The Stiperstones
(SO 358977 to SJ 387032)

Footpath along the lower western slope of the Stiperstones ridge

The south Shropshire hills are popular with walkers, hikers and geologists who, having discovered the area, tend to return.

Being less well known than other tourist attractions, the area has retained its rural beauty, peacefulness and solitude.

A favourite among these hills must be the Stiperstones. Approximately six kilometres long, two kilometres wide and rising to 536 metres, Stiperstones offers superb views over the surrounding countryside with other South Shropshire hills lying to the east and south; the Welsh mountains to the west and the Wrekin, symbol of Shropshire, to the north east.

Part of the Stiperstones ridge path

Craggy tors lining the ridge instantly identify the Stiperstones.

The Stiperstones ridge consists almost entirely of quartz-arenite sandstone that was deposited originally in shallow water, littoral or beach conditions. It was later cemented by quartz in solution to form the hard quartzite rock.

To the west of the ridge, the Stiperstones Quartzite Formation is overlain by the Mytton Flags Formation. The Mytton flags were heavily mineralised. There is evidence that lead was mined here by the Romans and that lead (galena), zinc (sphalerite) and barium (barite) supported a highly successful industry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In the late 1800s Britain was the largest producer of lead in Europe and the mine at nearby Snailbeach had a higher output than any other mine; accounting for an estimated 10% of UK output. The Hope Valley, to the west of Stiperstones was dotted with lead mines, some very successful, others speculative failures. Evidence of this industry is still visible today in numerous spoil heaps, ruined engine houses, chimneys and capped mine shafts.

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The mineralisation of the Mytton Flags has not been conclusively proved. One theory is that it may have been due to Scottish granite being carried south as pollution, dumped in Shropshire and then deposited in cracks in the rocks by relatively low temperature (around 100-200 degrees Centigrade) hydro-thermal action.

For a more detailed study of this area it is recommended that the reader consult the following:-

  • Geologists' Association Guide No.27 "The Geology of South Shropshire" by M. Allbutt, J. Moseley, C. Rayner and P. Toghill.
  • "The Shropshire Lead Mines" by Fred Booth and Martin Allbutt.

One theory is that Stiperstones was laid down in the Ordovician as a sandy beach and that the sand grains were later cemented together by quartz in solution to form a very hard quartzite rock.

If this were so one would expect to find, as evidence of a beach,

  • Pebbles
  • Invertebrate tubes or burrows, and
  • Ripples caused by ebb and flow

Quartz intrusion, pebbles and burrows can be easily found in the scattered rocks of the ridge path, as the pictures below show:-

The GA guide No.27 reports that evidence of ripples is common on bedding surfaces, with amplitudes of 5 - 10cm and wavelengths of 50 - 90cm, though these may be difficult to find.

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Quartzite tor south of the Devil's Chair White quartz intrusions into grey quartzite rock
Quartzite tor south of the Devil's Chair
White quartz intrusions into grey quartzite rock
Quartz pebbles Bioturbation - tube or burrow?
Quartz pebbles
Bioturbation - tube or burrow?

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Access and Safety

The Stiperstones area is criss-crossed by numerous public rights of way that enable a visitor to plan a circular walk. Three car parks are conveniently placed for vehicular access, they are:-

Towards the southern end of the northern ridge,
  • The site of the former Bog Mine (SO 357978)
  • The National Trust car park just north of the road to Bridges (SO 370977)
and in the north,
  • The Snailbeach village car park (SJ 373023)

Extreme caution is needed when climbing on the tors. The ridge path comprises scattered rocks that may move underfoot. The visitor should note that, even off the ridge path, heather and whinberry may be growing in only an inch or two of soil above hard quartzite rocks.

Some of the batches at the north west end of the Stiperstones are very steep and can be slippery in wet weather, as can the numerous spoil tips from disused lead mine workings