PUBLISHED: 20:43 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:17 20 February 2013
Oswestry is in the ascendant. No longer the backwater it felt like a decade or so ago, there's a new vigour, a dynamism in the air.
The town is getting smarter, there are good shops, more inventive businesses, tourism is flourishing and the arts and cultural scene is booming.
TEN GREAT THINGS
1ITS PARK AND FLOWERS
Oswestry is a riot of colour. Hanging baskets and tubs everywhere spill over with dazzling displays of blooms. The town is a winner in the Britain In Bloom and Heart of England in Bloom awards many times over. The jewel in the crown is the ornamental garden that forms the grand floral entrance to Cae Glas Park, the tranquil green oasis, in the middle of town. Oswestry folk cherish this seven-acre space, named after the grand mansion that once graced the grounds. It's a place for picnics, meeting friends, relaxation, taking a stroll or a game of crazy golf. A Victorian bandstand is often the stage for music events while a sports village includes bowls, tennis and basketball. Just avoid the grubby public toilets!
2VISITOR CENTRE AND
Oswestry's Visitor and Exhibition Centre is housed in one of Shropshire's best surviving Medieval buildings, the town's old grammar school. Founded in 1407, it was the second oldest grammar school in the country, and it remained a school for over 350 years before becoming a workhouse. Today the carefully restored Grade II listed brick and timber building is home to a small eclectic museum, art exhibitions the tourist information centre, a gift shop and the award-winning Shropshire Poacher Coffee Shop. Together they attract 15,000 visitors a year. The coffee shop is cocooned within the richly oak-panelled walls of the ground floor. Order tea and it emerges in clinking old china tea-sets. The service is prompt and the food is good, home-cooked and locally sourced. A pick of the menu includes Welsh quiche made with Montgomery cheese, old English fish pie and Welsh lamb and leek pie. The woman behind the business is Carol Roberts who has been running it for 12 years.
3ST OSWALD'S CHURCH
For 800 years St Oswald's majestic stone tower has stood watch over the higgledy rooftops of Oswestry and the surrounding panorama of Shropshire fields and Welsh mountains. Some say it's the finest view in The Marches. Visitors can clamber to the top on special open days each year. The rest of the time they can enjoy the history of the restored church and marvel at its impressive stained glass windows.
Three years ago Honeysuckle Wholefoods was voted runner-up in the Best Retailer category of The Observer
Food Awards. It's easy to see why, from the range of lovely foods on offer to the charm of its old-fashioned sales counter and its original wooden shelves running floor-toceiling. "An elderly gentleman came in the other day and said that it had barely changed since he was a delivery boy working for the shop when it was a grocery back in the 1930s," comments cheery Jilly Hartshorne, one of four friends who founded the current business as a co operative 31 years ago. They specialise in organic, wholefood and natural products, including fresh fruit and veg, and are particularly proud of the 14 varieties of English apple that they stock in the autumn. The shop is replenished daily by wonderful French-style crusty bread baked by the town's award-winning French restaurant, Sebastian's, as well as wholemeal artisan loaves made locally by Smith's Bakery using stone-ground Pimhill flour.
5THE VIEWS FROM
OSWESTRY HILL FORT
Stand upon the ridges of Oswestry Hill Fort and you may well follow in the footsteps of the real King Arthur. Some experts believe that a late 5th century king of Powys, whose lands stretched over Shropshire and Mid Wales, was the Dark Age leader who inspired the legend. The site of the Iron Age hill fort, dating from around 600BC, is said to have been the birthplace of his queen,
Guinevere. The scale of the site (40 acres) and the depth of the ditches and hollows of the earthworks make this the most spectacular of its kind in Shropshire and one of the best examples in the country. The views are outstanding, sweeping to Nesscliffe in the south-east and Wrexham in the north. For 70 years, up until 1848, Oswestry Racecourse rocked with the pounding of horse hooves and the shouts of men. Today the high plateau, just to the east of the Welsh border, is a wildlife haven. A few discarded statues and building ruins are all that remain of its human occupation. It's one of Shropshire's most beautiful spots with spectacular views spanning North Shropshire to the Cheshire Plains and into Wales.
When Australian Shane Parr visited the UK nine years ago he found himself a Welsh wife and a taste for real ale. Back in Australia he missed the taste of traditionally brewed beer so much that he and his wife, Alison, decided to head back to The Marches and set up a small brewery of their own. In March 2007 Stonehouse Brewery opened in an old chicken shed just outside of Oswestry, and it hasn't looked back since. Producing five cask beers and 350,000 litres a year it employs a workforce of six, mostly family members, and is already running at full capacity. The brewery now plans to open its own bottling plant which will create at least one extra job. Within six months of starting up Stonehouse was pulling in the Campaign for Real Ale awards. This year its Cambrian Gold brew was voted Best Bottled Beer in the West and Wales by the Society of Independent Brewers.
Sebastian's French restaurant, in Willow Street, has earned a national reputation for its fine food and first-class service. It has received rave reviews innational newspapers and has the cachet of creating puddings for the Orient Express While the napery is starched, owners Michelle and Mark Fisher pride themselves on creating a cosy and relaxed atmosphere. The Walls, meanwhile, can boast the most impressive dining space in town. It occupies an old school building in Welsh Walls. The internal classroom walls and ceilings have been swept away to create two vast cathedral-like dining rooms open straight to the roof. Proprietor Geoff Hughes established the restaurant in 1993 and ran it for eight years before selling up in anticipation of "doing something a bit different". But he couldn't keep away. When the new owners struggled to make it the success that he had, he returned to run it for them. Four years ago, he bought it back. The family-run Sweeney Hall Country House Hotel and Restaurant, just up the road in Morda, is a completely different dining experience but also one deserving of
a reputation for quality food and attentive service.
8THE INDEPENDENT SHOPS
Wander off the main drag and there are many little (and not so little) gems to discover - from fashionable boutiques and pretty gift shops to delightfully old-fashioned gentlemen's outfitters and leather goods shops. Among the best is Upstairs Downstairs Specialist Cook Shop, in Leg Street, a kitchenware shopaholics's paradise. Widely regarded as the biggest and finest cook shop for Shropshire, North Wales and Cheshire, it has also been nominated for the title of Britain's Best Cook Shop 2009. The traditional shop front belies the surprisingly cavernous interior, packed to the rafters with every pot, pan and kitchen gadget imaginable. Yoss and Raine Gliksman established the business 25 years ago in much smaller premises just across the road.
9THE FOX INN AND ITS
FAMOUS SCOTCH EGGS
Landlady Amanda Woof 's homemade Scotch eggs are famous and they come in a variety of flavours, including chilli, vegetarian and curry. "They're something to go with real ale," she advises. The Fox Inn, a charmingly crooked 16th century timber-framed building in Church Street, has plenty of real ale on tap. It's a traditional old English pub with low beams, scrubbed wooden tables, hard seats and a collection of beer mats stuck to the
ceiling. There are no machines, no widescreen TV and no music except for live gigs. In summer a permanent stage is set up for performances in the courtyard beer garden, while winter brings fireside acoustic evenings. Licensee Jon Edwards is renowned for his comedic routine while compering Quiz Night on Tuesday evenings.
Oswestry has long been a magnet for artists to settle. Exhibitions held at The Qube gallery, include the occasional national touring show. But it's the mushrooming of the music scene that's creating a new buzz about town. It was given a huge boost by the opening, two years ago, of a major new music and theatre venue, The Ironworks, a smartly converted 19th century industrial building in Church Street. By day it's a trendy caf bar. By night it transforms into a vibrant live music club showcasing local and national talent.