Brother Cadfael Car Trails in the Shropshire Countryside
"A county so widespread and varied, so full of history and beauty " - Ellis Peters
Unspoilt and largely undiscovered, Shropshire's beautiful rolling countryside provides the perfect setting for exploration by car. Abundant with bustling market towns, tiny villages, dramatic castles and elegant country houses, the county invites you to sample its rich and varied heritage.
Shropshire lies at the heart of the Welsh Marches and has a legacy of centuries of border conflict. Local castles date back to Norman times when William the Conqueror shared out his border territory amongst his barons. These great "Marcher Lords", who dominated Shropshire for 400 years, fought not only the Welsh but also each other. This conflict was probably at its height during the chaotic reign of Stephen when Empress Matilda fought in vain for nine years for the English crown.
Click the letters on the map to view trails
This turbulent period in English history provides the background for the Brother Cadfael Chronicles, the best-selling medieval whodonnits written by local authoress Ellis Peters. A Benedictine monk at Shrewsbury Abbey, Cadfael entered monastic life following his adventures as a crusader and seaman. Having settled down to a quiet life in charge of the herbarium, he is frequently drawn from his garden to scenes of human conflict where his skills as a herbalist are matched by his skills as a detective. For example, in the novel "The Vigin in the Ice", he is summoned to Bromfield in South Shropshire to tend the wounds of Brother Elyas, and in "The Hermit of Eyton Forest", he tracks down a ruthless murderer by using his powers of observation.
Follow in Cadfael's footsteps on our circular car trails which pass through picturesque towns and villages mentioned in the chronicles. Varying in length from 25 to 54 miles, they are designed to enable you to travel either direction at your leisure from any starting point. As the maps indicate, a number of locations are situated away from the main routes and can be easily reached should you wish to explore further.
As well as Cadfael sites, there are opportunities to experience "the best of town and country". Explore Shropshire's Little Lakeland in the North of the county or stroll through the charming streets of Ludlow, described as England's finest small town. Enjoy the unspoilt beauty and variety of scenery as you drive through the rolling hills of the South, the rugged terrain of the Welsh borders or the lowland plains of the North.
Untouched by progress, this rural landscape has plenty to capture the imagination. With or without an enthusiasm for Cadfael, step back in time and explore grand castles and dignified abbeys, follow the winding Severn or simply relax in the peace and tranquility of "Cadfael Country".
The Hermit of Eyton Forest Trail
Cadfael rode without haste through the darkening wood. The moon was already up and bright." - The Hermit of Eyton Forest
Passing through the heart of mid Shropshire, this fascinating trail of 25 miles covers an area steeped in history and rich in industrial heritage.
Many of the scenes in the novel "The Hermit of Eyton Forest" are set here and describe how Brother Cadfael tracked down a ruthless murderer in his search for a young Richard Ludel, Lord of the Manor of Eaton who disappeared from Shrewsbury Abbey in 1142. Follow Cadfael in his pursuit for the boy along roads which pass through attractive villages and tiny hamlets such as Atcham, Leighton and Wroxetor.
Explore the picturesque and dignified ruins of Buildwas Abbey, where the hermit Cuthred lodged with two of the Savigniac brothers. Nestling quietly by the River Severn, the Abbey dates back to 1135 and has substantial remains of a church, a notable chapter house and medieval floor tiles.
Enjoy a spectacular view of the Severn from Leighton bank, where the river meanders dramatically across the valley floor. England's longest river features prominently in Cadfael chronicles; things lost in the river at Shrewsbury often turned up at Atcham, like the body of Thomas of Bristol in "St Peter's Fair".
In the lovely market town of Much Wenlock visit the remains of the great Norman Priory, still a place of peaceful delight. The discovery of the bones of St Milburga, the founder, provided the inspiration for Prior Robert of Shrewsbury to gain St Winifred's bones for Shrewsbury Abbey as described in "A Morbid Taste For Bones".
The long, green, craggy bulk of the Wrekin affords outstanding views into Wales and as far South as the Cotwolds and makes a perfect spot for picnics and short walks. The woods covering its lower slopes are merely a remnant of the "great heaving fleece of woodland that spread downhill to the Severn".
