A walk from an Elizabethan manor house surrounded by conservation land on Wenlock Edge.
Distance 3 miles (4.8km)
Minimum time 1hr
Ascent/gradient 410ft (125m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Excellent, need to ford shallow brook, 2 stiles
Landscape Ridges and valleys at Hope Dale and Wenlock Edge
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge
Start/finish SO 545928
Dog friendliness On lead in spring when ground-nesting birds have young, and near sheep
Parking National Trust car park at Wilderhope Manor
Public toilets None on route
1 To see a little of this captivating landscape, walk back past the manor, cross the cattle grid and turn right into a field. Go diagonally up to the top corner, then follow a hedge uphill to the crest of Wenlock Edge. Turn right at the top along the outer edge of Longville Coppice until you can access the coppice a little further on. Turn right to walk the length of it.
2 Go through a gate at the far end of the coppice on to Pilgrims Lane, a sunken track which quickly leads to a junction where you turn right. It seems logical to suppose that Pilgrims Lane took its name from the pilgrims who came to visit St Milburga's shrine at Much Wenlock, but another local tale links it with the occupants of some long-demolished cottages who are said to have been among the Pilgrim Fathers who sailed on the Mayflower to America in 1620.
3 Shortly before you reach Pilgrim Cottage, turn right to join the Shropshire Way and follow it towards Wilderhope Manor. As you approach the manor, turn left to go downhill on a wide green track. Ford a shallow brook and follow the path down through trees, then uphill across two fields towards the top of View Edge (the eastern ridge of Wenlock Edge, not to be confused with the other View Edge near Craven Arms). Go through a gate into Wilderhope Coppice and turn right, still climbing, on a path that leads past beech trees.
4 After about 300yds (274m) fork right, descending, then right again down steps to leave the coppice at a stile. Walk down two fields to a meadow at the bottom, which is known as Pudding Bag. Cross the brook and follow a track uphill, to the left of the hedge, to meet the Shropshire Way. Follow it to the right, passing Wilderhope Farm to return to the car park by the manor.
Wilderhope Manor belongs to the National Trust, but is leased to the Youth Hostels Association. It stands in Hope Dale between the twin ridges of Wenlock Edge and it's the best of several very fine houses in the area. It was built, around 1585, of the local limestone and has changed little in appearance since. With its gables and its projecting, conical-roofed, semicircular stair turret, it's an imposing sight. Lovely as it is, its setting is lovelier still. The Wilderhope Estate, which also belongs to the National Trust, is a glorious green jumble of wooded valleys, flower-rich meadows, ancient woodland and centuries-old hedgerows. The Trust has been acquiring sections of the Edge since 1982 and now cares for a fair-sized chunk of it. Management is aimed at maintaining its character and its wildlife interest, while improving access for walkers. It's encouraging to see what a difference a little sympathetic management can make as the Trust removes conifers to allow native trees to regenerate and pursues environment-friendly farming methods, which allow wild flora and fauna to flourish.
In Longville Coppice, the dominant species are ash and hazel, but there are others too, including small-leaved lime. This native lime is a far more attractive species than the hybrid lime planted in parks and gardens. Pollen records show it was one of the commonest trees of the original wildwood, but it is nationally scarce today (though locally common in places), and nobody really knows why. It may be because it grows mostly on well-drained, easily worked soils - the sort which would have been first cleared of trees by the earliest farmers. But this argument could apply to other species that have not become scarce. Lime foliage is also readily eaten by grazing animals.
The fields below Wilderhope Coppice are marked with a ridge-and-furrow pattern created by medieval ploughing. From the 9th century or so the open field system was developed, with the land divided into strips. Ploughing methods, using teams of oxen, shifted the soil to form a series of ridges, resulting in the pattern still visible today in many places. Where the open fields were later enclosed to form sheepwalk the pattern survived. Modern ploughing, however, destroys it.
There is nowhere en route, but the Longville Arms at Longville in the Dale is not far away. It's a friendly, relaxed place with an excellent reputation. There are two bars and a great choice of reasonably priced food. Or you can sit at picnic tables outside while the kids have fun in the play area.
Acton Burnell Castle (English Heritage) is now just a shell, but it's well worth a look. It was built in the 13th century by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells and Lord Chancellor to Edward I. Close by are two stone gable-ends which are all that remain of a barn believed to have been the meeting place of the first English parliament at which the Commons were fully represented, summoned in 1283. It met in Shrewsbury but then transferred to Acton Burnell. St Mary's Church, also built by Robert Burnell, is said to be Shropshire's finest 13th-century building.