Lots to do in Ludlow
PUBLISHED: 12:24 16 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:53 20 February 2013
Sarah Hart picks out the places and events that keep the visitors coming all year round
Lowdown on Ludlow
Sarah Hart picks out the places and events that keep the visitors coming all year round
Helen Duce, the custodian of Ludlow Castle, refers to this beautiful meandering mammoth of castellated stone, as a she.
I call her she. She has a friendly atmosphere. Theres no nasty cold feeling. Im very comfortable walking here around on my own, she says.
I doubt many other people would want to stroll around the formidable ruins at dusk all by themselves. And, perhaps, youd think that as castle custodian for 15 years, Helen might have the odd ghostly tale to tell. Yet some of the most memorable stories she recants involve a very different type of visitor.
Her mouth breaks into a big smile as she recalls first impressions of the castle by some North American visitors, obviously unfamiliar with castles or ancient ruins.
Gee Wilbur, they havent finished it yet! trilled one woman to her husband as they sauntered through the gatehouse entrance.
Another couple marvelled: How clever it was that they managed to build a castle in the middle of a town.
The truth is Ludlow wouldnt exist at all without its castle. The town grew and expanded around its colossal walls. From a Norman fortress to a stately Elizabethan pile and administrative centre, it played a major role in the history of the region and beyond for almost six centuries.
2011 marks a significant anniversary in the castles long and colourful history, the bi-centenary of its purchase from the Crown, in 1811, by the Earl of Powis, Edward Clive, son of Robert Clive of India. Thanks to him, the castle we know and love today was saved from wholesale destruction. An open day will be held to celebrate on Wednesday, May 18, with visitors admitted free of charge.
Today the castle remains part of the Powis Estate, overseen by a board of trustees, including the current Earl of Powis. Its a major contributor to the local economy, bringing in more than 100,000 visitors a year and providing a dramatic venue for many of the towns biggest events, such as the annual, open-air Shakespeare production, the Food Festival and the Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre.
The great joy about being privately owned is that we can do things our own way and we can experiment a little, comments Helen.
Her route into tourism and conservation was an unusual one. For 20 years she worked as a stage manager the steely organisational skills shes known for honed in major West End theatre productions and live television. And it all started at Ludlow Castle. Growing up in Ludlow Helen volunteered to help with the Shakespeare production and, one year, made a big impression. The company manager said I was so bossy that perhaps I should think about stage management, she laughs.
Helen enrolled on a stage management course at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, went on to work in hit musicals such as Tommy and Oliver! and later became Central Televisions first female floor manager working with many famous names like Tom Jones, Paul Scofield and Bob Monkhouse. Eventually she tired of the travelling and long hours, left the industry in her 40s and returned to Ludlow. I dropped in to see the castle custodian about a job in the shop and she whispered she was retiring, so would I be interested in that instead? Helen beat off 276 other applicants to land the position.
I think I got it because of my love of Ludlow and the castle, she says.
Soon she was learning about retail and the technicalities of conservation work. With an ancient building like this general maintenance is on-going. Bits keep dropping off, particularly when weve had a hard winter.
Every five years, a detailed survey of the ancient structure is conducted, and necessary work is carried out in consultation with English Heritage.
The earliest parts date from the late 11th century when it was built as one of a long line of Norman fortresses along The Marches, to subdue the Welsh. It outgrew its neighbours, becoming a major power base, with buildings added over centuries. For 350 years it was a royal castle, the seat of local government, and, for more than a century, Ludlow was effectively the capital of Wales.
But government centralisation saw the castle abandoned in 1689. An architect was dispatched from London to evaluate the cost of its demolition. Fortunately, perhaps deliberately, he over-valued it. The castle was never ransacked by an invading army, but was reduced to a ruin by its own townspeople who looted it for building material.
There must be lots of old houses around with beautiful fireplaces, lovely oak lintels and wooden artefacts that found their way from Ludlow Castle, Helen sighs. But then thats recycling! Theres still quite a bit of the stone structure, and its possible to get a sense of what it was really like when it was full of people, full of colour, beautiful tapestries, beautiful clothes, walls and fireplaces covered in paint and gold leaf.
Behind the scenes, a team of 15 staff, dubbed the family and including shop and tearoom assistants, a catering manager and groundsman, keep the castle ticking over.
A few years ago the Powis Estate was able to buy back the 19th century Castle House the last grand mansion ever built in Ludlow from South Shropshire District Council, and refurbished it to form a tea room, holiday apartments and rooms for weddings and other events.
Every penny that comes through the gate is spent on the upkeep of the castle, says Helen. So were very grateful to all our visitors because, without them, she wouldnt be here.
Ludlow Castle is open daily until November (December/January weekends only), except for festival dates. The tearoom is open to non-castle visitors daily.