In a secluded, wooded valley is the charming village of Acton Burnell where you will find a fortified manor house and ruined castle barn, believed to be the site of the first English Parliament.
Attingham Hall awaits discovery as one of Shropshire's finest country houses, with its lavish interior and elegant landscaped gardens. Nearby are the extensive remain of a Roman city at Viroconium, the beautiful ruins of Haughmond Abbey and Ironbridge, the birthplace of industry, now a world heritage site with a choice of ten museums.
With its stately homes and ruined abbeys, ancient towns and villages, this short trail, following the Severn, is a delight to explore. Dominated by the "wooded hog-back" of the Wrekin, there are still many reminders of the medieval Shropshire which Cadfael knew so well.
The Marches Trail
To the border...to meet with the Prince of Gwynedd" said Hugh. - Dead Man's Ransome
This trail covers a distance of 31 miles and makes for a splendid drive through some quite outstanding countryside. Many of the scenes in "Dead Man's Ransome" are set here and you may recognise Welsh-sounding names such as Glyn Ceiriog, Tregeiriog and Llansillin as you drive through this rugged beautiful terrain.
On the delightful run along the narrow wooded Ceiriog valley, follow in Cadfael's footsteps on his journey to Tregeiriog where he met Owain, Prince of Gwynedd. "He had all but 10 miles to go to Tregeiriog winding all the way through the enclosing hills, always with wooded slopes one side or the other or both and in open glimpses the bold grass summits leaning to view".
A few miles away is Glyn Ceiriog, a typical Welsh village which retains much of its original character. Beyond, the road climbs steeply and opens up to provide extensive views of the Ceiriog valley, little has changed since Cadfael's days. It is easy to imagine why Owain Gwynedd chose this spot to keep an eye on the ambitious Earl of Chester, always anxious to extend his territories into Wales and Shropshire.
A short distance away lies the tiny village of Llansilin, with its neat cottages lining the narrow streets. The village is mentioned in two Cadfael novels. In "Monk's Hood" Cadfael trapped Gervase Bonel's murderer into confession at Llansilin court, and in "Dead Man's Ransome" Hugh Beringar and his men passed through the village to meet the Welsh raiding party from Powys.
Set in the heart of the border hills is the tiny hamlet of Rhydycroesau, where two brothers tended the sheep fold belonging to Shrewsbury Abbey. Explore nearby Offa's Dyke, built to defend the kingdom of Mercia from the Welsh, where Hugh Beringar and Owain Gwynedd met to plan a campaign of action against the Earl of Chester.
The Old Race Course Common, once the scene of Georgian race meetings, and now a popular place for walks and picnics. Enjoy breathtaking views over the Shropshire plains and westwards across the Berwyn Mountains to Snowdonia. Overlooking the common is the ancient market town of Oswestry which Cadfael visited on his journey into Wales. Steeped in the blood of border conflict, the town, which has been both English and Welsh, still retains a strong Welsh culture.
Also awaiting discovery is Telford's spectacular aqueduct and Chirk Castle, set in its splendid park behind fine ornamental gates. During Cadfael's time, Chirk was heavily fortified to protect the town from the Earl of Chester and his followers.
Visit borderland craft shops and sample traditional artifacts such as pottery, jewellery and knitwear. Follow pathways along river banks and rolling hills, or simply relax in idyllic scenery of the Marches.
The Hugh Beringar Trail
The Manor of Maesbury was Hugh's own native place... there was no man who died not hold with him and trust him." - Dead Man's Ransome
Away from the dramatic hills of the border country, this 30-mile trail takes you through the gentle undulating countryside and meres of North Shropshire where you will find undisturbed villages, cloistered parish churches and attractive market towns.
