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Stiperstones

Stiperstones

Near Church Stretton
Shropsire
England, United Kingdom. (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO367985)


We had driven through a rain storm and parked under ominously dark sky at a carpark known as 'The Bog' prior to our ascent of the Stiperstones - the omens seemingly wern't good. A short detour was made to visit the 'Information Centre' to learn a little more about the history of the area, they also sold tea, cake and stiperscones! Lead was mined here and later barytes until around 1920 when it became uneconomical to do so.

 

The Stiperstones are a quartzite ridge formed some 480 million years ago running for five miles (8km) NNE/SSW. During the last Ice Age the summit stood out above the glaciers and was subject to constant freezing and thawing which shattered the quartzite into a mass of jumbled scree surrounding several residual rocky tors. At 536m (1750') its summit, Manstone Rock, is the second highest peak in  Shropshire, surpassed only by Brown Clee Hill (540m, 1772'). Dotted along the ridge are a handful of cairns, some are easy to spot and others more obscure.

Stiperstones. A cairn south of Cranberry Rock. July 2009.
Stiperstones. A cairn south of Cranberry Rock. July 2009.

The path along the ridge is difficult walking, the thin layer soil being worn away by the tramp of boots exposing the shattered quartzite boulders below; I suspect many have turned or twisted an ankle upon them. The cairns themselves are quite degraded and difficult spot, though the tallest is easier at close to six feet tall, confusingly there appear to be a small number of modern cairns constructed to mark the pathway. The principle features of the ridge are:

 

Shepherd's Rock (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO373998)
Devil's Chair (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO368991)
Manstone Rock (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO367986)
Cairn (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO368985)
The Largest Cairn (OS Ref. SO368988)
Cranberry Rock (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO365981)
Cairn (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO367985)
Nipstone Rock (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO365969)
The Rock (OS Ref. Sheet 137 SO351963)

 

Even in the low cloud a drizzle the views from The Stiperstones are magnificent, to the southwest is Corndon Hill (the site of the Cwm Mawr neolithic axe factory) and Stapeley Hill, the location of Mitchell's Fold stone circle. North of Mitchell's Fold can be seen the field in which the low stones of the Hoarstones stone circle can be seen, though not even when squinting the stones themselves. Immediately west would have once been another stone circle (or cairn) at Shelve. In the far distance to the north east The Wrekin can be seen and closer The Lawley, rising and falling as you walk Caer Caradoc can be observed above The Long Mynd. Ratlinghope Hill and Stitt Hill with their cross dykes, embankments and prehistoric farming features are to the immediate east.

Stiperstones. A large cairn south of the Devil's Chair. July 2009.
Stiperstones. A large cairn south of the Devil's Chair. July 2009.

Of all the nations of earth it is said that the devil hates England the most, what the English have done to earn this wrath more than any other people is unknown. What is known, or at least as legend tells us, is that the boiling pits of hell and England's green and pleasant land are very close - something William Blake knew! Many years ago the vaulted roof of Hell collapsed exposing it to England, this enraged Old Nick so much so that stomped and screamed and bellowed, immediatly he vowed to repair this hole and alighted upon the land. The Devil searched high and low for suitable building material and reckoned upon the causeway that Scottish and Irish giants had built between their lands. (I think Old Scratch has an equal dislike of the Scots and Irish as to the English; the Welsh are better treated, the Devil being driven from those lands many years ago). The Devil ripped up the giants causeway and gathered the boulders up in his leather apron, it is believed the crags upon the Stiperstones are rocks dropped by the Devil as he travelled back to repair the roof of Hell.

Stiperstones. The Devil's Chair. July 2009.
Stiperstones. The Devil's Chair. July 2009.

The stench of brimstone hangs thick about the Stiperstones and is perhaps centered upon the craggy outcrop known as the 'Devil's Chair'. The Devil is said to sit heavily upon this 'chair', so much so that the earth shakes and thunderstorms break out - a fortean link between thunderstorms and earthquakes perhaps! If a weary traveller sat upon the 'chair' then again a terrible storm would occur, it may be coincidence but as we walked past the rocky outcrop that day the constant drizzle turned into heavy rain, driving us away from this place. As we reached lower levels the sun came out and we dried off a little bit.

 

Five or six miles to the south of the Stiperstones is a boulder known as the Lea Stone; near the castle ruins at Bishop's Castle. When resting in his 'chair' and no doubt roaring with laughter at the storm he had caused the Devil found that he had a pebble stuck in his hoof. With great effort he managed to get the stone free and in disgust threw it to where it is today.

 

The Devil is not the spectral beast to haunt the stiperstones - at the midwinter solstice all the ghosts of shropshire are said to assemble here. 'The Seven Whistlers' are said to fly here, calling for one of their lost number, should it be found, the world will come to an end. The hills around Church Stretton are haunted by a massive hound with fiery red eyes.

Monstrous Fish & Sword (www.godecookery.com)
Monstrous Fish & Sword (www.godecookery.com)

Wild Edric is a name associated with the folk myth of the wild hunt. To witness Wild edric and his Wild Hunt is a presage of war, claims of sightings are believed to have happened around the times of the Napoleonic Wars, Boer War, Crimean War, and the First World War. A young girl who saw Wild Edric's Ride was warned by her father to put her apron over her head to avoid the sight.

The myth of Wild Edric is based upon the historical figure of Eadric the Wild or Eadric Silvaticus who was a leader of Saxon resistance to the Norman Conquest, active in the Welsh Marches. Refusing to submit to William the Bastard (William II) he and his men ravaged Herefordshire in 1067, burned the town of Shrewsbury, attacked into the county of Cheshire before being defeated in 1069 at Stafford. Edric swore allegiance to King William in 1070 and participated in his invasion of Scotland two years later.

 

For this betrayal of his Saxon people, he was cursed and confined with his spectral army to the Stiperstones, miners tunneling deep into the surrounding land have heard knocking and tapping noises. In a similarity to the Arthurian Legends it is believed Wild Edric and his army would rise from their stony tomb should the nation be threatened and defend the people. In nearby Bomere Pool dwells a giant magical fish that guard's Edric's sword and will be returned only to its rightful owner at time of war.

 

So thin it seems is the crust between the Stiperstones and Hell that it is said that should the Stiperstones collapse then England will perish.

Stiperstones. Manstone Rock, 536m (1750'). July 2009.
Stiperstones. Manstone Rock, 536m (1750'). July 2009.