Across Inverpolly by Canoe
Mal Grey and friends make an amphibious crossing of Inverpolly, a multi-day canoe-based adventure under the shadow of Suilven.
The newly revitalised Shropshire Way makes a 180-mile loop through the unsung hills of this quietly stunning border county. John Gillham, author of a new Cicerone guide, describes some of the highlights of the route.
If you walked around Shropshire a few years ago chances are that you'd have come across the old black buzzard waymarks of the Shropshire Way. Sometimes the waymarks pointed in three or four directions creating a confusion that led to its relative demise.
The original Ramblers Association 'Way' of 1978 was designed to link Cheshire's Sandstone Trail at Grindley Brook, Whitchurch with the Offa's Dyke Path. It had routes through Shrewsbury over the Long Mynd to Ludlow and back to Wem via the Clee Hills and the Wrekin before returning to the start. Unfortunately, in the 2000s the route gained thirty-two different loops.
All has now changed. A new Shropshire Way was inaugurated in September 2019 by the Shropshire Way Association and Shropshire Council. A 182-mile well-waymarked circular route based on Shrewsbury was devised visiting Stiperstones, Clun, Ludlow, the Clee Hills, Wenlock Edge and Ironbridge before heading north of the River Severn to the Wrekin, Wellington, Wem, Ellesmere and Llanymynech. A Shrewsbury link was added for those who wanted either a north or a south circular route. The Way retained the Sandstone Trail link to Grindley Brook, which would make the there-and-back route 200 miles. There's also a new guidebook by yours truly published by Cicerone in November 2019.
So why should you go and what are the highlights? Here's a top ten, in the order you'll see them rather than any preferences.
Don't leave Shrewsbury at the start of the walk without taking a good look around. It is one of the finest large towns in Britain with over 650 listed historical buildings. This rich heritage, along and its beautiful position on the River Severn loop, has enabled the town to flourish as a place of tourism and leisure.
Many of the beautiful half-timbered buildings that grace the town today were built in Tudor times. The town centre still retains its medieval street pattern with numerous narrow passages known as shuts. The public library, sited beneath the castle, was built in 1552 as Shrewsbury School. Pupils included the 'hanging judge' Judge Jeffreys and Charles Darwin. The school was moved to its present site high above the river at Kingsland in 1882.
The red sandstone castle you see today was built in 1643 and further repaired with additions, including Laura's Tower by Thomas Telford in 1780.
The Stiperstones, whose heather and whinberry ridges are punctuated with great serrated tors, is usually visited on the second day.
A rough quartzite studded path among the crags is hard work but entertaining, as are the short scrambles up tors. The first of those is the jagged Devil's Chair. Next up is Manstone Rock, the summit of the Stiperstones, easily recognisable with its trig point capping a pyramid of crag and scree.
The second half of the day is easier with free-striding grassy ridges of Linley Hill and the plains of the River West Onny leading the Way into the quirky historical town of Bishop's Castle.
Between Bishop's Castle and Clun, the hills of the Clun Forest form a complex of grassy, steep-sided ridges divided by the River Unk and its tributaries. The silky green landscapes would do Ireland proud.
The hills are well known to Offa's Dyke Path walkers, who take a helter-skelter route against the grain of the land. The Shrewsbury Way route, although it has its ups and downs, is somewhat gentler. It meets Offa's Dyke and climbs the hills at Churchtown but diverts north of Hergan's summit to climb to the Cefns. This splendid pastured ridge allows a magnificent promenade into Clun, whose castle and rooftops can be seen from miles away. A.E. Housman described the border town of Clun as the quietest place under the sun in his book, 'A Shropshire Lad'. Its castle, which lies on a mound to the west of the town overlooking the River Clun, was built to keep out the Welsh but it failed to do so in the early 15th century, when Owain Glyndwr destroyed it and overran the town.
Described by poet, John Betjeman as "the loveliest town in England", Ludlow stands proud on a squat hill overlooking the confluence of the rivers Teme and Corve.
Construction of the castle began in the late 11th century for Norman baron, Roger deLacy. The early town was built to a strict plan with wide main streets and narrow side streets – the town walls were built from 1233 onwards with seven gates. Many sections are evident to this day and quite well preserved. Broad Gate is the sole surviving medieval gate.
In 1472 Edward IV founded the Council of the Marches, whose power was centred at Ludlow Castle. The council presided over much of Wales and the English Marches but was dissolved in 1689, after which the castle fell into disrepair. Ludlow is well known for its fine-dining restaurants so if the walking has made you hungry you're in the right place.
After a couple of days on smaller hills the Shropshire Way heads for the heights again beyond Ludlow. Titterstone Clee Hill can be seen from the outset, a rakish escarpment, the third highest hill in Shropshire behind neighbouring Brown Clee Hill and the Stiperstones.
Both Clee hills have a capping of dhustone or dolerite laid down on beds of sandstone with coal measures and limestone present. As such they've been heavily exploited and industrialised. However the industrial archaeology adds to their fascination. More modern intrusions are also to be found on the summit in the form of gleaming white radomes, which track air traffic and the weather.
