DM and MM's Britain 2009 Diary

Day 11 - Shrewsbury

Wednesday, 10 June, 2009

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Abbey Lodge Bed & Breakfast, Shrewsbury, Shropshire. 21:22

It was a moderately lazy day today, with nothing but walking around Shrewsbury and taking in the sights.

We began with breakfast of muesli and eggs on toast, with some bacon also for me. We were down and out of the B&B by 08:30, which gave us one and a half hours to kill until the Abbey opened. So we walked into town and along the street named Town Walls, which ran along the southern edge of what we presumed were the edge of the old town walls, overlooking parkland, bowling greens, and two tennis courts below, with the River Severn curving in a great arc beyond. Many of the streets here in Shrewsbury have odd names without any appellations such as "street" or "road". Some examples: Abbey Foregate, Castle Foregate, Wyle Cop, Mardol, Belmont, and my favourite, Dogpole.

Shrewsbury Wall
The town wall of Shrewsbury

Town Walls led us past a Tudor-era row of houses attached to some slightly more modern buildings - through the windows of which we could see teachers and students. The whole lot was the Shrewsbury High School. Imagine going to school in a building over 500 years old!

Nearby was the Church of St Chad. I hadn't realised Chad was a saint - but here he had a whole church to himself! It was an unusually shaped round affair topped with a dome and a tall cross on another small dome atop a set of pillars. It looked more like an Eastern Orthodox church than a Protestant one - at least from the outside. Inside it resembled nothing so much as an American Capitol building, with two levels of seats arranged in circles around a central alter space, topped by a great domed roof above. It certainly has an interesting design.

Church guardian
St Chad's Church

With the time getting on to 10:00, we headed towards Shrewsbury Castle. M. got a coffee along the way to help stave off the morning cold. The day was grey and bleak again, and quite chilly.

Shrewsbury Castle
Shrewsbury Castle

We reached the castle and walked in, taking a marked path to the right up to Laura's Tower - which is a summer room built for the daughter of the Earl who owned the castle in the 1700s or thereabouts. The tower was a small circular affair positioned on the wall overlooking the town to the south. It was quite high up on the hill and ha a splendid view down the river and towards the Abbey. As we surveyed the landscape and took some photos, drops of rain began spattering down out of the leaden sky.

Shrewsbury Abbey
Shrewsbury Abbey, viewed from Shrewsbury Castle

We took refuge inside the main castle building, which housed the Shropshire Regimental Museum - a museum of military history of the Shropshire troops from the British colonial era to the present. We paid the £2.50 each entry and explored three musty floors of displays. The displays were very good, comprehensive, and informative, but the rooms smelled badly of dust or mildew or something. A room of the museum was dedicated to the earlier history of the castle, from its inception in Normal times through the various modifications made over the centuries, to its conversion into the regimental museum it is today. One panel described how two IRA bombs destroyed the museum exhibits and damaged the castle itself in 1992. The museum only reopened again in 1995.

By the time we left the castle the sky had opened up and rain was most definitely falling. We had come prepared, bringing our umbrellas with us for the day, and used them to exit the castle and cross the road into the Shrewsbury Library. This was a surprise. Expecting a new and modern building to house the city library, we were amazed to find it was in a glorious ancient stone structure that resembled and old town hall more than anything else. Outside sits a marvellous bronze statue of a seated Charles Darwin - a native of Shrewsbury and commemorated here with the Darwin Shopping Centre among other things. The inside of the library, although fitted with modern facilities, showed walls with exposed wooden beams, uneven flooring, and tight winding staircases. We'd come in seeking the advertised free Internet access, but found you needed to be a library member to use it.

Darwin Library, Shrewsbury
Statue of Darwin at Charles Darwin Library, Shrewsbury

We wanted to see the Abbey today, so we walked towards it down the main street. I was a bit hungry by now and spotted a place with sausage rolls in the window, so we stopped in to get me one. M. noticed they also sold hot soup, the soup of the day being lentil, coconut, and coriander, which tickled her fancy, so she got a cup of that too. The sausage roll was good and M. reported the soup to be very spicy and excellent.

Shrewsbury Abbey Aisle
Shrewsbury Abbey interior

She finished the soup off outside the Abbey as we stood waiting near the front door. The rain had stopped by now. While waiting for M. to finish her soup, I noticed that there was a sign declaring there to be a free concert on beginning at 1:00 pm, which was just 15 minutes away! We entered the Abbey and did a quick circuit of the interior after purchasing a photography permit for £1. Then we sat amongst an audience of about 50 people - mostly older people - to listen to a chamber group called Counterpoint performing the clarinet quintet in B minor, Op. 115, by Brahms. The piece went for 45 minutes and we got to experience the renowned good acoustics of the Abbey first-hand.

