Oswestry & the Welsh Borders
Oswestry, named after King Oswald of Northumbria, who died in AD641. He was nailed to a tree - hence the name "Oswald's Tree". According to legend a passing eagle took a limb but dropped it and where it landed a spring burst forth - St Oswald's Well. Amazing Stuff!
Shropshire is quintessential England, obviously. But as you head towards our northwest corner, you get an inescapable feeling of, well...Welshness washing over you.
For here, around Oswestry, the mountains of Wales embrace our green and pleasant county at no extra charge. and as you delve deeper you'll find a blending of cultures that's created a unique and genuine Anglo-Welsh alliance.
The many remnants of more turbulent times show that Oswestry was once a strategically vital frontier town. An ancient hill-fort - said to be the birthplace of Queen Guinevere - stands proud overlooking the town, and Offa's Dyke marks out the border between these two great nations.
Oswestry is the best place to start exploring the Welsh Mountains and discover the delights of Lake Vyrnwy and the charm of the majestic castles of Powis, Chirk and Whittington which formed part of a later chain of fortifications, and are just down the road. Powis Castle now houses the magnificent Clive of India treasures (booty of a bygone age) and has one of Prince Charles' favourite gardens, whilst Chirk manages to combine magnificent state rooms with infamous dungeons. Whittington, meanwhile, is reputedly the former home of Dick, who later found fame and fortune in countless pantomimes across the land.
These days, few raids across the border involve pillaging, replaced instead by gentler trips of discovery. Visitors can dip freely into one country and out of another - International smuggling of luxury goods is positively encouraged.
As the Celtic mists and forests immediately tell you, here is a land of myth and legend. In the dark ages, all Shropshire was part of the Kingdom of Powys, and the earliest references to a real King Arthur point to his being the post-Roman, pre-Saxon king of this region.
Ancient signs abound. All around lie the wells and springs of saints, blessed with the power to heal believers - or at the very least, to inspire the more cynical. Less holy but every bit as inspiring is the Pistyll Rhaeadr waterfall, at 240 feet taller than Niagara and one of the Severn wonders of Wales. It certainly impressed George Borrow who wrote "An immense skein of silk agitated and disturbed by tempestuous blasts. I never saw water falling so gracefully" - a must see or at least worth a visit anyway !
Oswestry has been home to many poets, musicians, eccentrics and villains. The greatest of Great War poets, Wilfred Owen, was born here in 1893, but it must have been a blushing crow to the English teachers at the local Grammar School (now Oswestry Heritage centre) when they produced the Reverend Spooner, of Spoonerism fame.
The ability of the Reverend to get his words tupsy-torvy was legendary. His dinner toast to Victoria, "our dear old Queen"("our queer old dean"), for example, came out quite, quite differently. Could it be that the unfortunate cleric's tounge-tied state can be explained by his Shropshire roots? There are numerous fine pubs and local brews to be sampled around the county, many of which would have been familiar to the Reverend.
Naturally, you don't have to be in holy orders to stay 'til last orders. This abundance of alcoholic refreshment may also explain why Shropshire has so many fine hotels, B&Bs and other establishments dedicated to the art of 'sleeping it off'.
Another local eccentric was 'Mad Jack' Mytton, whose exploits included riding a bear across his dining room table. His famous cure for hiccups - setting fire to his shirt - is, we believe, still practised in some more isolated parts of the region.
Today's Oswestry has become a natural setting for a vibrant market town and today has the largest street market in the Borderlands, with more than its fair share of specialty shops and eateries jostleling with the market stalls showing what a truly vibrant market town should be. The influence of Wales is still strong and you'll hear a distinct fusion of languages as you walk around. You'll also see it reflected in the unique creativity of the local arts and crafts.
Spectacular limestone cliffs at Llanymynech where lead, copper and zinc have been mined since Roman times is now a haven for wildlife and a unique Hoffman Horizontal Kiln (Whatever that is!).
Nearby there's lots to see and do:- Nescliffe Country Park - site of an iron age hill fort and the cave of the 18th Century highwayman Humprey Kynaston - Shropshire's very own Robin Hood.
Offa's Dyke, the Oswestry Transport Museum and the Llangollen and Montgomery Canals. Don't miss the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct at 126 feet above the River Dee it is one of Thomas Telford's masterpieces.
There's the Park Hall Country Experience with cart horse rides and a children's driving school. St Peter's Church at Melverley timber framed wattle and daub church on the banks of the River Vyrnwy.
You can also go on a themed walking tour of the town, with costumed guides that reflect the towns past. For more information on costumed and themed guided tours around Oswestry contact Oswestry Town Visitor Information Centre on 01691 662753.
For more information about Oswestry, please click here.