Search Results : shropshire

Jun 272020
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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‘We’ve done something quite special here,’ says Pete Bowyer, senior manager at Fenn’s Moss National Nature Reserve, with modest pride. ‘Pretty much the whole bog had been wrecked and destroyed, and we’ve gradually brought it back to life.’

If there’s one outstanding example of how conservation can work to dramatic effect, it’s here on the borders of Shropshire and Clwyd, where England and Wales rub shoulders. Fenn’s, Whixall and their neighbouring ‘mosses’ form over 2,000 acres of raised bog, a rare landscape brought into being by the growth of sphagnum mosses that trap and hold rainwater.

We set out along the NNR’s History Trail. It’s a juicy and squelchy environment, a vast cushion of carbon-absorbing sphagnum where butterflies, spiders, wetland birds and flowers throve undisturbed for 10,000 years after the last Ice Age – the mosses were too deep, sodden and dangerous for man to do more than a little wildfowling and fishing. Then in the 19th and 20th centuries came commercial drainage and peat harvesting on a massive scale.

We passed scrubby areas of irregular banks, where peat was hand-cut by local villagers – ‘Whixall Bibles,’ they called the square black slabs of peat. Further out were vast acreages of bleached grass, heather and bog cotton, golden spatters of bog asphodel, oily black bog pools where dragonflies skimmed, and big skies full of swifts and swallows. Overhead sped the intent dark crescent shapes of hobbies, slender birds of prey hunting dragonflies to munch on the wing.

We walked the Long Mile and the old railway track to Fenn Old Peat Works, a skeleton shed holding rusty old pulley wheels, conveyors and ramps, the derelict rump of destructive industry. Harebells, mulleins, heath spotted orchids and yellow loosestrife clustered here.

Back on the bog track we crossed the regrown heath of Oaf’s Orchard. Rusted wire baskets once held incendiary devices to trick wartime German raiders into dropping their bombs on the ‘useless wasteland’ of the bog.

Walking the homeward tracks across the moss it was hard to credit that this wonderful multi-coloured world of busy wildlife, buzzing and calling, was a dead black desert only forty years ago, cut and dried and abandoned. The painstaking work of professional conservationists and the volunteers that help them, the water management, the restoration of vegetation and encouragement of wildlife have combined to work a miracle in the Welsh Borders.

Start: Manor House NNR Base car park, Whixall, Salop SY13 2PD (OS ref SJ 505366)

Getting there: From Wem, follow ‘Whixall,’ then ‘NNR Base’ and brown NNR signs.

Walk (9¼ miles, level paths, OS Explorer 241): Obtain ‘History Trail’ leaflet from Manor House office or dispenser, or download at publications.naturalengland.org.uk.

From car park, down drive, right at road for 500m to Post 1 beside gate (498364); follow History Trail clockwise to Post 21(504368). Left along Long Mile green lane. In nearly 1 mile, left at post with arrows and dog notice (505382); in ½ mile, left (497381) along railway path. In 1½ miles left at Fenn’s Old Peat Works (478367), heading SE on Mosses Trail. In nearly 1 mile, right at Post 10 (487355). At Post 11 (485354), left to Llangollen Canal (485353); left to Roving Bridge junction (488352). Fork left (‘Hurleston’). In ¼ mile, left at Morris’s Bridge (493354, green arrow) on green lane. In 300m pass gate (492356); at Post 8, right (490358). At Post 6, left (496363) and retrace outward walk to Manor House.

Conditions: Can be wet and muddy.

Lunch: Picnic.

Info: Manor House NNR Base (01948-880362);
first-nature.com/waleswildlife/n-nnr-fenns-whixall.php; shropshiresgreatoutdoors.co.uk satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 02:19
Feb 022019
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window

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Abdon’s little red church of St Margaret stands within the bank of a circular graveyard, the sign of a very old, probably pre-Christian site. People have been working and living for many millennia here in remote rural Shropshire below the Clee Hills – and on top of them too, in the steeply ramparted hill forts that crown their basalt peaks.

Looming at the back of Abdon is Brown Clee, at 1,770ft the highest peak in Shropshire, a great weighty whaleback of green, purple and red that rises in the east to blot out half the sky. On this bright winter morning big clouds came bustling across from the sunlit uplands of Wenlock Edge out to the west.

