There is a nice class of visitor in Church Stretton, generally the outdoor type in sensible boots.

Hearty hot lunches in a busy town café hold no fear for these lean individuals as they plan another few hours tramping the ancient landscape, and if you lift up your eyes from the relatively level comforts of the town centre, you can only marvel at the setting: the steep ascent to the Long Mynd and, to the east, Wenlock Edge.

The names are full of magic and Celtic echoes - Caradoc and Ragleth.

Ancient Britons built their hill forts close by and the Romans identified the strategic route through, passing between the great folds of the towering slopes on their way from Uriconium to Gloucester.

There is plenty to flag up in a modern tourist guide, notably the town's conservation area status, the hills' official classification as an area of outstanding natural beauty and the geological significance making it all a site of special scientific interest.

The Victorian marketing men thought up another tag, dubbing it "Little Switzerland" and promoting it enthusiastically as a spa; and the water from the Stretton Hills nearly did for Church Stretton what the same natural resource did for Malvern - without recourse to holy wells. It is calcium rich, filtered by thick rock strata, supposed to be good for teeth and bones, muscle activity, nerves - even the regulation of the heart.

The combination proved irresistible to well-heeled types of a century or so ago, when Church Stretton gained some of its finest domestic architecture, designed mainly for rich retired types. The scene was set, and the town continued to draw British incomers, those who prefer English "mountains" to the foreign Alps, and those generally old enough to have the luxury of time to gaze at it all.

These not quite so ancient Britons have long been retiring to Church Stretton, and it is no secret that the place has a higher than average number of retired residents.

This is reflected in the character of the independent shops. Alongside the outdoor clothing specialists are antiques shops, the popular antiques market, proper bookshop, lady's and gentleman's outfitters and just a hint at the "hippy" with crafts and hand-knit jumpers.

There is a real greengrocers - enough to make you stop and stare - and also, a bona-fide butcher. A particularly upmarket deli, Van Doesburg's, is easily up to Ludlow standards with its artisan breads, local cheeses, and chef-made ready meals.

Here is the place to spot the "younger" generation too: well-heeled mummies queuing up to buy olives and other healthy snacks for enthusiastic, omnivore offspring.

Tea shops dominate the pubs but there's something for mostly everyone - even a nice charity shop - and not an amusement arcade for miles.

Town Mayor Beryl Smith has been among the supporters of recently-approved moves to provide affordable housing for families and young people.

"We have an ageing population and if we don't bring in some more young people we won't be sustainable as a town," she says.

To an outsider, in particular anyone used to Solihull, Sutton or city centre property prices, Church Stretton would seem to offer value for money. After all, what price can you put on one of the most dramatic settings in the country?

However, the appeal of this small town, in that glorious landscape, does push up values beyond those on the urban fringes, even in Shropshire.

Beryl Smith, among other townsfolk, has noticed the shortage of buyers for recently-built new homes in the town centre.

Although attractive, they are not family-sized and priced from £230,000 are out of the financial reach of some would-be incomers.

"We have a lot of people commuting into Church Stretton to work in the banks and solicitors offices, for example," says Beryl.

As Shrewsbury is a relatively easy run up the A49, daily travel is often the answer for these younger town workers.

Other Shropshire settlers have been luckier, once smitten by Church Stretton.

"We have a lot of people who have moved here from down south," says Beryl.

For these homeowners who saw the greatest value rises in the south-east, Shropshire was ideal, and budgets went further, enough to secure some of the most expensive local houses, and the typical incomer here is putting down firm roots after between seven and 10 years in the town, believes Beryl Smith.

However, there is no obvious "them and us" resentment, even in a traditional town still with its significant population of real "locals".

"There is a great community spirit here," says Beryl, originally from Herefordshire but resident in Shropshire for 40 years. "People are very friendly and a lot of it is down to the incomers. If you don't make friends when you come in, you don't get to know anyone."
 
There is a thriving local arts scene, plenty going on and much of it down to the enthusiasm of the people who have moved here.

These same settlers are as fiercely protective of Church Stretton as any true native and ironically, they are the ones who may seem keenest to preserve that "slower pace".

"A lot of people in Church Stretton don't want that to change. Those who have come in because it is quiet and peaceful don't want things to be different," adds Beryl.

As in any community, new development raises eyebrows and the word "affordable" can be misunderstood, locals and even established "incomers" poring over the small print to agree the complex planning principles and what exactly constitutes "local need". The latest victory for the prodevelopment lobby will see a sheltered complex, Windsor Place, completely replaced and new homes built alongside.

According to the mayor, the elderly residents, whose complex was "past its prime" are "thrilled to bits".

There are other reasons to be cheerful in Church Stretton. After decades of campaigning, it is due for a smart new sports complex to be built close to the local school.

This will form a larger new attraction with the existing swimming pool and will benefit all residents - young and old.

www.churchstretton.co.uk/