Ever since starting My Tonight From Shrewsbury, I’ve been thinking that a river loop walk might be a nice idea, and this morning, waking to yet more snow on the skylight, the timing felt perfect. I and my small brown fluffy dog set off for the bus station, heading for the river. On the way we passed what in summer is the delightfully quirky Lily’s Tearoom [complete with grottos, Buddhas and fringed plastic sunshades], followed by the new Premier Inn building.
I stopped to ask a man in a hard hat when the building would be finished. He rolled his eyes. ‘They say next month,’ he said, ‘but I’ll believe it when I see it. I mean, look at the place. Where are the workers? They’re all at home.’
It was snowing quite heavily by now, so I could quite see why. I carried on to the footbridge over the river to the cricket pitch. I was hoping to see a few snowmen, and I found a cracker on the crease. ‘Perhaps,’ I thought to myself, ‘I can hold a My Tonight From Shrewsbury snowman competition.’ With that in mind, I headed towards the Welsh Bridge, with the Quarry [town park] on the other side of it.
The town is dominated by two bridges, the Welsh one on the west of the town, the English one on the east. Both are old, but not a half as old as the bridges they replace. I hurried over the Welsh Bridge, head down against the snow and the town’s new sculpture, which cost more apparently than Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North. In the Quarry, I found nothing to compare with the snowman on the cricket pitch. He had plainly won, twig-hands down.
I crossed the Porthill foot bridge to get a view of the town from across the water. In summer this bridge is one of the entrances to Shrewsbury’s annual Flower Show. The river walk beyond it has one of the best views in town, with the Pengwern Boathouse presiding over a gentle curve in the river and Beck’s Field rising up to Shrewsbury School on top of the hill.
I trudge up Beck's Field now, through fairly deep snow. On Flower Show nights this field is packed with picnickers, drinkers and other assorted revellers, here to watch as the sky fills with light and fireworks are reflected in the river. I remember one night, sitting on top of Beck’s Field when a whole string of Chinese lanterns appeared overhead, some in clusters, some alone, like bubbles blown by a little kid. The fireworks were over, but as I watched those lanterns drift across the town, they seemed to say the show’s not over yet.
Another time I sat on top of Beck’s Field to watch a total eclipse of the sun. The whole town was spread out beneath me, tucked into the loop of the river. Suddenly the birds fell silent as if they knew what was coming next. Then the breeze dropped. Nothing stirred across the whole of Shrewsbury. Then the light went out. I don’t know how long it was out, but it seemed to last for ages. In the semi-gloaming I could see Shrewsbury’s rooftops, spires and domes from one end to the other - and then, like the daily miracle of dawn, the light returned.
So much for Beck’s Field. I’d reached the road by now which led to the Kingsland Toll Bridge. Snow was still falling and I had to take off my hat and give it a brush. I headed across the bridge, remembering the time when not only motorists but pedestrians had to put their money in the box. On the other side I found myself back in town, but I wasn’t ready for shops and traffic yet, so I doubled back on myself and re-entered the Quarry just above the bandstand, which looked amazingly elegant in the snow. I plodded my way towards it and arrived just as the Shrewsbury School bell rang out the hour, followed by the deeper, more sonorious tone of St Chad’s bell. They could have been a couple of songbirds caught in some weird mating ritual, serenading each other in the snow.
I took a couple of photos and hurried away. If the clocks were tolling the hour, then my walk was taking too long. Under Kingsland Bridge I headed, my sights set for home. This stretch of the riverbank is a great dog-walking promenade. Ahead of me I could see an enormous black Alsatian, which in the snow looked like a wolf. It’s amazing how many people I only recognize when I come across their dogs.
Just past the Girls’ High School, I made the choice to leave the river and walk up to the town walls. This lengthened the route, but I reasoned the town walls shouldn’t be missed, especially in the snow. Though most of the pavements in town had been salted, I found plenty of snow on the high pavement that runs along the inside of the wall. I followed it passed the Catholic Cathedral, then leant over the wall for a glimpse of the allotments at its foot.
In all the time I’ve lived in Shrewsbury, I’ve never known who works those allotments, or how one goes about getting a plot. Perhaps that was something I could investigate for My Tonight From Shrewsbury, I thought as I headed for the English Bridge. But not today.
At the English Bridge I picked my way down a set of winding stone steps to find myself on the river bank again. On the far shore I could see the building site that the old Gay Meadow, home to Shrewsbury’s football club, had become. A couple of islands sat in the middle of the river, formed of silt, where swans nest in the spring. Someone once told me that the River Severn’s the third siltiest river in the world. At the English Bridge, there’s a huge bank of silt that normally looks muddy, weed-infested and slightly threatening, as if it might harbour men of ill-repute. Today, however, the snow had made it look pretty and welcoming. I picked my way across it to the river. I even went under the arches of the bridge, where the graffiti is raw and cans are strewn about, and took a few photographs there.
But my dog wouldn’t come with me. Perhaps he had more sense, or perhaps he’d simply had enough. Either way, he set off for home, and I hurried after him, both of us weary and bedraggled - hard to say who was the worse. At a dog’s pace, on a good day, it only takes a couple of minutes from the English Bridge to Traitor’s Gate. Here I stopped for one more photo – the terraced garden of the Council House, where the Marches Council met for centuries, and Prince Rupert was encamped the night that Traitor’s Gate got it’s name.
My dog and I trudged up St Mary’s Water Lane and hit Castle Street at the top. Cars. Bright Lights. Busy pavements. Big shop windows. Here H & M. There M & S. We headed for home. It didn’t take long. Back to where we'd started, having walked the perfect circle of the river loop. I fed the dog - whose name is Biffo in case you’re wondering - saw him safely into his bed by the radiator, then made my way down to the Shrewsbury Coffeehouse where I’ve been ever since, laptop on the table, writing this up. It’s been a good morning so far. I have high hopes for the rest of the day.