PUBLISHED: 17:02 01 December 2010 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013
Dave Hancock finds fresh air, refreshment and friendly faces in the Strettons
Dave Hancock finds fresh air, refreshment and friendly faces in the Strettons.
Switzerland should be Big Stretton. The landlocked European country bears a remarkable resemblance to the equally coast-less area of All Stretton, Church Stretton and Little Stretton. Snow-topped mountains, airy walks, stunning scenery and friendly natives - this area of Shropshire has them all. Only the secret bank accounts give Big Stretton its USP.
To visit Church Stretton, take the train as the station is close to the town centre. Or arrive by bus. This is an environmentally friendly tourism area and reckless car use should be avoided. To visit All Stretton and Little Stretton as well, hire an electric bicycle. This is a new scheme set up by Stretton Climate Care and you collect bikes from Central Garage just off the A49 - walk to it via a footway from the railway station. Telephone 01694 723939 for more information.
We're starting at All Stretton. If you want to begin with Little Stretton, skip to the end of this feature and read backwards.
High above the B4370, which runs through All Stretton, is St Michael and All Angels' Church. Built in 1902, its churchyard is part of the Caring for God's Acre scheme so now has 61 species of wild plant including Tutsan, Navewort and Cat's Ear. Don't worry if you visit in the winter and the church is closed, you can still see wild flowers and the healing hands of the physician engraved on the windows over the font - all the work of John Hutton.
Take a turn signposted to the village hall and you head up The Batch valley. There are three free National Trust car parks for walkers on the Long Mynd, as well as the All Stretton Bunkhouse Youth Hostel.
This whole Strettons area has a complex of walks, trails and bridleways upon which many a well-dubbined boot has ventured. We, however, are sticking to the low roads on this occasion.
Back on the B5477 and heading towards Church Stretton, you'll pass the water bottling plant for Princes Food & Drinks Group. This water source has been known for centuries and you can try some at the pavement-side fountain.
If you have a vehicle, deposit it in the Easthope Road car park in Church Stretton as it's within easy walking distance of everywhere. On the outside of the loo block are two useful maps. Inside, one is obliged to listen to piped music. I was relieved to get out.
Church Stretton has many tea rooms and we chose Berry's Coffee House off High Street because of its award-winning use of local producers and suppliers. The menu is interesting and varied and there are always special items listed on a board. You pass the cakes on your way in so you can gauge how much room to leave in your stomach! I had a bowl of soup with a cheese scone, Shropshire farm butter, a slice of local cheese and handmade chutney - outstanding.
For a free breakfast at Berry's, join the Church Stretton Tourism Group - volunteers who clean up litter, plant bulbs, wash signs and generally keep the town lovely jubbly.
St Laurence's Church is a short walk from Berry's. Inside, two 20p guides tell you about the church and about the churchyard - the latter is also in the Caring for God's Acre scheme. Dedicated ecclesiologists will alight on the thick 'Don't Take Away' history book of the church.
Look to the walls for the banners proclaiming 'I AM...', to the ceiling for the gridiron memorial to three children killed in a hotel fire in 1968 and behind the altar for the Jacobean reredos. There's more - stained glass near the altar by Shrewsbury firm, Betton and Evans, and a St Dunstan's plaque in the north transept with a Braille transcription.
Another short walk takes you to the Tourist Information Office. Now a Welcome to Walkers town, Church Stretton peddles many pedalling and pedestrian - but not pedestrian - activities.
'van doesburg's' back in the High Street continues the award-winning theme as Retailer of the Year 2006. Run by Ed and Jane van Doesburg, this is a delicatessen with the emphasis on delicious. Think pat Forestire with cranberry sauce and salad leaves sandwiches through to strawberry clement cream cake. The Doesburgs do party food too and deliver locally.
Beaumont Road is home to Burway Books, where Ros Ephraim has spent the last 35 years. She, Emma Sharian and Hilary Jones make Burway Books everything an independent bookshop should be - warm, inviting, a source of information and a repository of local authors and books on local subjects. Tales from the Victorian Farm, is, for example, a book to accompany the TV series set at nearby Acton Scott Historic Working Farm.
A short walk from Burway Books, in Lutwyche Road, is Scrappies. A registered charity supported by many organisations, Scrappies takes stuff which people and businesses regard as waste and offers it for sale very cheaply. Card, plastic, clay, fabric, wallpaper, ribbon, books, CDs, wood and so on. There are boxes of empty containers, containers of plastic pots and pots of wooden blocks. It's just the place for parents of young children, playgroups, schools, 'am-dram' groups and crafty people. Scrappies also runs workshops and birthday parties and is open 11am to 7pm on Wednesdays and 10am to 2pm Saturdays. It has a craft shop open to the public; membership is required to access the scrap.
Guess what? Embrey's is just a short walk away. Selling locally sourced meat and game as well as their own sausages and more unusual items such as duck fat, Embrey's enjoys the culinary skills of Beryl - well known for her lovely jubbly cakes. Ask for a plastic bag and you'll pay 5p which will be donated to Air Ambulance - got the message?
Now it's a short walk back to the tuneless loo block or you must rev up your electric bicycle for a journey south along the B4370 to Little Stretton. Here, you will find All Saint's Church (open each day until sunset), which looks as ancient as the manor house next door. It was actually built in 1903 from a kit given by the lady of the manor and, possibly chosen to match her abode. A sign in the churchyard illustrates interesting places in the village. A great time to visit the church is August 29 to 31, 2009 from 2.30 to 6pm when the annual Teas to Please event takes place - homemade cakes, sandwiches, tea, coffee, stalls and games and, if you are lucky, Richard Walker, of St Chad's in Shrewsbury, playing the organ.
A great time to visit Church Stretton is from July 18 to August 1 for the 2009 Church Stretton and South Shropshire Arts Festival (www.strettonfestival.org.uk).
As for events in Big Stretton, the wine festival on Lake Geneva is very popular. It's held every 25 years and the last one was in 1999...