travel

Delight in this charming market town, then find adventures in the hills beyond.

It seems to me that the smooth hills and deep valleys of ancient Shropshire enclose a dreamy, mystical landscape. Timber-framed houses line cobbled streets in characterful market towns; crumbling castles dominate high ground with distant views; and charming villages are threaded along green roads once tramped by drovers. It’s and enchanting idyll that’s hard to resist.

My favorite place is the neatly organized town of Bishop’s Castle, once England’s smallest borough, with a reputation for sending more than its fair share of Members of Parliament to Westminster in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Description: It seems to me that the smooth hills and deep valleys of ancient Shropshire enclose a dreamy, mystical landscape.

The first eponymous fortress built by the Bishop of Hereford around 1087, was timber framed ad one of several between Ludlow and Shrewsbury. Commissioned by powerful marcher lords determined to make a realm for themselves, the chain of border strongholds kept Welsh marauders at bay.

In 1167, work started on the construction of a new stone castle and around this grew the medieval town. Divided into rectangular burgage plots, land on the steeply sloping hillside was sold to settlers keen to build dwellings and workshops. Alleyways or ‘shuts’ linking close rows of buildings were closed foe security at night. The attractive 12th-century town plan remains largely unspoiled; the church of St John be Baptist is at the bottom of the hill, the town hall, market place and castle ruins are at the top, and in between is a maze of characterful buildings.

Description: In 1167, work started on the construction of a new stone castle and around this grew the medieval town.

In 1167, work started on the construction of a new stone castle and around this grew the medieval town.

I sense an appreciation of a gentle pace of life in rural south Shropshire and the one-handed blue-faced clock on the tower of St John the Baptist proves it. While most parishes moved with the times and fitted church clocks with a hand to count the minutes, the congregation of Bishop’s Castle chose to maintain a more leisurely outlook, preferring theirs to count only the hours.

Description: I sense an appreciation of a gentle pace of life in rural south Shropshire

I sense an appreciation of a gentle pace of life in rural south Shropshire

Gird your loins for a steady 1:6 climb from the church to the marketplace and beyond to the castle ruins. Beautifully preserved historic shops and houses of many colors line up for inspection along the attractive High Street, including spectacular timber-framed buildings, such as cosy Bumbles Cottage and the imposing Porch House, built with timbers felled in 1564.

Full of charm

Just when you think you are deep in the heart of olde England, playful Bishop’s Castle takes you by surprise. The winged fairy Titania greets you near the top of the hill – the life-sized metal sculpture by Roj Williams is charming. Likewise, the array of woven baskets displayed around the door of Sol Deli. And the seductive Spanish aromas from within are irresistible.

Description: Just when you think you are deep in the heart of olde England, playful Bishop’s Castle takes you by surprise.

Just when you think you are deep in the heart of olde England, playful Bishop’s Castle takes you by surprise.

There are further exotic delights at Textile Traders, a glorious den of handmade fabrics, jewellery and crafts from around the world. The cobbled street climbs to the medieval timber-framed House on Crutches, Bishop’s Castle’s local history museum, and the handsome 18th-century town hall, topped by a clock that rings our every 15 minutes. Below stairs, the public toilets were formerly the town gaol.

Pause on the bench at the top of the hill to look back over the pretty High Street. An inscription on the seat reads ‘In Memory of a Shropshire Lad’, a gentle nod to AE Housman’s famous collection of poems about the county. From this viewpoint it’s a short walk to the Market Square and Yarborough House, a great place to indulge many hours searching through second-hand books and the largest selection of classical music CDs and LPs outside London. Discover beautiful arts and crafts work by local artists at the Gallery, which also stocks a fun range of vintage homeware.

Description: Pause on the bench at the top of the hill to look back over the pretty High Street.

Pause on the bench at the top of the hill to look back over the pretty High Street.

Into the hills

After a day exploring the country market town, you can continue your weekend adventures walking in the Shropshire Hills. From the town, the ancient elevated Kerry Ridgeway, or Ffordd Las Ceri, yourneys 15 miles to Cider House Farm, near the village of Kerry, over the 15 upright stones of Mitchell’s Fold Bronze Age stone circle offer a tighling sense of connection with our long-lost forebears and superb views of the jagged Stiperstones, perhaps the most recognizable of the Shropshire Hills, and then the Welsh mountains beyond.

The Shropshire Way also passes through Bishop’s Castle; a popular 12-miles section travels north to the peaceful hamlet of Bridges. Alternatively, follow the long distance path 12 miles south to the ancient, attractive town of Clun.

Description: The Shropshire Way also passes through Bishop’s Castle

The Shropshire Way also passes through Bishop’s Castle

The Shroshire Hilss Shuttle Bus operates a summer weekend service, transporting walkers from Bishop’s Castle to departure points for footpaths to the craggy Devil’s Chair, atop the ridges of the Stiperstones, and the high purple heather moor of the manificent Long Mynd, Shropshire’s distinctive hog-back hill.

This landmark mound is trewn with paths, many departing from characterfull Church Stretton, at the foot of the Mynd. Muddy boots and rucksacks are a familiar sight all around; like Bishop’s Castle, Church Stretton has Walkers are Welcome status.

Description: The Shroshire

The Shroshire

The combination of English and Welsh words in name of the Long Mynd, translated as the ‘ling big hill’, confirms the international legacy of Shropshire’s rural frontier land. Drovers and livestock journeyed between Wales and England on rural and horseriders. The Portway track across the top of the Long Mynd was a trade route used by our prehistoric ancestors; today it is a designated bridleway.

A favourite six-mile walk up the Long Mynd is from Carding Mill valley to Pole Bank, from where there are more huge views of the Shropshire Hills with the bonus of afternoon tea in the National trust Chalet Pavilion tearoom on return.

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