The Encyclopaedia Britannica's entry for Bishop's Castle is hardly exhaustive, but the brief reference to the critical role of geography was enough to send five of us off to investigate the area's walking possibilities. Although it now has a marvellous feeling of tranquillity, for several centuries this small Shropshire market town lay at the heart of some of the most fought over terrain in Britain.
There are several excellent pubs, but we chose to start and finish our walk in The Three Tuns, a former coaching inn, with its own brewery, dating back to the 17th century. Its helpful manager, Keith Kightley, sorted out a selection of suitable walks, promising a hot meal on our return. With a couple of two-year-olds in tow, we picked a short walk south of the town, to Cwmmawr Dingle - a path through ancient woodland.
Fortified with XXX bitter we set off down the High Street, ignoring the threat of rain. We headed boldly for the Norman church at the bottom of the hill before we were turned left along Church Lane. This path soon forks and we took the right branch, turning left almost immediately to wander up a track that forms part of the Shropshire Way.
At the end, we found ourselves in the front garden of The Fields, a whitewashed cottage. We were faced with a choice: either carry on in a straight line for a longer walk or turn right across open fields. The weight of the toddlers on our shoulders was beginning to tell and the pub's gastronomic delights were starting to call. So we opted for the shorter walk, stopping first at some sloe-laden blackthorn hedges. As we harvested a tiny fraction of the bumper crop, we looked over superb views of the Long Mynd - the 16-mile ridge that runs parallel to the border. In the past it was a place of mystery, with the rocky promontories of the Stiperstones surrounded in superstition. Today, it is a Mecca for hang- and paragliders. Although spectacular in any weather, the view was much improved by the sudden emergence of the sun, dappling everything in a warm light with the contours of the hills highlighted by the scudding shadows of clouds. The improved weather brought out the wildlife, too, and in no time four pairs of buzzards were wheeling overhead in the stiff breeze.
In spite of the hilly surroundings, our own walk was comparatively gentle. The toddlers were able to run alongside, chasing the dog and diving into hedges for the last of the blackberries. We continued over the ridge, crossing a rickety stile to be confronted by views north and west into Wales. Then we crossed another open field, aiming for a stile, beautifully framed in a wall of overgrown hedge and strongly reminiscent of a castle doorway. After crossing the next, much smaller, field and yet another stile, we were in the bottom corner of the wood - where the children were delighted to spot the white-and-red tops of fly agaric, those classic "toadstools" beloved by illustrators and garden gnome manufacturers.
By now, however, there was just one thing on our minds - how quickly could we get to our wild mushrooms on a bed of black mushroom rice and the casserole of chicken and duck? Just as important, which of the pub brewery's four beers would we pick to go with it? So the toddlers were swept on to shoulders and we completed the final half mile into town at a jog.
The meal was everything we had hoped and all five of us were soon too full to consider the afternoon stroll which the scenery deserved, but we compensated for this by watching a peregrine circling high above the town. Then we set off on a guided tour of the brewery.
Maps: OS Landranger 137; Pathfinder 930. The Three Tuns (01588-638797) also provids maps.
From The Three Tuns walk down to the church. Turn right and then immediately left. At the sign to The Pines, turn right and then left along the Shropshire Way.
When you reach a whitewashed cottage on the right, either:
a) Carry straight on until the fourth stile. Do not cross, but turn right. Cross two more stiles, at the third, turn right towards a wood - Cwmmawr Dingle. Walk through, going right at the footbridge and left to the gate. Go through and then left and walk down the hill.
Or b) turn right alongside the cottage, crossing a stile into a field. Go up the hill and over two more stiles. Then walk to the field's far corner and cross a stile in a tall hedge. Cross the next small field, turn right and walk down with the hedge on your left.
Either way, next go through a gate at the bottom of the field and turn right along a lane, then right again on to the road on the outskirts of Bishop's Castle.