Shropshire Wildlife Trust's first nature reserve is also to be its newest, thanks to a £27,500 Heritage Lotery grant. An additional £25,000 is being invested by the Countryside Agency and £5,000 from a local appeal.
The money will be used to buy and open up 25 acres of meadowland which adjoins the current nature reserve. Shropshire Wildlife Trust plan to improve both access and conservation in the area.
Legend and mystery
According to locals, the distinctive humps of Earl's and Pontesford hills look like a coiled sleeping dragon, and their peculiar shape provides a clue as to their volcanic origins.
|Earl's Hill(left) and Pontesford Hill|
While not actually a volcano, the hills were formed around 650 million years ago by layers of lava that burst out of the earth's crust. Earl's Hill stands at 320 metres above sea level, while Pontesford Hill is some 50 metres lower.
In common with most of Shropshire's other high hills, it proved attractive to Iron Age settlers, who built a well-defended hill fort at the summit of Earl's Hill in around 600BC. There's another on the lower slopes on Pontesford Hill.
The whole site was handed over to Shropshire Wildlife Trust in 1964, who leased Pontesford Hill to the Forestry Commission. They, in turn, planted conifers all over Pontesford Hill, but apart from bracken and mossy grass, the summit of Earl's Hill remains bare and rewards visitors with a truly breath-taking panoramic view.
To see the view from the top, click on the links on the top right of this page.
|Common Blue (Picture: S.McLaughlin)|
Further down Pontesford Hill there is plenty of deciduous woodland with hazel, ash, oak, field maple holly and yew, but the hill has many different wildlife habitats that draw in specialised birds and insects.
In summer it's teeming with wildlife, with dragonflies buzzing around in amongst the trees.
And then there's the legend....
Popularised by the Shropshire writer Mary Webb, the twin hills are at the centre of the legend of the golden arrow, which goes like this:
Back in the 7th Century when this was a highly disputed area, the kings of Mercia and Wessex did battle here.
Rather carelessly, one of them had a golden arrow that he left lying around somewhere and lost. Since then, just about everyone else has been looking for it.
The arrow is said to bring a great fortune to whoever finds it, but then another part of the legend - or another version at least - says the finder must be the seventh daughter of a seventh son, must be under 20 and she must search in the early hours before dawn. On Palm Sunday.
Back in the 19th Century, so the story goes, the hunt for the arrow reached fever pitch, and many local families took to picnicking on the hill every Palm Sunday. Apparently the Palm Sunday picnics got a little rowdy after a few years, and people stopped going so the tradition died out about 100 years ago.
Some people always have to spoil it for everyone else!
While not exactly Mount Everest, the climb to the top of Earl's Hill is not for the faint of heart.
It's signposted from the A488 in Pontesford (right next to the tractor dealer/petrol station) and there's a small Forestry Commission car park at the bottom.
The path leads up a fairly gentle climb to the first hill fort, after which it splits into a green route for an easy walk and the purple route, which takes you over the summit of Pontesford Hill and then on to Earl's Hill summit. Be warned - the purple route is steep, but it's worth the view.
And if you don't want to make the climb, or if you want a taste of it first, take a look at our panoramic images taken from the top of Earl's Hill.