The Wynnstay is an elegant Georgian former coaching inn that plays a big part in village…
Comedians sometimes joke about the bizarre British propensity for grim roadside picnics but an official picnic site has been provided, ear-shatteringly sandwiched between Holyhead Road and the truly horrible A5 Oswestry bypass. But despite this testament to poor imagination, at least the Queen's Head is a convenient place to begin this delightful walk along the Montgomery Canal.
Clearing the way
This walk explores a restored section of the Monty, so it's worth saying a few words about the restoration work, which was started by the Shropshire Union Canal Society in 1968. One of the most remarkable things is that most of the work has been done by volunteers. The Welshpool stretch was the first to benefit, followed by the locks at Carreghofa (near Llanymynech), while the Inland Waterways Association's Waterway Recovery Group restored the four locks at Frankton Junction, with the aid of volunteer groups from all over the country.
Frankton Locks reopened in 1987. Since then, restoration has continued apace. South of Frankton, a new lock and aqueduct had to be built, but by 1996 the canal was open all the way from Frankton to Queen's Head, where a new bridge was also required. South of Queen's Head, volunteers restored Aston Locks and developed a nature reserve, on the opposite bank to the towpath, as some small compensation for the valuable wildlife habitat that is lost when an overgrown canal is restored. However, from a conservation point of view, the restoration has been disappointing in many ways, despite an agreement in 1984 between British Waterways and the Nature Conservancy Council on the need for careful conservation and sensitive management.
The section south of Queen's Head was reopened in the late 1990s and a highlight of this stretch is Maesbury Marsh, the best surviving canal village on the Monty. It's hard to imagine that this quiet place was once a busy port, but it was the nearest wharf to Oswestry, so trade was brisk. There used to be a factory, warehouse, coal and grain stores and flour mill, as well as workshops and offices. Most of the buildings remain, though converted to other uses. The Navigation Inn still stands by the canal, with the former tow horses' stables round the back, and boatmen's cottages survive too, though now modernised. A crane stands evocatively, if somewhat forlornly, by the wharf.
Join the towpath and head northeast, away from the A5. Within a few minutes you will approach Bridge 75. About 50yds (46m) before it, look for a gap in the hedge across the road. Bear right across a narrow, damp meadow to a stile, then continue, heading over a rise and down the other side. Pass through a gappy hawthorn hedge, then continue in the same direction to to a gate in the corner of a field. Turn right along a tractor track to the road.
Turn left, then left again, signposted 'Twyford'. Ignore the Twyford turn a little further on and instead continue to a crossroads (Bishop's Corner). Turn right on School Road, then immediately left on a grassy path called Hicksons Lane.
Turn left on Old Holyhead Road, then take the third right on Fox Lane, soon crossing the main A5 road on a footbridge. Go straight on through West Felton, then turn left on Woolston Road. The OS map shows several footpaths, but many are hopelessly obstructed so stick to the road for nearly a mile (1.5km).
After an obvious double bend and just before a small cottage, cross a stile on the right. Follow the line of the garden hedge, straight across the field to a footbridge and two stiles. Cross the boggy corner of the next field and continue straight on to a wobbly stile giving access to the canal towpath. Turn left, soon passing under a small bridge (No. 78).
Cross Bridge 79 at Maesbury Marsh, and walk through the village. Take the first turn right along Waen Lane. This becomes a stony track at a cattle grid. A few paces further on, leave the bridleway at a gate on the right (footpath waymark). Head diagonally across a large field to the furthest corner.
Cross a footbridge and continue over the next field, then across a stile to join a bridleway. Keep straight on, passing to the left of a house and along field edges until an unsigned but trodden path goes right, to cross the canal at the small bridge you passed under earlier (see Point 4). Descend some steps on the right and go under the bridge to join the towpath. Follow it back to Queen's Head.
Towpath, quiet lanes and field paths, many stiles
Level, low-lying farmland by Montgomery Canal
Good, but keep close at heel along Woolston Road
OS Explorer 240 Oswestry
Car park next to pub overflow car park at Queen's Head, between A5 and B5009
None on route
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Perhaps nowhere else in England will you find a county so deeply rural and with so much variety as Shropshire. Choose a clear day, climb to the top of The Wrekin, and look down on that ‘land of lost content’ so wistfully evoked by A E Housman. Peer through your binoculars and trace the course of Britain’s longest river as the Severn sweeps through the county, from the Breidden Hills to Wyre Forest, slicing Shropshire in two. To the north is a patchwork of dairy fields, hedgerows, copses and crops, broken at intervals by rugged sandstone ridges such as Grinshill or Nesscliffe, and dissected by a complex network of canals.
Spilling over the border into neighbouring Cheshire and North Wales is the unique meres and mosses country, with serenely smooth lakes glinting silver, interspersed with russet-tinged expanses of alder-fringed peat bog, where only the cry of the curlew disturbs the silence. South of the Severn lies the Shropshire Hills AONB. It’s only when you walk Wenlock Edge that you fully discover what a magical place it is – glorious woods and unexpectedly steep slopes plunge to innumerable secret valleys, meadows, streams and farmhouses, all tucked away, invisible from the outside world.
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