A sure sign I’m getting older is that I appreciate Shrewsbury more now than 20 years ago, rather than finding it in any way complacent and old-fashioned. I even like the wonderful Dingle, spending more time in total there this year (10 minutes) than my own garden.
As a rule, I like change; as long as I can still get flat Bass somewhere I’ll drink anything, anywhere. But Shrewsbury has an appeal based on not changing since my first visit in ’93.
From the station you get the immediate bonus of a quick walk to the top of the castle gardens, which gives you a perspective of the compact town centre.
On Saturday I wandered past a wonderful collection of buildings containing four of my favourite businesses, almost entirely unchanged in 20 years.
Creative Audio sold me my first decent CD player, Ramna my earliest Balti, Good Life my best vegetarian lunch, and Appleyards changed my view on what good sourdough bread is. Wyle Cop and Dogpole remain my favourite streets outside of Manchester.
This is a great town to just wander, with a succession of pedestrianised streets (away from the dull shopping centres) being surprisingly quiet. You can easily get lost, unless you can navigate by pub or church. Norwich has a similar quality.
I didn’t notice any great inroads of craft beer and independent coffee, but that’s no bad thing when the pubs are as good. The Loggerheads was a bit too busy to linger, and didn’t look quite as “unspoilt by progress” as I remembered, either in furnishings or a beer range heavy on Jennings and Wychwood seasonals rather than the Bass it used to serve.
Elsewhere, the Three Fishes, Coach & Horses and Admiral Benbow looked as good as ever.
Joules expansion into Shrewsbury is a good thing. As shown by the Coach and Horses and Three Fishes, there’s a call for “pleasant” central drinkers pubs that isn’t common. Joules do pleasant and civilised as well as anyone, without ever venturing into Brunning and Price territory. I mean that as high praise.
New to the Guide is the Bricklayers Arms, a typically attractive conversion five minutes north-west of centre, with their usual cheery drinking crowd in at 5pm. The Pale (NBSS 3.5) was as good as the windows, pub cat and green tiling.
Joules have also taken over the gas-lit Dolphin in the east, a treat I’ll save for next time.
Shrewsbury isn’t perfect. The football team was quite happy at the Gay Meadow, thank you, and I didn’t have time to walk to their new out-of-town plastic stadium. There’s not much of a music scene either, though there was a decent vinyl store enjoying Record Store Day. A place to go back to, regularly, rather than to live.
NB You’ll notice my two current favourite pub features, cute cats and Prosecco advertising in the featured image. Be assured the cat, Peggy, was on the Joules Pale not the fizz. It’s a lot cheaper.