The stream, the river, the Ashbrooke

Lower Carding Mill Valley in spring

Water is all important to Carding Mill Valley. It shaped it, it powered its industry and today it is the thing many people visit us for. But how much do you know about the river?

Many people don't even realise the river that runs through Carding Mill Valley has a name, the Ashbrooke. The Ashbrooke has been used by humans for more a millenia at least. The first recording of a watermill here was in the Doomesday Book. Eventually the mill became the Carding Mill in the 1800s, processing the local wool from Long Mynd sheep. The mill finished operation in the late 1880s.

River or stream is a daily discussion in the valley. Geographers classify it as a river but when the level is low and it is trickling along the temptation to call it a stream is strong. Then a storm passes through and the clear trickle becomes a raging torrent - it's very much back to being a river.

Grey wagtail in Carding Mill Valley
Grey wagtail in Carding Mill Valley
Grey wagtail in Carding Mill Valley

Wildlife in and around the stream is specialised. Our resident dippers and the summertime visiting grey wagtails love its fast-flowing waters. They feed on the many inverterbrates who spend the majority of their lives in the cold flow. The dippers build nests close to the river edge, a perillous position when summer downpours arrive.

Mayfly, stonefly and caddis fly larvae all crawl along the rocks for many years before a short finale in the open air on warm days. The caddis fly build protective cases from river debris, when caught they make it seem like even the plants have legs. There are also dragonfly larvae to spot, some of the more alarming species to view close up with our learning team. This insect life is a key indicator of the Ashbrooke's health and the National Trust's ecology team monitor the species levels and variety regularly.

You'll see these golden ringed dragonflies around the pools in the Valley
Golden ringed dragonfly up close on a branch
You'll see these golden ringed dragonflies around the pools in the Valley

The fish that live in the river are specialist too. The bullhead or miller's thumb gets its name from its wide head. It likes the coolness and speed of the Ashbrooke and can be found under rocks all year round. Brown trout are harder to spot. They favour the deeper pools and can be seen cruising on quiet, sunny mornings or afternoons.

The river is alive with species but it is almost alive itself. A heavy downpour transforms it from slumbering kitten to growling beast. These weather events can alter the course of the river drastically, although the various flood measures put in control most of the danger. The days after a period of heavy rain are a great time to walk the length of the Ashbrooke and study its channel changes. Banks can collapse and huge beaches of stone can be deposited. Walking to Lightspout Waterfall at this point is very rewarding as well.

Lightspout Waterfall in the Carding Mill Valley
The Lightspout Waterfall in the Carding Mill Valley and the Shropshire Hills, Shropshire
Lightspout Waterfall in the Carding Mill Valley

The waterfall was an early tourist trap, marketed as a 'mini-Niagara' by some Victorian spin doctors. If the river is a mere ribbon, the waterfall will be disappointing. But if it is roaring then Lightspout belies its name. It is also a treat in winter ice for the daring and adventurous.

Above the waterfall, the landscape changes dramatically and the river bubbles and babbles. A shortish walk brings you to the source of the Ashbrooke. A damp, marshy mire seems a modest way for such a important feature to begin. But even here there are special treats for the nature spotter. Rare plant species love these Long Mynds flushes and mires that are the start of all of the rivers.

Lower Carding Mill Valley
Lower Carding Mill Valley
Lower Carding Mill Valley

Back in the main part of Carding Mill Valley and on a sunny day the river can be swarming with visitors. If you are one of them then please help out this special place. Break down any dams you make before you leave, watch the fish - don't keep them in a bucket and leave everything as you find it. With your help we can keep this river special for ever, for everyone.