First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Wilderhope Manor, tucked into the flank of Hope Dale below the rim of Wenlock Edge, is a fine Tudor mansion, a youth hostel these days. It is also a house of many ghosts. One notable shade occasionally seen is that of a cavalier in plumed hat and riding boots. Could this be bold Major Thomas Sammwood? The Royalist owner of Wilderhope, pursued by Roundheads during the Civil War as he carried dispatches to the King, jumped his horse off Wenlock Edge not far away. The horse was killed; but Sammwood, having landed in a tree, coolly climbed down and accomplished his mission on foot.
Jane and I looked up at the windows of Wilderhope before we set off, but there was no glimpse of the gallant gentleman. Under a cloudy sky we passed a hollow horse sculpted from horseshoes, and followed the Shropshire Way along the crest of Wenlock Edge. The trees of Coats Wood were bright with fruit: sloes with pale blue blooms, scarlet hips, bryony strings like red and yellow peppers hung up on a market stall; crimson haws, deep pink spindle berries, wild raspberries now black and shrivelled, and the upstanding black and scarlet fruits of Rose of Sharon.
Fields of dull gold stubble fell away southwards into the silent, roadless cleft of Hope Dale. At the crest of Roman Bank we left the wood and followed a lane down to the dale floor, then up to the opposite ridge by way of a rutted old cart track – an unsurfaced roadway, dusty and stony, that can have changed hardly at all since Major Sammwood rode out from Wilderhope. A rustling on the far side of the hedge betrayed a clutch of pheasant poults creeping along an old sunken lane. A fox had been busy along here; we found a starburst of rabbit fur on the track, the bloody skull stripped to the bone, and the white scut nearby.
Down in Corve Dale beyond the ridge we stopped on the bench outside Broadstone chapel under a hawthorn spray to eat our cheese-and-pickle doorstops, then went on through the valley fields to cross the infant River Corve. Was it all right to walk through the grounds of Broadstone Mill, as the map suggested? ‘Certainly, that’s the footpath,’ confirmed the owner at his back door.
Reunited with the Shropshire Way, the path rose through Hope Dale. A stream lined with alders, a baled and stubbled cornfield, and we were looking up at ghostly grey Wilderhope Manor once more.
Start & finish: Wilderhope Manor, Longville, Shropshire TF13 6EG (OS ref SO 545929)
Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk) to Church Stretton (6 miles). Bus: service 712 to Longville (1½ miles). Road: Wilderhope Manor signed from Longville-in-the-Dale, on B4371 between Much Wenlock and Church Stretton.
Walk (6 miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 217): From Wilderhope Manor car park, up drive, cross road, follow Shropshire Way/SW for 1⅔ miles through Coats Wood to Roman Bank (521908). Left along road to Topley (528905); Jack Mytton Way past Whitbach to cross B4368 (542897). Footpath past Broadstone Chapel (544897), on for ½ mile. At 549899, left across footbridge (548901), through grounds of Broadstone Mill (looks private, but it’s a public right of way!), up drive to Seven Stars PH (546903). Right along B4368 (take care!) for ¼ mile; left at Hopescross (‘Longville’); in 150 yards, right over stile (548905); follow SW for 1⅔ miles to Wilderhope Manor.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Seven Stars PH, Hopescross (01584-841212)
Accommodation: Wenlock Edge Inn, TF13 6DJ (01746-785678; www.wenlockedgeinn.co.uk)
Wilderhope Manor (NT youth hostel): www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-wilderhopemanor