Enjoy the magnificent views from a dramatic hill fort, rising above plantations on Sunnyhill.
Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 804ft (245m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Field and woodland paths, one boggy and overgrown, fence and gates to climb at Acton Bank, 8 stiles
Landscape Hilltop woodland and plantation, mixed farmland in valley
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 216 Welshpool & Montgomery
Start/finish SO 334839
Dog friendliness Off lead for much of way, but not round Acton
Parking Forestry Commission car park at Sunnyhill off minor road north from Clunton
Public toilets None on route
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1 From the car park at Sunnyhill, walk back to the lane and turn left. Descend through the hamlet of Lower Down and continue to Brockton. Turn left on a track shortly before you come to a ford. Pass a collection of semi-derelict buses behind a farm, then go through a gate on the left and walk along the right-hand edges of three fields, parallel with the track.
2 Climb over a fence into a wood and continue in the same direction, contouring round the base of Acton Bank. After leaving the wood the path continues through scrub, then through pasture below some old quarries, before it meets a lane at the hamlet of Acton.
3 Turn left, pass to the right of a triangular green and join a path running past White House Farm. Frequent waymarkers guide you past the house, across a field, then left over a stile and along the right-hand edge of another field.
4 Cross a footbridge and continue straight across the ensuing field towards a building at the far side. Cross a stile in the hedge, turn left for a few paces and then right on a track which passes by a house called Brookbatch and rises into woodland. When the track eventually bends to the left, go forward over a stile instead and continue climbing.
5 Emerging on to a track, turn left past a pond. Cross a cattle grid into Forestry Commission property and leave the track, turning right on a footpath leading through beechwoods. It winds through the trees to meet the Shropshire Way (waymarked with a buzzard logo). Turn left, then soon right at a junction. Ignoring a right turn, stay on the Shropshire Way, which soon forks left off the main track.
6 You now have a choice of two buzzards to follow: the main route of the Shropshire Way goes straight on, but you should choose the alternative route which branches right. The path leads to Bury Ditches hill fort, then cuts through a gap in the ramparts and crosses the interior. At a colour-banded post (red, blue and green), a path branches left to allow a visit to the summit, with its toposcope and incredible views. Bear right to return to the main path and turn left to follow it to the car park.
It is impossible to spend much time in Shropshire without becoming aware of the hill forts that have been imposed on the landscape. The south west corner of the county is particularly rich in these impressive monuments, with one of the highest concentrations in England and Wales. The same is true of the neighbouring parts of Herefordshire and Montgomeryshire, so that there is hardly a hilltop in the area that doesn't provide a view of several forts. Some were built in the late Bronze Age, but most were constructed in the Iron Age; that is, after around 600 bc. They were built in stages, often over very long periods of time, possibly as much as 1,000 years in some cases.
This walk takes you to one of the finest of all, Bury Ditches, which crowns Sunnyhill (also called Tangley Hill), above the valleys of the Clun and the Kemp. Elliptical in shape, Bury Ditches is an example of a contour fort, which means that its Celtic builders took advantage of the topography, making the ramparts follow the natural contours of the landscape. Such construction wasn't always possible, but where the natural slope was sufficiently steep, it enabled them to get away with fewer ramparts, or even none at all. On the relatively gentle northern slope of Sunnyhill summit, three substantial ramparts were considered necessary, but there are only two on the south side, below which the slope plunges down with a daunting steepness.
It's possible for archaeologists to tell approximately when a fort was built by the design of the ramparts. Bury Ditches' construction suggests a date somewhere around the 6th century bc (ie early Iron Age). All the local community would have been involved, including young children. Trees would have to be cleared first, using axes made from flint, stone or bronze, and then the ramparts and ditches would be dug with deer-antler picks and shovels made from the shoulder blades of cattle. Earth, turf and stones would have been carried away in hand baskets. It's a task of almost unimaginable proportions, especially when you consider that Bury Ditches covers a larger area than most hamlets and many villages in Shropshire.
It was once believed that hill forts were used only for defence at times of danger, but excavation and other archaeological techniques have revealed that the larger ones were more like defended villages, where people lived and farmed. Did they also appreciate the view, in a purely aesthetic sense, one wonders? The immense panorama visible from the top of Bury Ditches is one of the finest in Shropshire, but it was lost for several years, after the Forestry Commission planted conifers on top of the fort. Fortunately, a timely gale in 1978 flattened many of the alien trees and the Commission took the hint, removing the rest.
Here's a challenge - can you identify the entrances to the hill fort? Bury Ditches has two and they're more elaborate than is usual in the Marches. One is in-turned with a straight corridor and indications of two guard houses. The other is out-turned and curving, with a barbican and an overlapping rampart truncated by a forest road. A big clue - one is at the north east, the other at the south west.
Bishop's Castle, Clun and Clunton are all near by. Or there's the Powis Arms at Lydbury North, for traditional pub food or take-away pizzas (no dogs allowed inside). Worth a special journey is the marvellous Harvest Wholefoods at Lydham, north of Bishop's Castle, with a huge range of organic and GM-free goodies.
Walcot Hall at Lydbury North was once the home of Robert Clive (Clive of India), and is occasionally open to the public. Clive's son Edward was a keen arboriculturalist and the arboretum he created is open Friday to Monday afternoons, May to October. The lake in the grounds was enlarged by French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars.