Much Wenlock, the priory and Benthal Hall.

October 26th.

Much Wenlock is a small and picturesque town in Shropshire, situated on the A458 road between Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth. Nearby, to the northeast, is the Ironbridge Gorge, birth-place of The Industrial Revolution with its deposits of coal, limestone and iron ore.
Our knowledge of this lovely little town has always been limited, sitting as it does on the road to Bridgenorth and all points west (including Wales). So, with our membership of English Heritage about to expire and the weather forecast being dry (although dull) we decided to pay a visit to the Priory ruins before visiting Benthal Hall in nearby Broseley.
The priory was an Anglo-Saxon monastery founded here in about 680 by King Merewalh of Mercia, whose abbess daughter Milburge was hailed as a saint. Her relics were miraculously (!) re-discovered here in 1101, attracting both pilgrims and significant prosperity to the priory. 
Following the reformation of the monastery, in the early 14th century, the priory church was lavishly and completely rebuilt, and today considerable remains are left of the 350-foot-long church.
Following the dissolution of the priory by King Henry VIII who wanted their wealth and vowed the power of the church with suspicion in 1540, several buildings, including the late 15th century Prior's House, were converted into a private residence and cannot be visited today.
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Having taken a few photographs of the priory ruins (in truth, the mown grass and manicured bushes do not lend themselves to origin photography) we were entertained for a further half-hour by a flock of siskins in the yew trees that surround the buildings.
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Siskin in Yew Tree.
With an hour to kill before Benthal Hall opened we decided to wander into Much Wenlock town centre and were immediately enchanted by the quiet streets and old buildings as well as some interesting shops.

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The Wenlock Olympian Games established by Dr William Penny Brookes in 1850 are centred in the town. (Dr Brookes is credited as a founding father of the modern Olympic Games, and one of the Olympic mascots for London 2012 was named Wenlock after the town).
Further exploration then revealed the old railway line (now part of the Olympic Running Route) and station: clearly we shall have to return and explore further. (Wenlock Edge is also not far away).
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A visit to the Information Centre which was open (!) provided us with ample walks leaflets. So, finally we set off for Benthal Hall and were treated with some sunshine at last and a lovely view of the old church with its newly renovated sundial.
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My attention was immediately drawn to cast iron head ‘stones’ - this one commemorating the ferry-man (or troman) - who died in 1761; note how sharp the letters still are in this cast iron and call to mind how worn a typical stone would be of this age. Presumably the head ‘stone’ is set next to the church due to his importance to the local community.

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I was impressed by the ancient dove-cote in the grounds, complete with white doves. Benthal Hall itself is a lovely limestone building and worth exploring.
The autumn colours were enhanced by Autumn Crocuses growing under the trees in the grounds (which photographed best when the sun was behind the clouds due to their subtle colours). We shall visit this lovely National Trust property again next springs wild flowers in the church-yard and nearby fields are said to include many orchids.
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Autumn Crocus.
Perhaps we shall finally manage to walk Wenlock Edge before the autumn colours are finished!

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