With my new found love for the Shropshire hills, The Long Mynd was a must. Even on a wet, wintery day.
The Long Mynd means ‘the long mountain’, aptly named because that is what it is. Although it is only 516m at it’s highest point (Pole Bank) it is approximately 7 miles long, with a large heather covered plateau across its top. Sitting in the middle of the Shropshire hills which are located in the Welsh Marches, it is probably the best known of the Shropshire hills.
When you look at the dramatic valleys on the east side of the Mynd, or at the heather covered plateau, it is not surprising that there are many bronze age tumuli scattered across it’s moorland. The wildness of the Long Mynd appeals to the wild spirituality within your being, and it is easy to imagine how this would have inspired our ancestors thousands of years ago.
Recently exploring the Shropshire Hills
It has only been in the month of November that I have started to seriously explore the Shropshire Hills. My first trip was to The stiperstones which completely impressed me, the rock defined skyline and extensive views. It was only a few weeks later that I was back, this time walking across Stapeley Hill on a very muddy walk, that was longer than I had estimated (How does 14 miles become 18), again it was a very rewarding walk.
The trip to explore The Long Mynd was in December, at the end of a week that had had quite a lot of snow, and temperatures below freezing. In fact the lowest temperature in England had been recorded in a little village in Shropshire that week (-16 °C).
Not the best of starts
I was walking with an old friend of mine Andrew, we had talked about doing a walk together earlier on in the year. This particular week he was on ‘holiday’ doing some odd jobs at home (you know the type of holiday, when you are glad to get back to work for some rest). It was his suggestion that this would be an ideal time to do a walk.
We arrived at Church Stretton about 10.30am, there had been an accident on the M1 on my way to pick him up, so we were running half an hour later than I had planned. We parked up in the town and started to put on our boots and waterproofs.
The weather forecast was heavy rain, a shower had just passed over but while we were ‘togging’ up the sun had come out. The day seemed to be promising a rare mixture.
“Ah no I don’t believe it” came the cry from the boot of the car where Andrew was putting on his kit. ” I have left my waterproof jacket at home, it is hanging up on the back of the door. I reproofed it and as well”.
“Well we cannot go walking up there if you have not got one” I replied, ” you will get soaked”.
“I will have to see if I can get a cheap one somewhere in town”.
The next three quarters of an hour was spent tramping around Church Stretton (which is not a big town), looking in various second hand shops, outdoor shop and mini markets looking for a waterproof jacket at no great expense.
After asking several locals we found a factory clearance shop, and he bought a relatively cheap jacket, “it will do for the day”.
Having finally solved that problem we set of up the hill, it soon started raining again, I hoped his jacket was up to the job.
Snow and views
The path we had chosen to take up The Long Mynd quickly gained height and it did not take long for the impressive views to open out for us. Our path took us across the local golf course, I could not help but think you must be fit to play this course. There was still plenty of snow on the ground and in places it was pretty deep, there was a strong wind blowing the rain at us, so climbing up the steep incline of the eastern slopes was tiring work even at this early stage of the walk.
We had not gone far when we came across a corrugated shed in the middle of the golf course, it had gone twelve o’clock and this looked like the only possible shelter around. So although we had not really got started we decided to stop and have our lunch, there was a bench sheltered from the wind against the side of the hut, it was good enough for us to sit on and have our food. It had a great view.
When we set off again it had stopped raining (it was temporary), it was a steady climb still up to the plateau of The Long Mynd. The snow drifts got deeper, sometimes up to our knees. I had never before appreciated what hard work it can be walking through snow, it does not take long for your legs to start feeling heavy. I always thought Alpinists walked slowly because of the lack of oxygen, which I am sure is the case, but the effort required to walk uphill in snow must also be a major factor for slow progress.
The nearer we got to the top the harder it was to follow any path. Fortunately the marked nature of the topography made it fairly easy for us to navigate our way, and visibility was good in spite of the frequent heavy rain.
The snow was beginning to melt and although we tried to follow the footsteps of a previous walker to make it easier, the underneath of the snow was wet and slushy. We sunk deeper than the previous walker into the snow, usually into a wet mass of ice and water. I was really grateful for my full grain leather boots.
Walking the plateau
There is a track/road that runs along the top of The Long Mynd it follows the route of the Shropshire Way. I thought this might be easier to walk, but not so, it seemed to be a trap for the snow. It was easier to see, it’s white line carving its way through the snow peppered heather. It was extremely windy up here and we were both glad when the rain, which had turned to snow/hail stopped. We could see clearer skies over to the west, and as we got nearer to Pole Bank the highest point of our walk, the sun started to break through in front of us.
Over to the west the sun was shining on the hills, I could easily see the Stiperstones and Corndon Hill covered in snow, the view was so beautiful, being able to see somewhere that I recognised made it especially wonderful, I could even make out the ridge line that some of the Offa’s Dyke path runs along.
By the time we had reached Pole bank almost all the surrounding skyline was covered with blue sky. So was Pole bank, the wind was bitter and harsh but I was warm enough in my clothing. It was simply awesome being there (I use the word in its truest meaning), if I could, it was one of those moments I would have frozen in time to be there for ever. The views were stunning, the sun light captivating, sorry running out of words – it was great. I think I really loved the rawness of the situation as well, the fierce wind, the mixture of snow and heather, and the bareness of moorland, the vivid cold blue sky, no camera could do it justice.
Heading down to Church Stretton
Eventually we headed south down the path towards Pole Cottage, there are a few trees there, a rare sight in the hill, just past them there is a path that heads east and back to Little Stretton. As we started our decent the sun was over to our right, it played with the contours of the landscape picking out shapes and magnifying features. It brought me to a state of photo fever, “there’s a great shot, and there, and there”, but of course none of them really captured the moment or the creativity of the suns light. In reality these times are to be experienced not captured, no matter how well you explain them to friends, and show off your photos their blank faces say it all ” it’s your experience and yours alone”.
Unfortunately as we descended the hill we were in the shadow of the sun, so we could not see the suns final setting glories. It seemed to tease us from behind the slopes, ” this is what you are missing”.
Little Stretton and beyond
The path led us into one of the deep sided valleys, hugging its side as we continued to descend until a final sharp slope brought us into some trees and the edges of Little Stretton.
We only touched the first houses of Little Stretton, the path went through a gate pass some snowy cottages with Christmas lights in the window, and over a fast flowing brook, before we turned left over a stile and back up a hill. It was a brief touch of the festive season before heading back out into realities of the winter landscape.
The last stretch took Andrew and myself over a small hill alongside a valley, then down through some woods to the road to Church Stretton. It was dark by the time we arrived back at the car, with aching legs, I never realised walking through snow could be such hard work. Andrew looked a bit soggy but he said that his cheap jacket had done the job (that and the five layers of clothing he was wearing underneath!).
As I was taking off my walking gear I looked around at the other surrounding hills and thought “I want to go up them”. I am certainly coming back next year, maybe in the spring, try the Shropshire hills in some sunnier weather.
The Shropshire Hills are very captivating.
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