Stoned Tracks, lanes and cross field bridleways
Church Stretton, Much Wenlock
Lat/Long: 52.5937095083, -2.5727320817
History, poets and story-tellers have carved their tales in the limestone of Wenlock Edge.
The most celebrated words are Housman’s “On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble.” Faithful to his verse our wooded route follows the finest escarpment in the country. But this is also home ground to Mary Webb the novelist. The large redbrick house across the B4371 is The Grange, Mary’s childhood home. Mary’s father drove her along the Edge in their pony and trap on many occasions, pointing out prominent features such as Major’s Leap – a viewing point with dashing Cavalier and Civil War associations. The Royalist Major Smallman is said to have plunged over the Edge to escape pursuing Roundheads. His life was saved by a wild cherry but his poor horse was lost. Mary may have adapted the story for the tragic end of Gone to Earth when Hazel falls to her death saving her fox.
For millennia Shropshire had difficulty making up its mind where it wanted to be. We tried south of the Equator with the Seychelles as our neighbours. Sounds fanciful? The fossils which have made Wenlock Edge a world-famous site include corals, sea lilies, sponges and shells. So here in the middle of Britain is a twenty-mile-long fossilised coral reef formed 425 million years ago.
You can still pick up pieces of coral which contain shellfish exactly like shells on the beach today.
It was crumbling rock that did for Ippikin, the robber knight, and his band. When part of the cliff fell, it blocked the mouth of the robbers’ cave, trapping them inside with their treasure. On Ippikin’s Rock is the mark of the gold chain he wore. Stand on the clifftop and cry “Ippikin, Ippikin, Keep away with your long chin!” and you risk being pushed over the edge by his ghost.
This limestone escarpment runs virtually unbroken from Ironbridge to Craven Arms. This section of the Edge is owned by the National Trust and the many track and trails are good for cycling as well as walking and horse riding. This popular route is part of the Shropshire Way as well as our Ride UK circular routes. In the spring the ransoms (wild garlic) are almost overpowering, and the limey soil also yields orchids and other wild flower treasures.
The old Much Wenlock to Craven Arms Railway opened in 1864. The engines used on the line were affectionately known by the locals as the ‘Wenlock Bell’ and ‘Old Faithful’. Closed in 1951 the old line now provides a valuable amenity route with excellent views through the trees over the Shropshire countryside.
Although not visible from the Jack Mytton Way, Wilderhope Manor is well worth a visit. Built in 1586 the Manor is a beautiful stone building with an interesting conical roofed stair turret. Donated to the National Trust by the Cadbury family it is now a used as a Youth Hostel.