Shrewsbury, Shropshire is the gateway to Wales. However, gates close as well as open so you might find yourself stranded on a platform, forlornly gazing in the direction of your destination. It's an experience that you may have already had at New Street Station, but, thankfully, it's not nearly as dreary.
There are a lot of things to do in Shrewsbury and the surrounding area, but this entry will focus on places that you can walk to from Shrewsbury station. It is not comprehensive and there are many other things to see; feel free to deviate whenever you see something that takes your fancy. The full route takes about an hour and a half at a moderate pace, but that doesn't include stopping to look.
With its hills and narrow passages, Shrewsbury isn't always wheelchair and mobility-impaired friendly. Where the route includes steps alternate routes have been provided in footnotes, but please be aware that a lot of the route is cobbled or unevenly paved, and can sometimes be on a steep incline.
Leave the station through the front entrance. Walk across the car park (taking care to avoid the cars and taxis, of course). When you get to the traffic lights, stop and look back at the impressive railway building1 before summoning your strength to walk up the hill into the town. It's only a couple of hundred yards, so don't worry!
Shrewsbury Castle and Regimental Museum
Keeping to the left, you will gradually rise up to the ground level of Shrewsbury Castle. Take the left into the grounds and have a wander, taking in Laura's Tower2 for views across the plains, including Shrewsbury's Abbey, the river and the Column a few miles away at Monkmoor. The castle was built in 1068 by William the Conquerer, with some improvements in the 12th and 13th Centuries. The grounds are free, but there is a charge to get into the regimental museum. The museum is closed on Mondays and over the winter.
Head back out of the castle to main road. Cross the road, and walk towards the grand stone building and up the steps3. This is the Shrewsbury Library. It was originally the private Shrewsbury School, which has now moved slightly out of town across the river. Charles Darwin was educated here, which is one of the claims to fame of Shrewsbury. You are welcome to head inside and wander. You can only take away books if you are a member, but you can read them there, and the building itself is well worth exploring. The music department in particular is recommended not only for its large windows and wonderful sense of light and air, but of the centuries-old graffiti from the schoolchildren of days gone by.
A Church and Some Shuts
Head back out of the library and take a right turn as you come out from under the archway. When you rejoin the main road, turn right again and cross at the pedestrian lights. Continue towards town, but take a left down a tiny passage in between the buildings housing Rendezvous and Jessops4 before you get to the end of the road at Barclays Bank.
Shrewsbury is full of tiny passages, which are also known as 'shuts'. Their names, such as 'Grope Lane' or '70 Steps' often tell you what used to be lurking down there! This one, St Mary's Passage, brings you out at the side of St Mary's Church. When you emerge from the end of the passage keep going forward to discover the true end of the passage - the narrowest point is just 22cm across. You can pass through the passage or skip around the outside - the remaining section is quite short. It used to be one long passage until the middle section was demolished to make way for the shop parade you see now. It's one of the smallest passages in the country! Turn right to make your way around to the front of the church.
St Mary's Church
St Mary's is no longer used as a church except for special occasions. It has been preserved, however, for its incredible beauty. It dates from the 12th Century, and has been added to throughout its history to create a wonderful mix of styles. Take some time to explore this wonderful building if you can.
Bear Steps and Grope Lane
After leaving the church, cross the road and turn left. Turn right down Church Street at the Loggerheads pub, and right again at the junction in St Alkmond's Place. Turn left at the wooden benches (just before the public toilets, in case you need them). Here is the Bear Steps Art Gallery, which also has a small display charting the restoration of these buildings in the '60s. Head down Bear Steps5, and cross the road diagonally to your right to get to Grope Lane. The name is, apparently, just as rude as it sounds. Lots of towns used to have passages with names such as this - most renamed them in more prudish times. There are some shops still working out of this passage - but no, not in that trade! At the end, take a moment to admire the carving on the restored, modern timber frame.
At the end of Grope Lane head diagonally to your right to cross the road into the Marketplace, where a statue to Clive of India6 stands to oversee the entrance. Take care of traffic, which, although slow moving, is plentiful and not always inclined to stop.
The marketplace is the centre of the town, although the actual market is now held on a Sunday on the outskirts of town. If you are lucky, there will be something going on in the centre. Even if there isn't, you are surrounded by shops, and some beautiful buildings. In Shrewsbury, the key thing is always to look up! Above shop frontages are some fantastic old buildings from many different ages jostling for attention.
The Cinema and Coffee Shop
In the centre of the marketplace is a small building, known as the The Old Market Hall. This used to be the central administration centre for the market way back when. It has now been converted to a stylish coffee shop with a huge clock mechanism in the corner, and a small cinema that shows some new releases but also a lot of works by local artists7. If you can, try to visit the cinema itself - it still has wonderful exposed beams arching over the screen, just as the coffee shop does. Apparently this is one of the oldest prefabs8 and was raised in just four months!
