The clocks have changed, spring is here along with warmer days and lighter evenings and life after lockdown is starting to take shape.
Many of the things we’ve missed will gradually return over the next few months.
The chance to sit in a pub, restaurant or café, to visit the theatre, cinema or a museum, the opportunity to take a ride on a heritage railway or wander around the inside of a National Trust stately home. Or just enjoy a stroll in the town centre, soaking up the atmosphere and indulging in a little retail therapy that doesn’t involve your phone or laptop.
Simple pleasures we once took for granted – a day out in the countryside with a stop for morning coffee, a pub lunch or afternoon tea – will be ours once more and will doubtless be rather more valued this time.
Yes, we’ve been able to work, shop for food, visit the doctor and walk, run and cycle. But we’ve not met up with friends at a concert or had a family day out at a festival or fete.
Now these opportunities are ready to unfold for us again, raising our spirits as we inch back to normality.
Popular annual events that were forced to take a break in 2020 are set to return throughout the spring and summer. There are inevitably gaps in the calendar as some much-loved showpieces are absent for another year. Shrewsbury Flower Show, Cosford Air Show and Burwarton Show are amongst those called off for a second successive year, the scale of organisation and upfront expenditure required proving prohibitive in the uncertain climate.
But there is still a diverse choice of activities on offer. Fancy a trip on a heritage railway, for instance? The Severn Valley Railway (SVR) will transport visitors back in time with the return of its Step Back to the 1940s weekends on June 26 and 27 and July 3 and 4.
After its absence from last year’s calendar because of the pandemic, this vintage event will celebrate the best of Britain on the home front.
The 16-mile line from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster will burst into life with a wide a variety of interactive displays, live events and a team of re-enactors to entertain, educate and excite visitors of all ages.
The event, which has been a staple of the SVR’s diary for more than 20 years, encourages visitors to dress in period costume and relive the era through music, dance, food and a whirlwind rail adventure.
Careful changes have been made to the event to ensure Covid-safety for all visitors. Parties will be allocated a compartment or socially-distanced table before being whisked away to experience a 1940s-style wedding, rifle training, vintage vehicles, marketplaces, living history displays and military encampments.
The Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley and all the SVR’s pubs and cafes plan to open in line with the expected lifting of government restrictions.
Helen Smith, general manager of the SVR, says: “We know how popular this event is and we can’t wait to see a whole host of returning faces, along with some new ones, all looking for an exciting day of vintage discovery.
“Although we’ve had to change the event slightly to ensure a Covid-safe experience, we can guarantee a 1940s adventure to remember. The moment you step onto the Railway, you’ll be transported back in time to a world of George Formby, Laurel and Hardy, cold beer and spam sandwiches!”
Our area is enriched by a wealth of historic architecture and magnificent gardens and grounds at a string of estates run by the National Trust. Every year, Dudmaston Hall, Benthall Hall, Attingham Park and Sunnycroft at Wellington attract thousands of visitors and it is hoped that trend will resume this year after the difficulties of 2020.
Open air Trust-managed attractions like the Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge, the 18-mile limestone escarpment from Craven Arms to Much Wenlock, have proved a lifeline for locals during a year of restrictions, allowing fresh air, exercise and a level of escapism. Now they are set to be there for visitors also, as travel limitations start to ease.
Popular English Heritage sites like Wenlock Priory, Stokesay Castle and Haughmond Abbey offer yet more wonderful relics of Shropshire’s colourful history in which to immerse yourself this spring and summer.
If it’s history you are after, how about England’s oldest and steepest inland electric funicular railway? Bridgnorth Cliff Railway is one of the town’s most colourful attractions. Opened in July 1892, it has been transporting the people up and down the 111ft sandstone cliffs that separate High Town from Low Town for nearly 130 years.
One of Shropshire’s biggest attractions is the collection of museums at Ironbridge Gorge which includes Blists Hill Victorian Town, Enginuity, Jackfield Tile Museum, Coalport China Museum, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron and, of course, the famous Iron Bridge after which the town takes its name.
The museums have traditionally been a magnet for tourists and local visitors alike, offering fun and educational days out, and absence will doubtless have made the heart grow fonder.
Fun and education also go hand-in-hand at Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre at Craven Arms, with its Shropshire Mammoth displays and nature areas.
Bridgnorth’s annual May Fair was a casualty of the first lockdown last year but now it has been earmarked this year for Monday May 3, with music, food stalls, crafts and trade stands, should restrictions allow. The town’s Street Fair and Food Fair are also scheduled to go ahead on July 4 and August 29 respectively.
