Shropshire’s F word Marie Kreft, Bradt Guide author | Posted: 02 February 2016
Ludlow Spring Food Festival

Maybe it’s due to the county’s rural farming heritage: Shropshire’s calendar is illuminated with festivals and fairs, celebrating everything from apples, flowers, steam machinery and ale to sweet peas, coracles and storytelling.

Established in 1995, the Ludlow Food Festival in September was the UK’s first food festival and is still perhaps the most famous. It was originally set up in response to the building of a supermarket on the outskirts of town, understandably taken as a threat to Ludlow’s independent shops and producers. The festival is centred on the grounds of Ludlow Castle where revellers can sample treats and enjoy more substantial dishes from producers, restaurants, farms and smallholdings from the region, listen to live music and watch demonstrations from celebrated chefs. Trails take visitors into shops and pubs around Ludlow, in search of the best sausages, artisan bread and real ale. An offshoot of the September celebration, the Spring Festival in May is described accurately as a ‘beer festival but better’. It runs in tandem with the former Marches Transport Festival, ensuring a brilliant display of vintage and classic cars in the castle grounds.

Green Man Festival, Clun

The May Day weekend is when the Green Man Festival comes to Clun. This three-day celebration reaches its climax at noon on bank holiday Monday with a fight on the packhorse bridge between the Green Man and the Frost Queen. Legend has it that if the Frost Queen triumphs, there will be no summer in the Clun Valley. If the Green Man wins, he and his May Queen will proceed to the castle grounds where a May fair awaits, with craft stalls, games, music and dancing. It’s an uplifting springtime celebration and my favourite day of the year to be in Clun. Another good time to visit is during the Clun Valley Beer Festival in October when a bus usually runs between participating pubs.

Arbor Day, Aston on Clun

You’ll know you’re in Aston on Clun – three miles west of Craven Arms – when you see a tree flanked with larch poles and decorated with flags and bunting. This bedecked black poplar is the village’s arbor tree. The custom of tree dressing is ancient, bound up with the worship of Brigit, the Celtic goddess of fertility, whose shrine was a tree. In 1660 King Charles II, a man with every reason to show gratitude to trees, marked his return to the throne by proclaiming 29 May a tree-dressing holiday, known as Oak Apple Day or Arbor Day. The custom was already dying in England in the following century, although not in Aston on Clun. On 29 May 1786, a local landowner named Squire John Marston brought home his new bride, Mary Carter, where she caught sight of the village poplar dressed with flags. So delighted was Mary by the custom that she took steps to preserve it, paying for the tree dressing every year. Her successors continued with the tradition until 1954 when the tree was entrusted to Hopesay Parish Council. The old tree blew down during a storm in 1995, but the current tree was taken from a cutting of the original in 1975. Aston on Clun is thought to be the only village in Britain where Arbor Day is still celebrated: visit on the last Sunday in May to find a pageant commemorating John and Mary’s wedding, a fete on the Arbor Field, Morris dancing and a tug of war.

Bishop’s Castle’s annual calendar features an arts festival in February, packed with dancing, literary events, food demonstrations and knitting; a walking festival in May and (probably) the world’s only tandem triathlon in early July. Mid July sees another highlight: a beer festival, celebrating in particular the town’s two breweries and excellent real ale pubs.

This article has been extracted from the  Bradt Slow Travel Guide to Shropshire, which details other festivals in the county, and a whole host of things of interest to look out for while taking the Slow Lane through this fascinating border region, from unusual graves to Britain’s oldest working brewery, which is located in Bishop’s Castle.

Related Holidays & Further Information

Castles of the Shropshire Marches

Clun, Bishop’s Castle and Ludlow are all worth visiting whether it’s festival time or not, and you can do just that on our short walking break in Shropshire, which also takes in ancient hill forts and Stokesay Castle, arguably Britain’s finest fortified manor house.

More about our short walking break in Shropshire >

Bradt Travel Guides

In the same way that Inntravel holidays enable you to get under the skin of a place, Bradt’s Slow Travel series offers an in-depth look at the region in question, sharing insights into its history, traditions and places of interest, both well known and less so.

More about Bradt travel guides >

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