Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
The hills of Shropshire are part of my own childhood memories; my grandmother lived in Shrewsbury and we visited regularly. There were often family picnics in nearby Cardingmill Valley, and a recent mini holiday in the area gave me the opportunity to rediscover this beautiful spot.
A brief history lesson
It’s perhaps hard to imagine that these wild-looking hills have any association with human industry, beyond perhaps sheep farming. But the clue is in the name. In 1812 a carding mill was built in the valley. Carding is the process of combing fleeces, to prepare them to be spun. At first the wool, once carded, was sold to the women of the local villages who would spin the yarn in their own cottages. But in 1824 a George Corfield bought the mill and expanded it. He built a factory there and installed spinning jennies and hand looms to manufacture cloth. However there wasn’t the concentration of woollen industry activity here that was found elsewhere in the country, such as Yorkshire’s West Riding. So George diversified into clothing manufacture.
The 1880s saw him diversifying further, making ginger beer and soda water in one part of the factory, and setting up a tea room in another. People in Britain were starting to use the new-found wealth and leisure time that industrialisation had brought them to explore the countryside. Church Stretton, at the foot of the valley, was developing into a spa town, marketing itself as ‘Little Switzerland’.
Meanwhile a reservoir had been built in Townbrook Hollow, and a later one followed in 1902 in New Pool Hollow. The mill was demolished in 1912 and the factory was turned into an hotel and café. Later it was converted to flats; and a ‘Chalet Pavilion, was imported from Scandinavia to be used as a tea-room for day-trippers. Tourism was firmly established as Cardingmill Valley’s main industry!
The valley today
Today the valley is protected by the National Trust, who charge for parking (£5 all day in 2021) but not for admission. In return for your parking fee you get well-maintained walking trails; rangers on hand to answer questions and deal with litter (an unfortunate necessity); and a small visitor centre and café. There are a number of marked trails ranging from easy strolls through the valley to lengthy hikes on the hills.
New Pond Hollow
With limited time we settled on one of the shorter trails, to the reservoir at New Pond Hollow. This is a gentle climb up a side valley, with a flight of steps cut into the hillside just before arriving at the reservoir.
Once there we decided to lengthen our walk a little by following the path along one side of the reservoir and through the woods above the stream that feeds it. We crossed the stream higher up and found that the path then emerged out into the open for the return stretch. Here are some of the photos I took on this pretty walk.
I also shot a few clips of video in an attempt to capture the tranquillity of this place. Do please watch with the sound on!
Back at the visitor centre we rewarded ourselves with ice creams before we had to leave to continue our journey to Shrewsbury. It had been a brief but lovely visit to my own ‘blue remembered hills’.
I visited Cardingmill Valley in July 2021