bird watching birds landscapes nature reserves Shropshire Wildlife Trusts

Bracken and Bilberries – Part 3. The Easy Walk at Stiperstones

In Shropshire we are lucky to have a few paths in nature reserves that are designed for visitors with mobility issues. The ones we have tried out are excellent, but the best we have experienced so far has to be the walk at Stiperstones. We tried it out when I was suffering with my spine and leg pain and followed the trail on crutches.

The route has been well chosen taking in many of the important features of the reserve and has a few useful information boards along the way. There are many resting places, some with wheelchair space alongside a bench for able-bodied companions. On our walk we were impressed with the design of seats for crutch/walking stick users. In actual fact seat is not the correct term – they were really like perches with backs all just at comfortable heights. Simple wooden construction makes them look like a section of fencing but they proved to be quite comfortable.

Every point of interest and each special viewpoint seemed to have a resting place perfectly sited.

The pathway and its resting places gave good close up views of many wild plants which sparkled in the low light of setting autumnal sun.

Alongside the track we came across a small patch of woodland being used for pheasant rearing. The local finch population had cottoned on to the value of this woodland and the easy food source. There are so few trees on the Stiperstones that this group of trees must have seemed like an oasis to small birds. The feeders intended for the young pheasants were attracting Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Bullfinches as well as the odd Robin and Blackbird.

This was a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable walk so well done to whoever designed and built it. It combines easy access with features to view and plenty of info.

autumn autumn colours bird watching birds landscapes nature reserves photography Shropshire shrubs wildlife

Bracken and Bilberries – Part 2. The Stiperstones

As promised in the post “Bracken and Bilberries – Part 1” here now is a post about the Stiperstones, the ridge of hills that begins close behind our home and runs down towards the south of the county. It has been a long time since we climbed this rugged landscape, even though it is so close to home. My disabilities with spine and leg troubles coupled with  breathing problems stop me doing such things very often but I set myself a target each year to tackle something crazy! Climbing the Stiperstones was this year’s challenge.

The walk up to the ridge is a steep but wide grass path, shorn short by the resident ponies and cattle. From the gate at the bottom it looks a long way up. It looked even longer when we realised that we had left our flask of coffee at hom!. It was a bright day but there was a cold biting wind so we wrapped up well and set off. It looked much brighter than the day when we recently tackled the walk along the Stapeley Hill ridge.

Our green trackway through bracken was suffering from erosion from recent heavy rains which seem to come each autumn now. New drainage gulleys cross our path which mark an attempt to secure the surface more effectively when feet walk heavily over sodden turf.

Areas of bracken here, just as on the Stapeley Hill trail in my previous “Bracken and Bilberries” post, have been cut down in an attempt to get the heather back. This project is called “Returning to Purple”. Bracken does tend to take over but slowly the purples of heathers are re-emerging in our hills. Apart from bracken and the occasional heathers small evergreen shrubs which produce berries are the commonest plants – Bilberries, Cowberries, Crowberries and Whinberries. Locals still collect these berries for jams, jellies and fruit pies, but in previous centuries they were an important food source and even provided a little income for the cottagers. All these little, low-growing shrubs have dark evergreen leaves and berries offering varied colours and tastes. Cowberries, also known as Lingonberries, have edible berries with a stange mixture of sweetness and sourness. As well as here in the Shropshire Hills they are native to the Arctic Tundra and Boreal Forest. Bilberries produce edible black fruits and Crowberries similarly give black berries which have good flavour but are rather dry.

We stopped half way up the slope to get our breaths back and look back over the path we had so far covered. The view over towards “The Long Mynd was lit beautifully. Our next Bracken and Bilberry wander perhaps?

On the next stage of our ascent our eyes were drawn to a solitary tree high up on our left just below the top of the ridge. There are so few trees up here once you leave the low area where we parked the car. Every tree looks extra special because of this exclusivity and its stunted growth due to altitude, poor soils and prevailing weather.

As we neared the ridge the path got rockier and outcrops more frequent. The wind got colder making our eyes sting and run, and our ears. hurt.

The path divided as we reached the spine of the ridge with the route left taking us a short way along just over the other side of the ridge, the route right taking a long path right along the ridge to a series of rock outcrops. With the time we had left to walk and the sudden drop in temperature that hit us as we met the cold air rising up from the other side of the ridge we decided to do the shorter option. We would come back another day with more time and make sure we did not forget our coffee and fruit sustenance!

The path we took went  along the sharp top of the ridge occasionally dropping onto the colder side. It was freezing, so cold that little patches of snow lay on the path in places. This is a bit early in the year for snow around here! We walked into the sun and battled the strengthening biting wind, making our way towards the silhouetted rocky outcrops. It proved to be a lazy wind – too lazy to go around us so it went straight through.

We were so glad of our thermal gloves and thermal coats but we had forgotten our thermal beanie hats. Jude tried to cope with her jacket hood which proved simply too thin. I tried to cope with a baseball cap – the wind that was too lazy to walk around us was sadly not lazy when it came to blowing my hat away!

When we reached the rugged outcrop we were aiming for we knew it was worth getting cold for. A dramatic spiky rough outcrop!

From this ridge the views westward back towards Mitchells Fold and Stapeley Ridge and Wales beyond were breath-taking. Another place to stand together and think what a wonderful place we live in.

The views to the south were equally stunning.

The cold was penetrating too deeply and lack of sustenance was beginning to tell so we turned away from the sun and made our way back to the parting of the paths to begin the descent through the bracken and bilberries along the grassy track. The wind was now on our backs, so biting less and even helping us on our way a little.

As we reached the paths’ junction before turning back downhill we took a long look along the other walk we were determined to return to tackle another day. It looked inviting with the sun shining on it, calling out to us to return. We couldn’t refuse, so pledged to come back soon.

As we stood considering the trek we would make on our return to the Stiperstones, we watched Red Kite hunting the slopes below us. A rare chance to watch these big predators from above. Little else showed, just one Meadow Pipit and the commonest bird of the day Raven working their way over the hills in pairs.