Drive through the Midlands, North Wales, Cheshire, and Staffordshire, and the chances are you will spot the name "Whitchurch" on one or more (if not ALL) of the road-side signs.
No-one has been able to explain to me exactly how this came about. Or why. But one possibility is that it is at a crossroads - of the ever-busy A49 and A41.
The metaphor also becomes blatantly obvious to anyone who takes the time to slip quietly from one of these major roads, and into a town which is itself at a key junction in its long and distinguished history. Because, with at least half of the town looking ever-so slightly worse for wear, the other half holds both an enormous appeal to passing visitors, as well as a possible key to its future.
A straw poll on Twitter suggested that anyone who has been to Whitchurch recently regards it as a "pretty", "well-located", and "interesting" market town of genuine character.
I'd actually go further that that, and describe it in a much more cliched way as one of Shropshire's "hidden gems": a canal-side town which anyone interested in history, art and food would be well advised to visit, rather than simply by-pass on the A41 or A49.
It won't hold you for more than half a day. But a great starting point on that brief visit is the Heritage Centre which is housed within the town centre Tourist Information Centre. Links with illustrator Randolph Caldecott and composer of such popular operas Merrie England and Tom Jones, Sir Edward German, are celebrated here, along with the story of how Whitchurch takes its name from the town's original White Church, which fell down in 1711. http://whitchurch-heritage.co.uk
The re-built St Alkmund's Church is perhaps most famous for having the embalmed heart of Lord John Talbot buried under its porch. Born in Whitchurch, he spent most of his time fighting in France, and died at the Battle of Bordeaux in 1453. The embalmed heart was returned to Whitchurch, and was removed from the porch 50 years after being buried there to be reunited with his bones, under an effigy, found today in the Lady Chapel. http://www.stalkmunds.com/
History lessons over, the real jewel in Whitchurch's crown at the moment can be found next door to its Heritage Centre. Down to Earth Gallery contains two floors of art by local craftsmen which can stand comparison with that on show in some of our biggest cities. An eclectic mix of original work by around 40 emerging and established designers and makers, it brings together some highly desirable ceramics, glass, prints, paintings and accessories. http://www.downtoearthgallery.co.uk/
Round all of that off with either an afternoon tea at the fabulously chilled Outside Edge cafe/bistro (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=37279336045) for just £12 for two people, or a meal at the well run and popular Anglo-Italian restaurant, Etzio's (http://www.etzio.co.uk), and that just about completes the tour of a place it's better to pass through than simply pass by!
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