Issue 144 Komoot Classic Ride: Ludlow and the Clee Hills

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Words & Photography Steve Chapman
Illustration Beate Kubitz

ludlow clee hills beate kubitz illustration

If you’ve heard anything about the riding in Shropshire it’s probably been about the Long Mynd. It’s an iconic venue and regularly features in lists of the best singletrack in the UK. As a resident ‘Shropite’ I can tell you that the Long Mynd is just the tip of the iceberg for good places to ride in Shropshire. As riding venues go, it’s pretty much won the bike riding lottery. Anyone who has a strong connection with a place is always keen to share it with others, and for those looking to branch out and take the path less travelled, Shropshire has a ridiculous amount of great riding locations – none that are particularly busy and certainly not crowded like some of the National Parks can be in peak season. 

The plan was to stitch together some of the best of the unknown areas of South Shropshire, all in one loop. Joining me on the route were two local riders (and friends), Eilish Gilbert, accountant during the week and elite cross-country racer riding for Torq Performance at the weekend, and Ben Yarnold, singlespeed aficionado, local framebuilder and owner of Teme Frameworks. We’ve all ridden together plenty of times before, but never linked all of these hidden gems together. 

Dammit, pedal

This route starts and finishes in Ludlow, a town known predominantly for its culinary delectations and beer – it’s also the home of the classic downhill venue Bringewood. As towns go, Ludlow is borderline showing off. It’s a medieval market town with a castle, a beautiful array of architecture, and more than a smattering of great places to eat, drink and be merry. We started the ride slightly off route from my house near the summit of Clee Hill. I’d promised coffees and there was also ready access to tools for the inevitable bike faff. The weather was looking good, a chilly start with damp air, but the forecast had promised some sunshine for later in the day with a bit of a blip of mid-afternoon rain, before ending well with some evening sunshine. 

We got things rolling with a gravel section that soon joins a broken road and onto the route for the day. We probably got a solid 100m under our belt before the first incident of the day… Ben went to put in an almighty pedal stroke and bang! The pedal came off the axle, still attached to his shoe. Damn! Back to the tools for a bit more faff.

After another coffee and some much-deserved grief for Ben for the shockingly under-serviced pedals, we were en route and winching our way up Titterstone Clee – the first Clee of the day. At 533m it can be seen for miles around and it looms over Ludlow – its distinctive rocky summit lurching up to the sky, looking like a giant breaking wave. We took a short detour from the route to go for a wander around all the old quarry buildings that remain on the south side of the hill. With some of the earliest usage of reinforced concrete, this post-industrial graveyard is left stranded in time. The hill’s somewhat bleak, eery quiet betrays its frenetic industrial past. 

Count the Clees

Following our historical walk, we were straight into a descent down to the village of Cleeton St Mary. This descent is a stunner; it’s a fairly well-hidden, little-used bridleway with around 150m of drop in a shade under 2km. I’ve long said that the best pieces of singletrack are almost always created by sheep – they just know the best route to take and their processional meanderings carve out some of the best lines to follow. The descent follows a fence line running along a huge open meadow and picks its way down the eastern flank of Titterstone Clee Hill through an area known as ‘Random’. The line down this descent goes from being very well defined to a lot less so – as you get to the halfway point I think the sheep just got a bit too spoilt for choice here. There’s certainly been a lot of them as you’d do well to get to the bottom of the descent without picking up at least a few of their ‘deposits’ on your tyres.

ludlow clee hills

As fate would have it, we got to see the final third of the descent for a second time, because as we stopped at the church in the village to recount the many near misses while also taking the opportunity to have a drink and start an early raid on the snacks, Eilish realised that at some point on the descent she’d jettisoned her water bottle. You’ll be pleased to know that it somehow, somewhat miraculously, missed all of the previously mentioned deposits. 

