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17 September 2014
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Walking country - Stiperstones

Stiperstones c/o Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Ben Osborne

At over 500m above sea level, the Stiperstones are one of Shropshire's best-known landmarks.

The Devil's Chair, Cranberry Rock and other jagged, quartzite tors along the ridge of the Stiperstones are visible miles away.

Stiperstones's rugged landcape.
Photo - Shropshire Wildlife Trust/Ben Osborne

This is heathland with Skylarks, Curlew, Raven and Buzzard.

The National Nature Reserve is owned by Natural England but managed with help from Shropshire Wildlife Trust volunteers.

They are the remains of lead mine workings all over the Stiperstones.

The area's industrial heyday was in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but this fell into decline when the price of lead slumped in the early 1900s.

The last miner's cottage was abandoned just over 50 years ago.

Berries and birds

Bilberry Stiperstones c/o Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Ben OsborneHeather and whinberry (the local name for bilberry) once spread much further across the Stiperstones than they do today.

Conifer plantations have bitten large chunks out of its purple covering, while reseeding and heavy fertilising of old grassland have transformed fields once studded with wild flowers, replacing them with vivid, green pastures.

This wild and dramatic landscape is literally steeped in ancient folklore and it is even said that on the midwinter solstice all the ghosts of the county assemble here.

However, if you are after a great autumn wildlife walk through a mystical part of England the Stiperstones stomp is necessary!

For over five miles, this route will take you through the far reaches of Shropshire and into the Welsh Marches.

The geology of this part of England is particualrly special.

Part of the area was once a sub tropical beach.

These quartzite outcrops represent the baked sands of a 500m-year-old beach.

All the hills around it have gradually been eroded away by wind and rain, but the most dramatic sculptural work probably took place when ice sheets rolled over this area during the last ice age.

Quartzite being tough stuff to shift stood firm and that is why this rocky outcrop is still here.

Q. What are these small holes in the rock? (worm holes).

The area is prone to lightening strikes as a result of its geology.

Berry time

Heather and berries Stiperstones c/o Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Ben OsborneThe one thing which Stiperstones has in abundance is autumn berries including Cowberry, Crowberry and Bilberries.

Some of the most colourful are on the Rowan or Mountain Ash.

You know this was once planted outside houses to ward off witches… and in some parts of Scotland there is still strong superstition against cutting them down.

The berries on this tree are a favourite food for many birds, and can also be consumed by humans.

Rowan berries have a slightly bitter taste but make an excellent preserve which is traditionally eaten with game.

They are also a known laxative.

Bilberries are also common. In Scotland Bilberries are also called blaeberries, in the States they are known as Huckleberries and in Shropshire they are called Whinberries.

They were once sent to Manchester for use in dyeing in the textile industry.

Birds of prey

Red Grouse c/o RSPB  Images/Tom MarshallWhile walking the ridge it's well worth stopping off to do a bit of birding.

Visitors can see are plenty of Kestrels out hunting and the area is also literally buzzing with Buzzards.

The Buzzard is the commonest of our birds of prey and in recent years, their population has exploded across the English Midlands.

Despite being quite common, they are still an impressive creature to see in flight and we are getting great views today.

These birds can soar to great heights rising on thermals.

The Buzzard owes much of its success to the fact it is adaptability to feed on road kill or taking down its own prey.

Stiperstones provides a great hunting habitat for thes birds.

This heathland habitat is also great for Red Grouse.

The Devil's Chair

Devil's Chair Stiperstones c/o Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Ben OsborneThe Devil's Chair is one of the most famous high spots on the ridge.

It's said that on a clear day you can see as far as the Peak District, the Malvern's, west Wales and the Black Mountains, depending on which direction you're looking.

It's a truly wild location in every sense.

Photo credits

Images courtesy and copyright of Shropshire Wildlife Trust and Ben Osborne.

Red Grouse courtesy of RSPB Images and Tom Marshall.



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