If you go down to the woods...

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By Patrick Cruywagen

04 April 2020

Shropshire Greenlaning 2019 : credit: © Patrick Cruywagen

We drive nine of the scariest greenlanes in all of Shropshire

During my five years at LRM magazine this is my third time greenlaning in the county of Shropshire. In previous visits I have driven some impressive lanes, such as Cwms, Gatton, Rattling Hope, Hungerford Steps, Beambridge and Offas Dyke. The lanes of Shropshire can provide one with a delightful day out in your Land Rover. You just need to know where to go.

My last two forays into Shropshire have been with Stu Pickering, the local GLASS rep and general good guy. Stu has one big flaw and its red. No, it’s not his hair. He drives a bright red 20-year-old 4.0-litre Jeep Wrangler. Who can blame this former Defender owner when you look at the current prices of Defenders? Other than that, we consider him a friend.

As Stu knows the lanes in this area better than most I ask him to come up with something a little different to our previous outings. I would not mind if we did a few of the same lanes, but I wanted the trip to be memorable, and I have to admit, he really outdid himself. Without any prompting from my side, Stu came up with the idea of driving “the scariest lanes in all of Shropshire”. Now before the bunny huggers get all excited and accuse us of driving on illegal lanes and destroying the countryside, it was nothing like that.

Stu worked out a route (with the help of the book Shropshire Ghost Stories by Richard Holland) that would pass areas where some pretty scary stuff had taken place in the past. The idea was to stop at these places and then Stu would regale us with a colourful account of the story. How cool is that?

He should be pretty well versed at it, too, as he drove the very same route at night on Halloween. Remember, Shropshire has more than its fair share of dark forests, and I cannot think of doing anything spookier in a Land Rover. As I am a bit of a pussy (and night photos all look the same, anyway) we would be driving the lanes in the day, and what a glorious sunny day it turned out to be.

There were three Land Rovers in our convoy. Alan Cornes and Ellen Bridgwood were in their Defender 90. Alan proudly declared that he has manufactured all the extras himself on it, including the climbing wall-style hand grips on the side so that he could get onto the roof rack without using that rear ladder that he did not have. Genius. Then there was Andy and Bev Taylor in their Defender 90 V8 – Bev makes a mean Marmite, egg and salad cream sandwich, while Mike Buckley was in his Discovery 1 along with kids Megan and Dylan. They also had another passenger, Tom English, as he hadn’t finished the diff repair on his Series III in time. The route should prove popular with the younger ones, with several stops at old castles and forts planned.

Our day starts with a stop near on old railway bridge on Wenlock Edge, a 19-mile-long limestone escarpment that runs between Craven Arms and Ironbridge. It’s a place geologists and walkers come to get their fix. We’re only a few hundred yards away from Wilderhope Manor, which was raided by the Roundheads during the Civil War. The brave (or foolish) Major Smallman chased after them and killed seven of them! On another occasion he was captured by the Roundheads while out delivering documents. He made a break for it on his horse and when it got to the ravine he urged it to jump. It fell to its death but the Major managed to grab hold of a crab apple tree. They now call the spot where he made his brave bid to escape Major’s Leap. As we turn to walk back to our trucks, we hear a horse give a distressing neigh. I jump while everyone else runs back to their Rovers. This is seriously scary stuff. 

Our first lane is just to the north of the manor, it’s a short, sharp incline between two farms. Everyone is still shocked about what happened at our previous stop and so the CB radio is unusually quiet. The first lane is a gentle start to the day. We do allow ourselves a quick stop at the manor, which is now a stunning youth hostel. If you need somewhere to stay when laning in the area do consider it an option. The missus will think you’ve won the lottery, unless you take a dorm room. But beware as the Major’s ghost still patrols the hallway. (I just made up that last line.)

Boys will be boys  – splashing obligatory when finding a muddy puddle

We head south towards Beambridge and our second lane. This is the one the council have gravelled and flattened, thereby making it a whole lot easier than it used to be. Still it has a shallow ford and you get to drive across farmlands and through forests.

The car park at Stokesay Castle  on a sunny Shropshire day –  hence the smiley people

Our next scary story is at Stokesay Castle, easily the best example of a medieval fortified manor house in all of England. Do leave the car park and go and experience the walled, moated enclosure and impressive 13th century wooden-beamed ceiling. Legend has it that there is treasure buried somewhere near the castle but two giants lost the key when it fell into a nearby lake. Today, a raven stands guard over the lake. As we drive towards our third lane it watches over us.

