Saturday, 6 December 2014

Long Mynd, Ragleth Hill & Hope Bowdler Hill

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Route: Carding Mill Valley, Lightspout Hollow, Boiling Well, Pole Bank, Pole Cottage, Barrister's Plain, Grindle, Small Batch, Little Stretton, Briaryley, Ragleth Hill, Hazler Hill, Gaerstones Farm, Gaer Stone, Hope Bowdler Hill, Cwms Plantation, Cwms Farm, The Leasowes, Church Stretton

Date: 06/12/2014
From: Carding Mill 

Parking: Carding Mill Valley
Start Point: Carding Mill Valley
Region: Shropshire Hills AONB

Route length: 13.4 miles (21.5 km)
Time taken: 04:59
Average speed: 2.7 mph
Ascent: 995m
Descent: 1,000m

Summits on this walk:
Pole Bank (516m), Grindle Hill (459m), Ragleth Hill (398m), Hazler Hill (345m), Hope Bowdler Hill (426m)

Other points of interest: Carding Mill Valley, Lightspout Hollow

I mentioned in a previous post, namely this one, that Shropshire has a lot of hills, spilling across the national border from Wales. They are not necessarily high or expansive but they do have a charm and interest all of their own, so much so that they've been banded together into the Shropshire Hill AONB. In that previous walk, we strolled along the length of the Long Mynd (Long Mountain) before crossing the valley and having a play on the rocky castles of the Stiperstones to the north. This time round, we'd be having a look at the Carding Mill Valley, and some of the small (but steeper!) hills to the east. The ones we'd visit would very much depend on how much daylight we had.

