England: Gliding Across the Border to Wales
Gliding the Long Mynd in the Shropshire Hills
By Mary Charlebois
When the hook clicks open, and the pilot catches the updraft, the cockpit goes silent. An ethereal mood takes over as the aircraft ceases its strain against the winch rope. You’re gliding on streams of air. Thermals carry you up, currents take you forward. The vista is glorious. It’s intoxicating.
Some say connecting a plane with no engine or propeller to a bungee cord, then whizzing it off the Long Mynd, with people inside, is unwise.
I think its nirvana coupled with a 3000 ft view of the magnificent moor, hills, valleys, woodlands, and sky.
The area is world renowned for gliding, hang gliding and parasailing. It has the perfect geological form for flying or jumping off the side of a mountain.
While gliding from Long Mynd, you’re surrounded by the Shropshire Hills. To the west, silhouetted against the sky, the rugged Stiperstones Range and its quartzite scree appear as a citadel, rising 1,759 ft above sea level. Wales, not much further west, is visible on most days.
To the east, deep valleys are covered in a patchwork of villages, fields, woodlands, farmhouses, dairies, and barns. Pastures are divided by stacked-stone walls and hedgerows hundreds of years old. Narrow country lanes connect to market towns where local bounty has been traded for centuries.
On the moor, atop Long Mynd, grazing sheep look like bits of white paper clustered about in the heather. You might get a glimpse of Exmoor ponies, an endangered breed that is considered feral livestock in this region. On my flight, photographing the petite, woolly horses was #1 on my list. They made an appearance on the airstrip while I was in the air. I didn’t get a look, they were chased to safety before we landed.
Bronze Age Ruins Abound
The stunning and wild landscape is dotted with Bronze Age ruins. Dozens of mounds, burial chambers, dikes, and barrows have been identified. They are protected sites in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), owned and managed by the National Trust since 1965.
Above the landscape, clouds, weather, gliders, and power planes are at eye level. An incoming rainstorm had my pilot watching the dark front moving in our direction. A glider pilot learns to read clouds as navigation aids.
Flat bottomed clouds indicate thermals, a glider’s elevator. Dark grey means rain, clear blue means possible currents.
Gliders have been launching from Long Mynd at the Midland Gliding Club since the 1930s. It is the only glider port in the region. Rather than a powered tow plane, a bungee cable and winch are used to catapult planes into the air. Rigid safety standards are maintained and verified continually.
The club is welcoming to anyone interested in gliding. Pilots and passengers start as young as 12 and continue into their 90s. Flights, lessons, rental gliders, accommodations, food, libations, and entertainment are available on site. Space is open to park an RV or pitch a tent. It’s an ideal way to hike the Shropshire Hills beginning with a preview from the air.
Eat, Sleep, and Play in the Shropshire Hills
Walking and Hiking
The Shropshire Way draws hikers from around the globe. It’s a waymarked long-distance footpath with almost 300-miles of tracks and loops around and over the Shropshire Hills. Rock features like Devil’s Chair and Stiperstones can be challenging but worth the climb for the top-of-the-world views.
The Bog visitor center is a welcoming place for walkers and cyclist to meet, have a cup of tea, enjoy homemade cakes, pies, sandwiches, and soups, or eat your packed lunch. Exceptional trail maps and guides are for sale here.
Get out and about on a bike in the Shropshire countryside. Take a themed trip or wander at will. Wheely Wonderful knows this region, it’s country lanes, friendly pubs, castle ruins, and picnic spots. They are full-service outfitters and will move your luggage to your next accommodation for multi-day excursions.
Canoeing & Trains
The River Severn is canoe friendly. Try a paddle trip down the Severn from Bridgenorth with a return from Arley on the Severn Valley Railway, a fully restored steam train, in operation since 1862. Sun Valley Canoeing organizes and equips this trip and many others.
Eat Ludlow – Foodie Center of England
Ludlow is the epicenter for locally produced fare and home to Ludlow Food Festival, England’s first food holiday. Enjoy wine, beer, cider, spirits, meat, cheese, fruit, and veg. This black and white half-timbered market town is thriving with traditional pubs, cafes, butchers, bakers, greengrocers, and cheesemongers operating from old world shops and town square market stalls.
The Ludlow Food Center features locally produced foods, fresh and prepared, all under the roof of a market hall and café.
For fine dining, book a table at Fishmore Hall’s Forelle Restaurant just outside Ludlow. All ingredients are sourced no more than 30-miles from the hotel. The 9-course tasting menu can be paired with wine. The cuisine served are works of art for the eye and tongue.
Real Ale Tasting – Tour and taste at Three Tuns Brewery and The Six Bells Brewery in Bishop’s Castle. Three Tuns is the UK’s oldest brewery, operating continuously since 1642. Six Bells isn’t far behind, in operation since 1750. If those aren’t enough, there are 16-microbreweries within 20-miles of Bishop’s Castle.
Try cider in one of the pubs. Its also made locally and often in small batches. Apple was my favorite, but the Peary is mighty refreshing after a long glide.
Bank House in Bishop’s Castle, is a lovingly renovated Georgian B&B in the heart of a medieval village. The distinctive home is classically furnished, comfortable, and welcoming. The host is an excellent cook who often leaves treats on the hall table for guests to enjoy. A full hot or cold breakfast is served to fortify a day of exploring. Book all five rooms for a group.
Lower Farm is in the micro-village of Shelve. Views of the Stiperstones welcome you to the Shropshire Hills. Two beautifully appointed self-catering cottages are available year-round. The host has extensive knowledge of the area and can help you plan your excursions.
From London, take the train to Shrewsbury, about 3-hours. Hire a car in Shrewsbury for your Shropshire Hills adventure. Be sure you have GPS, you will need it.
From Dublin, take the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead. From Holyhead take the train to Shrewsbury, 2.5—3-hours. Hire a car in Shrewsbury for your Shropshire Hills adventure. Be sure you have GPS, you will need it.
The Shropshire Hills are beautiful, with a mixture of landscape and geology that is found no other place in England. Start with a glider, then peddle, paddle, and hike your way around this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Mary Charlebois is a freelance journalist and photographer. Her home base is on California’s Mendocino Coast. She travels by train, plane, bus, boat, shoe sole, and auto. She digs into the culture, people, and history wherever she goes and isn’t opposed to a little adventure along the way.