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A Mooch Around The Marches....

"High the vanes of Shrewsbury gleam,
Islanded in Severn stream,
The bridges from the steepled crest,
Cross the water east to west"  
A.E.Houseman, from 'A Shropshire Lad'.

Easter came and went, then it was time for a few days based in Shrewsbury, one of my favourite towns in England. Like Durham, it is almost surrounded by its river, rising up on a hill from the mighty Severn, which was swollen by recent rains so that some of the riverside paths were flooded.

It is a great place for walking around, some beautiful buildings ranging from medieval half-timbered splendours to elegant Georgian terraces, with a quiet corner here, a narrow alley there, and plenty of parkland beside the river. It is packed with some great pubs; the Coach and Horses on Swan Hill (next door to where Ian Hunter, lead singer of Mott the Hoople, was born) and the Three Fishes on Fish Street, besides the famous Bear Steps and the infamous Grope Lane, being particular favourites. But there are plenty more to go at!

I had got checked in by 3 at the hotel, so went for a wander. A quick half at Loggerheads, which is a lovely old pub but with a sadly uninspiring beer selection, but nonetheless always worth popping in.  And then a walk over to the Coach and Horses where the arrival of Happy Hour during my time there meant the price of the excellent Salopian Oracle dropped to £2.40 whilst I was there! Happy days. I had a pint at the neighbouring Admiral Benbow, where I had a very pleasant Ludlow Gold as the guy behind the bar fretted about the numbers for the evening's upcoming quiz. Food beckoned, and I went for the easy option of a burger at one of the town's two Wetherspoons, the Montgomery's Tower, which I had last visited in September 2016 with my brother and a mate with the intention of getting breakfast which saw us walking out after over 5 minutes' waiting and nobody appearing to take our order.... Food devoured - it was fine, in a Spoons-sort-of-way - I headed homewards to the Salopian Bar.

This is a fine bar, beside the river and just down from the hotel, a bit laddish, which was amply demonstrated this evening as I walked in to a sea of red shirts and cheering as the UEFA Cup game between Liverpool and Manchester City was just kicking off. There are about 8 TV's dotted around the walls here, and all bar one were all showing the Liverpool game. I ordered a pint of Lemon Dream. The place erupted. Liverpool had scored. And then they scored again. The place erupted again. And before I went back for my second pint, there was another eruption. I retreated to the quiet corner where Barcelona and Roma were playing to a solitary couple of old guys nursing their pints, only so I could get a seat. I stuck around for another pint (I could still see the game) as the Salopian has a great choice of beers. And it was only two minutes back to the hotel....

I didn't just limit myself to Shrewsbury, though. I took the train for a day and visited Hereford and Ludlow, hence the reference to the Marches in the title, which whilst there is no precise definition, I take it to be those English and Welsh counties that border each other and which were the scene of centuries of battles and skirmishes between the warring factions on both sides of Offa's Dike. So both Shropshire and Herefordshire qualify unreservedly, with plenty of reminders of a troubled past with castles, battlefields and memorials throughout the area, which is thankfully calm and peaceful these days!

So to Ludlow. A few years since I had last visited this extremely attractive and historic hill top town situated by the River Teme, but I had read an article about it in the quarterly Beer magazine that CAMRA publishes a few weeks ago, but unfortunately I should have re-read it before I set off....

I arrived on the train and made straight for the Railway Shed, the home of the Ludlow Brewery where they have a smart brewery tap which showcases their beers and opens during the day every day. I was too late for the brewery tour, which happens at 3pm each day, so I settled for a pint of Ludlow Blonde. So far so good.

I was wracking my brains for the name of one of the pubs I had read about in that article. The Dog in Hand? The Dog's Boll...? It didn't help that the Good Beer Guide app on my phone was feigning 'NO INTERNET CONNECTION' when Facebook and Twitter were fine. Finally it flickered into life. Nearby Pubs. The Dog Hangs Well, there it is. Opens at 5 on a Thursday. It was 5 past 4. I'll go for a walk around the town and check out the Good Beer Guide-listed pub, The Queens. After a pleasant walk up to the castle, through narrow streets with artisan coffee shops jostling for space with historic pubs, posh-looking restaurants, and charity shops, I came to the Queens. An undistinguished grey painted exterior. I walked in, to be greeted by a pub so anodyne it jarred with so much I had seen walking through the town. Should have re-read that article. 5 past 5, time for the Dog Hangs Well.

The Dog Hangs Well is fairly central, down the road from the station, past Tesco, turn left into Corve Street and cross over. In the midst of a row of elegant Georgian town houses is No 14, with a purple door. There is no sign save for an A4 notice in the window announcing the name of this self-styled 'Parlour Pub', the hours it opens (Thursday to Saturday, 5 till 9), and advising it is 'Open when the lamp is lit'. It was. I opened the door and stepped into a quiet corridor, which led me to an open door. I had arrived at the former kitchen, where owner Jon Saxon was dispensing drinks and bonhomie from behind the tiny bar. A few people were sat at one of the copper-topped tables in a traditionally furnished and decorated room, with the odd stuffed pheasant and an old range on the back wall now with the addition of a wood-burning stove. There was just one hand pump in operation serving a very pleasant Ludlow beer, although every now and again Jon would pop down into the cellar and emerge with some darker stuff, which apparently was something he had brewed which would have the regulars passing generally approving comments and comparing it to when they had last tasted it a few days before. There is another room, the parlour, although it wasn't open but apparently it  is very sumptuously and traditionally furnished. And why the name? Well, it is derived from the traditional Gate Hangs Well pub name, but with one of the titles from the publishing business Jon runs from the building during the rest of the week being Doghouse magazine, the two came together. Incidentally, Doghouse describes itself as the British pub magazine celebrating "the art of story-telling at the bar, the architecture that surrounds, the cellars below, and the ghosts that sometimes rattle around upstairs". Sounds worth checking out.

