Thursday, 28 April 2011

Craven Arms to Bishop’s Castle 23rd to 25th April 2011

A horseshoe-shaped route taking in some of the best countryside in the south Shropshire area including Wenlock Edge, the Stretton Hills, the Long Mynd and the Stiperstones Nature Reserve.

Total = 40.25 miles with 1755m of ascent.

We originally walked this route in reverse around 2½ years ago. This time round we tweaked it slightly to cut out some road walking and, overall, felt it is better tackled this way round.

Useful websites:

Saturday 23rd April 2011

On Wenlock Edge: Craven Arms to YHA Wilderhope – approx 12.00 miles


OS Explorer 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge

Route Summary:

Craven Arms – Halford – Lower Dinchope – Callow Hill – Flounder’s Folly – Frizland Coppice – Hill End Farm – Westhope – Harton Hollow Wood – Wenlock Edge NE – Roman Bank – YHA Wilderhope


Craven Arms: Pubs, Cafes, Shops, Transport, Accommodation
Wilderhope: Accommodation


A bright and warm day, very hazy and feeling more like summer than spring. Afternoon temperatures reached around 25ºC.


It was warming up nicely by 10.15am as we were dropped off at the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre in Craven Arms. We had begged a lift from friends and already treated them and ourselves to a leisurely fry-up before setting off. Suitably fortified, the excitement was mounting as we neared the start.

We had done this route once before (albeit in reverse) in autumn 2008 and were really looking forward to another go. Waving goodbye to our friends, we followed a path behind the Discovery Centre and across the meadow towards the road at Halford, pausing briefly to adjust our layers. Having spent much of the previous 36 hours catching up with family and friends, it was good to finally be under way.

From Lower Dinchope we crossed a couple of fields and climbed through the woods to the top of Callow Hill and the tower known as Flounder’s Folly. Originally built in the 1830’s, it has been recently restored and is, on occasion, open to the public. Today was one of those days, so we climbed the narrow stairs to the top. It is said that seven counties can be seen from here on a clear day, but we struggled to see much further than seven fields it was so hazy.

Coming off the top we zig-zagged down through Frizland Coppice and took a path through the woods towards Hill End Farm, stopping on the way for a short break and a scone. The ground beneath the trees was carpeted with woodland flowers, and the scene across the fields seemed like one from another era.

Soon we reached the lane. Along the way we had seen signs informing us of a series of permissive paths in the area, and I had hoped that we might use them to avoid a section of road walking. One in particular looked promising, as if it might link with a higher route, but quickly doubled back in the wrong direction. We will have to explore these paths another day.

So we followed the lane instead. Out in the open it was pretty hot by now, with the heat bouncing back at us off the pale tarmac. There was little traffic to disturb us, though – in fact apart from at the folly we had seen hardly anyone at all. In the bright sunshine the little village of Westhope looked for all the world like a set for Larkrise or The Darling Buds of May.

At the top of a short rise we reached Wenlock Edge, a limestone escarpment running almost arrow-straight for 15 miles between Craven Arms and Much Wenlock. We stopped for lunch, savouring the cool of the woods.

Our route then followed the Edge for the next 5 miles, leading us in and out through beautiful deciduous woodland with carpets of bluebells and wild garlic. No wonder this landscape has been an inspiration for artists, musicians and poets. Near Eaton Coppice we left the woods, walking beside them along the field edge. It was a warm afternoon and, with time on our side, we spent a few minutes dozing in the grass.

It took the sound of distant thunder to spur us into action again. By High Wood we met up with a couple who were part way through an End to End attempt, Land’s End to John O’Groats – day 33 heading north and going well. What an adventure! Good luck Bob & Tina, we hope you’re successful!

With just a couple of miles to go, and the thunder rumbling behind us, we kept up a good pace over the last couple of miles, passing fields full of cowslips on the way. We'd never seen so many in one place before.

