Church Stretton is a great place to start a walk. It’s no wonder this part of Shropshire is sometimes called Little Switzerland since steep russet-coloured slopes almost tumble into the middle of the old Market Square. But this morning the streets were quiet as I followed the distinctively named Jack Mytton Way out of town to swiftly arrive on the airy ridge of Ragleth Hill. The weather forecast had promised sunshine and snow showers and, sure enough, opaque curtains of dark cloud were sweeping across Wales as I reached the western top and looked south into the lonely hills of Clun Forest
I backtracked along the wide tussocky path, dropped down to cross the B4371 and climbed onto Hope Bowdler Hill. If Ragleth’s long summit resembled a humpback whale, Hope Bowdler was a series of leatherback turtles, gently domed and dipping slowly eastwards towards the wooded waves of Wenlock Edge. Up here the snow was a few inches deep and, following the recent tracks of a hare, I slowed down to enjoy the wide horizons and dramatic cloud formations. I stopped for a bite to eat by the rocky outcrop known as the Battle Stones, right on top of Willstone Hill. A series of shy twisting valleys led down to the Shropshire Plain, punctuated in the distance by the unmistakeable shape of The Wrekin.
My next target was Caer Caradoc, which stood proudly aloof as sudden bright sunshine seemed to exaggerate its height. A surprisingly icy descent down north facing slopes led to a grassy bridleway where a stoat hurtled into last year’s bracken. Well worn paths then took me to the summit, which greeted me with a chill wind and heavy snowflakes. Centuries ago the residents in the old hill fort would probably have closed their shutters on a day like this. On the sheltered lower slopes the bare branches of oak and ash trees were dusted in snow which had created a gallery of eye-catching patterns and textures.
I now looked north towards the prominent little peak known as The Lawley. It’s so perfectly pointed a child might have made it at nursery school. Without hesitation, deviation or repetition, the path took me swiftly to the top, marked by a tall weathervane capped with a black metal raven. Then it was straight down the other side, along a humpy ridge that made me want to flap my wings and fly. When I met the lane I turned immediately south along paths that closely hug the lower slopes of The Lawley and Caer Caradoc. As dusk arrived I watched starlings gather below the Long Mynd and passed a couple of old timbered farmhouses that must surely have been haunted.