A visit to Stokesay Castle and then Shrewsbury.

Resuming with postings of my recent week long holiday in Shropshire and we are now at thursday.  The floods and rains had subsided and we were in serious danger of seeing blue skies and indeed by mid-morning we were all started by the appearance of this yellow-white disc in the sky.   According to the history books I have read and more contemporary records from the re-booted Hawaii 5-0 series we managed to identify it as the Sun.  Our immediate panic subsided somewhat when we realised that despite its scary and unusual appearance it had the bizarre effect of making us feel warm.  All joking aside we had just holidayed through the worst September storms in 100 years and apparently the wettest summer since 1766 which isn’t bad going seeing as every summer since 2007 has been the wettest, cloudiest or coldest for some various reason.

Anyway Thursday saw us travel just a few miles to Stokesay which is a tiny hamlet consisting of just a castle, a church, a farm and perhaps or 4 houses.  Some of the views of the area are quintessentially rural.  Having been to many castles all over the world, some are dramatic, some are picturesque, some are imposing and foreboding, a few breathtaking (I’m talking to you Bamburgh Castle) never before have I been to castle that can best be described as cute.

Stokesay view from Churchyard

Perhaps the most serene spot of our entire week.

This area used to belong to an Anglo-Saxon nobleman latterly known as Wild Edric.  Like many lords who were killed at Hastings, his land was forfeited and granted to a Norman Noble leaving Edric to spend the rest of his days pillaging and fighting Normans who had stolen his land… and why not.

Stokesay Castle

If you look carefully you will see how a more modern house was built onto the top and side of the old castle. It’s rather cosy inside too.

It was these Normans who made Stokesay into a small castle to defend against the Welsh and their descendants who took the unusual step of building a small manor house up against the castle walls which gives it something of its cute fair-tale like appearance.  We had expected only to spend 30 minutes here but such was its beauty that we were here for half a day.

View from the top of Stokesay Castle

What to look at the view or the picturesque gate house.

Just outside the castle is a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist.  With the castle being taken without a fight during the Civil War, it gave the opportunity to build a church here.  This church is quite a rare example in England of being a Commonwealth Church.  The Commonwealth here not referring to The Commonwealth which has succeeded the old British Empire but rather that brief period when England was a republic and was presided over by Oliver Cromwell.  Aside from inspiring later republics such as those in France and the USA and sharing a dislike of despotic monarchs, the triumphant Parliamentarians favoured a type of pure Christianity which resulted in the Puritan movement taking hold.  The Puritans disliked all the excesses royal life and indeed of more colourful Christian movements and are famously said to have even banned Christmas for one year.   As such the church here is rather simple and plainly decorated inside but none the less interesting for that.

St John The Baptist Church Interior at Stokesay

This is looking back along the nave from the Altar. Notice the gated pews on the right where the owners of the estate would sit, separated from the ho-poloi commoners. All men may be created equal according to God and Communists but not in 17th Century republic England.

For those interested in how we still have a monarchy in the U.K. in a typically British fashion once the Parliamentarians had beheaded King Charles I, against all his wishes Oliver Cromwell was foisted into a monarch like position of Lord Protector.  Once Cromwell died and his son proved not to be made of the right stuff the King Charles II claimed the throne in a much less autocratic capacity.  It seems people weren’t quite ready for democracy just yet.

We mused over how often is the case that the best places are often those you have heard nothing about and decided to head towards our main port of call for the day, the county town of Shrewsbury.

Sunny Shrewsbury

A marvellous street just round the corner from the Catholic Cathedral at Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury is a delightful old town.  Bigger than Ludlow and not as quaint but somewhere one could easily imagine living.  Again the town has some really impressive architecture and a fine selection of traditional and non-traditional shops.

Shrewsbury building styles

This photo gives a small indication of the differing building styles in Shrewsbury, the County town of Shropshire. The higgledy-piggledy nature is all part of the charm.

You can see the spires of the churches and abbeys from miles off into the countryside.

Reaching for the sky

One of many church steeples to be found in Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury is dissected by the River Seven, the longest river in Britain and it has number of fine stone bridges on which we stood and watched the flood waters carrying debris down stream.

Shrewsbury Abbey

Shrewsbury Abbey…. which after rotating my image 5 times still insists on giving the impression I took the photo whilst drunk

At the end furthest point of our walk we came across Shrewsbury Abbey.  Formerly a great centre for the area but it was then mostly destroyed by King Henry VII during his little spat with Rome.  The Abbey was later rebuilt and expanded upon but never quite reached its former glory.  Now it has a slightly sad feel to the place despite the very jolly guides inside.

Before leaving Shrewsbury it must be said that I found myself mis-spelling the name of this lovely town.  The reason being that there are are two distinct ways of pronouncing it.  Shroosbury or Shrowsbury?   No lesser man than former government minister and now top-bloke travel guide Michael Portillo recently questioned local residents about this on his visit here.  The majority of people seemed to pronounce it Shroosbury as  the other way of speaking it is one of the many ways to tell someones class in our country. The other way it was said by one resident to be the way only posh people say it.  Funnily enough former Conservative minister and generally posh chap  Michael Portillo called the town Shrowsbury all the way through.    Of course if he were really correct would not the Shakespeare play be titled ‘The Taming of the Shrow”!

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About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including a #1 seller, I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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