Church Stretton places and people
PUBLISHED: 10:21 01 December 2010 | UPDATED: 17:34 20 February 2013
There's so much to do around Church Stretton that one visit is never enough, says Sarah Hart
Beautiful place, wonderful people
Theres so much to do around Church Stretton that one visit is never enough, says Sarah Hart
Plonk yourself on top of The Long Mynd, sprawling above the pretty market town of Church Stretton, and youll have yourself one of the finest panoramic views in England.
To the east, the mighty hump of Caer Caradoc towers over neighbouring hills and patch-worked valleys. The great wooded slab of Wenlock Edge and the indomitable peak of The Wrekin pierce the skyline beyond.
To the west, the craggy ridge of the Stiperstones stands dark against white clouds. The Welsh hills loom hazily in the distance.
The calls of curlews, skylarks and red kite fill the air. A buzzard hovers on the wind, and in ate summer, purple heather blankets the 10-mile moorland plateau of the Long Mynd, as far as the eye can see.
Every once in a while, the graceful form of wild ponies can be spotted tugging at the grass, swishing their tails or hoofing through the heather.
Its not surprising then, that this starkly beautiful and rugged landscape is steeped in folklore and legend. The surrounding hills are scarred with the earthworks of Iron Age hill forts. The long mountain bears the remains of 16 Bronze Age burial mounds and a 5,000-year-old ridgeway still gouges a path right through its middle, from end to end. Once trod by Neolithic traders, its now tramped by walkers and sheep.
People have probably been picking wild bilberries (or whimberries as Shropshire folk call them) on these slopes for thousands of years. The tiny blue berries, found growing all over the Mynd during August and September, are best served in a whimberry pie topped with a thick dollop of cream.
Today the whimberry-pickers, ramblers, bird watchers and horse-riders share the romantic geography with mountain bikers, hill runners, gliders and para-gliders. Modern Church Stretton is becoming as widely known as a destination for outdoor sports as for its mesmerising natural scenery.
And the town itself is a delight, with its pretty Medieval and Georgian houses wrapped in climbing roses, tearooms, antiques shops, markets and galleries.
Heres a taste of some of Strettons best bits:
Carding Valley Mill
Comedy actress Jo Brand described this lush, stream- trickling valley as her favourite place on earth. Many would concur with her view. Its the crown of Strettons jewels. The magnificent gateway to the rambling splendour of the Mynd. Children play in the fresh water pools and streams spilling from the hummocky hills. Families picnic. Countless walks fan out from the Carding Mill though interlocking valleys and onto the 5,000-acre mound of The Long Mynd wild, blustery and magical.
The Mynd, meaning mountain in Welsh, and Carding Mill are managed by the National Trust, and where theres the National Trust, theres usually a lovely tearoom. The Trusts timber-boarded pavilion in Carding Mill is a great spot for lunch or a slice of cake, even in winter when walkers can soak up the warmth of a roaring fire. Theres an educational family room and local history exhibitions.
Those who want an easy way up the Mynd can always go by car. Although The Burway, the hill road leading from Church Stretton, is not for the faint-hearted. Drivers face a sheer drop down the hillside on one side. The road is just wide enough for one car in places.
Berrys Coffee House
Back in the safety and comfort of Church Stretton is one of my favourite Shropshire tearooms. Berrys Coffee House, in High Street, run by Lynwen and John Gott for the past 10 years, has amassed a string of food awards and is mentioned in the Good Food Guide.
Lynwen and her staff pride themselves on cooking everything from scratch, from local ingredients. The milk and cream hail from Cleobury Mortimer, ham and bacon from Wenlock Edge Farm and free-range chicken from Strefford Hall Farm Shop, near Craven Arms. The menu ranges from Welsh rarebit made with Shropshire Lad beer or a ploughmans with Weobley organic cheese to a three-course dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings, including organic smoked salmon from Clunbury. Wroxeter wines, Ludlow Vineyard cask brandy and Shropshire beers feature on the drinks menu. Theres always something for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets too.