A field path led us from the straggling houses of Abdon down to Cockshutford where the cocks and dogs combined to give us a loud welcome. Clee Liberty Common beyond lay pitted with the hillocks and holes of former coal pits and quarries. Above stood the neat oval ramparts of Nordy Bank, rare among hill enclosures hereabouts in having been left undamaged by the quarrymen.

Twisted old silver birches flanked the sunken track that meandered up across the common to the radio mast at Clee Burf. From this great ringfort we had a fine view south to the stepped profile of much-quarried Titterstone Clee.

We sat in a rushy hollow out of the wind, eating tangerines and listening to the sigh and rustle of a beech hedge. Then we headed north on the Shropshire Way along the spine of Brown Clee, passing the poppy-strewn memorial to flyers, both Allied and German, killed nearby in plane crashes during the Second World War. Weather and conditions can be treacherous up here, and the Clee Hills claimed the lives of more flyers than any other hill range in these islands.

Up at the topograph on Brown Clee’s summit rampart we stood and marvelled at an incomparable prospect, 300 miles all round the circle of the horizon from Cader Idris and the Berwyns to the west and Brecon Beacons to the south, to the Peak District hills in the north-east and Birmingham’s towers in the east. The Wrekin, the Malverns, Cannock Chase and Wenlock Edge. All drenched in sun under a china blue sky, a once-in-a-lifetime view on such a winter’s day.

Start: Abdon Village Hall, Abdon, Craven Arms, Shropshire SY7 9HZ (OS 576868)

Getting there: B4368 (Craven Arms – Much Wenlock); at Beambridge, turn off for Tugford; from here, follow signs to Abdon.

Walk (7½ miles, moderate hill walk, OS Explorer 217) From village hall car park, left down road past church (575866). Left at junction (574863); in 600m, opposite last buildings on right, turn left off right bend (577862), and fork right along level track between hedges (yellow arrow/YA, blank fingerpost). Follow YAs through fields south for ¾ mile to cross lane at Cockshutford (579851).

Up steps opposite, through kissing gate; right (YA) with hedge on right for ½ mile (stiles, gates) to stile into green lane (573852, YA). Left to road, left past Clee Liberty Common notice on right. In another 150m, right through gate at another notice (573850); up gravelly track past Nordy Bank hillfort (577848) for 1½ miles to Clee Burf radio mast 593843).

Left along Shropshire Way/SW with wall on right. In Five Springs Hollow go through right-hand gate (596864, ‘SW main route’) and on past flyers’ memorial (596855). In ¾ mile, with gate on left, bear right (591863) to topograph on Abdon Burf (594866).

Back to go through gate (blue arrow); follow grassy trackway downhill; in 150m it turns right and descends for ½ mile to road (586869). Right to junction; left (‘Abdon Village Hall’). In 100m, left on bridleway (584870, fingerpost). Follow it across fields with hedge on left. In 400m pass Marsh Farm on your right; in another 200m, right to cross stile (578867). Up fence to stile into road beside car park.

Lunch: Tallyho Inn, Bouldon SY7 9DP (01584-841811, thetallyho.co.uk) – 3 miles.

Accommodation: The Crown, Munslow SY7 9ET (01584-841205, crowncountryinn.co.uk) – 5 miles.

Info: Ludlow TIC (01584-875053); shropshiretourism.co.uk; ramblers.org.uk; satmap.com

 Posted by at 02:43
Sep 152018
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Geologically, the Stiperstones are easy enough to explain – outcrops of quartzite some 500 million years old, spread along a mile or so of heathery Shropshire ridge on a westerly spur of the Long Mynd.

It’s their contrary aspect – jagged upthrusts of naked rock in the midst of smoothly rolling countryside – that has cloaked them in all manner of strange and demonic myths. And certainly, walking towards Cranberry Rock at the southern end of the line, it was disconcerting to find the harsh outline of the tor suddenly appearing between one minute and the next as though the ground had disgorged it all in a moment.

It was a beautiful autumn afternoon. The Long Mynd was a glowing green bar of dimpled slopes in the east, the Welsh borderlands a sunlit haze of woods and hills to the west. Cranberries spattered the heather with scarlet. A pair of ravens flew high overhead, one giving out deep croaks, the other emitting a strange, musical warble.

The path among the Stones, rocky and full of angular quartzite lumps, required careful watching. We followed it through the heather past Cranberry Rock and Manstone Rock to the Devil’s Chair – more like a giant and horrendously uncomfortable chaise longue of unforgiving stone.

