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.

Monday 18 April 2011

Loddington, Llamas & Louts

Sunday was another beautiful day, the middle of a great little spell of spring weather. As we had other commitments for part of the weekend, we decided to stay local for our walk – with only a morning to spare we decided on the easy walk to neighbouring Loddington and back, a round trip of about 9.5 miles, which also gave us chance to note the details ready for writing up in the local newsletter.

We started out along the lane, the sunshine dissipating the early morning cool. Signs of spring are all around now. We saw Orange Tip and Brimstone butterflies, watched a Song Thrush singing in a tree and spotted Bluebells flowering in the woods. In the fields, yellow rape was coming into bloom.

Loddington is an attractive village, the centre based around a cluster of large, stone-built houses and the imposing church. We ate our lunch early, sitting on a handily placed bench, before starting the return leg.

One of the pleasures of this walk is seeing the llamas. Just outside Loddington is a field where four of these unusual creatures can often be seen. They are inquisitive, friendly things and will often come and meet whoever is walking by. A sign nearby informed us that there had been some recent unsavoury incidents – rocks and wood thrown at the llamas, with beer cans and other detritus strewn around – and asked residents to keep an eye out for any clues as to the perpetrators. Who would want to do such a thing? It beggars belief that anyone would deliberately set out to hurt these curious animals.

Heading back, we passed through two fields of young cattle and two of sheep and lambs before rejoining the lane for the final stretch into the village. It was nice to get a few miles under our boots (the training is good for us – there is much to come in the next few weeks) a nice little walk for a beautiful spring morning, unfortunately slightly marred by the depths that some people are prepared to sink to.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Guiting Power & Ford – approx 13.25 miles

Sunday 10th April 2011

Guiting Power to Ford – approx 13.25 miles


OS Explorer OL45 The Cotswolds

Route Summary:

Guiting Power – Diamond Way (S) – Tally Ho – Hawling Lodge – Hawling – Windrush Way (N) – Roel Hill Farm – Campden Lane – Lynes Barn – Gloucestershire Way (NE) – Slade Barn Farm – Ford – Temple Guiting – Diamond Way (S) – Castlett Wood – Guiting Power


Pubs: Guiting Power, Ford & Kineton (off route)

Shops: Guiting Power (not always open)


After a cool start, it was a beautiful, warm spring day with blue skies, light cloud and temperatures around 20ºC.


With the good weather holding, we rose early, chucked everything in the car, and set off for the Cotswolds. The journey, much of which was along winding country roads and through small towns and villages, took about 90 minutes, and we arrived at our starting point of Guiting Power shortly after 9.30am. We have done this walk quite a few times over the years: one of its great advantages is that there is a variety of possible circuits of different lengths, all based on the same walk. Today, we planned to do the full circuit.

It was getting quite warm even as we donned boots and rucksacks and headed out of the village past the impressive church. The path ahead was clear, leading across the fields to meet the road where we turned right along the lane. Climbing steadily, we eventually reached the former coaching inn (now B&B) at Foxhill before dropping back downhill to cross a small tributary of the river Windrush near Hawling Lodge. Then it was the short climb up on to Windrush Hill and a coffee stop overlooking Nettleton Hill Wood. Buzzards can often be seen wheeling away overhead here, and today was no exception.

Suitably refreshed, we continued towards Hawling. The landscape in these parts may not be as dramatic as some, but it is undeniably pretty. Many of the villages grew out of mediaeval settlements, sited, no doubt, because of the natural springs that well up around here. Built predominantly from pale honey-coloured Cotswold stone, these villages seem almost a part of the landscape, nestling into the wooded hillsides. It’s no surprise that many choose to escape to here – man has done so since the Iron Age.

