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A market town where elephants once roamed is now perfect for dog-friendly holidays

Simon Calder’s Travel

Tucked into the Shropshire Hills, Bishop’s Castle is the perfect base for a family break where your four-legged friend is sure to be welcome everywhere.

But it is four legs of a different kind that have firm roots in the history of the market town which sits in the Clun Valley on the Welsh border. Named by ABTA, a trade association for tour operators and travel agents in the UK, as one of the destinations to watch this year, Bishop’s Castle was once home to serving politician Robert Clive, better known as Clive of India, who added an Indian elephant to his family coat of arms which is displayed in the market square.

During the Second World War many circuses moved their animals and elephants out of the cities to rural places including Bishop’s Castle so they would be safe from the air raids.

Today, signs of the town’s affection for their former elephant residents are everywhere with a huge three-storey high orange Banksy-style elephant mural on a wall in the High Street along with metal elephants marching across two ancient houses on the cobbled streets and a dedicated elephant walking trail.

We arrive in Bishop’s Castle for a four-day break with two excited children and an even more exuberant young labrador at the luxurious Elephant Gatehouse, an elegant, stone-built Grade II listed property built more than 300 years ago as one of the stables for The Castle Hotel.

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Our cottage is known locally as ‘The Elephant House’ after it was used to home the evacuated elephants. While most of the elephants were collected after the war, in the confusion, one Indian elephant was left behind unclaimed. It continued to live in the Gatehouse and some of the locals still remember seeing the elephant being walked around the town and recall the local school children would help feed it fruit and vegetables.

About 40 years ago, the Elephant Gatehouse was converted into a characterful house with many of the original features including the oak beam remaining. Its elephant history is immortalised in the stained-glass windows above the Gatehouse’s azure blue front doors and a small cheery elephant waves out of a painting on the front facade of the cottage in place of a window.

Joe's family at Great Hagley Estate
Joe’s family at Great Hagley Estate (Joe Sene/PA)

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