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Shropshire's answer to Robin Hood

Shropshire’s answer to Robin Hood

Humphrey Kynaston, a notorious highwayman known as 'Wild' Humphrey, was descended from a Welsh Prince. He was born around 1468, to Lady Elizabeth Grey, the granddaughter of Humphrey Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester, and second wife of Sir Roger Kynaston, Constable Keeper of Myddle Castle.

Humphrey became Constable on his father's death, but, through his dissolute and riotous manner of life, he fell into debt, and Myddle castle fell into ruin. His horse, reputed to have been called Beelzebub, the devil's horse, was said to have been shod backwards to confuse pursuers.

Humphrey, following a skirmish in Oswestry, along with his half brother Thomas, and Oliver and Richard Kynaston, was accused of felony in December 1487, and he became a notorious outlaw. These were unsettled times, with the Wars of the Roses still ongoing, and the Welsh Marches a lawless no man's land.

In December 1492 Humphrey, now of Nesscliffe, rode to Stretton Dale, (Church Stretton) with his half-brother Thomas Kynaston of Shrawardine, and Robert Hopton of Hopton, Nesscliffe. There, they killed John Heughes. Many aided and abetted them, and in their escape they were lodged and fed at Pontesbury, Shrewsbury and Nesscliffe. They were tried and convicted for felony and murder in 1493, but escaped capture. The under Sheriff tried to capture Humphrey by removing some of the planks from the stone pillars of Montford Bridge, but Humphrey spurred his horse, and leaped the gap, escaping to Nesscliffe where he, with his Beelzebub stabled alongside, is reputed to have lived in the cave, reached by climbing 24 steps cut into the rock face. They were given food and fodder by those around: it is said 'by the rich through fear, and the poor through gratitude'.

Later pardoned by Henry VIII, legend has it that he died in the cave at Nesscliffe. His will of 1534 requested that he be buried in St Mary's Church in Welshpool.

Bones follows Beelzebub in county’s carefree rides

Here Susie King, Balfours Equestrian Consultant, explores the green lanes and the newly designated Humphrey Kynaston Way, a Shropshire ride route, for the Shropshire Magazine.

A new route has been launched in Shropshire, with roots that date back to December 1492 and Humphrey Kynaston, Shropshire’s answer to Robin Hood. This highwayman is even reputed to have had his horses’ shoes put on backwards to foil anyone trying to track him!

What better way to start the New Year than with a resolution to explore more of our home county – and with the launch of the Humphrey Kynaston Way, last May, there is no excuse. The 46 linear mile ride incorporates the first published routes for horse riders in Shropshire north of Shrewsbury. And don’t be put off if you prefer wheels or walking boots, all the rides are equally suitable for cyclist and walkers too.

South Shropshire already has the Jack Mytton Way another fabulous route, which can be dipped into between Cleobury Mortimer and Llanfair Waterdine.

Humphrey Kynaston Way is the fruition of a long held ambition and ultimately much hard hoofed and dogged determination of Zia Robins, a pioneer of modern bridleways in Shropshire, who sits on a number of organisations including chairing her local bridleway group and whose home is a short hack from Nesscliffe Hill.

Together with my horse, Bones, and my friend Bec Whittles on her horse Abbe, we met with Zia on her friend’s horse, Amber, at the Pine car-park at Hopton. Although very unlike Bec - I call her Mrs List as she always writes one so she doesn't forget stuff – she was minus her girth. Fortunately Amber's owner, Christine Wright, was able to loan one from her nearby stables'. Now all saddled up we set off and Zia relayed how Humphrey Kynaston Way came to fruition:

“I have had a vision of this route for many years; that is connecting up routes in Shropshire. The Humphrey Kynaston Way links from Clive, north of Shrewsbury, coming west through Baschurch and Nesscliffe, and then heading south. The tricky part was Montford Bridge because the River and Highways are not easy, ultimately concluding at Church Stretton, but linking in four circular routes along the way. Within the 46 miles are rides of anything from two and a half to fourteen miles.

“Opening and mapping these bridleways is probably more important to those who live locally to them; however they also provides a marvellous structure for those who want to explore the county with the confidence a map and good way markers provide,” Zia adds.

We emerge out of woods onto the Cliffe, “Bones,” ears pricked as we drank in the view on this bright December morning, I felt extremely privileged and Bones was enjoying it too. It found me wondering how much the stunning views that stretched before us have changed since Humphrey and Beelzebub stood up here.

Zia continues: “It was as a result of funds that came available via Natural England’s “Paths for Communities” project (P4C) that the full scheme was considered possible. However a condition for funding of P4C is that routes should include a section of new bridleway. Thanks to The Field Studies Council, the Highways Agency and three local landowners at Montford Bridge not only have we now created a safe link, avoiding busy trunk roads and negotiating the river, but the P4C condition was met.”

Over and above that achievement, the icing on the cake is that the Montford Bridge rest area has a tie-up rail for horses and at the cafe buckets of water are on tap for horses, making it a convivial stop off for horse and rider. Indeed hospitality - benefitting local businesses, pubs, bed and breakfast and riding establishments - is an intentional theme throughout the route.

There is no mistake Zia Robins has been a driving force, for which she came in for two honours last year: The British Horse Society’s Access Achievement Award and Shropshire Council’s Outdoor Recreation “Volunteer of the Year” award. Zia acknowledges: There has been a huge group of volunteers who have helped with the project, not least my husband, Mike; volunteers of the Nesscliffe Hills and District Bridleways Association and the Parish Paths Partnership Group. Shropshire Council’s Outdoor Partnership team has also been hugely supportive, as has the British Horse Society’s Director of Access, Mark Weston.”

It’s not all been plain sailing, I’m not sure if Zia finds the challenges of overgrown tracks with mounds of brambles a greater challenge than the copious form filling and diplomacy needed to negotiate the agencies and quangos. “Erecting waymarks on the Longmynd with frozen fingers is every bit as tough as dealing with the Highways Agency, who only understands major routes,” she muses.

On our hack around Nesscliffe it is a sheer joy to know there is a safe place to park and unload; have signage reassuring you that you are on the right track and that these routes are also selected because they are either off road or on very quiet country lanes. Even the gates were easy to negotiate off, Bones my 16.2hh horse. I’m already planning my next foray, this time down to the South of this Highwayman’s route, but I don’t think Bones is up for leaping the river.

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Fact file

  • For horse riders allowing approximately 3 miles an hour gives a relaxed ride, with time to take in the views.
  • 'Shropshire is one of the most rural and least populated counties in England with 3,400 miles of Rights of Way, 22% of which are open to horse riders'.
  • Humphrey Kynaston Way was officially opened in May 2014, by the High Sheriff, Robert Bland
  • One of Shropshire’s main incomes is tourism.
  • Humphrey Kynaston Way links three of Shropshire’s country parks at Lyth Hill, Nesscliffe and Corbet Wood, Grinshill.
  • The Church Stretton to Pontesbury sections can be linked to the BHS “Ride Shropshire” South Shropshire Hill routes. Parking places have been identified, some by kind permission.
  • Although created primarily as routes for horse riders the routes are equally suitable for cyclists and walkers. Cyclists, be aware that your sudden appearance may startle horses. When approaching from behind give a verbal warning and remember that when using a public bridleway, cyclists must give way to walkers and horse riders.
  • For more information visit:www.shropshireriding.co.uk

PICTURED

Susie and Bec Whittles leave for their venture onto Nesscliffe Hill.

Zia shows Susie the route in the official guide.

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