Do I remember this much sunshine last year? No I don’t. Not for a single day. And not being the sort of person who follows weather forecasts, I hadn’t expected it today either. I got up. It looked like a nice day. After breakfast, everybody in our house decided to go out. The suggestion was made that we might walk the river loop. At the time it sounded like a good idea. I’d no idea we’d be out all day.
We set off, myself and our weekend guests, Idris and Kate. Kate’s a Londoner who learning to really like it up here. Idris is Shropshire born and bred. You can see the pleasure he gets out of showing off his home town. Down St Mary’s Water Lane we walked, through Traitor’s Gate, then right along the river towards the English Bridge. Here on an island in the middle of the Severn a swan sat resplendent on her nest. We passed under the bridge, following the line of Marine Terrace. A row of pollarded willows raised sculpted fists to the sky. Then we were under Greyfriars Bridge, where ducks were on the water waiting to be fed, and started along the avenue of trees that follows the river from this point onwards half way round town.
I love this stretch of water. In the autumn, the air if full of golden confetti and the river looks like a black and gold mosaic. Today everything was busting out, green all over. On the opposite shore were a row of gardens with moorings. I wished one of them was mine. It would be great to pootle across the water every time I needed to go into town – not that I’ve ever seen anyone from over there doing that.
It would also be great to have one of the allotments that’s tucked into the shadow of the old town wall. I went up to those allotments the other day to see if anybody was about [they weren’t; they never are; I swear those vegetables grow themselves]. Now I could see the white of apple blossom against the red sandstone of the wall, and I wished again that one of them was mine.
Suddenly Biffo appeared like a small brown bat out of hell, followed by Dave, who’d been talking to Andrew Bannerman about the seat he’s just won to represent our ward on town and county councils. I met Annie Bannerman yesterday, so had already heard the news. Given how hard Andrew works [one example was his effort to save our Square], I’m not sure whether we should be congratulating him and Annie or commiserating. It’s hard work being a councillor.
We walked on to the Quarry - which is a park with sloping lawns and beautiful trees, not a hole in the ground with diggers, gravel and a bottomless pit. A succession of benches is dotted along the river on a lower path that faces the town’s two boathouses, one belonging to the Pengwern Rowing Club, the other to Shrewsbury School. We paused to rest on one of the benches, wondering what had happened to the weather and why this lovely May day felt so much like summer [something none of us is used to any more]. A blind man came along with a bounding black dog. He stopped for a bit of chat, but the dog made a friend and went racing on. Clutching his white stick, the man hurried after it, calling it back.
One week from today the regatta will be happening here on the River Severn. There’ll be crowds lining the bank and tents up Beck’s Field all the way to the chestnuts and beeches along the top. The river will be full of teams of rowers and the boathouses full of drinkers. Let’s hope the weather’s as good as it is now.
Walking on, we found the Quarry full of people having good time. Children were playing on their bikes, kicking balls about and enjoying the swings and slides. Families were strolling in the sun. Stalls were open selling hot dogs and ice cream. ‘What this place needs is a good café,’ I said. ‘There’s the café at the swimming pool,’ Dave said. ‘Let’s go up there.’
It was the perfect day for sitting in a café with the Quarry spread out around us, watching everybody having a good time. At the top of the Quarry, our council-run, municiple swimming pool came into view. We headed towards it, hoping its café wouldn’t be too crowded. This, however, was what we found. Can you believe it? On a day like this? Think of all the money that could have been made. Somebody here was missing out.
We headed back into town instead, wending our way through cobbled streets and passageways, ending up in one of our favourite summer haunts - the garden at the back of Cromwell’s Hotel. This had only just opened for the day, so we had a choice of tables. Our favourite is up a short flight of steps, overlooking rooftops, chimney pots, the spire of St Alkmund’s Church and the tower of St Julian’s. Swallows were nesting in the eves above our heads. Nothing in view was more modern than early Victorian at the very latest.
Even when the other tables started filling up, everything here in this garden was so quiet. Sitting in the sun, we didn’t want to move. Certainly Idris and Kate didn’t want to have to rush off for their London train at half past one. Why did they book such an early getaway? They didn’t know.
Another round of drinks was ordered, lingered over and slowly consumed. Then it was a race to Waitrose to buy rolls and ham, a race home to fill rolls with ham, a race to the castle garden to eat rolls and ham and - goodbye, goodbye - a race to the station so as not to miss the train. Then suddenly Dave, Biffo and I were on our own again. Our guests had gone.
But we weren't ready to give up on the day and return back home.
‘Let’s walk down by the river again,’ I suggested. ‘Yes, why not?’ Dave said. ‘We could always head off along the other side of the loop. Call in at the theatre, drop into the bar, get ourselves another drink.’ It was the perfect day for it. We headed off, imagining ourselves sitting on the balcony of our town’s new theatre, looking across the Welsh Bridge to the river beyond, wiling away a lazy and very pleasant afternoon.
But when we crossed the footbridge to Frankwell and walked along the river, we found the theatre closed. I do not make this up. Above’s the pic to prove it. The busiest, sunniest day in town since I don’t know when, streets and parks heaving with happy people all thronging about, and yet another eating, drinking and generally money-spending opportunity was closed to the public. Weird.
Much to our relief, however, help was at hand. It took a bit of walking to, but across town on Belmont Bank the party was really hotting up. There was a maypole ready to be danced around, samba drums ready to be played and Chris the Piper giving it his all, standing on the wall of Old St Chad’s with people spread out on the grass watching him. The street below the wall was heaving with parents and their children buying candy floss, having their faces painted, their hair braided and their skin decorated with henna. Jim Hawkins was out and about taking photographs. In the Hive Arts Centre - which was hosting the event - we found Julia Wenlock selling Toot Sweets chocolates. The courtyard behind her was full of rabbits hopping around and an aviary of beautiful birds.
I bumped into Joanne Bloodworth, the designer of my oldest daughter’s wedding dress. On behalf of Nottingham Trent University she’s off to India next week to verify one of that country’s fashion degree courses. She’ll be in Jaipur, Chennai and Delhi for ten days. I am so envious. And full of admiration too, because Joanne’s never been to India before, and she’s travelling alone.
We went our separate ways. Later in the year, Joanne told me, she’ll be taking an office at the Hive to work on community projects. We agreed to talk more about this another time. Outside, people were queueing up for barbecued food and ice creams. There were balloons everywhere. At one end of Belmont, a fiddler and a ukulele player were entertaining the crowd, at the other end a DJ was playing music.
We slipped away, up through town, onto Pride Hill, past the high town cross and back home. The sun’s still shining as I’m writing this now. Through the open window I can smell food being cooked. Where’s it coming from? It smells mighty good. Seven thirty - and I just might head out again. It’s not a day for staying indoors.