Yesterday I returned from my annual meet-up in Shropshire with my sister Hilary. Dubbed the ‘sibling saunter’, it’s an opportunity we take each year to meet in Shropshire, the county of our birth, and go walking without the encumbrance of children, partners, etc.

This year we went down into the Clun area in the south-west of Shropshire and the first day’s walk took us into Wales. Following an excellent route map (PDF) prepared by the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, we visited the prehistoric burial cairns on Corndon Hill (513 m above sea level) before making to the Miner’s Arms in Priestweston for a pint and finishing off at the Mitchell’s Fold stone circle. Legend has it that one of the stones in the circle is a petrified witch, punished by locals for seeing off a magic cow that provided them with unending supplies of milk.

There’s a very convenient bench next to the trig point on the top of Corndon Hill and it’s perfect for a breather and a refreshment stop.

Just south of Corndon Hill is a small outcrop of a volcanic rock known as picrite. This was used to make stone axes at around the same time that the burial cairns and stone circle were constructed. CPAT has investigated this prehistoric quarry, also known as Cwm Mawr.

Mitchell's Fold

A breather at Mitchell’s Fold

The porous, unclear nature of the border between England and Wales is well evidenced around this area by places with English names in Wales and Welsh ones in England. The border itself has moved around too. For instance, Montgomery – the site of one of the Marcher castles and now firmly part of Wales – is included in the Shropshire county returns of the Domesday Book.

Although our Corndon Hill walk was only 6 miles in length, we both agreed on its strenuous nature for fifty-somethings, albeit fairly fit ones.

As the first evening of our annual saunter set in, we were still undecided as to the next day’s walking route. Eventually we decided on a loop of some 10 miles in length comprising a section of the Shropshire Way to Hergan and its junction with the Offa’s Dyke Path, which here is well preserved and follows the line of the Dyke itself, down to Newcastle on Clun and then back to our base at the youth hostel in Clun.

Offa’s Dyke is a massive linear earthwork, roughly followed by some of current border between England and Wales. In places, it is up to 19.8 m wide – including its flanking ditch – and 2.4 m high, with the ditch always on the Welsh side. In the 8th century it formed some kind of delineation between the Saxon kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh. Offa himself was King of Mercia from 757 to 796.

So we set out from the grounds of Clun Castle following the Shropshire Way along the valley of the River Clun. The route is well waymarked and the Shropshire Way’s buzzard logo is well displayed on all signposts. After a couple of miles we climbed over the Cefns to Hengarn and Offa’s Dyke.

The junction of Offa's Dyke (on the left) and the Shropshire Way (on the right)

My sister, the great navigator, at the junction of Offa’s Dyke (on the left) and the Shropshire Way (on the right)

The section of the Shropshire Way over which we’d walked was shared with Wild Eadric’s Way, named after Eadric the Wild, a Saxon thegn (or thane. Ed.) who was lord of Clun and refused to swear fealty to the usurping William the Bastard of Normandy. The factual life of Eadric has since become interspersed with folklore, as shown in this article.

But back to Offa’s Dyke. The section we were walking is amongst the best preserved that remains. Furthermore, whilst descending to Newcastle on Clun, we passed the halfway point between the path’s 2 end points – Chepstow and Prestatyn. It was most fortunate we were walking on a Wednesday as there’s a community cafΓ© open in Newcastle’s community centre on Wednesdays between 10.30 am and 4.30 pm; the refreshments were excellent! I recommend the ginger and lemon cake.

Once back in Clun it was time for a well-earned pint in the Sun Inn before retiring back to the youth hostel. If you’re thinking of staying in the area and have fond memories of ‘old skool’ hostelling, you’ll love Clun YH. It’s a beautifully restored water mill with plenty of the mill machinery on view. Furthermore, it’s one of those hostels where people talk to one another. Before drawing to a close, I’d like to thank Sue the volunteer warden on duty during our stay for her helpfulness and very cheery disposition. We both hope the bedding inventory didn’t do your head in! πŸ™‚

We’re taking the sibling saunter back to the Clun and Bishops Castle area next year to explore inter alia the Iron Age hill fort of Bury Ditches.

Update: 24/08/13: About the time this post was published yesterday, the Shropshire Star reported that a section of Offa’s Dyke in Wales has been destroyed by bulldozer. Police and Cadw, the Welsh heritage organisation, are continuing to investigate how the earthwork alongside the A5 north of Chirk, came to be flattened in this blatant act of vandalism. Jim Saunders of the Offa’s Dyke Association is reported to have said: “The ditch could be dug out but the dyke has been destroyed now it will never be the same again.”