Family walks in the Shropshire Hills

The Shropshire Hills are found in the south of the county and are a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It’s a great place to visit if you enjoy hill walking rather than rocky mountains. Our family walks covered three of the main areas, The Long Mynd, Wenlock Edge and Stiperstones.

1. The Long Mynd

Probably the most popular walking area in Shropshire, The Long Mynd (meaning long mountain) is a moorland plateau around 11 km long.

Carding Mill Valley - and the end of the car park!
Carding Mill Valley – and the end of the car park!

We followed a circular route from Church Stretton up towards Carding Mill Valley. Much of The Long Mynd is owned by the National Trust so there’s a visitor centre, tea room and toilets. The downside is a strung out car park which blights the valley. I appreciate visitors need to park somewhere but it felt out of place given the surroundings.

I’d chosen a slightly longer version of the National Trust 9 km Burway Loop walk. This waymarked trail was busy with lots of dog walkers, families and runners.

Walking up The Long Mynd
Walking up The Long Mynd

Along the way the kids saw a rope pull strung up the hillside so we detoured for them to have a go. All went well until the eldest fell in the mud and had a sense of humour failure!

It’s a beautiful walk up the valley onto the plateau of the Mynd. Our route took us over heather clad hills and joined with the Portway, a 5000 year old trail once used by Neolithic traders to reach Shrewsbury.

Walking on The Long Mynd
Walking on The Long Mynd

The highest point on the Long Mynd is the 517m Pole Bank. The toposcope identifies the various hills and as it was a relatively clear day we were treated to excellent views across Shropshire, the Brecon Beacons and the Malvern Hills.

Walking down to Townbrook Hollow from The Long Mynd
Walking down to Townbrook Hollow from The Long Mynd

From Pole Bank we walked downhill through the valley of Townbrook Hollow. This was my favourite part of the walk as the change in scenery from open moorland to a rugged valley was completely unexpected.

Our path wound down through woodland, past a small reservoir. Just before reaching Church Stretton we found a huge tree. So huge that even three people joining hands couldn’t stretch around half the trunk!

Tree hugging!
Tree hugging!

2. Wenlock Edge

The limestone escarpment of Wenlock Edge runs between Craven Arms and Ironbridge. Our 9 km circular walk started from the National Trust car park just outside Much Wenlock.

Our outward route took us along a broad muddy bridleway through Blakeway Coppice, an area of woodland on the scarp face of Much Wenlock. We were treated to occasional views through the trees and some strange sounds which we eventually attributed to farm animals.

Wenlock Edge
Wenlock Edge

Presthope NT car park marked our halfway return point and the start of several interesting features. We followed steps down into the disused Knowle Quarry and found an information board detailing the local geology. A little further ona bird hide overlooked some well used bird feeders. We sat for a while, watching the woodland birds flitting between the feeders, enjoying their cafe.

The Shropshire Way joined our path as we traversed alongside Lea Quarry. Limestone isn’t extracted here anymore so the signs warning of detonation times are superfluous. However the quarry is now a timber storage and wood chipping facility. As evidenced by the screeching sound of logs being fed into the huge chipper.

The view from Wenlock Edge
The view from Wenlock Edge

Towards the end of we stopped at Major’s Leap viewpoint. This is named after Major Smallman who escaped from the Roundheads in the Civil War by jumping his horse over the edge. His horse died (and supposedly its ghost haunts the area) but he was saved by falling into a crab apple tree. We had a quick peek over the edge; it’s definitely a long way down!

3. Stiperstones

Our visit to the Stiperstones didn’t have the most auspicious start. Heavy rain and a flat tyre meant we started out much later than planned. On the positive side, most of the rain had cleared by the time we reached our starting point, the Bog Visitor Centre.

The Bog Visitor Centre is housed in a Victorian former school and was once part of a village with more than 200 buildings. The area was mined for lead and barytes but nowadays feels remote and peaceful. Although the centre was packed with wet cyclists eating homemade cake and taking advantage of the heating to dry off.

Walking the Stiperstones, Shropshire
Walking the Stiperstones, Shropshire

Due to our flat tyre we only had time for a short walk so took an out and back route from the Bog Centre up to Manstone Rock. The Stiperstones offer a different walking experience from elsewhere in Shropshire. It’s quite rocky underfoot but if the rocks don’t trip you up the heather will! For this reason the walk is best for families with older children.