While the quarrying activities of Titterstone Clee Hill have damaged the summit Iron Age fort, there are two Bronze Age cairns and traces of hut circles. Brown Clee Hill had three Iron Age forts, one on Abdon Burf, one on Clee Burf and one on Nordy Bank above Cockshutford. The first two have been destroyed by quarrying activities, the third is intact. Also, the flint tools of Mesolithic hunters were found on the slopes of Titterstone.
Lying deep in a wooded gorge gouged out by the River Severn, Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale have become synonymous with the Industrial Revolution, a fact recognized by its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In 1708 Abraham Darby became the World's first mass producer of cast iron. Thomas Pritchard designed the world's first cast iron bridge for Abraham Darby III in 1779 to link the important industrial towns of Broseley and Madeley. The towns would become known throughout the World for the production of tiles, clay pipes and bricks.
Today the grime of the area is gone and it has become a charming place of cafés, inns, little shops and museums – a tourist haven.
The relative isolation of The Wrekin, one of Shropshire's iconic hills means it can be seen for miles and has views which stretch for miles too.
Formed by volcanic eruptions triggered by the nearby Church Stretton fault, the Wrekin consists of various igneous rocks, including rhyolite and tuffs. Its summit is capped by a large 20-hectare Iron Age fort, once home to the Celtic Cornovii tribe, who under their leader Virico fought and, after many years, finally succumbed to the Roman army.
The Shropshire Way goes right past Haughmond Abbey so a visit is quite convenient. It's likely that a hermitage and a chapel were established here in the early 12th century. It was enlarged to become an Augustinian abbey under the patronage of William FitzAlan.
The abbey became very prosperous but was also linked with abuse of power and corruption. It was destroyed during Henry VIII's Dissolution in 1539. The ruins are still impressive and are in the custodianship of English Heritage.
After traversing the plains west of Wellington the Shropshire Way comes to Haughmond Hill, a sandstone outcrop to the east of Shrewsbury. From one of the western crags comes the view of the day, that of Shrewsbury's skyline, of its church spires, the meandering River Severn and the hills of Mid Wales.
At Welsh End south west of Whitchurch the Way joins the Llangollen Canal, which along with the Montgomery Canal forms the Shropshire Union Canal. This leads to Ellesmere and then onwards to Llanymynech, a town whose streets straddle the border between England and Wales.
With no hills to climb you'll be able to march quite quickly, leaving more time to relax in one of the inns or cafés . The early stages to Ellesmere are highlighted by glacial mosses and meres. The Whixall Moss reserve is now home to many rare species of bog moss, insect-eating sundew, bog rosemary, bog asphodel and white-beaked sedge. There are over 600 species of moth on the reserve and 32 species of butterfly, including the brimstone, the green hairstreak and the large heath, which thrive on the heathland and cotton sedge.
At Lower Frankton Locks beyond Ellesmere the Way transfers to the Montgomery Canal. Often the views are dominated by the distant and distinctive Breidden and Llanymynech hills.
Nesscliffe Hill is a heavily wooded sandstone escarpment topped by the remains of an Iron Age fort whose earthwork ramparts are visible from Oliver's Point on the summit. From here if the atmosphere is clear you will be able to trace your last three days' routes besides seeing all the way to the hills of mid-Wales and Herefordshire.
The Shropshire Way explores the impressive cliffs formed by the quarrying. Carved steps lead upwards to a two-chambered cave halfway up the cliffs. This was home for many years to a notorious highwayman, Sir Humphrey Kynaston. Kynaston, a fast-living gentleman, had inherited Myddle Castle from his father the High Sheriff of Shropshire. He was convicted of murder in 1491 but was later pardoned. Debt forced him into abandoning the castle and setting up home in the cave with his horse, Beelzebub. The cave was inhabited until the 18th century but these days it is a protected home for Pipistrelle, Daubenton's and Natterer's bats.
OS Explorer Maps
Trains: Shrewsbury has a mainline station mostly served by Transport for Wales Trains, who run direct services from South Wales, Manchester, Holyhead, Birmingham and Chester. For more info see here
Buses: National Express service 410 runs from London to Shrewsbury via Birmingham and Telford. For more info see here
Up to date information on transport and accommodation is available on the Shropshire Way Association website.
by John Gillham
This is the official guide to the Shropshire Way, which consists of a northern and southern loop that both start in Shrewsbury. Each loop can be completed in a week or combined to form a two week 182 mile (290km) circuit that visits Stiperstones, Ludlow, Wenlock Edge, Ironbridge and the Wrekin. Split into 15 stages, this walk requires moderate fitness to cover the daily distance of 10 to 15 miles. The guide also includes the Stretton Skyline Walk, a 20 mile (32km) walk over Shropshire's peaks and ridges, which can be split over two days with an overnight stay in Church Stretton.
For both the main route and the higher-level Stretton Skyline Walk, this guide provides in-depth route description and 1:50,000 OS mapping to aid navigation, along with information about accommodation, public transport and local services. The guide also offers plenty of insight into Shropshire's vibrant history and fascinating geology.
The Shropshire Way visits some of England's most serene and beautiful scenery, as well as key historical sites including Ironbridge, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Through tranquil countryside and medieval market towns, this route explores all the best that the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) has to offer.
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