• Start: Knolls car park: grid reference 369977
  • End: Knolls car park: grid reference 369977
  • Country: England
  • County: Shropshire
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub:
  • Ordnance Survey: Explorer 216; Landranger 137
  • Difficulty: Medium
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Roy Woodcock takes a stroll though the dramatic landscape of Stiperstones

Roy Woodcock takes a stroll though the dramatic landscape of Stiperstones

The outward walk along the ridge top gives stunning views in all directions and the return across fields and woods on the hillside is gentler and more sheltered but still provides glorious scenery to left and right.
Starting point is in the Knolls car park: grid reference 369977
Maps: Explorer 216; Landranger 137
How to get there: A488 between Bishops Castle and Pontesbury - seven miles south of Pontesbury take the turning to Shelve, Minsterley Ranges, The Bog, Pennerley. Go through Shelve, and close to Pennerley turn right at the T-junction and follow the signs to The Bog. Here is a Visitor Centre in the old school, the only building surviving from the small lead mining village which was demolished in 1972. Keep going and fork left passing the large car park and follow signs to Stiperstones and the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve car park (at a height of 425metres).
Distance: Four miles. Time required: Two hours.
Terrain is on clear paths and tracks, mostly level or with gentle slopes. The path along the ridge is very stony, so watch where you are putting your feet.
Refreshments available at The Bog Centre (01743 792484) and meals at any time of the day are available in the very friendly Stiperstones Inn (01743 791327) in Stiperstones village, which can also provide accommodation. It has been a pub for a hundred years or so, and was formerly three small cottages built about 300 years ago.
Nearest Tourist Information Centre in Church Stretton (01694 723133)
Other places of interest nearby include the old mining village of Snailbeach.
The Stiperstones Hills are largely managed by Natural England, formerly English Nature, in association with Shropshire Wildlife Trust. The ridge top is famous for its rugged rocky outcrops, the most famous being The Devil's Chair. The hills are formed of very hard sedimentary rocks, dating from the Ordovician period about 480 million years ago. Generally referred to as quartzite which is a metamorphic rock they are really hard sandstones - a sedimentary rock. The rocky outcrops are tors similar to those on Dartmoor although the rock type is very different. Local legends relate to witches and the devil, as well as Wild Edric, a Saxon war lord. Also, these dramatic hills feature in some of Mary Webb's writing - notably Golden Arrow in which the Diafol Mountains are based on the Stiperstones ridge. On the eastern slopes of the ridge a large area of coniferous forest has been cleared and heather and bilberry (local name is whinberry) planted as replacement, to try to produce the purple colour in autumn. The 'Back to Purple initiative' aims to increase the area of heather moorland for wildlife - and for visitors to enjoy.

The walk
1. The Information Board in the Knolls car park tells us that this area is a rare survival of upland heath and is home to red grouse, stonechat, and many other birds including raven, kestrel, buzzard, linnets, pipits and skylarks. From the Information Board walk through the gate and up the gentle slope to the ridge top, along a grassy path between bracken, gorse, heather and bilberry - typical vegetation for this poor acidic soil. Look out for the white fluff of the bog cotton in the wetter areas. The wonderful views all around become even better as we reach the ridge top. Pass the Cranberry rocks a few yards to the left, as we turn right to head northwards on the ridge top. Views east reveal the Wrekin, Buildwas power station chimney and Clee Hills peeping over the top of the Long Mynd, and to the west are the hills of Wales. The broad clear path is very rocky, and on a sunny day many of the rocks will glisten with the flakes of mica. Most of the rock is the very hard sandstone, but in places there are conglomerate rocks, containing smooth and rounded pebbles. These are from beach deposits, formed in shallow water, whereas most of the quartzite was formed on the sea bed in deeper water. We reach the large tor of Manstone Rock with a triangulation point at 563 metres the highest point of the Stiperstones and second highest in Shropshire. Keep ahead towards the largest of the rocky outcrops - the Devil's Chair. Massive cracks and joints show how the rock is gradually being weathered - helped by frost shattering - especially during the Ice Age when the Stiperstones protruded above the ice and experienced an Arctic type of climate.

2. Walking on along the ridge down a slight slope and soon reach a cross paths where we turn right along the Shropshire Way. The path becomes less rocky as we descend, with views straight ahead to the Wrekin which is peeping out at the side of Long Mynd. Reach a gate and another cross paths, with a map on the stone wall. Go through the gate, or over the stile, and follow the Shropshire Way. The path becomes a track with a fence just to the left, as we go downhill steadily to another gate, beyond which we head diagonally down to the right across this field. Looking back at the ridge top from here, the outcrops of hard rock resemble a few well spaced teeth, or the crest of a cockerel. Reach a track at the bottom and turn right following the sign pointing us back to The Knolls car park. When the track bends left towards The Hollies farm buildings, we keep straight ahead between gorse bushes, and stay on the right of the field, close to a line of gorse bushes.

3. Keep straight ahead through a gate and into the woods - the Gatten Plantation. The broad stony track climbs slightly up to another gate and cattle grid, and then emerges from the wood. There is still woodland a few yards to our left but the woods which were on the hillside to the right have been cut down as part of the 'Back to Purple Initiative' which is replacing the fir trees planted in the 1960s and 1970s, with heather and whinberry. We still have the good views to the Long Mynd on our left - a feature throughout this walk - as we continue along the very clear track, which is suitable for disabled access. Also on this stretch are information points where turning the handle will tell us more about this area. Pass a location where springs emerge to create a small pool and a damp area where alder and shrubs thrive. Reach another gate on the All Ability Trail with sound boxes and information board, and soon arrive back at the car park.

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