The stunning area of the Welsh Marches lies where England meets with Wales. This was historically a land of political turmoil, with power passing between Wales and England across the countryside that makes up the borders. Today, the Welsh Marches is a place of great beauty, dotted with castles, small picturesque villages, and breathtaking hills to satisfy the most ardent explorer. Come with us to discover this captivating area in 48 hours. We’ll bring you history, fine food, the big outdoors and the chance to enjoy places that are largely undiscovered.
What do We Mean By The Welsh Marches?
As the kingdom of Mercia in England grew more powerful, the garrisons of Hereford and Shrewsbury defined the border with Wales. Today you can see the border at Offa’s Dyke, an earthwork erected by King Offa of Mercia in the late 8th century. It’s best viewed at Knighton, close to the modern border with Wales.
For many centuries, the Welsh Marches were largely independent of both England and Wales. The area was described as a frontier society in many ways. Hundreds of small castles were built on the borders in the 12th and 13th centuries, both to defend against Welsh raiders and rebels and as symbols of power. You’ll find Britain’s densest concentration of motte and bailey castles here. Trade was encouraged in the area, as were new settlers: Bretons, Flemings and Normans arrived alongside the English to make this a cosmopolitan place.
In 1472, The Council of Wales and the Marches was established to rule the area. It was based at Ludlow Castle and governed the lands held by the Principality of Wales. Visit Ludlow today, and you’re effectively visiting the ancient capital of Wales.
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Starting Our 48 Hours In The Welsh Marches
We’re traveling pretty much as far west as you can go in England, so I’m recommending that you arrive the night before in Shrewsbury. If you are driving, you’ll need the M6 motorway north of Birmingham, then the M54 via Telford. If you don’t want to drive, you can take a version of this itinerary by rail. There is a rail service to Shrewsbury via Birmingham.
Spend your first evening taking time to wander Shrewsbury.
You know you’re on the borders when you arrive in Shrewsbury. It has a Welsh Bridge and an English Bridge across the River Severn, and there are opportunities to get on the water here through boat trips. After a good breakfast, take the morning to explore the town. It has an interesting variety of independent shops, and even if retail therapy is not your thing, there are good discoveries to be made here.
This is the town where the naturalist Charles Darwin was born and brought up. There’s a sculpture near the riverbank – Quantum Leap – celebrating his work. Here you’ll also find the Ditherington Flax Mill; this is the first iron-framed building in the world and known as the grandfather of the skyscraper. Shrewsbury largely escaped bombing during World War II, and its challenging hilly geography left most of its ancient buildings untouched.
The town has a glorious range of period buildings and rewards the wanderer in its narrow cobbled lanes. Some of these are known as shuts, the name derived from shooting through from one street to another. And what a set of street names too – here you’ll find Butcher Row, Dogpile, Grope Lane, Gullet Passage, the Dana, Portobello, Shoplatch and the wonderfully descriptive Bear Steps.
Stop off at the museums, including Shrewsbury Castle with its Shropshire Regimental Musuem. Spot Lord Hill’s column, which is the largest freestanding Doric column in the world. You can also visit Shrewsbury Abbey, founded by Roger de Montgomery in 1083.
The Shropshire Hills and Church Stretton
It’s a beautiful drive – or a beautiful train ride – from Shrewsbury to Church Stretton at the end of your first morning in Shropshire. This small town – once described as Little Switzerland – is a gateway to the Shropshire Hills. The Fairtrade Town also boasts 40 listed buildings. Carding Mill Valley is a well-known starting location for walkers in the Long Mynd. So it’s time to get some fresh air in your lungs and see the spectacular beauty of the hills. If you’re looking for more hikes in this area, you should check out the best walks in the Brecon Beacons National Park, a short drive from the Welsh Marches.
If you’ve a real head for heights, then there are many activities that might interest you on the Long Mynd. It’s long been a centre for gliding, with the Midland Gliding Club based here. Paragliding and hang gliding is also available. The lack of light pollution in the area means that this is a great place to do your stargazing. Local noted amateur astronomer Stephen Laurie has discovered a number of asteroids from observatories here and in nearby Ragdon.
Once you’ve had your fill of the Long Mynd, you can fuel your trip by stopping off at the great deli. Or else stop of at Berry’s, where you’ll find substantial and beautiful home-cooking with local ingredients at reasonable prices. Once you’ve refuelled, it’s time to get back on the road.
Ludlow – Home To Castles and Kings
The afternoon sees you arrive into the historic foodie town of Ludlow, early home of the Princes in the Tower. Ludlow Castle, which dominates the skyline of the town, was built of stone quarried at nearby Clee Hill. Today you can explore its substantial ruins. You can read more about Ludlow Castle and other spectacular castles in Britain here.
Ludlow itself is described as possibly the most beautiful town in England, a statement with which it is difficult to find fault. Built on a hilltop, the town is filled with a fine selection of listed buildings, many of them hosting fascinating shops filled with curios. Ludlow is also a renowned foodie town. Here you’ll find all kinds of fine produce from cheeses at the well-named Mousetrap to a carefully chosen selection of goods at Myriad Organics.
If you are staying in Ludlow overnight, you could choose the atmospheric Feathers Hotel, a timbered building full of atmospheric rooms. We stayed at Christmas one year, and found the halls sweet with the smell of spruce and the wood fire from the first floor sitting room.
Exploring the Black and White Villages
You’ll have gathered that both Herefordshire and Shropshire have a great collection of half-timbered buildings. The area known as the Black and White Villages is absolutely crammed with picturesque and beautiful buildings and is said to be “unrivaled in England”. From Leominster to Dilwyn and Weobley to Eardisley, this is a wonderful place to see England in all its beauty.
It’s the equivalent of the Cotswolds for charm, but without the number of visitors. You really do need a car to explore this area, and if you are travelling by road, I urge you to make the most of the morning by exploring the villages of north Herefordshire. You’ll find details of the Black and White Villages Trail here. If you’re taking the train, head onwards to Hereford.
Hereford: Cathedral City of The Mappa Mundi
Hereford is the biggest centre of population in the Welsh Marches, and there is lots of exploring to be done here. The elegant cathedral, one of the three hosts of the Three Choirs Festival, is home to the Mappa Mundi. This map, showing the globe as envisaged by an early traveler, is one of the oldest documents of this type in the world. You can view it in Hereford cathedral.
Also in the city centre is the Old House, a timbered building that is now a museum with a tearoom next door. You can see the history of the local brew at the Cider Museum and check out the ancient bridge over the River Wye, complete with passing places.
Enjoying The Welsh Marches
From Hereford, it’s an easy journey back to the M50 motorway and connections to the M6. Linger a while in Ledbury, which has a beautiful marketplace and some interesting spots to explore. Don’t forget to allow a little time in case you should find yourself behind agricultural vehicles before the motorway; this is farming country, and gloriously so.
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