There’s good news in Much Wenlock, too, where the 2021 Wenlock Olympian Games is scheduled to take place on the weekend of the July 10 and 11.
It’s a historic event, with the first Games being held in October 1850, a mixture of athletics and traditional sports such as quoits, football and cricket. Organisers will continue to monitor government guidelines and restrictions over the next few weeks but it is hoped this year’s event will go ahead.
On the theme of sport and exercise, Bridgnorth Lions are aiming to hold their annual charity Bridgnorth Walk and Marathon on September 12.
The event enables participants – either walkers or runners – to raise sponsorship money for charities of their choice.
A month-long arts extravaganza is in prospect at Ludlow with the town’s annual Arts and Fringe Festival scheduled for June 18 to July 19.
The exciting, action-packed programme will be held live at Covid-secure venues in the Ludlow area, as well as online. There will also be an art and sculpture trail.
Theatre events will include King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Little Boxes, ConeBoy and The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny. The comedy line-up features Ivo Graham and Alex Kealy, At Home with Angela Bra, Fruitcake – Ten Commandments from the Psych Ward and Annie and Angela’s Disco Divorce Party. As far as music goes, Annette Gregory and Friends; Jazz and Me and The Film Orchestra on location at Stokesay Court, are all booked.
Venues over the month include Ludlow Assembly Rooms, Ludlow Brewery and The Blue Boar.
Director of Ludlow Fringe Festival Anita Bigsby says, “We’re so pleased to be able to welcome artists back to our market town and to venues around the area. The Ludlow Fringe Festival is an annual pilgrimage for both visitors and performers alike and after a year with limited opportunities to perform in front of live audiences, many are simply looking forward to bringing their art to the world, be it live or digital.”
To support its ambitious programme, the festival has received £98,600 from the Culture Recovery Fund and has also been backed by the Arts Council, Shropshire Council and Ludlow Town Council.
Broseley in Bloom, meanwhile is organising a series of Pop-Up sales in May and June, which is guaranteed to draw visitors to this attractive market town.
Weston Park will doubtless be the destination of choice for many, as the days lengthen and the sun shines, and there are several attractive-looking events lined up. On May 30 and 31, the Bank Holiday Sunday and Monday, Weston’s Spring Fling will offer family days out in the parkland with locally-produced food and drink, live music and craft stalls, plus the chance to stroll around the gardens and grounds of this historic mansion. For the children, there’s the Woodland Adventure Playground. With numbers limited by restrictions, admission is strictly by ticket booked in advance. No tickets will be available on the gate.
The cautious return of largescale live music events is cause for celebration by many and, despite the persistent challenges, a few are scheduled to take place in Shropshire.
Weston Park, in fact, will stage one with its Classic Ibiza festival on Saturday July 17. It features a heady blend of Balearic-infused house music, performed by the 32-piece Urban Soul Orchestra (USO), headline DJs and globally renowned vocalists. In 2019, Classic Ibiza performed to 70,000 people in the UK and Spain. This summer’s show, which was postponed from 2020, features an extra hour-long chill-out DJ set, performed by Jose Luis (former Pacha and Ministry of Sound resident), new tracks and an enhanced light-show.
Classic Ibiza’s Lisa Ward says: “The concert organisers are working with a health and safety specialist event company, that helps large concerts to take place safely in the current environment.
“Audience numbers have currently been capped, to enable social distancing, with the situation being reviewed in late spring, when there is a possibility, if the situation continues to improve, that more tickets will be released.”
The promising news is that Shropshire’s biggest live music event, Shrewsbury Folk Festival, is scheduled to go ahead as planned over the August Bank Holiday weekend. The four-day event, from August 27 to 30 at the West Midland Showground, will feature some of the best in world music including many of the performers due to appear at last year’s cancelled festival.
This year’s line-up includes American folk legend Judy Collins, globally acclaimed Galician piper Carlos Nunez, Lindisfarne, Oysterband and The Young’uns.
Festival Director Sandra Surtees says, “Being able to reveal such an exciting line-up for 2021 is a huge milestone for us in what has been a very challenging year. As ever, there is something for everyone including household names like Judy Collins and Lindisfarne alongside top folk and roots acts from the UK and some brilliant world musicians too.
“We are making plans to deliver a Covid-secure event where our festival family can enjoy the same Shrewsbury atmosphere and be safe. It’s too early to predict what, if any, changes may be necessary but the size and flexibility of our site gives us lots of options.”
There is disappointment for classical music fans, however, with the cancellation of Bridgnorth’s stylish English Haydn Festival. The 2021 programme has been rescheduled for June 6-11, 2022.
