You don't so much make a grand entrance upon arrival in Shropshire as tip-toe into it. In fact, you are already in the West Midlands county by the time you realise. One minute you find yourself on the M40 coming from London, the next you are driving on the M42 and before you know it you’re sandwiched by country lanes. Beautiful but dangerously narrow country lanes. Tooting your horn before each bend, alerting other drivers of your presence.
I had an absolute ball in Shropshire. Having been to Wales before, three years ago, this time my wife and two children spent eight days next door. And I mean next door. One day I went to Knighton with two of my brothers-in-law to do some shopping. The first thing I noticed was the accent of the folk in the little town. After I enquired about it I was told that I was now in Wales. That was a permanent feature of my sojourn in Shropshire. We kept crossing into Hereford and Wales and back into Shropshire.
Not that it mattered. We were all looking for relaxation, pure air and fun activities. We got those three things by the bucketload. First of all, we stayed in a converted barn that ought to be featured in one of those property programmes Channel 4 is so fond of producing. The Barn at Ryecroft is a picture-perfect, idyllic place to in which to spend your holidays. This – very reasonably priced - hay and stable conversion has solid pine beams, a wood burning stove (which we lit one night, well, you had to, really, although it never got chilly), two bedrooms (with a top bunk bed for the lucky child) and plenty of attractions nearby. This is the sort of rural retreat I could see myself buying in a few years’ time when I have enough money (yeah, right, dream on, my boy).
One of the local attractions was cycling. We searched online for cheap bicycle hires and Wheely Wonderful Cycling came out on top. Easy to see why; they had the works and their rates were affordable. Located in the Petchfield Farm, Wheely offered a wide range of routes on, mostly, traffic-free roads. The first time we got our bikes we went to Leintwardine, an old village with plenty of Roman history behind. We had our lunch on the banks of the River Teme on a day when the temperature was neither warm nor cold, just perfect. The second time we ventured further afield and chanced upon Hopton Castle, which played an important role in the English Civil War, on our way to the Rocke Tea Rooms. These were highly recommended by the people who ran Wheely Wonderful Cycling. And you know what, my lovely readers and fellow bloggers? The hype was justified. I had the best coconut and blueberry cake I’ve ever had in my life.
Another attraction was the town of Ludlow. I have a soft spot for quaint British villages and towns. In Ludlow’s case, besides having souvenir and antique shops, it has also gained a reputation over the years as a gastronomic haven. I must admit at this point that Michelin ratings do nothing for me. Give me pub grub anytime. Still, the Hindu couple who run The Plaice on the high street makes one of the better kebabs I’ve ever eaten. Plus, it was put on naan bread as opposed to pitta. Kudos for that.
After four days on our own as a family at the Barn at Ryecroft we joined my wife’s brothers and mother for a big reunion to celebrate the latter’s 80th birthday. Her big eight-oh was actually back in February but this was the first time this year that he whole family came together. Eighteen people in a spacious, luscious and picturesque farm in the middle nowhere. Not even a phone signal could you get in Orchard House, a converted cow byre in Hicks Farm. There was however access to Wi-Fi, one of those modern quirks that I can’t quite figure out. There was even an indoor swimming pool which delighted children adults alike.
Like the Barn at the Ryecroft, Hicks Farm offered plenty of activities within walking distance. That word, “walking”, was key. I love going for a wander whenever I find myself in a rural area and there was no shortage of places to visit. One day we all got into our cars and drove all the way to the Long Mynd, one of Shropshire’s natural wonders. Once there we went for a short walk. Around us a sea of heather stretched well beyond our field of vision. Another time I took a stroll from the Hicks Farm down country lanes to a nearby second-hand bookshop I had seen a few days before when we had been riding our bikes. The physical effort was complemented by the smell of moth-eaten books, some of them with dog-eared, yellow, stained pages. I bought a very basic step-by-step guide to drawing (long story, no time to explain now) and after a while headed back to the farm.
If there was a downside to our holiday (and really, nothing stood out as negative) it was the length of it. I wish we had stayed longer at the Barn at Ryecroft. And the second minus was an outing we took to Kingsland to eat at a pub called The Angel. The food, although nice, was too pricey and we felt ripped off. Plus, one of the waitresses was somewhat rude.
I will never forget Shropshire, its rolling hills, its narrow lanes and rich history. I would strongly recommend all the places where we stayed to anyone wanting to get acquainted with the British countryside. Believe you me, it was a very enjoyable experience.
All photos taken by the blog author
Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music... Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Wednesday 18th September at 11:59pm (GMT)