Saturday, 7 December 2013

The Long Mynd & Stiperstones

GPS Track
Date: 07/12/2013
From: Plowden

Parking: Layby on road off A489
Start Point: Plowden
Region: Shropshire Hill AONB

Route length: 14.5 miles (23.33 km)
Time taken: 05:22
Average speed: 2.7 mph
Ascent: 879m
Descent: 831m

Pole Bank (512m), Stiperstones (536m)

Points of interest: Jack Mytton Way, The Port Way, Midland Gliding Club, Minton Batch, Shooting Box Barrow, Stiperstones

Route: Plowden, Jack Mytton Way, Black Knoll, Shropshire Way, Gliding Club, Pole Cott, Pole Bank, Shooting Box, Priory Cott, Coates, Overs, Bridges, Stiperstones Car Park, Cranberry Rock, Manstone Rock, Devil's Chair, Shepherd's Rock, Blakemoorgate, Lordshill Farm, Snailbeach

It's obvious that Wales contains too many hills. For such a small country to be home to such a variety of upland; from comely hills to great mountain ranges is truly criminal. So much so that our smaller neighbour has been charitable enough to donate some if its hills to make up for the lack of high ground in the south of ours, spilling over the border to the west of Birmingham. The collection of distinctive hills marks the transition between modernised industrial heartland and simple rural living and provides a fascinating alternative to traditional locations like the Lake District or the Yorkshire Dales. I am referring to the Shropshire Hills.

Located south of the county capital Shrewsbury, the Shropshire Hills are listed as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and are congregated over an area of almost 500 square miles. Within this area, there are several well known landmarks such as the Wrekin, the Clees and Wenlock Edge. Two of the hills we would be having a closer look are were the Long Mynd (meaning 'Long Mountain') and the Stiperstones. Having a group of us with several cars allowed a bit of shuffling and juggling to have a suitable number located at a start and end point of a long linear walk that would cross the majority of the Long Mynd from the south before crossing the valley to the Stiperstones. No mean feat for a short winter day, hence our early start time.
Sunrise over Corndon Hill
After abandoning the cars in a dubious looking laybay on a country lane (as recommended by the local proprietor), a short road section led our group to the foot of the Jack Mytton Way that would lead us across the Mynd to the shooting box, some miles away. The Jack Mytton Way is a long distance footpath and bridleway, passing through the Shropshire Hills for much of its length and includes parts of Wenlock Edge. It is named after Jack Mytton a local landowner also known as "Mad Jack". Mytton was famed for his outrageous and foolhardy pranks, so much so that he is known some two hundred years later.
A farm track leads to the southern end of the Jack Mytton Way
Norbury Hill across the valley of the River East Onny
Clunton Hill is veiled in an early morning mist
The Shropshire countryside
With the clouds lingering just above us,the bridleway climbs steadily before flattening out as it reaches the Midland Gliding Club, one of the oldest clubs in the country. In fact, the club still practices the ancient art of bungee launching. There are not many places left in Europe, or indeed the world, where you can still try this. A couple of gliders were waiting patiently at the end of the runway and we thought we were about to see one of these rare launches, however, the pilots were at the mercy of the cloudbase which didn't look like lifting and we did not have the time to stop and wait.
Obviously discussing something important
Intermittent clouds rolled by all morning
View across to Norbury Hill and Stiperstones
A glider waits patiently to launch....
.... no such problem for the paragliders
After passing through the glider club, the bridleway returns to a steady climb along the access road (called The Port Way, an ancient trackway that now forms the Jack Mytton & Shropshire Ways) before turning off and heading for Pole Bank. After a brief 30m climb, a tall OS pillar and toposcope greet you at the highest point of the Long Mynd at 516m.
Minton Batch
OS pillar on the summit of Pole Bank
Expected summit pose
The Long Mynd means 'The Long Mountain', as I've mentioned earlier, and covers an area of 9 square miles. It is predominantly sandstone, formed millions of years ago when Shropshire lay underneath a tropical sea. It is thought that the layers of rock built up over the millennia to create an approximately 7,000m thick layer composed of sand, mud, silt, and volcanic ash. The landscape we can see today is a result of the last Ice Age, the melting ice sheet forming the many small, steep valleys that are named Hollows and Batches, each with their own names and character. The Mynd is also home to a large number of Bronze Age features including several dykes, the Port Way and a number of barrows including the Shooting Box Barrow, our next destination.
The path leading to the shooting box
We get a good lashing by the rain on our way down Pole Bank
The Shropshire Way
Some spectacular colours in Bilbatch
Clouds swirl against the Long Mynd
Despite the forecast being for a dry day, the weather managed to muster up some rain as we descended from Pole Bank to the shooting box barrow and the persistent wind blown drizzle didn't abate until we were well on our way down into the valley of the River East Onny. After a 3 mile yomp along a number of farm tracks and muddy lanes, we reached mid-point of the walk at the pub in Bridges. Time for some dinner, though no time to waste, there were still a number of miles to cover before the light started to fade.
The Long Mynd
Stiperstones beckons across the valley, some way to go yet
Some more impressive Shropshire scenery
One of the many farm lanes we passed on the way to Bridges
After a quick bite to eat, a cheeky half pint and a reorganising of the boot laces, we were on our way again to make the arduous climb out of the valley towards the Stiperstones. The only marked way between us and the Stiperstones ridge was to follow the Shropshire Way as it climbed along the access road to Stiperstones car park, a fairly uninteresting two mile uphill slog, though it would definitely be worth the effort. The rocky tors of the Stiperstones were growing larger and larger, cast a foreboding grey by the afternoon cloud.
A small part of the Long Mynd
The road leading to Stiperstones
Greeting you like a geological adventure playground, the distinctive rocky tors of the Stiperstones ridge form a stark contrast to the smooth, rounded hills of the Long Mynd. The quartzite rock is nationally significant, the result of the rocks poking out of the last great ice sheet and being shattered by a constant freezing and thawing cycle. There are a number of named outcrops, the most significant being Cranberry Rock, Manstone Rock (the highest), Devil's Chair (the largest) and Shepherd's Rock. As we reached the foot of Cranberry Rock, that familiar feeling of wanting to climb was unable to resist and we scrambled to the top. As we crossed the ridge, heading to the north east, this urge to clamber around on the rocks was repeated on each tor until we seemed to resemble an army of ants, swarming across the rocks. An OS pillar marks the top of Manstone Rock and the highest point of the Stiperstones at 536m.
The sun starts to set over Cranberry Rock
Manstone Rock from Cranberry Rock
Cranberry Rock
Manstone Rock
View from Manstone Rock towards the Devil's Chair
A trig pillar marks the highest point on Manstone Rock
An isolated rock makes for a good picture (including rainbow)
The rolling hills of Shropshire
Manstone Rock
The Long Mynd
The largest of the tors, the Devil's Chair, is so named after a local folklore tale. It is said that if the Devil can flatten The Stiperstones, then all of England will perish. To that end, the Devil is said to fling himself down in his chair in the hope that his weight will sink it. Perhaps the combined weight of several walkers might have the same effect? Hopefully not, I'm quite fond of this country.
Devil's Chair