Wild Edric the Saxon, Lady Godiva and all the witches and warlords of Shropshire have the Devil’s Chair as their trysting spot. Here Slashrags the Tailor got the better of the Evil One, once he’d spotted his cloven hooves.

And here the Devil reclines in stormy weather watching between the lightning bolts for the ruination of Old England. On that day, it’s said, the Stiperstones will sink back whence they sprang – into the bowels of Hell.

We descended a steep grassy path among old lead mine workings to the village of Stiperstones a thousand feet below. Down there, with the Stones shut away from sight by steep hillsides, it was hard to bring their otherworldly atmosphere to mind. But as we headed home along a track that skirted the ridge, we saw their ragged profiles lit by the setting sun and a spectral half-moon that sailed up out of the ridge. The Stiperstones stood sentinel, a ghostly guard above our homeward path.

Start: The Bog car park, near Stiperstones, Shropshire SY5 0NG (OS ref SO 358978)

Getting there: Shuttle Bus, weekends and BH Mon, May-end Sept; Bus 552 from Shrewsbury
Road: From A488 between Bishop’s Castle and Shrewsbury, follow ‘Shelve’, then ‘Stiperstones’.

Walk (5 miles, strenuous, OS Explorer 216): Follow Shropshire Way/SW signs to right of pond; follow path, up steps, through kissing gate (arrow). Ahead along gorsy bank to kissing gate; left to cross road (362976). Follow SW ‘main route’ for 1 mile along ridge past Cranberry Rock (365981), Manstone Rock (367986) to Devil’s Chair (369992). In another 600m, SW turns right (371996); keep ahead here. In 350m, at crossing and cairn by Shepherd’s Rock (373999, yellow arrow/YA, ‘Cross Britain Walk’) left down grassy path to road in Stiperstones village (363004). Left past Stiperstones Inn; in 400m, hairpin left (361002, fingerpost); cross stile; right, steeply up fence for 300m. Left at post (359999, arrow); cross stile, pass NNR notice; steeply up through trees to cross stile at top (361996). Half left across field; right (361994) on stony lane for 1 mile to road (359980) and car park.

Conditions: Rocky underfoot along Stiperstones ridge; steep climb from Stiperstones village

Lunch: Bog Centre (01743-792484, bogcentre.co.uk)

Accommodation: Stiperstones Inn, Stiperstones village SY5 0PD (01743-791327, stiperstonesinn.co.uk)

Info: Bog Centre, Stiperstones (see above); visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 07:48
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, crowninnclunton.co.uk) – phone for opening times.

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

Bishop’s Castle Walking Festival, 13-17 May: bcwalkingfest@gmail.com; walkingfestival.co.uk

Info: visitshropshirehills.co.uk; visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:03
Jan 162016
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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On a bright winter afternoon we studied the big OS map in the hall of the Castle Hotel at Bishop’s Castle. We were looking for a short, sharp walk, something to shake down some excellent bangers and mash. Churchtown, a few miles west, looked just the job – the rollercoaster ups and downs of Offa’s Dyke for exercise, and the ancient Kerry Ridgeway for the views.

There’s no town at Churchtown – just a church and a house or two sunk in a deep valley. We headed north up the knee-cracking rampart of Offa’s Dyke, a good stiff puff uphill. When Offa, 8th-century King of Mercia, ordered the great boundary built between his country and the badlands of the wild Welsh, he meant it to last, and it has – a solid raised bank and attendant ditches, running north and south like a green scar across the face of the Welsh Border.

We plunged into the Edenhope Valley, crossed the stream and plodded up another steep stretch of dyke to where the Kerry Ridgeway ran along the crest of the hills. Sunlight and hail showers chased each other, the wind roared in the holly hedges, and the view northwards swung from the distant whaleback peaks of the Berwyns and the green knuckles of the Breidden Hills round to the craggy Stiperstone outcrops of the Long Mynd and the radar globes on Titterstone Clee. A fifty-mile view under sun, storm and a rainbow.

This is tumbled country, overlooked from on high by the Kerry Ridgeway. We followed the former drover’s road to the few houses of Pantglas, then headed south across sheep pastures and steeply down to where the neat slate-roofed farm of Lower Dolfawr lay tucked out of sight in its roadless valley.

