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Meres, Mosses and Moraines at Ellesmere

A wonderful watery walk through Shropshire's lake district.

Distance 7.3 miles (11.7km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 180ft (55m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and canal tow path, 8 stiles

Landscape Pastoral hills with glacial hollows containing small lakes

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 241 Shrewsbury

Start/finish SJ 407344

Dog friendliness Can run free on tow path, but under tight control elsewhere

Parking Castlefields car park opposite The Mere

Public toilets Next to The Mere, almost opposite car park

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1 Cross to The Mere and turn left. Pass The Boathouse and Meres Visitor Centre and walk towards town, until you come to Cremorne Gardens. Join a path that runs through trees close by the water's edge for about ¾ mile (1.2km).

2 Leave the trees for a field and turn left, signposted 'Welshampton'. The path soon joins a track, which leads to Crimps Farm. Turn right past the farm buildings to cross a stile on the right of the track. Continue along another track.

3 The track leads into sheep pasture where you go straight on, guided by waymarkers and stiles. When you come to a field with a trig pillar in it, the waymarker is slightly misleading - ignore it and go straight across. In the next field you should aim for three prominent trees close together at the far side. As you approach them, turn left into the field corner.

4 Go through a gate and descend by the right-hand hedge. When it turns a corner, go with it, to the right. Skirt a pool and keep going in the same direction on a grassy track, passing another pool. The track soon becomes much better defined and leads to a farm where you join a road.

5 Turn left and go straight on at a junction into Welshampton. Turn right on Lyneal Lane and follow it to a bridge over the Llangollen Canal. Descend steps to the tow path and turn right, passing under the bridge. Pass Lyneal Wharf, Cole Mere, Yell Wood and Blake Mere, then through Ellesmere Tunnel. Beyond this are three footpaths signposted to The Mere. Take any of these short cuts if you wish, but to see a bit more of the canal, including the visitor moorings and marina, stay on the tow path.

6 Arriving at bridge 58, further choices present themselves. You could extend this walk to include the signposted Wharf Circular Walk (recommended) or to explore the town (also recommended): just follow the signs. To return directly to The Mere, however, go up to the road and turn left.

7 Fork right on a road by Blackwater Cottage. Turn right at the top, then soon left at Rose Bank, up steps. Walk across the earthworks of the long-gone Ellesmere Castle and follow signs for The Mere or the car park.

Ellesmere is another of those delightful little towns in which Shropshire specialises. It's well worth devoting some time to exploring it. But Ellesmere's biggest asset must be The Mere, the largest of all the meres that grace north Shropshire and south Cheshire. It attracts good numbers of water birds and is especially important for winter migrants such as wigeon, pochard, goosander and teal. It also has a large heronry occupied by breeding birds in spring and early summer.

On this walk you will explore about half of The Mere's shoreline and follow the tow path of the Llangollen Canal past Cole Mere and Blake Mere. Cole Mere is included within a country park and there is access from the tow path at Yell Bridge (54). If you want to explore Cole Mere, you can walk all the way round it. Blake Mere is particularly lovely; it's separated from the tow path only by a narrow strip of woodland, but there is no other access to it.

The word mere is an Anglo-Saxon term for a lake. Unlike a normal lake, however, these meres have no stream flowing in or out of them. So how were they formed? It's a complex story but the Meres Visitor Centre has lots of information. What follows here is a simplified version. During the last ice age, the landscape was scoured by glaciers and when they retreated between 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, they left clay-lined hollows which retained melting ice, forming some of the meres. Others filled up later because they lay below the level of the water table. Water levels are maintained by natural drainage (groundwater percolation) from the surrounding countryside.

The landscape is composed of gentle hills that, combined with the meres, form a very pleasing scene. Technically, it consists of glacial drift, a mixture of clays, sands and gravels originally scoured from rocks by the glaciers as they moved south and east across Britain and then deposited in banks and mounds known as moraines as the glaciers retreated. In places, you can identify the origins of the glacial drift. Blue-black pebbles are slates from Snowdonia or Cumbria, and pale, speckled stones are granites from Cumbria or Scotland, while pink pebbles are from the local sandstone. These glacial meres are unique in this country and rare in global terms.

North Shropshire is also renowned for its mosses, which were created by the glaciers too, but they are filled with peat rather than water. There are several small mosses around Ellesmere, though none with public access. The meres and mosses together form a wetland complex which, ecologically, is of national, if not international, significance.

Where to eat and drink

There is plenty of choice in Ellesmere. Special mention goes to Vermuelen's bakery/deli where you can buy the ingredients for a picnic. Or there's The Boathouse by The Mere, an unusual oak-beamed 1930s restaurant/tea room. There's a good range of snacks and drinks on offer, and dogs are welcome in the garden, which borders The Mere.

What to look for

Many bird species can be seen, but one of the most endearing is the great crested grebe. This distinctive diving bird is nearly always present on the larger meres. You can recognise it by the crest on top of its head. In spring it has cute, stripy chicks which it sometimes carries on its back to give them a rest from all that paddling.

While you're there

While The Mere is the highlight of Ellesmere, it would be a shame not to explore the town, especially the refurbished canal wharves and basin. There's lots to see, including the offices from which Thomas Telford directed the construction of the canal. Ellesmere was the headquarters of the Llangollen Canal (originally called the Ellesmere Canal) and so there are former workshops, warehouses and dry docks, while British Waterways still has an office and maintenance depot here.

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