First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
It was a cold late winter’s afternoon over the Shropshire hills when I set off from the Bottle & Glass at Picklescott; so cold that the cows were in their sheds, making the air foggy with their soft silage-sweetened breaths. The broad lowlands of the great Shropshire and Cheshire plan stretched out green and sunlit as I climbed the lane from the village. But there was a frosting of white along the upper bulwarks of The Wrekin, fifteen miles off, and when I got out into the high fields I found that the slopes of Cothercott Hill were still blanketed in snow freshly dinted with boot prints.
I followed the bootmarks southwest up the broad nape of the Long Mynd where it rose from the lowlands. This enormous whaleback upland dominates the north Shropshire landscape from afar, a billowing presence full of hidden valleys known as ‘beaches’ which only sheep and walkers know. The sheep were still out in the fields, hardy endurers of the cold, staring incredulously as I trudged by, as though they had never seen a human before. It was wonderfully exhilarating walking, with the Welsh hills in the west white-capped and whirling with localised snowstorms, and a bullying north wind to shove me roughly on and up to the ancient Portway at the crest of Wilderley Hill.
Men have been travelling the ridgeway route know as the Portway for perhaps 5,000 years, traversing the length of the Long Mynd by way of this broad green thoroughfare. The Portway was white this afternoon, its black hedges knee-deep in wind-sculpted snow. My boots creaked and crunched in the drifts as I followed the old way south, with Breughelian vistas of black-and-white winter landscapes on either hand.
At last my homeward path diverged from the Portway, and I went slipping and sliding down through the fields towards Picklescott with the temperature dropping, the afternoon light draining and the cold nipping at my fingers. In the firelit bar of the Bottle & Glass, I found a cheerful party of walkers. It was their boot prints I had been treading in all the way round. A touch of Good King Wenceslas, we all agreed.
Start: Bottle & Glass Inn, Picklescott, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY6 6NR (OS ref SO 435994)
Getting there: M54, A5 to Shrewsbury; A49 towards Leominster; minor road to Picklescott from A49 at Dorrington.
Walk (4¾ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 217, 241; download map/guide leaflet at bottleandglass.co.uk): From Bottle & Glass, left to crossroads; right (‘Ratlinghope’); in 30m, keep ahead (not left). In 200m, right down ‘No Through Road’ (433995; ‘Humphrey Kynaston Way’/HKW; blue arrows/BA). In ¾ mile, where lane bends right and descends, left through gate (428005; HKW; ‘Walking With Offa’/WWO; BA). Bear slightly away from hedge on right, into dip, to go through bridleway gate (426007; HKW, WWO, BA). Right up hedge for 100m; diagonally left at hedge corner, across field to hedgebank with thorn trees (426009; Shropshire Way/SW – unmarked here). Left, and follow SW for ¾ mile along hedgebank, climbing up right side of conifer wood to crest (417000). From here aim for wood ahead. In another 400m, through double gate (424997; SW, WWO, BA); half left to road (413995).
Cross, and follow lane opposite (SW, WWO, ‘Darnford Walk’). In just over half a mile, at gate across lane, left through another gate (420985; WWO, HKW). Up to fence corner (BA); follow fence on right to gate at corner of wood (421988, HKW). Right through gate; follow hedge down to next gate (424990); left along farm drive. In 400m, right at road (428995); right again into Picklescott.
Lunch & Accommodation: Bottle & Glass, Picklescott (01694-751252; bottleandglass.co.uk): cosy, lively and friendly place