20080921_Hawkstone Park – Shropshire
When : 21 September 2008.
Who : Me and my Family.
Where : Shropshire, England, East of the A49 between Shrewsbury and Whitchurch near to the village of Weston-Under-Redcastle, SY4 5UY.
Approx distance : Maybe 3-miles for full route? … Approx 3 hours (per park’s literature) but allow more to explore properly or picnic or sunbath or take photo’s.
Significant height : Ups and downs on paths and tracks … all climbs short at any one time.
Maps : 1:50000 OS Landranger Map 160 Shrewsbury & surrounding area covers the area but not used. Leaflet map per link :- http://www.hawkstone.co.uk/follies/map.html
Start + End Grid Ref : 575,285 … ish
Parking : Free Car Park
Public Transport : Don’t know
Entrance Fee : YES … Variable, depending on age, group size, concessions, etc. We paid £17.00 for a family ticket.
Summary : According to the Park’s own literature : Welcome to the 18th Century walking centre of Great Britain, designated Shropshire’s only grade 1 landscape by English Heritage.
Hawkstone Historic Park & Follies is recognised as a masterpiece of the school of Naturalistic Landscape. Created in the 18th Century by the Hill Family, after 100 years of dormancy it was restored and re-opened in 1993 ….
English heritage recognises Hawkstone as an important component in our cultural heritage.
Some of the main features :-
- The White Tower
- Rhododendrum Jungle and Woodland Walk
- The Monument
- Swiss Bridge
- Gingerbread Hall
- The Grotto Caves
- The Awful Precipice and Ravens Shelf
- Gothic Arch
- The Cleft
- Various tunnels (torch needed)
- Reynard’s Walk
- At all times there are superb views and vistas to enjoy.
We had caught a little of BBC-TV’s Countryfile programme just a couple of weeks before and had been impressed by their “spot” about Hawkstone Park.
Although having lived in the midlands all of our lives, and reasonably well travelled, neither my wife nor I had ever heard of the place. We were both intrigued and agreed to make a mental note to get there sometime in the future, as yet undetermined.
The opportunity came much sooner than expected, as a free Sunday with good weather presented itself on 21st September. It turned out to be as nice a day as we’d had all summer long and we decided to pile the kids in the car and make the 90 mile journey across the midlands motorway network (M6/M54) to visit the park. A 180 mile round trip would normally warrant an overnight away, but on this occasion we decided on just a day trip and so save us a bit of cash.
I had wondered whether this post should be included in my walks diaries, but Hawkstone is much more than your average country park with its location, viewpoints, follies and other notable features, so I’ve decided to publish this page anyway.
Sensible shoes are a must, especially if you want to make the most of all the paths and especially in The Cleft which I think must be almost permanently damp. The training shoes we wore were quite adequate and there was no need for hiking boots.
Hawkstone is built on several hills/escarpments and as such there are ups and downs, some steep (but never very long) and not always on perfect paths, but that is at its heart of what it is, and access is by default limited for the less mobile. There are wide tracks, narrow windy paths, steps cut into the rocks, Rhododendron glades, tall trees, broad trees, view points, airy bridges over deep chasms and the laid out routes are interspersed with various follies and features along the way. Please refer to the park’s web site for their special notes, including accessibility :- http://www.hawkstone.co.uk/follies/Admission-hours.html
Soon the route became steeper as we passed the stocks and wound our way up to The Urn (look out for the fox).
Here the path divides with one route appearing to turn left contouring around cliffs. We didn’t take this route though, taking note of a no-entry sign which informed us not to go that way. There is a kind of one way system and this very inviting looking path is in fact the main return route, known as Reynard’s Walk … more of this later.
Our route took us onto a flight of stone steps cut into the rock, forming a curving channel leading us upwards. The steps have been worn away by countless sets of feet over the years, giving them a lovely organic, almost natural feel.
Soon after, following a short climb, we reached The White Tower. This is really an odd name, given the octagonal building is made of red brick, but originally it was lime washed which gave it its name. It must have been stunning in all its glory shining bright white in the sun, sat on its hill in the trees. The tower has a barred doorway from which you can view a waxwork scene; I think of The Duke of Wellington (of Waterloo and waterproof boots fame) drawing up plans for battle with his 2nd in command, Rowland Hill the owner of Hawkstone. My apologies if I’ve got the history wrong.
Leaving the White Tower, we basically followed the longest routes we could (using the sketch map leaflet as our guide) playing games like: don’t wake the Dragons in the Rhododendron Jungle; hugging Redwood trees; singing silly songs; using our imaginations to see giant petrified spiders instead of gnarled and moss covered roots and branches …. generally just having fun.
I think sometimes life can get in the way of living and it was nice all of us being able to have a daft time together.
The sun and blue skies peeping through the branches were very welcome, we really hadn’t had enough this year.
Following the twisty-turny paths through the Rhododendron Jungle and woodland walks we caught glimpses of The Monument, standing tall above the tree tops.
