There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Cardingmill Valley to Great Whitley: Days 1 to 3 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).

Day 1    29/05/08

The English branch of the South West Odyssey started on the 29th of May 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley car park on the edge of the Long Mynd in Shropshire.

David, Francis, Alison, Mike & Brian ready to Odyss
Most walkers ascend the valley onto the Long Mynd but, being perverse, we descended towards and then across the Stretton Gap before climbing Caer Caradoc.

Walking down the Cardingmill Valley
At 459 metres Caer Caradoc is not the biggest hill in the world. If it was twice as high it would be classified as a Munro, but its 270 metre prominence is more than enough for it to qualify as one of England's 176 Marilyns. It is also more than enough to raise the heart rate and to provide a fine view from the top. According to legend the Iron (or late Bronze) Age hill fort on the summit is the site of the last stand of Caractacus (or Caradoc) against the invading Romans; hence the name of the hill. Nice story, but probably untrue.

Alison, the Stretton Gap and the Long Mynd,
as viewed from the top of Caer Caradoc
Dropping down from Caer Caradoc we skirted Cardington Hill and made our way to Longville in the Dale, where the Longville Arms provided a welcome and much needed pint or two of lunch. Revived, we continued west to Wenlock Edge. A coral reef on the ocean floor in Silurian times, Wenlock Edge is now a hump of limestone running across 25 kilometres of Shropshire countryside. Although it has inspired a poem by A.E. Houseman (On Wenlock Edge) and a song cycle by Vaughan Williams, the word I now associate with Wenlock Edge is 'mud' which is neither poetic nor musical. The footpaths on the top double as bridle ways and during the wet spring horses had churned the surface to a considerable depth. We wallowed rather than walked along Wenlock Edge.

Climbing onto Wenlock Edge
Leaving Wenlock Edge, field paths took us to Brocton, the end of the day's walk, some 18 km east of our starting point. We spent the night at the Fox Inn at Much Wenlock.

Day 2 30/05/08

Brocton - has Alison noticed we've gone?
Setting off again from Brocton we crossed field paths through Skimblescott and Great Oxenbold, villages that are actually smaller than their names.

The path to Great Oxenbold
We then crossed parkland to the slightly larger village of Burwarton where the Boyne Arms provided us with a glass of lunch and an Amphibian Surprise.

Brian is unfazed by the Amphibian Surprise

We left Burwarton and survived the epic crossing of the Cressell Brook.

The Crossing of Cresell Brook
Our journey continued along a grassy bank that had once been a railway line. At some point we stepped carefully from one OS map to the next. Francis put his binoculars down on the bank, changed the map in his map case and strode off, leaving 800 pounds worth of optical equipment lying in the grass.

Along the disused railway
Half an hour later he spotted an interesting bird and was startled to find he had nothing to look at it through. We phoned the cavalry (Lynne, Hilary and Alison T) and arranged that Mike and Francis would walk back, retrieve the binoculars and make their way to the nearest tarmac road where they could be picked up. Meanwhile Brian, Alison and I would continue to a point where our path crossed an appropriate road and wait there until Mike and Francis were delivered. There were plenty of places for the plan to go wrong, starting with the assumption that it would be easy to find a pair of binoculars sitting quietly in the long grass.

Brian, Alison and I reached the rendezvous point, waited for five minutes and then a car appeared and Mike and Francis were back with us, Francis clutching his precious binoculars. The plan had been perfectly executed, but Mike and Francis had (and still have) a three mile gap in their Odyssey. [update: Francis filled in this gap a couple of year's later]

I was probably not the only one feeling footsore and weary by the time we reached Cleobury Mortimer where we spent the night in the Kings Arms.

The King's Arm, Cleobury Mortimer
You might think Francis would have learned from his experience, but on April Fool's Day 2010 he left them outside a pub in Telford. Fortune - and the pub landlord - saw to it that Francis and binoculars were again reunited.

Day 3 31/05/08

Cleobury Mortimer is, with 2000 residents, the second smallest town in Shropshire. Among its many charms is a church with a twisted spire.....

St Mary's, Cleobury Mortimer with its twisted spire.
....but it's not half as twisted as Chesterfield.

We spent the morning walking through rolling woodland and crossing several small rivers....