Manstone Rock, Stiperstones
Manstone Rock, Stiperstones

I originally planned to walk to the Devil’s Chair rock formation but we settled for the trig point on top of Manstone Rock instead. When I say ‘we’ I actually mean everyone in the family apart from myself. I chickened out of the final scramble on slippy rock up to the trig point itself.

Although this was only a short walk it provided views galore. We also startled a couple of grouse which flew up in front of us as we walked. It would have been the perfect shot into the sun if I’d actually had my camera ready!

More info

  • The Shropshire’s Great Outdoors website is a great resource for walkers and cyclists.
  • The Bog Visitor Centre is open 7 days per week from the end of March to the start of November.
  • During the summer season (May to September) a shuttle bus operates around the Stiperstones and Long Mynd. This gives walkers flexibility to choose linear routes along the hills; we’d have certainly used this if it had been operating during our stay.
Share this:

Our 2015 family day out plans

Last week I reviewed our favourite (and least favourite places) of 2014. This week it’s time to look forward and plan some family days out and weekends away for 2015. I’ve chosen places within a 3 hour journey of our home and as the kids are older I’ve added in some mini adventures such as a two day cycle ride and a mountain walk. Anything to get them away from sitting in front of the Xbox.

1. Cardiff

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited the Welsh capital. From Cardiff Castle and Bute Park to Techniquest and the Doctor Who exhibition, I think the hardest decision will be what not to see. Definitely worth a couple of days of our time.

2. South West coastal path walk, Devon or Dorset

I’ve started planning a two day walk along the south west coastal path, either from Brixham or Charmouth. The final route will depend on the train and bus timetables and availability of accommodation but both options look good. It’s quite a leisurely walk so there will also be time to fossil hunt in Charmouth or enjoy the seaside. Fingers crossed for good weather.

3. Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms, London

This is somewhere we’ve been waiting for the kids to be old enough to visit. Our eldest has studied World War II at school (and went on an evacuee experience) and we’ve previously visited Anne Frank House so they have some background knowledge. I’m sure it will be a sobering, but important, visit.

4. Climb Pen-y-Fan, Brecon Beacons

The kids have been up a few hills but despite visiting the Brecon Beacons in 2014 we never went up Pen-y-Fan. It’s a lovely mountain to climb, and the closest to us (albeit >100 miles away) so I definitely want to make the effort this year.

5. Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent

Whenever we head out for the day we inevitably head south, north or west. For some reason we hardly ever go east so this year I’ve purposely picked a couple of places in Kent. First on the list is the historic dockyard at Chatham. It’s a maritime museum that contains three warships, a lifeboat collection and a Cold War submarine set in 80 acres of dockyard.

6. Wild camp on Dartmoor, Devon

Some of you may have read my earlier post about family microadventures. I think it’s time for us to up the game this year and head out on a slightly more adventurous night out. Wild camping is allowed in many parts of Dartmoor so I’m tempted by a bivvy on the moors. I think my eldest will require some persuasion though as she has visions of us being trampled by Dartmoor ponies in the middle of the night. I haven’t told her about the Hound of the Baskervilles yet.

7. Whitstable, Kent

Whitstable sounds like the kind of seaside town we’d enjoy.  After a wander around the town and fishing harbour we’d walk along Tankerton Slopes before heading back for coffee and cake in one of the tea shops.

8. Red Squirrel Cycle Trail, Isle of Wight

We had a particularly memorable VW campervan holiday on the Isle of Wight a few years back. The weather and campsites were perfect so I’m always a little hesitant about going back just in case we spoil our memories. However, whilst looking for a family cycling route I came across the Red Squirrel cycle trail on the island. It’s mostly traffic free and easy cycling with an overnight stop in Shanklin. There’s even the chance of spotting red squirrels along the way.

9. Overnight camp at Northmoor Lock, Oxfordshire

This small campsite beside the River Thames is one of the closest to us and is perfect for a quick overnight getaway. It’s back to basics camping with compost toilets, fire pits and no cars on site. Sounds great!

