Of course it’s pure conjecture on my part, but if the small village of Bagginswood in Shrophire wasn’t, in some small measure, an inspiration for the name of Tolkien’s titular character from The Hobbit, then you can cover me with eggs and flour and bake me for forty minutes! I mean, it’s entirely feasible, surely.
What this has to do with anything (tennuously) is that Bagginswood is the source of Dowles Brook, and a recent walk through the Wyre Forest along the Dowles Brook Circular Trail is the crux of this post.
Last weekend I made an early start, and after a hearty breakfast at my current favourite eatery, I headed north along the Severn towards the mouth of Dowles Brook. The prescribed route of this four and a half-mile hike starts and ends a little way up stream, at the end of Dry Mill Lane. From here the first half of the walk was an effortless stroll out along the old Tenbury and Bewdley Railway line. For 100 years this line – now mostly paved and tarmacked, sadly – carried both passengers and freight between Woofferton and Bewdley, cutting straight through the Wyre Forest. It was finally closed in 1964 as a result of the Beeching Axe, which is a dirty shame. It doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination to picture the two great tank engines that served this line, the Burwarton and the Cleobury, whistling joyfully as they barrelled down the track, through the trees, engulfed in thick, billowing plumes of smoke and steam. A few clues remain; the steep banks either side of the path where the line was carved into the landscape… a discarded sleeper here or there. It’s a pleasant enough pathway now, but I can’t help thinking that in its heyday, before Dr. Beeching submitted his report, amidst the smoke and the oil and the grease and the noise, it must have been quite a spectacle – call me an old romantic.
Part way along this stretch of the path, purely on the off-chance, I thought I’d check to see if there were any geocaches nearby. As it turned out I was no more than about 20 metres from one, cunningly secreted between a gatepost and the dense undergrowth! I soon had it, signed the log book and I was on my way.
After about two miles or so the route left the old railway line behind, and meandered its way back through the forest, the path hugging Dowles Brook for most of the way back. This part of the walk was not so easy underfoot. Most of it would have been exceptionally muddy if it hadn’t been for the very low temperatures overnight that had left the trail a criss-cross of hard, icy ruts and furrows.
Eventually, and not far from the end of the walk I came across Knowles Mill. Dating from the 18th century this is one of a number of mills that were located on Dowles Brook, and is now owned and managed by the National Trust. It’s the only mill on the brook that remains in near-complete form, thanks to recent restoration. I stopped at this point to take a look round, and although there are no facilities or amenities to speak of, it’s a very attractive and picturesque spot and certainly worth a visit.
I left Knowles Mill after taking a few photographs, and embarked on the final part of the walk. At a bend in the stream, bobbing up and down in its customary manner on a fallen branch, I spotted a white-throated dipper. Now, although this is far from being a rare bird, it’s still a thrill to have spotted one. I moved to this part of the country quite recently, after spending most of my life in the city, and perhaps that’s why I get so excited by these things. But excite me they do, and I stood quite still for some time as I silently watched this wee fellow’s habitual dance before he finally took flight, following every bend in the stream before disappearing into the trees. I have to admit that this was probably the highlight of the walk, for me. I’d love to have taken a photo but I knew that even if I’d got my phone out stealthily enough, I was too far away to have taken a picture good enough to do the experience justice. It’s enough, however, to make me want to return in the hope that my little avian friend might put in another appearance. You never know.