Church Stretton is a picturesque market town in Shropshire, England. The town sits between the Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge on the A49 road approximately 13 miles (21 km) south of Shrewsbury, and 15 miles (24 km) north of Ludlow. Shropshire is renowned for its rolling hills and Church Stretton is perfectly placed to take full advantage of this perfect walking countryside, indeed, the town was nicknamed Little Switzerland during the Victorian and Edwardian periods, due to its landscape and development as a health resort.
The historic core of the town lies around St Laurence's Church and along the High Street. With the building of the railway line and station in 1852, the town began to grow towards the new station, along Sandford Avenue. Today the two main streets of the town centre are the High Street and Sandford Avenue.
The town has been a popular visitor destination since Victorian times and today it is a bustling little market town with a good number of antique stalls, craft shops and cafes (including the Housmans Cafe Bar where you can bring your knitting along on Tuesday evenings). The Stretton Antiques Market (01694 723718), a thriving antiques centre in Sandford Avenue, has over 60 stalls and is open every day.
The Church Stretton Market is held in the Town Square on each Thursday & Saturday. The markets are open from approx 8.30am to 4.00pm, depending on time of year and weather conditions.
Caer Caradoc an Iron Age Hillfort sits on top of Caer Caradoc hill to the east of Church Stretton. The hillfort is reputed to be the site of Caractacus' last stand against the Romans. What is certain is that the Roman road, Watling Street ran through the Stretton valley, though today the modern A49 road, runs along a similar course to the Roman Road. The Domesday Book confirms that there was a Saxon Church and a priest in Church Stretton in 1086. After the Norman Conquest, the town of Church Stretton was one of the manors given to Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury, but in 1102 it reverted to the king. In 1336 Edward III gave the manor to Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel, and it stayed with that family until 1579.
During the 19th century, Church Stretton developed as a spa town, and Stretton Spring Water is now available all over the country - but locals can still get it for free from a tap in the wall by the Stretton Water factory.
Historically the town was known for its textiles, specifically in Carding Mill Valley. Carding Mill was built in the 18th century, and the carding mill closed at the beginning of the 20th century. The mill is still in the valley today, but has been converted into luxury flats. Today the "Carding Mill Valley" is a popular tourist attraction owned by the National Trust.
Walks, Cycle Trails and Other Activities
Walking: The town of Church Stretton has been designated a "Walkers are Welcome town" that highlights the excellent facilities on offer for walkers. It sits within the Shropshire Hills Area of Natural Beauty and many walks start from the town - indeed the Jack Mytton Way cuts through the town. The Carding Mill Valley near Church Stretton is a very popular walking destination, and The National Trust Information Centre has details of walks onto the Long Mynd and around the Stretton Hills.
The local authorities to their great credit offer shuttle buses from the town to various points on the hills. The Shuttles are 16-seater mini-buses, which provide easy access for walking, sightseeing, pub lunches, picnics and more. I think they are a great idea and you can use the Shuttle to climb the Long Mynd and enjoy the return walk – downhill - with breathtaking views. The Shuttle travels up the ancient route of the Burway before emerging onto the Long Mynd plateau where visitors may appreciate the flora and fauna including ponies, sheep, bats and wild birds including the rare Ring Ouzel. Listen for the skylarks, pipits and red grouse which breed up there, and watch the sky for circling buzzards and ravens.
Horse Riding: Shropshire is blessed with over 600 miles of byways and bridleways, crisscrossing their way through the countryside. The horse-friendly peaks of the Shropshire Hills compete with the north of the county where a varied lowland of canals, rivers, meres give way to the ancient hills of the Shropshire-Wales border.
Bicycle Routes: Regional Cycle Route 32/33 runs through the town, on its way from Shrewsbury to Craven Arms. The route avoids cycling along the busy A49 main road, with the exception of a stretch north of Craven Arms.
Yew Tree, All Stretton: The Yew Tree is a Freehouse and a traditional village pub with lots of beams and real ale. Food is served and it is very popular with diners. It is a quirky old pub with a quirky landlord. We visited in 2009 while camper-vaning in a farmer's field nearby. The walls are adorned with a collection of animal skulls, rabbit heads, rams horns and horse brasses. We enjoyed a pleasant meal and good beer, and would certainly visit again. The Yew Tree is situated one mile north of Church Stretton on the B4370.
Acton Scott Historic Working Farm: Acton Scott Farm is a wonderful visitor attraction for all the family to enjoy. Conceived by Thomas Acton more than a generation ago to keep alive the 19th century farming practices he grew up with, the farm was the first of its kind and has been much copied since. Tom's foresight has helped to preserve many traditions that might otherwise have been lost to modern day farming techniques. Today, the Historic Working Farm offers a fascinating insight into rural life at the turn of the 19th century, as farm life unfolds daily and the land around is worked by heavy horses. There are daily demonstrations of period skills and visits from the Wheelwright, Farrier and Blacksmith, providing a picture of life as it might have been on a Victorian country estate.
National Trust's - Carding Mill Valley: Covering almost 5000 acres of heather-covered hills with stunning views of the Shropshire Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Welsh hills, Carding Mill Valley is an important place for wildlife, geology, landscape and archaeology. Don't miss some of the best walking in the Marches. Take a picnic and sit, relax and enjoy Shropshire's food. Horse-riding and cycling routes cross a variety of terrains.
Myths and Legends
Caer Caradoc Hillfort is reputed to be the site of Caractacus's (the early British chieftain) last stand against the Romans. Caer Caradoc Hill is also thought to be linked with the legend of King Arthur.
In the legend of the magical Cauldron of Di-wrnach, the Cauldron is said to contain the treasures of Britain and a magical sword. The Cauldron lies hidden in Caradoc's Cave below the summit of Caer Caradoc.
Whether you believe in the ancient myths and legends or not it is well worth a hike to the top of the hill for the views from the summit of the Long Mynd and the Shropshire countryside.
St Laurence's Church : The Doomsday Book confirms that there was a Saxon Church and a priest here in 1086. The Norman nave is seen to be the oldest part of St Laurence's Church.
The present cruciform structure of St Laurences Church dates back to the early 13th Century when a larger chancel, north and south transepts and the central tower were added. The nave is 12th-century and has nearly opposing north and south doorways of the period. Reset above the doorway are fragments of 12th-century carved stone and a sheela-na-gig. Sheela na gigs are unusual decorations for churches, being pornographic images carved in stone. The origins of the practice are unknown, some believe they are left-overs from Pagan religions and may have been built into the churches after having been removed from an earlier structure.