Looking up to Ludlow

Peter Williamson, 28 March, 2019
Inntravel's Peter Williamson continues his exploration of Ludlow - now back down to earth among the streets of this most glorious of towns.

After looking down on Ludlow from its impressive church tower, Inntravel's Peter Williamson continues his exploration of Ludlow - now back down to earth among the streets of this most glorious of towns.

From the street, the parish church and its tower loomed high above me, befitting its billing as ‘The Cathedral of the Marches’. Inside I marvelled at the intricately carved 15th-century misericords in the choir stalls, and at the fact that the heart of Prince Arthur, who would have become king had he survived into adulthood, is buried ‘somewhere near this spot’ in the chancel. As a result of his death aged 15, Arthur’s younger brother took the throne and  took his wife, Catherine of Aragon. That brother was Henry VIII. Talking of Arthur, the West window, perpendicular in style, is filled with Victorian glass, showing the Lords of Ludlow Castle. The last figure is that of Prince Arthur…

I’m now in front of The Feathers Hotel which I was looking down on earlier. Time to look up now at the wonderful woodwork and intricate carving of the three front bays. The lines and angles are wonderfully ‘not straight’ or symmetrical, yet behind its 16th-century façade the interior is currently undergoing a massive restoration. Re-opening in spring 2019, it should once again take pride of place amongst Ludlow’s historic timber-framed buildings, though there are so many to choose from…

Just a few yards away from The Feathers is the site of the old bullring, its name and function commemorated by two more wonderful old former coaching inns that are still plying weary visitors with refreshing local ales and hearty repasts. I wandered into the yard of The Bull Hotel where mail coaches from London would once have disgorged their ruffled passengers, before heading round to Ye Olde Bull Ring Tavern, which is as characterful on the inside as it is on the street. After a pint of Ludlow’s finest ale, I set forth once more into the town.

Having seen it from on high, I now headed for Broad Street, where there is more black-and-white half-timbered architecture, stretching down the street towards the old gate. Glancing up, the one that caught my eye was the Angel Inn (which dates from pre-1555), boasting an intricate wrought-iron sign between two bulbous bay windows on the first floor. Had I been standing here just over 220 years ago, my gaze would have been met by none other than Horatio Nelson, acknowledging the cheering crowds after his stunning victory over the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile in August 1798. Unseen in the background was a certain Mrs Hamilton…

What makes Ludlow so pleasing to the eye is the way that different architectural styles spanning several centuries complement each other. Most have been well-looked after over many years, with sensitive renovation and cleverly designed newbuilds finding their way into the mix. These can be hard to spot as here, in a small yard on the corner of Bell Lane and Raven Lane. I was drawn to Pelican Court by its quirky bird motif, looking out over a delightful mixture of restored ancient timber-frame buildings and new housing built in a similar style that ‘fits’ without being ‘Disneyfied’. Can you guess which is which?

Just round the corner, I spotted another piece of modern ‘neo-mediaeval’ architectural detail in the form of a carved figurative corbel. At first glance, I noticed nothing amiss – until I realised that this tranquil fellow was wearing spectacles! I never found out who ‘PJB’ was or whether this was a portrait of the owner, forever standing sentinel over his recently renovated house. In hindsight, the contrast between him and the sixteenth-century bearded Tudor gentleman on the right (on a fine house at the bottom of Corve Street) is quite clear.

At the bottom of Broad Street, I pass through Broad Gate, the only surviving gateway of Ludlow’s original seven within the city walls. Despite being somewhat hidden by more modern (sixteenth to eighteenth centuries) additions there are vestiges of its thirteenth-century origins in plain sight. On the south side you can see the base of the drum towers that stood on either side of the gate, while within the arch itself is something altogether more fascinating. Stop and look up and you will see a deep groove which once housed the portcullis, an effective barrier to unwanted guests. It has survived undamaged for almost 750 years, yet the number of scrapes along the roof indicate that it is probably now in more danger than ever before. The result of truck drivers relying on their satnavs rather than their eyes.

Heading back up Mill Street towards the Market Square, I was, once again, mesmerised by the wonderful eclectic mix of styles. No half-timbered construction on view here, but some wonderful brick houses, each idiosyncratic in its own way, with distinct features from massive chimney breasts and ornate bay windows, to clocktowers and surprising cupolas all adding to the quirkiness that is Ludlow.

Before I head back to the hotel, I must just mention the shops of Ludlow. A conscious decision was made many years ago not to allow multi-national chains to take over the High Street as is sadly the case in most towns and cities up and down the country. The result is that you will find ironmongers, hardware stores, cheese shops, butchers and bakers lining the streets, with ‘independent‘ being the key intention. This in turn attracts the more sagacious shopper and a wide range of fabulous eateries to cater for the more discerning palate. There is probably a candlestick-maker somewhere…

A recent report said that going to a visually ‘pretty place’ is good for one’s well-being and lifts the soul, and I have to admit that after a few hours’ wandering around Ludlow in the afternoon sunshine certainly left me with a spring in my step. It’s a very pretty town…

Castles of the Shropshire Marches

Visit the charming market town of Ludlow, and uncover the history of the Marches, on our rewarding walking holiday in Shropshire.
More about our walking holidays in the UK >
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