Dixe Wills walked the complete trail, over 5 days, with Wheely Wonderful Cycling & Walking Holidays.
Walking the Wild Edric Way
In the first of a series on Britains' ancient forgotten paths, Dixe Wills walks in the footsteps of Shropshire's very own resistance fighter.
Historic views.. the ruins of Clun Castle on the lands that Edric once roamed at the time of the Norman Conquest.
“Are you walking Wild Edric's Way?” I ask a group of three hikers who are helping a stray lamb back into a field.
“Wild who?” one of them replies.
“Wild Edric”, I persist. “You're walking on his way.”
“Sorry, never heard of him”.
And that, in a nutshell, is the tragedy of Edric the Wild. Shropshire's very own version of Hereward the Wake was once famous throughout the land as the scourge of the invading Normans but nowadays, much like the path that bears his mane, he is largely forgotten.
His path, however, has few rivals for sheer variety of scenery and while other long distance walks drag on for 200 miles or more, Wild Edric's Way takes the hiker on a roller coaster ride through the very best of Shropshire - over hills, up valleys, beside rivers, along ridges, across Britain's slopiest farmland, and through an Iron Age hill town via several how-come-I-don't-live-here-myself villages in a shade under 50 miles and still has time to take in a slice of Offa's Dyke. Furthermore, it starts and ends at towns' with railway stations, making getting there and back a simple affair for even the least logistically minded.
My girlfriend is a newcomer to the world of long distance hiking, so brightened considerably when I told her that we were tackling the path by just about the most luxurious method possible and that the furthest we would be required to walk in a single day was a mere 12 miles. My assurances were borne out when we were met at Church Stretton station by the friendly and efficient Chris from Wheely Wonderful Cycling and Walking, who took our rucksacks from us in exchange for some maps, a compass and detailed instructions regarding our accommodation and route (vital since Wild Edric 's Way is somewhat erratically signposted). The first day would be a gentle introduction: just six miles over the Long Mynd to the hamlet of Bridges.
If you like the Lake and Peak Districts but aren't so keen on crowds, The Long Mynd is for you. This magnificent seven- mile long former volcano hauls itself up from the valley to lord it over the neighbouring Wenlock Edge. And aside from a lone cyclist, some sheep and a few circling Red Kites, we had it all to ourselves.
Edric doubtless passed here as he went to sack Shrewsbury for the good of the nation. What he didn't know was that he would be spending a good deal more time a few miles to the west, where we found ourselves the next day. Stiperstones is a quartzite ridge ain a National Nature Reserve topped with arresting outcrops of stone with names like The Devil's Chair (when it disappears in to the mist, the Devil comes to sit on it) and Cranberry Rock (when it disappears into the mist, thats' all that happens). If ever a place could be said to have too much view, this is it - 360 degrees simply isn't enough to fit in the surrounding panorama of tree-topped hills, crooked valleys and super sized skies. This must be deeply frustrating for Edric because he and his followers have been imprisoned in the lead mines beneath Stiperstones for the last 900 years as punishment for eventually switching sides to fight with William the conqueror rather than against him.
Far below, the town of Bishop's Castle is a feast of tiny independent shops, ancient tumbledown houses from a number of all but forgotten eras, and two pubs (The Three Tuns and The Six Bells Kitchen) that still brew their own beer. It is England as it must once have been, yet miraculously remains devoid of tweeness. Indeed, the only disappointment is its eponymous castle, which is now reduced to a single wall.
After a night at the suitable venerable Old Brick Guesthouse, we set off for Clun replete with homemade bread and brownies and AE Housmans's poem ringing in our ears: “Clunton, Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun/Are the quietest places under the sun”.
To sample some of the quiet we must use two co-opted paths. The pre-historic Kerry Ridgeway takes us up into some unseasonal snow before we at last strike south along Offa's dyke, which would already have been a thing of some antiquity in Edric's time. The descent along the Cefns into Clun, whose ruined castle can be seen from several miles away, proves to be another exercise in synapse snapping vistas. The Domesday Book notes that Edric owned land here and it's tempting to believe that he lived at Llanhedric (“Edric's” church), a farm that still bears his name.
Appropriately for such a warrior, the last few miles of his footpath are marked by two more castles. The first, Stokesay, is Britain's best-preserved fortified manor. Entering it is like being wafted into a fairy tale. Ludlow Castle, on the other hand, is very much a castle's castle - all bristling keeps, imposing towers and daunting battlements.
However, even these fail to dominate the town they used to defend. Ludlow is its own place, with a style that is still awaiting the coming of the 19th century. It's no surprise to discover, on wandering its alleyways and quite hilltop streets, that it's the UK's first Cittaslow or “slow town”. And the most laid back place of all is also our final stop - The Feathers Hotel, with its effortlessly elegant Jacobean timber frontage, its four poster beds and, best of all according to my girlfriend, its private Jacuzzis in which to soak legs that have just completed their first long distance path. The fact that it's probably the easiest way of ever achieving such a milestone is lost in a whirl of bubbles.
Dixe Wills, Guardian.co.uk
Wheely Wonderful Cycling +44(0) 1568 770755. Six days /five nights including accommodation, maps and luggage transport.
Trains from London to Newport with First Great Western. Newport to Church Stretton/Ludlow with Arriva Trains Wales.