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Paying Homage to St Milburga

Visit the destination of medieval pilgrims in this peaceful walk in the countryside around Much Wenlock.

Distance 6.3 miles (10.1km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 426ft (130m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field paths, couple of boggy patches, 16 stiles

Landscape Peaceful, pastoral country between Wenlock Edge and Severn Gorge

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge; 242 Telford, Ironbridge & The Wrekin

Start/finish SO 623998 (on Explorer 217)

Dog friendliness Keep under close control for much of walk

Parking Car park off St Mary's Lane in Much Wenlock

Public toilets At car park and on Queen Street opposite main bus stop

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1 Go down Burgage Way, left on Mutton Shut to High Street, right to Barrow Street, then left. Pass the church, then turn first right on Bull Ring. Continue past the priory and along a lane (Shropshire Way).

2 Turn right along a track, which leads you to a footpath junction. Leave the Shropshire Way at this point, then follow the right-hand path. Cross a brook and continue along the left-hand hedge until you come to a waymarker that directs you diagonally towards a stile.

3 Cross the stile, then turn right along a field edge. Ignore a gate and stile in the corner; instead turn left, until another stile gives access to the adjacent field. Turn left to the far corner, then climb over a low fence and proceed along a narrow path.

4 Go through a gate at the end of the field and over a stile ahead, then straight on through a young wood. Emerging into a large field, keep straight on by the left-hand hedge before joining a track that runs to the left of a holly hedge. When the track bends right, keep straight on towards Arlescott Farm.

5 Two stiles give access to pasture to the right of the farm. Turn left, passing to the left of a pool and then to the right of Arlescott Cottage to intercept the Jack Mytton Way. Turn left to enter pasture. As you approach the far side, veer away from the hedge to find a gap in a lower hedge. Turn right, following the bridleway to a lane at Wyke.

6 Turn right, then left at a road junction. You're now back on the Shropshire Way, which passes Audience Wood before making a left turn, leading through woodland to fields. The path is clearly waymarked along field edges, then diagonally towards Bradley Farm.

7 Pass through the farmyard, turn left by the house, then right. Cross a lane and again take to the fields, going straight ahead until you enter pastureland. Head for the far right corner, cross a footbridge and turn left to the path junction near Much Wenlock, which you encountered earlier. Turn right to rejoin the lane from Much Wenlock.

8 Turn right to the course of a dismantled railway, go left for a few paces, then right again at a sign for the Jack Mytton Way. Join a footpath on the left along the edge of Gaskell Recreation Ground. After passing a green shed, recross the old railway line and turn right on a fenced path. This passes the former station house, then turns left, soon emerging near the priory. Turn right and retrace your steps to the start of the walk.

Much Wenlock has been a market town for at least 700 years. It is a delightful little place, with charming old houses and a real working farm just off the High Street. There's something to see round every corner, so do take the time to explore fully. The town museum is a model of its kind and in the adjoining tourist information centre you can pick up an excellent leaflet that guides you round the main sights.

The town's crowning glory is St Milburga's Priory, now an English Heritage property. Much Wenlock originally developed because of the presence of a religious house, and the name Wenlock may come from the Celtic 'gwyn-loc', meaning white monastery. The Cluniac priory is in ruins today, but it was once a prosperous and powerful religious centre. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, but the first religious house on this site was an abbey founded around ad 680 by Merewalh, the son of King Penda of Mercia. He placed his daughter Milburga in charge in 682. Under her guidance the foundation flourished and she was credited with miraculous works.

Milburga's abbey was destroyed around 874, possibly by a Danish raiding party, but in the 11th century Earl Leofric and Countess Godiva of Mercia built another religious house on the same site, which was in turn succeeded by a Cluniac priory founded by Roger de Montgomery after the Conquest. Many of the existing buildings are almost entirely Early English in style and represent a rebuilding by Prior Humbert in the 13th century. Only a little Norman work survives from Earl Roger's time, but what does remain is superb, especially the decorative arcading in the chapter house and the carvings in the lavatorium (wash room). The entire scene is dominated by the towering gable of the priory church. Such grand ruins testify to the prosperity of the priory, which flourished until the Dissolution in 1540. It once drew wealth from a variety of interests, including a toll bridge on the Severn, coal and copper mines, iron works, forestry and vast agricultural holdings.

Holy Trinity Church on Wilmore Street is also connected with the priory. It was founded around ad 680 as a place of worship for the nuns of Wenlock Abbey and was enlarged between 800 and 1050. The present nave was built around 1150 by the Cluniac monks of what had become St Milburga's Priory. Abbess Milburga was originally buried in Holy Trinity, but in 1101 her bones were transferred to the priory and over the years many pilgrims came to worship at her shrine. A well bearing her name can still be found on Barrow Street, and people used to believe its water could cure eye diseases.

Where to eat and drink

You'll be spoilt for choice in Much Wenlock. Possibilities on High Street include the Talbot and the George and Dragon, both deservedly popular. The Talbot, which has been offering refreshments since 1361, has a lovely flower-filled courtyard. Or try the inviting Copper Kettle across the road, an excellent tea room and antique shop.

What to look for

As you approach Arlescott Cottage you'll notice that the ground is marked by earthworks. These reveal the site of a deserted medieval village. Beyond the cottage, having joined the Jack Mytton Way, you'll see a ridge-and-furrow pattern, the result of medieval ploughing techniques. Beyond the ridge-and-furrow is a series of pronounced terraces. These are cultivation terraces, or strip lynchets, also the legacy of medieval (or possibly Celtic) farmers.

While you're there

Despite its industrial past, Broseley, 4 miles (6.4km) north east of Much Wenlock, is another charming small town. For around 350 years it specialised in making clay pipes, which were known as Broseley Churchwardens. The wonderfully preserved Broseley Pipeworks is now a museum, which looks much as it did the day the last pipe-maker laid down his tools in 1957.

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