If you love hill walking and the chance to enjoy peace and fresh air away from crowds but never more than 45 minutes from civilisation, then the Shropshire hills around Church Stretton are perfect.
Church Stretton itself is situated midway between Ludlow and Shrewsbury along the A49, about 15 miles from each. It can also be reached by rail either from mid-Wales or from the line that runs for Shrewsbury to Newport. Once you arrive on the station platform, you read a sign telling you that you are 630 feet above sea level, and about three minutes behind Greenwich time
Around you on all sides you see the hills. On one side, the Long Mynd, which stretches for some twelve miles in length and rises to 1700 feet. On the other, there is a fine range of hills, of which the chief is Caer Caradoc at just under 1300 feet, but a stiff climb.
Also on this side, the Lawley, Hope Bowdler hill and Ragleth Hill provide excellent walks in their own right, and also combine with Caer Caradoc for a rather more arduous challenge.
There are dozens of paths on to the Long Mynd, so it is possible to devise a multitude of circular walks. Views are wonderful: on a fine day, you can see 50 miles south to the hills around Abergavenny, a similar distance west to Cader Idris, and occasionally to Snowdon, and 20 to 30 miles to the north and east. The walking is quite demanding but not dangerous, except in icy conditions. On the top of the Long Mynd, it undulates gently, so you can cover a lot of ground fast. Although the hills do not have the grandeur of Lakeland mountains, the feeling of walking is not dissimilar: paths are good, well-maintained by the National Trust, and there are many chattering streams.
Other features are the pretty Long Mynd ponies, of which there are over thirty at the moment on New Year's Day, 2009 I saw 33, standing in temparatures of about minus 5. They are like Welsh ponies. Towards the southern end of the Mynd, there is the Midland Gliding Club, which is popular in the summer.
Heather flourishes on the Long Mynd, and flowers purple. There are also bilberry plants, though not much fruit - the Stiperstones Hills ten miles away are more productive in that respect - and bracken, which the National Trust are trying to reduce.
If you are not up to walking, but want to get among the hills, there are two ways. A local bus service runs to the top of the Mynd at Shooting Box. Alternatively, you can drive into the Cardingmill Valley, where you have to pay a couple of pounds to park. Best to avoid this at the weekend, especially in the summer, as this is the only part of the Mynd that gets overrun.
It's a fascinating place. I have got to know it really well over the last twenty years or so, and each time I go I love it even more.
Having lived in and around the small town called 'Market Drayton' all my life, i thought i'd write a review and share with others what this town has to offer,
It is in North Shropshire, and placed between Shrewsbury and Stoke on Trent.
Surrounded by beautiful scenery and neighboring villages , the town has so much culture and history to offer, starting with it's widely famous 'gingerbread' Gingerbread and Market Drayton have had a long standing history - in fact the first recorded mention of the sweet treat being made in the town was as far back as 1793, but was probably made a lot earlier than this.Billington's, from 1817, is the oldest surviving brand. Its history is proudly displayed on their packaging as an unbroken chain of bakers around the trunk of a tree, whose branches extend to markets all over the world.
In 1987, John and May Hayward Hughes of Cheswardine celebrated 60 years of their family making the gingerbread to the secret recipe.
They turned the handle of the antiquated iron African Biscuit Machine for the umpteenth time. As in Billington's Golden Age, they had re-started the exports. Back in the town, Terry and Theresa McCarthy carry on the tradition with the original machine in The Cake Box where i worked for a year, and even today they receive many orders for this great tasting gingerbread.
The town is known for it's markets, hence the name, and every Wednesday there is a big market running through the main street ( cheshire street), where local residents come to buy local produce like meat, veg, fruit, and flowers, from local farmers and tradesmen. The market dates back to the 12th century, and used to cover a larger part of the town, including Cheshire, Stafford, queen and Shropshire street.
By the 17th century, Drayton was a prosperous town made up predominantly of half-timbered buildings, many of them with thatched roofs. Then disaster struck. In 1651, 15 years before the Fire of London, Drayton had its own great fire. Most of the buildings were destroyed, The town had to be rebuilt, and half-timbered buildings such as the Cheshire Cheese Inn (now Mincher-Lockett opticians) at the Buttercross became rare. Evidence of the continued prosperity of the town, however, are the many fine brick houses dating from the Stuart, Georgian and Victorian periods.
A sign, too, that the market was never forgotten is the Buttercross market shelter which replaced an actual cross in 1823.
Moving with modern times Drayton has tried to in keep it's history but at the same time incorporate new local amenities to keep up with the ever fast growing population.
There are 4 schools, 3 of which are primary, and one that is secondary.The main church is called st Mary's and is in the center of town, and dates back to around 925AD. There are 3 other churches in town, including the methodist.