Crossing the road at Roman Bank we passed through Coats Wood on the way to the YHA Wilderhope, one of YHA’s more unusual hostels – a 16th Century manor house owned by the National Trust – where we had accommodation in dorms booked.

We rustled up a welcome pot of tea and sat drinking it on the terrace, thinking back over a super day. A couple of raindrops urged us back inside, so we had a wash and brush up before dinner – Chicken Curry and Sticky Beef followed by Apple Crumble and Custard. Over coffee afterwards we chatted outside with fellow hostellers until it finally went dark.

Sunday 24th April 2011

The Stretton Stretch: YHA Wilderhope to YHA Bridges – approx 15.25 miles


OS Explorer 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge

Route Summary:

YHA Wilderhope – Coats Wood – East Wall – Gilberries – Hill End – Moor Farm – Willstone – Cwms – Church Stretton – Carding Mill Valley – Long Mynd – Pole Bank – Medlicott – Coates Farm – YHA Bridges


Church Stretton: Pubs, Cafes, Shops, Transport, Accommodation
Carding Mill Valley: Café, Transport
Bridges: Transport, Accommodation


A cool start followed by a bright and warm day, less hazy and cooler than the previous day. Afternoon temperatures reached around 21ºC.


Following an early breakfast of porridge and coffee we were on our way soon after 8.00am, retracing our steps into Coats Wood a short way before turning northwest. It was definitely cooler than the previous day but fresher, and we could hear a couple of Woodpeckers drumming away as we crossed the fields towards the slightly scruffy hamlet of East Wall.

Last time, in reverse, the next couple of miles had probably been the least fulfilling of the walk, a little bit uninspiring after the drama of the Stretton Hills and tricky to find in places. But, coming at it from this side, route finding was easier and the view of the hills ahead improved step by step, drawing us on.

We passed cautiously by Hill End Farm, confronted as we were by two cows with young calves right next to the gate. A short spell of cow-whispering seemed to keep them calm while we went by, but we took the most direct route across the field just to be sure. There was an interesting looking alternative route possible from here, across the higher ground a little to the south, but we kept to the original route over the fields, Caer Caradoc with it’s Iron Age hillfort on top now dead ahead.

From Willstone, a clear track led towards Church Stretton, rising steadily to the low pass between Caer Caradoc and Hope Bowdler Hill at Cwms. As we climbed, the other hills of the Stretton group came into view – all tempting summits, but all off route for today. We will come back and explore these tops another time – our summit for the day still lay ahead.

Passing through the shady dell below Helmeth Hill, we dropped down into Church Stretton hitting part of ancient Watling Street on the way, another reminder of the human history in these parts. We had been walking all morning with hardly a stop, so we put our feet up, shared a Ploughman’s Lunch, a Cheese Scone and a large pot of tea, and prepared for the afternoon.

The morning had been fairly quiet, as had most of yesterday, especially as we were on lesser-known paths. But we also knew that of the entire walk, this afternoon would prove to be the busiest – not only in Church Stretton itself, but the tourist magnet of Carding Mill Valley too. Of course it was packed with families of all shapes and sizes - on an unseasonably hot, sunny, Easter Sunday such as this, it was never going to be any different.

We bought ice creams, and settled down for a few minute’s people watching. Then began the pull on to the Long Mynd, the crowds thinning slightly as we got higher. At the top we took a short break, looking back across to the Stretton Hills and our earlier route. In the warm sunshine, it was no surprise we were soon dozing ……

Then it was time to move on. We followed the ridge southwards for a mile or so to reach the high point of Pole Bank with its 360º panorama – being less hazy today we got the benefit of the extensive views.

We picked up a track heading west towards Medlicott. This side of the Mynd is much quieter being less accessible to the hordes from the West Midlands. You have to make much more effort to get here, and it shows. Only a few minutes from the top, and other than passing a small group of mountain bikers, we were alone again.

