At least once a week I dream of going back to Ludlow. Not just for the six butchers’ shops, the five bakers, the seven Michelin-award restaurants, the food market, the cafes and coffee shops and cheeses in abundance…
Ludlow is also a town which has retained its medieval and Tudor aspects. It is old-world without the hackneyed look of many tourist destination towns. Ludlow’s recorded history begins in 1086 when the impressive castle was first developed. The impressive towered castle on a hill, overlooking the rivers Teme and Corve, was built as one of a line of castles along the Marches to keep out the Welsh. The castle was founded by the de Lacy family of Stanton Lacy, probably between 1086 and 1094, at that time occupying a much smaller area than it does now. A planned town was laid out at the castle gate very soon afterwards. Ludlow seems to have been taken from the existing parish of Stanton Lacy, the church which lies about three miles to the north-west. Until the last century the keep of the castle remained an isolated part of Stanton Lacy parish, the boundary of the parish extended up to the very edge of the town.
There are nearly 500 listed buildings in Ludlow following the surviving medieval street layout. Many of the more attractive facades are Jacobean: John Milton’s masque Comus was first presented in the grounds of Ludlow Castle in 1634.
I thought back to the stories of the princes in the tower, that cruel moment of classic child abuse in English royal history. The watchtower and round chapel of this ruined castle date from the late 11th century. Ludlow Castle played a key role in some turbulent events in English history. One of its 14th-century owners, Roger Mortimer, helped his mistress Queen Isabella, in the overthrow of her husband Edward II. In 1473, the Prince of Wales and his brother were held here before their mysterious death in the Tower of London. In 1502 Prince Arthur, Henry VII’s son and heir to the throne, died at Ludlow.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Ludlow was a fashionable social centre and county families built elegant brick houses, well-proportioned Georgian. Glove making was now the major industry reaching a peak production of 660 000 gloves in 1814.
Of aesthetic interest is the Feather’s Hotel, a Royalist stronghold dating back to Jacobean times and with ostrich-feather motifs in the decorative carving around its timber frames. Broad Street has an elegant parade of shops which include De Grey’s famous tearooms.
The view back to the town from the River Teme is lovely in the late afternoon. The bridge with its wide arches once stood on a Roman road. Whitcliffe Common, steep and wooded, overlooks the castle and the river: it offers many short walks, and two internationally recognised geological Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Literary connections? The ashes of the poet A. E. Housman (1859-1936), the author of ‘A Shropshire Lad’, were scattered in the churchyard of the 15th-century St Laurence’s church.
‘Oh come you home of Sunday
When Ludlow streets are still
And Ludlow bells are calling
To farm and lane and mill.’
A E Housman
Sausages? Start with Reg Martin & Sons in Castle Square. Proprietor Stuart Martin’s father Reg founded the business in 1954 and the old shop is crammed with marbled sides of beef, venison, free-range chickens and Stuart’s award-winning sausages. They also produce their own salted silverside, which is something of a rarity. All of the meat Stuart sells comes from farms within seven or eight miles of the town, local herds of Red Poll and Longhorn.
Breads? Prices on Castle Square who still make their bread in the old-fashioned way, kneading the dough the night before baking to develop the flavour. Swifts in Parkway also produce excellent traditional and continental breads, including the Shropshire Brown loaf and some Italian ciabattas and foccacias.
In 1994 Shaun Hill with his Merchant House restaurant put Ludlow on the map as a foodie mecca. The town has never looked back.
Situated on the edge of Ludlow Town, The Clive Bar and Restaurant with Rooms is
a unique blend of traditional and contemporary. Originally a farmhouse, the main building has been developed so as to retain the original features of the Clive Bar alongside the more minimal approach in the the Clive Restaurant ‘areas’. Look out for Carlingford Lough oysters and smoked salmon from the Wye Valley.
Dinham Hall Hotel restaurant offers country-house dining from rising star chef Peter MacGregor. Again contemporary English food with Italian touches. The new Mediterranean.
Graham Moore welcomes you to the Unicorn Inn, a traditional 17th century coaching inn; offering good beers & fine wines and featuring good homemade food from seasonal ingredients cooked simply and with finesse. Situated in a lovely street in the market town.
Then there’s La Becasse with Alan Murchison overseeing strict French interpretations of pig’s ear, gribiche, lamb chump, pork belly and a sauce vierge with the sea bream. Light and elegant.
For those wanting Pan Asian in this out-of-the-way spot, there’s Koo Japanese restaurant. Popular orders are sushi, gyoza dumplings, karaage (crisp, fried chicken) and sake itame (baked salmon parcel).
And there’s a new young chef making waves: Marc Hardiman at the restored Regency house now called Fishmore Hall, tackling oxtail ravioli, tapenade-crusted turbot, cassoulet. Great appetising gourmand food with bold flavours and reckless portions. Make sure you get there ravenous.
One visit to Ludlow, as I said, and I have dreamt hungrily of returning there — perhaps for the 2009 food festival?