With Titterstone Clee surmounted we had the second Clee of the day in our sights: a short section of road where we passed the Three Horseshoes, the first pub of the day. We soon hooked a left on a gravel track that meanders through the beautiful Burwarton Estate, which comprises approximately 15,000 acres and is owned by Viscount Boyne and his family. The crowning glory of the estate is Abdon Burf, the high point of Brown Clee, which rises to 540m above sea level and is also the highest point in Shropshire. It is possible to ride up to the summit, but it has a steep tarmac finish, so we opted for a more interesting gravel climb up the other side of the hill past Boyne Water, which on a summer’s day would make a very nice wild swim spot. As we were making our way towards a small beech woodland which marks the border of the more manicured estate and the wilder open moorland of Brown Clee Hill, it started chucking it down. We took cover under the beech canopy and took the opportunity to inhale a soggy sandwich or two while the very seasonal shower did its thing. After the break, we passed through the gate that marks the border where the landscape opens up for a full panoramic before your eyes. With Abdon Burf summit to your right and Clee Burf just out of sight to your left, you have a luscious green rolling landscape unfurling in front of you between the two peaks at either side. 

Straight ahead was where we were headed. I was excited about the next part of the route as it genuinely is one of my favourite descents – it’s not technical if ridden at a sensible speed, but it is swoopy and flowing like any self-respecting singletrack should be. The descent starts from the head of five springs, which is creatively named, you guessed it, The Five Springs. Laid out before you is a sweeping green ribbon of trail that winds its way into the distance, seemingly without end. Picking your way down the trail, you start gathering a lot of speed without any effort as you hit turn after turn of natural grassy ‘berms’ which spit you out onto a wide open grassy plain. Just to the left of the trailhead, piquing your interest on the horizon, is an Iron Age hill fort called Nordy Bank. The fortification embankments make themselves known instantly as they are very clearly man-made. Covering just under nine acres, the site is pretty remarkable. This place is steeped in history and the evidence is all around that people have worked and inhabited the land for a very long time. Despite this, owing to the relative remoteness of the route, it is easy to feel like you’re the only human who has ever clapped eyes on the rolling splendour before you. 

TRD LGS

With the descent and sights of Brown Clee Hill behind us we picked our way back towards Ludlow on a mixture of small lanes, byways and bridleways, with a fair amount of climbing already in our legs, as we passed through the final off-road section we became very aware that conversation had become solely food focused, a sure sign that we were all bloody ravenous, and plans started to be hatched for post-ride scran. 

ludlow clee hills

Ludlow has a vast array of places to eat and for three hungry cyclists with a solid amount of kilometres and climbing in their legs, it would be easy to be overwhelmed by choice. But with the sun now firing on all cylinders we decided we’d pay a visit to CSONS restaurant/café that sits right next to the River Teme in Ludlow. Super-tasty food, a river and a patch of grass to sprawl on in the sunshine. Do you need more? 

We’d had a big day, and my legs were definitely experiencing the familiar humming tiredness you can only get from a big ride with a large dollop of climbing. There’s something about the gradual tenderising of muscles that leaves you feeling spent, but content.

With that familiar ringing of effort in the legs, a belly full of good food and a sun-dappled river flowing by, it was impossible not to have a huge grin on my face. It’s probably pretty obvious that I love this county that I was born in, but with body and mind satiated and the sun out it really did feel like Shropshire had put a show on for us today. 

ludlow clee hills

Why bother? 

Ludlow is pretty hard to top as a start/finish point for a ride. It’s got some beautiful spots to ride in, from open moorland to forest trails that have made their own mark in the history books of mountain biking. It’s in easy striking distance into Wales and has a great mixture of pubs and restaurants to refuel your body and stoke for the next day’s riding. 

This route is on top of the more well-known venues such as the Long Mynd, that although well documented, is still really, really worth visiting. The best bit is that you could easily ride a new venue every day of the week and still find new spots to ride or new combinations to link them all together. 

As well as all the great riding, there’s also an embarrassment of sites of historical importance, which range from the more recent industrial past to Bronze Age and Iron Age hill forts, Cairns and other features. 

If for whatever reason you can’t bring your own bike, you can always rent one from the many local bike shops. If the amount of climbing that Shropshire has to offer is a little intimidating, there are options to hire e-bikes for very little spend. These make a great option if you’re thinking of heading up to the local woods as the riding lends itself very well to getting in lots of laps with some pretty unreal descents. 

If you’re of the multidisciplinary persuasion, there is also some ridiculously good gravel and road riding that can take you all the way out into the ‘green desert’ of mid-Wales. Local bike shop Epic Cycles, located smack bang in the middle of Ludlow, has a whole host of local gravel rides featured on their Cross Cartel website. These routes are more of the gravel/adventure variety, but take in some more of the hidden beauty spots that Shropshire has to offer. 

