The county of Shropshire lies in the west of England’s Midlands, bordering Wales. Once home to the Iron Age Cornovii Tribe, it contains one of England’s largest Roman cities and is also hailed as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
Famous Salopians – as residents of Shropshire are known – include Orderic Vitalis (the 11th and 12th-century chronicler), John Talbot (1st Earl of Shrewsbury also known as Old Talbot during the 15th-century wars with France), Charles Darwin and actor Jason Watkins (who played Harold Wilson in The Crown).
Here are 10 of the best historic sites to visit in Shropshire, from medieval battlefields to historic Victorian railways.
1. Ironbridge Gorge
Ironbridge takes its name from the structure that spans the River Severn, the first of its kind in the world. Ironbridge was built in 1779 by Abraham Darby III and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. Visitors can walk across this piece of industrial history and enjoy stunning views of the river and countryside.
Near to Ironbridge are other attractions related to the region’s industrial heritage. Blists Hill Victorian Museum, Coalport China Museum, Jackfield Tile Museum and more are within easy reach. Ironbridge Gorge Museums offer an annual pass that will get you into 10 great local attractions all year round.
2. Ludlow Castle
Ludlow is a stunning medieval market town nestled alongside the River Teme. It is one of the first stone castles built in England. Home to the famous Mortimer family in the 14th and 15th centuries, it was owned by Richard, Duke of York during the Wars of the Roses. Edward V, the eldest of the Princes in the Tower, was raised here, as was Prince Arthur Tudor, Henry VIII’s older brother.
The rest of the town is well worth a visit, particularly St Laurence’s Church. Ludlow is easily accessible by car and train. The town is packed with timber-framed buildings to explore, and the castle is intact enough to give a sense of its dominance of the area. Climbing the keep offers magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and of the castle.
3. Wroxeter Roman City
Wroxeter is a small village today southeast of Shrewsbury, but it was once the fourth-largest settlement in Roman England, on a par with Pompei. There is evidence of Iron Age activity in the area, and it became an army base around 47 BC until 90 BC, with a thriving civilian settlement around it, including baths and a forum attributed to the orders of Emperor Hadrian himself.
Wroxeter Roman City is managed by English Heritage and offers an audio tour to accompany a visit that allows access to the Bath House, the Old Work (the largest free-standing Roman wall in England), a reconstructed townhouse and an exhibition about Roman life in England.
4. Whittington Castle
The first mention of a castle at Whittington appears in 1138 when it was fortified by Empress Matilda’s forces against King Stephen during the Anarchy. Between 1204 and 1420, the lordship was held by 11 generations of the Fitz-Warren family. Bombarded by Parliamentarian cannon in 1643, it was slighted and fell into disrepair.
Whittington lies on the A495 3 miles northeast of Oswestry, and has undergone extensive restoration work recently. Encircled by a water moat, the gatehouse, reached by a stone bridge, is largely intact, and the ruins of this small castle are evocative of its long history. The castle is surrounded by stunning gardens and meadows that can be explored too.
5. The Wrekin
The first mention of the Wrekin appears in a charter of 855. Within the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it stands prominently within the Shropshire Plains. There was an Iron Age hillfort covering over about twenty acres. In World War Two, a red flashing beacon was placed at the summit to warn aircraft. It was recommissioned in 2000 and is known locally as the Wrekin Beacon.
There are several local myths about the origins of the Wrekin involving giants. One claims two giants fought while building a hill to live on. During the fight a raven pecked one in the eye, the tears forming the Raven’s Bowl at the summit of the Wrekin, which is filled with water even in the hottest summers. At 1,335 metres above sea level it is a steep climb that rewards those making the summit with stunning views.
6. Severn Valley Railway
The Severn Valley Railway was opened in 1862 to link Hartlebury to Shrewsbury, running through Bewdley, Bridgnorth and Ironbridge. It crosses the Severn using Victoria Bridge, which was the longest single-span cast-iron bridge in Britain when it opened. By 1963, dwindling passenger numbers meant that the Victorian railway line was closed. The track north of Bridgnorth was dismantled, though some freight still travelled on other parts of the line until 1982. As early as 1965, efforts were being made to preserve the railway.
Today, the Severn Valley Railway runs between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster with regular passenger services on iconic steam trains. SVR hosts several themed weekends throughout the year as well as regular Afternoon Tea services, a Gin Train and a Rum Train, with railway museums to visit along the line.
A beautiful market town on the River Severn, Bridgnorth is packed with history. King Charles I is recorded standing in High Town and remarking it offered “the finest view in all my Kingdom”. Either side of the river is Low Town, joined by a bridge dating back to the 13th century, but rebuilt in 1823.
High Town can be accessed by the Cliff Railway. Opened in 1892, it’s the oldest and steepest inland funicular railway. The ruins of a Norman keep are all that remains of the castle blasted by Parliamentarian forces during the Civil War. Its claim to fame is that it now leans at three times the angle of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Low Town has a few shops, including a superb ice cream parlour, and the old cave homes, used into the 20th century. In High Town, Castle Gardens surround what remains of the castle and offer stunning views. The timber-framed Town Hall stands proudly in the High Street, and medieval Northgate behind it houses a museum packed with local history.
8. Battle of Shrewsbury
On 21 July 1403, the Lancastrian King Henry IV faced off against rebels led by Henry ‘Hotspur’ Percy at the Battle of Shrewsbury. The Percy family of the Earl of Northumberland had become dissatisfied with Henry IV’s rule and rebelled alongside Welsh forces led by Owain Glyndŵr. Henry IV was victorious in the large and bloody battle. Hotspur (after whom Tottenham Hotspur FC is named) was killed and the Percy rebellion ended. Prince Henry, the future Henry V, was at the battle aged 16 and was hit in the face by an arrow.
Battlefield Church and Battlefield Heritage Centre today mark the location, 3 miles north of Shrewsbury, where the battle took place. Battlefield 1403 encompasses a farm shop, cafe, and an exhibition offering details of the events leading up to and during the fighting. The battlefield site covers around 100 hectares and visitors can walk around its boundary.
9. Boscobel House
Built in 1632, Boscobel House is a timber-framed hunting lodge most famous as the place in which Charles I hid from Cromwell’s forces. The house has priest holes, one of which King Charles spent the night in. On the grounds is a descendant of the oak tree the king hid in during the day as Parliamentary forces searched for him.
Boscobel House is managed by English Heritage and as well as exploring the house, there is a Victorian farmyard, a 17th-century garden and nearby White Ladies Priory to enjoy. Boscobel is a 5-minute drive from Junction 3 of the M54 between Wolverhampton and Telford.
10. Stokesay Castle
The best-preserved fortified manor house in England, Stokesay Castle was built in the late 13th century by wealthy local merchant Laurence of Ludlow. The Great Hall has remained unaltered for 700 years, with Laurence’s solar overlooking it. The gatehouse is a timbered 17th-century addition to a beautiful estate.
English Heritage manages Stokesay Castle, providing tea rooms to enjoy. In the Great Hall, look out for the scorch marks where the large central fire was located. From the solar, look down into the Hall, admire the 17th-century wood panelling, and enjoy stunning views of the Shropshire countryside. Near to Craven Arms, Stokesay Castle is a little off the beaten track but worth seeking out.