Shrewsbury Abbey


Shrewsbury Abbey is a large Medieval church standing on the opposite side of the English Bridge from the old city centre. As with many old churches it’s been altered and adapted over time and, consequently, displays a mixture of styles – Romanesque, Gothic (the later, Perpendicular style) and Victorian Neo-Gothic.


It was founded as a Benedictine Monastery by Roger de Montgomery in 1083 although there had been a Saxon church on site before the Conquest.


The church which survives today was originally part of a complex of buildings which, other than a few remnants, are long gone – some demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of King Henry VIII and others by Thomas Telford when he built the main road that runs alongside the Abbey.

After the dissolution of the monasteries there were plans for the church to be designated a Cathedral, but that never came to fruition. It continued to serve as a place of worship, though, as a rather grand Parish Church.


The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, written by Ellis Peters, are inspired by medieval Shrewsbury. Cadfael is a Welsh Benedictine monk at the Abbey in the first half of the 12th century. He was played by Dereck Jacobi in the TV series of the stories, although it was filmed in Hungary rather than Shrewsbury.

The Abbey used to have a shrine to St Winifride, a 7th Century Welsh saint. In the 12th Century Monastaries wanted to have relics which would attract Pilgrims and earn them ncome so the Abbot had the remains of Winifride brought from her place of burial in Gwytherin in North Wales. The shrine was destroyed and the relics can now be found in Shrewsbury’s Roman Catholic cathedral and Holywell in North Wales. However, there’s a window devoted to the saint in the Abbey, installed in 1992, designed by stained glass artist Jane Gray.



There’s also a window by the same artist celebrating the fictional monk, Cadfael.


The Abbey was built in the Romanesque (Norman) style with substantial round pillars supporting rounded arches and a substantial part of the original building still stands in the central section of the Nave.



It was remodelled in the 14th Century when the tower was built. This required replacing the Romanesque arches at the west end of the nave with bays with stronger pointed Gothic arches supported by slender columns.


After the dissolution the west end of the Abbey was closed off and fell into ruin. There was a wall at the end of the Romanesque nave. The west end was rebuilt in a Neo- Gothic style during the Victorian era, designed by John Loughborough Pearson.


IMG_2331A new clerestorey was also created above the Romanesque and Gothic nave.


A war memorial tablets close to the west entry of the church includes the name of the First World War  poet Wilfred Owen.


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Outside the Abbey, there are still some remnants of the monastery



A day in Shrewsbury


After we’d checked out of our apartment in Arden House, Church Stretton, we drove the 10 miles or so to Shrewsbury to take a look round the historic city. It’s only a few miles from the Welsh Border and so was a major outpost of the Marcher Lords in Medieval times. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was an important commercial centre, mainly due to the wool trade. The city was largely bypassed by the Industrial Revolution due to its isolation from other large manufacturing towns and ports, which probably accounts for the preservation of it’s Medieval centre.

We parked up in the Park and Ride. The centre of the city is still based on the old Medieval street plan and constrained within a loop of the River Severn (almost creating an island), so driving in the city centre is best left to the locals. It’s free to park and the bus fare was very reasonable – a lot cheaper than a city centre car park.

The bus dropped us off in High Street, close to the old Market Hall

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Today the old building has been converted into a cinema showing Art films.


The town centre is packed with timber-framed black & white buildings, steep narrow streets and alleyways. There are over 660 listed buildings. I probably went rather OTT taking photographs of them!











There are old buildings from other periods too, particularly Georgian




After a coffee and a bite to eat, we wandered over to the old castle. It’s a red sandstone building constructed during the reign of Edward I (1239 – 1307). It was built on the site of a Norman timber Castle was built for Roger de Montgomery in about 1070.

Admission to the Castle grounds are free, with a charge to enter the Castle and which houses the Shropshire Regimental Museum.



Directly across the road from the castle, this building is the city library.

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The building was the home of Shrewsbury Public School from 1550 until 1882 when it was handed over to the Council and converted to a public “Free Library and Museum”, opening in 1885. Charles Darwin was born and educated in Shrewsbury, and attended Shrewsbury School when it was located in the building. There’s a statue of him right in front of it.