The Shropshire Union Canal winds its way past and through the town and continues to attract visitors on boats.
The town also has two major food companies hosting many jobs for the local residents, the first being 'Muller yogurts' which has it's main UK offices and factory's here, and the second being 'Palethorps' which has recently changed it's name to 'Pork farms' and many now say that Drayton is home of the sausage roll, because the factory is one of the biggest producers of pastries is the Uk.
The town has a wide range of shops, cafes, restaurants, and pub's. Their is also a library in the center of town, and a huge indoor and outdoor swimming pool.
Market Drayton sometimes gets downgraded by a lot of tourists, as they think the town is boring and pointless, but it has so much to offer, having lived here my whole life i have seen the town change over the years. Although like many other places it seems to be getting over ruled by yob's and yes the town in some places may look a little worn.
The local council do everything they can, to keep Market Drayton alive, but it's lack of community spirit that lets the place down.
Every year the town holds a annual Carnival, which many years ago was loved by all, people rallyed round and joined in the celebrations and the day was filled with joy, these days how ever, the carnival is nothing like it was 5 years ago, and people just don't want to join in.
Which is sad because, the town used to be so close knit,maybe if more people united as a community the town wouldn't suffer as much
Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun.....
~ Are the quietest places under the sun..... ~
These opening words in the titles are from the poem from A.E Housman, and in many ways they still sum up some areas of South Shropshire, which is the area I'm going to review here.
I'm a Shropshire lass. I wasn't born in the county, but my mother was (in a small cottage just outside of the market town of Bishops Castle) and while we didn't settle back to the area until I was 10 years old, it's always been home. Many of my family on my mother's side still live in and around the area and I only moved away in the last few years.
So this review is about as much of South Shropshire as possible without turning it into a novel! But it's an area of outstanding natural beauty and so something I wanted to share.
~ Some of the Hills ~
We lived in full view of The Stiperstones. This is an area of rock formation (quartzite) that sticks out in jagged view. They have become an area of legend and there is a particular rock formation known as the Devil's chair. There are 2 main stories (and countless smaller tales) associated with The Stiperstones. The one is that a character called Wild Eric, who was an Earl in Saxon times, and rides the hills whenever England is in danger of invasion.
The other story is about "The devil" himself. Local stories have always been that if mist is settled on the hill and you cannot see The Devils Chair, he is in residence! And should a mere mortal sit on the chair a thunderstorm will strike.
Behind the house if we walked up the hill, you had a view across to Corndon Hill, where there is Cwm Mawr, which is known to be a Neolithic axe factory. Almost indistinguishable from Corndon Hill is Stapeley Hill, which also has a stone circle known as Mitchells Fold.
If you are on top of the Stiperstones, you can also view other well-known landmarks of the county. To the North East you can see The Wrekin. To the east you can just about see the summit of Caer Caradoc, as well as some of The Long Mynd. The Long Mynd and The Stiperstones are probably about the most well known of the hills in this area of South Shropshire.
Further across you also have Wenlock Edge, and most notably the highest hills south of the Pennines - The Clee Hills.
Wenlock Edge is a geologists dream because of some of its fossils. In fact many areas of South Shropshire are deemed to be unusual and often visited by trainee geologists and my mother also trained as a geologist.
When around the hills of South Shropshire, you can often hear the sounds of Buzzards, Skylarks, Nuthatches, and many more. And while it only happens very infrequently you might be one of the lucky few that spot a Red Kite that sometimes do come across from Mid Wales and make their home in this part of the country.
The hills in and around South Shropshire, while beautiful are a small part of what the area can offer.
~ Some of the attractions and towns ~
Ludlow is becoming pretty well known these days, mainly as the gastronomic capital of England! However, I would say that many of the prices in Ludlow are inflated as a result, and if you can find the time to look around other locations, often you can find similar establishments that offer fantastic food and drinks for less!
Ludlow is more than just food and drink though. It's a medieval town which today can be a bit of a nightmare to drive in because of its small compact layout, but that is also its charm.
The biggest event in Ludlow each year without a doubt is The Ludlow Festival. This has been going on since the mid 1950's and what initially started out as a fund raising exercise for funds for a local church became so popular it continued even once enough money had been raised.
The highlight of the festival is the Shakespearean Play that is done within the grounds of the Castle. This is an outdoor production, so is venerable to the weather, but it doesn't diminish the crowd from coming along each year.
The castle, while now a ruin is still pretty impressive and well worth visiting in its own right. The Earl of Powis owns the castle. (Powis in this case is the correct spelling, not Powys).
Other notable castles are at Clun (another ruin) and the fortified Manor House just outside of Craven Arms called Stokesay Castle. As mentioned, Stokesay is a fortified Manor House, so not in fact a castle even though it bears the name of Castle. This was built in the 13th centaury and is considered the most complete and finest example of a Fortified Manor house in England.