Turning northward, we followed the trail towards Roel Hill Farm and the highest part of the walk at around 300m. We saw a Wheatear hopping along a dry-stone wall, in exactly the same place as last time we did this walk. Roundabout, the fields were full of newborn lambs, and one came to visit us close up, nuzzling at our fingers. The Cotswolds has long been a prosperous area and sheep central to that prosperity – in the 15th Century their wool was sometimes referred to as Cotswold Gold. Fortunes were made, and the grand buildings of the region built with the proceeds. It is no wonder that these villages get used by TV companies as a backdrop for genteel English dramas – this really is the middlest of Middle England.

The peace and quiet was shattered somewhat as we joined Campden Lane and found ourselves battling against a tide of mountain bikers competing in the 2011 Hell of the North Cotswold event. By the time we had reached Lynes Barn we must have exchanged greetings with most of the several hundred entrants – the Hello of the North Cotswolds, perhaps, in its own way just as gruelling as the race. Credit where it’s due, though, they were polite to a rider, thanking us for stepping aside to let them through.

Beyond Lynes Barn it all quietened down again, and a section of road walking followed. To our left, the ground dropped away to Winchcombe in the valley below and Cleeve Hill hazy in the distance.

At Slade Farm Barn we left the road and made a beeline over a low hill to Ford. This is horse country: only a few miles from Cheltenham with its longstanding horseracing connections. As we crested the hill we could see the village below and the gallops spread across the hillsides beyond. We decided to call at the pub – the Plough Inn (Racing UK’s Pub of the Year, no less) – for lunch and a drink. By now, it was quite warm and we had worked up a thirst.

Then it was time to head back. First we took the path across the fields to Temple Guiting, then it was Diamond Way all the way to Guiting Power. Unexpectedly, a Roe Deer (?) was running in the field beside us, cut across the road a few yards ahead of us, leapt the hedge and bounded away over two more fields. We held our breath; time seemed to slow - this magical moment took only a few seconds. Moving on, we cut through the edge of Guiting Wood, carpets of flowers beneath the trees, and followed the track beside the river Windrush past shady pools.

The final mile into the village passed easily enough. Then it was time to head for home and reflect on a lovely walk on a glorious day.

Friday 8 April 2011

Capital Caves & Canyons

Tuesday, for the purposes of work, I made one of my infrequent forays to central London. As taking the car so close to such touristy areas is a total pain, I usually undertake the trip by train and tube, something I enjoy and despise in equal measure. On the one hand it is a dull, lengthy, frustrating journey, on the other, it’s a chance to read for a couple of hours, something which is harder to do when driving.

It was a pleasant day, though, so there was something to be gained from gazing out of the carriage window at the beautiful countryside as we tootled along the eastern flanks of the Chilterns, thoughts of future walks idling in my mind. In between times, I read chapters of Robert Macfarlane’s excellent work “Mountains Of The Mind” – a book which examines our changing attitude towards mountains and mountaineering throughout history, and well worth a read if you haven’t already done so.

At one point, he discusses how the increasing urbanisation of our population during the nineteenth century subsequently led to a shift in perception: that mountains (and wildernesses) embodied escape, freedom and respite from the drudgery of the city, both physically and metaphysically closer to God. Enlightenment and spirituality achieved, he argues, by quite literally “getting high.”

All this was still at the forefront of my mind as I rolled into Euston and prepared to face the ambiguities of the capitol. As far as I’m concerned, when a man is tired of London, he’s tired of strife, to misquote Dr. Johnson. Taking the Eustation tube, I boarded the Northern Line southbound for the onward journey – 40 minutes of airless, uncommunicative, travel without even a scrap of daylight to relieve the toxicity.

Then, mechanically lifted to street level once again, I was disgorged, mole-like and blinking, into the man-made canyons that form the streets around Mansion House, an area romantically referred to locally as “EC4.” Still, perhaps that’s better than Ditchwater, or St. Pancreas, or some such. And you really wouldn’t want to live anywhere with a name like Cockfosters, Pratt’s Bottom, Fickleshole, or Elmers End, would you? Or Ilford, Kilburn, Battersea, Mortlake, for that matter? Sounds positively unhealthy to me.

Sometime later, business transacted, I emerged once again into the noisy, fumy funnels of the surrounding streets in time to encounter one of London’s biggest bongs – the one O’Clock chime of St. Paul’s Cathedral. I always feel ill-at-ease in big cities, where the cliffs are artificial, the broad rivers run with smog, and the sky is just a thin strip high overhead. I find it inexplicable why so many wish to call it home, though many do. If asked to define my version of purgatory, I would describe it just like London, only forever. It was almost a relief to reach the underground.

Then it was the whole, grim process in reverse – a further 40 minutes of smile-free, subterranean passage back to Euston. On the train north, I took the chance to read a few more pages of my book as I headed nearer to home and enlightenment.

Monday 4 April 2011

Gear Reviews - Update

Just a quick update about my gear reviews for those that read them.

I hadn’t originally intended to add details of cost (frightening, when you add it up) or the date when I reviewed the item (usually ages after buying it). But, having decided to reassess some of the kit after a period of time, it seemed like a good idea to include this information – and will do so from now on – so I can factor it in to the product’s long-term performance and value for money in future updates.

Of course the real reason for doing this is a chronically unreliable memory that allows me to forget the make, name and model number, date of purchase and price (conveniently) with consummate ease.

Two To The Power Three

Two days and two walks in which the number “3” cropped up with unusual frequency, and were improved as a result.

This last weekend, three of us spent two days in the west Shropshire area around the attractive town of Bishop’s Castle. A promising forecast had persuaded us that a couple of walks might be attempted without the inconvenience of getting caught in a downpour.

Saturday morning, after an early “clearing-up” shower, the sun broke through gracing the remainder of the day with some beautiful, spring-like weather. Almost for the first time this year it felt as though warmer days were beckoning. We decided on one of our regular short circuits – 5 miles-or-so round the wooded hills and lanes to the south west of BC.

The first stretch headed southwards along the Shropshire Way, and the town was quickly left behind in favour of fields full of newborn lambs. Then we turned west for the long pull along quiet lanes up the side of Colebatch Hill. The sun was out and the golden trinity of Daffodils, Primroses and Celandines shone in the hedgerows as we passed.

We took a short stop, parking ourselves on a log pile. In the field opposite, tractors buzzed back and forth harrowing the red soil; a whiff of diesel fumes followed by the sharp scent of newly turned earth drifted by on the warm air.

The return leg followed more of the Shropshire Way, through Middle Woodbatch Farm and further quiet lanes. On the final rise, the Long Mynd filled the horizon beyond Bishop’s Castle, from where a short stroll led us back into town. A quick check of the football results revealed a significant number of hat-tricks completed that afternoon.

That evening we went to see Whalebone – a “rootsy, funky” three-piece acoustic folk/rock band – for the third time. Their very enjoyable show mixes interpretations of classic rock tunes and traditional folk music with their own self-penned material, much of which was taken from their new album, The Three Fires. It was only right and proper that such an excellent evening be accompanied by a trilogy of fine ales.

Next morning, the three of us were up early in order to take advantage of the best part of the day. Breakfast over, we drove up to Mitchell’s Fold and walked round the stone circle before heading back the three miles towards Churchstoke via the track running between Lan Fawr and Corndon Hill. For such an easy stroll, this walk has some of the finest views around – to the Stiperstones, the Vale of Kerry and the Ridgeway beyond and, off to the west, the high peaks of Snowdonia – and this bright, clear morning didn’t disappoint with the sunny green swathes laid out beneath blue skies and white cottonwool clouds.

Having worked up an appetite we indulged in Sunday lunch – not, as you might think, a roast dinner with all the trimmings – but that other truly British repast, the delightful triptych of Fish Fingers, Chips and Mushy Peas. What could be better!