‘I’d really love to see some heather out in full bloom,’ sighed my daughter Ruth over the telephone from her London office. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Scotland? No – too far. How about the Long Mynd, then? That great sandstone whaleback, rising near the Welsh Border in west Shropshire, is a blanket of purple heather and green bracken in this late summer season. Sounds good – let’s go!
The flanks of the Long Mynd are burrowed with steep, twisting stream valleys – ‘beaches’ or ‘batches’ on the west side of the whaleback, ‘hollows’ on the east where we began our walk on a gorgeous morning. Beautiful Cardingmill Valley abuts the tourist centre of Church Stretton and is always crowded, but once we had turned aside up Lightspout Hollow we had the narrow cleft almost entirely to ourselves. The hollow’s waterfall, spectacular after rain, was today no more than a splash and trickle down its slippery black shute of mosses and liverworts.
Up above the fall, Lightspout Hollow opened out into a green sea of bracken where meadow pipits swooped away with their characteristic inconsequential cheeping. The summit of the Mynd lay in a wash of heather, purple and brilliant enough in the sunshine to bring a huge grin to Ruth’s face. ‘That’s it!’ she said to herself. We paused on the crest to gaze out at the lumpy quartzite extrusions of the Stiperstones, famous for their association with the Devil and his minions, standing dark and threatening on the western skyline. Then we plunged down the long cleft of Ashes Hollow under high hillsides scarlet with bilberry leaves, turning colour to let us know that autumn was not too far around the corner.
Ruth strode out far below me, her golden twist of hair bobbing in the bracken. We chose a pathside rock to sit and nibble ginger oatcakes and mini-cheeses, an unbeatable combo with wind and a spatter of rain to put an edge on our appetite. Then it was on down the hollow, half in and half out of the stream, to pass Ashes (a strong candidate for the world’s most perfectly sited cottage) and reach the foot of the cleft.
Steeply up and steeply down to Town Brook Hollow, the reservoir at its mouth so green and still I took it to be part of the trees it reflected with mirrored perfection. On round the flank of Burway Hill, and back up Cardingmill Valley to the Chalet Pavilion for a well-earned cuppa and a tooth-melting slice of Carding Mill Crunch.
Start & finish: Cardingmill Valley top car park, Church Stretton, SY6 6JG (OS ref SO 441949)
Getting there: Rail (thetrainline.com; railcard.co.uk) to Church Stretton. Bus: Long Mynd & Stiperstones Shuttle (April-Sept, weekends + BH Mon; shropshirehillsaonb.co.uk).
Road: Cardingmill Valley signposted from Church Stretton (A49, Shrewsbury-Ludlow)
Walk (7 miles, moderate/hard grade, OS Explorer 217. NB: Online maps, more walks: christophersomerville.co.uk): From top car park, up track. In ⅓ mile, left up Lightspout Hollow (436951; red-topped posts/RTP). Climb to right of waterfall (431950); above it, follow RTP and yellow arrows/YA. Where path forks, go left (YA post); follow path to car park (421954). Cross road; ahead on bridleway (Jack Mytton Way). Over brow of hill to ‘Priory Cottage’ post with arrow pointing ahead (‘Ride UK’). Left here over knee-deep heather to cross road (421946). On along path (‘Little Stretton’) down Ashes Hollow. In 2 miles cross stream at Ashes house (439926). Over stile (YA) and on. Through camping ground, over stile to road (441920). Left over stile by Ashes Cottage gate (fingerpost); steeply up along narrow hillside path. In ⅔ mile descend to B5477 Ludlow Road (445930). Left up bridleway (fingerpost) into woods. In nearly half a mile leave woods by houses on left (448936); turn left (‘Public footpath to Town Brook Hollow’) up steps; at top, right and steeply down to reservoir at foot of Town Brook Hollow (447938). Right up slope (‘Cardingmill’, YA) to cross road (448942). Down fenced path (‘No Parking’); up Cardingmill Valley to car park.
Conditions: Some steep steps and paths between Little Stretton and Town Brook Hollow
Lunch/tea: Chalet Pavilion tearoom (NT), Cardingmill Valley (01694-725000) – delicious home baking
Cardingmill Valley: nationaltrust.org.uk/carding-mill-valley-and-shropshire-hills
More info: Church Stretton TIC (01694-723133); shropshiretourism.co.uk
www.ramblers.org.uk www.satmap.com www.LogMyTrip.co.uk