the Broseley Pipeworks, where nearly all of the UK’s tobacco pipes were manufactured in Victorian times.
In this ancient border town several locations and streets have Welsh names.
This is the legacy of the Middle Ages when Oswestry was the subject of a tug of war between the English and Welsh.
And as you go west from here the landscape becomes ever more rugged as you approach the Welsh Mountains.
Closer to home you can investigate Oswestry’s ancient roots at the Iron Age Hill Fort, which is 3,000 years old and as intact as any in England.
The playful and imaginative British Ironworks Centre combines an old-school forge with outlandish sculptures like a gorilla made with 40,000 spoons.
The old town of Bridgenorth climbs precipitously from the banks of the Severn, and is split between the high town and low town by a sandstone cliff.
In the 18th century this was one of Europe’s busiest river ports, with scores of barges laden with coal and pulled along the river by manpower.
Earlier, in the 17th Century Charles I had declared the view of the Severn and meadows from the cliff-top to be the finest in all his kingdom.
In the 19th century a funicular, the Bridgnorth Castle Hill Railway was installed and still makes 150 trips to the top every day.
Embedded in gardens up here are the remnants of Bridgnorth Castle, which has a precarious-looking tower that makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa seem perpendicular.
Where Shropshire is mostly quiet and traditional, the largest town in the county is a fast-growing new town noted for high-tech industry.
So Telford has a different quality to it, as a place of business, conventions at the International Centre and some serious shopping.
In fact the core of the town is one gigantic shopping precinct, by far the largest in the county.
The burgeoning population has a good selection of days out on hand, like the highly-rated Hoo Farm Animal Kingdom, while the 400-metre Wrekin Hill is a breeze from the town if you want some energising scenery.
On the remnants of a Bronze Age hill-fort you can see as far south as Gloucestershire and as far north as Manchester’s Beetham Tower.
7. Market Drayton
A cosy market town on the boundary with Staffordshire, Market Drayton is just the place if your idea of relaxation is to idle at florid country gardens.
There are three to pick from, all a stone’s throw from the town.
But expert green thumbs will love the whimsy and expertise on show at Wollerton Old Hall Garden, which is positively Tolkien-esque and laid out as a whole system of pockets and corners.
Also look out for the Dorothy Clive Garden, which was plotted on top of a former gravel quarry in the 1940s and comes with a classic English tearoom.
8. Church Stretton
Woven into the Shropshire Hills in the southwest of the County, Church Stretton gained momentum as a holiday resort in the early-1900s.
At this time it earned the sobriquet, “Little Switzerland”, which rings true when you see the bulky sandstone hillsides that press up against the town.
The goal for most tourists has been the same for a century: To stride out into these landscapes and scale heights like the Long Mynd, a massive plateau that culminates at more than 500 metres.
The paths aren’t to be taken lightly, but you’ll have heart-lifting scenes like the Carding Mill Valley as your reward.
9. Much Wenlock
Frozen in time, the small town of Much Wenlock is like something out of a storybook for its black and white timber-framed houses, country pubs and cheerful speciality shops.
The exceptional building here is the Tudor Guildhall, dating to the 1500s: A small flower market trades under the arcades on the ground floor and upstairs you can step inside the venerable room in which the town council would have met hundreds of years ago.
Wenlock Priory is the romantic ruin of a 12th-century monastery suppressed by Henry VIII in the 16th century.
Drop by Much Wenlock Museum, which tells the story of William Penny Brookes, the Victorian local doctor who founded the forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.
In the low-lying northwest of the county, Ellesmere is a market town in the middle of a region of beautiful glacial lakes and ponds.
The nearest and largest is simply known as “The Mere” and is a slice of paradise in summer.
The banks are undisturbed and provide a nesting site for waterfowl like grey herons.
You can wander along the waterside trail or hire a boat for a couple of hours before calling in at the Boathouse Restaurant.
The oldest settlement in the county to still be inhabited, Whitchurch was founded by the Romans on a road that connected with the fortress at Chester to the north.
Digs in the area have unearthed some enthralling artefacts that are among the 2,000 items displayed at the town’s Heritage Centre.
Here you can also swot up on J.B. Joyce, the clock-making company set up in Whitchurch in 1690 and helped to build the iconic clock on London’s Elizabeth Tower.
Whitchurch itself is a neat market town of quoined Georgian townhouses and the odd half-timbered building thrown in.
And if you feel like stretching those legs, go for a light amble by the Llangollen Canal to see the impressive flight of Victorian locks up the hillside at Grindley Brook.
12. Craven Arms
Known as a Railway Town, Craven Arms was just a small village before the Welsh Marches line arrived and linked with the Heart of Wales railway.
Owing to the majesty of the Shropshire Hills Craven soon began to attract walkers.
Indeed, the Shropshire Hills Discover Centre is here and goes into some depth about the natural history of this sublime Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
And to round things off with a helping of kitsch, the Land of Lost Content is a strange assemblage of odds and ends like vintage sewing machines and vintage toys, and is deserving an hour or so.