English market towns come in many shapes and sizes. Each has a personality shaped by the goods and services produced and traded for centuries. Towns and villages near a harbor have “just caught” seafood. In Herefordshire, beef is the market king. Shropshire is cider apple country. Towns surrounded by farms have it all: meat, poultry, fish, dairy, fruit and veg, beer, ale, cider, and wine.
Many small market towns continue to hold street markets; others have built modern pavilions where farmers, producers, and craftsmen sell their wares. Many producers are a family operation of several generations. Whether on the street or under a roof, the quality is unsurpassed.
Western England has some of the oldest market towns in the country – crossroads where man, beast, and machine have traveled through the ages to sell the fruits of their labor and purchase what is needed at home. But each town and village has more to do than shop. So I’ve scouted out a few things to do in five charming English market towns.
1. Hereford, Herefordshire
The town of Hereford is a cathedral city and the “county town” (county seat) of Herefordshire. Hereford was established in 1189 and has remained a vibrant market town.
The Market And Square
In the heart of old town Hereford you’ll find the Butter Market. The indoor market hosts local food, libations, crafts, and art stalls. The Butter Market sits on a large town square where food and crafts vendors set up. Skirting the square, you’ll find lovely shops, eateries, and the Black and White House Museum.
A Cathedral With A Library
The Hereford Cathedral is the most impressive building in town. It’s also home to an ancient Chained Library. The 17th-century books were so valuable that they were chained to library shelves. The treasures remain chained there today. Mappa Mundi, a map of the 13th century’s known world, was drawn on calfskin and is displayed in the library. One of four original copies of the Magna Carta is also shown.
The cathedral is magnificent. The grounds are extensive, with gardens and lawns beautifully maintained. Tours are offered. Visit the cathedral website for times and dates.
Drink An Apple
Cider has been made in Herefordshire for centuries. One of Herefordshire’s most bountiful crops is cider apples. A visit to the Museum of Cider gives a detailed history of the lovely elixir. The tour ends with tasting in a shop selling Herefordshire’s many cider brands.
A Hotel With A Moat
The Castle House Hotel is Hereford’s top lodging. I suggest Castle House, whether for a night or two’s lodging, lunch or dinner, or a glass of bubbly on the patio overlooking the old castle’s moat. The luxurious rooms and grounds were once the site of Hereford Castle.
You can find more Hereford info at the Hereford Visitors Bureau.
2. Ludlow, Shropshire
Ludlow, a thriving medieval market town in Shropshire, is known as the Foodie Center of England. The well-deserved reputation comes from the bounty of veg, fruit, meat, and dairy produced in the area for centuries.
Old Market Square
Ludlow is a black and white half-timbered market town. Butcher shops, greengrocers, bakeries, and cheese shops line the town square. In addition, small shops, market stalls, pubs, cafes, and restaurants share the market square on market days.
New Market Square
Ludlow is lucky enough to have two market centers. The Ludlow Farmshop is a modern indoor marketplace selling hundreds of foodstuffs produced in Shropshire. You will spend hours in the pavilion shopping, tasting, and talking to producers of the finest edibles in England. In addition, The Ludlow Kitchen, an onsite café, serves breakfast, 11’s (early lunch), lunch, and afternoon tea.
A Castle Overlooking The Square
Bordering the square, Ludlow Castle is a “must explore” medieval stronghold with a sizable inner-bailey. The privately-owned castle is open to the public. Find hours and ticket information here.
Festival At The Castle And Square
Visitors from all over England and Europe attend the Ludlow Food Festival each September. The three-day event celebrates food with sellers, chefs, cooking classes, food photography classes, writers, tasting trails, entertainment, and more. Book your room early if you plan to attend.
For more about Ludlow, visit Welcome to Ludlow.
3. Shrewsbury, Shropshire
Oh, Shrewsbury, how I love you. You were my first stop on a 30-day tour of west England. Getting to Shrewsbury Town Centre from London was challenging but worth the anxiety. It was immediately apparent why it’s the “Town of Flowers.”