A grandfather clock ticks quietly in one room, Victorian servants' bells hang on the wall of another. An old Welsh dresser is packed with vintage tea sets and gleaming copper jelly moulds.
Stretton Antiques Market
Now a Shropshire institution this treasure trove of an antiques market, rambling over three floors, could do with its own brown tourist sign pointing off the A49. People make their way here from all over the country just to amble away a few hours rooting through the vast collection of vintage nick-knacks, crockery, furniture and goodness knows what other surprises.
You never know whats going to come in through the door from one day to the next, comments centre owner Terry Elvins, who rents space to 60 unit holders from all over the country.
Weve even sold old dentists chairs to people within just a couple of days of them being brought in!
Get on your bike
From the old to the new. Cycle-mad couple Allen Timbrell and Kate Mayes ditched their busy marketing jobs to open their dream bicycle shop just a few months ago.
Theyve modelled Plush Hill Cycles, in Church Street, on similar trendy shops found in the cycling and mountain bike haven of Moab, in Utah.
Its a bit similar to Church Stretton but a much bigger destination for outdoor sporting events, Allen explains.
The couple, who got together after Kate asked his advice on buying a bike, have lived in Church Stretton for three years. Allen, who admits hes been spending serious amounts of money on bikes since his paper-round days 15 years ago, had grown disenchanted with his marketing job. It was a lot of pressure, a lot of travelling and a lot of hours. I wanted to do what I loved best and we saw an opportunity for a bike shop in Church Stretton, he says.
Returning from a holiday in Moab, they put together a business plan and with the help of a very supportive landlord set up the shop selling specialist bikes, equipment and sports clothing.
Allen carries out repairs and custom building on site. Business has been so brisk hes opening a second workshop.
In other parts of town more and more sports shops have been opening up.
Gliding and Paragliding
The Long Mynd is home to one of the oldest gliding clubs in the country and now para-gliders are also a regular site with the Long Mynd Soaring Club.
Beyond Extreme, founded by elite paraglider, climber and snowboarder Mark Dann, is one of the best known paragliding schools in the UK, featured on the BBCs Countryfile, Channel 4 and Sky Travel. Five years ago Mark established the Beyond Extreme shop, in Church Stretton, selling specialist outdoor clothing. It also sells online.
The Secret Garden
Zoe Goodman King and Sue Mitchell are two creative local mums who solved their desire for part-time jobs by opening this adorable little shop together.
Based in Shrewsbury Road the shop sells pretty garden accessories and quality home gifts. The emphasis is on hand-crafted objects made from natural materials by small British companies. They include Zoes own cheerful cards and paintings and jolly wire angels made by an artist who also supplies Libertys, London, and Bloomingdales, New York.
The Unsung Heroes
Spare a thought for the small regiment of 20 plus dedicated volunteers who are proud of their town and go out in all weathers once a month to keep it looking spick and span.
Up before most people on a Sunday morning, and armed with brushes, dustpans and litter-pickers, they sweep the streets, gather rubbish, wash signs and shop-fronts and paint gates and fences. As a thank you, Berrys Coffee House treats them to a well-deserved breakfast of toast and croissants afterwards.
The Pride of Place group, as its called, was founded eight years ago by John Woolmer and has since inspired similar groups in other towns.
Last year its efforts earned Church Stretton third place in the national Clean Town Awards. The towns little station also won an Arriva Trains award for the best unmanned station garden thanks to the achievement of volunteer gardeners.
The Best of the Rest
Theres so much to do around Church Stretton that one visit is never enough.
Nature trails and gardens include Rectory Woods, off Church Street, where the design was influenced by Capability Brown; Allen Coppice Woodland
Walk and Sculpture Trail from The Longmynd Hotel and Coppice
Leasowes Nature Reserve.
The towns 13th century St Laurence Church incorporates a Saxon fertility symbol. The new Teme leisure centre has a swimming pool, fitness suite, dance studio and badminton and tennis courts.
Visitors can see a little more of the surrounding area by turning off the A49 north or south of Church Stretton, onto the B4370 which takes you pootling through the lovely villages of All Stretton and Little Stretton.