Oakwrights Architectural Technician, Lee Wilson, gives the second in a series of recommended walks offered up to the fine people who take the opportunity to visit us at our wonderful Try Before You Buy Show Home in Kenchester, Herefordshire.
Rising abruptly from the plains to the west of the Long Mynd is one of the less well known of the Shropshire Hills, The Stiperstones. This 5 mile long north-south ridge features a string of 6 stone outcroppings, actually the eroded summits of 500 million year old quartzite tors. It is a landscape that has provided the local area with a mineable supply of lead for a thousand years.
Indeed, it is from the car park at The Bog lead mine just outside the village of Pennerley that my walk began. Firstly heading south through beech woods and rising up to meet the Shropshire Way, this gives access to the most southerly of the Stiperstones, conveniently called The Rock, a tumbledown assortment of boulders from fist-sized deposits that can seriously stub your toe, to some the size of a car that can do considerably more damage.
Turning north, the ridgeline is followed for approximately half a mile until the summit of Nipstone Rock comes into view. This is the easiest of the Stiperstones to climb, and it is pointless to try and resist the urge to do just that. After a quick scramble with a fair bit of handwork, sitting on top of Nipstone it is easy to see the geology that formed these incredible natural landmarks. During the last Ice Age (a phrase that should be uttered in the style of Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses) the tors stood proud from the surrounding ice sheet, and thousands of years of freezing and thawing proceeded to shatter even these giant rocks and give us what we see today. Looking back at Nipstone from the north, the origins of it’s name become apparent, as it does indeed resemble a giant nipple (no sniggering at the back, it is the truth).
From Nipstone the track descends slightly into a beautiful wildflower meadow and then rises gently to the boundaries of the Stiperstones AONB. Look out for wild bilberries on the south facing slopes of the next summit – Cranberry Rock. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit, the bilberry bushes were infected by an outbreak of the Phytophthora virus, but were slowly recovering. If you’re really lucky you may spot the very rare Mountain Pansy, one of only a handful of locations in the UK where this beautiful viola can be found.
Cranberry Rock is the first of the higher Stiperstones and as with all the summits around this area, myth and legend abound here. It was at the summit of Cranberry that legend has it the Devil himself encountered a tailor from the local village and asked him to make him a suit. The tailor, however, was a wise old man and told Satan that he would need time to prepare the suit. They agreed to meet back at the rock in seven days, only this time the tailor took the local parson with him who promptly banished the Prince of Darkness to the fifth of the six Stiperstones, now known as the Devil’s Chair.
Following the track north, the going becomes rougher, with the way consisting almost entirely of small bits of broken rock. Please note that from my own experience, the sharp edges of these rocks will go through fabric walking boots like a knife through butter. The highest point of the Stiperstones is attained upon scaling Manstone Rock. At over 1700ft, this may sound a tough call, but due to the gentleness of the topography, it really is only the stone summits themselves that offer a challenge. The day I climbed was a very hot day with bright sun, yet the almost constant, refreshing breeze that blows on these slopes keeps you energised, and this walk is more than do-able for almost anyone.
On top of Manstone Rock, which is also the toughest of the climbs, sits a trig point and the views from this point are truly jaw-dropping. Some of England’s finest hills are visible from this spot, including The Long Mynd, Corndon Hill, Caer Caradoc and The Lawley. Being alone on the summit with just the wind and the song of a high-flying Skylark is one of the true joys of walking in places like this. There is also something very satisfying about taking lunch on a high-point. Indeed, prawn and rocket sandwiches (how the other half live) never tasted so good. From Manstone the walk is gradually but noticeably downhill all the way to the finish. But before leaving the ridgeline there are two more pinnacles to visit. Firstly, the hugely impressive and aforementioned Devil’s Chair, which encompasses three vertical rock faces with a northern ‘entrance’ to the chair which is situated on a plateau in the centre of the rock. Once again, phenomenal views are a reward for another steep bit of scrambling.
The final and most northerly of the Stiperstones is Shepherd’s Rock. This is also the least prominent of the tors and aside from completing the full set, there is little reason to linger on this one, as a much more dramatic descent off the plateau awaits. Almost doubling back on myself I pick up a bridleway that drops down back into Pennerley. This mile long gradual descent takes you along the steep edge of Mytton Dingle and gives you yet another sumptuous vista to the northwest, taking in the borderlands and hills of Powys. Along from Mytton, the track passes by the remains of Perkins Beach lead mine, with the obvious outlines of the mine tailings still identifiable. The most noticeable aspect of this place is the silence. Having dropped down out of the constant breeze of the higher reaches, the air is still and the temperature has begun to rise again.
Passing by a farm and a recently converted chapel, I leave the boundaries of the AONB and re-enter the village of Pennerley. Taking the grassy track past the Natural England offices, I arrive back at the car and de-camp to the pub for a well-earned one.