Peacefully situated in five acres of grounds, this charming old house dates back to around 1840…
Its Welsh name is Cyrn y Bwch (Horns of the Buck) which sounds less prosaic than Racecourse Common, but there really was a racecourse here where the local squirearchy, from both sides of the border, held race meetings from the early 1700s until 1848. Apparently, the main event was the impressive-sounding Sir Watkin Williams Wynn Cup. You can still see traces of the course, which was returfed by French prisoners during the Napoleonic wars. It’s sometimes loosely described as a ‘Figure 8’ shape, but this is misleading as the tracks did not actually cross – the potential dangers of which are only too obvious!
Apart from the grassy traces of the course itself, the most significant relic of the sporting past is the ruin of the grandstand, which lies not far from the car park and is easily visited towards the end of the walk. It was evidently a substantial stone strike and is believed to have been built in 1804. A board nearby gives more information about the grandstand and the general history of the racecourse.
There’s also a view indicator at one end of the ruins – but no view! Clearly the trees have grown since this was emplaced. Still, but there is plenty of chance, mainly as you follow a quiet lane after the second crossing of the B4580, to take in a wide prospect to the east. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this view is the contrast between the north Shropshire plain and the south Shropshire hills, and you can identify the locations of many of the other local landmarks. The view indicator may be some help with this, but you’re bound to notice that the vertical dimension has been greatly exaggerated, making the Clee Hills, Caer Caradoc and Stiperstones look like something from the Lake District.
Life’s a Beech
Later in the walk you follow the line of Offa’s Dyke through beautiful Candy Wood, above the steep slopes of Craig Forda. The wood is dominated by oaks, but there are some superb beech trees too, which must have been planted, as beech is not native this far north. The beechwoods of the Cotswolds are generally believed to be growing at the beech’s natural northern limit, but it does well when planted, not just here in the Marches, but as far north as Scotland.
At an explanatory board near the car park, turn right on a wide green path – part of the old racecourse – which runs parallel to the road. Follow this, crossing several access tracks. Cross the B4580 to access the northern part of the common. The path forks immediately: keep right. As you approach the far end of the common, take a worn path on the right at a Shropshire Way signpost. The path is narrow but well trodden, with bracken to the right of it and gorse bushes and rowan trees to the left.
The path soon leaves the common by another Shropshire Way sign. Continue for a very short distance, keeping your eyes open for a path going off to the right at a stile. Walk across a brackeny pasture, with scattered trees. Power lines give a rough guide to the far corner where you find a stile. Cross this, continue to another and then go straight on to the B4580.
Turn left on the footway then first right on a quiet lane. Follow it to a junction, where you turn right, then immediately left on Bwlch Lane. Pass the turning to Cwm Sychtyn and continue until the lane bends abruptly left. Go forward on a footpath that uses the driveway of The Old Farm, then bears left across a lawned area to a stile. Cross a track to enter a field and go diagonally to the far corner. Use the plank bridge as a pointer across the next field to a stile leading into Gwalia Wood.
Follow a path through the wood and into a field. Go diagonally towards the far corner, guided by a group of tall sycamore trees, and then across the next field to a stile giving access to woodland at Sheep Walk. Turn left, soon crossing a track and going straight on as indicated by a waymarker. The downhill path is narrow, but clear enough. Another waymarker guides you left alongside a cleared (but rapidly regrowing) area to meet a grassy path.
Turn right, keeping the cleared area on your right, then right once more to join Offa's Dyke Path, recognisable by the acorn logo that signifies a National Trail. Follow the path beside the prominent earth- and stoneworks of Offa's Dyke through Candy Wood.
Switch to the other side of the Dyke at a waymarked junction, pass a pasture and continue through the adjacent Racecourse Wood until a gate gives access to Racecourse Common. Fork left here to visit the old grandstand or go right, soon joining the racecourse again, to return to the car park.
Undefined across fields but not hard to follow, excellent paths in woodland and on common, many stiles
Woods, commons and pasture
Can run free on common, but not in sheep pastures
OS Explorer 240 Oswestry
Car park/picnic site at south end of Racecourse Common, off B4580 west of Oswestry
None on route
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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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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