I liked the Dog Hangs Well. A lot. It has a timeless quality about it and I have never been anywhere quite like it. If you check out the website clearly a lot of thought has gone into its creation. Jon is working on a second pub in an old charity shop in the town. And what did I miss in Ludlow? Well, when I got home I did re-read that article, and I had missed a micro pub called Artisan Ales, and I remembered walking past another place that was mentioned, the Rose and Crown, a tastefully re-furbished Joules pub just off the square at the top of the town. So, plenty of reasons for a follow-up visit!

Timeless: The Dog Hangs Well, Ludlow

And from the outside, with the notice in the window

Meanwhile, back on the mooch, I had been to Hereford earlier in the day. It was my first visit to the city, and on arriving by train, the first view was not the most inspiring. The station is situated just out of the centre, and looks out over a stretch of waste ground with a Morrisons in the near distance. The walk towards the city centre then takes you down a somewhat shabby street with a few fast food outlets, the ubiquitous Spoons, a Yates, and the odd club. However, things soon pick up as you walk down a narrow street which opens out into a pleasant square with a branch of Tanners Wine Merchants and a church. And anyway, the sun was out, it was warm, and the church bells rang out. I decided to trace the source of the bells and a few minutes later having walked down some very attractive streets with some fine old buildings I emerged beside the magnificent cathedral. People were milling around and enjoying the sun, many were sitting on one of the many benches in the cathedral grounds. A statue of Sir Edward Elgar leaning on his bike gazed at the cathedral. Very pleasant it all was.

I made my way to St Owen Street where a few minutes later I came across the Barrels pub, an attractive building which must have been called the Lamb Hotel in a previous life.

Barrels...or is it the Lamb?


Walking in, you are greeted by a traditionally-furnished pub, with what must be the full range of Wye Valley beers. It turns that this is actually an Enterprise pub, but because the brewery was originally based here, they have an arrangement where they are able to offer their beers. It is a rambling place, and once I had got of pint of Butty Bach, I made my way outside into the very pleasant beer garden, with its nooks and corners. It was the 5th of April, and after what seemed like an eternity, I was able to sit out in the sun once again and enjoy a pint. It was bliss, the birds were singing, and those bells just kept on ringing. I went back for a pint, this time of HPA, and before I left, I had a pint of the Blonde. All very good beers, and all retailing at well under £3 a pint.

A pint in the sun...Barrels, Hereford

It was time to go for the train. I re-traced my steps, got myself a Tuna Nicoise salad from Morrisons and ate it on the platform as I waited for the train. I had enjoyed my whistle stop 3 hour visit to Hereford. I liked the city, I liked the beer, and the sun and the sounds of the birds singing and the bells ringing just raised the spirits after the gloom of winter.

The following day, I had another wander around Shrewsbury in the morning, but then in the afternoon, on my way home, I had another call to make. This was at the Salopian Brewery, which is situated at Hadnall, just off the A49 a few miles north of the city. I am a long term fan of their beers, which for me are constantly getting better. I went to a Meet the Brewer night about 18 months ago at the Victorian Craft Beer Cafe in Halifax which I wrote about here, in which I referred to the fact that Calderdale is a significant contributor to the brewery's sales, thanks in no little part to the indefatigable efforts of my mate Russ Baron. Sadly, Jake from the brewery, whom we had met that night has been ill recently, and so wasn't around when I visited, but here's hoping he is better soon.

I got to the brewery just after 3, but I'd had to make a diversion as unfortunately there had been an accident which meant that the A49 was shut. Still, it wasn't too far out of the way, and when I got there there were already a few people in the bar, which opens on the first full weekend of every month. It is a smart bar with very friendly staff at the front of an unassuming industrial unit, tastefully done out in dark wood with 4 hand pumps, 4 taps, and plenty of bottles and other merchandise on offer. I had the odd half and a Corbetts pork pie before I had to leave, but whilst I was there, people kept coming in, spending £60, £70, £80 on beer to take out as well as plenty staying in for a few pints. It was a great atmosphere and demonstrated the appreciation held for Salopian beers in the area. And this was only by 4.15 on a Friday teatime when yours truly had to head back up north.

It had been a great few days away. And if you fancy a mooch, I can highly recommend the Marches....

An unassuming industrial unit, just north of Shrewsbury
Salopian Brewery, The Old Station Yard, Station Road, Hadnall, Shropshire, SY4 3DD 
www.salopianbrewery.co.uk

For more information on Doghouse Publications and the Dog Hangs Well, visit www.doghousemagazine.co.uk

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