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Life and Death in Bishop's Castle

A quirky, colourful border town on the edge of Clun Forest and the glorious green hills that enfold it.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 738ft (225m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Waymarking can be patchy, path near Woodbatch cropped over, some gates to climb, about 10 stiles

Landscape Gently hilly and mostly pastoral, with great views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 216 Welshpool & Montgomery

Start/finish SO 324886

Dog friendliness Can run free on track between Bankshead and Shepherdswhim, livestock elsewhere

Parking Car park off Station Street

Public toilets At car park and by Market Square

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1 Walk up Church Street, High Street and Bull Street, then go left along Bull Lane to Castlegreen. Turn right, then left after No 11 on a footpath which leads to a stile and a choice of routes. Take the left-hand path, crossing two fields, then going straight on along a green lane. When it ends, go through a gate and along a field edge to a stile.

2 Turn right in the next field, cross a stile at the top and go obliquely left over another field to a fence corner. Follow the fence/hedge past a pond to a stile. Go obliquely left across the highest point of the next field, then down to a gate halfway along the far hedge. Go diagonally right across another field to meet a hedge, next to a line of crab apple trees. Follow the hedge to a track and turn left to meet a road.

3 Turn right, immediately right again and then left on to a lane, which soon becomes a track. It descends into woodland, crosses the border into Wales and eventually meets a lane.

4 Turn left and walk up to meet a road, the Kerry Ridgeway, at Bishop's Moat, where you cross back into England. Turn right, then through the first gate on the left (take care: it hangs from one hinge only). Go diagonally left to the end of a line of hawthorn trees, then continue in the same direction over another field to meet the far hedge where there's a kink in it.

5 Go diagonally across a third field to meet a line of trees which leads to a gate. Continue down the next field to the far right corner, walking through one of those scrap-metal collections that many farmers seem to love so much.

6 Meeting a farm lane, turn right through the farmyard at Upper Woodbatch, going past a collection of barns. As you approach the final group, you can see the track descending by a fence - the right of way, however, is on the other side of the fence, so go through a gate to join it and follow it down through two fields towards a brook.

7 About 120yds (110m) before you reach the brook, turn left across the field. Go through a gate at the far side and continue across two more fields to meet a lane. Join the Shropshire Way opposite, following it along the bottom of several fields, quite close to the brook.

8 After passing an abandoned quarry, turn left uphill and head for Bishop's Castle, soon joining a track that leads to Field Lane. Follow this to Church Lane, which leads to Church Street and the beginning of the walk.

Bishop's Castle is one of the smallest towns in the country. If it was in the south east, it would be smaller than many a neighbouring village. But a town it is, and one of enormous charm and fascination. There is nothing ordinary about Bishop's Castle. Its documented history began in Saxon times when Egwin Shakehead, grateful for having been miraculously cured of the palsy at St Ethelbert's tomb in Hereford Cathedral, gave what is now Bishop's Castle to the Bishop of Hereford. The castle was built around 1100 by another Bishop of Hereford, but very little remains of it today. What does survive can be viewed from Castle Street.

In the early Middle Ages, the parish of Bishop's Castle was partly in England, partly in Wales, so territorial dispute was a way of life. In later years, after peace came to the Marches, Bishop's Castle acquired notoriety as the smallest and rottenest of rotten boroughs, a term which denoted electoral corruption. From 1585 this tiny town returned two MPs to Parliament. Local landowners (including Robert Clive, better known as Clive of India) expended vast sums of money on buying voters and seats to increase their power. In 1726, one rejected candidate was able to prove that of the 52 people voting for his rival, 51 had received bribes. The Reform Act of 1832 put an end to this kind of thing, and Bishop's Castle was disenfranchised.

More recently, it has attracted artists, writers, musicians and craftspeople and has reinvented itself as a town of fairs, festivals and fêtes. Dozens of colourful, hand-painted banners are hung along the main street for events such as the Michaelmas Fair. It must surely be the most colourful place in Shropshire, with buildings painted in all the colours of the rainbow. The Six Bells Inn looks magnificent in yellow, and the violin maker's house at the top of the town is a delightful bluey-purple. Rather more eccentric is the house painted white with green circles - but after a while it starts to look almost normal, such is the effect of Bishop's Castle. High Street boasts the entertaining Purple Funeral Company, with purple and gold paintwork and vividly painted coffins in the window. The Tutankhamen style is particularly striking, and the seascapes are lovely too, though you can have whatever you want on your coffin, including football colours. They are the work of funerary artist Carol Aston, who says Bishop's Castle is a 'very accepting place'.

While you're there

Learn about local history at the House on Crutches Museum, the timber-framed building overhanging the cobbles at the top of High Street. Or find out about the Bishop's Castle Railway at the Rail and Transport Museum. The Beer and Brewing Museum at the Three Tuns is a must for real ale enthusiasts.

Where to eat and drink

The Six Bells and the Three Tuns are both famous for their on-site breweries producing traditional ales. The food sounds interesting too, from Shropshire fidget pie to Big Nev's bangers (sausages made with ale) at the Six Bells. There are several other pubs, and a range of coffee houses, such as the wonderful Yarborough House, where they also sell second-hand books, records, CDs and fair trade goods, such as tea, coffee, chocolate and a range of gifts, cards and clothes. Poppy House and the new Pickled Onion are great too, each with an art gallery and a garden.

What to look for

The tree-covered mound at Bishop's Moat is all that remains of a Norman motte and bailey castle which was a more important defence than the castle at Bishop's Castle. It was originally called Bishop's Motte and was probably built between 1085 and 1100. It commands an extensive view of the Welsh Camlad Valley from its border position on the Kerry Ridgeway, once a prehistoric trading route and later a drove road.

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