Shrewsbury is another of Shropshire’s market towns. The River Severn has a significant turn through town, almost making an island of Shrewsbury Town Centre. The shape creates a perfect market where goods could be shipped and received using the river as a highway.
Shrewsbury Town Center
A visit to Shrewsbury Town Center will include narrow, twisting streets. Black and white half-timber buildings, cozy pubs, shops of every description, a farmers market, and flowers are everywhere. Hanging baskets, window boxes, planters, and gardens flaunt their vibrant blooms, just what you imagine in a “charming English market town.”
St Mary’s, The Darwin Centre, Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, Shrewsbury’s Mini Murals Trail, and walking or boat tours.
My lodging choice in Shrewsbury was The Loopy Shrew, in Shrewsbury Town Centre. This traditional/eclectic pub has 12 rooms over the bar and restaurant. The bar serves traditional ales, local brews, wine, and craft cocktails. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a focus on traditional English Pub fare and locally sourced ingredients. I loved my solo room with a single bed and tiny bathroom.
For more about Shrewsbury, visit Original Shrewsbury.
4. Mevagissey, Cornwall
Even if you haven’t been to the small fishing village Mevagissey, you’ve probably seen it in a movie or British TV show. It may look like a movie set, but it is authentic.
This quaint working harbor took shape in 1774 when the first harbor walls were built. Although the gigantic Pilcher fishing catches are no more, fishermen still go out to sea daily, weather permitting. Their bounty is sold in harbor-side markets and directly from the boats.
One of the most moving experiences you will have in this charming fishing village is a Mevagissey Male Choir performance. The chorus is made up of males aged 18 to 80. They travel the country performing pieces ranging from “Freddie Mercury to Robbie Williams, Eric Clapton to Leo Sayer, Verdi to Bizet, and traditional choir pieces and music from Cornwall’s rich choral heritage.” I stood harbor-side listening to songs of those lost at sea sung in Cornish. I wept, even though I didn’t understand the words.
Eat A Bit Of Cornwall
Of course, don’t leave the harbor without a traditional Cornish pasty. The hand-pie is traditionally filled with beef, potatoes, and onions. The Cornish Bakery on Olivers Quay is only one of the places you will find these addictive pastries. I loved the traditional, but the chicken curry pasty is still on my mind.
Mevagissey Museum, Mevagissey Aquarium, Mevagissey Harbor Lighthouse, Royal National Lifeboat Institution, The World of Model Railways, and The Eden Project. Boat tours are budget-friendly and a great way to see the coastline.
There is no parking in the harbor. Pay and Park on the outskirts of the village is the only large lot in the area. It’s a short walk to the harbor.
Pro Tip: Take a photo of your auto and the location sign nearest your car. The lot is very big, and you can easily forget where you parked.
5. Padstow, Cornwall
Padstow is a Cornish fishing port known for its abundant mackerel, pollack, cod, dogfish, flounder, and shellfish. The sea’s treasures can be found in markets, eateries, and straight off the boats. However, one of the best things to do in Padstow is to go to the harbor and eat seafood. It’s everywhere and is hook-to-mouth fresh.
Padstow is a popular holiday spot in summer. Unfortunately, the tiny harbor has few parking spaces, most are pay-by-the-hour lots. However, you can park for free on the outskirts and take the shuttle to the harbor. In winter, tourists thin out, lodging rates lower, and you might find parking in the harbor.
The National Lobster Hatchery, Prideaux Place Café and Gardens, Rick Steins Seafood Restaurant, The Camel Trail, or hitting the beach.
Sleep With The Fishes
For lodging, my highest recommendation goes to Rick Stein Seafood Restaurant. Yes, it is a lodging spot at the flagship seafood eatery. The 16-rooms are individually decorated with every comfort in mind. My private courtyard became the place for my afternoon tea. The following day, breakfast offered everything from traditional English to shakshouka in the downstairs restaurant. What a treat.
For more about Padstow, go to Visit Padstow.