As I suggested, we parked up at the foot of Carding Mill Valley, a long, steep-sided wedge that drives right into the heart of the Long Mynd. The valley's name is a nod to its industrial part, carding being the initial act of untangling raw fibres for Church Stretton's famed textile industry. The mill no longer remains but its legacy lives on thanks to the National Trust and the valley that still bears its name.
A stunning morning in the Carding Mill Valley
Cow Ridge
We avoided the more popular Mott's Road, instead, branching off into Lightspout Hollow to have a look at the small but picturesque waterfall of the same name. We'd been blessed with a perfect day for walking, crisp clear blue skies and a none too unpleasant chill in the air. Being a busy tourist spot, the paths are easy to follow and, overall, the climb up to the falls is straightforward enough.
Haddon Hill
Lighspout Hollow
The valley was a dark contrast the bright morning
The rocky path, worn smooth in many places, snakes uphill around interlocking spurs before it opens out at the foot of the falls. They are small but perfectly formed, though I think their description as 'a miniature Niagra' by the Victorian visitors is a bit of an over exaggeration. Still, it gave ample opportunity to play with the camera.
A similar image with a bit of tinkering
We climbed out of the valley into the glorious morning sunshine and made our way towards the spring at Boiling Well. The Long Mynd is odd in a way as is has a number of well-defined tracks and a road that criss-cross the top. Many of these are ancient routes such as The Portway (a 36 mile Roman Road) while others like the Jack Mytton Way (named after an eccentric gentleman from the 1800s who was known for leading naked fox hunts and owning over 1,000 hats) and the Shropshire Way are newer inventions. Following the signage, we followed the track that leads up Pole Bank, the high point of the Long Mynd.
The Long Mynd
The view east to Caer Caradoc
Haddon Hill and Caer Caradoc
The Stiperstones
Corndon Hill in the distance
The view towards The Stiperstones
Pole Bank has a trig pillar and a toposcope which we viewed with eager eyes as it has extensive views in nearly all directions. The best on this day were to the north and west, across the Stiperstones and into Wales. Despite its domination of the area, Pole Bank (and thus the Long Mynd) is in fact only the third highest spot in Shropshire, beaten to the title by Brown Clee Hill and the aforementioned Stiperstones.
The highest point of the Long Mynd
The metal disk atop the toposcope
We left Pole Bank and made our way to Pole Cottage, a ramshackle shed used as a checkpoint shelter during the 50 mile Long Mynd challenge walk. A wide path leads out across the vegetation on the slopes of Round Hill. We had decided earlier in the day to have a climb up Grindle Hill, a rounded prominence on the ridge enclosing Ashes Hollow, another of the deep valleys that pierce the Long Mynd. A small saddle separates Grindle Hill from Round Hill, the perfect place for a Bronze Age dyke - Barristers Plain. The cross-ridge dyke runs almost in a straight line for 170m.
The path leading towards Ashes Hollow
A partially frozen pool of water above Ashes Hollow
The path is wide and easy to follow
Yearlet across the valley
The head of Ashes Hollow
It runs across the narrowest area of a ridge between Grindle Hill and Round Hill, its purpose was to cut off Grindle Hill from the main plateau and to create a barrier for access from the west. The bridleway passes through a gap in the dyke where we left it and strode up the heather-clad slopes of Grindle Hill.
Grindle Hill
Barristers Plain cross dyke
Climbing through the heather on Grindle Hill
To my surprise, Grindle Hill has a nice cairn perched on top and we shared it with some of the wild ponies that roam the hillsides. It also has a great view of Ragleth Hill, our destination for the afternoon. We made our way back to the path, deciding to save Callow (another named hill) for another time, stopping for lunch on the steep slopes above Small Batch. It wasn't long until we were on the move again, taking the well-laid bridleway down into the village of Little Stretton.
The top of Grindle Hill
Caer Caradoc, The Lawley and a distant and a distant Wrekin
Wild ponies on the hillside
The path above Ashes Hollow leading to Little Stretton
Caer Caradoc and The Lawley
A panorama of Shropshire hills
Beyond Little Stretton (by way of a short walk along the A49) are the footings of Ragleth Hill, a small yet deceptively steep hill that defends the southern extents of Church Stretton. When I mention it being steep - it really is steep, especially towards the top. The exertion of climbing it combined with the afternoon sun made for a rather warm, summery feel despite being in the depths of winter. The reward for the effort are a fine view of The Long Mynd and Church Stretton as well as an expansive vista across the River Onny towards Wenlock Edge.
Callow and Nills from Ragleth Hill
A steep climb up Ragleth Hill
Sunshine over Shropshire
The highest point of Ragleth Hill actually sits almost dead centre along the ridge but has no adornments other than some rocks poking out of the grass. Briaryley, the southern prominence, has the remains of a telegraph pole of sorts. In the short time, we spent crossing the top the clouds had rolled in, hiding the glorious sunshine behind a dark grey blanket.
The Long Mynd
The view south-west from Ragleth Hill
Clouds roll in over Shropshire
A look back to Briaryley from the top of Ragleth Hill
Caer Caradoc, Helmeth Hill, Hazler Hill and Hope Bowdler Hill
We dropped down off Ragleth Hill, the descent seemingly less steep that the ascent we'd just completed. Here, a short section of road bridges the gap between Ragleth Hill and Hope Bowdler with a minor diversion to climb up Hazler Hill.
Some pig-shaped topiary. As you do
Church Stretton and Carding Mill Valley
It's a short climb up a lane to Hazler Hill, reached by passing through a gate alongside the road. The top is dominated by a large transmitter tower that dwarfs the small OS trig pillar nearby. As I mentioned, it was a short diversion and we were quickly back on the lane heading for the footings of Hope Bowdler.
The top of Hazler Hill
It was getting late in the afternoon, enough for the sun to have started to sink low in the sky. A breakaway group decided they'd prefer a leisurely wander back to Church Stretton while a handful of us (myself included) saw the temptation of the Gaer Stone too much and made the steep climb up from Gaerstones Farm.
The end of Hope Bowdler Hill
The Gaer Stone
Climbing towards the Gaer Stone
The Gaer Stone (Gaer meaning "fort") is an impressive volcanic rocky outcrop, prominently sticking out of the hillside. Viewed from below it looks fairly fort-like and unassailable, however, up close it is much tamer and easy enough to scale. Once again, another splinter group decided that was enough excitement for them, leaving me and one other hardy soul to make a quick early evening dash along the ridge to Hope Bowdler's summit. We'd come this far after all.
Atop the Gaer Stone with an odd camera effect
Caer Caradoc
Hope Bowdler Hill has a trio of summits, the highest being the furthest to the north. Strangely, it's the second highest top that has the most prominent cairn. Perhaps it marks the best view across to the nearby Caer Caradoc or has some other historical meaning. Luckily the sun had slunk beneath the cloud layer by now and was casting a delightful golden light across the hillside ahead of us. This is easily my favourite time of the day as it adds a definition to the hills that's sorely lacking during the midday hours.
The large cairn on Hope Bowdler's second summit
The view from the cairn to the summit
The top of Hope Bowdler Hill
Sun rays over Ragleth Hill
Caer Caradoc
We completed the loop of Hope Bowdler Hill by following the path from Cwms to Cwms Farm and then into Helmeth Hill wood, beyond which lies a puzzling maze of urban paths and streets to negotiate. We even had to legitimately cross a railway line, a first for me. That said, to route is reasonably well sign posted and we managed to find our way back to Carding Mill with little problem.
The railway line at Church Stretton
Urban exploration - a nod towards work
I have a growing fondness towards these steep little hills of Shropshire and there is no doubt I wouldn't have been visiting them were it not for me decided to tag along to an internet forum meet a few years ago. I've become good friends with a number of like-minded individuals scattered around the country which has opened up huge potential in future places to visit and explore. So, if you're ever faced with a choice to meet strangers off the internet, given the right circumstances, I'd recommend you take the plunge.