The longest archaeological monument runs through the county and can be followed via footpaths (some better preserved than others), and that is Offa's dyke. This was built in around the 8th century on the orders of King Offa, and while there are some discussions about its original purpose, many believe it was to mark a boundary between King Offa's Kingdom of Mercia and Wales. Certainly it doesn't ever seem to have been large enough to be heavily fortified.
It still runs along some parts of the modern day boundary of Wales and England and is a popular route taken by walkers.
Another of the larger Market Towns is called Bishops Castle. This has a population of around 1,500, and that figure has remained fairly constant for some time even with new growth of the town. One of its most famous houses is called The House on Crutches. This sits out onto a cobbled street, and is literally held up at the front on wooden "crutches". It is now a museum, and the small cobbled area still gives the feeling of how it was like during Elizabethan times as you walk from the High Street up to Welsh Street.
But be prepared for the incline. The High street is steep! It has a 1 in 3 gradient at the top end. Although it can be fun having a pub crawl, starting at The Three Tuns local brewery at the top end of town, and landing up at The Six Bells at the bottom end of town!
Other notable spots are Craven Arms (as mentioned having Stokesay Castle on its doorstep). It is also the location of The South Shropshire Hills Discovery centre. This is a tourist information centre with a difference, and that includes an interactive balloon ride across the South Shropshire hills.
Further along the main A49 road, you will come across Church Stretton. This was known in Victorian Times as Little Switzerland and was also noted as being a health resort. Today it is most famous for being alongside The Long Mynd, which rises up behind the town in all its glory. This large hill plateau is mostly moorland, and is popular with walkers. On the "Bishops Castle" side of the Long Mynd you also have The Midland Gliding Club, one of the oldest in the country.
Just outside of Church Stretton is Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, which was established in the 1970's. This is owned and run by Shropshire County Council. It isn't open all year around, so check when it is open before visiting.
And lastly I'm turning my attention to Clun. This is a small place nestling in a wonderful valley, surrounded by hillsides and woodland. Its most famous feature is the small bridge that the road follows, and this was originally built in the 14th Century for packhorses to cross, and even today still has the alcoves cut into it to allow pedestrians to cross and find a safe haven if there is an approaching vehicle.
This narrow twisty bridge has unfortunately met it demise a few times with lorries or larger vehicles, sometimes cars misjudging it all, and taking out some of the sides! One of my Great Uncles had the indignity before the second world war (he was regular army) of driving down there during training and asking his passenger to hop out and guide him across the bridge, not realizing his companion didn't know his left from his right. He said it was years later before he stopped paying for that damned thing!
As mentioned earlier, Clun is also home to a ruined castle, from the Norman period. This sits on the site of an earlier Motte and Bailey Castle and is well worth visiting. Nearby between Bishops Castle and Clun is also a large hillfort known as Bury Ditches.
Bury Ditches is known to date back to 1000 BC! And it is considered one of the finest hillforts in the whole of the country. The forestry commission have now set up a car park to allow better access to the fort. This is found between the villages of Clunton and Lydbury North.
I mention A.E Housman at the beginning of the review, but he isn't the only known writer who has taken inspiration from these hills. Mary Webb, Malcolm Saville have both taken inspiration from these hills. And although not a name usually associated with the area, D H Lawrence wrote about The Stiperstones area in his short story, St Mawr.
~ Final thoughts ~
It really is a lovely part of the country and even today, while I love where we now live, one part of me still wishes I lived in South Shropshire and I still consider it home. It has a unique heritage, unique people and some pretty impressive places to see and visit. I see the latest Muller dairy advert, and think - How little that really shows of the county, not least just the Southern part, and in many ways that is a travesty.
As a true South Shropshire person would say:
"Ya munna sa dunna it inna polite,
Ya canna sa wanna fer tha inna rite!"