“Unfortunately, because Government restrictions are not due to end until June 21, we would have been subject to a reduction in audience numbers, and confined with masks and social distancing. We did investigate the possibility of delaying the Festival by a few weeks but found this impossible to organise,” says the Festival’s Mike Proudman. “The Festival acknowledges the continued generosity of Festival Friends, and many others who donated their refunded ticket purchases towards securing the future of this world class event.”
There is some good news, though. The Festival has organised something for this year, a one-day event on Saturday September 11, in St Mary’s Church, Bridgnorth. This incorporates a Lunchtime Concert by the Consone Quartet, and an Evening Orchestral, Beethoven/Haydn Concert in celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary year.
It’s also a case of bad news/good news as far as Ludlow’s famous food festivals are concerned. The gradual lifting of restrictions comes too late for the annual Spring Food Festival in May, which has been called off for the second successive year. However, the three-day Ludlow Food Festival, traditionally held in September, will go ahead. The event, scheduled for September 10-12, will see 180 food and drink producers set up shop inside the historic grounds of Ludlow Castle.
In fact, September promises to be a stellar month for gastronomic-themed shows. Shrewsbury Food Festival has been moved from its regular slot in the calendar at the end of June, to a new weekend for this year, September 4 and 5, to allow organisers more time and flexibility to deal with the easing of Covid restrictions.
The same determination to have an event this year is being demonstrated by the organisers of Cosford Air Show. This year’s show, due to be held on June 13, has been called off. However, the Air Show Team is looking at the possibility of holding a smaller, socially-distanced event across the weekend of the September 11 and 12, with details to be announced once the position on holding mass events is clearer.
Those who like to look skywards for their entertainment might also like to know that Weston Park stages its 25th anniversary International Model Show, September 3-5, with model and full-sized aircraft displays. In addition, there will be ground level attractions with off-road and circuit model car racing, model boats and helicopters.
Shropshire County Agricultural Show has moved from its traditional May date this year to July 17, at the West Midland Showground.
Much-loved events like Bridgnorth Carnival, Shifnal Carnival, Much Wenlock Festival and Broseley Festival have been called off, which makes it doubly important we, the public, are there for them in 2022 to ensure their future.
The same goes for one of Shropshire’s most historic and famous events, Shrewsbury Flower Show. Organiser, Shropshire Horticultural Society says, “The decision to cancel this August’s show has not been taken lightly and is based on the fact that the risk is simply too great for the event to be held this year. It would be an enormous health and safety, operational and financial gamble to the Society, which as a charity we would be unable to justify. The safety of all those involved is of our utmost concern. Therefore, the Society’s priority has to be to safeguard the viability of the event for future years and by not holding an event this year and running such risks, it will enable the Shrewsbury Flower Show to return in 2022.”
The show is scheduled for August 12 and 13 next year – and we’re looking forward to being there.
The same goes for Burwarton Show, which has also taken the tough decision to cancel its August 2021 date.
Show chairman Alan Watkins says, “Following many weeks of agonising over how best to proceed, it is with a great deal of sadness that the organising committee has made the very difficult decision to cancel the event this year. This decision has not been taken lightly and reflects the uncertainty over regulations for large events this summer, which has made planning for the 2021 show nigh on impossible.
“We are all extremely saddened to have come to this decision. Cancellation of two consecutive shows is unprecedented in the history of Burwarton Show and I have to hope that it will be “third time lucky” in 2022. On Thursday August 4, 2022 we will be holding an even bigger and better show for everyone’s enjoyment and look forward to your continuing support.”
We’ve name-checked plenty of events and attractions here, but they represent just a taste of what our wonderful county has to offer. There are many more that we haven’t mentioned this time around, possibly your own favourites amongst them.
Shropshire’s High Sheriff Tony Morris-Eyton urged people to get behind all of these wonderful events as and when they return. It underlines his belief that tourism is vital to the county’s economic recovery from the pandemic.
“I plan to do all I can to promote tourism in our county on a variety of platforms, both traditional and through social media. The industry has always been an essential part of Shropshire’s economy with so many dependent on it for their livelihoods.
“Unfortunately, it has been badly hit by Covid restrictions, with travel limited and visitor attractions, hotels, pubs and cafes either closed or restricted in what they can offer. Businesses have struggled and many have lost their jobs as a result.”
Just a month into his year of office, Tony has already held meetings with tourism officials at Shropshire Council as well as representatives of Visit Shropshire and Virtual Shropshire to draw up plans to help.
“Shropshire is a wonderful county, with breath-taking countryside, a colourful history and a rich architectural heritage. It has so much to offer not only visitors from outside but those of us who live here, that I believe tourism will help to drive our economic recovery and we can all play a part in that.”