THIS walk leads to Southstone Rock, an extraordinary place hidden away in woodland near Sapey Common and not as well known as it deserves.
It’s a cliff made of tufa, a strangelooking grey rock formed by the precipitation of spring water containing large amounts of dissolved calcium. This causes calcium carbonate to accumulate on moss, which continues to grow, pushing through the calcium.
The new growth is then also coated and the process continues, building an ever larger rock.
Carbon dating carried out at Southstone suggests that the rock began to form about 6,700 years ago. It looks soft and spongy but in places there are smooth, hard patches – this is travertine, formed when carbon accumulates directly on existing tufa instead of on moss.
Southstone Rock is riddled with passageways and caves which were used by hermits in the past, as well as by monks and other pilgrims attracted by a holy well. In Norman times there was a chapel on top of the rock and there was later a cottage, now demolished.
St Andrew’s Church at nearby Shelsley Walsh is built of tufa from Southstone and there is also some tufa around the windows of St Kenelm’s in Clifton, and in the chimney stack at the Lion Inn in the village.
To find out more about Southstone Rock search out an interesting leaflet produced by Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust on behalf of Abberley and Malvern Hills Geopark. It should be available at tourist information centres.
Start: Clifton upon Teme; grid ref SO713615.
Length: Four-and-a-half miles/7km.
Maps: OS Explorer 204, OS Landranger 149.
Terrain: Pasture, arable and woodland, with two steep slopes.
Footpaths: Volunteers have helped to make great improvements in recent years to footpaths around Clifton and Shelsley Walsh. However, there are several arable fields where footpaths have not been reinstated after ploughing and there are field-edge alternative routes for two of these. Other problems include absent waymarking and one very poor-quality ‘stile’.
Above all, the woodland path near Hell Hole is so poor that only the most determined walkers would wish to attempt it and a safer alternative route has had to be included.
Buses: 310, Monday to Saturday; worcestershire.gov.uk/bustimetables or 01905 765765.
1 Take a footpath next to the churchyard, walking along a driveway and past a house then through two fields. Don’t cross the stile in the corner of the second field; instead, go left to cross another stile near by. Follow the left edge of the next field to the bottom corner. Turn left through a gate and walk along a field-edge track. Keep straight on along the field edge when the track bends right, and straight on at the next junction. Proceed a little further to another junction and choose either 2A or 2B.
2A Turn right for a problem-free route. Walk straight down to a cross-path, turn left and proceed past Top Barn to join the track used for the Shelsley Hill Climb.
Follow it down to the road and turn left.
2B Alternatively, keep straight on for a more difficult route.
It’s also more attractive but please note I am not recommending it, merely describing it. After 400m you will come to a junction by some pine trees. Take a path going diagonally down to the far right field corner. Pass through a gap and turn right, to the left of a hedge. Cross a stile at the bottom and proceed by a woodland edge.
Eventually, a gate gives access to the wood. The yellow arrow on the gatepost indicates the line you should apparently take as you descend a slope but isn’t entirely consistent with the OS map, which indicates more of a leftward trend.
I was unable to find a path on or even close to either line. It may be that the snow was concealing it but I don’t think so. It is possible to get down, however, if you are prepared to struggle through brambles and around fallen trees. You’ll soon see a good track below but joining it is difficult because the steep, bramble-covered slope comes to an abrupt end. The gradient is gentler further to the left and if you find the right spot you can just step down on to the track without the need to jump. Once on the track, turn left, then shortly turn right to descend again. Bear right at a junction and then walk roughly straight on at a more complex junction. Turn left when you meet the road.
3 Turn left on a footpath and walk uphill by a stream. Keep to the left of it at first, but cross it shortly before you enter woodland and walk to the right of it. Go straight on at a junction with a track but turn left at the next junction. This is unmarked and easily missed but you're looking for a narrow, welltrodden path just before a tree with four tall stems. The path crosses the stream to Southstone Rock and then runs the length of the rock.
Having explored the rock, return to the other footpath and continue uphill.
4 Turn left on to a bridleway, crossing a bridge and walking uphill to find a junction with a footpath. Go forward on the footpath, past an oak tree and across dairy pasture to a crumbling footbridge and makeshift stile.
Bear left in the next field to a footbridge, beyond which the path is easily followed across four fields to the B4204. Turn left for 100m then take another path on the left and follow it across five fields to the junction by the pine trees. Go diagonally right to rejoin the road and turn left into Clifton.
Your Worcester News recommends the use of OS Explorer Maps, your ideal passport to navigating the countryside. This walk is based on OS Explorer 204