There are loads of great things to do in Shrewsbury. It makes for a gorgeous weekend escape with good food and quaint streets. But as it’s also the home of Charles Darwin, there’s more to it than just pretty English views.
On the other side of the world there’s a pink-sanded shore. The water, warm and clear, brushes in and out like an easy breeze while scuttling scarlet crabs cling to glossy volcanic stone.
That’s there, in the Galapagos.
But I’m here, stood on cobbled stone and surrounded by white walls, medieval timber and the typical pedestrian traffic for a Saturday afternoon in the UK.
Ahead of me stands a statue and something of a queue of visitors waiting for the chance to stand near it.
It’s of one Charles Darwin in his hometown, on the site of his school, where he learned the basic skills that led him to travel the world.
To the Galapagos, over 6000 miles away.
It’s a combination of geography that made history.
I’m in Shrewsbury to take a look at Evolution Explored. It’s an open air photography exhibition with a wide range of subjects, inspired by both intellect and emotion.
Images linger, in colour and black and white, on the paving slabs in church yards and beneath the mellow, yellowed stone of the Old Market Hall in the aptly named The Square.
But Shrewsbury has plenty of other things to do.
Once a medieval market town, today it’s making its name in food.
Csons (pronounced “seasons” rather than “cisions” or “K-sonns” or anthing else funky you’d like to get carried away with) lives by the motto Globally Inspired, Locally Sourced. It serves up smoked salmon with celeriac remoulade and aged limousin beef in toasted Japanese milk buns.
Newcomer townhouse hotel, The Lion & Pheasant, mixes cocktails with fine dining that finishes with a lemon tart and pink peppercorn flourish. While Sunday morning brunch belongs to The Peaberry and its organic Peruvian hot chocolate.
Even traditional pub fare gets attention to detail in The Armoury, moved brick by brick to its current location near the Welsh Bridge in 1922. Dining resembles a night out in a raucous yet cosy library with floor to ceiling books and diners dressed for a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Shops surround with street “names you want to say out loud.” Bear Steps, Wyle Cop and Grope Lane.
What’s that? Grope Lane!
Why yes. A throwback to Shrewsbury’s medieval Red Light District days, I’m told.
Shrewsbury’s lights are different today. They glitter alongs the river, which loops around the city like a slightly drunken horseshoe.
But as the river circles around, so does the history of this place. Unassuming on the outside, pivotal on the inside.
Take the Abbey, for example, a majestic yet red block building on the outskirts of town. Sat in the middle of two everyday roads, it’s an unassuming place yet it’s home to one of the earliest parliaments in England.
In 1283 the King of England summoned politicians here in order to sentence the last native Prince of Wales to death over a dispute involving the (ever so nearby) borders.
It’s a good thing we’ve all the sense to leave history in the past and move on.
But when it comes to history that very much affects us all, few have rattled and shattered revered institutions as much as local lad Charles Robert Darwin.
As befits a great tale, he didn’t do all that well at school, and very nearly missed his life- and world-changing voyage on the Beagle to those pink-sanded shores.
While the role of naturalist had already been offered to someone else, a last minute dash to The Lion on Wyle Cop to catch the next coach to London ended with good fortune and a place on the ship after all (for Darwin, that is. History is a little quieter as to what happened to the poor first choice man.)
Today, Shrewsbury celebrates its history and heritage with an easy to follow Darwin Town Trail. It takes in the library and famous statue, The Quarry and the parkland Darwin used to observe, his birth place, fishing ground and even the notorious The Lion public house. The Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery features life in Victorian Darwin’s time, as well as trawling the rest of the city’s history in a highly organised maze.
Even the local shopping centre bears the name of the man.
And in the tiny speck of personal history that precious few will remember, it’s the first time we travelled with our beautiful, wonderful daughter. Do you detect a note of bias creeping in here? Well, I love her and so I don’t care ;-)
Happy travels everyone! And may all our travels enrich the world in some way.
Disclosure: I travelled to Shrewsbury with Mr TravelLab and BabyLab as guests of Original Shrewsbury . As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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