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A Shropshire Ride by Bob Milton

25 July 2016

A Shropshire Ride

For the first time the old fogy’s brigade decided to drive past the Cotswolds and onto Shropshire for our annual riding holiday. Our old friends Nick and his wife Charlotte had recently moved to the far reaches of England to the the area around The Longmynd in Shropshire so we thought we would try with their help that area. There seemed to be lots of riding routes which were published as part of the Ride UK promotion and can be found on the Shropshire Council website. We also managed to get hold of some printed copies of the rides with instructions which are extremely helpful, although I do not know where copies are available but I believe they can be down loaded from the site. These were extremely invaluable as the routes are sometimes not clear or properly marked.  Mostly they are clearly marked on the ground and have a Ride UK route marker. The web page does not seem to have the ride numbers but clicking on the route once you have gone into the website does bring up the full route

After a long drive up from the Surrey Hants Berks borders Mr Jolly and I arrived in the early evening, just before the other two in their horse box, at Ratlinghope deep in the Shropshire Hills at the base of the western edge of The Longmynd which is a massive area of NT common land almost on the Welsh border. A salutary lesson was learnt very quickly – do not follow Google Maps or Sat-nav without really looking at the route and do not ignore what the local instructions tell you is the best way in a trailer or horse box. My 4x4 overheated and the horse box is now suffering from a slipping clutch. Our return journey was much more sympathetic to the vehicles as we followed our host’s instructions and kept away from the really steep narrow D class and UCR roads many of which have inclines of over 20%.

We all settled in very quickly, the horses in their paddocks next to the 13th century church and we in The Horseshoes now it seems known as The Bridges in Bridges a mile away. A very welcoming new manager of this pub that is owned by the Three Tuns brewery of Bishops Castle supplied a lovely dinner and some really lovely beer. It is a long time since I was able to have a pint of my favourite type which is dark mild. I do not think the first one even touched the sides of my mouth. After a hot day the draught pale ale is equally thirst quenching and tasty

The first morning skies were clear, the sun was shining and breakfast was large, tasty and full English. The horses looked well as they tucked into a small breakfast as we busied our selves getting ready.

We decided to link two of the rides starting off on route eight and went straight up from the paddocks over Cross Dyke and Ratlinghope Hill with a change of elevation of 100m. This part is also part of ride five to Wentnor. The banes of our riding holidays in the Cotswold were always gates. This week’s holiday turned out to be the same. On this first day we were from the first 50 yards faced with over 20, none of which could be easily opened by us oldies from horse back. We took it in turns to get off and then try to get back on. We all suffer from replacement knees and associated old age and we are all riding horses over 17hands. On some we had to walk for hundreds of yards to find somewhere to get on from. Many of the gates have low pedestrian clips and latches. Some, like the first had to be manhandled to get it open. Others are hung so as to self close before we have a chance to even get through.  All the gates were in fact vehicle gates or bypass gates with adjacent cattle grids and usually 8ft wide.

The first part of the route to Gatten  was a bit of a puff and most of the route which we thought was bridleway is in fact an unclassified road  [U5782/05] running through open fields with gates at each field boundary. The view, once we and the horses had got our breath back, was stunning. The erosion of the track made for sore feet for the horses. We crossed the road at Stitt to Near Gatten Farm. This, we found out later, is home to a music and craft festival but why they need a Chieftain tank I do not know.  This part of the route throws up one of the many anomalies in this area as the route to the farm is shown as an unclassified road [U5983/10] but is shown only as a FP. The bridleway [0552/32/1] that leads out of the farm to Far Gatten was not marked and is not part of the promoted routes [Ride UK 8 and 5] and the marked route was tied up with string.

Onward and upwards, along the very quiet road through Gatten Lodge and onto a piece of unfenced open grazing land just past the area shown on the map as The Sallies, guarded at both ends by cattle grids with bypass gates. Like all the bypass gates we came across they were one way gates which closed on the grid side so no access from horse back to open the pedestrian latches even if it was possible to act like a native Indian on a pony and slide down the neck of the horse, as the safety fence was in the way. That is if there was a safety fence in the first place as the first one we came to had disappeared [U5169/20] leaving only the closer so off I got as it was my turn. The instructions were to turn up a byway [BOAT 0552/33/1]. This we did find but as the byway sign had disappeared and it looked like a private access with a cattle grid and bypass gate I was confused.

It was Mike’s turn to dismount but as no one could tell us if this was the start of the byway and there was a road route along the other two sides of the triangle we decided to carry  on the road and Mike walked to the next cattle grid before walking some way to find a way of getting on.

The bypass gate was, it seems, on the byway as we found when we got to the other end. But I am pleased we took the road as the byway, as well as having a damaged bypass gate and hanging post was heavily over grown and exceedingly wet. We continued up the BOAT [0431/un2/1] which was beautiful and passed the Motte and Baileys at the end.

It was getting late – after 12.30 and we were in need of refreshment. Ron needed to get a mobile signal, which we found at our stop which was the White Horse at Pulverbatch. No real stopping place for horses, but we found an area at the back of the car park to stand and tie up next to the chickens. The horses grazed and slept a bit while we had a pint of larger and some sandwiches. It looked nice so we decided to come back that evening for supper. Not really worth the long drive.

We set off once again at about 1.40pm, steadily climbing and took a couple of short cuts past Wilderley Hall to Picklescott rather than taking the road south to Bridges and over the Cross Dyke again, knowing from the map that there is no equestrian right of way to link The Portway to Lower Darnford without going right up on to The Longmynd. It is ok for pedestrians as the Shropshire way and the upper Darnford footpaths link but for equestrians it is a major diversion.

We were to join UK ride eight again at Thresholds on The Port Way. By this time the skies had clouded over and the air had about it a rather threatening feel. We could feel the wind pick up but it was still warm as we went up Picklescott Hill. Mike had the forethought to bring with him a shower proof jacket in his saddle bag as he had looked at the weather forecast. Ron and I had only our light shirts and mine was short sleeved.

With a distant rumble of thunder we could feel the rain starting. This turned out to be the same storm that closed Luton and Gatwick airports and caused the man in his Aston Martin to get his side window smashed so as to get out when the road under a railway bridge flooded.

We tried to shelter under a line of sycamore trees by a cottage, those being the only things on top of the hill where we were, hoping that it was only a momentary shower. After steadily getting wetter with the threat of lightning and Mike's jacket providing no comfort or protection we decided as there was no let up in the torrential down pour to get down the hill where we had just come from as there was we had seen a large set of barns just up the adjacent bridleway. The water was running down at a prodigious rate washing large stones and small boulders out of the banks and down the road. By the time we had got to the farm, and asked the tractor driver if we could shelter, we were soaked literally to the skin. Our boots had started to fill with water and the rain had seeped down inside my jodhpurs through the seat onto the saddle.

The rain finally slowed down sufficiently for us to start back home, some hour and a half after it started. The sun came out as we made our way down beside the fishing lakes south of Thresholds below Thorny Knoll. This made picking our way through the washed out route to Lower Darnford, which again is only shown on the Shropshire ROW map as a footpath [Unclassified road U5055/10]. At the other end after numerous gates that could not be opened, we had to ford the brook in three places as it was in spate. The route after the ford changes its status it seems to just be an unclassified road [UCR U5784/10] named Lower Darnford Lane, which has a sign post where it leaves the Tarmac UCR which says ‘unsuitable for vehicles’. The 2026 cut off date springs to mind in this part of the country

We arrived back at the stables still soaked after being in the saddle for over seven hours. The horses were thirsty even though we had offered them fast flowing rivers and were very hungry for their tea. The owners kindly took our saddles in to the room where there was a wood burner and we made our wet way back in my old Isuzu Trooper which I had dug out of retirement at the last minute as my wife’s Nissan Patrol sprung a leak in the front drive on the Friday before we went.

I had to peel my jodhpurs off and even though there was a boiler in my room they were still not dry the following morning- they have a full leather seat. Our boots were still wringing wet and uncomfortable to even put on, let alone wear all day. Over another Full English we decided, as everything was still soaking wet, to become tourists for the day and go to Ludlow. Sunshine, good coffee, easy shopping in the market and a visit to the massive farm shop that is part of the Earl of Plymouth’s Oakley Park Estate with superb local estate cheeses and cider made it a lovely day out. The highlight of the day was seeing the Flying Scotsman locomotive charge through the level crossing where we had stopped because of the large number of people waiting with cameras. The day finished with an excellent meal at The Crown, Wentnor.

Day three saw a continuing warming of the weather and we set off in the opposite direction to do most of Ride UK 12 on to The Longmynd above Church Stetton. Commanding views were had over the moors and upland heather to Wenlock Ridge across the valley and down to the town. Small roofs scattered down the lower slopes down to the main A49

We stayed up on top rather than follow the marked route down the steep incline and back. The height difference can be as much as 300m. What wonderful scenery across these vast open spaces of NT registered common land [s15 Crow]. Shame the bypass gates are such poor quality, with broken latches and all but one, which was brand new, only openable on foot. One even had a broken post with barbed wire hanging into the access.

Nature is not truly wild up here as it is well grazed by commoners’ sheep and ponies. Beware when riding up here that there are pony stallions with mares and foals, as we found out when on a marked bridleway when the stallion came up the track to meet us. Skylarks abounded right across the moors and signs said there were grouse, but we saw none. Buzzards, red kites, ravens and crows were often seen watching for carrion. Up at the Robin Hood’s Butts, where the stream is dammed, there was a family of Canada Geese with three goslings and a couple of mallards. The flora consisted mainly of flag iris and reeds with some Kingcups and a patch of round leaf water crowsfoot which sheltered hundreds of tadpoles.

Down in the valley near the Bridges pub which I should mention has a long hitching rail for those requiring lunch time refreshment along side the ford from which the horses can also easily drink we were woken each morning by mating curlews. Swallows and House Martins abound with House Sparrows, Black Birds and Robins in the vicinity. Down the stream at the Bridges I saw Grey Wagtails and a Dipper. One early evening I spied a pair of Pied Flycatchers feeding on midges.

The journey home was almost as eventful as arriving. To avoid the steep hills I travelled south and then met up with the M4 only to be caught in miles of stationary traffic on a very warm day as a result of an accident towards Bath on the up hill stretch. I think it is time to get a new 4x4 so that I can get back to the wonderful riding that is the Shropshire Hills.

Bob Milton

June 2016

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