It doesn’t matter how meticulously you travel round Britain, carefully picking off every single town, you’ll still to be sent to places that make you think ‘where the bloody hell’s that’?
It turns out Much Wenlock is in Shropshire, but not the bit of Shropshire you go to every day like Nantwich, it’s past Telford and down a lot of lanes, and no one has ever said about Much Wenlock ‘you can’t miss it’.
It’s a place of such size, it has a sign telling you how many shops it’s got.
There must be people who live there who assume this is normal for every town, and as you approach Berlin there’s a sign that says “24,540 quality shops.”
As there are ‘only’ or ‘blimey as many as’ 30 shops, depending on perspective, they have to cover all the essentials between them, which must be why almost all of them sell jars of chutney with pieces of cloth wrapped round the lid.
There is a square, that has a plaque informing you “This square highlights Much Wenlock’s modern status as a tourist destination.”
And it’s hard to believe so much can be packed into one square that will attract the modern tourist. You can spend a morning admiring the clock, then in the afternoon enjoy one of over three quality benches, before going on a stroll to admire a different face of the clock.
Another claim made by the tourist website says “It’s possible to do all your weekly shopping here, although sadly there is only one remaining blacksmith.”
So if your weekly shop includes two sets of horseshoes, each made by separate blacksmiths, it’s not quite true that it’s possible at all is it?
Much Wenlock seems to combine its idyllic setting and quaintness, with an attitude that it’s not going to creep and fawn over you. The Guild Hall boasts a collection of Tudor paintings, but when I tried to go in, a man with a bdge told me he was shutting early and shut a vast wooden door on me, before closing nine or ten vast bolts, as if he was worried I might try to scale the place with an army of Saxons.
But Much Wenlock has had an immense global on the life of almost everyone in the world.
Because a Victorian Much Wenlockian, called William Penny Brookes, in the spirit of self-improvement of the time, organised an early version of the Olympic Games there.
It’s hard to imagine how you could have an Olympics in a place of this size, as the 200 metres would involve three laps of the entire town, and the discus would almost certainly go through someone’s window.
But the events were so successful they attracted athletes from around the country, and only a few of the sports, such as wife-carrying, seeming a bit dated.
They then came to the attention of Pierre de Coubertin, who met Brookes, and they discussed setting an international Olympic Games on the Much Wenlock model. In honour of this, the mascot for the London Olympics was called Wenlock, and one day it’s hoped the modern Olympic Games could almost reach the size of the event that took place in Shropshire.