On Offa – approx 13.00 miles.
Sunday October 7th 2012
Map: OS Explorer OL216 – Welshpool & Montgomery
Bishop’s Castle – The Wintles – Seven Wells – Shepherdswhim – Bishop’s Moat – Dog And Duck Cottage – Offa’s Dyke Path (S) – Nut Wood – Churchtown – Knuck Wood – Shropshire Way – Reilthtop – Middle Woodbatch – Bishop’s Castle.
Weather forecasters, eh? What an unreliable bunch.
As our long-awaited long weekend in the Shropshire/Powys border area drew nearer, we’d been keeping a close eye on the forecast – only to be promised the kind of weather that would have Noah whetting his chisel.
So we had planned accordingly. Though Saturday’s weather was nothing special, we’d managed to squeeze a short stroll in between the showers and the errands we had to run. Sunday was due to be awful, with low cloud and heavy rain set to dominate, and we held out little hope of a meaningful outing.
But we woke to an unexpectedly bright morning that had us reaching for our kit much earlier than planned, and I hastily cobbled together this route to take advantage of the sunshine and blue skies. As many of you will know, Shropshire is well-endowed when it comes to footpaths, but flaunts her charms demurely, with both major routes and minor paths being well represented.
Our route was a circuit linking parts of four of these paths. From the centre of Bishop’s Castle we followed the route of the BC Ring, a 60-odd-mile circuit encircling the town, heading west towards The Wintles. The BC Ring is not marked on OS maps though it is clearly waymarked, and the route is described in a small booklet available locally.
A gentle climb rewarded us with views back over town and north towards Heath Mynd and the Churchstoke hills; Corndon, Roundton, et al. After a mile or so of open field paths, the BC Ring takes to the network of narrow tracks and lanes that criss-cross the area, heading west at first before swinging southwards past the scruffy farm of Shepherdswhim to join the Kerry Ridgeway at Bishop’s Moat.
The Kerry Ridgeway is a curious track. Running between Bishop’s Castle in the east and Newtown in the west, it was a major thoroughfare in its day. Its origins are uncertain at best, but it is believed to date from the Iron Age some 2,000 to 2,500 years ago. Not that you could tell that by looking at it nowadays, as today this section is a metalled lane frequented by walkers, cyclists and the occasional car. Still, it provided us with a good two miles worth of easy walking as we continued our westerly trend.
In relation to the Kerry Ridgeway, the 8th century Offa’s Dyke is something of a Johnny-come-lately. Again there are uncertainties regarding its history and purpose, but conventional wisdom has it that it was built during Offa’s reign to
keep the marauding Welsh at bay define the western borders of the Kingdom of Mercia.
Whatever the actual reasons, it remains an impressive structure. Between the Kerry Ridgeway and Knighton it is possible to walk right beside (and even on) some of the most complete sections of the Dyke. Mindful of potential invaders, we scanned the horizon to the west as we sat to enjoy our sandwiches. Cunningly, today’s raiders-to-be seem to have disguised themselves as harmless-looking sheep.
This section of the Offa’s Dyke Path runs through some superb countryside and is one of the most scenic of the whole trail. It is also considered to be one of the toughest – and with good reason. Often referred to as the Switchback section, a series of steep, relentless undulations accumulates hundreds of metres of energy-sapping ascent and descent. Here, a clear section of dyke can be seen ascending the opposite hillside: the path runs to the right hand side of the ditch and is every bit as steep as it looks.
A knee-jarring descent brought us to Churchtown, a tiny hamlet with a large church, which we popped in for a quick look round.
Beyond Churchtown, we joined path number four: the Shropshire Way. This was to be our companion for much of the return leg: through Churchtown Wood and Knuck Wood, above Mainstone and along to cross the road at Reilthtop. The early sun and clear skies had gradually faded to overcast, but it made for pleasant walking through archetypal, rolling British farmland.
Now we could see Bishop’s Castle in the valley below, with the bulky ridge of the Long Mynd beyond. Skirting Henley Wood, we passed through Middle Woodbatch Farm and joined the quiet lane for a gentle trundle back to town.
Along the lane we passed a couple of groups of Sunday strollers: incredibly, on such a lovely autumn Sunday, from leaving BC early this morning to nearly being back again – around 11 miles – we saw no other walkers at all.