Edric Still Rides
The Stiperstones is one of Shropshire's wildest places. Its bleak white tors of quartzite are swept by chill winds even in the summer. In the winter with snow and driving, icy rain it can be a very uncomfortable place. Despite this it has a natural beauty all of its own and it has been designated a National Nature Reserve covering over 1 000 acres.
The rocky quartzite outcrops represent the baked sands of the beach of a returning sea about 500 million years ago. The hills have been eroded away by wind and rain, but the most dramatic sculptural work took place when ice sheets rolled over this area 15 000 years ago during the last ice age.
Not quite as noticeable as the crags but, some would say more influential in the human history of these hills are the Mytton and Tankerville Flags, rock formations containing veins of minerals. We know the Romans mined for the lead contained in these rocks and the mining industry has been shaping the hills ever since.
The remains of mine workings can be found all over the Stiperstones. Most shafts have been capped but care should be taken when walking the hills. Around the little village of Snailbeach many buildings from the lead mines survive including the remains of a railway and a very impressive tall chimney, "Old Tom".
Flora and Fauna
The heather and bracken-clad hills make a natural habitat for the Grouse, the Raven and the Meadow Pipit. Small ground hugging berries thrive around the crags. You can find the whinberry or bilberry, the crowberry and the cowberry all in profusion. Even though one of the crags is called 'Cranberry Rock', you won't find any cranberries there, 'cranberry' is probably a local name for the crowberry.
In the interest of managing the moorland, areas of heather are burnt during the winter. This is to burn away old woody growth and encourage new shoots to make healthy young plants. This is very carefully controlled with small areas being burnt each year. The process is called "Rotational Burning" and is a traditional way of maintaining grouse moors.
However, fires at other times can be extremely dangerous. In the dry summer a discarded cigarette or the ember from a fire can catch light to large areas of the heather and burn uncontrollably across the slopes in the variable winds. This not only causes much damage to the plant life, which can only recover from this untimely burning in a matter of six or more years, but also can be disastrous for the bird and animal life.
Many writers and poets have been encouraged to put pen to paper when surveying the Stiperstones. The most notable of which is probably Mary Webb whose novel "Gone To Earth" uses the hills as its setting.
Local people have many tales to tell of witches, devils and ghosts who haunt these hills. It's said when mist hangs around the Devil's Chair (one of the crags) Satan and a coven of witches are meeting and bad deeds are afoot.
There are many other tales of Wild Edric and his fairy bride Lady Godda. Local people explain away rumbles from mine shafts saying that Edric is imprisoned in the lead mines for making peace with William the Conqueror.
There are many legends of how the Devil's Chair came to be there. The devil was carrying rocks in his apron to fill a valley called "Hell's Gutter" but the weather was too hot, even for him. He sat down for a rest and when he got back to his feet the strings on his apron broke and the rocks fell in a pile on the ground. He swore and cursed the rocks and went home leaving them where they had fallen.
Another legend says a giantess came stealing rocks. She heaped piles of rocks into her apron and tried to take them away to her home. Up popped the devil and rushed after her cutting her apron strings with his talons. The rocks fell to earth and the giantess ran away never to return. Since that day the devil returns there to sit on the rocks and survey the world about for evil he can do. Be that as it may it is said that the rocks in the Devil's Chair all smell of Brimstone!