"We’re sorry for the delay, ladies and gentlemen,” came the crackling voice of the train driver over the PA. “We’re going to have to wait until these sheep have got off the line.”
You’d have thought that Ludlow, a small-to-medium sized town halfway down the border between Wales and England, might have become a little bit more amenable to visitors since it was founded, not long after the Norman Conquest.
But Ludlow has not got where it is today by welcoming interlopers (exhibit A: a bloody great castle). Indeed, it presumably owes much of its richly historical character, all those half-timbered pubs and Georgian hotels, to a pre-war failure to expand its population and renew its town centre.
Given that few of us on the 12.08 from Crewe had any serious intention of pillaging the town (unless lunch counts), this ovine border inspection seemed a little heavy-handed. But then, maybe it was precisely its generous provision of locally reared, suicidally inclined woolly ruminants that kick-started Ludlow’s transformation from isolationist Marcher fortress to the cosmopolitan gastro-oasis it is today.
I don’t know for sure. But this much I do know: the town is so thickly stocked with upmarket restaurants that (once the sheep had removed themselves) I could feel my toe calcify with gout the moment it touched the station platform.
Limping magisterially, I followed the signs to the castle, which once hosted the most famous did-they-didn’t-they tryst in English history (Love Island doesn’t count because it’s filmed in Majorca).
For it was in Ludlow Castle that Prince Arthur, the 15-year-old brother of my fellow gout sufferer Henry VIII, either rogered, or did not roger, Catherine of Aragon, shortly after their wedding.
When Arthur died six months later – “malign vapours”, apparently – Henry VII married Catherine off to his surviving son, soon to be H the VIII – whose wish, later on, to wriggle out of said marriage led him, of course, to petition Rome for a divorce (in which he claimed, among other things, that Arthur and Catherine had indeed done the deed – despite her protestations that they hadn’t) and the break from Catholicism and the dissolution of the monasteries and all the rest of it. Oh Ludlow! Hallowed seat of romance!
With that story in mind, I find it inconceivable that anyone would honeymoon here. But people certainly day-trip here. And they are not wrong to do so, friends. There’s (deep breath) the castle; the restaurants; a food festival (September); umpteen pubs; umpteen chichi shops, mostly antiques, but a few essentials such as a bindery and a cheese specialist; an idyllic riverside café with stepping stones across the water; a church with (even deeper breath) a mammoth 200-step staircase to the top of its vertiginous tower.
From your queasily high vantage point you can see the right-angled grid network of streets devised by the Normans, and the hilarious failure of those streets to accommodate the enormous buses from which tourists are disgorged by the dozen. Still better than the train, though.
If we had to pick one, it’d be the Michelin Guide-featured Mortimers, which serves British/French dishes in a 16th-century town house.
Ludlow Castle is a big old medieval ruin with its back to the river and its front facing the town centre. The centrepiece of your visit to Ludlow. Adults £6, concessions £5, children £3.50 and families £15.
Loafing paradisaically by the river is the Green Cafe, good for both meals and pit stops.
St Laurence’s, the grandest parish church in all Shropshire, has been known in its time as the Cathedral of the Marches. It was founded by the Normans, but rebuilt to impressive perpendicular gothic effect in the 15th century. Entry is free, but going up the tower comes at a cost of £4 to your wallet.
It’s a fine town for pubs, but if we had to pick one it’d be the Charlton Arms. Perched over the river Teme, it has good food and good views.