The Mortimer Forest Geology Trail
High Vinnalls, Near Ludlow, Shropshire
(SQ 474732)

High Vinnalls Car Park and starting point for the geology trail

For anyone interested in geology and travelling in South Shropshire, the geology trails in Mortimer Forest are well worth a visit

The Trails lie to the west of Ludlow, in Shropshire, adjacent to a minor road between Ludlow and Wigmore.

The best starting point for exploring the trails is the High Vinnalls car park (see 'Access and Safety' below). The entrance to the car park is shown left.

The rocks in the Ludlow area date from the Silurian Period, first defined by Sir Roderick Murchison in 1835 and named after the Silures a celtic tribe that inhabited the area of Wales where he conducted his studies. The rocks consist mostly of limestone and shale and were deposited between 410 and 440 million years ago in a shallow sea that was slowly closing and was to disappear completely by the end of the period.

The Silurian period is divided into four series, Llandovery (oldest), Wenlock, Ludlow and Pridoli (youngest) and these trails have exposures in all except the Llandovery series.

Some of the sites are protected. There are two separate trails each with its own excellent trail guide. Both guides give information on permitted collecting. To make the most of these trails it is recommended that visitors equip themselves with a copy of the guides, especially if their interest is in fossils rather rhan geology.


  • O.S. Landranger Series, 1:50,000, Map 137 (Ludlow and Wenlock Edge).
  • O.S. Explorer Series, 1:25,000, Map 203 (Ludlow).
  • British Geological Survey, 1:50,000 Series Maps, England and Wales Sheet 181, Ludlow
  • British Geological Survey, 1:25,000 Classical Areas Maps, No. 16 Leintwardine, Ludlow.

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Trail Guides

  • The 'Mortimer Forest Geology Trail' (published in 2000 by Scenesetters for the Forestry Commission)
    This trail was created by the Nature Conservatory Council (now Natural England) and the Forestry Commission in 1977 to recognise important research in the area in the 1960s that had redefined the Ludlow Series. The studies created two new geological time stages that are now accepted worldwide, the Gorstian and the Ludfordian.
    Copies of this trail guide may be obtained locally from the 'Secret Hills Discovery Centre' at Craven Arms. The centre usually has a good range of local geology books, guides and maps and also serves meals!
    The trail guide describes 13 locations (identified on the ground as 'stops'). Except for locations 4 and 5, all are small quarries adjacent to a 4Km stretch of road with no footpath and care must taken when walking between stops.
  • Geologists' Association Guide No. 27: The Geology of South Shropshire by M. Allbutt, J. Moseley, C. Rayner & P. Toghill, 3rd Edition 2002.
    Itinery 5: The Standard Ludlovian section of Mortimer Forest
  • gives detailed geological information for the area and includes a geology trail, coincidentally also of 13 locations. Unlike the trail above this circular 10 Km trail lies wholly within Mortimer Forest on roads free from traffic (except for occasional Forestry Commission vehicles) and therefore can be safely followed either on foot or by bicycle.

The pictures and descriptions below are for the shorter Forestry Commission trail.

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Mortimer Forest Geology Trail

Turn left out of the car park and walk towards Wigmore.

Location 1: The first location is about 300 metres down the road on the right hand side. It is a small quarry standing back from the road and may be identified by 'Mortimer Forest Geological Trail Stop 1' on a wooden post in the grass verge. If you reach the bottom of the slope and Pitch Cottage on your right you have come about 50 metres too far!

The remains of an old lime kiln a few metres above location 2

Here one can see alternating layers of limestone and mudstone from the Much Wenlock Limestone Formation of the Wenlock Series. One may find a few Brachiopods but fossils are scarce. The mudstone layers suggest repeated silty incursions that are unsuitable habitat for filter feeding organisms such as corals.

Location 2: About 60 metres up the hill from stop 1 is another small quarry that shows hard nodular limestone from the uppermost Much Wenlock Limestone Formation. This is stop 2. Fossils are only freed from the nodular limestone by natural weathering so fossils such as brachiopod shells are most likely to be seen in the rock surface or washed out in the scree at the foot of the rock face.

