The awesome Shropshire Hills and a town there known as ‘Little Switzerland’ will leave Mamils (that’s Middle-Aged Men In Lycra) feeling on top of the world
- Church Stretton in Shropshire has long since carried the nickname of ‘Little Switzerland’
- That’s partly because from here cyclists can tackle one of Britain’s most iconic road climbs – the Burway
- ‘There’s no warm up. The road rises like a serpent, straight from the market square,’ reveals Steve Thomas
While planning the day at breakfast, there’s an elephant in the room. In this particular case the elephant takes the form of the steeply sided and flat-topped Long Mynd, one of the burly bigger brothers that make up the Shropshire Hills, a string of heather topped mounds and ridges that dominate the Welsh borderland skyline of South Shropshire.
The routes up them are heaven for ‘Mamils’ (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra) and not for the fainthearted, but give them a go and you’ll be thrilled with the results.
The old market and spa town of Church Stretton lies at the foot of the Mynd, and makes for the ideal base for cycling in this region, which ranks as one of the best areas in the country for back-road biking.
Steve Thomas completes a steep climb in the Shropshire Hills with rolling countryside behind
Church Stretton, pictured, lies at the foot of the Mynd, and makes for the ideal base for cycling in this region
Because the town sits in a narrow and flat-bottomed valley it would be fair to assume that there should be plenty of flat riding here. But sadly for cyclists, the Romans built Watling Street through the valley, which later became the busy A49 trunk road. The road is a place of dice rolling where cycling is concerned, hence it’s always better to add on a few miles or a killer climb to get out of town safely.
Church Stretton has long since carried the nickname of ‘Little Switzerland’, and as you brave the steep and narrow climb of the Burway (which hits a gradient of 20 per cent in places) you soon find out why. And yet the challenge of riding one of Britain’s most iconic road climbs is something most cyclists cannot resist.
There’s no warm up. The road rises like a skinny Tarmac serpent, straight from the market square.
Local cyclists Sandy Plenty and Stuey Gwyynn tackle a trail on a canvas of verdant fields and hedgerows
Wild ponies, pictured here on the Long Mynd, are some of the inhabitants in the area
It follows a daunting knife’s edge line carved into the side of the Carding Mill Valley before eventually emerging on the rolling plateau of the Long Mynd.
The Mynd tops out at 1,693ft (516 meters), and is roamed by small wild horses and hill sheep. Panoramic views open up in every direction.
It’s a cruel but worthy start to a ride, and something of a baptism of fire to riding in this area. Luckily, once you get over this huge hill it’s mostly rolling and idyllic country roads ahead.
I was raised near these roads, and the recommended routes here offer up some of the finest road-ride options in the area. They may look a tad short to experienced riders, but they do come with a hilly punch or three.
Three great loops from Church Stretton
LANES AND CASTLES DISTANCE: 26 miles.
ROUTE: Go through All Stretton to Acton Burnell, Kenley, Church Preen, Cardington, Longville, Acton Scott, then follow the minor road back to town. There’s a flat start, then a series of short climbs mid-ride, followed by rolling roads and a steady drag before dropping back to the finish.
Expect quiet lanes, with a couple of short B-road sections. There is an old castle on the edge of Acton Burnell (free entry), which is worth a look.
PIT STOPS: In Cardington, the 15th-century Royal Oak makes a great stop-off, with local delicacies and ales on the menu (at-the-oak.com). There are a couple of village shops along the route for refreshments (including Acton Burnell post office).
UP TO DEVIL’S CHAIR DISTANCE: 27 miles.
ROUTE: Head north through All Stretton to Smethcott, then roll onwards to Pulverbatch and Minsterley. Climb to Snailbeach and Stiperstones, and drop down to Bridges before climbing back over the Long Mynd to finish.
There are rolling lanes most of the way, with a few short sections of B-road and one quiet A-road stretch. A long steady climb takes you over the Stiperstones, and a steep climb from Bridges over the Mynd to the end.
PIT STOPS: If you have suitable shoes for walking, then take the trail from above The Bog to the Devil’s Chair at the top of the Stiperstones, a scenic spot shrouded in myth and mystery. The historic Stiperstones Inn offers a welcome mid-ride break (stiperstonesinn.co.uk).
Sandy Plenty and Stuey Gwyynn cycling in the Shropshire Hills, a string of heather topped mounds and ridges that dominate the Welsh borderland skyline of South Shropshire
There is a plethora of hotels, B&Bs, selfcatering, glamping and camping options in and around Church Stretton. In Clun, try the White Horse Inn (whi-clun.co.uk).
INN TO THE HILLS DISTANCE: 41 miles.
ROUTE: Climb the Burway and ride over the Long Mynd. Then descend to Asterton and follow the lanes to Bishops Castle and then head south to Clun.
Take the minor lanes to New Invention, Clungunford, Aston on Clun, Edgton, and descend via Minton and then back to Church Stretton.
This ride has a steep start followed by rolling roads to Clun. The midsection and the end are hilly. The route is mainly on quiet lanes.
PIT STOPS: Bishops Castle is a charming town with a lovely old pub and brewery, the Three Tuns Inn, once frequented by former local resident Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin (threetunsinn.co.uk).
Also stop by the old riverside castle at Clun, well worth a look.
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