This is border country where the western boundaries of England rub-up against Wales. These Welsh Marches, now a panoply of tranquil meadows, wooded hillsides, lakes and black-and-white half-timbered houses were once far from peaceful. The Wrekin and the Stretton Hills are the products of violent volcanic activity. Fierce hostilities between the ancient indigenous tribes and invading Romans, then later, the bitterly contested possession of the borderlands between English and Welsh armies together have left a legacy of ruined military defence works and shattered fortresses, wherein many men breathed their last. Centuries later, where the Severn flows through the Iron Gorge, Coalbrookdale was to throb to the beat of the newly emerging Industrial Revolution. One of the most memorable landmarks of the region is the extensive Offa's Dyke that runs for 168 miles from Chepstow in the south to Prestatyn in North Wales. It was built on the instruction of Offa, the king of Mercia from AD757-796, to denote the disputed borderland between England and Wales.
The 10-mile stretch that winds through the Clun Forest on the western extremities of Shropshire, is the highest and best-preserved section of the whole dyke. The Welsh influence in this English county is particularly noticeable on the western margins and many place names reflect this, for example Bryn and Cefn Einion.
Looking north from Ludlow are the Shropshire uplands, a sprawling crescent of hills that curve up the western flank of England. Wenlock Edge, now dark with trees, is a 16-mile long coral reef left high and dry by a tropical sea that vanished some 400 million years ago, described by the poet A E Housman in his work ‘A Shropshire Lad'. Its limestone has been quarried over the centuries, first for use as a building-stone, more recently for road-stone and also, unofficially for fossils. The wildest of these western hills, The Long Mynd, has deep narrow valleys carved into the ridge wherein run bubbling streams racing downwards to the plain. The Stiperstones is undoubtedly the strangest looking range amongst these hills. The jagged white rocks that thrust skyward at irregular angles from the treacherous quartzide ridge appear fancifully as the spinal crest of some historic monster or the ragged remains of a long vanished civilisation. The Devil's Chair, a stark bleak outcrop, etched by the erosive effect of the elemental forces, is a particularly striking example.
Country houses owned by long-established county families stud the rich green countryside south of the River Severn. Their well-tended grounds, such as those of Loton Park at Alberbury, stretch extensively alongside the main roads. In the south-east corner of Shropshire the Severn flows down from the Wyre Forest through rich agricultural land of stock-rearing and dairy-farming, past scattered orchards, manor houses and farmsteads to the attractive little town of Bridgnorth. The historic market town of Ludlow is perfectly situated as a centre for exploring the surrounding hill and valley country.
North of the winding Severn lies a broad level plain, its rich arable farmland watered by the river and its tributaries. Here, charming black-and-white timbered villages reflect the prosperity of many centuries, exemplified by the historic fortress town of Shrewsbury. The box-framed houses found here and elsewhere in Shropshire have three distinctive features - a base made from the local red sandstone: an extravagant use of wood in intricate patterns: a roof of slate obtained from neighbouring Welsh quarries. Slate has been employed in Shropshire since the Middle Ages, and its use helped to dictate the style of houses because its weight demanded stronger beams than would have been required beneath a thatched roof. As a result of their sturdy construction many survive intact to the present day.