The Hunt Country

South Shropshire Hunt Country mapThe South Shropshire Country lies to south and west of Shrewsbury. The River Severn creates a natural boundary to the north and east, and the towns of Church Stretton and Much Wenlock mark our boundaries to the south and southeast. The Country is remarkably varied not only in its characteristic and appearance but in its farming practices too. The flatter lowland closest to the river is mainly arable with the odd pockets of dairy and beef farms.  The further one travels up into the hill ground the arable gradually phases out in place of grass, home to more sheep and cattle.  There is a huge difference in the types of country and it is possible to start a day in conventionally farmed lowland and end up galloping over heather and moorland.

The roads that fan out from Shrewsbury split the hunt country into segments, and each with their own unique characteristics. The most northerly quarter begins a Preston Montford and follows the river through some of the most sporting riding country. This country lies wet and carries a good scent.  Loton estate comprises of the cream of this country and runs all the way to the once Volcanic foothills of the Breidden Hills. The Loton Estate is immersed in Hunting history, and at the end of the 19th century was hunted privately by its owner Sir Bryan Leighton, before being taken on by the South Shropshire by Mr Dun Walters MFH. Most portions of our country have recognisable landmarks, the Breidden hills are no exception and marked by Rodney’s Pillar, a tribute to the Montgomery Landowners who supplied the Oak for Admiral Rodney’s naval fleet. DSC_9269-EditThe country to the south of the Welshpool road begins at the Onslow estate, home of the Wingfield family. Mr Wingfield was master of the South Shropshire in the 1950’s and the estate still runs several dairy operations which ensures Grass and hedges are still in abundance.  This area is mostly grass and comprises mostly of dairy farms, the soil is light which makes this area a favourite with the jumping field.  As this area stretches out to the south and west the ground slowly rises uphill from the village of Westbury and onto the Long Mountain. Although most of the old Wallop estate has faded the Long Mountain is shrouded in large farms who repeatedly welcome hounds throughout the season.  Despite being famous for its plentiful high birds during the shooting season, the Long Mountain provides great hunting with stunning viewing as well as quite challenging riding if you want to follow hounds as they run.  These Hills are criss crossed in bridleways so even the less adventurous  can keep in touch with hounds.168CSU_7837

The Rea Valley carved by the Rea Brook is a lush valley that flows from Marton pool and runs north into the River Severn. Again this section closest to Shrewsbury comprises of small mixed farms, with a good representation of dairy farms, and mixed stock farms.  Winsley Estate’s  beautiful woodlands are the centrepiece to this areas lowland country and still welcome hounds regularly.  Major Whitaker of Winsley was responsible for stabilising the hunt in the late 1920’s by obtaining a pack and registering them as property of the hunt country for the first time. This remains the case to this present day.  As we follow the Rea upstream, the valley becomes more defined, and the soft peaty ditches that service this low lying vale can be unforgiving for those that are hesitant.  Although there are few coverts, the riding is fantastic and farms like the aptly named Reabrook Farm not only walk puppies, but host a very sporting meet too.  Another couple of miles south and we reach the source of the Rea, Marton Pool. Immediately the country ascends up into the Leigh and Rorrington Estates which both have incredible contours for shooting, but their ragged, and heavily wooded valleys also make incredible music when the hounds are running.

Our biggest arguably our most impressive area of country is directly to the south of Shrewsbury. Although Urban sprawl and the relatively new ring road has reduced the country still fit to hunt. It has also altered the areas considered fashionable and pushed them further and further out. That said however it doesn’t take long to reach wild South Shropshire Hill Country. No sooner than you pass the Kennels on the Longden road the ground rises steadily. By the time you have passed Longden Manor, Home of our current Chairman  and passed the excellent Wrentnall and Black Lion Dingle the steep climb up Cothercott Hill begins, almost instantly you witness a distinct change, as you climb higher and higher. Within a couple of miles the Lush green grass of fertile valleys quickly changes to stalky white grass, and the dense thorn hedges replaced by bracken and windswept gorse.  This is without doubt the South Shropshire’s most distinctive area. At the one end The Long Mynd  sits just below 2000ft and has miles of spongey sheep grazed plateaus and bracken banks which are extremely rideable, unless there is low cloud or mist. At the other end  The Stiperstones on the other hand are an even more dramatic set of rock strewn hills with steep sided heather covering the valleys with a more dark and sinister appearance and feel. Both provide spectacular views across to the Welsh hills, and of course when the hounds re running. Both Hills are magnificent unfenced open spaces, the Stiperstones however is strewn with quartzite boulders leftover from the last Ice Age, and is extremely hard to cross on horseback.

Last but by no means least is the country East of the A49. At the furthest point of this country and opposite the Long Mynd is the Caer Caradoc another steep hill. The hill is volcanic in origin, formed of narrow ridges of resistant Pre-Cambrian rock, thrust upwards by movements deep down along the Church Stretton fault. The summit is crowned by an Ancient British Iron Age or late Bronze Age hill fort. It is this which the hill is named after – Caer Caradog in Welsh meaning Caradog’s fort. Local legend has it that this was the site of the last stand of Caractacus against the Roman legions during the Roman conquest of Britain, and that after the battle he hid in the cave near its summit. Although quite close to the main road we are still able to enjoy watching the hounds fly along its ridges. The Neighbouring Lawley Hill is equally impressive, but unlike the Longmynd this hill rises directly out of the ground with no warning, so there is no gradual climb to prepare you or your horse.  The Further north and east you go, the more varied the agriculture becomes, the sheep get less, and a mixture of dairy, Cattle, arable and soon to be Solar farms. There are some fantastic sporting estates, such as Pitchford and Eaton Mascott where the hunting access is so well maintained that crossing the country after hounds without having to stop and open a gate is still possible. From here very occasionally we run south across the immaculately maintained Harnage Grange estate and over the top into the wild and sheep strewn Kenley valley. Our country ends at the Hughly Brook which runs east to west bellow the colossal Wedlock Edge. This Wooded escarpment is the longest in England and the woodland runs continuously for 16 miles. Wenlock edge as been cited as an example of the most spectacular reef building the world has ever known. The reef was formed in shallow subtropical seas about 425 million years ago when the area was south of the equator at about the same latitude as the Seychelles is today. Some consolation for when its pouring with rain and your trotting through it looking for lost hounds. Another interesting anecdote about the Edge, is In the English Civil War a Major Thomas Smallman of nearby Wilderhope Manor was a Royalist officer who was forced to flee from Cromwell’s approaching troops after escaping from his manor. As he was carrying important dispatches, he was cornered on the Wenlock Edge. Rather than surrender, he galloped his horse off the edge falling some 200 feet. His horse was killed but the Major was saved by falling into an apple tree. He made his way on foot to Shrewsbury where he delivered the despatches. The area where he made the jump is known as Major’s Leap and is said to be haunted by the Major’s horse.