Visiting another country on a day out is probably not what most people in the UK do very often, unless, like us, they live on the border. Living in Ludlow on the Welsh Marches we often find ourselves dipping in and out of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Powys; often several times on the same drive.
Last Sunday, with the sun finally shining, we opted to nip over the border and visit Powis Castle, near Welshpool. A fine National Trust site with lovely terraces, woodland walks and a deer park the castle began life in 1200 as a medieval fortress, but the world-famous Baroque gardens with their clipped yews overhanging Italian terraces with lead statues and an orangery, date from the 1680s. The castle is located in a dramatic setting, overlooking the Long Mynd and the Breiddon Hills.
Driving to Welshpool through such splendid countryside reminds me what glorious countryside we have in Shropshire, and on a bright sunny day there is no where better to be.
Clunton and Clunbury,
Clungunford and Clun,
Are the quietest places
Under the sun.
In valleys of springs of rivers,
By Ony and Teme and Clun,
The country for easy livers,
The quietest under the sun.
A.E. Housman (partial)
Living in the county and married to a Shropshire ‘lad’, it is not surprising that various lines from Houseman (who incidentally was a Worcester lad) have crossed my path occasionally. I am particularly taken by the Clun poem above and despite driving through Clun many times, and Clungunford once it occurred to me this past weekend that I have never actually stopped to look more closely at these ‘quiet’ places.
So on leaving Powis Castle we decided it was time to rectify this and drive along the Clun Valley with the journey home taking us via Clun and then through Clunton, Clungbury and finally Clungunford. All of which are surrounded by glorious hills in the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Clun is divided in two by a 15th century Packhorse Bridge, the ancient town on the south and the newer Norman town on the north. Near the car-park close to the riverside there is a lovely picnic spot; look for brown trout or even the elusive otter! Cross over the quaint wooden bridge and climb up to the ramparts of Clun castle for wonderful views. Set in the meander of the river, the 13th century Great Tower is its most striking feature, though already too ruinous to defend in the Civil War. This is another lovely spot for a picnic.
The only sounds are from the gently whispering water below, birdsong, ducks calling and, in a late May evening, the swish of the swifts as they dart around the ruins dipping down to the lazy river to catch the many flying insects. Leave the castle by the path next to the bowling green where the gentle clatter of woods on the jack highlights the tranquillity of this small town.
Heading east the Bury Ditches Hill Fort, near Clunton, has been described as one of the finest hill forts in Britain. You are rewarded for the climb with ramparts and ditches towering above the slopes and wonderful views from the interior. To the south of the village is Clunton Coppice with distinctive sessile oak trees amongst the conifers.
A little further along is Clunbury, a small village just off the B4368 with a cluster of houses and cottages, a village hall, primary school and a community shop. Following the base of the hills to return to the B4368 you next pass through Aston-on-Clun and the strangely named ‘Kangaroo Inn’* before turning south again along Broome Road to join the B3467 towards Clungunford and Leintwardine. (*the origin of its name is not quite clear, though it is believed to be associated with the S.S. Kangaroo, an Atlantic cable runner. )
There is a medieval motte in Clungunford which guarded the crossing of the River Clun; it can be accessed via a permissive pathway behind St Cuthbert’s churchyard. A famous tea-room ‘Rocke Cottage’ which used to be known as ‘Bird on the Rock’ is just over the river in the hamlet of Abcott. It is a period tea-room of the 1930s and 1940s and currently for sale.
Having now wandered along the lovely Clun valley I can confirm that it is indeed one of the most peaceful areas under the sun, and definitely needs more exploration.