Crossing the River Rea
...and then across field paths and wildflower meadows.

Skylarks are still a common feature of Shropshire farm land. They fluttered above us, singing their hearts out and trying to lead us away from their nests. It is very pretty, but a waste of time and energy as humans do not eat skylark eggs - you would need too many to make an omelette! Nor do we ever find their nests - except hawk-eyed Mike did, spotting one half-hidden in the long grass at a field edge. An adult sat on a clutch of eggs, eyeing us nervously. In an ideal world you would now scroll down to a picture of a skylark on its nest. I did not want to disturb the bird by using flash, so I photographed it without. The results were dark, very dark indeed, so instead I will show you a picture of a wild flower meadow.

Meadow near Clows Top
We had now crossed into Worcestershire and the final afternoon was brief stroll across more fields, through a wood and across the Abberley estate. There has been a manor house of some sort at Abberley since the early fourteenth century, or even longer. The current Abberley Hall was built in Italianate style for Birmingham banker John Lewis Moilliet who acquired the estate in 1836.  In 1867 the house was sold to Joseph Jones, an Oldham cotton magnate. His son, John Joseph Jones, built the remarkable clock tower in 1885. He boasted that none of his farm workers would knock off early as the all knew what the time was. Perhaps it might have been better if he paid his workers enough to own a watch each rather than spending his money on vanity projects.

Abberley Clock Tower
Abberley Hall now houses a preparatory school, and Saturday afternoon games were in full swing as we walked past. We emerged on the A443 and made our way to Great Whitley and the conclusion of the first part of the Odyssey.

Relieved to have reached the end
from Left to right: Alison, Mike, Alison T, Brian, Francis, Lynne and me
(so Hilary must have taken the picture)

Sunday, 25 May 2008

The South West Odyssey, English Branch: Introduction

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost)..

First there was Go West! in which six like-minded people decided to walk due west from Stafford, or as due west as footpaths would allow, until halted by the sea. After nine days walking - spread over five months - we had all stood knee deep in the briny on Barmouth beach. That was in 1998 (or was it 1999 – it was certainly in the days before digital cameras put a nice clear date and time on every picture).

Go North! reaches Settle - and Alison wears a fine pair of trousers

After an intended year off, which foot and mouth extended to three, we embarked on Go North! and after fifteen days walking - over three years - we reached Hadrian’s Wall and a natural conclusion. This time we had allowed ourselves some deviation from due north – strolling through the suburbs of Manchester with rucksacks on our backs and walking boots on our feet would have looked weird. Instead we swung east to traverse the moors between Oldham and Sheffield – much more natural walking country.

Beside the South Tyne
(photograph by Alison Crane)
By the end of Go North! we had established a pattern of walking for three days during the summer half term whilst non-walking spouses dropping us off at the start, spent the day doing touristy things and picked us up at the end.
Up the Cardingmill Valley onto the Long Mynd

The South West Odyssey started in 2005. Setting off from a point near Shrewsbury on the Go West! route, we headed for the Long Mynd and then along the Welsh border before turning deeper into Wales towards Brecon. 

The River Usk at Brecon

The western extremity of the Brecon Beacons National Park seemed an appropriate place to stop, so in 2008 we returned to the Long Mynd and set off on an English branch to the South West Odyssey.

Brecon Beacons

In Homer’s poem Odysseus, Greek hero of the Trojan War, spent ten years wandering around the eastern Mediterranean trying to find his way home to Ithaca. The gods chose to shower him with problems and diversions, but even so the eastern Mediterranean is small and ten years is a long time; the inevitable conclusion is that Odysseus was a pretty crap navigator.

Corn Du and Pen y Fan - Brecon Beacons
Like Odysseus, we will, doubtless wander. [update 2011 We have spent whole days walking southeast, and at least one half-day walking north]. Our wandering is not the result of navigational problems – ‘if in doubt follow Francis’ is almost foolproof – it is by choice. Our Odyssey is about the journey, not the destination. Our ‘Ithaca’ is, at best, hazily defined; we may take ten years to reach it, or more, or less, it matters not; no Penelope is waiting at the end fending off suitors with unpicked needlepoint.

The Black Mountain - Brecon Beacons

To find out about the walk or just look at the pictures simply click on the episodes below