Craven Arms – the olden but golden town

PUBLISHED: 13:54 19 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:12 20 February 2013

Craven Arms – the olden but golden town

Craven Arms – the olden but golden town

Sarah Hart tastes the past on a trip to Craven Arms

Town with a fine vintage

Sarah Hart tastes the past on a trip to Craven Arms

Craven Arms is a place on the up. The tourist who scoots through on their way to Ludlow or Church Stretton is missing a little treat.

Of course, theres the popular Secret Hills Discovery Centre and the beguiling magic of Stokesay Castle just a couple of miles south of the town, but theres much more to Craven Arms these days enough to easily fill a day or two.

Not only does it have some wonderful traditional food shops, its Victorian heart is being transformed into a Vintage Quarter where new antique shops complement perfectly The Land of Lost Content, an enthralling exhibit-packed museum dedicated to more than 100 years of British popular culture.

Continuing the vintage theme, just a 10 minute drive into the countryside, brings the traveller to a national award-winning period tearoom Rocke Cottage, in the hushed village of Clungunford just the sort of place where youd imagine Agatha Christies Miss Marple taking a genteel afternoon tea.

The beautiful countryside surrounding Craven Arms is criss-crossed by wonderful walks, like the hike up to the Iron Age fort of Norton Hill Camp, making it a useful base for ramblers.

The Land of Lost Content

Extraordinary about this unique museum is the fact that the mind-bogglingly vast array of exhibits, sprawling over three floors of the towns old Victorian market hall, is one womans collection.

Stella Mitchell has been amassing vintage memorabilia for 35 years. She first fell in love with the past as a five-year-old digging up bits of old crockery from fields around her childhood home near Birmingham, but began collecting in earnest after graduating from art school in 1971. The collection moved here from West Sussex eight years ago.

Theres everything to tell the story of ordinary peoples lives over the past 120 or so years from beautiful Victorian dresses you can touch, a wooden fridge and gramophone records to early bubble-screen TVs that brought the Queens Coronation into the nations living rooms, the first
brick-like mobile phones and even a jacket that Hollywood star Charlton Heston wore in the movie The Awakening.

Every bit of floor space and wall space is crammed with objects, divided into 32 themed sections, such as schooldays, nursery years, a 1950s living room, travel and transport, holidays, films, food. The wartime Home Front section is particularly moving, conjuring up the gulping sadness of child evacuees as they were swept away from their parents to the relative safety of the country. Theres even a whole section dedicated to chocolate with piles of old chocolate boxes, a life-size cardboard cut-out of the Milk Tray Man and some remarkably well-preserved vintage chocs.

Everything is a bit of a jumble. There are few information labels, which is just as well, considering the volume of stuff, and those that do exist are mostly hand scrawled in biro or felt tip. Yet the lack of professional polish gives this place a kind of quirky charm and earthy honesty.

Theres so much to see that, according to Stella, a smiley, sunny-haired lady clad head-to-toe in1940s and 50s clothing, many visitors return again and again to find things they might not have noticed first time round.

You could do with a building three or four times bigger, I tell her, after a bewildering tour.

But Id only fill that too. Ive easily got the same again or more in storage, she beams back.

The museum has featured in national newspapers and Stella has appeared on TV as an expert talking about the objects that have shaped peoples lives over the last 120 years.

She lost count of the items she has amassed a long time ago, and the museum makes her just enough money to continue feeding her passion for collecting.

Its a collection for the nation, she muses.

If we dont look after these things well lose our link with the past.

Her museum is a nostalgic trip for adults and a valuable educational resource for children, bringing history alive in tangible touchable objects.
A caf selling homemade cakes is also open to non-museum visitors. The museum is shut on Wednesdays.

The Vintage Quarter

Market Street, on which The Land of Lost Content is based, has barely changed since the Victorian times when Craven Arms mushroomed with the coming of the railways. It makes it the ideal place for a growing Vintage Quarter.

There were already a traditional hardware store on the corner, and a Severn Hospice charity shop renowned for its vintage bric-a-brac. Just before Christmas Stellas husband David set up the antiques shop Rejectamenta and more recently film and television costume designer Robert Skidmore relocated his Berties vintage clothing shop from around the corner in the High Street to larger premises in Market Street.

Robert, whose creations have included special-effects costumes for Charlie and The Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp, The Flintstones movie and the CBeebies favourite In The Night Garden, sells vintage clothing and haberdashery as well as his own designs.

Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre

This dome-like modern building, grass-roofed so it blends with hills in the background, lies at the southern end of Market Street, so its easy to combine with a trip to The Land of Lost Content.

Children can learn about the forces that have shaped the Shropshire landscape, from glaciers to earthquakes, see the model skeleton of the
Shropshire mammal and take a virtual balloon ride over South Shropshire.

The exhibition was updated two years ago. There are also riverside meadows to explore, regular art and craft exhibitions and childrens
summer workshops.

Strefford Hall Farm Shop and Farm Trail

What a fabulous farm shop this is, just two miles north of Craven Arms
off the A49. Here you can buy beef, lamb, mutton, rare breed pork
and eggs straight from the farm.

Turn in through the entrance and you see sheep grazing in the field next to the farmhouse and chickens scurrying about scratching at the earth. Its a reminder of how farms used to be.

Farmers John and Caroline Morgan and their son David have created an impressive farm shop.

Most of the produce is local, including Carolines own delicious jams, chutneys, cakes, pies and frozen meals. Its not surprising that customers travel from miles around to stock up on popular sellers such as the farms own beef and pork sausages or its beef, steak and Shropshire Lad ale pie.

Make it a family visit by following the free trail that weaves through the farms fields and woods. The farm shop opens Tuesdays to Saturdays 9am to 5pm. Strefford Hall meat is also sold at Shropshire farmers markets.

D.W. Wall & Sons

Shropshires only accredited rare breeds butcher supplies some of the finest restaurants in Shropshire, including Ludlows Michelin stars.
For over 40 years the people of Craven Arms have been lucky to have this former Butcher of the Year winner on their door-step, especially noted for its Dexter beef and Gloucester Old Spot pork. Meat is traditionally hung for at least 28 days.

All our meat is traceable and as local as possible, says Dan Magill who works in the family business alongside his father Kevyn and brother Liam. Theyre also well known for their delicious haggis available all year round.

D.W. Wall is also a game dealer and can supply by mail order.

Rocke Cottage Tearoom, Clungunford

Walking through the clematis rimmed, low-beamed entrance of Rocke Cottage Tearoom youre instantly transported back in time.

The strains of 1930s dance band music fill the air, reprints of newspapers from the era lie open on tables, vintage posters and prints dot the walls and old tea tins line shelves behind an antique counter piled high with fresh scones and cakes.

Previously known as The Bird On The Rock Tearoom, when it shot to national acclaim, this outstanding period teashop is now, arguably, better than ever.

Karin Clarke took over from owners Doug and Annabel Hawkes three years ago after 20 years experience creating banquets for major corporate clients.

Doug and Annabel achieved national accolades for the quality of their in-house blended teas and became a tourist attraction by fashioning a 1930s/40s style tearoom authenticated by props from their days as TV and film costume and set designers.

Karin continued the theme, which blends sympathetically with the aged flagstone floors and beamed ceilings of the 400-year-old former alehouse.

She might not offer quite as many teas as her predecessors, but there are still more than 20 connoisseur blends to choose from, including blends still made by Doug Hawkes, now living in the south of England, his strong Shropshire Blend being the favourite.

Karin has expanded the menu introducing delicious homemade hot lunches such as Shropshire Fidget Pie, creamy quiches and melt-in-the-mouth organic smoked salmon platters.

Everything is homemade to her own recipes and the ingredients she cannot grow herself in the tearoom garden she sources locally cheese from The Mousetrap in Ludlow, cream from Herefordshire, handmade jams and chutneys from Shrewsbury, traditionally baked bread from Richard C Swift in Craven Arms, salmon from the national ward-wining Organic Smokehouse at Clunbury and golden-yolked eggs from Clun Farm.

There are some serious afternoon teas to be had, all served on dainty blue and white Spode china. By far the most challenging is Polly Put The Kettle On, a four-tier ensemble of sandwiches, crumpets, scones and cakes (must be booked in advance).

It defeats most people. We havent found anyone yet who can finish it, says Karin.

She also has a mouth-watering Humpty Dumpty breakfast version of scrambled eggs, organic smoked salmon, muffins, fresh baby scones, croissants, juices, tea, coffee and toast.

Its not surprising that she recently claimed her own top national accolade, The Tea Guilds Top Tea Place Award, the tea worlds equivalent of a Michelin star.

Rocke Cottage sells gift vouchers and can cater for private events. A four-star holiday cottage provides accommodation.

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