Across the little rushing stream, up around the silent farmhouse and sheds, and up again along a holloway all but choked with gorse and broom, to the broad pastures on Edenhope Hill. A last battering from the wind, a scud along a rutted trackway, and we were descending into Churchtown down King Offa’s mighty landmark and memorial.
Start: St John’s Church, Churchtown, near Bishop’s Castle, Salop SY9 5LZ (OS ref SO 264873)

Getting there: From A488 Clun road, 3½ miles south of Bishop’s Castle, turn right, following ‘Bryn’, ‘Cefn Einion’, ‘Mainstone’ and then ‘Church Town’.

Walk (4½ miles, strenuous, OS Explorer 216): From car park, cross road; follow Offa’s Dyke Path north for 1½ miles to Kerry Ridgeway/KR (258896).

Left along KR. At Pantglas, fork left (247896, KR); in 150m, just past Upper Pantglas cottage, left (fingerpost) through gate. 100m up track, right over stile (yellow arrow/YA); left along fence; left over stile at far end (248892, YA); right along fence past pond. Through gate at field end (not right over stile); down slope through next gate (249889). Left (YA) downhill; in 300m, hairpin right to bottom of track (251887), to cross river.

30m after crossing river, before farm buildings at Lower Dolfawr, right up bank. Through gate (YA); skirt to left around farm and along conifer hedge. Right up bank, through gate (251885, YA). Up hollow path to gate (YA). On up hollow path among broom and gorse bushes through felled plantation. At top, through gate (255884); keep same line across field to road near pump house on Edenhope Hill (258881). Left; in 50m, at left bend, keep ahead on green trackway for 600m to meet Offa’s Dyke (263878). Right to Churchtown.

Conditions: Steep ascents/descents on Offa’s Dyke; path through felled plantation above Lower Dolfawr rather overgrown.

Lunch: Picnic

Accommodation: Castle Hotel, Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire SY9 5BN (01588-638403, thecastlehotelbishopscastle.co.uk) – friendly, characterful, very help.

Info: Church Stretton TIC (01694-723133)
visitengland.com; satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk

 Posted by at 01:42
Mar 072015
 


First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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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

Info: Shrewsbury TIC (01743-258888)
visitengland.com; www.satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk; LogMyTrip.co.uk

 Posted by at 02:09
Aug 172013
 

Fine old high jinks they had in former days on the hilltop of Cym-y-Bwch, the ‘Horns of the Buck’, just outside Oswestry where Shropshire looks west into Wales.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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From Georgian into Victorian times, hotly contested horse races were held up here, competing for purses of golden guineas and the solid silver Sir Watkin Williams Wynn Cup. What with the drinking, gambling, pickpocketing and lewd behaviour that came to plague the occasion, the gentry stopped attending, and in 1848 the last races were run.

These days the old grassy figure-of-eight track is a favourite place to take a breather and walk the dog. The Offa’s Dyke Path National Trail runs through the Old Racecourse, and we followed its straight course along a thickly wooded scarp edge among firs that gave out a resinous, almost buttery smell. Tiny goldcrests flitted in the treetops. A brisk, blowy sky ran overhead, and huge views opened from the blue distances of the Cheshire plain to the Long Mynd and the Breidden Hills further south.

A tangle of steep lanes led out of the trees along the line of Offa’s Dyke. In the fields beyond Pentre-shannel farm we found the old rampart more than man-height, its earthen bank knitted with big oak and ash trees and burrowed to a grey tissue by rabbits that scampered for cover. By a cottage on a green lane we met a couple walking their sheepdogs ‘Oh,’ said the woman, ‘try Hafod Lane if you want lovely flowers and views.’

It proved a great piece of advice. The narrow lane runs round the flank of the knobbly hill of Mynydd Myfyr. We climbed between banks of frothy yellow crosswort, red campion, blue speedwell and little scarlet wild strawberries to a superb view west over green lumpy country towards the higher Welsh hills – a steeply folded landscape nurtured and shaped by sheep and cattle farming, but somehow retaining a smack of wildness.

We found a path skirting the northern slope of Mynydd Myfyr. A lonely farm lay there, so deep in its cleft that only its roof showed until we were right on top of it. We crossed fields of lush grass and descended flower-bordered lanes, then headed back into the woods once more. A stiff climb, a shady tunnel of firs, and we were up at the Old Racecourse, on the Horns of the Buck, with the wind in our faces and a fifty-mile view to savour.

Start: Oswestry Old Racecourse car park, Shropshire, SY10 7HL approx. (OS ref SJ 258305).