View from the Devil's Chair to Manstone Rock
The last part of the Devil's Chair
With the Stiperstones well and truly investigated, it was back to the uneven path to complete the final leg of the walk, a steady downhill stroll to Snailbeach, an oddly named mining village at the foot of the Stiperstones ridge. After exiting the area of the National Nature Reserve, we passed a local farmer toting a rather large double barrelled shotgun. He told us which way to go and needless to say we heeded his advice. Who's to argue with a bit of firepower?
Sunset over Stiperstones
A bonfire in the valley created a swirling evening mist
A short downhill section separated us from Snailbeach and the end of the walk and, more importantly, the all transportation to the pub. Snailbeach was home to a large lead mine, the buildings still remain dorment as a reminder to a time gone by. It is said that the mine at Snailbeach produced the largest amount of lead per acre than any other mine in Europe and has been worked since Roman times until its closure in 1955. The mine has some of the best preserved surface buildings of a lead mine left standing in Britain and several has been restored and preserved by Shropshire County Council.
The path leading off Stiperstones past Green Hill
An old tractor
Snailbeach lead mine
All in all, a very interesting and varied walk. The obvious highlight was a good few hours playing around on the Stipertsones and the wonderful views that were synonymous with nearly the entire day. I do think however, that we did not see the best of the Long Mynd, particularly the impressive valleys that carve their way down to Church Stretton. A tantalising glimpse into Minton Batch was the best that this route can muster and I'd love to return and climb Pole Bank from the east, up the popular Carding Mill Valley. As you can see, this does give me a perfect excuse to return to Shropshire, it is a exciting and different location to the national parks and has a wealth of walking opportunities. With the likes of Caer Caradoc, the Wrekin and Brown Clee Hill to explore, I don't think it'll be long before we're back for another snoop around.