Ludlow, Shropshire in April
Having previously lived in this area for many years, we never had time to be tourists during our working lives, now happily retired we had a few things planned for our long weekend away. We explored the site at Far Forest and found a lovely walk in the campsite grounds on a track leading through fields to fishing lakes, woodland and open countryside.
We drove west into Shropshire, travelling through undulating countryside towards Cleobury Mortimer with its famous brewery, Hobsons. Their ‘Champion Mild’ won the CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain in 2007, and it was subsequently served in the bar at the House of Commons! Another icon of this town is the oak shingled, twisted spire of St Mary’s Church, dating to Norman times and which can be seen for miles around. Passing through this small market town with its centrally located, black and white Talbot Hotel, small independent shops and several pubs, we made our way up the flanks of Titterstone Clee Hill. The views are tremendous covering many square miles with sheep, cattle and ponies able roam freely over the commons area; passing over a cattle grid and through Clee Hill village we emerged on the western side with more lovely views of hills towards the distant mountains of Wales.
Arriving in Ludlow we parked in Smithfield Car Park, only £2 for the day! Walking up hill into the town centre we stopped for coffee in The Feathers Hotel with its ancient timbered exterior, a magnet for photographers and historians alike. It was a former Coaching Inn dating back to 17th Century and has wonderful Jacobean architecture, with a stylish interior and comfortable chairs to relax for a while.
The day finally brightened and became warm and pleasant as we made our way through the old, narrow streets to the colourful market stalls with fresh fruit and vegetables, flowers and plants, textiles and colourful glassware, it certainly had a busy atmosphere.
Heading a few yards further on towards the ruins of Ludlow’s Medieval Castle, with a large grass Outer Bailey, a smaller Inner Bailey and dominating Great Tower, there are lovely views over the steep valley sides below.
We skipped the restaurant to walk around outside of the extensive wall which surrounds the castle; the pathway was edged with colourful spring flowers leading eventually down to the River Teme which looked spectacular having a substantial amount of water rushing over the weir.
Many people were enjoying cakes and refreshments at the Millennium Green Cafe as we made our way over Dinham Bridge and up woodland steps to Whitcliff Common Nature Reserve. The leaves just starting to emerge on the trees and the weak sunshine was bringing out the primroses, violets, wood anemones and bright yellow of greater celandines, the birds were singing, it was a perfect Spring day. On reaching a view point with benches positioned to look back over the river, we sat in the sun and admired the old town set out below with its ancient streets and houses. The extent of the castle and its strategic position is more easily appreciated from this side, while the tower of St Lawrence’s Church dominates the skyline.
Returning to the town centre over Ludford Bridge, through the huge stone Broadgate and onwards, up the wide, famous Broad Street with handsome Georgian properties on either side. The Buttercross with its stones columns, dated circa 1746, was originally a Market Hall and to its left a heavily timbered building leaning out at a jaunty angle with the church tower behind.
Severn Valley Railway, Bewdley to Bridgnorth in April
The weather had deteriorated considerably next day, we could hardly see the end of the campsite field through rain and fog. Undeterred and togged up in coats, we took the bus to Bewdley in Worcestershire, arriving in Load Street with Saint Anne’s Church at the top, and a fine selection of shops, including Ashley’s Bakery where we bought treacle flapjacks which were delicious! Crossing over the bridge with the River Severn’s fast flowing and muddy water racing by underneath, we were able to appreciate the old buildings along the river’s edge as we looked back, including a bar and cafe overlooking the river itself which would be lovely on a summer day.
Thankfully the rain was easing off and after a walk of approximately 10 minutes we arrived at the station for The Severn Valley Railway, the historic ticket office complete with grills over the serving hatches and old fire hose on the wall. Soon the steam train was pulling in, clouds of steam, hissing and squealing of metal wheels on the tracks, it was so atmospheric and the rain was soon forgotten as we got into the wooden carriage. Leather straps controlled the raising and lowering of the windows in the doors and enabled me to look out, take photographs and get smuts on my face all at the same time, it was exhilarating. The drizzle and mist alongside the River Severn gave veiled views of pale damp primroses lined the track in places, hunched up lambs stood beside their mothers and muddy cattle gathered along the fences.
Arriving at Arley station several people got on and off while I looked out at the beautifully kept platform area with flower gardens, stacks of ‘old luggage’ and milk churns adding to the scene. The railway track runs alongside the River Severn a lot of the way and gentle curves of the track allowed good views of the steam train as it made the journey. Onwards through Highley where there is an engine house housing old engines, coaches and historic exhibits; on a dry day we would have lingered a while, but rain made us stay on-board to Bridgnorth.
The town is divided in two by the River Severn, and we made our way over a bridge and up into High Town, a walk of about 10 minutes. To escape the rain we stopped at The White Lion Pub for a lunch of homemade Scotch eggs, one Cajun and one black pudding which were served warm and melted in our mouths. We are members of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) so had decided on this pub as it is the Tap for the Hop & Stagger Brewery based at Norton just outside Bridgnorth. We tried a ‘paddle’ each with 3 different beers of one third of a pint, all of which were excellent. Finally the rain had stopped and it was good to have the time to admire the Old Market Hall with its interesting brickwork, the large half timbered, black and white Town Hall in the centre of High Street, and the imposing Northgate entrance to the town and housing a museum about the Bridgnorth and the surrounding area.
Walking around past the small, ruined remnant of Bridgnorth Castle surrounded by gardens and we could see down over the River into Low Town. To get there you can take the scenic but steep walk down the quaintly named Cartway, or you can take the Funicular Railway which is said to be one of the steepest in the country. Returning to the Railwayman’s Arms, a well renown bar on the station platform, we were spoilt for choice with many local beers on offer while we waited for our return trip on the second steam train of the day. Without the rain the journey back enabled good viewing through the windows as the engine gently chuffed along the tracks through woods and fields back to Bewdley.
Bircher near Leominster, Herefordshire in May
Arriving for a weekend in the small hamlet of Bircher in a rural corner of Herefordshire, the campsite was beautifully kept and had far reaching views over the countryside beyond. With nice dry weather we explored the fields having direct access from the campsite, walking along the field margins listening to a cuckoo calling and coming out onto quiet country lanes.
The Balance Inn welcomed us with a good array of beers, friendly locals and a sunny terrace to sit at picnic tables. We returned next day with my parents for a local beer and then came back to the campsite for an alfresco picnic lunch under the canopy.
Nearby in Yarpole is Croft Castle set in open parkland and ancient woodland, it has a castle, garden and a small church with farmed land, in all totalling 1500 acres. The castle itself dates from 14th century and was the home of the Croft family, although it has been owned by the National Trust since 1957.
We didn’t go into the castle this time but chose to go for a walk across the parkland to see the ancient sweet chestnut trees with their knarled and patterned bark and then in the woodlands, following trails with the quiet, restful greens, wildflowers, stream, ponds and birdsong.
It was a tranquil couple of hours well spent finishing up back at the castle in a wildflower meadow overlooking a pool. We still had a long walk back to the campsite, our total for the day covered almost 7 miles!