Saturday, 5 December 2015

Caer Caradoc & The Lawley

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Route:  Church Stretton, Helmeth Hill, Three Fingers Rock, Caer Caradoc, Little Caradoc, Comley, Comley Farm, The Lawley, Nellsyard

Date: 05/12/2015
From: Church Stretton

Parking: Street parking in Church Stretton
Start Point: Church Stretton
Region: Shropshire Hills AONB

Route length: 6.0 miles (9.6 km)
Time taken: 02:51
Average speed: 2.1 mph
Ascent: 723m
Descent: 747m

Summits: Helmeth Hill (344m), Caer Caradoc (459m), The Lawley (377m)

As Storm Desmond wrought havoc across Cumbria, we fled south to the dramatic hills of Shropshire to escape the worst of the weather. I remember looking at the forecast for Keswick for the weekend and thinking it was among the worst I'd ever seen; who knew Desmond would bring eventually bring over 300mm of rainfall? Fortunately all we had to contend with was a very strong, gusty wind but, after a crafty bit of planning, it would be on our backs for the majority of the day.

I've been visiting Shropshire for a couple of years now; it's a fascinating place full of places to explore. We've been up and over the Long Mynd, had a poke around Cardingmill and visited the tops of the hills of Ragleth and Hope Bowdler. This time, it was the turn of Caer Caradoc and The Lawley. These two hills, along with Ragleth, Hazler, Helmeth and Hope Bowdler form the Stretton Hills which surround the small town of Church Stretton.

Caer Caradoc and The Lawley form an obvious one way route from Church Stretton, finishing at the foot of The Lawley in the hamlet of Lawley and after shuffling some cars around we were ready to set off. A path leaves Church Stretton through the fields behind the housing estate called Battle Field and climbs up along the lowers slopes of Helmeth Hill. Our intention, as a warm up to the looming Caer Caradoc, was to make the climb up Helmeth Hill first.
Caer Caradoc
Carding Mill Valley
A close-up of Three Fingers Rock
A path wends its way up through the ancient woodland in a rather circuitous fashion until it reaches the top of the hill which bears no distinguishing features other than a clump of trees that are higher than the rest. Still, at over 200m it's not an insignificant height and worth a trip up. We retraced our steps back to the stream that separates the two hills and began a slow ascent of Caer Caradoc.
The entrance to Helmeth Hill
Caer Caradoc through the trees
Steps up the hillside
The top of Helmeth Hill
A tree arch on the way back down
Caer Caradoc is defended on all sides by very steep slopes which, coupled with the strong wind, made for a tough climb. The initial ascent is very steep but it does ease slightly once you pass through a gate and fence around half way up. It was so windy I suspect you could have opened your jacket up and used it as a sail. We passed a couple of guys marking out a fell race for the following day though they had unwisely chosen to walk into the wind and seemed none-too-impressed by this fact.
Looking up the first climb on Caer Caradoc
Hope Bowdler Hill
Helmeth Hill and Ragleth Hill
More steep climbing
The ridge of Caer Caradoc
At Three Fingers Rock we were able to shelter out of the wind for a moment to catch our breath. The rock has a grandstand view of Church Stretton and the valley beyond. Up ahead is a less-taxing route along the ridge top that rises slowly to the ramparts of the ancient hill fort that adorns the summit. It is this which the hill is named after - Caer Caradog in Welsh meaning Caradog's fort.
Three Fingers Rock
Church Stretton from Caer Caradoc
Starting the climb towards the top
Looking back along the ridge - the hump in the centre of the photo is one of the ancient ramparts
Rock formation near the summit
Looking towards The Lawley
Local legend has it that this was the site of the last stand of Caractacus against the Roman legions during the Roman conquest of Britain, and that after the battle he hid in the cave near its summit. Others say his last stand was in the locality but that this was one of his fortresses.

The top of Caer Caradoc undulates along, past the mounds of ancient hill fort before rising once again to the flat top. The wind here was strong to say the least though and didn;t give us much of a chance to stop and have a look around. I can say, however, that the views from all of Caer Caradoc are superb in all directions; not one aspect looks the same and all are interesting. The Wrekin was even visible some 20 miles distant, despite the gloomy day.
The rampart of the ancient hillfort
Caer Caradoc's summit
With the wind pushing us along, we dropped off the top before making a short climb up Little Caradoc - a small hill that sits at the northern end of the ridge. Further ahead is more descent down to the hamlet of Comley and Comley Farm to the rear of which is the southern footing of The Lawley.
The Lawley through the gloom
Looking north 
Little Caradoc and The Lawley
Looking back up Caer Caradoc
The Lawley
The Lawley, like Caer Caradoc and The Wrekin, is a long, whaleback ridge all of which are volcanic in origin, thrust up along the Church Stretton fault millions of years ago. The rocks here are amongst the oldest in the country; a stately 560 million years old.
The Lawley and Comely Farm
Starting up The Lawley
Caer Caradoc from The Lawley
A steep climb towards the top
The long ridge along the top of The Lawley
Church Stretton
The Lawley is perhaps a little less interesting than Caer Caradoc and a fairly long and arduous climb is required to reach the top. Like Caer Caradoc, The Lawley is also home to an ancient hillfort though there is little that is recognisable other than a cross dyke south of the summit. A tall weather vane now stands proudly on the summit, alongside the remnants of a trig pillar.
The weathervane on The Lawley
Facing into the wind on the summit
Looking along the ridge
A view back towards the summit
The sun threatens to make an appearance
The view northwards once again
Leaving the top, The Lawley descends gradually back down the level of the valley passing some more ancient remains. Though not marked on the map there is a small parking are at the northern end which is where we had stashed the other car. We still had time in the day to make a quick trip over to the Long Mynd, parking at the top of the steep Burway road and walking up Yearlet, a prominent hill overlooking Townbrook Valley and Church Stretton below. It was our first experience of walking into the wind all day and it was a challenge to say the least! Time to retire to the National Trust tea room in Carding Mill for a well earned brew.