Sitting on the Devil’s Chair was my idea of heaven.
Stiper seemed a very unusual word to me, when I looked for a definition on Google I found a forum that defined ‘Stipere’ as “a prop,(or) a post” (A,H. Smith, English Place-Name Elements, vol 2, 1956:153) or a Stiper is “the post in a doorway against which double doors are shut. one of the four main posts of a wooden loom.” (Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary).
The Stiperstones are natural quartzite rock outcrops along a ridge to the south west of Shrewsbury. There is a lot of folklore and legend around the area, it takes very little imagination to see how the ancients might have seen these outcrops as either natural boundary stones or posts to another world. One of these outcrops is called the Devil’s Chair, fortunately he was not present when I sat on it. In fact sitting on top of a ridge on a beautiful day with great views was more like the chair of heaven, I could have sat there for ages drinking it all in.
I am always looking for somewhere different
I love walking in North Wales, the Lake District and the Peaks (Scotland is too far!), there is no shortage of walks to be done in these National Parks, but I like to explore other parts of our land as well. My experience of Shropshire has been The Long Mynd, and parts of it when walking Offa’s Dyke, apart from that it is an unknown county to me for walking.
I found a walk for the Stiperstones in an old Trail magazine when sorting the great pile of mags out from under my desk, so grabbing my rucksack and boots, off I went to explore.
Leaving The Bog
My walk started at a place called The Bog, there are many interesting names around this area (like Snailbeach!). It is the site of a lost mining village where for almost 200 years lead was mined. Mining commenced in the 1730’s creating quite a community and becoming the principal source of lead in the country.
All that is left of the village today is the ruins of an engine house, and the old school which is now a visitors centre run by the local community. There are many signs of the mining works around, old spoil heaps and water reservoirs that are now ponds full of life.
From The Bog my path went south towards Black Rhadley Hill. I had not walked far before I was aware of two things, the first was the amazing views, valleys, hills and woods all in such a relatively small area. I could not help but think that it looked a lot like my idea of the Shire from Lord of the Rings. There was a real tranquility about the place, a hidden world kept secret from the business if modern life.
The second was that it was really muddy and like an idiot, I had not bothered to put my gaiters on.
Black Rhadley Hill
Black Rhadley Hill is at the southernmost end of the Stipers, about a mile and a half from The Bog, it was a fairly gentle climb with frequent stops because I was so impressed with the land that was around me. The hills around and about look quite gentle although some have height, the shades of brown and green contrasted with the blues, greys and whites of the sky, it was very atmospheric in the quiet and windless shelter of the ridge, it was almost magic!
I say it was quiet, and that was the natural state of the day. It was unfortunately disturbed though by a shooting range somewhere down in the valley. I am no expert on guns but they were incredibly loud, they were shooting most of the day and it kind of became a backdrop to much of my walk. When I was on the east side if the ridge, it blocked the noise of the gun fire making the natural stillness even more profound.
Standing on Black Rhadley Hill I looked down into a valley of the river West Onny, next to the river is a roadway that leads to Linley Hall. It has got to be one of the most spectacular driveways in the country, I tried to imagine driving a horse and cart along it in the 19th century. It must have been used in a movie at some time.
The bluff of Black Rhadley Hill gives a great 360° view of the surrounding countryside. It is covered with heather and blueberry bushes and is a place of specific scientific interest. There is only one path to the top and there is a sign asking walkers to stick to that path, so the way up is also the way down.
The route I was following went back down Black Rhadley Hill and then over a rock outcrop called ‘The Rock’. There was supposed to be a path, but where I never found it. I ended up winding my way through heather and rocks following sheep trails, trying not to walk too much over the heather itself. To get over the rock required some scrambling which was a welcome exercise. Unknown to me at the time it was a warm up for what was to come, as the day progressed I ended up climbing over most of the stone outcrops of the Stiperstones, it made a much more enjoyable and rewarding day.
Eventually the route took me to a tarmac path on the east side of the ridge. This was probably the least interesting part of the walk, it did not last long though, after about a mile the path turned north west across a field and up onto the ridge leading to Shepherd’s rock.
The sun had come out by the time I got to the summit of shepherd’s rock, this was the ideal spot have my lunch. On the top it was slightly windy, but with my Rab Nimbus Thermal Jacket on I was plenty warm enough. Sometimes lunch break on a walk can be just perfect, a moment to sayver to the full, this was such a break. As I sat there my heart was full, munching my sarnies and drinking in all that was around me, someone had hit the pause button, and I loved it.
South along the ridge and the Stiperstones
The final part of my walk was along the Stiperstones ridge, there are three main outcrops after Shepherd’s Rock. Devil’s Chair, Manstone Rock and Cranberry Rock.
When I got to the Devil’s Chair I decided I had to stand on the top, it is just a must with a name like that. I did not intend to climb the others but when I got to Manstone rock, I simply could not resist. In the end I climbed all the rock outcrops, it added a different dimension to the walk that exercised some muscles not usually used on a walk. It was great, by the end of the walk I felt like I had had a good workout.
The track across the top of the ridge is not easy walking, good walking boots are definitely required. I was glad to be wearing my Zamberlan 996 Vioz that have very firm soles. The path that winds its way through the heather has many large stones sticking out, easy to twist an ankle on, as I walked I needed to concentrate on every step.
I passed an elderly couple on the top, although they were enjoying the day they were obviously struggling with the path, I did feel a little concerned about them. I was glad to see them walking down the side of the ridge just before I left, on a much easier path heading towards their car.
It was a great discovery
I feel that shropshire is a new discovery for me for walking. On my route, there were hills and valleys that I saw and thought, I would love to walk over there. I think I was pretty spoilt with the weather, the sky at times was quite dramatic a mixture of cloud and sun, it was not as cold as I had anticipated and best of all it did not rain. When down off of the ridge it was incredibly still, like life was on pause. The ridge was windy but not uncomfortably so.
The ridge is wild and rugged, a wilderness in the middle of farmed valleys and woods, I imagine it is pretty harsh up there at times in more extreme weather.
Walking the path and climbing the rock outcrops was a worthwhile challenge that I really enjoyed. I finished my walk feeling very satisfied and I want to explore more of the shropshire hills in the future.
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