Our main reason for choosing Church Stretton as a base for a holiday was that, as well as the peace and quiet, we wanted to do some walking in the Shropshire Hills. So on Sunday morning we loaded up our day sacks, put on our boots and set up for a walk up the Long Mynd, the large “whale back” hill that looms over the town.
The grassy plateau is about 7 miles long with steep valleys on its eastern flanks. We set off up one of these, the most popular, Carding Mill Valley which, like much of the Long Mynd, is under the stewardship of the National Trust.
The National Trust has some information about the history of the textile industry in the valley that gave it its name
In 1812 a carding mill was built to process local fleeces. The carded wool was then spun at home as a cottage industry.
In 1824 George Corfield bought the mill and expanded, building a factory and installing Spinning Jennies and Hand Looms to become a cloth manufacturer. Being sited away from the heart of the woollen industry in Yorkshire proved difficult so further expansion in 1851 took them into clothing manufacture employing sewers and dressmakers. The business remained under threat so diversification was attempted.
By 1881 part of the factory was used for ginger beer and soda water manufacture and another part as a tea-room. By this time many people had new-found wealth and increased leisure and Church Stretton was developing as a spa town known as “Little Switzerland”.
Two reservoirs were built, one in 1865 in Townbrook Hollow and 1902 in New Pool Hollow. The old mill was demolished in 1912 and the factory turned into an hotel and café. By 1920 the factory had been converted to flats and the Chalet Pavilion had been imported from Scandinavia to be used as a tea-room for the day trippers.
It’s a popular spot so on a Sunday morning in August there were plenty of people around. Many of them, however, seemed to be sticking around the lower part of the valley, which was flat, pottering around with children messing about near or in the river. There were some relatively easy low level walks. One in particular up to the reservoir that used to feed the former carding mill on the site.
We walked past the chalet building, imported from Switzerland, which today house the NT café and shop
It was too soon to stop for a brew (only 15 minutes or so since we’d set out!) so we carried on up the valley
Rather than follow the main route up to the top of the Long Mynd, we took a left fork up Lightspout Hollow, a narrow, steep sided valley leading up to the Lightspout waterfall.
As there hadn’t been a lot of rain over previous weeks there was more fall than water!
We climbed the steep stepped path up past the waterfall and then cut off the path carrying on up hill. A short distance away we spotted a group of ponies on the hillside
Reaching the top we carried on along the grassy plateau, heading for the path that runs along the ridge of the Long Mynd.
Looking back there was a good view of Caer Caradoc to the east of Church Stretton, across the other side of the A49.
Walking along the ridge we could see several gliders circling around on the thermals created by the hills.
As the top of the Long Mynd is a fairly flat plateau there isn’t a distinct summit, but we headed for the highest point on the ridge , “Pole Bank” where we stopped to take in the view.
Looking west towards Wales.
Visibility was OK but with a cloudy grey sky the light was rather flat, not great for photography, and we couldn’t see as far as the Welsh mountains which were obscured by cloud and the grey light.
We turned round, retraced our steps for a short distance before heading east and turned off down the path that would take us down Ashes Hollow.
It’s another narrow, steep sided valley, the path following a stream down hill. It was much quieter than on the way up and along the ridge – we saw only a few people, mainly coming up the valley. Most people were obviously descending by alternative routes.
Initially passing through rough moorland, as it descended the scenery changed into a pleasant rocky, wooded valley
eventually flattening out
Towards the end of the valley, passing through a meadow, I spotted a couple coming up from the opposite direction. The man was wearing a sweatshirt with a familiar badge on his chest – Wigan Warriors. I asked if they were from Wigan and it transpired that the woman was a born and bred Wiganer who now lived near Church Stretton. So we stopped for a chat. It’s I surprising how often we bump into people from our home town (I was once paddling in a canoe with our children when they were young teenagers on the Dordogne and was hailed by someone – “are you from Wigan?”) – it’s a small world, as they say.
We passed through a small camp site and arrived at Little Stretton, a small village a couple of miles south of the town where we were staying.
A small, affluent community of a small number of mainly ancient houses.
We followed the road back to Church Stretton. Time for a brew and a cake at one of the independent coffee shops.