Whenever I mention that I’m from Shropshire, the common reply is, “Eh? Where’s that?” My answer, “Left of Birmingham but before Wales”, is often enough. Shropshire falls right on the border, making it a unique county.
Shropshire has a wonderful relationship with food. We grow it in soil, made rich by the variable Welsh weather. We shop for it in beautiful surroundings. And, we cook it really well. I’m from Ludlow, a Georgian market town full of independent shops (four butchers, three bakers, two delis, a cheesemonger – but, alas, no candlestick maker…yet).
There is also a popular market, and a thriving farmers market which showcases seasonal local produce. There’s a whole range of superb eateries, from ancient inns to modern cafés and restaurants. We’re spoiled in Ludlow, as we’ve been lulled into thinking this is normal. In contrast, so many other small towns have fallen by the wayside, with the large out-of-town supermarkets changing people’s shopping habits; the independent shops often bear the financial brunt.
Ludlow Food Festival
Thanks to the talented producers, growers and makers we have here, Ludlow Food Festival began 24 years ago. It was the very first food festival in the UK. Today, when there are food festivals almost every weekend, it is hard to believe there was a time when there were none at all.
I’m the events manager for Ludlow Food Festival. It’s my job to love it but, fortunately, it comes easily to me as I’ve grown up with it. Held in the beautiful surroundings of Ludlow’s medieval castle, the festival takes place over three days in September. Food from Shropshire and the Welsh Marches takes centre stage. With talks, demonstrations and tastings, we celebrate food in all its forms, along with the people who make it.
Take a trip to Shrewsbury
If you’re visiting Ludlow, don’t just stop there. Head up to Shrewsbury, to experience the breath-taking Shropshire Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) on the way. Shrewsbury has popular high-street stores and restaurants but, if you head off the main drag, you’ll find some real treasures – the Market Hall is a brilliant place packed with small indie shops, an eclectic mix of traders all under one roof. Then head to the original CSons for lunch just around the corner – they aim to source their ingredients locally, whilst giving the food a globally-inspired twist. It’s delicious. They now have another eatery in Ludlow too, so I don’t have to venture very far.
One of my favourite places to go is Carding Mill Valley, part of the Shropshire Hills AONB, and at the heart of the Long Mynd hills. Grab tasty, locally-sourced picnic goodies from Van Doesburg’s deli in Church Stretton. A short walk then takes you into the hills and glorious surroundings of Carding Mill – there are little bubbling brooks, sheep who lurk for leftovers, and a waterfall. If you’re feeling intrepid, there are miles and miles of hills to explore and cheap walking guides available at the National Trust’s shop by the main entrance to the area.
While the county is full of great pubs and restaurants, with the vast majority championing the superb local producers on their doorsteps, you can easily go low-key. Grab local cheeses (Moydens and Applebys are both particularly good) and proper bread (from Robert Swift of Bread 2 Bake, stocked in various places locally), a great pork pie from Reg May’s in Bridgnorth (in fact, they’re so good, they’re available in most of the other local butchers too), maybe a bottle of Blonde from Ludlow Brewery, and head to the hills for a picnic. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could always forage for your lunch – the hills around Church Stretton are bursting with whimberries. You can also find sloes, damsons (often the Shropshire Prune variety), wild garlic, raspberries and more – some good local knowledge will often point you in the right direction.
Shropshire is full of hills to walk off all the gorgeous food, so climb to the top of one and sit back and enjoy the view. With a good pork pie in hand, there’s nothing finer.
The Ludlow Food Festival takes place over the weekend of 7-9th September. Advance tickets and more information can be found at www.foodfestival.co.uk