May 132017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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On this cool spring morning Clunton lay as quiet as anywhere under the sun. Green slopes rose steeply on all sides, crowned with dark conifer woods, cradling the little village in a fold of the Shropshire hills. Looking back from the side of Clunton Hill, it might have been an Alpine rather than an English scene.

A field path led steeply up to the tangled ways of Merryhill Plantation. A quick phone call confirmed that its forbidding forestry notices were long out of date. We swung down the track and out into lambing fields where the northward view made us gasp, a painter’s ideal of hill country with patchwork fields, snaking lanes and artfully placed spinneys. This was the Walcot Estate bought by soldier-of-fortune Robert Clive (‘Clive of India’) in 1763, with the vast riches he acquired during colonial service with the East India Company.

Down in the valley we joined the Shropshire Way, a dusty white road running west between banks of violets, bluebells and star-like wood anemones. Giant old oaks, contorted and massive, stood on the banks of Walcot Wood, survivors of storms and the woodman’s axe, nowadays individually tended by the National Trust.

Up on Sunnyhill we came to Bury Ditches, a great oval hill fort built 3,500 years ago with four concentric rings of ramparts and ditches. Uncountable slaves and prisoners-of-war lived and died while mounding these prodigious earthworks. We walked a circuit of the ramparts, taking in the mighty view – the long whaleback of the Clee Hills, Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge in the east, the quartzite upthrust of the Stiperstones like a black excrescence on the northern skyline, and Corndon Hill looming bulkily over the huddled houses of Bishop’s Castle.

High in the sky a raven fought for mastery with a peregrine, black against silver, a scribble of swoops, sideslips and angry screams. We watched the battle until the birds had circled out of sight, and then dropped down the woodland tracks and out in brilliant sunlight over the long slopes back to Clunton.

Start: Crown Inn, Clunton, Shropshire SY7 0HU (OS ref SO 335814)

Getting there: Clunton is on B4368 between Craven Arms and Clun. Park at Crown Inn (please ask permission, and give the pub your custom!)

Walk (7½ miles, moderate, OS Explorers 201, 216): From Crown Inn car park, left up road (‘Bury Ditches’). At No. 5, Gunridge, fork right up lane (353817). Through kissing gate on left, over stile, uphill beside fence to stile (yellow arrow/YA) into wood. In 150m, right over stile; uphill beside fence to cross stile under tree at top left corner of field (337819). Right with hedge on right for 2 fields (stiles); half left to cross stile (341821); follow hedge on right uphill. Near the top, right over stile (343823, YA); left up hedge and through strip of woodland.

Exit over stile (345827, YA); right to cross stile into Merryhill Wood; track down to gate (350828, YA). Half left down field, aiming for dark treetops, then stile (354830, YA). Down to stile near corner of wood; down to stile/gate (356832, YA); left along valley road. Following Shropshire Way/SW for 1¼ miles past Lodge Farm (346838) to Stanley Cottage (335839). Through garden gate (SW) to pass in front of cottage; leave garden through another gate, and up drive to road. Right; left into Bury Ditches car park; take first path on right past Bury Ditches info board, and follow track (red, blue trail marks) uphill to Bury Ditches hill fort (328838).

At far (west) side, follow path down to gate (326836). Bear right on track parallel with hill fort. In ¼ mile, at junction, bear left (325840, red marker, SW); in 100m, left (red marker, YA); in 50m, right (red marker, YA). Descend into valley, cross wide forest road (322836), and descend grassy track (red marker, YA).

In 200m, red route turns left across stream, but bear right here (321834) on boggy, grassy track, keeping stream on left. In 200m, fork left down forest road (YA). At sharp right bend, go left through kissing gate (324831, ‘Walking With Offa’ arrow). Right along hedge, descending to turn right along farm road. At Stepple farm, keep to left of buildings (325826); pass between wooden gate posts, and fork right off drive through gate (YA). Track descends to gate (326823, YA); cross stream, and bear left with stream on left, through fields for ¾ mile back to Clunton.

Lunch: Crown Inn, Clunton (01588-660265, – phone for opening times.

Accommodation: School House B&B, Chapel Lawn, Bucknell, Salop SY7 0BW (01547-530836, – excellent, friendly place

Bishop’s Castle Walking Festival, 13-17 May:;


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