The Secret Hills visitors centre is situated in the small market town of Craven Arms a half hour drive from home. A Monday morning visit to the dentist took us to Church Stretton half way to Craven Arms, so to celebrate us both being given a clean bill of health we decided we deserved a coffee at the Secret Hills.
The visitor centre itself is an interestingly shaped building with a curving roof topped with greenery. It was one of the earliest green roofs. The inside features a library and coffee shop with occasional displays of art and crafts as well as exhibitions to celebrate all that make the South Shropshire Hills so special.
As well as a visitor centre the Secret Hills has wonderful, varied outside spaces which afford the local community and visitors the chance to explore meadows and copse and walk alongside a small river and a pool. but there are also surprises wherever one goes.
The Undergardener and I began our visit in our usual way by visiting the coffee shop to enjoy a cappuccino and latte respectively. But join us as we slowly amble around the acres outside.
We ambled slowly through a young sloping woodland of coppiced Hazels, whose leaf buds were bursting the tangiest green. The trail took us across a rough area of Teasles and tough grasses and led us to the River Onny, which in this section is a calm, slow moving stream.
Near a bridge carrying the road over the Onny, clumps of Daffodils were in the spotlight of the sun’s rays, affording them a see-through look.
We enjoyed the peaceful, slowly moving waters of the Onny with rashes of seedling Himalayan Balsam and the occasional glossy petaled Celandine growing within the dappled shade of the waterside trees.
After half an hour of gentle rambling, we left the Onny and wandered across a meadow where the sticky buds of recently planted Horse Chestnut trees were coming into leaf in one corner and as we were about to leave the field, in the opposite corner we came upon a community clay oven, looking like a giant pot. It’s domed clay top was carved with spiral patterns, like the shells of a Ramshorn Snail.
The huge sticky buds of the Chestnut Tree look and feel as if they are coated in treacle, and as they open the green of the fresh leaves is bright as a Golden Delicious Apple.
A bridge across a dried-up stream invited us into a wood of spindly trees.
We crossed the wooden bridge into the patch of woodland, and beyond it we were in for a surprise for we spotted two pieces of sculpture in the trees. so it really is true what the old children’s song said “If you go down to the woods today you are in for a big surprise”.
We looked at the details, the teazels and spirals of branches, and looked up inside the chimney shapes.
After exploring the sculpture and listening to the Great Tits, Chiffchaffs and Goldfinches calling in the tree tops, we made our way back to a bench on the riverside for a rest. A Dipper flew rapidly only inches above the water and passed just below our feet. These are beautiful birds like fat Blackbirds with white bibs. They feed around the rocks in shallow fast-moving streams where they watch from rocks constantly dipping up and down, but this one moved so fast and we didn’t see it stop to feed. On the opposite bank of the river tall trees grew thickly on a steep slope. Here we watched Nuthatches, Treecreepers and Great Spotted Woodpeckers feeding frantically and flying from tree to tree. But the real treat was the view of a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, a very small black and white woodpecker which is now so scarce in the UK.
After resting our legs we aimed for the bridge that crosses the Onny where it becomes shallower and more rapid. Here the Onny took on the guise of a upland stream. From the bridge we spotted more Dippers and a Grey Wagtail, before moving on across the corner of a field where a stile showed us the way into the small Nature Reserve. We watched a pair of Red Kite soaring over the tops of the tallest trees. We made our way through the wood on narrow muddy tracks until we found the river once again. Following its banks we returned to the visitor centre dropping in on the community allotments on our way. Here tiny plots of land are available to local residents where they grow vegetables.
The Secret Hills is an amazing community resource for the market town of Craven Arms and a special day out for visitors.