When your streets are as lauded as Ludlow’s, it’s hard living up to the hype, but the south Shropshire market town rises smoothly to the challenge.
Described by John Betjeman as ‘probably the loveliest town in England, with its hill of Georgian houses ascending from the River Teme to the great tower of the cross-shaped church’, it’s also home to an imposing (ruined) castle, built when the town was a seat of government, presiding over Wales and the Marches between the 15th and 17th centuries.
The town’s rich Georgian heritage is a testament to another glory period in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Although Ludlow’s prominence later declined, its relative lack of growth during the 20th century is now reframed as a preservation victory; with more significant development the 400-plus listed buildings and medieval street layout of its centre might not have survived.
Ludlow is no living history museum, however. Already home to a dynamic arts scene, in 1995 the local chamber of commerce came up with the idea of a food festival to shout about the region’s food producers. Held in the castle square, before expanding into the castle grounds, it heralded a new era for the town as a culinary destination.
While the constellation of Michelin-starred restaurants that subsequently sprang up eventually moved on, the commitment to good food stuck. From sophisticated dining in oak-panelled restaurants to craft ales brewed in Victorian railway sheds, Ludlow remains a hot ticket for food-lovers. Not least during its annual food festival which, this year, takes place in September.
Places to visit in Ludlow
Built after the Norman invasion, in around 1085, Ludlow Castle was one of the first stone castles in England. Slowly expanded over the following centuries, it became a royal palace before falling into disrepair during the Civil War.
Now an atmospheric shell, it’s owned by the Earl of Powis and open as a visitor attraction. You can, however, sleep within its walls; there are apartments in Castle House, a mansion built in the 19th century in the outer bailey.
Being in the Welsh Marches borderlands means there are more castles than you can shake a shield at in these parts. Medieval Stokesay Castle, 10 minutes’ drive north of Ludlow, is one of the most intriguing, and well-preserved.
More manor house than castle, it was built in the 1280s by wealthy wool merchant Laurence of Ludlow and is now managed by English Heritage. Stop, on the way, at Ludlow Farmshop, a farm-to-fork version of Selfridges food hall, to pick up edible souvenirs from the region.
Places to shop in Ludlow
55 Mill Street
A collective of different dealers, each with a diverse range but a shared vision, 55 Mill Street is a one-stop shop for customers looking for anything from a 1920s party dress to a mid-century ceramic cheese dome, a French flea market-style chandelier or even a vintage deckchair. Be warned: with nine smartly styled rooms to browse your way around, you may be there some time.
Open by appointment, Black Bough sells a wide range of homewares reflecting the owners’ interests. Adam Withington previously ran London’s Great Western Studios and stock includes work by some of its artists, craftspeople and designers, as well as his own designs and vintage collectables.
Alex Barter, meanwhile, oversees Black Bough’s vintage watch business – an area he knows intimately from his days as Sotheby’s vintage watch expert.
GD Ginger Antiques
Run by Glenn Ginger, a specialist dealer in early oak, GD Ginger Antiques has been in business for over 40 years and is the place to go if you’re in the market for an 18th-century mahogany tea caddy, a 17th- century carved oak coffer or a Welsh oak potboard dresser dating back to 1800. Antique oak children’s chairs are another popular buy here.
Twenty Twenty Gallery
Specialising in work by contemporary British artists and makers, Twenty Twenty Gallery moved to Ludlow in 2018 after 15 years in nearby Much Wenlock. It’s a dynamic rural gallery, holding around nine exhibitions a year.
Featured works range from Claire Scott’s vivid semi-abstract landscape paintings to Eleanor Glover’s intricate mixed media drawings of vintage teacups, and ceramicist Prue Cooper’s playful slipware plates.
Holloway’s Period House Shop
What started out as a knowledge of period house renovation morphed into a specialist supplier of vintage hardware and, eventually, what Holloway’s Period House Shop is today – a cornucopia of traditional household fittings, lighting and work clothing, much of it UK-made.
From Pullman radiator valves and brass bell pulls to a dizzying selection of sash window fasteners, if you’re renovating a period property this is a great place to start.
Places to stay in Ludlow
Bromfield Priory Gatehouse
A three-bedroom Landmark Trust holiday cottage, 10 minutes’ drive from the town centre. The stone part of the gatehouse was built by the Benedictine monks of Bromfield Priory in the mid 14th century but a timber-framed upper storey was added after the Dissolution (and later used as a court, village school and parish recreation room).
Now in the Trust’s care, overnight guests can enjoy its soaring timber roof trusses and an elaborate chimney surround cobbled from Jacobean carvings.
Look out for Kin-Ludlow opening this summer in a Grade II-listed building in the centre of town. A new venture from the team behind Cruckbarn in nearby Wigmore, expect four holiday apartments plus a cafe and a large kitchen garden.
Crow Leasow Farm
Crow Leasow Farm is a Jacobean farmhouse, around three miles from the town centre, run as a B&B by Sally and Robin Kellard. Homemade scones, baked on the Aga, are a highlight, as are the by-arrangement suppers, enhanced by crystal, silver, fine china and candles.
Places to eat in Ludlow
Choosing where to have dinner in and around Ludlow is no easy feat. Mortimers, in the town centre, stands out, however. Chef-owner Wayne Smith serves polished, classically prepared dishes in wood-panelled surroundings (think Hereford beef with baby leek and roast shallots or cod with broad beans, chorizo and crayfish).
Smokehouse Deli & Cicchetti Bar
The tiny, jam-and-ham-packed Smokehouse Deli is a must-visit while in town.
CSONS at The Green Cafe
A riverside spot run with flair, CSONS at The Green Cafe is a great place for a globally inspired breakfast (anyone for labneh with poached eggs, harissa, za’atar and flatbreads?), or a milk bun burger dolled up with smoked cheddar, pickled courgette and chipotle mayo.