St Laurences Church
Theres much to do in Ludlow without spending money. Another great attraction is the fine 15th century church of St Laurence in the heart of town. Here the eye can feast on lovely carvings and breathtaking stained glass.
The church will stage a Conservation Weekend on May 21 and 22 when traditional stonemasons, fresh from work on some of Britains greatest cathedrals, will descend on Ludlow to demonstrate their skills. There will be exhibitions, talks and family events.
When it disappeared from show in 2008 there was a public outcry. And so Ludlow Museums biggest and most spine-chilling exhibit, a grisly man-trap, was brought back by special request.
The mind boggles at the damage inflicted on human flesh and bone as the spiked jaws of this great iron beast snapped shut with force.
Amazingly, horrific contraptions like these were still legal until around 1830.
To think it would be lurking in woods waiting for some poacher is pretty gruesome, says Daniel Locklett, Shropshire curator of natural sciences.
The museum, in Castle Square, is not short of grim exhibits among them the infamous scolds bridle, a medieval iron helmet that was locked over the head of a woman judged to be a nag, gossip or shrew. A protruding piece with a lump of metal on the end, called a curb, would be thrust into her mouth and the helmet clamped shut. Hence the term curb ones tongue.
But the museum also houses some stunningly beautiful items, such as intricate Anglo Saxon jewellery exquisitely made and similar to objects unearthed in the famous Staffordshire Hoard. Its hard to believe that some pieces are up to 1,400 years old. Fossils are a big part of the museum, founded in 1833 by the Ludlow Natural History Society, which in turn, was inspired by frequent visits to the area of the celebrated geologist Roderick Murchison.
Exhibits include fossils from one of the worlds largest collections, some of which were brought back to Ludlow from India by two local Victorian engineers William Baker and John Colvin. Fossils from the vast Siwalik Hills find are usually kept in much grander museums, such as the Natural History Museum, London.
Ludlow Museum opens Mondays to Saturdays from April to September and on Saturdays throughout the year.
Admission is free.
The Mill on The Green & The Green Caf
Tucked away behind Ludlow Castle is the Dinham Millennium Green and water mill, that opened just 18 months ago, and is well worth a visit.
On the east side of the River Teme, not only is it a tranquil wooded haven and a ringside seat for the winter spectacle of salmon leaping the town weir, it is home to one of the best eateries in Ludlow.
The Green Caf, run by gastronome Clive Davis, has received much national press attention recently, and this year the little riverside bistro is celebrating its inclusion in The Good Food Guide. Expect nothing less than tasty, seasonal, locally sourced food at a reasonable price.
The Green is a hive of events through the year, from maypole dancing to jazz on a summers day. And visitors can see the old working water wheel in action. It was restored by volunteers of the Dinham Millennium Green Trust as part of a project to develop the green into an attraction.
Not only do we produce electricity by means of our own water wheel, but we have let part of the mill as a research centre for hydrogen-fuelled cars, says trust spokesman David Edwards.
The castle backdrop, the river and the woodland combine to make this area a quite unmatched breathing space.
Ludlow Events 2011
Wednesdays, April 13 and 20
Have a Go Archery and Living History guided tours, Ludlow Castle. www.ludlowcastle.com
Saturday, May 7 and Sunday, May 8
Ludlow Food and Marches Transport Festival. www.springevent.org.uk
Wednesday, May 18
1811: 2011 Day, Ludlow Castle
Saturday, May 21 and Sunday, May 22
Conservation Weekend, St Laurence Church
Celebration of architecture and history, family fun, stone carving, crafts, exhibitions, talks
Sunday, May 29 and Monday, May 30
Have a Go Archery, Living History guided tours, bird of prey flying displays, Ludlow Castle
Sunday, June 19
Secret Gardens of Ludlow tour www.ludlowassemblyrooms.co.uk
Saturday, June 25 to Sunday, July 10
Ludlow Festival open air Shakespeare, Ludlow Castle www.ludlowfestival.co.uk
Summer Wednesdays, Ludlow Castle, birds of prey: noon, 3pm; Have a Go Archery: 10am-4.30pm; guided tours 11am, 1.30pm, 4pm
Thursdays, July 28, August 4, 11, 18, 25, September 1
Summer Thursdays, Ludlow Castle, castle tours: 11am, 1pm, 3pm; story telling: 11.30am, 1.30pm, 3.30pm; Medieval games and crafts: 10-4.30pm
Sunday, August 28
Green Festival, Castle Square
Monday, August 29
Monday Fun Day and Duck Race, Dinham Millennium Green
Friday, September 9 to Sunday, 11
Ludlow Food Festival www.foodfestival.co.uk, July 27, August 3, 10, 17, 24, 31
Wednesday, October 26
Have a Go Archery, birds of prey, guided tours, Ludlow Castle
Saturday, November 26 and Sunday, 27
Medieval Christmas Fayre, Ludlow Castle www.ludlowmedievalchristmas.co.uk