Countless visitors to Ludlow have been charmed and enthralled by the town’s eclectic mix of Jacobean, Elizabethan, Tudor, Georgian and Victorian architecture, commenting that having once visited, why would you not want to live here?
Having just returned from checking the walking notes for our new and improved holiday, The Castles of the Shropshire Marches
, which begins with three days’ walking through the glorious rolling landscapes of this sparsely populated and little-known county and ends with an exploration of the town, I find myself tending to agree.
Ludlow is a delightful town to walk around, and historic buildings, from picturesque timber-framed houses to the medieval castle and towering parish church in the heart of the old town, assault you down every street and around every corner. The town boasts over 420 listed buildings and innumerable Civic Society blue plaques expounding its history that you can’t help but notice. However, modern shopfronts, parked cars (the curse of the photographer) and passing people often obscure or spoil the view. My advice is to climb high, if possible, and look down
from above for a completely different perspective…
And so it was that I entered St Laurence’s (the largest parish church in the county), paid my four pounds and set off to climb the tower – 201 stone steps in a claustrophobic spiral staircase. (Top tip – make sure you avoid passing the bell chamber on each 15-minute interval!) Coming out into the fresh air I was rewarded with 360-degree panoramic views over the heart of Old Ludlow, with the cupola of the Buttercross taking centre stage.
Round to the east, I spotted the Grade I listed timber-framed Feathers Hotel built in 1619 though with later modifications. It is currently closed and undergoing renovations, but from my lofty perch, without the bustling pavements and busy High Street in view, it looks as it must have done for centuries, set amid the pitched tiled roofs of equally old buildings.
Nearby I looked down on the Bull Ring, where the barbaric ‘sport’ of bull-baiting once took place. The isolated building in the centre is The Tolsey, built in 1420 as a courthouse where tolls were collected (hence the name) and disputes heard. One of the courts held here was the ‘Pye Powder’ from the French pieds poudre or ‘powder feet’, as fines were exacted while the ‘dust was still on the feet of the miscreant’, i.e. instantly.
Looking north, I was able to see the rolling hills l had walked over to get here from Stokesay Castle and Bishop’s Castle beyond that. Even in the middle of February it’s a lovely place to explore, passing massive ancient hillforts, medieval castles, quaint village and traditional farms. I saw red kites and buzzards galore, a herd of fallow deer with their dark winter fur confusing me for a moment, but none of the secret colony of pine martin which are being monitored in woodland in the Clun Valley. And in the meadows, I’ve never seen so many snowdrops…
Directly below me I can see The Reader’s House dating from 1616, with a three-storey half-timbered entrance bay, flanked by two massive stone chimney breasts. Round to the south is Broad Street (on which virtually every house has some historic importance) leading down to Broad Gate, the only surviving medieval gateway through the walls into the town, though now almost hidden by a later dwelling.
Looking west along the nave of the church, I can see the somewhat grand building of Hosiers Almshouses directly below, but more interestingly the higgledy-piggledy nature of the back streets, alleys and courtyards with different level rooftops and chimney pots, many of which probably haven't changed for centuries.
This scattering of buildings, showing the gradual evolution of the medieval town house by house, rather than through the modern cult of large housing estate revolutions, is even more obvious to the east. Here, nothing conforms; each roof level is different, each building, each orientation, all melded together in a glorious hotch-potch of post-medieval, pre-planning perfection.
Finally before preparing myself for the helter-skelter descent, I spotted my hotel, The Cliffe at Dinham, almost hidden amid trees to the right of the castle’s towers. It’s just far enough outside town to enjoy a peaceful location, yet near enough to access all that Ludlow has to offer. Ludlow is also famed as a gastronomic destination with a fabulous food fair and many independent butchers' and cheese shops. In fact, dinner last night at The Cliffe was so good that I may well dine in again tonight, and further exploration of Ludlow will just have to wait!