Getting there: Signed to left off B4580 Rhydycroesau road, 2 miles west of Oswestry.

Walk (7½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 240): Turn left along grass track of Old Racecourse to Janus Horse sculpture (257303). Left here along Offa’s Dyke Path/OD (yellow arrows/YA, OD acorn symbols) for 2 miles, passing Pentre-shannel farm (257279) to reach a lane (258274, ‘Trefonen ½ mile’). Leave OD and turn right to T-jct. Over stile (YA, ‘50’ logo), up hedge, through gate (254273). Aim a little right of white cottage opposite, crossing 2 fields (stiles, YAs) to green lane (250273). YA points right, but go left to road by cottage.

Left along lane for ¼ mile to junction just past New Barns (250269). Right here through gateway and up drive. Through gate, on along right side of barns; follow track across 2 fields to cross stile on right of gate (245268). Right up Hafod Lane round Mynydd Myfyr for a little over ½ mile; turn right over stile (243277, ‘footpath’) up hedge to stile (YA). Follow fence on left (YAs, stiles) to Pant-y-ffynon farm. Right into grassy drive (247277, YA), left along it. Through gate, immediately right over stile (YA); half left across field to cross stile to left of gate (249276, YA). In bottom right corner of next field, stile into lane.

Left; in 100m, right over 2 stiles close together (250277); half right across field to go through hedge gap a little to right of tall trees (249279). Keep parallel to the upper hedge, down to cross stile, right along track to road at Croesau Bach (247280). Cross road; bear right along lane opposite for ⅔ mile, down to bear left across bridge (256282). Follow Offa’s Dyke Path for ¼ mile back into Candy Wood. Where OD turns right (254286), go left along woodland track. At first fork after that, go left (YA); at next fork, go right (252288, YA) for 600m along bottom of wood with river on left. Track then rises steeply to rejoin OD (255298); left to Old Racecourse car park

Lunch: Picnic; or Barley Mow, Trefonen (01691-656889; offasdykebrewery.com)

Accommodation: Helen Gilbert, The Pentre, Trefonen, Oswestry, postcode (01691-653952; thepentre.com) – first class, friendly B&B; evening meal by arrangement.

Information: Oswestry TIC (01691-662753/662488)

www.ramblers.org.uk www.satmap.com www.LogMyTrip.co.uk

 Posted by at 01:51
Sep 012012
 

‘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
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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
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 Posted by at 02:25
Jan 282012
 

It’s not often that I have the pleasure of a weekend’s walking with my London-dwelling daughter Ruth.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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We’d fixed our sights on Shropshire and the Caradoc Hills, and today was exactly the kind of bright day we’d been hoping for, with a buffeting wind sending cloud shadows and floods of sunlight chasing across the land.

Climbing the steep slope to Three Fingers Rock from the secret valley under Helmeth Hill was all sweat and effort, but once we’d got up there it was as though we had been lent the keys of Heaven. How else to describe the pure exhilaration of this moment when the view and the wind burst on you in a single instant? We scrambled up to perch on the rocky Fingers and gaze round, gasping.

The ancient volcanic upthrust of the Caradoc Hills with its naked rock outcrops stretches north like a recumbent dinosaur, the double-humped back of Caer Caradoc and Little Caradoc dropping to a low neck before rising again northward into the long domed head of The Lawley. A mile to the west rolls the great rounded whaleback of the Long Mynd, and squeezed between them lies Church Stretton, Shropshire’s own alpine village. Up on the breezy spine of the Caradocs you feel you could lob a pebble straight down the chimney of Dudgeley Mill a thousand feet below.

We strode north on the short mossy turf of the ridge. Near the summit of Caer Caradoc the marbled wall of a volcanic dyke merged with the ramparts of an Iron Age hill fort, fabled scene of the last stand of Prince Caradoc or Caractacus against the all-conquering Romans.

A last linger over the immense view – the roll of the Long Mynd, the sharp cone of the Wrekin rising out of the Shropshire plains, The Lawley a mere hummock in the foreground – and we were bowling downhill over Little Caradoc. The homeward path was a tangled and a squelchy one by lost orchards, abandoned coppice groves and the mossy yard of tumbledown Hill House where abandoned dishes lay among wind-tumbled roof tiles. A climb over the bracken-smothered common of Hope Bowdler Hill among witchily twisted elder trees, and a descent to Hope Bowdler with the Shropshire fields and woods spread out for contemplation at our feet.

