Just five miles from the Welsh border, Oswestry is an amiable market town in beautiful countryside.
In Medieval times the Welsh Marches were fortified with hundreds of castles in what was then a bloody region prone to raids and rebellion.
From that period, Chirk Castle and Whittington Castle are within striking distance of Oswestry, while the Anglo-Saxon border earthwork, Offa’s Dyke slices through the landscape to the west.
The town is in a natural region called the Owestry Uplands, where the lush countryside of limestone hills, steep wooded valleys and marshes in the valley-bottoms looks more like Wales than Shropshire.
Oswestry is the birthplace of First World War poet Wilfred Owen, and there’s a statue and memorial gun for him in Cae Glas Park, and an exhibition at the Oswestry Visitor Centre.
1. British Ironwork Centre & Shropshire Sculpture Park
A multifaceted attraction with metalworking at its core, the British Ironwork Centre is in 90 acres containing a massive forge, silversmiths, ceramic workshops, handicrafts showrooms and an outdoor sculpture park with more than 100 metal creations.
One sculpture that needs special mention is the Knife Angel, composed of more than 100,000 blades given up during the national “Save a life, surrender your knife” campaign.
Quirkier but no less impressive is the Spoon Gorilla, commissioned by the illusionist spoon-bender Uri Gellar and made with 40,000 spoons.
If you’re here just to look around you’ll have to pay just £1 to become a member and enter for free.
There’s a cafe (10%) off with membership, and often live music on the weekends.
You can also visit for “experience workshops” in blacksmithing, silversmithing/jewellery and pottery, lasting from two-hour taster sessions to in-depth full days.
2. Whittington Castle
Around Oswestry you’ll never have to look hard for proof that this area was embroiled in almost constant conflict in Medieval times.
The Marcher castle, moments away in Whittington, was raised in Norman times on the English side of the 150-mile Anglo-Saxon earthwork.
It was initially a motte-and-bailey castle (the mound is still standing behind the walls), but in the 13th century was rebuilt with stone towers, a barbican and moat.
After the 11th century the dyke formed the boundary between Wales and England.
The castle, which is community owned and was restored in the 2000s through a local fundraising effort, is in 12 acres of rambling parkland with mature trees.
The first thing you see on Holyhead Road is that weighty barbican defended by the moat.
Beyond, the decayed but extensive remains of the inner bailey can be navigated via walkways.
The castle is a backdrop for re-enactments on the first weekend of May, and then a living history weekend in late July.
3. Park Hall, The Countryside Experience
Much more than an open farm, the award-winning Park Hall is a whole variety of countryside attractions rolled into one.
Kids can interact with lots of different animals, grooming ponies, cuddling rabbits and guinea pigs, leading the docile heavy horses across the stable yard and feeding lambs in season.
There are tractor rides, pig races, cow milking demonstrations (you can have a go if you want), as well as indoor and outdoor play areas.
But on top of all this Park Hall has four museum areas.
These recreate a Victorian schoolroom, a Iron Age roundhouse and trenches from the First and Second World Wars.
This is combined with the Welsh Guard Collection, showing off uniforms, ceremonial weapons and other memorabilia from the regiment.
Kids can dress up as Buckingham Palace guards and stand in a sentry box.
4. Old Oswestry Hillfort
One of Britain’s best preserved Iron Age hill-forts is on Oswestry’s northern edge.
Old Oswestry is hailed for the exceptional condition of its multiple ramparts, which were built in phases across 1,000 years up to the end of the 1st millennium BC, gradually working their way down the hill with each new phase and becoming more sophisticated.
Neolithic flint tools have been discovered at Old Oswestry but the earliest signs of a settlement date to 1000 BC when roundhouses sprouted up, followed by evidence of light industry like pottery and bronze melting.
The settlement was abandoned in Roman times and then incorporated into the 40-mile Wat’s Dyke earthwork by the Mercians in the 8th century.
The site is in the care of English Heritage and is labelled with information panels.
At the top are panoramic views over Shropshire, North and Mid Wales and Cheshire.
5. Cambrian Railways Museum
Run by the fledgling Cambrian Heritage Railways, this museum is in the former goods depot of Oswestry’s listed railway station (1860). The station closed in 1966 after services were stopped following the Beeching Cuts, which restructured the UK’s railway network.
In the Victorian depot you can peruse mementos from the former line, like lamps, signal box fittings, signs, tickets, archive photography, clocks and models.
Cambrian Heritage Railways maintains a small length of restored line serving the newly restored station building.
Steam train journeys, normally on weekends in summer, last little more than ten minutes but will set the pulse of train enthusiasts racing.
6. Oswestry Town Museum
On the third floor of Oswestry’s Victorian Guildhall, the town museum is open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
After a bit of a climb you’ll be in three rooms overflowing with compelling displays about Oswestry.
There’s a complete timeline of the town’s history, an intriguing natural history display and lots of interesting stand-alone objects.
The best of these are the old jail doors, inscribed with the date 1637, and an authentic Penny Farthing bicycle.
Since 2017 there has been a touching exhibition showing a collection of love letters between two male soldiers in the Second War, when homosexuality wasn’t just illegal but could sometimes lead to execution in the army.
7. Church of St Oswald
The parish church is named for the 7th-century canonised Anglo-Saxon King of Northumbria, who was killed at the Battle of Maserfield around 641 or 642 and dismembered by the pagan King Penda of Mercia.
The current church building dates from the turn of the 13th century, but was remodelled after taking damage in the Civil War in the 1640s.
A lot of the decoration is from a restoration by G. E. Street in the 1870s.
But there are quite a few older curiosities to keep in mind.
One is the octagonal font with spread eagle carving, dating to 1662 and commemorating the Restoration of the Monarchy two years earlier.