For the walkers among you, it almost goes without saying that there’s also a lot on offer for your needs as well. Perfect for walking off a hefty meal at one of the amazing pubs and restaurants that Ludlow has to offer. 

If you’re not a fan of planning and you like all the details to be taken care of by someone who knows the area like the back of their hand, then you could always employ the services of a local mountain bike guide, such as (shameless plug) Rewild MTB (www.rewildmtb.co.uk). This means you get to fit in all the best riding spots as well as the best food and beer after a day thrashing about the Shropshire countryside. 

Accommodation 

Ludlow is spoilt for choice for places to stay, with options for every budget, from self-catering accommodation to boutique hotels. There’s even a Travelodge for those who want to maximise their time out without breaking the bank. 

There are plenty of campsites in the surrounding area with two sites just outside Ludlow that are right on the edge of Bringewood and Mortimer Forest, both of which have some classic riding contained within. If you want to stay out of town and be a bit more remote, there is a huge choice of places to stay – again falling into a range of budgets.

Travel Information

Ludlow is situated in the Shropshire Hills AONB in South Shropshire, approximately 50 miles west of Birmingham and approximately 10 miles from the Welsh border. Ludlow can be reached from the north and south on the A49, from the east on the A4117 and from the west on the A4113. 

By train , it is easily accessed from the north and south, sitting roughly in the middle of the Bristol Temple Meads to Manchester Piccadilly line. Change at Shrewsbury for Birmingham New Street, where you can get trains nationwide.

Parking

There are three main council-run public car parks in Ludlow, all with slightly different prices. Free parking can be had on one of the many side streets that lead into the town centre. Timing is key for snagging a spot. 

Food and Drink

There’s a huge choice of places to eat and drink. For pub food, some highlights are The Church Inn right in the town centre where they do a great range of pies among other things, there’s The Queens which has a varied menu, and the Charlton Arms that sits on the edge of the Teme just on the other side of Dinham Bridge. There are a couple of great Indian restaurants – Thai food and pizzas are also on offer and there’s loads of little cafés and delis. There’s also Ludlow Brewery which is in a converted railway shed with a big, cosy log burner, loads of great beers, and some great live music too. 

Bike Shops

There’s plenty of choice for bike shops in and around Ludlow, as you would expect with any area packed with great riding.  

Ludlow

• Epic Cycles (epic-cycles.co.uk)

• Pearce Cycles (pearcecycles.co.uk)

Church Stretton

• Blazing Bikes (blazingbikes.co.uk)

Shrewsbury

• Trailhead (thetrailhead.co.uk)

Hereford

• Climb On Bikes (climbonbikes.co.uk)

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Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)
  • Issue 144 Komoot Classic Ride: Ludlow and the Clee Hills
  • Kendo
    Full Member

    Looking forward to the gpx file 😉

    Mark Alker
    Full Member

    Have a look here? https://singletrackworld.com/account/downloads/

    We are in the process of phasing out the old system and migrating all files into your accounts area.

    Kendo
    Full Member

    Ah, great thanks! Didn’t realise that was a thing. 👍

    bravesirrobin
    Full Member

    Hi, I don’t see the GPX either in the Downloads section mentioned above or in the Komoot Classic Ride collection?

    Mark Alker
    Full Member

    You don’t see issue 144 listed in your downloads on that link?

    k
    Full Member

    I don’t have the classic ride gpx link in my downloads menu for 144, only the pdf, I books and kindle.

    Only one that seems to have gpx download is 142 but that puts .xml extension on when I download it.

    JackHammer
    Full Member

    same

    Mark Alker
    Full Member

    Thanks for that info guys. I’m on it now and we’ll get that fixed. Standby

    JackHammer
    Full Member

    Follow up question. I’m heading to that area in October, what it like if it’s wet/damp/been raining? Slop-fest?

    singletracktech
    Full Member

    I believe that everyone should be able to download the GPX from https://singletrackworld.com/account/downloads/ now. Apologies for the teething issues. Thanks to those who couldn’t see the GPX file for issue 144 for pointing this out.

    Steve Chapman
    Full Member

    Follow up question. I’m heading to that area in October, what it like if it’s wet/damp/been raining? Slop-fest? 🤘

    It generally holds up really well, so much of the route is old quarry so it drains really well. Enjoy!

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)

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