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29 October 2014

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Nature Features

Earl's Hill(left) and Pontesford Hill
Earl's Hill(left) and Pontesford Hill

The sleeping dragon of Shropshire

The twin summits of Earl's Hill and Pontesford Hill rise out of the plains to the south-west of Shrewsbury and herald the beginning of the Shropshire hills. In the 1960s these hills became Shropshire Wildlife Trust's first nature reserve.

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
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 butterfly Picture: S.McLaughlin
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!

Getting there

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.

last updated: 11/05/06
Have Your Say
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Shaun Smith
Carried my 12 month old up the Purple Route . My 3 year old thought it was a breeze.

I have run up to the summit twice this week, its fantastic at the top and really good exercise.

Edna Blohm
I was evacuated to Pontesford Hill during WW2, and lived with the Philpots in Grove Cottage. I went to school in Pontesbury and have many fond memories of the place

I think these r great facts about the Common Blue and the pictures r great too....

Message to James, Pontesbury Hill is an entirely different place!

I went up there today - great for wearing out the dogs too!

alan jones
have been up up the hill many times but only as a lad

kevin briggs
are they any findings of ghosts or weird happenings up there?

James Fletcher
Pontesbury Hill has many hidden secrets. I have been up it and think its a strange place. Has anyone seen ET around there yet?

Suzie Litton-Wood
I have dowsed on these hills and as far as I am concerned it is definately a sleeping dragon, the dragon energy criss crosses the landscape

mark spade
iv,e walked up those hills a hundred times and every time iv,e seen something new.not many places can say that

the seventh daughter of a seventh son - isn't that a line in a Bob Dylan it Highway 64?

Robert Jenkins
These two hills are well worth the somewhat steep climb. A good spot to take the kids and expend some of their energy!

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