10. A theme park

Whilst I’m more than happy with the wild outdoors the kids enjoy theme parks, as did I at their age. Not sure where to go yet but Alton Towers, Thorpe Park or Chessington are likely contenders. So readers, how about you? What plans do you have for 2015? Do drop me a comment and let me know. In the meantime I guess I’d better get saving!

Share this:

2014 review: our best and worst days out

I love to look back on the year, particularly in the depths of winter when it’s great to remember that sometimes it is sunny and warm.  I’ve chosen our top 10 days (and evenings) of 2014, and because things aren’t always perfect I’ve chosen a few that didn’t work out quite so well too.

The top 10

Narrowing this list down to 10 items was incredibly hard, as I could easily have chosen lots more. In no particular order, here are our family favourites:

1. Watching the balloon ascent at Bristol Balloon Festival

Take off at Bristol balloon festival
Take off at Bristol balloon festival

I’ve wanted to visit the balloon fiesta for several years but we’ve either been busy or the weather hasn’t played ball. This year we finally got to see the balloons go up. It was an amazingly colourful spectacle and I took rather a lot of photos as you can see in my blog post.

2. Bill Spectre Ghost tour, Oxford

For my daughter’s 12th birthday we braved the Bill Spectre ghost tour in Oxford. I won’t give anything away but it has a justifiably high Trip Advisor rating. My favourite memory is of the kids and Bill Spectre (in costume) pretending to be ghost horses and clip-clopping down a deserted road. An American student cycled past them and towards us, muttering ‘that’s the wierdest thing I’ve ever seen’. Although I think my kids preferred having their arms chopped off.

3. Moth trapping, Neptune Wood, Oxfordshire

Easily our best wildlife experience was the morning spent checking moth traps at a local nature reserve. I just didn’t realise there were so many varieties of moth or that they came in colours other than brown!

From top left (clockwise): swallowtail moth, large emerald, clouded border, common emerald
From top left (clockwise): swallowtail moth, large emerald, clouded border, common emerald

We saw in excess of 150 species of moth, found in traps that had been set the previous evening. You can read more here.

4. Velorail du Velay, Dunières

I’d never heard of Velorail before our holiday to France. As you can see from the photo you pedal along an old railway track, before turning the cart round and freewheeling the whole way back to the station. It’s the best fun you can have on an old railway track.

Vélorail du Velay, Dunières
Vélorail du Velay, Dunières

There are several Velorail attractions in France, you can read about the one we visited at Dunières. I wish someone would start one up in the UK as I’m sure it would do very well.

5. School productions

My daughter left primary school this year. There’s always an end of school show as part of the leaving festivities and this time it was the Lion King. We loved watching the children perform, although it was tinged with sadness as many of them were moving onto different schools.

Year 6 Lion King performance
Year 6 Lion King performance

Our son is still in primary school and for his Christmas play this year they chose the Sound of Music. My son was one of the children; it was lovely to see him up on stage confidently singing and acting as he’s never normally keen to sing in public.

6. Lydford Gorge, Devon

My favourite walk of the year. We visited verdant Lydford Gorge after rain when the ferns and mosses were dripping wet, it was incredibly atmospheric.

A stone path runs alongside the River Lyd to the gushing Devil’s Cauldron, a swirling mass of water. In parts there are handrails, as the path is cut into the side of the rocks and the river runs right next to it. This makes for an exciting short walk although probably not suited to young children.

7. Rock pooling at Kennack Sands, Cornwall

Whilst on holiday we spent a morning on a National Trust rock pool hunt at Coverack beach. I love mooching around in rock pools but it was a bonus to have someone on hand to identify finds. I’m proud to say that we can now all recognise velvet swimming crabs! The Lizard is an excellent area for a family holiday, my post has lots of suggestions about things to do on the Lizard.

8. Puy-en-Velay, France

Puy-en-Velay is a gem of a French town. Situated in a caldera, the main tourist sights all sit atop volcanic plugs. So you’ll have great views but lots and lots of steps to walk up. Funnily enough it was my (sport mad) son that complained the most about all the steps. You can read more about our day trip here.

View from Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe
View from Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe

My daughter enjoyed the Saturday market the most, primarily for the large chocolate covered pastry she got to eat!

