“By a series of twisty byways and capricious diagonals, I’d discovered the least stressful location in England: its name is Rectory Wood, Church Stretton.”John Walsh The Independent 19th May 2009
Rectory Wood and Field is as close to the centre of Church Stretton as you can get, located near to the Visitor Information Centre and Library on Church Street.
As the site name suggests, the area is part woodland and part meadow. Both the wood and field comprise steep banks adjoining and rising to meet the Long Mynd to the west.
Owned by the Town Council and managed by a group of enthusiastic volunteers, Rectory Wood and Field provides a cool and calm haven of tranquility for people and wildlife close to the town centre.
Recently, local volunteers assisted in increasing diversity of flowers and grass varieties in the meadow with hay imported from other local meadows
Rectory Wood in the 18th century
Rectory Wood once formed part of the grounds of the Rectory in Church Stretton. In around 1770 the Rector, the Rev. John Mainwaring, made great
changes to create a designed woodland landscape garden.
We know that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, a friend of Mainwaring and arguably the greatest British landscape gardener, visited Church Stretton and probably inspired the design at Rectory Wood.
A ‘Capability Brown’ landscape was usually on a grand scale, and involved re-shaping the terrain and enhancing rivers to create lakes and waterfalls. He was responsible for landscaping some of the finest parks in Britain, including locally Weston Park (Staffordshire) and Berrington Hall (Herefordshire).
Tong Castle was Brown’s only creation in Shropshire, now destroyed and partly under the M54. So Rectory Wood is Shropshire’s nearest connection to the work of this great designer.
Here the dramatic landscape of a valley with steep hillsides already existed, so the designing lay in the planting of a variety of trees and flowering shrubs, creating winding paths, and including surprising features such as fanciful buildings or opening up spectacular views. The partially preserved remains of this designed landscape can still be discovered: there are winding walks, a stream and a yew-ringed pool, the remains of small buildings, and a variety of views out into the valley and beyond.
Walks in Rectory Wood
The ‘Mainwaring Walk’ (red route) starts from the steps (2) at the far side of the Field, entered from the Church gate (1). The walk leads up a small valley, across the stream, with some steep steps to the higher slope, and an optional path up to the summit. It is about 1400m long and will take about 45 minutes, allowing time to enjoy the variety of settings and views.
At the top of the steps, take the path to the right along the side of the valley. (3) A brick wall marks the Rectory garden, with a doorway near the rockery, probably the remains of the old grotto. Nearby there is a huge old sweet chestnut tree with an amazing, twisted trunk, possibly pre-dating Mainwaring.
Yew Ringed Pool
Soon you will hear the sound of the stream and reach the yew-ringed pool (4). Here is the site of the old ice house in the bank on the left and opposite is the ruinous gothic building, once a pump house providing Church Stretton with water from the old reservoir above.
The walk takes you up the valley alongside the stream (behind the pump house a flight of steps takes you up to the Long Mynd). At the top of the stream you can enjoy the views down the valley and up into the Long Mynd (5). Here there is an old gravestone which forms a bridge taking you across the stream. Steps take you up the side of the valley under magnificent beech trees. (6) At the top the path divides: to the left a gentle path circles downwards to the starting point. To the right the path leads up to a field gate, with a small path on the left circling up to the summit.
From the gate (7) an open grassy bank leads down to the site of the former picturesque Tiger Hall on the right, whilst straight ahead is a small car park and beyond the Allen Coppice Sculpture Trail (green route) and down the hill to the left lies Church Stretton.
We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse of an 18th century pleasure ground. The landscapes that Capability Brown and his contemporaries created took many years to mature. Most of his clients would probably not have lived to see the best results of his creations. Things have grown and changed since the original planting, and timber from these woods was always used in part for commercial purposes – for ship-building in the 18th century, or props in the mines, or for the First World War trenches. Now volunteers work to maintain this attractive and historic landscape.