Country diary: I take the lane in search of the Shropshire Way

Little remains above ground of the castle which gave the town its name, but the roots run deeply across the northern end of the settlement. Around a community garden, a few low lines of masonry mark where the ramparts once stood. In the streets below, the story is preserved in the alignment of lanes and steep, cobbled passages.

The pavements are still slick from the earlier rain, and wood smoke drifts from chimneys as the cold of late afternoon begins to bite. The narrow High Street morphs into Church Street as the road makes long, sinuous curves between the mix of small shops and houses – leading down to the squat Norman tower of St John’s church.

In the churchyard, a gaunt sandstone obelisk records the lives lost in two world wars. On the memorial to the Great War, as the monument terms it, I count 33 names – a heavy blow for such a small town. Numerous wreaths from Remembrance Day still surround the plinth, studded now with raindrops. Within the church, a choir and orchestra rehearse Handel’s Messiah for the evening’s concert, and occasional fragments of the oratorio seep from the porch.

At the line “And peace on Earth”, I feel suddenly out of place, and take the lane next to the church in search of the Shropshire Way. The track, marked in the fading light by twin ribbons of draining water, climbs gently southward across the hillside between hedgerows busy with sparrows. Slowly, the view opens out, revealing the shallow sweep of the valley towards Sunnyhill, just catching the last of the daylight.

A hint of wind moves the tree branches, almost bare now and outlined starkly against the sky. With the sun well below the western hills, I am trudging in deep shade, the cold beginning to inch into my feet. The slopes opposite retain more light, but it is clear that I have left my start far too late for the circular walk I had planned. Retracing my route, I see the lights of the town begin to appear between the trees. Somewhere down there, I hope I’ll find a large mug of tea.

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