THE first in this series of walks was published in what was then the Worcester Evening News in April 1991, so I hope you’ll forgive a little selfindulgence after 20 years, and enjoy a walk in one of my favourite places in the Midlands – Stiperstones National Nature Reserve in Shropshire.
It’s a fairly short walk and is just one of many which can be made on and around Stiperstones, which has almost limitless possibilities.
But it’s a good introduction to the area because it samples a variety of habitats and includes the summit of Stiperstones.
The landscape is spectacular, and unusually rugged for the West Midlands, but there are other attractions, too. Whether you’re interested in nature, geology or industrial archaeology there is plenty here to grab your attention.
Stiperstones is the second highest hill in Shropshire. It’s a quartzite ridge formed 480 million years ago.
During the last ice age it stood out above the glaciers and was subject to constant freezing and thawing.
This shattered much of the quartzite into a mass of scree surrounding several residual tors and leaving the top of the ridge jagged as a dragon’s crest. The most striking of the tors is the Devil’s Chair, while the highest, topped by a trig pillar, is Manstone Rock. Soil formation has been so slow that much of the scree remains on the surface, largely unvegetated. Where soil has formed, it is thin and acidic, able to sustain only a limited range of plants, dominated by heather and whinberry. The heather is stunning when in full bloom but Stiperstones is a prime destination at any time of year.
The walk includes a visit to Snailbeach, formerly one of the most important lead mines in Britain. Mining ceased long ago and Snailbeach is now regarded as one of the most fascinating postindustrial sites in the Midlands, complete with engine houses, loco sheds, compressors, crushers and tramways.
Start: Stiperstones National Nature Reserve car park, near Knolls Farm, by the road from Bridges to the Bog, which bisects Stiperstones at grid ref SO369976.
Length: Seven miles/11km.
Maps: OS Explorer 216, OS Landrangers 126 and 137.
Terrain: Pasture, moorland and woodland, rocky underfoot in places; one gentle ascent and one steep ascent.
Parking: See start information, above.
Public transport: From April to October, Shropshire Hills Shuttle operates from Church Stretton (with a few services starting at Shrewsbury) at weekends and bank holidays only, and travels the length of Stiperstones, stopping at several points, including the car park near Knolls Farm; throughout the year, the Shrewsbury-Bishop’s Castle service passes within a mile of Snailbeach, Monday-Saturday; Shrewsbury and Church Stretton may be reached by train, bus or a combination of both, from Birmingham, Hereford or Ludlow; traveline.org.uk or shropshirehillsaonb.co.uk or 0871 200 2233. Refreshments: Nothing along the way, but the Bog Field Centre, with seasonal refreshments available, is close by, and there is a pub/café in Stiperstones village.
1 Climb uphill from the car park towards the ridge. Near the top, look for a junction marked by a large cairn and turn right. Ignore a path forking left and stay on the main path, by a stone wall. Above you on the left is the long rocky crest of Stiperstones, and below you on the right is the former Gatten Plantation, still marked on OS maps but long since felled and now returning to heathland.
Continue to a junction with the Shropshire Way but don’t join it.
Instead, take another path going to an isolated rock tor known as Shepherd’s Rock. Pass to the right of the rock, and head north-east on a bridleway.
2 Leave the nature reserve at a gate, beyond which the path runs to the left, shortly bordered by a hawthorn hedge. It soon becomes apparent that it is an old green lane, delineated in places by hedges, trees and a tumbledown stone wall. At a junction, take the left-hand path back into the nature reserve. At the next junction, fork right to leave the reserve at a gate by a plantation. Go diagonally across a field to a track and turn right, going across the field, through the plantation, then across pasture. Fork left at a bridleway junction and continue past Lordshill Chapel to a lane.
Turn right and follow it to Snailbeach Mine.
3 Turn left on a track between a crusher house and a compressor house – buildings which are part of this historic industrial site. After only a few paces past the compressor house, turn left up a flight of steps. Turn right at the top, then soon afterwards, left again up another flight of steps.
Turn left to a Cornish-style engine house, then turn right through woodland. A short detour leads to a smelter chimney; apart from this, it’s all uphill. Before long, a sign indicates that you’re re-entering the nature reserve, and the woods give way to bracken, broom and bramble before you reach the open hill. Climb the slope ahead to a gate at the top. Two paths are waymarked – take the left-hand one, which runs between a fence and the rim of Crowsnest Dingle.
The path then climbs away from the dingle and meets a rutted track. Turn right. As the track climbs, the rock tors on Stiperstones come into view. The first is Shepherd’s Rock, encountered earlier in the day.
Pass to the right of it and carry straight on towards the remaining tors. The path (Shropshire Way) is to the left of the tors at first, but after a while you may find it easier to change to the other side.
Continue down to the nature reserve boundary and turn left to the car park.
Worcester News recommends the use of OS Explorer Maps, your ideal passport to navigating the countryside.
This walk is based on OS Explorer 216.