In the 1970s and 80s much of Shropshire was bandit country for walkers and riders. The paths were overgrown, ploughed up or non existent. Then pioneers Bob Kirk and Nick Wright decided to create the Shropshire Way, linking the Sandstone Trail in Cheshire with the Offa’s Dyke path. It was a huge task, but they worked with many groups in Shropshire and the way was open, waymarked (with a buzzard logo) and ready for use by the Ramblers’ Footpath Heritage year in 1980.
In 1983 the delightful guidebook was published.
In 2007 Shropshire County Council belatedly recognised the value of walking for tourism and took over the route to encourage walkers to visit Shropshire. However, it started developing a number of paths as the Shropshire Way so that it was more like the Shropshire web. The waymarks varied too, causing confusion. This prompted local walkers to form the Shropshire Way Association (SWA) in 2016, with Audrey Menhinick, Peter Carr, Marion Law and the late John Newnham as the leaders.
John had been responsible for the Ramblers’ Jubilee Walk, celebrating its fiftieth birthday in 1985, and that walk had covered part of the Shropshire Way between Clun and Ironbridge.
Over the last few years SWA volunteers have worked with Shropshire Council to identify the main route and ensure that it is open and clearly waymarked. It takes in six of Shropshire’s eight Walkers Are Welcome towns, demonstrating the value of walking to the local economy. It also coincides in part with the excellent Telford T50 trail which I opened last year.
On Saturday 28 September the SWA held an event to celebrate the launch of the main route, and I was invited to join in.
I arrived at Kingsland Bridge in Shrewsbury in time for the four-mile walk on the Shrewsbury Way, the final walk in the week-long Shropshire Way festival of walks.
On the bridge I found a Radio Shropshire van with presenter Genevieve Tudor; Audrey Menhinick, the chair of the Shrewsbury Way Association, and Sue Turner, the walk leader. They were waiting to do a live interview down the line on the morning programme. Genevieve was happy to include me, although when it came to it there was no time for me to say anything. I then asked her to do a recorded interview, which she did, and it went out on Monday morning. You can listen here (2hrs, 45 mins).
Thirty nine ramblers gathered for the walk on the other side of the bridge.
We set off beside the River Severn. I walked with my visually-impaired friend from Hereford, Marika Kovacs.
After leaving the Severn, the walk continued to the Rea Valley nature reserve, important as a green corridor and for its history. The mill races here powered the corn mills and are mentioned in Domesday.
We returned to the bridge, and there was time for Marika to look down at the River Severn which slowly wended its way beneath.
In the afternoon we met at the Trinity Centre in Meole Brace for celebrations. I raised a toast to the Shropshire Way main route and all who had worked on it. Audrey Menhinick spoke about the festival; this had attracted more than 300 walkers on the 26 walks. These had covered more than 200 miles (which was the length of the Shropshire Way). She reminded us that Wood’s pubs had produced a beer mat featuring the Shropshire Way’s waymark and offering a 10 per cent discount for Ramblers’ members for food and drink until 30 September 2020.
Clare Featherstone from Shropshire Council described how the council had worked with volunteers to sort out the route; a good partnership in these times of austerity.
John Gillham, author of the latest guide to the Shropshire Way, showed a video of the route. The guide is to be published by Cicerone in November, and you can order it here.
Now the route must be maintained. It is likely that it will be well walked, and the Shropshire Way Association has stage champions who care for their sections. So the way looks set to be a real asset to this beautiful county.