As you explore this unspoilt countryside along quiet country lanes it is hard to imagine that in Cadfael's time much of this area was the scene of border conflict and much bloodshed
Castles which witnessed so much warfare have long since disappeared from the landscape and in many of the border towns all that remain are a few earthworks and mounds. At Whittington, however, there still survives an impressive castle gatehouse with twin drum towers. In the novel "Dead Man's Ransome" Hugh Beringar, the Sheriff of Shropshire, "moved east after his meeting with Owain Gwynedd to Whittington and Ellesmere to see his whole northern border stiffened up and call up levies as far away as Whitchurch."
In the charming old market town of Ellesmere, a crown bowling green, believed to be the oldest in the country, now occupies the site of the Castle which Beringar would have visited. This overlooks the largest of the nine meres and visitor centre, where the origins of this unique lakeland area and its rich variety of wildlife unfold.
You can discover for yourself the abundance of plant and animal life as you stroll along delightful woodland walks and trails which run down to the water's edge. This lowland beauty spot also offers opportunities for birdwatching, boating and fishing.
In contrast to such peaceful surroundings, capture the atmosphere of traditional markets in the nearby towns of Wem and Whitchurch. Steeped in history, these ancient towns with their narrow streets and splendid buildings are a delight to explore.
Along this trail are scattered medieval churches, half-timbered buildings and unusual placenames like Ruyton-XI-Towns. Several villages date back to Cadfael's time and include Maesbury, the fictitious home and lands of Hugh Beringar.
Above all else this is a trail of contrasts with bustling towns, peaceful meres and plains affording views of nearby hills. The architectural heritage is as varied as the scenery, with black & white buildings complementing the rich red sandstone which is so characteristic of this part of Shropshrire.
The Virgin in the Ice Trail
Cadfael's eye caught, for a moment only, the ghostly pallor beneath the ice."- The Virgin in the Ice
On your journey, step back in time to winter 1139 and relive scenes from the novel "The Virgin in the Ice" which feature Brother Cadfael searching for two young refugees from Worcester who have disappeared on their way to Shrewsbury. Lost somewhere between "the great hunched bulk of Brown Clee and the grimmer, more rugged shape of Titterstone Clee", imagine Cadfael's concern for the missing pair as it was "lonely country, this,and wild, even within ten miles of castle and town". Still secluded and unspoilt, the dramatic Clee Hills, which dominate the landscape and afford magnificent views across the Marcher lands, make an ideal spot for picnics and short walks.
Away from the open countryside, stroll through narrow streets in one of England's finest country towns, Ludlow, and explore its magnificent Parish church and splendid castle ruins. Troops garrisoned in the castle in "The Virgin in the Ice" provided Hugh Beringar with the force he demanded to defeat the outlaws camped on Titterstone Hill. Commanding fine views over the town and surrounding hills, this superb medieval fortress, once the headquarters of the Council of the Welsh Marches, has a colourful history. Gripped by Civil War and border clashes, much of the castle has survived to provide the perfect setting for Shakespearian plays during the annual Ludlow Festival in June and July.
At the small village of Bromfield, a half-timbered gatehouse serves as a reminder of the 12th century Benedictine Priory, scene of so much activity in "The Virgin in the Ice". Summoned to the Priory to nurse Brother Elyas, Cadfael needed all his skills to heal the monk "found by the wayside, stripped and hacked and left for dead".
Follow Brother Cadfael in his search for the fugitives which took him northwards across the Corve and the lower slopes of the Clee Hills. Discover the ancient village of Stoke St Milborough, thought to be Godstoke in the novel, "sunk in its deep, wooded valley between the hills".
Visit the ancient market town of Bridgnorth and enjoy panoramic views of the Severn Valley from the castle walk and from the country's steepest inland railway. Stroll through the charming High Street with its striking Town Hall and Victorian shop fronts or take a trip on the Severn Valley Railway, home to Britain's largest collection of steam locomotives. By contrast, experience traditional farming methods at Acton Scott Historic Farm Museum or explore one of the finest medieval fortified manor houses in the country at Stokesay.
Rich in heritage and surrounded by beautiful countryside, this drive offers a fascinating insight into an area which has changed little since Cadfael's time. Remote and unspoilt, this is an ideal location for relaxation and quiet enjoyment.