The Monument Tower is set in a broad clearing with picnic tables around about. A narrow internal spiral staircase takes you up to a platform near the top, about 100 feet above the ground. This makes a superb view point in all directions. I’ve read that 13 counties can be seen from the top, although it was quite hazy the day we were there and the distant views were a little blurry, but superb all the same. Climbing up the staircase with my kids was kind of reminiscent of climbing the tower of Coventry’s Old Cathedral many years ago with my parents. Care had to be taken on the ascent and descent as the spiral is quite tight especially when meeting people coming in the opposite direction. Just down the path a short distance from the tower is probably the best example of a monkey puzzle tree I’ve ever seen. Brill’.
There was interest throughout the walk, but I guess the best bits were yet to come, the park’s layout tantalisingly giving us more as we progressed around. From the monument a wide path took us past more woodland and views (we ignored the path to St. Francis’ Viewpoint and Cave) to reach a dividing of ways. There is a path heading down and around as an easier route to avoid Swiss Bridge, maybe important if you can’t cope with heights. We however, took the “harder” route to cross the extremely photogenic Swiss Bridge where it spans a deep chasm. This is really quite spectacular and is very airy as you cross the narrow wooden foot-bridge.
Immediately after crossing the bridge, the path climbs a few steps cut into the rock to bring you out onto a stunning view point, including the view to Grotto hill over a deep valley. From here you can see the Gothic Arch set high above a cliff face. We continued round on the path swinging anti-clockwise and quickly downhill to soon pass underneath Swiss Bridge where we’d crossed only shortly before and soon rejoined the easier path to cross a wide bridge over the valley and onto Grotto Hill.
Passing the quaint thatched Gingerbread Hall, we climbed up and around to reach the small refreshment area where we purchased ice creams and drinks, along with a number of like minded people. It wasn’t too crowded though and we easily found a picnic bench to sit and rest.
Refreshed, and soon raring to explore further afield, we headed into the grotto caves. The labyrinthine tunnels and larger, almost vaulted, caves are completely man-made, the original ancient mines (for copper ores I believe) later being adapted into their current form as the park was devised and created.
The torches we took were definitely needed as some of the passageways are almost completely pitch-black.
This stunning area commands fantastic views including a golf course, the bright green manicured fairways a complete contrast to the rugged cliffs and wooded hill sides. We spent ages sunning ourselves and exploring the immediate area, including finding another wooden footbridge, this time spanning the narrow gash of The Cleft.
Eventually we dragged ourselves away from the suntrap of Ravens Shelf, returning close to the refreshment area to visit the Gothic Arch, a classic faux construction built to resemble a ruin to enhance the views from across the valley.
Funny how we humans feel the need to improve on natures charms in this way, Grotto Hill would look spectacular anyway, but somehow The Arch does indeed add a focal point and is very photogenic.
The views back across to Swiss Bridge once again prompted the camera out of its case. In fact the camera hardly stayed in its case at-all, there was just so much to snap away at (I’m just pleased everything’s gone digital and not film).
We then returned into the grotto cave complex to rediscover one of the less obvious exits, found via a dark curving tunnel, which emerged out at the top of The Cleft. This is a deep gash in the rock with a narrow path descending downhill away from the caves.
Soon after exiting the caves we went under the footbridge mentioned earlier. It was exciting picking our way down the slippery damp ravine, trying not to get the slimy green stuff on the walls onto our clothes. The Cleft is a natural feature (enhanced by the park creators) but I believe essentially being part of The Wem Fault, a geological phenomenon of the area. I found a website that details the complexity of Hawkstone’s geology which I have no reason to dispute as I’m not a geologist … http://www.shropshiregeology.org.uk/sgspublications/Proceedings/2007%20No_12%2070-78%20Rayner%20Hawkstone.pdf
Nearing the bottom of The Cleft we turned left to descend through another tunnel to pick up The Serpentine Path, which eventually opened up to a wider track, taking us back down to The Gingerbread Hall where we re-crossed the broad bridge back towards Swiss Bridge.
Instead of climbing back up to Swiss Bridge (which was tempting), we turned right onto a path contouring around the steep cliff face. This quite long path, known as “Reynard’s Walk”, twists and turns on the cliffs, passing such places as; The Retreat; another path branching up through a tunnel towards St. Francis’ Viewpoint; Foxes Knob; The Squeeze; more tunnels and eventually reaching Reynard’s Banqueting House.
Justine (my lovely wife) likened this path to coastal walking, with its frequent ins and outs and ups and downs. All in all it was probably the most strenuous stretch of the walk, or could it just have been later in the day and a cup of tea and a bite to eat was needed. I loved the way the sunlight dappled patterns on the rock faces through the trees, some hanging on very precariously.
Soon after Reynard’s Banqueting house, (a tall arched hollowing hewn out of the cliff face), we returned to The Urn and it was very straight forward retuning to the entrance buildings and café, where we had some lunch and drinks.
A superb late summer family day out ….
We’ve resolved to return in the spring when the Rhododendrons will be in flower.
My next walk … The Malvern Hills and a bit of culture … just me and Justine – No kids !!! Use the links below to see my posts.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings ….