Sunday, 17 February 2013

Oswestry

Oswestry was our first foray into Shropshire, whilst technically not a northern town I’m not averse to taking a detour into Midland Towns when the opportunity takes me.

Earlier we had been to Wrexham and Oswestry is just a 30 minute drive down the A483 onto the A5.  There are a couple of epic road bridges to cross on this road.  You don’t really notice them until you’re driving across and glance to the side and see the sheer drop either side.  It really concentrates the mind to drive across them safely.  As we were driving through the countryside we noticed lots of squished animals, road kill isn’t pretty but it’s something you come to expect as animals are not blessed with the knowledge of the green cross code.

We parked in the Aldi car park on the edge of town as we got about 90 minutes of free parking.  Obviously we did pop in and get a couple of things so I didn’t feel guilty about parking.

Walking into Oswestry we found it to be a nice country town with buildings that had an air of faded gentility that have seen the comings and goings of the town for hundreds of years.   However two things disconcerted me about this town; one, the high number of empty shops; and two, the lack of people.  The latter was surprising as it was a bright and beautiful day, so there was no excuse for people staying in out of the bad weather. The former wasn’t surprising as in recent times lots of big chains have either closed down or have closed loss making stores.  As a result Oswestry was looking somewhat deserted and desolate.  The independent shops and charity shops were definitely keeping this town going.  Although how they are going to fill these large, empty retail spaces is another matter.  It doesn’t help that retail parks which have sprung up on the edge of town with free parking are slowly killing the town centre.

On the plus side Oswestry has lots of charity shops and we had a good rummage through them.  I really loved the Barnardos as it had sofas in the book and music section on the first floor.  You could rest your weary feet here and watch the world go by whilst reading a book.  We nearly missed this section as it wasn’t well signposted in the shop below that the section was upstairs.
 
There was an outdoor market in the town square and this hid a lovely looking building that would not look out of place in a European city.  As time was pressing we missed the indoor market, which recently won the Best Indoor Council Market for 2013.

There seemed to be plenty of traditional pubs in Oswestry and apparently this is a good town to visit for real ale drinkers.  The Griffin is notable as it has strange statues of full sized men drinking beer above the door – kind of Anthony Gormley type statues but in cream render. 

Some of the potted highlights were:
  • The staff in the Timpsons shop were very helpful.  
  • If you are ever caught short in Oswestry the public toilet near Marks and Spencer’s is good.  You do have to pay 20p for the privilege, but it is an attended toilet and it’s very clean. 
  • It’s so worth finding Gillhams of Oswestry, which is a lovely deli café.  If you have the time it’s worth having a bite to eat here.  The staff had said it had been very busy that day.  However, if you can’t stop for long they do good takeaway pies.  They also stock Coopers sausage rolls which are marvellous.  They are very tasty sausage rolls packed full of flavour and are not overpowered by too much flaky pastry.  We picked up the Oinker and the Pork, Apple and Black Pudding – they were fab especially heated up!
  • They have a Youth Café, which is an excellent concept in such a rural location where there is little for young people to do without the aid of transport.


Later I found out later that Oswestry had been awarded £10,000 from the Portas Pilot to help with the regeneration of the town’s retail centre.  From my brief visit I could see that this town was in need of a boost.  Oswestry is a pretty town, but with so many shops closed down the town and retail parks circling the town like leeches sucking the life out of the town centre, the place is at risk of dying.  I’m a big fan of cultural and food festivals to boost the numbers of people coming to towns like Oswestry.  Whilst it’s not a permanent solution, it gives focus to the activities of the town and brings in new people into the area.  I also like towns that promote their local artisan crafts and food communities.  Another retail park or supermarket chain express shops doesn’t cut it for me. I honestly hope the Council comes up with a good plan to rejuvenate this town, although £10,000 is a drop in the ocean where town centre regeneration is concerned.

Oswestry, however pretty, needs some TLC.  I’m sure if we’re passing through again we will stop off and go to Gillhams to stock up on pies.  I’m just hoping a little bit of retail fairy dust will have worked its magic by then.