Start & finish: St Andrew’s Church, Hope Bowdler, near Church Stretton, SY6 7EN (OS ref SO 476924)
Getting there: Train to Church Stretton (1½ miles – www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk). Road: A49 to Church Stretton; B4371 to Hope Bowdler. Park (neatly, please!) near church.

Walk (6 miles, hard grade, OS Explorer 217): Right along B4371; in 100m, left up driveway (475925; yellow arrow/YA). In 30m, bear left (‘Church Stretton, Gaerstones’) on path under trees and through fields for ⅔ mile, to kissing gate on left onto B4371 (468932). Right for 40m; right up farm track (‘Hope Bowdler, Gaerstones Farm’) past Gaerstones Farm. In ⅓ mile cross stile (472937; blue/orange arrow); in 50m, left over stile (YA), left along fence, then down track through wood for ⅓ mile. At bottom, right along track (471943). In 50m, bear left up green track; immediately sharp left, and straight up steep slope, crossing kissing gate (471944) to reach Three Fingers Rock (471947). On along spine of hills for ⅔ mile to Caer Caradoc summit (478954).

Steeply down, on over Little Caradoc (481960) and down to turn right along fence (483963). In ¼ mile, where it doglegs right and left (484960), cross stile (YA); ahead through bracken, aiming halfway down fence on far side of field, past YA post. Turn left past ruined Hill House (484957) to roadway below. Just before reaching it, turn right past ‘footpath’ post; on along grass path with hedge on right. In ¼ mile, over stile (484953; YA), and on with fence on left. At cross fence, over stile (483951; YA) and cross track, aiming towards Battle Stones rocky peak ahead. Descend with fence on left; at bottom, cross stile (484948; YA); down through trees and over stream. Up path, then over brackeny wet hillside, aiming for Battle Stones. Cross wired-up stile (485946; YA, ‘Access Land’); turn right along grass track, with hedge on right and brackeny Willstone Hill on left. In ¼ mile cross stile (481945); in 200m, sharp left at ‘Ride UK1’ post, diagonally left up hillside, aiming for rock outcrops. At saddle (482942) don’t go left, but keep ahead on grassy bridleway through bracken across Hope Bowdler Hill for 1 mile, down to B4371 in Hope Bowdler (478927). Right to church.

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Lunch: Royal Oak, Cardington SY6 7JZ (01694-771266; www.at-the-oak.com)
Accommodation: Raven Hotel, Much Wenlock TF13 6EN (01952-727251; www.ravenhotel.com) – comfortable, friendly hotel in the heart of walking country
More info: Shrewsbury TIC (01743-281200); www.shropshiretourism.co.uk

Walking With Offa: 12 walks with pubs in Shropshire AONB. Info/booklets – 01588-674095;
www.shropshirewalking.co.uk/walking-with-offa; Twitter @ShropHillsAONB
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 Posted by at 03:33
Aug 272011
 

Hovering above the Severn Gorge, I stared down in fascination at sailing barges on the river, covered carts and trains of packhorses in the narrow hillside lanes, horse-drawn wagons in a huge quarry, and scenes of primitive iron-making and smelting going on in every nook and cranny.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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This was Ironbridge around 1800 – a beautiful scale model of it, anyway, in the Museum of the Gorge, and there in the centre was the world’s first cast-iron bridge itself, spanning the 2-inch wide River Severn.

It’s 25 years since Ironbridge was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you’re going to explore the famous bridge, the Severn Gorge and the streams and mineral-rich hills that gave Ironbridge its global fame – not to mention the ten museums, housed in superbly restored warehouses and manufactories, that collectively tell the tremendous tale – there’s no better way than on foot. Make sure to leave plenty of time to move round the museums, and to stop in the woods and flowery meadows along the way to ponder the extraordinary, world-shaking Industrial Revolution of which this lovely Shropshire dale was the birthplace.

I crossed the gracefully braced bow of the Iron Bridge and followed the tree-lined railway path along the south side of the thickly wooded gorge. Jackfield Tile Museum was full of bright colours: tiled bathrooms, pub bars, floors, nurseries. At Coalport China Works I watched a woman hand-painting china with infinite skill and delicacy – not all the industries in the gorge have been consigned to history. There was a dash down the Tar Tunnel, a subterranean brick-lined passage whose walls weep natural bitumen. Then I climbed high through the woods, along the rim of the gorge and down to Coalbrookdale.

