Monday, 23 April 2012
OUT & ABOUT : SHREWSBURY.
"Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode, The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road" - G. K. Chesterton.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more: not so bright and early on Good Friday, a very good Friday, I set forth from the North West, by the rattler, to Shrewsbury for three days. Shrewsbury is a historical market town in the heart of the county of Shropshire, situated in the West Midlands, with the centre of the town mainly encircled by the River Severn. The town has a largely unaltered medieval street plan with over 660 historic listed buildings such as the fortification Shrewsbury Castle, and Shrewsbury Abbey, a former Benedictine monastery, plus an abundance of classic black and white timber framed buildings. It is also the birthplace of Charles Robert Darwin, and the home of the controversial Quantum Leap sculpture. There’s also a multitude of proper hostelries stocking a host of A-1 quality ales.
The last time I visited Shrewsbury was for a final league game of the season at Gay Meadow – that is sadly no more - back in 1990, and what a gay day that were, the old grey matter wasn’t up to speed on any places of interest, landmarks or decent alehouses. Not to worry, Google came up trumps with a host of results and more than 60 real ale pubs.The challenge was then on to see how many thresholds I would cross...
During my stay I visited the towns splendid castle and the enchanted garden of The Dingle within Quarry Park; it were in full bloom even at this early part of year. I wandered along scenic paths that sit side-by-side to the meandering River Severn, the longest river in the UK, as ducks and swans paddle by and also rowers in sleek canoes. Admired the architecture of the towns cathedral, abbey and St Chads church and the Old Market Hall constructed in 1596 which is now a Film & Digital Media Centre. I crossed over, and under, the towns nine bridges. Viewed Lord Hill’s Column – which is taller than Nelson’s Column in London – that gave me a crick in me neck. Plus I strolled through the maze of picturesque, cobbled alleys and squares that have independent designer shops tucked away and gems of Tudor pubs to discover too.
Blondes, pales, bitters, porters, stouts and the odd real cider and perry were quaffed over the period of the Bank Holiday Weekend because, variety's the very spice of life and you’ve got to be able to adapt! Just like the proprietors and members of t’CC community do, when pushing, seeking and creating new boundaries - and beyond. As Charlie Darwin once said, “It is not necessarily the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the species that is most responsive to change.” The only downside: I was a bit gutted that the Connoisseur, ‘Real Men Drink Real Ale’ beer mats (sorry mate, blame the PO) hadn’t arrived by post to get on a few photos I took – there’s always another time, though.
Anyway, I guessed the delights of such boozers as the compact, sloping wooden floored Nag’s Head, that had 4 ales on including the local Salopian’s Darwin’ Origin; a crisp, tart/fruity refreshing ale. The Nag’s also served-up fine dining, this in the form of a chunky pork pie with pickles and mustard – yum.
The Loggerheads, had a wee snug room brimming with ‘interesting’ local folk gossiping and drinking ale that had recently been reduced by 5p – a two finger salute to the government and spiralling brewery increases over the years the landlord informed me. Every credit to him and his incentive to get punters through the door. The ‘olde worlde’ Boathouse Inn, that sits on the banks of the River Severn and overlooks the idyllic Quarry Park. After finishing a couple of ales while the rain eased off, we found out that the adjoining Kingsland Bridge were closed due to structural updating and a paint job. So, a dingy with an outboard motor had been laid on to cross the river, but at 50p each for the 10 yard, 10 second crossing.
Value for money or what? The Woody, on Coton Hill, that is a nice brief ramble out of town, is a freehouse and had on 6 well kept ales – one belter were, Salopian Shropshire Gold. And, the Pièce de résistance being, The Salopian Bar. The Salopian Bar has won the CAMRA, Shrewsbury & West Shropshire Pub of the Year in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and was runner up in 2010.
As luck would have it too, they had a Pale Ale Festival on, with 16 available from a stall set-up in a corner of the establishment – some were bloody strong, I tell ya. I also noticed that if you flashed your CAMRA card you received 10p off a pint, which I did being the tight Northern Monkey that I am. They had a loyalty card on offer for free that were stamped every time you purchased a pint, and with your tenth stamping, your pint were on the house/complimentary – what a tremendous motive to drink there.
Needless to say, I spent many an hour in the pub sampling their wares while chatting to fellow worshipers of real ale and watching the footy – minus any sound, so it didn’t spoil the ambience - on the box out of the corner of my eye plus the Cambridge v Oxford Boat Race as a dickhead bobbed about like a buoy in the middle of the Thames (I hope he never caught 'owt nasty apart from an ore in the kipper?). Pick of the bunch were the 'Abbeydale Now Then' they had on, amongst the nine others by handpump from the bar.
Now Then is a pale, hoppy ale with striking aromas of citrus and passionfruit that mellows into berry fruit flavours on the tongue with a crisp and refreshing balanced bitter aftertaste - which makes you go back to the bar for another. They’d gimmicky beer too, Stonehenge Ales Sign of Spring, which were rich in both malt and hops and, light GREEN in colour. OK, but I didn’t have a second one...
Other worthy alehouses of a mention are, Ye Olde Bucks Head - where we got our heads down and that did hearty pub tucker for under a tenner -, Three Fishes, Coach & Horses, Bull in the Barn and The Anchor. A few gaffs were letdowns; but hey, such is life. Also, I’d read good reports on The Admiral Benbow, but sadly it were shut for a refurbishment. The last port of call before heading home was The Vaults, a short stagger from the train station. On that night live at The Vaults were Hip Hop artist Leaf Dog & BVA MC, who were warming their vocal cords, loudly, when we entered. And you know what they say if the music is to loud... we supped up and caught the train back to the North West because our train were due.
Shrewsbury is a cracking market town to spend a long weekend in, and no doubt I’ll be back again in the not too distant future. Your Northern Monkey correspondent, Bill.