Woods, meadows and green lanes - a great day out in the Severn Valley.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 425ft (130m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Riverside paths, green lanes, can be uneven and slippery in places and shallow streams in winter, 12 stiles
Landscape Meadows, woods and gentle slopes
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 218 Wyre Forest & Kidderminster
Start/finish SO 753840
Dog friendliness On lead near Hampton Loade (tame ducks), visitor centre and cattle by river
Parking Visitor centre at Severn Valley Country Park, Alveley
Public toilets At visitor centre
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1 Walk down to the river from the country park visitor centre, using whichever route you prefer, though you'll find the History Trail (red arrows) takes you directly to Miners' Bridge. Don't cross the bridge, but descend steps to the riverbank and walk upstream for nearly 2 miles (3.2km).
2 Follow a short track to the car park of the Lion Inn. Turn left past Old Forge Cottage to Hampton Loade, then turn right past a house called The Haywain (just before the River and Rail pub). A waymarked path leads up through the garden into a wood, then along the edge of a field bordering the wood. Go along two sides of the field to reach the top left corner, cross a stile, turn right and cross another stile in the next corner. Proceed to a track and turn right.
3 After a few paces, look for a waymarker indicating a path on the right. It descends through woodland to Lakehouse Dingle. Pass a former watermill, cross a footbridge and keep going along a pebbly track. When you meet a concrete track, turn right to a junction with a lane.
4 Turn left, staying on the lane until you've passed Yewtree Cottage and its neighbour. Take a left turn after the second cottage. There is no signpost or waymarker, but it's a well-defined field-edge bridleway. At the bottom of the field look for a gap in the hedge, where the way descends through trees to a dingle.
5 Turn right, climb up to meet a lane and turn right again. After 100yds (91m), join a track on the right. When it bends right, keep straight on instead, along a tree-lined green lane. Before long it becomes narrower and deeply rutted as it descends to a brook. Cross at the stepping stones, or at a nearby footbridge. The track then swings left beside the brook for a while before turning sharp right.
6 Turn left when you meet a lane and walk into Alveley. Go through the village centre, passing some delightful cottages, the church, pub, shop and bus stop, then turning right on a footpath next to the premises of IGM. The path descends to a junction where you turn left until you reach a field through which well-trodden paths descend to the country park.
The Severn Valley Country Park straddles the river, linking the former coal-mining communities of Alveley and Highley. Alveley Colliery Bridge, a footbridge known locally as Miners' Bridge, provides the physical linkage, enabling walkers to cross from one side to another. Both Alveley and Highley have a long history of mineral extraction. Quarrying was important in the beginning, especially at Alveley, but coal mining began in the Middle Ages at Highley. It was 1935 before a shaft was sunk at Alveley, but not very long after that the mine became uneconomic. It closed in 1969, leaving high unemployment and a ruined landscape. Natural regeneration began at once, with pioneer species such as silver birch recolonising the fertile soils. Meanwhile, an industrial estate was built to provide jobs for some of the miners, while others found work in Bridgnorth or Kidderminster.
Once the industrial estate was established, a landscape reclamation scheme was launched in 1988, to give a helping hand to the natural process. The transformation of the post-industrial landscape has been so successful that it's hard to believe that the woods, meadows, ponds and wetlands of the country park have replaced a scene of spoil heaps and dereliction. The site has cultural significance too, and every year a Miners' Memories Day is held at the visitor centre. Ex-miners meet up to share their memories and perhaps to marvel at the changes. Well dressing and tree dressing have recently been introduced to the park in an attempt to re-establish traditional rural customs which can foster a sense of involvement with both landscape and community.
There are waymarked trails within the country park, but it also acts as a gateway to other footpaths in the Severn Valley. Tow paths run along both banks of the river, but Alveley is also at the heart of a superb network of green lanes, many of them deeply sunken after generations of use. Some use stream beds, which occupy dingles carved out by tributaries of the Severn. Though they're often dry underfoot in summer, all are tree-hung, fern-filled refuges for wildlife. The Severn is no Amazon, yet there are places where you could almost believe yourself to be on the fringe of some great rainforest as you follow centuries-old footpaths threading their mossy way through high-banked dingles extravagantly clothed in layers of fern. Holly, ash and wild cherry meet overhead, casting a soft green shade in which delicate wild flowers such as wood sorrel and wood anemone flourish in spring.
When you reach Point 4 in this walk you will have arrived at an ancient crossroads that is marked by the enigmatic Butter Cross. Its sandstone shaft is topped by a round head with a Maltese cross carved on both faces. Nobody knows what it signifies or even how old it is. One suggestion is that it marked the site of a medieval market.
There is a drinks machine at the visitor centre and other refreshments are sometimes available. The well-stocked shop in Alveley village is next to the Three Horseshoes, which claims to be Shropshire's oldest pub (1406). The friendly Lion at Hampton Loade serves home-cooked food, while the equally friendly River and Rail opened only in 2001. It offers drinks (including tea and coffee), snacks and meals all day, from noon till late, with good veggie choices. Dogs are welcome in the large garden/paddock.
The Severn Valley Railway operates a full steam-hauled service from May to the end of September and a reduced service the rest of the year. The stations are beautifully kept - the nearest to Alveley are Highley and Hampton Loade, one reached by the Miners' Bridge, the other by the only surviving cable ferry operating on the Severn. Country Park Halt is even closer and was opened recently to allow easy access to the country park by train.