Saturday 4 June 2022

Bus Trip to Oswestry

Today's Canal - Montgomery

We opted to take a day off from cruising and use the opportunity to visit a place we had not been to before. We had discovered from the nearby bus stop (backed up by  very indifferent internet access) that  there was an hourly bus service into Oswestry. We set ourselves the goal of catching the 10:35 - making time to have our first cup of morning coffee at some leisure!

The bus stop is only a couple of minutes from the mooring and we made sure we were in good time. The timetable does warn that the times are approximate but when the scheduled hour had passed by five minutes we were beginning to feel a tad edgy. Mike tried to confirm the timetable but the phone number on top sign  was out of date! Ten minutes overdue and we were rather relieved to spot a blue (Arriva) bus coming along the road.

On the outskirts of the town the bus took us an indirect route through several housing estates which gave us a little idea of the present make up of the community.  It then came through the town centre  to the bus station where we found a town map to orientate ourselves.

Our first stop was at the heritage railway where a number of informative displays told us some of the history of the Cambrian Railways. Several small local companies eventually came together to provide a significant network, mostly mid to north Wales.

In particular it linked to the coast and, for a time, enabled holiday makers to travel from as far away as London (possibly on the direct Cambrian Coast Express) to the Welsh seaside resorts. It was a mark of the importance of Oswestry at the time that the company chose to base its headquarters here - hence the station building served not just travellers but also all the administration and top brass for the company. (Today it was shrouded in scaffolding so we could take a useable photo of it) Eventually, as local lines became less successful when people took to cars for shorter trips the railway was absorbed into GWR but this did not prevent most of the lines being closed in the middle of the 20th century.

A short section of the line was retained, mainly to serve a quarry just to the south of the town, with Gobowen becoming the nearest main line stop for Oswestry. The quarry traffic has also ceased but the track remains and is gradually being developed as a heritage railway running both steam and diesel hauled trains for short trips.

From there we walked into the main town centre which looked busy on a Saturday morning (most shops would have been closed for Bank Holida1ys the last two days). Most of the buildings date from the height of the town's economic success at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. What were once grand and often ornate buildings housing commercial activities, including many shops, are now a little incongruous with more contemporary shop fronts that have seen better days. The upper floors seem either to be offices for small businesses or apartments.

The former English Presbyterian Church, now an Italian restaurant.

We found ourselves some coffees from a stall in the indoor market but with seating outside in the market square. Typically there were no food stalls today but the variety of niche businesses that always leave one wondering how  they manage to turn a profit!

Next we wandered around the small  museum in the Town Hall. This building has seen many different uses in the past. The museum is right at the top and, with the lift out of action, we had a few steps to climb! Several boards decorate the stairwell and museum walls recording academic success of local children from around 1910 to 1960s. Some showed university scholarships and others detailed their degree achievements. Whilst the boys and girls schools were listed separately, it is clear that there was proud tradition of educating them equally.

The museum devotes a lot of its space to famous names of people born in the town, starting with Queen Guinevere!

A more contemporary name is that of Dame Stephanie (Steve) Shirley who was the founder of the first IT company specialising in the employment of women in what started as a male dominated industry. She was educated at Oswestry Girls School.

The war poet Wilfred Owen also came from Oswestry and he is commemorated by a statue in the park that we would see later in the afternoon.

Walking around the town we gradually began to appreciate its history and sense of place, even if at first we saw it only as somewhere that has last its former shine.

We wandered down a narrow alley to a row of small shops and found a pleasant looking tea room which provided us with a very welcome lunch break. We only wanted a snack but the portions were non-trivial and remarkably well priced. We will have to modify our planned menu for tonight!

The town centre parish church, dedicated to St Oswald, is very substantial with three very wide aisles.

A few of the windows have stained glass including this one added in 2004 to commemorate the turn of the millennium.

St Oswald was a king of Northumbria in the 7th century, a time when Britain was divided into a number of distinct kingdoms, often in battle with each other. For a time, Oswald was not only militarily successful but also well regarded as a benign ruler who looked after the interests of the poor as much as the  wealthy. Eventually, his kingdom was attacked by Penda, king of Mercia, and died in 642 AD. It is widely believed that he fell on a spot very close to where this church now stands. His victorious enemy carried out a mock execution with his already dead body - hence the name Oswald's Tree, Oswestry,

In the park we found the Wilfred Owen statue which is quite recent. It depicts him as a soldier - he died almost on eve of Armistice - but dropping sheets of paper on which are inscribed words of some of his poems as well as others written by local schoolchildren specially for the statue.

It was sobering to discover that, for all that he wanted to be known as a poet from an early age, only two of his compositions were formally published in his lifetime. Nevertheless, he has since become an important influence of literature since then.

We walked slowly back to the bus station where we had but a short wait before our bus arrived for the 15:37 departure and thence back to our starting point. It was only back at the boat that we decided to stay here for the night as there are few known moorings before Frankton, even if here is no internet signal here.

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