Looking ahead to Valentine’s Day, Neil Thomas says our area has much to offer couples seeking a romantic getaway. Welcome to the county of love.
The destination ratings website Tripadvisor published a list of the most romantic places in Shropshire for couples to head to. And the number one choice might surprise you.
Shrewsbury Prison. Yes, a gaol-turned-tourist attraction. For 135 years people were desperate to stay out. Now, apparently, we can’t wait to get in.
I can kind of see it. The ghoulish atmosphere of a Victorian prison might just make you want to cosy up for comfort. And the idea of poky cells and clapping people in irons . . . well, best not go there.
Still, if you think a prison an odd choice for lovers, what about number two on the list. Hoo Zoo and Dinosaur World. This, presumably, was voted for by those who can perfectly well enjoy a romantic day out with the grandkids in tow. For whom age is no barrier and the love light never goes out.
Number three is probably more most people’s idea of a romantic location. The Quarry Park in Shrewsbury. Lovely for a stroll, hand-in-hand, beside the Severn, or stealing a kiss on a park bench in The Dingle.
However, on balmy spring and summer days, it is packed with picnickers on the grass, lunchtime office workers, young families and groups of students in between lessons. Not the place if you are seeking a little privacy.
Number four is Attingham Park, a lush backdrop where you can lose yourself in the romance of history. Where you can be Mr Darcy and she Elizabeth Bennet, the hero and heroine of Jane Austen’s perennially popular novel Pride and Prejudice.
And the list goes on, with a mixture ranging from the fairly obvious to the ‘what, are you serious!?’.
The Visit Shropshire website, too, is not bashful about suggesting spots for romance. Lovers the length and breadth of the UK can see at a glance that Shropshire is not short of hotel/restaurants, where you can gaze into one another’s eyes across a candlelit dinner table, whispering sweet nothings.
This is a section for grown-ups, with talk of four-posters, whirlpool baths for two and even a ‘sexy slipper tub’. There is talk of spa treatments with saunas, steam rooms and massage tables.
There is a fancy bed-and-breakfast and a Grade II listed early 17th century self-catering bolthole for two. Now that’s style!
And, for those that are interested, there is no shortage of suggestions for how to fill the days too. Most involve arm-in-arm gentle strolls – or brisk single-file walks, if things aren’t going according to plan – around a variety of landscapes. There are private parks, woodland, walled gardens, rolling hills, lakesides and riverbanks, the lot. There’s just you and her or you and him, communing with nature. Many perfect locations to fall to one knee, ring in hand, and pop the question.
Geographically, Shropshire is the UK’s largest landlocked county. It means there is so much space in which to get away from it all, to find a place where there’s just the two of you. About the only thing the county can’t offer is a sea view, the romantic thrill of crashing waves.
There is no shortage of water, though, from the River Severn that snakes majestically through the county, to a lengthy canal network to Shropshire’s very own lake district at Ellesmere. Imagine strolling together along the paths and through the woodland beside the main mere, one of nine lakes that make picturesque Ellesmere such a magnet to visitors from far and wide. Or why not commune with nature – and the wild ponies – atop the windswept Long Mynd?
Then there are the architecturally rich towns of Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Bridgnorth – intriguingly built on two levels linked by a quirky Victorian cliff railway – Much Wenlock, Ironbridge, Whitchurch, Market Drayton, Bishop’s Castle, Clun . . . the list goes on. So much history for the loved-up couple to immerse themselves in and escape the pressures of modern life, if only for a weekend.
“there is so much space in which to get away from it all, to find a place where there’s just the two of you”
Retail therapy, of course, is part of the package with Shropshire’s pretty towns offering a wealth of independent stores to charm and entice. A little shopping expedition for two with a cosy pub lunch thrown in.
For the more active – the couple that plays together, stays together – Shropshire has a network of cycle paths and bridleways. Imagine the two of you enjoying a gentle hack on docile cobs along Wenlock Edge. Our rivers, lakes and canals offer the chance of all kinds of water sports, from wild swimming to canoeing. Or for the real adrenaline junkies, paragliding on the Shropshire hills.
There is nothing new about this appreciation of Shropshire’s romantic essence. Some of our greatest authors and poets have extolled its virtues, from Charles Dickens and Jane Austen to DH Lawrence and AE Housman, from PG Wodehouse to EM Forster, not to mention three local literary heavyweights, Mary Webb, Ellis Peters (the pen name of Edith Pargeter) and Wilfred Owen.
Leighton-born Webb, who lived in Much Wenlock, Pontesbury, Shrewsbury and at Lyth Hill, evoked the county’s wild natural beauty in her novels Gone to Earth – made into a 1950 movie, some of which was filmed in Much Wenlock – and Precious Bane.
Peters, born at Horsehay in what is now Telford, centred her crime stories about medieval monk-turned-sleuth Brother Cadfael on Shrewsbury Abbey. Oswestry-born Owen, who died aged 25 in the First World War, is regarded as one of the greatest war poets, the ultimate anti-hero and romantic figure across the generations.
Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad is virtually a love letter to the county, Lawrence referenced the Devil’s Chair on the Stiperstones when he wanted to evoke a sense of foreboding, in his novel St Mawr.
Wodehouse – the author of the Jeeves and Wooster novels – enjoyed happy childhood days living near Bridgnorth. He didn’t hold back in his praise of the county, describing it as ‘The nearest earthly place to paradise’.
Paradise . . . sounds like the perfect place for romance to blossom.