On Wenlock Edge

Trip Start Jan 05, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

With more nice weather promised and a taste for rare flowers we chose an afternoon walk on Wenlock Edge, a 15 mile limestone escarpment  at about 1000' above sea level that runs between Craven Arms in the south west and Much Wenlock in the north east. As well as being a place of historical, artistic, mythical and geological significance and area of considerable natural beauty, the Edge is home to a number of rare plants and our target today was the Bird-nest Orchid which can be found in beech woods, which are one of the dominant features on the slopes of the ridge.

Our start was from the National Trust car park just outside the village of Much Wenlock. The car park is small but there is an overflow car park a couple of hundred yards further up the road. We set off in fine late spring weather and after inspecting the information board opted for the Major's Leap walk which took us on a fairly gentle climb on a path that in many parts was mainly exposed limestone under foot.

The major after whom the path was named was one Thomas Smallman, a Royalist officer in the Civil War who escaped from the Parliamentarian forces from nearby Wilderhope Manor but was trapped by them further along the Edge. He was carrying important papers and chose to ride his horse over the outcrop that now bears his rank rather than surrender. Although the horse (which probably didn't have much choice) was killed, Smallman survived and walked to Shrewsbury to deliver his papers. The area is supposed to be haunted by the major, which seems unlikely and by the horse, who can't really be blamed, although if I were he or she I'd seriously consider haunting his descendants.

The trail is quite easy to follow but was muddy in parts and when we got the chance we stepped into the woods onto a rather less well-defined path that followed the main one but was under the canopy and much drier. We started seeing orchids almost immediately, mostly what we took to be Spotted Orchids that were well passed their best, but also a superb specimen of Greater Butterfly Orchid near a large tree that has fallen ovr the path and needed to be negotiated with a little care.

The views from the Major's Leap (which looked like a daft place to jump off to me) were impressive and extensive and we spent some time chatting to some visitors from Berkshire and pointing out some of the local landmarks. They returned to the car park via the route we had come on and we continued on the loop, dropping steeply down the northern slope to a path below the edge which took us back to the car park. We searched in numerous places for the Birds Nest Orchids but didn't spot any, though we found a few fossils for which the Edge is justifiably famous - in fact we might go back there soon on a fossil hunting trip.

From the car park we drove along the road west to the Wenlock Edge Inn which sits on the ridge and stopped there for some refreshments and a chance to sit out in the sunshine. Ippikin's Rock is another well-known viewpoint on the Edge and most easily reached from the inn, from where it is a short wealk across 2 small fields, although they don't like you to use their car park unless you have spent some money in the pub. Ippikin was allegedly a local bandit who used the edge as a lair and buried the results of his looting near hear. According to legend if you stand on the Edge and declare "Ippikin, Ippikin, keep away with your long chin" the robber's ghost will appear and push you to your doom. If you were hurled from Ippikin's Rock you could certainly hurt yourself but at best the legend works intermittently because I have tried it several times and have yet to see the ghost. I suspect that it doesn't work at all, just like Candyman and mirrors.

After a disppointing meal in the Dragon King buffet we went to the Beacon with a full strength team including Steve and Pippa and more surprisingly my youngest, James who turned up just before the quiz began. i had thought that he was in Australia where he'd been since November 2011. We won, of course.
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