9. Pooh Stick world championships, Oxfordshire

Receiving my Pooh sticks runners up certificate
Receiving my Pooh sticks runners up certificate

I never thought I’d take part in a world Championship, but I’m now an elite Pooh sticks athlete. We spent a fun few hours throwing sticks into the River Thames, rushing to the other side of the bridge to see which one travelled the fastest. Amazingly my sticks just kept on winning, eventually taking me all the way to the final. I didn’t win but I was still rather pleased to be a runner up. If you fancy taking part in 2015 read more about it here.

10. Beauty & the beast panto, Oxford

Our family agreed that this year’s panto was one of the best we’ve ever seen. Lots of toe tapping songs, slapstick humour and an excellent dame; read our review here.

And at the bottom…

Of course some of our days out don’t always go to plan. Here are the ones that didn’t work out so well.

1. Flooded yurt in East Devon

Our yurt - before the rain!
Our yurt – before the rain!

We were the first visitors of the season. The yurt was lovingly decorated with typical glamping accessories; fluffy rugs, cushions and bunting. Arriving home from a wet day out we discovered the rain had come in between the base and the yurt and soaked everything we’d left on the floor, including the white fluffy rug. Aargh!

2. Chateau de Lavoûte-Polignac, Lavoûte-sur-Loire

This might have appealed more if I was a lover of family portraiture (particularly when described in great detail in French), without children and at least semi-interested in the history of the Polignac family.

No chance of escape!
No chance of escape!

3. White Castle, near Abergavenny

White Castle looked great from the front entrance. But that’s as far as we got as the gate was firmly shut. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the opening days on the website as it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!

4. Missing the royal pageant at the Tall Ships Festival, Greenwich

We had a great time watching the tall ships sail down the River Thames. Yet I’m still intrigued as to how we managed to miss the royal barge, Gloriana, leading a flotilla of rowing boats along the river. I thought we were in the right place at the right time but obviously not.

5. Matisse exhibition, Tate museum

I loved this but the kids didn’t. It’s boring (they said). Are we finished yet? Our visit inspired my post about whether children should visit art galleries.

Share this:

Orienteering at Shotover Park, Oxford

I haven’t blogged much recently as our spare time has been taken up with the usual December madness of Christmas shopping, school and social events. Yet somehow we found ourselves with an almost free weekend just days before the big event. Definitely a good time to get out and enjoy some winter air.

On Saturday we enjoyed a pub lunch and walk, albeit not quite the walk I’d planned. This was due to a minor issue with the map reading. OK, we got lost (or as lost as it’s possible to get in deepest Berkshire).

Heading to the start
Heading to the start

On Sunday we headed to Shotover Woods, on the outskirts of Oxford, to take part in an orienteering event. For those who don’t know, orienteering requires good navigation skills to help you  find controls in a specific order in the shortest possible time. This was our chance to redeem ourselves after our map reading misadventure the previous day.

shotover4

We split into two pairs for the event, I went with my son. There were plenty of children of a similar age running alone but ours don’t have much experience of orienteering so we thought it best to stick with them.

shotover1

We’d chosen an orange course which was 2.8 km (assuming you took the most direct route) and consisted of 8 controls. Once you get used to using the special orienteering map, which is much more detailed and a different scale from standard OS maps, it was quite straightforward to find the route.

Parts of the course were pretty muddy but that’s to be expected at this time of year. It was just a liberating feeling to get outside in the woods for a run after being stuck indoors so much recently.

shotover2

My son took great delight in registering his emit reader at each of the controls. This small device shows that you have visited the control and the information in it is downloaded at the end of the course to give you immediate results. A far cry from my early orienteering days when everything was calculated manually and you’d see your results pegged up on a string line!

The finish!
The finish!

As we neared the end of the course I rather wished that we’d done one of the more difficult options. We don’t go orienteering very often as it usually clashes with other activities but every time we do go it’s always fun.

It was great to finish, and even better that we came in ahead of my partner and daughter. They’d somehow managed to get lost finding one of the controls so I think I know whose map reading was dodgy the previous day!

More info

  • You can read more about orienteering in one of my previous posts.
  • To find an event near to you check out the British Orienteering website.
Share this: