Walk of the Month: England has its limits: ragged and mysterious

Mark Rowe gazes on the Welsh border from Shropshire's dramatic peaks
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The Independent Travel

There is an enchanting quality to the landscape of Shropshire. Perhaps it's the location in the blurred hinterland where England becomes Wales, with flood plains surrounded by mountain and moor; or the light, the solitude, or the abundance of legends. It is wonderful walking territory, too: this short trek in the Shropshire hills encompasses a lot of the features you might want from a hike - a bit of a climb, open countryside and a decent pub.

There is an enchanting quality to the landscape of Shropshire. Perhaps it's the location in the blurred hinterland where England becomes Wales, with flood plains surrounded by mountain and moor; or the light, the solitude, or the abundance of legends. It is wonderful walking territory, too: this short trek in the Shropshire hills encompasses a lot of the features you might want from a hike - a bit of a climb, open countryside and a decent pub.

The walk starts at the village hall car park in Snailbeach, an old mining village just off the A488. Take the gravel track uphill signposted for Lordshill. You soon reach the carefully preserved remains of Snailbeach's lead mining industry, with wheel shafts, a compressor house and chimneys. Lead was mined here during Roman times, but the industry reached its height in the 1850s when, with 500 men employed, this rural landscape was home, improbably, to the largest lead mine in Europe. The remnants of old squatters' cottages, where the miners lived, dot the landscape along this walk; today they serve as decaying sheepfolds.

Continue uphill along the road through pretty woodland and follow it as it bears right. Then head left downhill toward the Lordshill chapel and the chimney behind it. The Calvinist chapel was built in 1833 and boasts an idyllic churchyard. The chapel was described as "God's Little Mountain" by Mary Webb in her novel Gone to Earth.

For those intrigued to learn more about Webb, open-air performances of her best-known work, Precious Bane, are being staged in nearby Shrewsbury from 15 July to 1 August, performed by the well-regarded Pentabus Theatre Company.

From Lordshill chapel, walk uphill and keep to the upper path. Further ahead follow the main track as it climbs. The views open up once again, with the Wrekin, once a Bronze Age hill fort and full of legends, rising abruptly from the plains below, beautifully shaped hills closer by and, to the west, a fetching coronet of trees on Bromlow Callow. The horizon beyond is filled with the vast lump of Snowdon. All this somehow gives the place a sense of remoteness, even though you have not walked that far. Follow the path and head for the windbreak of conifers. Cross two stiles and you enter the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve. The Stiperstones are jagged, quartzite tors rising to 530m. This is a bleak plateau, heathland home of skylarks, curlew, raven, stonechat, pipit and buzzard.

The height of the Stiperstones and the surrounding low plains make for some extraordinary sunsets and sunrises at this time of year. "There is a genuine atmosphere," explained Anne Oakes-Jones who runs The Bog visitor centre, a mile south of Stiperstones village. "The Stiperstones are mystical, but not eerie. It barely gets dark and the sunlight can alter the whole colour of the countryside. People talk of the hair on their neck standing up."

During summer, just to add to this outré atmosphere, you will be met with a haze of heather, part of English Nature's "back to purple" project, designed to counter the encroaching conifer plantations by restoring the heather and whinberry (the local name for bilberry) along a six-mile stretch of the ridge.

Manstone Rock, at 536m, is the highest point of the route, with views of the Welsh Borderlands. En route, you pass the Devil's Chair, mossy, rocky and the most spectacular of the tors. To the east, and running parallel to the Stiperstones, is the Long Mynd, an elongated, long barrow-shaped geological feature.

To descend, retrace your steps past the Devil's Chair, keeping ahead at one crossroads and then bearing left steeply downhill between Perkins Beach and Green Hill. Keep to the main path all the way down, cross a stile and pass a turf house and a teashop to reach a T-junction. To your left is the Stiperstones Inn, which serves a delicious baked whinberry pie. From here, turn right on the road for the final 1.5 miles back to the village car park.

GIVE ME THE FACTS

Distance: Five miles

Time: Three hours

A version of this walk is outlined in a free booklet, "The Magic of Shropshire with Mary Webb", by Gladys Mary Coles, available from Shrewsbury Tourist Information Centre (01743 281200; www.shrewsburytourism.co.uk). For public transport connections visit www.shropshire hillsshuttles.co.uk. Contact National Rail (08457 48 49 50) for train connections to Shrewsbury.

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