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Sheep Shape the Mynd

Upland heath, prehistoric remains and magnificent views.

Distance 7.5 miles (12.1km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,545ft (471m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Mostly moorland paths and tracks, 3 stiles

Landscape Moorland plateau with extensive views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge

Start/finish SO 453936

Dog friendliness On lead between March and July on the Long Mynd

Parking Easthope Road car park, Church Stretton

Public toilets At car park

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1 Walk up Lion Meadow to High Street and turn right. Turn left at The Square, go past the church and straight on into Rectory Field. Walk to the top left corner, then turn right by the edge, soon entering Old Rectory Wood. The path descends to a junction, where you turn left, soon crossing Town Brook, then climbing again to a gate on to the Long Mynd.

2 Go forward beside the brook to meet iron railings, then continue in the same direction with the brook on your left. After an almost imperceptible height gain, the path begins to climb more steeply and heads away from the brook. Eventually the path and brook meet up again near the head of the latter.

3 The path crosses the brook. Proceed a further 50yds (46m) to a junction marked by the first in a succession of pink-banded posts. Just follow these posts now, gaining height very gradually again. Ignore branching paths and, after ascending a slight rise, you'll see the summit ahead on the left.

4 Meet an unfenced road about 100yds (91m) left of a junction. Turn left, ignore a path to Little Stretton and go straight on when the road bends left, joining a bridleway. At the next junction, turn left to the summit, then keep straight on to the Port Way. Turn right past the site of Pole Cottage.

5 Turn left on a footpath, signposted to Little Stretton. It's a wide rutted track and when it forks go left - you can see the path ahead, cutting a green swath over the shoulder of Round Hill. Go straight on at a junction, then descend to Cross Dyke (a Bronze-Age earthwork). After the dyke the path ascends briefly, but soon levels out, then begins its descent, eventually following a brook to Little Stretton.

6 Cross at a footbridge by a ford and turn right on a lane, but only for a few paces. Look out for a footpath on the left. It climbs by a field edge to the top corner, then turns left, following the top of a steep slope to a pasture. Follow the right-hand edge of this until the path enters woodland. Descend to Ludlow Road.

7 Immediately join a bridleway next to the footpath. It climbs into woodland, emerging at the far side to meet a track, which soon becomes a road. As it bends to the right there's access left to Rectory Field. Descend to The Square, turn right on High Street and left on Lion Meadow to the car park.

The Long Mynd derives its name from 'mynydd', a Welsh word for mountain. It's not a mountain though, but an undulating plateau cut by steep-sided valleys known as batches or hollows, forming one of the most distinctive and individual upland ranges in Britain. Clothed in heather, whinberry, bracken and wiry moorland grasses, with a scattering of stunted, wind-contorted hawthorns and the occasional holly or rowan, it constitutes our most southerly grouse moor, though active management for grouse ceased in 1989. While the grouse skulk in the heather, exploding into a frenzy of alarm calls and occasional flight if you venture too close, the skies above are regally patrolled by species such as raven, buzzard and kestrel.

The Mynd is a wonderful place, which is sometimes referred to as the last wilderness in the Midlands. In truth, however, this is no wilderness. It has been subject to human use and, to some extent, human occupation, since the earliest times. It is liberally dotted with prehistoric remains, including Bronze-Age tumuli and dykes, with an Iron-Age fort on Bodbury Hill. An ancient road, the Port Way, runs along the top of the Long Mynd and has been in use for at least 4,000 years. There are more than 40 tumuli beside it or close to it, while the occasional stone tool has also been found. It was probably a trading route (port means market) and the southern section of it was later used by cattle drovers coming from mid-Wales.

The Mynd is an upland heath today and this may be how it was when neolithic people first came here. During the Bronze Age, upland oak forest spread across the plateau, but this had been cleared by the Iron Age, when the Mynd was the home of a pastoral community practising transhumance - the movement of stock into the hills for the summer months. By the Middle Ages, parts of the Mynd had become permanent sheepwalk and this pattern of land use persists. Most of it is common land, owned by the National Trust, and farmers in surrounding villages retain rights of common, allowing them to graze sheep and ponies on the hill. Nowadays, there are few ponies, but very many sheep. The Mynd is seriously overgrazed, which means the glorious mosaic of heather, whinberry and other heathland plants is in retreat before a rampant tide of bracken. The Trust, long concerned about this, has finally secured what may be a solution. In 2002, the government announced grant assistance to compensate farmers for reducing the numbers of sheep on the Long Mynd. The Trust has also closed car parks, which shouldn't have been allowed in the first place, and is helping to fund shuttle bus services. The former car parks are already returning to heath.

Where to eat and drink

Both the Green Dragon and the Ragleth Inn at Little Stretton are very popular. The Dragon is a free house with a beer garden, and does food daily, including a children's menu and veggie dishes. The Ragleth Inn welcomes grubby boots and wellingtons, children under 14 and dogs of the well-behaved variety in the bar. It does snacks and meals, and has a large garden and children's play area. There's also a village shop.

While you're there

The walk bypasses the village of Little Stretton, but it's worth a detour if you like period architecture. There are several charming buildings, including the picturesque Manor House, built around 1600. Don't be fooled by the pretty, timber-framed, thatched church though - it was built in 1903.

What to look for

The ring ouzel, or mountain blackbird, occurs on the Long Mynd. It is similar to a blackbird, but with a white half-moon just below the throat. Fewer than 1,000 pairs breed nationally and it is in rapid decline. The Long Mynd Breeding Bird Project is assessing breeding success and habitat requirements. If you see a ring ouzel, please note the location and report it - contact details are given on a notice next to the shuttle bus stop at Pole Cottage.

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