Often overshadowed by the glorious mountains of Mid Wales, the Shropshire Hills have all the ingredients for a fantastic day ride, as Bryn Davies found out
I’ve travelled to Mid and North Wales many times before, and as I usually come from Stratford upon Avon, I often pass within touching distance of the Shropshire Hills and think to myself ‘they’re pretty, aren’t they!’, but never before had I had the urge to venture off my usual route and check them out.
For this issue, however, curiosity got the better of me, and after reading about the remarkable landscape and historical significance of the hills, I decided to check them out and promptly plotted a 134-mile long route to take in the best sights and locations.
Located a few miles south of Shrewsbury, the Shropshire Hills extend from Telford to the Welsh border, and over the years they have seen some remarkable moments in history.
In fact, if you were to ride through them a couple of thousand million years ago (yep, that long ago), you’d be riding 60 degrees south of the equator (roughly in line with where the Falkland Islands are today). Fast forward to the last ice age, and they’d be entirely under ice sheets, which carved out the deep, dramatic valleys that you can see today.
Just a few thousand years ago it was home to Roman settlements, and in the mid-1700s it became the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
With such a fascinating timeline, any ride through this area benefits from taking a moment to read about and understand the place’s history, and our ride begins in the beautiful Ironbridge Gorge, which takes its name from the famous Iron Bridge which, in 1779, became the first large structure to be built using cast iron.
From here we dive in and out of the designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, eventually reaching terminus in Wroxeter, a village famous for its remarkable Roman ruins.
Take some time to explore Ironbridge and to see the world-famous structure before beginning the route, which initially follows the flow of the River Severn before you enter the Shropshire Hills near Buildwas.
The riding from Ironbridge to Cleeton Saint Mary is but a taster of the delights of the Shropshire Hills as the mixture of fast, flowing roads and tight single track take you through beautiful countryside. You’ll pass by Brown Clee Hill, the highest point in Shropshire, before Titterstone Clee Hill (often wrongly called ‘Clee Hill’) and its golf ball radar station come into view.
Thousands of years of human activity on the summit of Titterstone Clee Hill have left their mark, and the fusion of Bronze and Iron Age hill forts, coal mining, which has left derelict, haunting quarry buildings, and the radar station give the summit a very unique and almost eerie feeling.
As well as the historical significance of the area, the views on offer are truly some of the best in England. On a clear day, it’s possible to see Snowdonia to the west, the Peak District to the northeast, the Black Country to the east, the Cotswolds to the southeast, the Malvern Hills to the south, and the Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons to the southwest.
Reaching the summit will require a short walk, but it’s worth the calories expended.
If exertion is out of the question, the views are still spectacular from the A4117, which we follow to Ludlow and then to Knighton, briefly riding into Wales. If you’ve followed our routes before, you’ll be familiar with Knighton as it’s the starting point of Glyndwr’s Way (featured in issue 38), which takes you on a horseshoe ride through the mountains of Mid Wales, and the mid-point of our Offa’s Dyke route (featured in issue 28).
By now you should be in the swing of things, and the ride north up the A488 and through Clun (where you’ll find the ruins of Clun Castle) is great, eventually bringing you to Bishop’s Castle, home to the UK’s oldest brewery, the Three Tuns, which was established in 1642. It’s possible to take a tour of the place, if you wish, otherwise continue on.
Before long, we roll into Church Stretton, a wonderful small village in the heart of the Shropshire Hills. Apparently, Church Stretton is often called ‘Little Switzerland’, and as you ride along the A49, approaching from the south, you soon realise why.
This is English countryside at it’s beautiful best. All around you rise lush green hills with steep sides, and while they may not reach the lofty heights of the rock juggernauts that Switzerland is so famous for, similarities can be made.
To the west of Church Stretton sits the Long Mynd, or Long Mountain, a bleak moorland plateau, and it is here our route takes us. The riding up until now has been, in a word, pretty, but as you seek out Burway Road (signposted from the centre of Church Stretton) the riding takes a change of pace.
Almost out of nowhere, Burway Road begins a steep and mightily exposed ascent, and before long you’re looking down into the dramatic Carding Mill Valley which is enclosed by steep mountain walls.
As you rise higher and higher the views become more scintillating, until you can see above all of the hills around you and Shropshire stretches out into the distance. If you thought Titterstone Clee Hill was special, you’ll feel like you’re riding right into heaven on Burway Road.
After just a few miles, you’ll now find yourself riding on desolate moorland, and if the weather turns you’ll bear the brunt of it, and you can see why there were signs in Church Stretton warning of impassable roads in winter conditions. The riding to the brilliantly named ‘The Bog’ is a delight, and while you won’t get any speed up, the chance to admire your surroundings is most welcome.
From The Bog we head south to Lydham, briefly exiting the designated Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, before bearing east to Asterton and once again rising onto the Long Mynd moorlands via The Port Way, an ancient roadway which affords wonderful views of the valleys of the Shropshire Hills.
Now, a word of note if you’re plugging the waypoints into your SatNav. Once you’ve reached the top of The Port Way, your SatNav will probably try and take you back to Church Stretton via Burway Road, but you’ll want to turn left just before the ‘Weak Road’ sign, following the directions for Ratlinghope.
After that, if you’re feeling adventurous, fork right and take the gravel track (easily doable on most bikes, even with road tyres), or continue on and head right at the T-junction through Ratlinghope. Both routes will bring you out in the same place, on a road which provides a glorious, open view to the northwest that’s worth the short diversion before dropping you off in Woolstaston.
Our route then retreats south, taking you once again through Church Stretton (well, it is a very nice place), before running along the limestone escarpment of Wenlock Edge to Much Wenlock.
We’re nearing the end of our journey back in time now, which started in the birthplace of the industrial revolution, by dashing to Wroxeter, home to some of the UK’s most remarkable Roman ruins.
Once named Virconium, this small village was once the fourth largest city in Roman Britain, and a wander around the remains of the bathhouse and reconstructed town, which was almost as large as Pompeii in its heyday, is a fitting end to our journey. From here, it’s a short ride to the A5, which will whisk you off home.