I was born and brought up in a village close to Oswestry, a North 'Shropshire Lad' you might say and I thought I might tell you about this unspoilt and hidden part of the country. Whilst Shropshire, the largest inland county in the UK is in itself a beautiful part of the country to live in, it remains relatively anonymous and most people when Shropshire's mentioned think of Shrewsbury, Telford and Ludlow which are all in, or towards the south of the country. Oswestry is situated in the north of the county close to the border with Wales. So close that in some ways it is more welsh than some of the towns and villages on the other side of the border. Its a picturesque, ancient market town set between pastureland and wild hilly country. Strategically its position as a 'frontier town'has given it a turbulent history. Visiting Oswestry is like stepping back in time - a reminder of what the rural idyll was all about, before the developers moved in. The town has for centuries been a market and shopping centre serving the north west part of Shropshire and Mid Wales. The lay out of the town bears witness to this, with narrow passageways linking streets whose names conjure up images of the past, e.g.English Walls, Welsh Walls, The Bailey and the Horsemarket. Locally it remains an important shopping and agricultural centre, but it still retains the intimacy of a rural town serving local people and has many specialist and independent shops. You won't find any of the purpose-built and often identical shopping malls in Oswestry it has remained faithfull to its roots and is all the better for it. The origins of the town are uncertain although the town's market dates back to 1190. The name Oswestry is thought to be a corruption of 'Oswald's Tree' and the legend that Oswald the Christian King of Northumbria fought a great battle against the pagan King of Mercia - Penda. Oswald was
defeated and killed in the battle. Penda - as a warning to others who might challenge his rule - dismembered Oswald's body and hung his limbs on the branches of a tree - hence the name 'Oswalds Tree'. There is a Heritage Centre in Oswestry's first school founded in 1407 and the Tourist Information Centre is housed in the same building. Here you can see the History of Oswestry, its importance in the development of the railways and its role in the previous foot and mouth outbreak in the 60's. Most of the town centre has been designated a Conservation Area conveying a mixture of architectural styles. There are many old timber framed houses, for example Llywd Mansion on Cross Street, the Heritage Centre, the Blackgate, the Fox Inn and the shops along Beatrice Street. Georgian architecture is also represented particularly around St Oswald's Church where there are several imposing town houses complete with grand entrance staircases and front doors. Many of these buildings are now pleasant coffee and tea houses, restaurants and pubs which have a comfortable and olde worlde feel about them, marvellous places to relieve the stresses of life. Oswestry has a significant Victorian legacy. The Shop fronts and facades, the many terraced houses and churches and railway buildings reflect this period. Oswestry is a really pleasant place to visit and has a number of historical attractions within the town and surrounding area Within the town and within easy walking distance, there is: The Castle, which was built around 1086, is recorded in William I’s Domesday Book. It was once a frontier outpost that saw both Welsh and Anglo Saxon mix together prior to the Norman conquest. It is generally accepted that Oswestry was once a strong Welsh settlement and the Castle had a role of domination to subdue Welsh resistance. The Old Grammer School A 15th Century, Gra
de II listed timber-framed property. Originally the Oswestry Grammar School, founded by David Holbache in 1407, the building occupies a prominent position on the boundary of the churchyard of St. Oswald. Now the property of Oswestry Town Council and opened in 1992, the Centre contains civic and local items of interest reflecting the long established and magnificent Heritage of Oswestry. Iron Age Fort There is a large Iron Age fort just to the North of the town. It was started over 2500 years ago. Nowadays, only the Earthworks remain, but it's worth a visit. It can be seen from the A5 going North out of the town. It is maintained by English Heritage Racecourse Common This is at the top of a hill and is the site of an old racecourse. It is possible to walk around the old circuit and there are a number of walks is this area including some through the adjacent Candy Woods. The Offa's dyke path passes through the common and the woods. Offa's Dyke footpath (goes right through the area) This long distance footpath , which goes from Prestatyn to Chepstow along the Welsh border, passes about 3 miles to the west of Oswestry. It is a well maintained footpath (some other paths in the area are not so good) and can be picked up at many points in the area. The path follows an ancient earthwork which is thought to have been a defensive dyke built by the Saxon King Offa . Outside Oswestry and within easy travelling distance you will find: Whittington Castle 2 Miles East There are quite a few remains of the castle which can be found in the Centre of Whittington village and plenty of ducks to be found in the old castle moat. Ellesmere Shropshire's lake district, seven attractive small lakes, rich in birdlife lie alongside a lovely little town full of mellow Georgian buildings. Chirk Castle 7 miles to the north of Oswestry and Powys Castle to
the south, two of the finest National Trust buildings and landscaped gardens in the UK. Take my word for it, if your looking for a weekend away in a beautiful part of the country, off the beaten track, but with plenty to do, give Oswestry a try.
Much Wenlock is a few miles outside of Shrewsbury and a great afternoon out. There are many ways to enjoy yourself, here are the best - 1, Wenlock Edge - this is a geographical oddity, a limestone rift which extends from Church Stretton right to Much Wenlock itself. Lots of paths run along the edge offering great views of the county. 2, the Olympics - go to the town museum and learn about the history of the Much Wenlock Olympics, an event which inspired the modern day Olympics when Baron Pierre de Coubertin discovered them in the late 19th century. 3, Wenlock Priory, take a walk round the Priory which inspired scenes in the Brother Cadfael novels. 4, The Guildhall - With a superb queen-post roof and 16th and 17th century architecture, it now holds exhibitions rather than courts of law. 5, the town itself - lots of pubs, great buildings, some great shops.