Chairs in the Abbey
Chairs ready for musicians in Shrewsbury Abbey

After the music, we had a more leisurely walk around the interior of the Abbey and noted some of the more interesting features: the tomb and an effigy of the Earl Roger de Montgomerie, who founded the Abbey in 1083; the shrine of St Winifred including the bones brought to the Abbey in the 12th century and which forms the central plot element in the first Brother Cadfael novel by Ellis Peters; the tomb of a priest from the 12th century leper colony of St Giles; and new and magnificent stained glass windows showing St Winifred and St Benedict and including a panel naming Ellis Peters and Brother Cadfael.

Shrewsbury Abbey ceiling

From the Abbey we walked back into town and stopped in at Bellini's Italian Cafe (1A Milk Street, since closed) for a second bite of lunch. We split a roast vegetable and mozzarella cheese panino (although they seem to use the plural "panini" here to refer to just one). Then I picked a selection of gelati from the display - orange chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, and melon sorbet (which turned out to be watermelon) - while M. had a dark chocolate mocha coffee.

Shrewsbury Gelati
Gelati at Bellini's Cafe

While in the cafe, seated at the front window, I saw a flash of light outside which I wondered if it was a camera flash or lightning. A couple of seconds later I was answered by a crackling peal of thunder. Spots of rain began falling as we ate our dessert and soon the rain was pelting down. We sat in the cafe for several minutes after finishing our meal, waiting for the rain to ease. People scurried by on the street brandishing umbrellas or simply dashing through the wet unguarded. Given the reputation for rain in England, it's amazing how few people seem to carry umbrellas, even on an obviously threatening day, but prefer to simply run through the rain.

In step
Rain in Shrewsbury

The rain slowly eased and we departed to go have a look at St Mary's Church, which the Lonely Planet said had a marvellous stained glass window. We walked up Fish Street to the nearby church with the incredibly tall spire, but were puzzled to find it was St Alkmund's Church. Looking inside, we didn't see too much worth noting, and particularly no exceptional example of stained glass. Concluding we must be at the wrong church, we circled the exterior and spotted another tall steeple about a block away.

Making our way there, we found the real St Mary's Church and noted it was considerably older from the appearance of the stonework. A man inside welcomed us and wouldn't stop talking to us for a while. He was interested to know we were from Australia and asked us to sign the guest book. He was the first person we've spoken to who didn't tell us about his relatives in Australia (although presumably he must have had some). He also said we were free to take as many photos as we wanted, and asked if we'd been to York yet. When we said no, he started a rant about how expensive it was to see York Cathedral - they charge you to get in, then they charge extra to go into the crypt, and extra again to climb the tower, and forget about taking photos because they've taken them all and want to sell them to you. He finally let us go look at the church and indeed the stained glass was something to behold. There was a wall full of the most astounding and vivid colours arranged into small portraits of various saints, laid out in a grid between the thin sections of stonework. This was the famed 14th century Jesse Window. We also spent some time looking around the rest of the interior before leaving and getting another conversation from the guy at the door.

St Mary's Church, Shrewsbury

It was getting towards closing time for shops and attractions, and we had nothing else planned for the day, so we killed time wandering around the historic streets of the town some more until 6:00 pm when the restaurants opened. We took a walk along the Severn River from the English Bridge up towards the castle, spotting ducks and swans on the water. One pair of swans we'd seen several times over the past day or so had four downy grey cygnets in tow. following one parent everywhere in tight formation while the other looked on. The cygnets were quite large - almost the size of the full grown mallard ducks that swam around and got out of the way of the swans.

Tudor Lamp
Tudor buildings

At 6:00 pm we ended up at the Siam Restaurant. We followed a lady in a pink Thai silk dress into the restaurant and got ourselves a table in the top floor (of three) of the inside of the lovely black and white Tudor building right at a window overlooking the pedestrian mall outside. We ordered vegetable spring rolls to start, followed by yellow curry chicken for me and stir-fried vegetables in basil and chili for M. The food was good, though the yellow curry was very different from the one I normally get for lunch at work sometimes.

Siam Restaurant, Shrewsbury
Dinner at Siam Restaurant

Dinner done, it was merely a walk back through town to our lodgings and another night's rest.

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