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  • Julie Muller

THE STIPERSTONES - All Tracks Lead to Purple

Updated: Jan 28, 2022

(Nearest post code - SY5 0NH)

Visited by Shep and Pumpkin

This is a really sad story to tell because today was Pumpkin’s last long walk with us.

Pumpkin, a red welsh sheep dog lies down on his walk  on the Stiperstones  in Shropshire
Pumpkin on his walk on the Stiperstones, Shropshire

However, on a positive note, Pumpkin and I had an amazing day trekking over the Stiperstones Ridge in Shropshire.

It was quite a long car journey and we seemed to climb higher and higher up into the hills to reach the Bog car park from where our walk began.

Having been in the car such a long time we were eager to get out and explore. It seemed to be a very bleak and desolate place and yet, just over a hundred years ago this was a bustling settlement complete with a school and a community hall where entertainment was provided for the working miners and their families.

We stood within the remaining stone walls of the community room. This settlement was built on the mining of lead, a very useful metal which is very easily worked and has a variety of uses including making pipes. Apparently, lead has been used for this purpose from as long ago as Roman times. As its ore, lead was also one of the first coverings to be used on buildings and for many years was used as a base to paints. It was only when scientists discovered that lead was poisonous that efforts were made to find alternatives to it.

Although The Stiperstones had very rich veins of lead, ( the nearby hills of Snailbeach were Europe’s biggest producer,) the mines were only intermittently worked as they were always changing hands. Flooding was a constant problem and the cost of continually pumping water out of them would have been extremely costly.

The lead was hewn from the rock using picks and shovels and for lighting, the men wore a wide brimmed hat with a candle ‘glued’ to it by a blob of clay.

We left the car park behind and followed our route up towards the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve.

We passed through farmyards with noisy collies just like us and an even noisier King Charles spaniel. A white peacock shouted at us from one of the barns. The stone walls were bedecked in heath bedstraw, red campion , yellow gorse and white stitchwort and at the edge of the road we walked through drifts of bright yellow laburnum blossom - a throwback to when these lanes were lined with cosy little cottages – home to the miners and their families.

In places there were the low wall remains of houses long since abandoned. We stopped at a bend in the road to gaze into a field of wildflowers swaying in the breeze and alive with all manner of insects. This was one of the Pennerley meadows a SSSI in its own right for the variety and abundance of vegetation it supports. These meadows are special because they have not been improved by modern farming practices but rather left to evolve in their own way and as a result, they boast such an amazing diversity of wildlife.

Shep, the Border Collie, and Pumpkin, the red Welsh Sheep Dog stop to watch a red kite on their climb up to the Stiperstones in Shropshire
Shep and Pumpkin stop and rest as they climb to the top of the Stiperstones

As we gazed a red kite soared above us- so close that you could almost see the primary and tail feathers adjusting second by second as it battled the eddies which held it aloft.

A cuckoo revealed its presence as it relayed it distinctive call and, in the distance, we could hear the fruity babbling of curlew. It was a magical place for a rest. Pumpkin and I felt so alive as our senses were assailed by the sounds, scents, and sights of the countryside.

Soon we climbed up to the entrance to the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve. Signs informed our humans to keep us leaded because of the wildlife living here . To each side of the track, there was a rich assemblage of heathland plants – mauve marsh violets ,lush green bog moss , wispy white cotton grass and lots of bright purple heather. Up until the 1990’s this rich purple carpet had become quite threadbare from land uses completely unsympathetic to this fragile heathland habitat. However, since then huge strides have been taken to reverse the process and ‘a back to purple ‘project overseen by Natural England uses grazing animals like Exmoor ponies and Hebridean sheep to maintain the delicate balance of heathland plants. Without grazing, the heathland would quickly succeed to scrub and woodland and the rich array of invertebrates, mammals, birds, and reptiles would be lost.

Although today was rather overcast at times, skylarks soared in the air above, stone chats scratched out their conversations with each other and buzzards sailed high above. Closer to the ground, bumble bees bumped into us and nosy Pumpkin only narrowly escaped being stung on the nose. Many of the other invertebrate residents were hidden from our views today.

Two sheep dogs relax among the craggy rocks at the top of the Stiperstones in Shropshire
Shep and Pumpkin reach the top of the Stiperstones in Shropshire

Walking up the track, the jagged sharp outline of the Stiperstones pierced the sky. The rock tors were produced as a result of freeze and thaw action during the last Ice age. We walked towards them. The path was very stony. Luckily our paws are thick and protected us from the sharp stones beneath our feet. Our humans found it difficult to make fast progress. We could have covered the ground much more quickly if we had been free but, life up here high on the Stiperstones is very hard and we dogs did not want to make it any more difficult for the locals!

The track across the ridge seemed to go on for a long time but the views to both sides were breath-taking – on one side looking towards the south Shropshire hills and to the other the mountains of Wales.

With such a magnificent vantage point it is easy to understand why humans have had settlements of one sort or another here for over 3,000 years. If the sharp jagged rocks could talk, what would they say? Would they speak of the devil’s desire to crush the Stiperstones and so vanquish the whole of England? Would they tell of Wild Edric’s defiance of the Normans? At certain times and conditions, it is said that Wild Edric and his fairy wife Godda can be seen riding through the mist. It is enough to make our paws sweat, and our fur stand on end.

We eventually reached soft, thin green grass to walk on and after a short break, Pumpkin and I half pulled our humans down to the car park – Alas it wasn’t where our car was parked, and we headed off along the lane in search of it.

The field to each side of us seemed much less nurtured – Flocks of white fluffy sheep and slender brown cattle grazed the thin grassland. They were so quiet and still that we didn’t even notice them until, Pumpkin nosy as ever, poked his head through a hole in the hedge. I don’t know who was more surprised, the sheep or him, but It certainly made him walk a whole lot faster.

Finally, we saw the car in the car park and pulled our humans towards it. We eagerly lapped our cool refreshing water and settled down for the long drive home.

A red Welsh Sheepdog sits to catch his breath before descending the Stiperstones in Shropshire
Pumpkin sits down to enjoy the view on the Stiperstones in Shropshire

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