When the Gods of Fortune smile on you by influencing your boss into giving you an unexpected day off work, then it would be somewhat crazy not to take full advantage. It was a very welcome scrap of good news and I desperately needed to get out of the house – a hike in the hills had to be on the agenda, come rain or shine!
The day in question fell on a grey Friday in mid-November. I was itching to properly test out my new Rab Prosar Down Jacket with a Mammut waterproof shell overlay in order to see if the dual combination would keep me both warm and dry in testing UK autumn conditions. Peering through the curtains at 7am seemed to confirm that it would be miserable. ‘Perfect’ I thought….
Examining the OS map for decent hill walks in the vicinity of Birmingham threw up the idea of the Shropshire Hills. We’ve climbed the Long Mynd and The Wrekin before and thoroughly enjoyed both, but the map showed an additional large green patch close to Church Stretton which we hadn’t seen before having an abundance of contour lines – Caer Caradoc. The decision was made.
We got up early and rustled up a packed lunch of ham, cheese and pickle sandwiches with a brace of hardboiled eggs and some cereal bars each. I made my wife Ali a flask of strong coffee with four teaspoons of sugar shoveled in, and a flask of tea for me. At 8.30am we packed our daughter off to school (freedom!), chucked the rucksacks in the campervan and set off for Cardington, a small village close to the hill.
We were still in the throes of a national Covid-19 lockdown, but exercise and isolated walks were permitted as far as we understood the rules. You try your best to honestly follow the Government Guidelines, but it is never completely clear how far you’re allowed to travel.
Pulling into the Village Hall car park at Cardington was a pleasant experience. The church looked idyllic and The Royal Oak pub perfect for a post-walk pint. The Royal Oak is a true 15th Century hostelry and looked incredibly inviting tucked away under the shadow of the church – sadly it was shut due to the aforementioned lockdown (and the fact it was only 10am at this point in the story), but we will definitely be back to sample their beer on future walks in the area.
The car park of the Village hall is free to use, but an honesty box is available to add some coins to help with its upkeep. I checked my wallet, and found that I had nothing except my credit card on me which felt a bit of a poor show. Another reason we need to return to Cardington!
Wet Weather Gear - great for Autumn and Winter Walking
Drizzle was falling in the carpark, with ominous dark clouds gathering above. The temperature was 8°C, but likely to be much chillier up on Caer Caradoc. I chose to use the following gear:
Top Half Clothing
- Helly Hansen baselayer – a useful under-garment with a zip to regulate air flow – works well at wicking away moisture from the skin
- Rab Nexus fleece – my trusty old fleece which has been on many an adventure. Traps warmth well but not too bulky.
- Rab Prosar Down Jacket – read our in-depth review of this great packable jacket here.
- Mammut Convey Tour waterproof shell – Gore-Tex breathable, windproof and waterproof outer layer.
Bottom Half Clothing
- Marmot Men’s Highland Trekking Pants – comfortable walking pants with reinforced knees and made out of stretchy soft-shell material.
- Berghaus waterproof overtrousers – excellent Gore-Tex overtrouser for protection from the rain. Checkout our roundup article on the best waterproof trousers to look out for.
- Salomon Ultra 3 Mid GTX Climbing boots – competent walking boot with Gore-Tex upper. Slightly narrow fit, but OK with thin socks.
- Berghaus Gore-Tex Gaiters – to cover most of the boot and bottom of trousers – ideal for splashing through puddles!
Gorgeous country lanes
We headed out of Cardington in a south-westerly direction, rain streaming out of the sky like arrows. My idea of wearing two hoods at the same time (from the Rab Prosar and the Mammut shell) wasn’t working too well – it was keeping me warm and dry but I couldn’t hear anything! I managed to tuck back the inner Rab hood inside the outer waterproof and miraculously I could hear the sound of some sparrows chirping in the hedgerow next to us. It felt wonderful and the fresh air in my lungs put a spring in my step.
We crossed the gurgling Heath Brook before taking a right at Cardington Moor Farm. Through a kissing gate (obligatory smacker received) and we were now heading north west across some very muddy fields. We were glad we were wearing gaiters.
I was struck by the lack of any sign of people. A buzzard was circling in the skies overhead as we passed in front of some rather lovely barn conversions and a masterful central farmhouse before we climbed over a stile onto the westerly track called Cwms Road at Willstone. The track headed upwards, and this felt like the start of the wild section of the walk.
Upwards we climbed with Caer Caradoc now visible in the distance, it’s summit covered in mist and fog. We turned off Cwms Road onto a steep slope with a myriad sheep staring at us. The Hills have Eyes! Alison handed me a sandwich and I munched it as we inched up the steep incline over boggy ground. The path was pretty clear – we were heading towards the North-most point of Caer Caradoc, with Little Caradoc in the distance.
Through another kissing gate we turned sharply left and southwards, with the bulk of Caer Caradoc planted immediately in front of us. It looked quite a challenging climb from our vantage point in the grey and gloom, but our legs still felt strong. Cloud was shrouding us now and visibility dropping fast. My Garmin eTrex 30x GPS tracker showed the direction to walk, but I could have just used common sense – basically keep heading upwards! After various stops to catch our breath, marveling at snippets of view as the cloud occasionally thinned we reached what felt like the summit – however, there was more climbing to endure before the real peak was reached. Hallelujah!
On the top of Caer Caradoc, there was an unusual assortment of natural rock formations which reminded me of Dartmoor tors and my childhood walks in Devon. The wind and rain were fierce now and I felt hailstones attacking my cheeks. We started looking for shelter in the rocks and upon finding some, sat down for a hot cup of our brew of choice. Nothing beats a hot drink when you’re cold and tired. I took the chance to assess the gear I was wearing. My Mammut shell was completely covered in water and was not really allowing it to bead up and run off – a new layer of Nikwax likely required. As a result, the Gore-Tex wasn’t breathing too well and I could feel sweat building up underneath. The extremities of my Rab Prosar down jacket had ridden beyond the outer shell and so were also completely soaked – however I was not too uncomfortable overall.
We headed off again along the ridge of Caer Caradoc, passing our first human beings of the day – a friendly couple with a cute dog. They shouted that we were mad to be out in this squall and I couldn’t help agreeing.
The path was now heading downwards and quite steeply. We were coming off the hill down to rejoin Cwms Road in the middle of a wooded area. Our plan had originally been to carry on southwards to Hope Bowdler Hill but with the time now being 1pm and our daughter needing picking up at 3.30pm with a few miles still to walk and an hour journey in the campervan back to Birmingham we decided to trudge back East along Cwms Road.
My legs were starting to feel it now, and I was secretly glad we hadn’t climbed the second peak. It was interesting seeing the Cwms Road views from the opposite direction, and never felt like we were repeating ourselves.
At Willstone, we decided to carry straight on rather than retrace our steps over the fields to Moor Farm. After a couple of miles we were back in Cardington and the campervan. I mentally wished my boss Jim a big thank you – the day had been wonderful.