‘As stunning as the Lake District, just without the Lakes.’ That’s how one local sums up the Shropshire Hills for us, and he should know. When we pick him up, hitchhiking along a road outside the pint-sized town of Bishops Castle, he’s literally fallen from the sky, having just finished sightseeing the county from his paraglider.
Dropping him off close to the town’s Three Tuns Brewery, we continue through arches of beech trees and towering, over-ripe hedgerows until we reach our home for the weekend, Little Cwm Colebatch. One of the remote but refined properties offered by holiday cottage company Sheepskinlife, it serves up the perfect mix of chocolate box prettiness (roses around the door, Aga warming the kitchen) and contemporary style (buttermilk paintwork, deluxe mattresses and walk-in rain showers); not to mention killer views over a magical garden to fields and woods.
We’re not here to gaze, though, but to drink. This particular pocket of south Shropshire is home to more than its fair share of small, independent breweries and, on a tip-off, we head for lunch at The Bridges in Ratlinghope, the Three Tuns’ bucolic country tap house. Set by a brook at the foot of the sweeping Long Mynd mountain, inside it’s cosy with cushion-scattered wooden pews and a log burner. Five seasonal beers are on tap, including Clerics Cure IPA, which also features in the pub’s beer-battered fish and chips.
The next morning, we stop off at Bishops Castle Farmers’ Market to buy local Neuadd Fach pork sausages and generously spiced Welsh cakes, warmed on a little portable griddle (£1 for 3), before making our way to Ludlow for a pint of toffee-ish Ludlow Best at the Ludlow Brewing Co. bar. Just out of town is the Ludlow Food Centre, an earnest if slightly sterile showcase for the county’s produce. We’ve had enough booze cruising, we decide. Instead we stock up here on everything we need to make slow-baked sausages in the Aga (including a bottle of Postman’s Knock rich ruby porter from another local brewery, Hobsons) and head back to our country idyll.
Written October 2014