It was Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale, pioneer and man of vision, who made the fame and fortune of Ironbridge. Down in Coalbrookdale’s Museum of Iron I stood and gazed at the very furnace in which, in the New Year of 1709, he succeeded in smelting iron with the use of coke. The cast-iron he created was cheap, strong and made of local materials, and it kick-started the Industrial Revolution.

Within a century Darby’s invention would shape and drive the world. Railway engines, boilers, saucepans, Agas, fireplaces and pokers – they all sprang from this humble brick cradle. I walked back to Ironbridge through the woods with the incredible story still thundering round my head.

Start & finish: Ironbridge Gorge long-stay car park, TF8 7DQ (OS ref SJ665037).

Getting there:
Train (www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk) to Telford
Bus – 88, 88A, 99, 99A (www.arrivabus.co.uk) from Telford
Road – M52 to Telford, and follow signs to Ironbridge.

WALK (7 ½ miles, moderate/hard, OS Explorer 242):
Right along road to Museum of the Gorge (668036). On to cross Iron Bridge (672034). Left (‘Jackfield’, red arrow/RA) through car park. Severn Valley Way/SVW to Coalford. At level crossing gates (685031) follow Tile Museum. At Museum (686029) fork left down Church Road (SVW). At Salthouses (690028) follow yellow arrows/YAs past houses and Maws Craft Centre (691027). Left at Boat Inn across river (693025). Cross railway bridge; right down steps to Tar Tunnel. Return across railway bridge; left along canal to Coalport China Works (695024). Left along road; just before Shakespeare Inn, right (‘Silkin Way’) onto Silkin Way. Left; in 200 m, right (695027) up steps; steeply up beside Hay Incline. At top, left on path into meadows. In 100 m, fork left to pass left of house with tall chimney. Forward to pass along hotel terrace (YA). At end of terrace, left downhill (YA) through woods for ⅓ mile to roadway (697036). Left past Blists Hill Victorian Town entrance to road. Left (‘Silkin Way’) for ¼ mile. Just before tunnel, bear left, then right over tunnel to cross road (693032). Path up into woods (‘Ironbridge via Wood’). In 150 m, right up steps (‘Ridge Path’, green South Telford Way/STW arrows). Follow STW/Ironbridge for ¾ mile. Beyond 2 meadows bear left downhill (682037, ‘Wesley Road’) for 250 m. Then bear right uphill (681036; ‘Benthall View’). In 100 m, left (‘Madeley Bank’) to cross road (679038). Up Harris’s Lane; keep ahead to Beech Road (677041). Left; in 100 m, right (‘Woodside’) and follow Ironbridge Way/IW. In 200 m, right (676042) then left (footpath fingerpost) to join road. In another 30 m, beyond bus shelter, left (677044) on tarmac path beside green. At roadway at edge of housing estate (675044) dogleg left and right; continue on gravel path across meadows (‘Woodlands for Health’/WFH; YA). In 100 m WFH forks right, but keep ahead with Dale Coppice on left. In 200 m path bends right; left here (671046, RA) through kissing gate, down through Dale Coppice. Ahead at path junction (‘Woodside CBD’). Pass picnic place on left; descend steps; at foot of steps bear left (670047); in 50 m, bear left (‘Wellington Road’) down steps to pass chapel (668046). Right to road; cross into Museum of Iron (678047).

From Museum, back to road; right along it; in ¼ mile, cross (670043) and go up Paradise (lane). In 50 m left up steep lane (fingerpost). In 100 m at crossing of lanes, diagonally right (fingerpost on left) on upward path, up steps; on up Lincoln Hill. At top of steps, right (671041; ‘Ironbridge’). In 200 m, fork right (669039, ‘Ironbridge’) on path, then lane downhill (RAs) to road. Right to car park.

Conditions: Many steep steps in woods

Refreshments: Pubs/Cafés in Ironbridge, Coalport

Accommodation: Telford Hotel, Sutton Hill (01952-429977; www.qhotels.co.uk) – comfortable, friendly, amazing views.

INFO: Ironbridge Gorge Museums (01952-433424; www.ironbridge.org.uk). Passport tickets (1 year unlimited access to 10 museums): £14.75 child/student; £18.25 60+; £22.50 adult; £61.50 family.

Coast Along for WaterAid, 10 September: 250 sponsored UK coast path walks to join! www.coastalongforwateraid.org

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 Posted by at 05:07