Plan a short break in the UK at this time of year and chances are everyone else has the same idea. That’s why Kim Jones decided to ditch the crowds and head to Shropshire instead, here’s why she thinks you should follow her lead.
Shropshire is green and it’s pleasant. It’s also unspoilt and uncrowded, yet steeped in history and heritage. Nevertheless, this pretty county still tends to get overlooked for short breaks, particularly in favour of places like the Lake District or Peak District.
So, keen to do something different this year, we headed to Shrewsbury and spent four days discovering things to do in Shropshire that don’t involve queues and jumped up school holiday costs.
Day 1. Start Shropshire short breaks in Ludlow
Driving from Cardiff, our first stop in Shropshire was the pretty, historic market town of Ludlow.
Its streets are lined with medieval, Tudor and Georgian buildings, and coaching inns. Interesting independent stores, are another local talent, so you can pretty shop for anything here from gifts and glassware to home-grown design, vintage homeware and sustainable beauty products.
There’s also an outdoor market which dates back 900 years and trades on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This is the spot to find local produce, flowers and plants, antiques, artisan crafts, books and just about anything else you can think of.
Explore Ludlow Castle and hang on for afternoon tea
Shopping aside, don’t miss Ludlow Castle. This medieval fortress sits on top of the town, so the views are amazing, and you get to explore its rooms, as well as the towers and grounds.
Then drop in to the historic Feathers Hotel on the high street. It’s a Grade I listed, half-timbered building that’s a real town landmark. Step inside and you’ll find lumpy floors and creaking floorboards, sloping beamed ceilings and a huge sense of history. Of course we came for their well-loved afternoon tea, and we were not disappointed. Think dainty finger sandwiches, homemade quiche, scones, miniature cakes, and you get the idea.
Keep the medieval mood going at Stokesay Castle
Happily fuelled up, our next stop was the English Heritage wonder, Stokesay Castle near Craven Arms.
This preserved, fortified manor house, constructed at the end of the 13th century by Laurence of Ludlow – one of the richest men in England – really transports you back to medieval times.
In The Great Hall, you’ll see ceilings blackened by the fire that was kept alight in the middle of the room during banquets. The preserved solar, living quarters, are a delight to investigate, and kids love climbing the winding stairs of the fairy tale tower and looking out over the Shropshire Hills.
Follow the giant fun family trail
There’s a free audio tour, but the family trail is the real winner. It’s based on the legend that the two hills surrounding Stokesay are giants, and your task is following clues to help them find their lost key.
The pretty walled flower garden is awash with colour in spring and summer, and a mooch around the moat walk is another must-do. Look out for swallows swooping and feeding, plenty of them make their home in the castle’s eaves.
Day 2. Walk your socks off at Hawkestone Park Follies
Whimsical, unique pleasure gardens Hawkstone Park Follies in Weston-under-Redcastle, are 100 acres of parkland developed in the 19th century to include tree-lined walks, grottoes and follies.
Take one of five marked trails around the landscape and cliffs. Although the ‘full route’ takes around 3 hours and might test the time constraints on short breaks, there are also one and two hour walks which fit nicely. However, all require sensible shoes and the terrain’s not suitable for pushchairs.
Along the way there are tall towers to climb and ‘precarious’ bridges to cross. Kids can venture into dark gullies and caves to discover petrified forests. And there’s even an arboretum: home to giant redwoods and ever-adorable monkey puzzle trees.
Walks dotted with fun kids’ activities, heaven
Great news for parents is that the routes are peppered with activities for children, strategically placed at regular intervals, so nobody gets bored walking. You’ll also find play parks to stop off at for some swooping down slides plus the chance to build a survival shelter. And there’s the chance to feed a baby dragon with leaves, work as a team to balance some buckets perfectly, and spot carefully placed ‘eyeballs’ in the trees.
Fly round the flight museum on Shropshire short breaks
Day Two’s afternoon saw us head over to RAF Museum Midlands in Cosford. Here we discovered huge hangars full of aircraft and all got to marvel at how these things ever take off. Try to make time for the accompanying exhibitions which tells the human stories behind the thrills and spills of flying.
The Cold War exhibit houses 19 aircraft, tanks and vehicles including Britain’s V-Bombers: the Vulcan, Victor and Valiant. And at the ‘Bomber Command’ hangar you can see and explore stories of the crew, technology and raids throughout World War II. Plus, the fascinating ‘Test Flight’ exhibits secret aircraft built to test new theories or lines of research in aeronautics.
There’s also an outdoor play area, as well as a flight simulator where you can fly an RAF Eurofighter Typhoon over the Lake district or into a Spitfire.
We can highly recommend the Airfield Kitchen in the museum’s vision centre for authentic pizzas, burgers, sandwiches and pastries, along with a Cadet’s 5-item packed lunch just for kids. Though entrance to the museum is free, there are charges for flight simulator experiences.
Day 3. Take to the water on adventures in Alderford
Alderford Lake, near Whitchurch is a water-lover’s idea of heaven. There’s an aqua adventure where families can slide, climb and splash around on an inflatable assault course. Older kids will be keen to hire SUPs (including an 8-person Mega SUP, perfect for families). Alternatively, the lake also rents Canadian canoes and kayaks.
We loved their escape islands which work on exactly the same basis as escape rooms, only on water. So you’re given an hour to solve a series of clues that help you escape from an island in the middle of the lake.
There are four islands to choose from: Extinction, Tiki Island, The Curse of Camelot and The Forbidden Lair. Extinction is perfect for children who love being an explorer sent to an island to help find the world’s last remaining dinosaur egg.
We tried our hand escaping Tiki Island
We tried out Tiki Island: AKA a remote island in the south Pacific where we were tasked to find totems that needed returning to a sacred tribe, before disaster struck.
First, we met our games-master on dry land and were given walkie talkies to use if we needed extra help (spoiler alert: we did!). Then it was off on a dinghy to the island and the excitement of running around attempting to unlock boxes and decode clues. Proud to announce: we escaped, albeit with only seconds to spare.
Tired, happy and hungry, we rounded off our visit at the inviting Alderford Lakeside Kitchen. Lunches include sandwiches, nachos, along with impressive gluten-free and vegan menus.