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A few metres above stop 2 may be seen the remains of an old lime kiln (see picture, above right). This presumably processed limestone from the quarries to produce quicklime for agricultural or building purposes.

Location 3 on the Mortimer Forest Geology Trail

Location 3: Location 3 is a few metres above location 2 on the other side of the road. It is approached through a small plantation of Douglas Firs. The quarry is just visible in the picture on the left, at the base of the distant trees beyond the figure in red.

Here two visible metres of hard nodular Wenlock limestone are over lain by well-bedded siltstone of the lower Elton Formation, Ludlow Series.

Scientifically, this is probably the most important site on the trail.

The boundary between the Lower Elton bed siltstone and the Wenlock limestone is the International Stratotype Boundary between the Wenlock Series and the Ludlow Series.

Do not hammer or scramble across this boundary on the quarry face

Location 4: Return to the Vinnalls car park. Take the wide forestry road climbing up beyond the vehicle barrier. After about 250 metres, at the top of the rise, another wide forestry track descends on the left. Follow this white-waymarked forestry track for 700 metres. Just beyond a pond on the left, at the bottom of a descent, a stream crosses the track. Here, to the left of the track, the Forestry Commission has excavated a section of the stream bank. This is location 4 (there is no visible post with the usual 'Stop n' label).

Academically, this site is valuable for graptolites that are important for the international correlation of sites. However, it is also a popular hunting ground for the Trilobite Dalmanites, though mostly only fragments are found.

One can see in the picture below, taken in May 2008, how the site has been plundered by fossil hunters.

Pictures of the the first four exposures on the trail are shown below:-

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Stop 1: Much Wenlock Limestone Formation - alternating layers of limestone and mudstone Stop 2: Uppermost Much Wenlock Limestone Formation - hard nodular limestone
Stop 1: Much Wenlock Limestone Formation - alternating layers of limestone and mudstone
Stop 2: Uppermost Much Wenlock Limestone Formation - hard nodular limestone
Stop 3: Much Wenlock Limestone Formation - Wenlock Series and Lower Elton Formation Stop 4: Middle Elton Formation - Dark mudstones with lighter grey calcareous bands
Stop 3: Much Wenlock Limestone Formation - Wenlock Series and Lower Elton Formation
Stop 4: Middle Elton Formation - Dark mudstones with lighter grey calcareous bands

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Other Locations

The remaining locations, 5 to 13, are spread along 4Km of the road between High Vinnalls car park and Ludford Corner. They cover the whole of the Ludlow Series and the base of the Pridoli Series and are briefly summarised below:-

  • Location 5: Upper Elton Formation
  • Location 6: Lower Bringewood Formation
    This site is at Gorsty which gives its name to the Gorstian Stage of the Ludlow Series.
  • Location 7: Upper Bringewood Formation
  • Location 8: Lower Leintwardine Formation
  • Location 9: Lower Leintwardine Formation
  • Location 10: Upper Leintwardine Formation
  • Location 11: Upper Leintwardine Formation
  • Location 12: Lower Whitcliffe Formation
  • Location 13: Upper Whitcliffe Formation

Location 13, the world-famous Ludlow Bone Bed site, also carries a plaque to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Murchison's Silurian System.

Access and Safety

From the town square in Ludlow head south, down hill, towards the river. Immediately after crossing Ludford bridge, and before the rise, turn sharp right along a road marked "Forestry Commission" and signposted 'Wigmore'.

After a short distance, at the top of a rise, the Forestry Commission Offices can be seen on the left. After about 4Km (2.5 miles), turn left into the High Vinnalls car park. The area is owned by the Forestry Commission, has free public access, and is the starting point for both trails.


  1. All but two of the thirteen 'stops' described in the 'Mortimer Forest Geology Trail' are excavations at the side of the road from Ludlow to Wigmore. There is no footpath, so traffic poses a significant threat. Extreme care is needed when walking between stops.
  2. Except when expressly permitted, do not hammer on rockfaces. Some faces have been undermined so that hammering can be dangerous. Also, some of the locations have important structural features that can be destroyed by hammering.

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