Candle Lane Bookshop
Once you have finished exploring, make your way to the other end the marketplace and turn left at the Job Centre. Follow Princess Street on the right hand side to come to the Candle Lane second hand bookshop. This is one of those places to be happily lost of an afternoon, deciding between leather or cloth bound copies of the Encyclopedia Galactica. It is a slightly high end second hand shop, with less of the tatty '80s fiction and more of the carefully preserved collections of Charles Dickens. The building is a big draw as well; two old houses joined only at the ground floor9. That means if you're on the top floor in the right hand house, you've got to go down three staircases and back up another three if you want to get to Theology! Once you can drag yourself out of the books, continue along the road until the junction. Turn right and then cross the road to get to the entrance to the park that contains Old St. Chad's.
Old St Chad's
Built in the 12th century, the huge central tower of old St Chad's collapsed in 1788. All that is left is the Lady Chapel and a crypt, and the churchyard has become a small park in what is mostly a residential district. There are two panels telling the story, one of which has a wind-up vocal track to take you through the history. If you peek through the chapel's keyhole you can still see old memorials on the walls, though these days it appears to be mainly used for storage.
Through a Residential District
Go out of the churchyard the way you came in, but keep to your left and walk down College Hill. Watch out for Coffee House Passage on your right that runs down the side of the dignified-looking building, which is the back of the old music hall. At the Admiral Benbow pub turn left into Swan Lane, past the Coach and Horses pub, and perhaps drop into the small 'Private View Gallery' on the right hand side. This area shows off some of the grander residential buildings of Shrewsbury in a mix of styles. At the crossroads, turn right into Murivance, noting the school and the red building, which used to be the hospital. Follow Murivance until you reach St Chad's church.
'New' St Chads
St Chad's was built in 1792, after the collapse of old St Chad's. Parts of the old city wall were destroyed to place St Chad's in its prominent position. It is one of very few round churches in the country, and still has a gallery. Make sure you have a look at the small chapel of St Aiden as well as the main body of the church. Notice the round pews to fit the church, the glass windows, the ceiling and the organ in the gallery as well as the main altar. In the churchyard, now a wooded garden, you might be able to find the gravestone of Mr Scrooge!
The Quarry and The Dingle
After leaving St Chad's, continue along the road until you reach the zebra crossing. Cross here and pass through the blue gates into the Quarry. The Quarry is the largest park in the town. It slopes gently to the river, and contains a small enclosed garden; the Dingle. The Dingle was originally a sandstone quarry, but was converted to a garden by the local horticultural society in 1875. It's the enclosed section to your left; reach it by taking the path to the left after you pass the large winged statue of St Michael.
Down To The River
After you have finished taking in the Dingle, head down towards the river by any path that slopes downwards, as they all lead to the river edge. When you get there, turn right, and enjoy a stroll along the banks of the river Severn. Keep following the path out of the Quarry and along the road. On your left, near the bridge, is the dock for Sabrina river cruises, which run on the hour.
The Severn at Welsh Bridge
When you get to the end of the road, you are at Welsh bridge, one of the two road bridges into Shrewsbury10. It replaced the earlier St George's Bridge, which was partially destroyed after years of fighting and finally succumbed to an unprecedented flood. Look out for the ancient stone on the bridge commanding you to 'Commit no nuisance'!
The Theatre Severn was completed in 2009, and is the new venue for concerts since the closing of the old Music Hall (located at the end of the Marketplace). The brick, wood and stone building looks out over the river and is clearly visible from the bridge.
The Shrewsbury Museum
Crossing the road is tricky here. If you have not walked along the bridge, cross the road that you have emerged from, and then immediately cross at the traffic lights using the island. Then turn right. If you have wandered along the bridge, continue to the end of it and cross using the pedestrian crossing there. On returning, keep to the left side of the bridge, and use the pedestrian lights to cross, and then keep to the right along the road.
Cross the small road at the next set of lights, and then walk through the car park and through the archway in the middle of Rowley's House, the grand timber and brick built house in front of you that currently houses the museum.
You can find more information about the town at the Visitor Information Centre if you need it, as well as the usual t-shirts with 'Shrewsbury' and suchlike. When you go through the entrance, turn right to get into the museum itself.
The museum is still in Rowley's House at the moment, though it is moving to the old Music Hall in 2012. This may mean that it could be closed at odd times. Ask at the Information desk in the Visitors Centre for more details if you can't get in. The first floor contains a large exhibition of the history of the area, going right back to the formation of the bedrock, through the Roman occupation at Wroxeter, the canoes of the bog-dwellers, and then a history of Shrewsbury town. There are also exhibitions that change more regularly. In 2009 the second floor was dedicated to Charles Darwin and his family, and the ground floor to cartoons in honour of the Shrewsbury Cartoon Festival.
Turn left out of the museum and follow Hill's Lane, which curves right until the junction with Mardol. Cross the road when you are able, and continue up the hill towards the strange-looking sculpture. Turn left at the sculpture into Pride Hill. As always in Shrewsbury, remember to look up! Mardol and Pride Hill are full of wonderful buildings hidden by ghastly shop fronts. Continue along Pride Hill and go straight ahead as you join the road at Castle Foregate. Continue down the hill, back past the Library and Castle until you are back at the station where you started - hopefully in time for your train!