In the south and north transept are fine oak chests with Medieval origins.
Finally the north aisle has a large Renaissance wall monument for Hugh Yale (d. 1616) and his wife, featuring two large kneeling figures.
This is the same Yale family that produced Elihu Yale, benefactor of the Colony of Connecticut’s Collegiate School, later renamed Yale University in his honour.
8. Oswestry Visitor and Exhibition Centre
A worthwhile stop on the Wilfred Owen trail, the Oswestry Visitor and Exhibition Centre is in a half-timbered building dating from 1407, once housing Oswestry School.
This is the second oldest grammar school in the UK, founded by the King’s pleader and attorney for Wales, David Holbache (1355-1422/23). You’ll find this monument in St Oswald’s Churchyard and can call in from Monday to Saturday to view a small display about Wilfred Owen and exhibitions of local art.
The tourist information desk is inside, and there’s also a cafe with tables in the school’s old courtyard.
9. Cae Glas Park
With grand gates opening onto a meticulously kept flower garden on Church Street, Cae Glas Park is Oswestry’s place to relax and get active.
The smaller formal garden has a WWI-era field gun and a statue of Wilfred Owen, and leads to a larger open space.
Further in, the park has a lovely crazy golf course, as well as a bowling green, tennis courts and a play area for little ones.
There’s normally something going at Cae Glas Park on summer weekends, but the most colourful event is the Balloon Festival in August, with up to 25 hot air balloons, as well as street food, a continental market and live entertainment.
10. Chirk Castle
Nip across the border into Wales for this 13th-century Marcher fortress, later turned into a luxurious home for the Myddleton family.
On the West Range where you can poke around the Adam Tower, which still has murder holes, Medieval toilets (garderobes) and a twin-level dungeon.
Elsewhere a lot of the interiors are little more than a century old and an idealistic re-imagining of the styles that came before.
Some highlights of the art collection are the 17th-century Kings Cabinet, the Japanese Shagreen Chest from 1600 and the Myddleton Pedigree, a 10-metre scroll laying out the Myddleton family tree, also from the 17th century.
In the gardens are regal yew topiaries, rock gardens, herbaceous borders and terraces, all ensconced in 18th-century parkland.
Chirk Castle is a National Trust property and while the estate and gardens are open all year, the residence has limited opening times outside summer.
11. Chirk Aqueduct
At Chirk the Llangollen Canal crosses the England-Wales boundary in wonderful fashion along this 220-metre aqueduct.
Part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that encompasses the Llangollen Canal, the Chirk Aqueduct (1801) has some of the most inspiring canal architecture in the UK, and is one of just a couple of spots on the waterway’s network where you can place one foot in England and the other in Wales.
Spanning ten masonry arches, this structure is 21 metres over the River Ceiriog and was a collaboration between epoch-making civil engineers William Jessop and Thomas Telford.
From here you can carry on into the Chirk Tunnel, one of the earliest canal tunnels to include a towpath.
12. Oswestry Castle
Like scores of castles up and down the country Oswestry Castle was slighted in the middle of the 17th century at the end of the Civil War.
Royalist troops had been garrisoned here until the town was taken by the Parliamentarians in 1644 and destroyed so it couldn’t be reused.
Now there isn’t much left apart from an earthwork mound 12 metres high, built around 1086. At the summit this is dotted with faint traces of the 13th century keep.
You can visit to climb the mound and to reflect on the battles that took place on this ground during the turbulent 12th and 13th centuries when the castle and town constantly changed hands between the English and Welsh.
You may be interested to know that a parliament was held at this very place by Richard II in 1398.
13. Stonehouse Brewery
The craft beer market in Oswestry has been cornered by Stonehouse, which produces an assortment of traditionally brewed beers and ciders.
In the selection there’s a couple of English-style bitters, a Belgian-style wheat beer, a dark porter with coffee and vanilla notes, two types of cider, a fruity ale and even two beers taking flavour cues from New Zealand and Australia.
At 13:00 on the first Saturday of the month, a tour will walk through every step of brewing these beers from boiling to fermentation, maturation and bottling.
You’ll be poured a drink on arrival, while after the 90-minute tour there’s a tasting session and then a final drink, so you’ll need to arrange alternative transport! The taproom stays open until 19:00 and if you fancy a pizza, the brewery has an agreement with Lepone’s, a popular Italian restaurant in a converted church on Oswald Road.
14. Offa’s Dyke Path
Named for Offa, the 8th-century King of Mercia, Offa’s Dyke is a long linear earthwork that formed the boundary between Mercia in the east and the Welsh kingdom of Powys in the west.
A hump and crease in the landscape, the dyke is as much as 20 metres wide and two metres high, and weaves through all kinds of terrain for 150 miles.
The best way to experience this remarkable piece of early Medieval engineering is via the National Trail that follows or stays close to the dyke.
Offa’s Dyke Path is 177 miles from the Severn Estuary in the south to Prestatyn on the north coast of Wales.
In Oswestry you could use the trail for excursions to Llanymynech or Craignant and Llangollen in the north, venturing through mature beech woodland, sharp wooded valleys and wildflower-rich calcareous grassland.
15. Llanymynech Golf Club
The only golf course in Europe in two different countries, at Llanymynech Golf Club you can drive in Wales and putt in England.
Fifteen of the holes are in Wales and three are across the border.
You begin the round on Welsh soil, and then on the fourth green will cross the border, before returning on the seventh tee.
The course is bounded to the west by Offa’s Dyke, while on a clear day there are views into 12 English and Welsh counties.
For a golf experience to tell your friends about, green fees are an affordable £30 per person on weekdays and £40 on weekends.
The Oswestry native and 1991 Masters champion Ian Woosnam first swung a club at Llanymynech Golf Club and remains one of 400 members.