Church Stretton, Shropshire

The last time I was in Carding Mill Valley, I had a small boy in tow. What a pleasure to return 20+ years later, to find it equally lovely, but to have the capacity to roam a little further than 3 year old legs could manage. And roam we did, my husband and I, celebrating a wedding anniversary in style at beautiful Arden House, in Church Stretton. Traveling from the north east of England and skirting Birmingham on the M6 Toll road, we drove into the valley known locally as Little Switzerland. The hills rose all around us and peace descended.

Carding Mill ValleyThis is a walker’s paradise, and I couldn’t wait to get started. The first step, to get my bearings in Church Stretton, with its many half-timbered buildings. It’s great to see old properties lovingly restored, and 2 of my favourites, close together on the High Street, were the 17th century barn conversion, now an eco food and clothing store dubbed ‘Entertaining Elephants’, and ‘Tudor Cottage’, dating from 1593. A weekly market has been held here from as far back as 1214, and if shopping is your thing you could do worse than pop into 3-storey Stretton Antiques Market. Just behind the High Street, the Tourist Information office in a historic former schoolhouse (closed on Mondays) and St. Laurence’s Church. Fairly plain on the outside, a warmth emanated from the church interior and I loved the timbered ceilings, wall hangings and ceiling art. Outside I soon spotted my primary objective- a short woodland walk in Rectory Wood. 

The sign board invites you to ‘stroll in the footsteps of Georgian gentry’ and a simple map guides you to a pond and ruined folly inspired by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Just enough to whet my appetite and provide glimpses of the hills to tempt me for tomorrow. The rain arrived, giving us an opportunity to put our feet up back at the apartment, before venturing out to an Indian restaurant, ‘Jaipur’. Food from an immense selection and service were both excellent.

Carding Mill ValleyNext day dawned clear and bright and, with the assistance of a map and directions from Ian, our proprietor, we set off on an 8 mile walk into Carding Mill Valley. Arden House could not be better situated for this, and Ian had given us a number of options should the walk prove too strenuous. A stream gurgles into the valley, passing a National Trust shop and cafe, with car parking, should you need it. With an early start we had the valley to ourselves, and mounted steadily towards the reservoir. The mill pools along this stretch used to feed water down to the carding mill, built in the 18th century. Carding was a process applied to wool to untangle short fibres, and would have been performed by children. The mill only lasted about 80 years but the name stuck.

Carding Mill ValleyAugust is a wonderful time to be there, with the heather in full bloom. Around the reservoir and on up to Lightspout waterfall, looking back the views are mesmerising. It’s a bit of a scramble on up past the falls but then it levels and at the 516 metre high trig point you can see for miles. On our route back down, through Ashes Hollow, we came upon a couple of wild ponies, with newborn foals tottering in the long grass. Our incentive was a pub in Little Stretton, 6 miles into the walk. The Ragleth didn’t disappoint. Reluctantly we carried on back to Church Stretton, tired but happy.

Our homeward journey took us through colourful Bishop’s Castle, to the picturesque ruins at Clun and ended in spectacular fashion at Stokesay Castle, with medieval jousting. I would have liked another day or two, to visit Ludlow and the Welsh borders, but Church Stretton made a great base.

Read about Johanna’s stay at Arden House.

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Johanna Bradley

Walker, wanderer & traveller

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