Shropshire, the largest of English inland counties, is divided by the River Severn into two roughly equal halves. The north-east is a wide and fertile plain; south-west of the river is the famous hill country and one of the most attractive countryside’s in the whole of England, it is still remarkably unspoilt, having preserved its unsophisticated individuality together with many of the outward and visible signs of an ancient past.
The inspiration of its own novelist, Mary Webb, and its own ‘sweet sad singer’, the author of A Shropshire Lad, it is a hidden-away piece of old England much loved by its visitors as they visit the area. From that great Salopian Legions, the Wrekin, to the uplands of the half-Welsh Clun Forest; from the Clee Hills to the jagged Stiperstones, a rich diversity of rock formations produces striking contrasts in the natural scene.
the old cottage, ludlow, shropshire
That indefatigable topographer John Leland described sixteenth-century Ludlow as ‘very propre, welle walled and gated, and standeth every way eminent from a Bottom’. The town’s walls have long since disappeared and of its original seven gates only one remains, but its eminence still makes the place an impressive sight as you approach it from either the north or the south. An adequate description of Ludlow would need a small book to itself. Here I shall merely make a personal choice of a few focal points of interest which are special favourites of mine.
If you approach the town from the south you will come to the ancient Ludford Bridge, a splendid sturdy structure which for nearly seven centuries has borne a ceaseless flow of traffic from the time of packhorse and saddlehorse, broad-wheeled wagon, stage and mail coaches right up to the present day’s continuous stream of motor vehicles. Perhaps its most difficult task in recent years was during the last war when it had to support the great weight of a hitherto unknown monster, the army tank, but even that it accepted without demur. Before crossing this bridge you must turn to the left and make for Whitcliffe where Ludlow and its wonderful views are.
Leintwardine is full of interest; this attractive village has grown and developed with the old fortifications of a Roman Camp its buildings, of various set and ages, line the parallel streets surrounding the elevated church of St. Mary Magdalene. On the south side the river Clun joins the Teme crossed here by a handsome stone bridge built in the early 19th century and widened in 1930. Views of the hills of South Shropshire, Mocktree and the Wigmore Rolls can be enjoyed during this four mile ramble.
A place to be enjoyed joyfully in the late summer sun. Now in the village of Leintwardine the way continues to the left along Watling Street past modern school buildings and a cemetery with an unusual entrance dated 1901. This street has a crowded mixture of cottages, barns, shops and houses either stone or timber framed, some beautifully restored while others remain derelict. A right turn leads to the 900 year old church with its massive tower.
The pleasant churchyard is hemmed in by houses which overlook weathered tombs, and a convenient seat is shaded by a graceful silver
birch. The church’s dark interior features two side chapels, the scanty remains of a 15th century reredos and nicely carved choir stalls which probably came from Wigmore Abbey after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A novelty is the internal mechanism of a disused clock, one of the oldest of its type, dating from the 16th century. Originally in the tower the clock is now displayed near the porch.
Church Stretton has been aptly described as the centre of the Shropshire Highlands; it lies in an upland valley with hills rising so steeply beside it that they give an almost mountainous character to the scenery, and yet by their fortunate north-easterly to south-westerly direction they leave the town open to sunshine. Also known as little Switzerland.
There are three separate Stretton’s strung along a road now mercifully relieved of main road traffic which by-passes all three places by means of the A49. Little Stretton, the most southerly of the trio, has a number of good timber-framed houses, but to sec the best of the village you must walk round the loop off the main road where you will discover a stream with tiny waterfalls and a succession of miniature bridges leading to secluded cottages sheltering under the lower slopes of the Long Mynd which offer inviting walks through Ashes Valley and Small Batch. The twentieth-century black and white thatched church blends happily with the general character of the village, but its pitch pine interior shows less taste and imagination.
The Clun district in the south-western extremity of Shropshire has been well described as ‘that remote outlying cantle wedged in between the Welsh mountains of Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire. Its hills consist not so much of a range as a succession of rounded heights split up by valleys and then merging into the wild open moorland of Clun Forest which in places rises up as high as 1600 feet to meet the mountains spilling over the border In early Norman days this inaccessible region of the Marchland became virtually semi-independent, especially as its overlords had been granted any land they could wrest from the wild Welsh-men; and the delimitation of the boundary between the two countries was not finally settled until the reign of Henry VIII. Clun itself was included in Montgomeryshire until 1537 when it became part of Shropshire. Even today there are parts of the region which seem to be only officially English; the speech is no longer Salopian but more akin to the lilting Welsh.
Even some of the buildings look Welsh: ‘those prim, grey, sober-fronted dwellings of Clun, for example, look just as if they had slipped across from the
other side of the border.’ A study of the place names in the region will reveal the extent and limits of the Saxon settlements; often Offa’s Dyke shows the line of demarcation where English names like Mainstone, Churchtown and Weston are present.
Visiting the Long Mynd, Few of us, even if we wished to, can experience the mysterious fascination which grips the mountaineer as he grapples with the difficulties and dangers of towering heights but those of us who nevertheless have the urge to climb or even just to walk up steep paths to a summit; to feel we are above the restless noise and movement of main roads; and to have the joy of watching changing lights and colours, at their best when seen from high places, can still go to hills which exercise the same attraction. For, after all, it is only a question of relativity in size and height. Stevenson pointed out long ago that ‘even greatness can be found on a small scale; the mind and eye measure differently. Bold rocks near at hand are more inspiring than distant Alps’. This longing for hill country is something innate in many people and is felt by many more than admit it. Many years ago read some lines by an unknown writer which vividly recapture the sudden tug of this passionate desire.
In a short story, Many Mansions, Mary Webb described Much Wenlock as a ‘very Rip Van Winkle of a borough. Somewhere in the Middle Ages it had fallen asleep and if you should wonder at the fashion of its garments you must remember that it had not,since the day it fell aslcep, changed its coat, its hosen or its hat’