We have to cross the railway line just south of Craven Arms to get to our third lane, but before that can happen I have to call the authorities to find out if there is a train coming. “You have two minutes to get across,” comes the reply. Once on the lane you go through a silver gate and onto a farmer’s field, we keep right in the deep tracks left by others. Once exiting the field there is a long climb into Stoke Wood. The track is hard and it flattens out near the top. I don’t think its been driven much this summer as the last part of the lane is rather overgrown.

You can’t get lost – just follow the green strip

We head south towards our fourth lane near Shelderton. It’s an absolute beaut of a lane thanks to the incredible views. The farmer has just ploughed the field that we are driving through but he left a thin green strip for us to drive up. It’s pretty rutted but we all easily negotiate the first bit of the lane before tackling the dog-leg and downhill to the finish near Kinton.

BBQ on Bucknell Hill

It’s a short hop west to our fifth lane and also the start of the many farm gates that we will continue to encounter for the rest of the day. Most of the lane is between high hedges on either side so I can’t comment on the views. It’s really just a link lane to our sixth lane near Bedstone. It starts with big climb and many ruts until we eventually end up on top of Bucknell Hill. Stu calls a halt and I whip out the BBQ. The kids are relieved as they can stretch their legs while I do some gourmet burgers and sausages for all. We are in the middle of a glorious forest and the sun is shining down on us. A pair of mountain bikers come past and I offer them a burger. They decline. Looks like they need a new pair of legs. We stop for about 45 minutes until there are only three sausages left. Our little group has consumed 12 burgers and 21 sausages. A fine effort by all.

To exit the fine forest there is a long downhill, this is followed by a dogleg to the right with more gates and downhill sections. I am getting a good workout with the gates which is good as I consumed a lot of meat. The lane narrows as we make our way to the finish at Bucknell.

The downhill on Sheep Dip can be hairy

Our seventh lane is Sheep Dip and it’s the most technical lane we have done so far. It starts off innocently enough as we make our way into the Bucknell Woods. The trees here seem taller than in the other forests we have driven though. I would not want to drive through here at night. We skip the water crossing and instead take the track right towards the finish near Vron. The ruts get bigger and bigger and the side slopes become pretty tricky – I can’t even get out to open the first gate because my door is against the embankment. Standard Land Rovers would not be able to do this lane the other way, especially after a lot of rain.

Our day ended with a splash at the ford near Clun castle

I am relieved to get off the lane. Time for another stretch of the legs and a scary tale at Hopton Castle, where one of the most brutal skirmishes of the whole Civil War took place. In 1644 the Parliamentarians (all 31 of them) held out for five whole weeks while defending the castle. Eventually they surrendered to the Royalists who then proceeded to brutally murder them. I won’t go into details, it was anything but pleasant.

On that sombre note we headed to our final two lanes of the day near Clun. Just a word of warning. If you need a wee before lane 8 then do so before attempting it. The ruts and rocks will have you and your bladder bouncing about, but you will enjoy the views over towards Black Hill at least.

Natural obstacles are the best – unless you have a roofrack

Just as we enter Sowdley Wood we notice a massive tree has fallen over the track. Reversing would be a nightmare and so for the next 45 minutes it is all hands on deck as we use the chainsaw, two axes and a regular saw that we have fortunately brought between us, to hack away at the tree. This is something I have never seen a walker or a scrambler rider do.

Take along the necessary tools to cut up big trees or else practise your reversing skills

It feels therapeutic in a way and with everyone chipping in (or away) the tree is soon gone and we are able to take the gentle gravel track through the forest to the finish at Woodside.

Our final lane is a northern traverse of the same Sowdley Wood. I cannot believe the size of some of the trees. I can hear the farmers ploughing the nearby fields but I cannot see them thanks to the blanket covering of trees everywhere. Some parts of the lane are a little scratchy with small ruts but it is definitely easier than the previous one.

For great views walk up to the ruins of Clun Castle  

Our final stop of the day is at the 12th century Clun Castle, an area where Edric Salvage once owned extensive estates. According to our book, Edric once got lost in a nearby forest while hunting. He eventually found a house occupied by several beautiful women and dragged one away to be his wife. She agreed on the condition that she could return to the house in the forest to see her friends. Edric said okay but after a while broke his promise and with that his wife disappeared. Edric searched and searched for the house in the forest but could not find it. He fell ill after this and died soon after. 

I know that taking in local history might not be for everyone. So why not make it fun for the kids (and adults) by turning it into a scary Halloween drive, and do it at night! You might run into the ghost of Edric or hit the jackpot and find the house full of beautiful girls.

 

Maps