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T'Ales from Shropshire....

An upcoming weekend in Shropshire has prompted me to dig this piece out, give it a good dusting, and a few tweaks. This was what happened the last time I visited the area.

It started with a great introduction on the way down at the Bridge End Inn, at Ruabon, near Wrexham, a previous CAMRA National Pub of the Year winner. The McGivern family have done a fantastic job in creating a warm and welcoming wet-led pub, complete with in-house brewery. Only a minute or two’s walk from the station, it is well worth a visit.

Shrewsbury itself is an attractive town, built around a loop on the river Severn, with some lovely old buildings and open green spaces. It also has some great pubs, including the Salopian Bar, Admiral Benbow, and Woodman. But for me the pick was the Coach and Horses on quiet Swan Hill, with wood-panelling and superb beers from the likes of Salopian and Stonehouse. We stayed in the Shrewsbury Hotel, which is a Wetherlodge, and offered clean, good-value accommodation with the added bonus of being able to spend those discount vouchers in the bar, and, being in a great central location, it is close to the river, several pubs, and, oh, shops, should you be that way inclined. A Premier Inn has also now opened in the town centre to provide a further option as a place to stay.

Moving out into the county, we headed south passing through Church Stretton to Ludlow, a beautiful town and now a mecca for foodies, with a famous food festival and restaurants with regular Michelin Star accreditations. Me, I was more interested in visiting the Ludlow Brewery, situated in the stylishly-converted railway shed close to Tesco, Aldi, and, not surprisingly, the railway station. You can just walk in, the brewery is right there, with a bar at the side selling a number of the beers. I had a great pint of Ludlow Gold, with a few bottles purchased for consumption later.

Next port of call was the border town of Bishop’s Castle. Even though it was probably at least 30 years since I last went, I immediately felt that timeless, somewhat mystical atmosphere that had struck me about the place back then. The destination was the Three Tuns, one of the classic pubs. Not many pubs have a historic tower brew house alongside, but this one does. Now under different ownership to the pub, the Three Tuns brewery dates back to 1642, making it the oldest licensed brewery in the country. The pub itself has expanded over the years, with much light wood in evidence, but there was still enough left of the old place. With a pint of 1642 bitter from next door, an open fire, comfy seating and some entertaining and quirky characters present, on a cold Monday afternoon, there was much to encourage you to linger. Unfortunately, the need to drive back to Shrewsbury did not afford the opportunity to do that or to try the other 2 CAMRA pubs in the town, one of which, the Six Bells, also has its own brewery.

Next day, a trip to the split-level town of Bridgnorth. Built at the end of a steep and narrow part of the Severn Valley, the town comprises Low Town, built by the river, and High Town, built on the cliff above. Linking the two parts for the past 120 years is the fascinating Bridgnorth Cliff Railway, which is the steepest and shortest inland funicular railway still working in the country. It only cost a pound to make the admittedly short journey, but it affords great views from the top. A few minutes’ walk away is the northern terminus of the Severn Valley Railway, which boasts its own award-winning CAMRA pub on the platform, the imaginatively-named Railwaymans  Arms. Complete with plush velour seats, dark wood panelling, railway memorabilia, and imposing portraits, this really feels like it dates from a bygone age. Even though the trains had stopped running for the winter, you could almost imagine the sound of a whistle in the distance and it would not have been a surprise to see Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard having a cheeky one in the bar. If they were, they’d have been hard pushed to better the Bathams Best Bitter, my choice, which was excellent.

Final port of call, and another re-visit after a 30-odd year hiatus, was the All Nations in Madeley. This is another historic brewpub, which was home to Shires Ales when we visited, but that is now sadly closed. It hadn’t changed a bit. Situated after a row of houses, it stands proud on its own, still looking for all the world like a private house. Only the sign gives it away. You go through the gate and walk up the garden path and enter into a small, single room. It has a fantastic, timeless atmosphere, the locals moaning about ‘the Villa’ and the price of gas, with no disturbance from a TV or piped music. A pint went down very well. Another place where you would love to linger....

Unfortunately this was a short trip which only scratched the surface of a part of England which is off many people’s radar but has so much to offer. I am looking forward to my trip in a few weeks combining football and hopefully some good ales....

Much of the above originally appeared in 'Calder Cask', the magazine of the Halifax and Calderdale branch of CAMRA, way back in 2013.

Here's a brewery, in Ludlow....

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