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Place Your Bets at Oswestry

The going is good from Racecourse Common to Offa's Dyke.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 15min

Ascent/gradient 459ft (140m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Brambly section at Sheep Walk, otherwise fine, 11 stiles

Landscape Woods, commons and pasture

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 240 Oswestry

Start/finish SJ 258305

Dog friendliness Can run free on common, but not in sheep pastures

Parking Car park/picnic site on southern part of Racecourse Common, off B4580 west of Oswestry

Public toilets None on route

1 Turn your back on the skyline map and turn right on a path that runs close to the edge of the common. Cross the B4580 to access the northern part of the common and go to the right when the path forks. As you approach the far end of the common, take a worn path on the right. There are several other paths but only this one actually goes anywhere - you should recognise it because it's much more heavily trodden than the others. There's bracken to the right of it and gorse bushes and rowan trees to the left. It soon leaves the common and continues as a grassy track. Follow it only for a very short distance, keeping your eyes open for a path branching off to the right at a stile.

2 Follow the path across a gorse-studded, brackeny pasture, heading for the far left corner. Cross a stile, continue to another and then go straight on to the B4580. Turn left on the footway then first right on a quiet lane. Follow it to a junction, where you turn right, then immediately left. Pass the turning to Cwmsychtyn and continue to another junction, where you take a footpath that uses the driveway of The Old Farm, then crosses a lawned area to a stile. Cross a track to enter a field and go diagonally to the far corner. Cross to the next field and head towards the far left corner, then into Gwalia Wood.

3 Follow a path through the wood and into a field. Go diagonally towards the far corner, guided by a group of tall sycamore trees, and then across the next field to a stile giving access to woodland at Sheep Walk. Turn left, soon crossing a track and going straight on as indicated by a waymarker. The path is overgrown by brambles, but stick as close to the line of it as you can and you'll soon come to another waymarker, sending you left by a laurel hedge to meet a grassy path. Turn right, right again shortly, still by the hedge, then right once more to join Offa's Dyke Path (you will recognise it by the acorn logo that signifies a national trail).

4 Follow the path beside the prominent earthwork of Offa's Dyke through beautiful Candy Wood, above the steep slopes of Craig Forda. Ignore branching paths and continue through the adjacent Racecourse Wood until a stile gives access to Racecourse Common. Turn right, leaving Offa's Dyke Path, and follow a waymarked path close by the edge of the common. Ignore branching paths and you will soon find yourself back at the car park.

Its Welsh name is Cyrn y Bwch (Horns of the Buck) which sounds less prosaic than Racecourse Common, but there really was a racecourse here where the local squirearchy, from both sides of the border, held race meetings from the early 1700s until 1848. Apparently, the main event was the impressive-sounding Sir Watkin Williams Wynn Cup. You can still see traces of the course, which was returfed by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars.

There are grandstand views across Wales, so do take the time to explore the common as well as doing this walk. When you're ready to go, have a look at the skyline map which identifies the Shropshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire hills visible to the east. Look at the actual view too, of course, of which perhaps the most striking aspect is the contrast between the north Shropshire plain and the south Shropshire Hills.

Candy Wood, towards the end of the walk, is dominated by oaks, but there are some superb beech trees too, which must have been planted, as beech is not native this far north. The beechwoods of the Cotswolds are generally believed to be growing at the beech's natural northern limit, but it does well when planted, not just here in the Marches, but as far north as Scotland.

What to look for

Racecourse Common is basically acid grassland, but on the north common there are areas of relict heath, which still support heather and whinberry. Look for drifts of beautiful blue harebells in the late summer. The south common has some magnificent rowan trees. These are at their best in October, when the vivid red berries look especially striking against the russet tones of the dying leaves.

Where to eat and drink there's nowhere along the route, but oswestry is bursting with possibilities, such as the griffin inn or the adjacent courtyard pantry. the george on bailey street and the eagles inn and red lion on bailey head are all attractive and well placed for visiting what remains of oswestry castle. best of all, oswestry has a milk bar! you can still find them in welsh towns, but very few survive in england - this might even be the last one. check it out while you still can.while you're there

Hen Dinas, also known as Old Oswestry, is a staggeringly impressive Iron-Age fort that was first occupied about 300 bc. It's multivallate (has several ramparts) and dominates the northern edge of town. It's one of the finest forts in the country and there are great views from the top. Running north from it and abutting it to the south are lengths of Wat's Dyke, a Mercian earthwork very similar to Offa's Dyke. Its full significance is not understood but it is believed to be roughly contemporary with the main dyke and built as part of Offa's defensive system.


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