The town of Church Stretton in Shropshire began life as a Saxon settlement on a Roman Road, so it’s of venerable age. But the peaks crowding round it are truly ancient, created by volcanic lava and ashes about 566 million years ago when southern Britain was somewhere near the South Pole.
Peering into town from the east are the hills of Caradoc, Lawley and Ragleth, while the Long Mynd plateau looks in from the west, and the Roman Road (now the A49) and the railway occupy the fault line between them. Carved by melt-water from snowfields and retreating glaciers 20,000 years ago, these valleys are now strewn with footpaths up to the hills.
Carding Mill Valley ©Getty
Carding Mill Valley has a car park, tearoom and bus stop and is just a short walk from the station. The stream, which once powered the mill where fleeces were processed into cloth, bubbles along between hawthorn-stippled hill folds to the Long Mynd’s heathy plateau. Compared to the intimate valley, this wind-
rippled moor is wild and high.
On Neolithic paths
Running across it is The Portway, a track used by Neolithic traders 5,000 years ago. Mountains, hills and plains roll away in all directions. Returning to town by thenext valley, Townbrook Hollow is a cleft in the hills, its bracken-mantled contours bronzed by autumn.
Bracken turns the slopes brown in autumn ©Getty
Sticky cake shop
Church Stretton is stuffed with charming tearooms. Both Jemima’s Kitchen and Berry’s serve decadently sticky cakes and hot chocolate to fill the gap between walking and browsing. If Cardingmill Antiques is open, pop in to pore over its exquisite oil lamps and barometers, each labelled with its own unique history, on your way to Stretton Antiques Market.
The antiques market is huge – 60 stalls ramble over four floors of a Victorian malthouse. Hornby train-sets jostle for space with copper lustre-ware jugs, kitchen mincers and rocking horses.
Church Stretton ©Getty
Equally fascinating is the malthouse itself, with its original lift, pulley wheels, dictographs, and even the perforated ceramic floor tiles on which the sprouting grains were once spread and toasted by fires laid beneath. From the top floor you can look out to those ancient Stretton hills of Caradoc, Ragleth and Lawley through leaded glass windows.
After a day of walking and shopping, step into one of the town’s many pubs for tradition super and local ale. Choose from a number of inns, including the Kings Arms, the Bucks Head.
Click on the map below for an interactive version of the route.