A wintry day spent in Shropshire18th December 2011
It is a little difficult to take photos in the middle of a wintry shower of sleet, so what you find accompanying this trip report are photos from the drier interludes. In fact, eastern Cheshire was beset by such things with Macclesfield and Wilmslow bearing the brunt of the showers as they ran in from the Cheshire Gap as if on a conveyor belt of a Friday morning more than a week ago. As if to demonstrate that weather is remarkably local, Crewe was enjoying sunshine and blue skies.
On leaving home, I might have been forgiven for thinking that I was taking leave of my senses to head out with all that was tumbling from the sky. As if that weren’t enough, the western and northern parts of Britain had been battered by a ferocious storm just the day before. Scotland still was picking up the pieces after that when I embarked on a walk among Shropshire’s hills.
It wasn’t all that inspiring when I arrived in Church Stretton because a rain shower was in progress. Nevertheless, I resisted the temptation to catch the next train back home and waited out the shower. Maybe the price of the return train ticket had something to do with it but I also glimpsed sunnier weather as my train passed through Shropshire, so hopes remained far from extinguished.
With the air drying, I made my way to Carding Mill Valley. The sun was being left to light the hillsides too, always a bonus. For a Friday, I was surprised by the number of people out and about. Nowhere was overrun but I might have expected less about in a part of the world that doesn’t come that high on the list of places on anyone’s wish list. Saying that, it is good that there are folk who can overlook such things.
There is a wilder feel to what lies beyond the National Trust hut in Carding Mill Valley and tarmac can be left behind for a well-surfaced gravel path. Shropshire’s hills may not be high but they have steep sides and Mott’s Road soon started to gain height at such a rate that taking it steady and enjoying the surroundings made much sense. A pair of mountain bikers passed the way too and they were stopping a fair few times on their ascent so it wasn’t just me.
As I reached the stop, the skies began to close in as another shower approached. Having got some satisfaction from the day already, this brought no disappointment; it just was a matter of wearing waterproofs to counter the dampness and enough layers to keep warm. Keeping moving helped with the latter point too as I headed south-west along part of the Shropshire Way.
The skies cleared again as I approached Pole Bank following a road crossing. This was the second time that I had designs on Shropshire’s highest point with a lapse of concentration in the navigation department having caused me to abandon the venture when I last tried it. Now that I look back on that first-ever visit to Church Stretton’s hill country on a Sunday in December a few years back, I am staggered to think that it happened at all; my error must have involved going straight at a junction when a turn to the right would have been the intended line.
My time on the top of Pole Bank was enjoying clear skies stayed with plenty of sunlight to go around. Though there were photographic stops, they were brief because it was a day for keeping moving. What turned out not to be brief instead was the drier interlude. It allowed me to amble about a fair bit while exploring where the lines of rights of way actually were after leaving the road reached on descending from Pole Bank. There was deliberate retracing of steps to see the set-up of paths across the hills and there was no one to disturb in so doing. Even the horses and sheep that were out on the hillside hardly took any notice.
Eventually, I decided on a more direct course to Little Stretton, albeit with a little circuit around Round Hill. What surprised me was the way that the path took me by a number of different valleys; there were Ashes Hollow, Callow Hollow and Small Batch. It is as if this is hill country in miniature and it is none the worse for that. Because another shower came my way, photography stopped after the first of those valleys, but there’s enough there to justify a return visit sometime when days are again longer. The sun was getting ever lower in the sky anyway.
Height loss was hardly gradual on the way down to Little Stretton and it must have knocked some of the stuffing out of my legs because they felt a little weary as I shortened the road back to Church Stretton. During the descent, the shower stopped, and the latter stages underfoot became muddy too, a not unexpected situation at this time of year. After stripping off my overtrousers, I took a little time to look around Little Stretton with its timber-framed church especially catching my eye. Methinks it would be worth returning again to have more of a look around the place.
It was road walking that conveyed me from one Stretton to another and there was no sign of the sun at all; low hills still can hide it even if clouds don’t. The sky retained a blue tinge though as I coaxed myself along the roadside footway by not irregularly inspecting progress. Once in Church Stretton, I played with the idea of catching a bus to Shrewsbury until I noticed that the one for Ludlow was around twenty minutes late. Scotching the idea, I stocked up on some provisions and returned to the train station to await a train home after a good little day out in compact and decent hill country.
Return train journey with a change at Stockport on the outbound leg and at Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton on the return one.
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The Shropshire Hills make for excellent walking. I find the summit of the Long Mynd a little bland but the valleys are just superb. I can also recommend the hills to the west of the A49. Ragleth, Hope Bowdler, Caer Caradoc and The Lawley are all “hill country in miniature. It’s a great, long (and pretty tough) walk that takes these and the Long Mynd itself into a circular from Church Stretton.
Thanks for the great write-up and photos