Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
In valleys of springs of rivers
By Ony and Teme and Clun
The country for easy livers,
The quietest under the sun
Three verses from A Shropshire Lad by A E Housman in which the ‘lad’ yearns for his home country and his ‘blue remembered hills’.
Shropshire is indeed quiet, for easy livers and, although few who have never visited would think of it as a prime hillwalkers’ destination, in reality those rivers flow through some of the prettiest hills in England. True, none of them reach the 2000ft ‘mountain’ status but if you’re striding out along the long, airy ridges it matters not a jot. The hills are mostly velvety green like the Howgills but many have underlying geology of hard volcanic rock, which surfaces as summit dark crags and tors.
Shropshire lies at the heart of England, an extremely rural county with only two sizeable towns, Shrewsbury and Telford. Stand on any of its mountains and you’ll see a patchwork of greenery; pastures divided by hedgerow and woodland copses. It’s undulating country, never truly mountainous, but with enough distinctive peaks and rocks to keep a walker happy for years.
The county is divided into two by the River Severn, which meanders from the Welsh hills into Shrewsbury, where it forms a wide loop before threading through a wooded gorge at Ironbridge and, beyond Bridgnorth, out into Worcestershire. To the north and east of the great river, the landscape is one of flat, fertile pastures; to the south and west it’s one of fine but little-known hills. The latter area has been designated ‘the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Beauty’. Most but not all of the walks are here.
When I was asked to write a book Hillwalking in Shropshire by Jonathan Williams at Cicerone I jumped at the chance. I’d always loved the county, nearly as much as Wales, the land of my mother and generations of her family.
My first recollections of the county were as a 7-year-old, seeing it from the window of my dad’s old Flying Standard 12 car.
My first recollections of the county were as a 7-year-old, seeing it from the window of my dad’s old Flying Standard 12 car. Motorways hadn’t been invented so each year the family would follow the winding A49 from the red-bricked terraces of Lancashire to the pastoral landscapes of this beautiful Midlands county on a journey to my grandparents in Bournemouth. I was fascinated by the red earth of the newly-ploughed fields, the pretty half-timbered cottages and the attractive crag-fringed hills on both sides of the road. Shropshire also meant lunch, for my dad knew of this great lay-by where we would get the camping chairs out and gorge ourselves on mum’s deep-filled ham and egg pie – we didn’t call it quiche in those days. I didn’t know the name of the place or the hills but I’ve since found out that it was on the outskirts of Church Stretton and the hills were Caer Caradoc and the Long Mynd.
Starting from the south I’ll begin a journey through the county in the magnificent town of Ludlow, where the River Teme cuts a fine valley, winding through the south Shropshire countryside to the Knighton and the Welsh borders. Here Offa’s Dyke takes us over green ridges to the Kerry Hills and the small town of Clun. Hereabouts many of the hills are topped with Iron Age forts to enliven the day and spark the imagination. From Ludlow you can look east to Titterstone Clee Hill, a rakish, rugged escarpment crowned by towers and white radomes and a fine viewpoint with some craggy slopes. It’s scarred with mines and quarries but, if you love industrial archaeology, then you’ll love the place, also Brown Clee Hill a few miles to the north. Brown Clee is the highest hill in the county and its industrial scars have been softened by forests in the east.
The most spectacular scenery however lies to the north and east between the wooded limestone escarpment of Wenlock Edge and the plains of Shrewsbury and the Severn Valley. Here are three distinct ranges; the Stretton Hills, the Long Mynd and Stiperstones. The Stretton Hills are steep-sided, whalebacks of volcanic origin
The Devil’s Mouth, the Long Mynd
with tremendous ‘free-striding’ ridges. Caer Caradoc is the highest of these and has a huge fort on top but the Lawley offers the purest of the ridge-walks. On the other side of Church Stretton is the Long Mynd, a broad 7-mile (11km) heather ridge cut deep in the east by several crag-fringed, steep sided batches (small valleys), which provide superb walks to the tops. Across the wide valley of the East Onny lies Stiperstones, another long heather ridge but this time studded with shattered rocky tors. Manstone Rocks on Stiperstones is the second highest peak in Shropshire.
The Devil’s Chair, Stiperstones
The hills get smaller as you go northwards towards Shrewsbury but the volcanic hog’s back that is the Wrekin makes one last stand. Although covered with forest there’s just enough open ground and lots of rocky outcrops to make this a top priority on a hillwalkers’ list.
Finally, to get a real idea of what lies waiting for explorers of the Shropshire Hills watch my 15-minute YouTube video.