Take a peek 400 million years into the past on Whitcliffe Common.
Distance 5.2 miles (8.4km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 820ft (250m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Good but one sometimes turns to shallow stream, 2 stiles
Landscape High pasture land above River Teme, some woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 203 Ludlow
Start/finish SO 510746
Dog friendliness Ideal for dogs, but must be on lead between Priors Halton and Mortimer Forest
Parking Car park off Castle Street, Ludlow
Public toilets At car park
1 Turn right through Castle Square, then follow Dinham down to the River Teme. Look out for Dinham House, an imposing brick mansion with a long list of illustrious past residents, including Lucien Bonaparte, banished to England by his brother Napoleon for making an 'unsuitable' marriage. Further down Dinham is the 12th-century Chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury, one of Ludlow's two oldest buildings (the other is the castle).
2 Cross Dinham Bridge to Whitcliffe. Follow the lane round to the right. At a junction go straight on along a no through road signposted to Priors Halton. When you reach Priors Halton farm, take the footpath on the left. Ignore another path branching right after 230yds (210m) and proceed along a track towards Mortimer Forest. When the track gives out just keep straight on across the field. Meeting a road, turn right for 650yds (594m), then left on a bridleway at a signpost.
3 Go straight up sheep pasture, then through a gate into Lower Whitcliffe (Mortimer Forest). Keep climbing, soon crossing a forest track, after which the gradient eases as you continue up to a road. Turn right for 100yds (91m), then cross to a bridleway. Go forward along a track, then turn left past a barn, following blue arrows. Once you leave the farm behind, the bridleway continues as a sunken track along the county border.
4 It soon plunges back into the forest, where you keep straight on, ignoring branching paths, including the colour-coded forest trails. The path is high-banked and stone-paved in places, and obviously an ancient highway, so unlike the bland, modern forest paths. When you come to a junction with a forest road, take the middle path of three directly ahead. Mossy, ferny and often very wet in winter, it continues towards Ludlow, eventually running along the edge of the forest and descending to meet a track. Turn right to a road and turn left, then shortly right on a half-hidden footpath descending through the trees. You're on the Mortimer Trail now, which links Ludlow with Kington. Join a road and go straight on at a junction on the higher of two roads, still on the Mortimer Trail, then take a path on to Whitcliffe Common.
5 Fork left to a viewpoint with a good view of the castle. Descend towards Dinham Bridge, but only cross the Teme here if you want a short cut. Otherwise, turn right beside the Teme, along a path known as the Breadwalk. Eventually you'll be forced to climb uphill, but continue in the same direction to Ludford Corner, where you'll see an ordinary-looking cliff marked by a plaque. This small chunk of Ludlow rock is an internationally significant Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which geologists refer to as Ludlow Bone Bed.
Across the main road a lane leads into the lovely little hamlet of Ludford, which is well worth a visit before you walk past the Charlton Arms Hotel and over Ludford Bridge. Go up Lower Broad Street and Broad Street to King Street, then turn left to Castle Street.
The Breadwalk was laid out in 1850 and was so named because the previously unemployed workmen were paid in bread. It takes us beyond Whitcliffe Common to Ludlow Bone Bed, which is packed not only with bones, but also fish scales, spores, plant debris and tiny mites - fossil evidence of the first plants and animals to colonise the land. These rocks were laid down as sediments in a shallow tropical sea about 400 million years ago and Whitcliffian is now a term used worldwide for rocks of this age.
Whitcliffe Common is an ancient common over which Ludlovians have held common rights since at least 1240. They no longer exercise their grazing rights, nor do they quarry stone, and probably very few even bother to gather firewood. But they do come here to walk their dogs and admire the view from the top of the cliff of their incomparable town, set against its backdrop of the Clee Hills.
Spend a few hours in Ludlow. Many people think it is Britain's loveliest small town. Not only is it beautifully situated, but it has a total of 469 listed buildings, an astonishing number for such a small place. One of the oldest is the 11th-century castle, built on a superb defensive site high above the confluence of the rivers Corve and Teme.
Ludlow has a great choice of places, from humble chippies to Michelin-starred restaurants. The beautiful Feathers Hotel is one of the most photographed buildings in Britain, and may just tempt you in. The 13th-century Charlton Arms by Ludford Bridge is a very friendly place with a riverside patio - hard to beat on a sunny day. Dogs and children are welcome on the patio and in the bar, and locally brewed ales and home-cooked food are available.
Many of the larger trees that grace Whitcliffe's slopes are hornbeam, an uncommon species this far north. You can recognise hornbeam by its distinctive smooth, fluted trunk and winged seeds. Hornbeam mast (the fruit of the tree) is a favourite food of the hawfinch, the largest of the British finches, but a shy, wary bird which is little known. Flocks of these elusive birds visit the woodlands at Whitcliffe nearly every winter to feast on the mast.