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The Wood Colliers' Legacy at Clunton

A leafy walk from Clunton Coppice to Purslow Wood.

Distance 3.7 miles (6km)

Minimum time 1hr 15min

Ascent/gradient 574ft (17m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Woodland paths, grassy track, quiet lanes and Forestry Commission paths, some overgrown, no stiles

Landscape Woodland and plantation on steep valley sides

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 201 Knighton & Presteigne

Start/finish SO 338805

Dog friendliness Great walk for dogs

Parking Small car park near nature reserve sign at Clunton Coppice on Cwm Lane, which runs south from Clunton

Public toilets None on route

1 Leaving the car park, carry on along the lane until a footpath leaves it on the left. Follow it through Clunton Coppice, noticing the variety of species.
The path becomes a track, which descends past Badgers Croft to a lane. Continue straight on for about 50yds (46m) until you've passed The Meadows. Go through a gate on the right into a field and diagonally left up the slope into Purslow Wood, a Forestry Commission plantation. Follow a track uphill, soon emerging from the trees into a felled area. Keep climbing, shortly crossing a forestry track. Pick the best way up through scrub, dodging fallen trees and brash (you can avoid this if you wish by staying on the track, turning right, then left) to rejoin the forestry track. Turn left, climb to a junction and go left for a few paces. Leave the forestry track, going across a turning area to join a bridleway that climbs slightly. When a fence blocks your way, turn left to rejoin the forestry track.

2 Turn right for 20yds (18m), then go downhill on a bridleway, which is overgrown with bracken and bramble. Turn left when you meet a lane. If you prefer to avoid the overgrown bridleway you can do so by continuing along the forestry track for a further 350yds (320m), then turning sharp left on a path which descends to the lane. Bear in mind that it's only by actually using overgrown paths that we can most easily keep these routes open.

3 Follow the lane back to the point at which you met it earlier, when descending from Clunton Coppice. Instead of returning up the track the same way, join a green lane which starts just before a field gate. Follow it past a house and garden, then along the northern edge of Clunton Coppice and ultimately past Bush Farm, where it becomes a paved lane leading to a junction on the edge of Clunton. Turn left up Cwm Lane to return to Clunton Coppice. Just as you reach the coppice, look for a group of hornbeam trees on the left. Hornbeam is superficially a little like beech, but is distinguished from it by its smooth fluted trunk and winged fruits. It's an uncommon tree this far north.

Half a century ago the dominant woodland type in south west Shropshire was sessile oak. Not much remains today, so it's fortunate that one of the largest surviving woods, Clunton Coppice, is owned by Shropshire Wildlife Trust. In the distant past it was managed for charcoal production, which involved coppicing. This is a system of woodland management in which trees are cut close to the ground, then left to grow again. The cut stools quickly put out new shoots which can be harvested for small timber or left to grow on. Where coppicing is still carried out it is usually for wildlife rather than commercial purposes.

Sessile oak is dominant, but small-leaved lime, yew and hornbeam also occur, while the shrub layer includes hazel, holly and rowan. Some hazel or oak is coppiced every year and the brash (the stuff too small to be used as firewood) is piled on the slow-growing oak stools to prevent deer nibbling the tender regrowth. The charcoal burners (or wood colliers, as they were often known in the Marches) who worked Clunton Coppice in the past would have lived in the wood all summer, sleeping under simple shelters, because it was important to keep the charcoal kilns continuously alight and closely regulated to avoid flare-ups.

While you're there

Shropshire Wildlife Trust has 37 reserves altogether and welcomes the public to almost all of them. Why not visit the Trust's centre on Abbey Foregate in Shrewsbury? The centre itself is a nature reserve, with many birds breeding in the garden, which is a re-creation of a medieval physic garden. The Trust inherited this when it took up residence in 2001 and intends to save the most interesting plants, while also making it a true wildlife garden.

What to look for

Damp oak woods are good places to find non-flowering plants such as mosses, ferns and fungi. Clunton Coppice is no exception and the luxuriant growth of vivid green mosses is one of its most attractive attributes. Ferns and fungi are plentiful too, but can you find Phellinus robustus, a bracket fungus which lives high up in the branches? This is so scarce that it has been recorded in only two British locations - Windsor Great Park and Clunton Coppice.

Where to eat and drink

In 1994 the Crown Inn at Clunton was threatened with closure, like so many country pubs. However, the locals knew just how to save it. They clubbed together and bought it, and happily it is still going strong today. The present couple running it took over in 2002 and are keen to attract more walkers, so you can be sure of a warm welcome, and not just from the woodburning stove. Food is served from noon, children and well-behaved dogs are welcome (dogs on leads), and the landlord specifically points out that walkers do not have to remove their boots.

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