The last stretch for us was along the gated road that contours the hillside above the river East Onny towards Bridges, a quiet valley of superb countryside looking good in the afternoon sunshine. Away to the northwest we could see out target for tomorrow morning – the Stiperstones – whilst behind us the bulk of the Long Mynd stretched away to north and south.

We rolled into Bridges five minutes before the hostel opened. After walking almost non-stop this morning we had had a much more leisurely afternoon – all in all, not too strenuous a day. There are a couple of possible improvements we might try if doing the route again (we would need to check them out first to see it all worked) but we had enjoyed another excellent day’s walking.

After tidying ourselves up a bit, we had dinner and chatted with our fellow hostellers, exchanging stories of this day and others. It is a small hostel, neat and tidy, and well suited to walkers. One of the nicest things about buying the meal is having less food to carry; another is the companionship found round the communal table at which we ate – brief friendships, perhaps, but rewarding.

Monday 25th April 2011

Myth & Legend: YHA Bridges to Bishop’s Castle – approx 13.00 miles


OS Explorer 216 Welshpool & Montgomery

Route Summary:

YHA Bridges – Shropshire Way (NW) – Stiperstones – The Bog – The Rock – Linley Hill – Hayes Wood – Linley – More – Lydham – Upper Heblands – Bishop’s Castle


Bridges: Transport, Accommodation
The Bog: Café, Transport
Bishop’s Castle: Pubs, Cafes, Shops, Transport, Accommodation


A cool start followed by a bright and warm day, less hazy and cooler than Sunday with a stronger breeze. Afternoon temperatures reached around 19ºC.


Refreshed after a good night’s sleep and raring to go after porridge and coffee, we were underway before 8.30am. Today’s route pretty much followed the Shropshire Way all the way to Bishop’s Castle, with only a minor detour to The Bog planned off route.

It was cool, but gloriously sunny and the clearest it had been all weekend. The forecast smog had obscured much over the early part of the holiday, but now it was improving day by day. Our first objective was the long ridge of the Stiperstones with its jagged quartzite tors.

We set off along the quiet lanes to the sound of Curlew overhead. For the first couple of miles the going was easy and soon we were out on the hillside, the rocky outcrop of the Devil’s Chair looming above us. At the ridgeline, we turned south following a rocky path where every step required concentration to avoid a turned ankle. Progress was slower, but we made our way past the Devil’s Chair, Manstone Rock with its trig point and Cranberry Rock to the road. At least the views made up for it.

From here we took a short detour to The Bog, a visitor centre with lots of interesting information about the Stiperstones and surrounding nature reserve, along with tea and some of the best cakes around. We didn’t resist.

Back on the Shropshire Way, we continued southwards past Nipstone Rock. We could see over to the little-known hills of Black Rhadley Hill, Cefn Gunthly and Heath Mynd, all of which look quiet and worth a closer look one day. We dropped steeply into the valley past Rock House before starting the steep climb up on to Linley Hill, good training for things to come.

Near the top we saw a small group of people – the first for an hour or more. It is a constant surprise that given the great weather, the family holiday and the relative fame of the hills that we have seen so few people, Church Stretton and Carding Mill Valley excepted. Not that it was completely devoid of other walkers – it wasn’t – but the honey-pots of the Peak District, the Lakes, the Yorkshire Dales and Snowdonia would have seen far more in the way of folks than we did.

On Linley Hill, we stopped for a rest, some sandwiches and our obligatory doze in the sunshine. Having crested the hill, the way to the finish a couple of hours away was clearly set out ahead of us. An avenue of trees guided us along the edge of Hayes Wood. About a mile of road walking ensued as we skirted the grounds of Linley Hall and made our way towards the little village of More. More fields and lanes followed as we passed through Lydham, crossing the busy A488.

Then we were into the last half hour and a final, short climb towards Bishop’s Castle. Passing through the campsite at Foxholes our goal was in sight, then we were out on to the road. Two minutes later we were pulling up chairs at the Three Tuns with cold beers in front of us, the perfect end to a great three days.

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