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Wenlock Edge - a literary walk

by John Clifford


Background

This popular walk draws upon connections with the poet A.E. Housman (1859-1936) and the novelist, Mary Webb (1881-1927). It is featured in Walks with writers by Gordon Dickins and Gladys Mary Coles published by Shropshire Books (1992) and an article on the area, including a map and route description, appeared in The National Trust Magazine, Number 96, Summer 2002, p.88-89. The walk is waymarked by the National Trust, using blue arrows, as the Major's Leap Walk. A map showing the starting point can be viewed, courtesy of Streetmap.co.uk

Waymark sign

The following is a description of this walk undertaken by the author on 16 June 2002.


Walk details

Distance: 5.5 km (3.5 miles)
Duration: 2 hours
Grade: Easy/moderate
Start: SO612996

The starting point is the National Trust car park just outside Much Wenlock, Shropshire. From the town centre take the B4371 signposted to Church Stretton and the car park entrance is a few hundred yards further on from the junction with the A458 Shrewsbury to Bridgnorth road. There is a useful information board in the car park and you start the walk by heading uphill, across a grassy are to a set of wooden steps, taking you up and over a bank. Turning left, a sunken track is followed as it gently climbs uphill for about 1 km. This was the old packhorse route from Much Wenlock to Shrewsbury. The hedgerows either side were full of interest and the wild roses at their best. A little way up, to the left, across the B4371, you may catch a glimpse of a group of red-brick buildings. Referring to an Ordnance Survey map, you can see that this is The Grange. This was the home, from 1882 until 1895, of the novelist, and poet, Mary Webb. She used to explore this area, often accompanied by her father, and from him developed a knowledge and love of this countryside. Many of her experiences were to be infused into her future writing.

At the top of the lane, where it curves to the left slightly in a wooded area, several paths converge. For the purposes of this walk, the stile to the left, out into a field, was taken.

Junction of paths

The return route brings you back to this point, through the gate. A well marked track runs along a ridge, with Lea Quarry to the left and the slopes of Wenlock Edge to the right. Here you may be as lucky as I was to see a bee orchid that manages to survive in its favoured short limestone grassland. Not easy to spot, they blend in with other vegetation and grass. I was fortunate that some other walkers pointed one out to me.

There are two good openings along this path, looking out across the Shropshire plain towards The Wrekin and the Welsh hills. These are the "blue remembered hills" of A.E. Housman. As Gordon Dickins remarks, "bitter-sweet reminiscences invest Housman's poems with a mood of nostalgia and loss and conjure up an idealised countryside of a previous generation". It should be remembered, of course, that the poet had not actually visited this area when he penned his famous lines. The second opening is designated Major's Leap after a certain Major Smallman who is reputed to have escaped Parliamentarian troops during the English Civil War by jumping over Wenlock Edge to avoid capture. This romantic tale quite probably inspired the dramatic ending to Mary Webb's novel Gone to earth (1917).

Continuing on along the track, with the extensive quarry workings opening out to the left a blue arrowed waymark soon indicates a downward descent, leading to Blakeway Coppice. You bear right, along the wide track of Blakeway Hollow. In a clearing the ancient craft of charcoal burning and coppicing has been revived. These craftsmen were called bodgers and they maintained hazel thickets to provide wood for making hurdles and woodturning. Incidentally this is one of the few places in England where you can still find dormice, although none were scurrying that day. Although a long way from Dorset, this atmospheric area reminded me of Giles Winterbourne's wrestle with nature in Thomas Hardy's The woodlanders.

Carrying on uphill, still following the blue waymark, and now also the buzzard symbol of The Shropshire Way, you reach the gate we saw earlier where the paths divided. It is now an easy downhill trek back to the car park.


Photo gallery

All the photographs on this page were taken by the author on this walk on 16 June 2002. In this gallery, to see a larger version of a picture (approx. 60Kb size), please click on the thumbnail.

Wild rose Hedgerow flowers Major's Leap
View to The Wrekin Bee orchid Lea Quarry

Page created 25 November 2002 and last updated 25 November 2002
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