Near to Darwin, there’s a bust of the Shropshire author, Mary Webb.


Shrewsbury Abbey stands across the English Bridge (one of the two bridges that cross the Severn in the city centre).


The Abbey was founded as a Benedictine Monastery by Roger de Montgomery in 1083 on the site of an existing Saxon church. After the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of King Henry VIII the part of the Abbey building which survived continued as a Parish Church – as it is to this day. (Abbey web site)

It’s also the “home” of the fictional detective monk, Cadfael.

We arrived just as one of their regular midday concerts was starting. IMG_2325

We decided to sit and enjoy the music before exploring the building.

Afterwards the sun was beginning to shine so we crossed the English Bridge and took a stroll along the river.





On reaching the Welsh Bridge (with the Theatre Severn Arts complex on the other side of the river) we headed back towards the city centre


We grabbed a coffee and then wandered round the streets and alley ways ending up at the ruins of Old St Chads church.


Originally, there was a large medieval church on the site. However

by the end of the 18th century the large but ageing building …….. had fallen into disrepair, and cracks had appeared in the tower. The great engineer, Thomas Telford, advised that it was in danger of collapse, and he was right. One morning in 1788 the parishioners awoke to find they had a pile of rubble but no church. (St Chad’s website)

Today, all that’s left is a side chapel surrounded by a disused churchyard

By now time was getting on, so it was time to catch the bus back to the Park and Ride and set off on the journey back home after a good break in Shropshire.

An evening stroll along Carding Mill Valley


Late morning on the Tuesday the rain started to come in, so we spent the afternoon taking it easy in our comfortable apartment, reading and listening to some music. By about 6 o’clock it had stopped raining so we decided to go for a short walk along Carding Mill Valley and take a look at the reservoir up New Pool Hollow. The small reservoir was constructed in 1902 to supply water to the Carding Mill. It didn’t have to fulfil it’s intended purpose for long; the old mill was demolished in 1912 and the factory turned into an hotel and café. Today the reservoir is an attractive feature at the end of a short steep sided valley and is frequented by “wild swimmers”.


It was only a short walk up Carding MIll Valley and it’s short side shoot, New Pool Hollow (named after the new reservoir – what was it called before 1902?). We stopped for a short while to take in the view.


The sun was starting to break through the cloud and it looked like it might develop into a pleasant evening, so we extended the walk by taking the high level path back along the valley before walking further up the main valley.

This is the view of the reservoir’s dam, looking back from the high level path.


and looking down towards Church Stretton from further along the path.


Rejoining the main valley


One of the locals taking a look at us!


A little before the intersection with Lightspout Hollow we turned round and headed back – it was getting close to tea time.


Passing the old factory building which has been converted into flats,


and then the National Trust shop and café in the Swiss Chalet.



After a short while we arrived back at Arden House


We chose the right time to go out – an hour after we got back it was raining heavily again.

Caer Caradoc and Hope Bowdler Hill


The Monday of our break in Shropshire was looking promising so we set off on a walk taking in some of the hills to the east of Church Stretton.

Caer Caradoc dominates the view to the east of the town. It’s a very distinctive hill that used to be surmounted by an Iron Age Hill Fort. That was to be our first objective.

We walked through the town and crossed over the A49 (luckily there’s a Pelican crossing) and then through an estate of houses. But after only a short while we were walking down a quiet country lane.


The hills soon came into view across the fields.


Rather than a direct assault on the very steep slope at the end of the ridge, we followed the track along the base of the hill


We crossed over the stile and then were faced with a sharp, steep, ascent up tot he summit


Looking back along the ridge with the Long Mynd in the background


At the summit the defensive ditches from the Iron Age Hill fort were clearly visible.


Looking north across to Little Caradoc, the long ridge of The Lawley and, in the far distance rising out of the flat plain, the distinctive shape of The Wrekin.


Looking west to the Long Mynd


and, to the east, Bowdler Hill.


After a short break to take in the scenery we set off north down the slope towards Little Caradoc, a  minor prominence to the north of the main summit.

