A spectacular 13th-century house with gorgeous hills overlooking it.
Distance 6.3 miles (10.1km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 909ft (277m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Mostly excellent, short stretch eroded and uneven, byway from Aldon to Stoke Wood occasionally floods, 12 stiles
Landscape Woods and pasture in unspoilt hills above River Onny
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 203 Ludlow; 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge
Start/finish SO 437819 (on Explorer 217)
Dog friendliness Under control around Brandhill, Aldon and livestock
Parking Lay-by on A49 immediately north of Stokesay turn
Public toilets None on route
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1 Take the footway from the lay-by to the lane that leads to Stokesay Castle. Walk past the castle and take the second footpath on the right, at the far side of a pool. It skirts a farm, then crosses the railway. Keep straight on through three meadows on a worn path, with a succession of stiles providing further guidance.
2 Enter Stoke Wood, proceed to a track and turn right. Leave the wood at a stile at the far end and walk past a house (Clapping Wicket) before turning sharp left up the field in front of the house. Turn right at the top, walking by the edge of View Wood.
3 Join a track that leads into the wood, then emerges from it to run alongside the edge. It soon plunges back into the trees, climbing quite steeply, then levelling out to reach a lane by Viewedge Farm.
4 Turn left for a few paces, then join a footpath on the right. Turn right by a field edge and walk to the top of a knoll, continuing in the same direction across fields until you come to a waymarker that sends you sharp left across an adjacent field. Join a track at the far side and continue past Gorst Barn to a lane. Turn right.
5 Turn left on a footpath, crossing three pastures to a concealed stile, which gives on to a bridleway. Turn left down Brandhill Gutter. Eventually you have to go through a gate on the right, but you should immediately turn left to continue in the same direction. Keep close to the stream (or, very often, dry streambed) on your left.
6 After passing through a gate, the bridleway becomes narrow, uneven and eroded for a while but soon improves. It eventually crosses the stream (next to a stile) and starts to swing northwards, into Aldon Gutter. Beyond an abandoned cottage, the bridleway passes to the right of pheasant pens - watch carefully for the waymarkers here.
7 About 200yds (183m) after the cottage, the bridleway bears right, climbing the steep valley side to meet a lane at the top. Turn right to pass through the hamlet of Aldon, then left at a T-junction.
8 Join a byway on the right at a slight bend in the lane (no sign or waymarker). This lovely hedged track leads between fields, then through Stoke Wood, beyond which it descends to Stokesay and the start of the walk.
This is an exquisite walk, with the most wonderful views from the aptly named View Edge, mostly west to Clun Forest, but also east and south to the Clee Hills, Wenlock Edge, Mortimer Forest and Ludlow. Brandhill Gutter and Aldon Gutter are highlights of the walk, and considerably more salubrious than they sound - a gutter is a local name for the sort of narrow, steep-sided valley more commonly known in Shropshire as a dingle.
But, however gorgeous the landscape, it has a rival for once, in the shape of the almost impossibly picturesque Stokesay Castle, which isn't really a castle at all. It's a fortified manor house, which might sound like a pedantic distinction, but isn't. A true castle was defensive in purpose, and therefore strictly practical. Stokesay Castle, however, could not have resisted prolonged assault. It was part fashion statement, part status symbol, and is today the best preserved and probably the oldest example of its kind in England.
In the mid-10th century, the manor of Stoke was held by Wild Edric, a Saxon nobleman, but after the Norman Conquest it was given by William I to Picot de Say - hence the name Stokesay. (The word stoke, a common English place name, means enclosure.) Picot built a house and a church some time after 1068, but in 1280 Stokesay was sold to a wealthy wool merchant, Laurence of Ludlow, who set about rebuilding and fortifying the house, once he had obtained a licence to crenellate from Edward I. Ten generations of Laurence's descendants lived at Stokesay, but in the reign of Charles I it came into the ownership of the Craven family and was used as a supply base for the King's forces when they were based at Ludlow in the early stages of the Civil War. It was surrendered to the Roundheads, without a siege, when it came under attack, which is fortunate for us, as it would have been destroyed otherwise. By the 19th century it had fallen into decay, and was being used as a barn. Happily, in 1869 it was sold to John Darby Allcroft, a Worcester glove manufacturer and MP, who set about restoring it. Today, Stokesay Castle is in the care of English Heritage.
Though everything about Stokesay is special, the great hall is a particularly rare survival, almost untouched since medieval times and containing its original staircase, open octagonal hearth and innovative timber roof. There is also a fine solar (an upper living room in a medieval house), containing Elizabethan panelling and a sumptuous fireplace, accessible only by an exterior stair. Across the courtyard is a picture-book structure added in the 16th century, a timber-framed gatehouse decorated with wonderful carvings.
Hopesay Common, northwest of Craven Arms, is a fine expanse of upland heath grazed by 'wild' ponies - which aren't truly wild, of course. They all have owners and are carefully monitored but left to their own devices for much of the year. Unploughed for centuries, the open common also has fine views and is home to some rare plants, but perhaps its most unusual feature is a stile carved with a verse by Omar Khayyam.
Though there is nothing along the walk route, you're only a short way from the cafı at Secret Hills, which has indoor and outdoor tables overlooking a meadow. The adjacent Stokesay Castle Inn is open all day and serves home-cooked food, tea and coffee. It's pleasant and traditional, with a garden, a children's play area and a good reputation.
The view of Stokesay Castle from the adjacent churchyard is superb, and St John's Church is a rare example of Commonwealth style. The original Norman church was badly damaged during the Civil War and rebuilt between 1654 and 1664 under Cromwell's Commonwealth (also known as the Interregnum), a time when very few churches were built.