The Heart of Wales line trail in the Shropshire Hills
A brand new and increasingly popular walking route in the Shropshire Hills is The Heart of Wales Line Trail, which runs from Craven Arms, in the heart of the Shropshire Hills, all the way to Llanelli, near Swansea. It is the brainchild of the Heart of Wales Line Development Company and the line’s travellers’ association, and is being developed with support from Arriva Trains Wales. It takes in some of the great countryside on either side of the railway, while taking advantage of the frequent halts and stations to make it possible to complete the trail in stages to suit individual fancy or ability.
The section of the trail within the Shropshire Hills is already fully waymarked and can be followed all the way from Craven Arms to Knighton Station, just before the Welsh border. There are intermediate stops at Broome, Hopton Heath and Bucknell,
The trail follows existing rights of way and also intersects with both the Shropshire Way and Offa’s Dyke Path, giving a circular route back to Craven Arms.
Leaving Craven Arms, the trail follows the railway for a short distance before quickly ascending onto Hopesay Common, giving just a foretaste of the great views to come.
There are optional short diversions at the start of the trail, including to the rather idiosyncratic Land of Lost Content, lovingly curated by Stella Mitchell, financially supported by the designer Wayne Hemingway, and bearing the impressive moniker of National Museum of Popular Culture.
Not far from here is the Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre, run by the run by Grow Cook Learn and housing an exhibition that provides a great introduction to the Shropshire Hills and including a fantastic panoramic aerial film of the area. Pride of place in its displays belongs to a replica of the Shropshire Mammoth, the original having been discovered in bogland, near Condover. Dated at nearly 13,000 years old, its location in late 1980s extended by 5,000 years the date when mammoths had been thought to have become extinct in Great Britain.
A little over half a mile south of Craven Arms is Stokesay Castle, justifiably described as the best-preserved fortified medieval manor house in England. Its Great Hall has been unchanged for 700 years.
The 15 or so miles to Knighton include not just fine vantages like that from Hopesay Common but also those witnessed along the final stretch along an old drovers’ road and Offa’s Dyke Path, into Knighton, just over the border, in Wales.
There are also lowland valley sections, reminiscent of those words of Housman, particularly where the route visits the valleys of the Teme, Clun and Redlake. Where the Teme forms the border, it’s possible to look across towards the 13 arches of the Knucklas Viaduct, one of the most iconic features of the line when it was built (as the Central Wales Railway) in the 1860s.
Other sights to watch out for along the route include the Arbour Tree, at Aston on Clun, and the dramatic ruins of Hopton Castle (on the short link route from Hopton Heath Station to the Trail). Fittingly for this world, in which time can seem to move slowly, Arbour Day is a tradition that’s thought to date back to Celtic times, in which villagers deck the black poplar tree in flags each Oak Apple Day, around the end of May. The Oak Apple holiday was scrapped shortly before the building of the railway and Aston on Clun is one of just a handful of villages in England in which the tree-dressing tradition endures.
Accommodation and refreshment
Hopton House is a rather special kind of bed and breakfast establishment, with its generous rooms located in an attractively converted old granary. You can watch the hens that laid your breakfast busily foraging outside the huge windows of the breakfast room, while other treats include lemon drizzle cake and shortbread on arrival and sumptuous big baths. Owner Karen Thorne even runs special courses for aspiring B & B landlords and ladies! Hopton House is just a few strides from Hopton Heath Station.
The Baron at Bucknell
The Baron at Bucknell is a fine country inn, offering home-cooked food in a lovely setting at the foot of the hills. A recent addition is a swimming pond in its extensive garden. Just a few minutes’ walk from Bucknell station.
Shropshire Hills Discovery Centre
Hopton CastleThis product has been developed as part of the Shropshire Hills Tourism Cooperation Project, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the auspices of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. The project is delivered by Gravity Consulting Ltd on behalf of Shropshire Hills and Ludlow Destination Management Partnership.