Looking back


The view north from the summit of Little Caradoc


We took the path down to the bottom and then circumnavigated the hill following a path that took us back to the track that runs along the foot of the Caer Caradoc. This route was clearly not followed very often. It was overgrown and we had to fight our way through long stretches of bracken which wasn’t particularly pleasant and climb over stiles that hadn’t been maintained and were somewhat dodgy.


We eventually reached the track and our next objective came into view


There were a couple of options and I took the wrong one, following the path straight ahead. It was fine at first but then it petered out and we had to battle through yet more bracken and boggy ground


but we finally made it to a better, more distinctive path along the bottom of the hill and then reached the junction with the path which would take us up to the top of the ridge. Another short steep climb, this time through bracken. But at least it was a clear cut path.


Reaching the top of the climb we took a clear path over the ridge – not marked on the OS map but clearly very well used.  Bowdler Hill consists of a series of prominences and the path took us over them all.

Looking across the valley we had an excellent view of Caer Caradoc.


Looking back along the ridge,


and over to Church Stretton


There were plenty of sheep about


At the south end of the ridge we reached the distinctive Gaer Stone.


From here we took the path back down the hill towards Church Stretton


which took us through fields before retracing our steps along the metalled track and roads back to the town.

Time to stop for coffee and cake!


All Saints Church, Little Stretton

As we turned on to the main road at Little Stretton this is the first thing we saw


Well, I’ve never seen a church with a thatched roof before, so we stopped to take a closer look


The lady who was tidying up the garden provided some history for us. The church isn’t as old as it appears and its appearance is deceptive. It was only erected in 1903 and was a pre-fab, “the 1903 equivalent of a flat pack furniture” as the lady put it. It’s constructed of timber and was painted black and white to blend in with the adjacent old timber framed manor house. It originally had a  corrugated iron roof, but because it was noisy when it rained and the congregation couldn’t hear the pastor, it was replaced with the thatch.

We took a look inside


An interesting building! Kind of Arts and Crafts style.

The Long Mynd and Ashes Hollow

Our main reason for choosing Church Stretton as a base for a holiday was that, as well as the peace and quiet, we wanted to do some walking in the Shropshire Hills. So on Sunday morning we loaded up our day sacks, put on our boots and set up for a walk up the Long Mynd, the large “whale back” hill that looms over the town.


The grassy plateau is about 7 miles long with steep valleys on its eastern flanks. We set off up one of these, the most popular, Carding Mill Valley which, like much of the Long Mynd, is under the stewardship of the National Trust.


The National Trust has some information about the history of the textile industry in the valley that gave it its name

In 1812 a carding mill was built to process local fleeces. The carded wool was then spun at home as a cottage industry.

In 1824 George Corfield bought the mill and expanded, building a factory and installing Spinning Jennies and Hand Looms to become a cloth manufacturer. Being sited away from the heart of the woollen industry in Yorkshire proved difficult so further expansion in 1851 took them into clothing manufacture employing sewers and dressmakers. The business remained under threat so diversification was attempted.

By 1881 part of the factory was used for ginger beer and soda water manufacture and another part as a tea-room. By this time many people had new-found wealth and increased leisure and Church Stretton was developing as a spa town known as “Little Switzerland”.

Two reservoirs were built, one in 1865 in Townbrook Hollow and 1902 in New Pool Hollow. The old mill was demolished in 1912 and the factory turned into an hotel and café. By 1920 the factory had been converted to flats and the Chalet Pavilion had been imported from Scandinavia to be used as a tea-room for the day trippers.

It’s a popular spot so on a Sunday morning in August there were plenty of people around. Many of them, however, seemed to be sticking around the lower part of the valley, which was flat, pottering around with children messing about near or in the river. There were some relatively easy low level walks. One in particular up to the reservoir that used to feed the former carding mill on the site.


We walked past the chalet building, imported from Switzerland, which today house the NT café and shop


It was too soon to stop for a brew (only 15 minutes or so since we’d set out!) so we carried on up the valley



Rather than follow the main route up to the top of the Long Mynd, we took a left fork up Lightspout Hollow, a narrow, steep sided valley leading up to the Lightspout waterfall.



As there hadn’t been a lot of rain over previous weeks there was more fall than water!


We climbed the steep stepped path up past the waterfall and then cut off the path carrying on up hill. A short distance away we spotted a group of ponies on the hillside


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Reaching the top we carried on along the grassy plateau, heading for the path that runs along the ridge of the Long Mynd.


Looking back there was a good view of Caer Caradoc to the east of Church Stretton, across the other side of the A49.


Walking along the ridge we could see several gliders circling around on the thermals created by the hills.

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As the top of the Long Mynd is a fairly flat plateau there isn’t a distinct summit, but we headed for the highest point on the ridge , “Pole Bank” where we stopped to take in the view.

Looking west towards Wales.


Visibility was OK but with a cloudy grey sky the light was rather flat, not great for photography, and we couldn’t see as far as the Welsh mountains which were obscured by cloud and the grey light.

We turned round, retraced our steps for a short distance before heading east and turned off down the path that would take us down Ashes Hollow.


It’s another narrow, steep sided valley, the path following a stream down hill. It was much quieter than on the way up and along the ridge – we saw only a few people, mainly coming up the valley. Most people were obviously descending by alternative routes.


Initially passing through rough moorland, as it descended the scenery changed into a pleasant rocky, wooded valley





eventually flattening out





Towards the end of the valley, passing through a meadow, I spotted a couple coming up from the opposite direction. The man was wearing a sweatshirt with a familiar badge on his chest – Wigan Warriors. I asked if they were from Wigan and it transpired that the woman was a born and bred Wiganer who now lived near Church Stretton.  So we stopped for a chat. It’s I surprising how often we bump into people from our home town  (I was once paddling in a canoe with our children when they were young teenagers on the Dordogne and was hailed by someone – “are you from Wigan?”) – it’s a small world, as they say.

We passed through a small camp site and arrived at Little Stretton, a small village a couple of miles south of the town where we were staying.


A small, affluent community of a small number of mainly ancient houses.





We followed the road back to Church Stretton. Time for a brew and a cake at one of the independent coffee shops.


Church Stretton


In recent years we’ve moved from having a long summer holiday to taking several, shorter breaks. So a week to the day of getting back from our holiday in Whitby, we set off to spend some time in the Shropshire Hills.

We’d booked a few days in an apartment in Arden House, an Arts and Crafts style house in the small Shropshire town of Church Stretton, nesting at the bottom of Carding Mill Valley. The house had been built in 1903 by William Blower a local business man who was also Mayor of Shrewsbury. The building had been very tastefully converted with 3 apartments available to rent on the upper floors with the owners, Ian and Julie, living in the rest of the house. They had maintained the character and original features of the house while the apartments were modern and comfortable. We stayed in the Mackintosh suite which had original windows, three of them with stone window frames and some of them had original stained glass.




A very relaxing and comfortable stay.

Church Stretton is 12 miles south of Shrewsbury, the capital of Shropshire, on the A49. People have lived here for a long time. There were Iron Age hill forts on nearby hills and the Roman road, Watling Street, ran through the town – although there wasn’t a Roman settlement here. The town grew up in Saxon and Medieval times along with the nearby settlements of Little Stretton, and All Stretton.  It became popular as a spa resort in the 19th Century and with the coming of the railway became a popular holiday destination during the late Victorian and Edwardian period, adopting the nickname of “Little Switzerland” as the landscape was said to resemble the said Alpine country.


There used to be some wool textile production based around Carding Mill Valley, but being too far away for the main industrial areas in the North, this died out in the 19th Century.

Today it’s a small market town with some industry but with tourism probably it’s main source of income.  Despite it’s size it has all the basic facilities and shops. Other than the mid-size Co-op supermarket it was notable that all the other shops were independent. No chains. All the coffee shops were independent too – not a Starbucks to be seen!


Most of the buildings in the town centre were quite old – some medieval









and, particularly moving out of the centre, some for the Victorian and Edwardian periods.