An enjoyable riverside meander on the edge of one of Britain's finest towns.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Riverside tow path, impassable in floods, 3 stiles
Landscape Riverside meadows on edge of town
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 241 Shrewsbury
Start/finish SJ 498123
Dog friendliness Lots of local dogs by river, some pavement pounding
Parking Abbey Foregate car park opposite Shrewsbury Abbey
Public toilets At town end of Abbey Foregate, on north side
1 Walk along Abbey Foregate away from town, passing the Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul. Go as far as the Shire Hall (all too obviously a product of the 1960s) and Lord Hill's Column, a sky-high tower of Grinshill stone erected in 1816 to honour the military achievements of Viscount Hill who fought with Wellington at Waterloo. It is said to be the tallest Doric column in the world. Turn left by Lord Hill, past the Crown Courts on Preston Street.
2 When the road bends left into Portland Crescent, keep straight on along a stony track (signposted 'private road/public footpath'). When the track ends, the right of way remains well-defined, going straight across a field to the River Severn. Turn left on the Severn Way. Very soon you'll pass under an impressive railway bridge, cast at Coalbrookdale Foundry in 1848, the year Shrewsbury acquired its first train service.
3 A little further on, the path climbs to the edge of a housing estate and then runs along the edge of Monkmoor Community Woodland, where grassland has been newly planted with young native trees. At the far side of this, a tributary stream blocks the way forward. Go left until you can cross the stream, then return to the river in the next field.
4 Pass under two road bridges (both carrying the A49) and pass the suburb of Monkmoor. When you come to a third road bridge, go up to cross the bridge then return to the riverbank on the far side and continue towards Shrewsbury. Cross the river again when you come to a foot/cycle bridge and go straight on at the far side, on the left-hand of two parallel paths. Turn right when you come to a road (Holywell Street); follow it back to Abbey Foregate.
It was A E Housman who described Shrewsbury as 'islanded in Severn stream', and there has never been a better description. The Saxon town was built within the natural moat provided by a tight loop of the Severn, completely encircled except for a small gap, making a perfect defensive site. Even the gap was guarded by a ridge, on which a castle was later built. As it moves away from the town, the Severn continues its crazy meandering and the walk described here is contained within a series of loops to the east of the historic town centre.
The Abbey Church of St Peter and St Paul, founded in 1083 by Roger de Montgomery on the site of an earlier Saxon church, just outside the town walls. The most striking part of the present building is the great west tower, built in the 14th century during the reign of Edward III. Shrewsbury Abbey is the setting for the popular Cadfael novels by Ellis Peters (the pen name of the late Edith Pargeter). There are buildings from all periods along Abbey Foregate, but Georgian is the dominant style, with an abundance of beautiful brick town houses. Shrewsbury saw extraordinary growth in the second half of the 18th century and it was then that Abbey Foregate was developed as a desirable residential suburb.
Another suburb, Monkmoor, is where the poet Wilfred Owen lived as a boy. He was born in Oswestry in 1893, the son of a railway worker, but the family moved to Monkmoor in 1907. They used to enjoy riverside walks most weekends, and on one occasion Wilfred noticed his brother's boots were covered in buttercup petals. He described them as 'blessed with gold', an image he used again during the First World War when portraying soldiers at the front in the Spring Offensive. Tragically, Owen was killed the week before the armistice in 1918.
You can hardly miss Shrewsbury Abbey, but the Abbey Church that survives today was once part of a much larger complex, with a full range of monastic buildings. Following the dissolution of the monasteries (1536-9) by Henry VIII, the church survived for use as a parish church, and some of the other buildings continued in use until 1827, when Thomas Telford drove his Holyhead road through the site, proving that the vandalism of road builders is nothing new. Perhaps the saddest thing is the sight of the 14th-century refectory pulpit, which was spared but now sits pointlessly in the middle of the huge car park across the road.
Shrewsbury seems to have more enticing places to eat than almost any other town of its size. Even on the edge of town at Abbey Foregate there is an excellent choice. Pubs include the Dun Cow, the Bricklayers Arms, the Crown Inn and the Bell. Mojo's Café and Sandwich Bar is useful, there are at least two Indian restaurants and the Peach Tree café, bar and restaurant is open from 9am for food.
Haughmond Abbey is just to the north of Haughmond Hill and in the care of English Heritage. There's lots to see, but the highlights include a 12th-century chapter house with richly decorated arches and a 14th-century abbot's hall. When the abbey was founded, probably in the 11th century, it was in a wild and isolated place. That's not the case today, with the horribly busy A49 not much more than a mile (1.6km) away, but it is still a pleasantly rural site.