Pontesbury, Lordshill and The Stiperstones
This trail takes you to Pontesbury, where Mary and Henry Webb lived from 1914 to 1916, and to the Stiperstones, a dramatic quartzite ridge in Shropshire’s hill country, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the setting of several of Mary Webb’s novels.
Approaching Pontesbury, the twin humps of Earl’s Hill and Pontesford Hill are on the left. Pontesford Hill was the site of an old Palm Sunday custom of ‘seeking the golden arrow’, which Mary Webb refers to in her first novel The Golden Arrow(1916). She wrote of Pontesford Hill:
‘This is the hill, ringed by the misty shire
The mossy southern hill,
The little hill where larches climb so high…’
- ‘The Little Hill’
Mary and Henry lived at Rose Cottage (where The Golden Arrow was written) in the early years of the First World War. As part of her war effort, Mary took the produce from their large garden to Shrewsbury Market, walking the nine miles there and nine miles back.
‘Who’ll walk the fields with us to town,
In an old coat and a faded gown?
We take our roots and country sweets
Where high walls shade the steep old streets…
- ‘Market Day
Drive through Minsterley (where the church has a rare collection of 18th century maiden’s garlands) to Snailbeach on the Stiperstones Ridge.
Park in the Village Hall car park on the right.
Lead has been mined at Snailbeach since Roman times and in the nineteenth century a flourishing lead and barytes mining industry employed over 500. Barytes was still being mined in Mary Webb’s time and she used details of this local industry in her first two novels. The mine buildings have been preserved and an interpretation panel in the car park shows a heritage trail through the site, which is reached by walking up the lane opposite, signed to Lordshill.
Return to the car and drive up the lane past the mines site to Lordshill, ‘God’s Little Mountain’ in Mary Webb’s second novel Gone to Earth (1917). Park at the top of the hill on the left by a conifer wood.
Look back for a fine view to Bromlow Callow with its circlet of trees, ‘a spinney of silver birches and larches that topped a round hill’ – ‘The Callow’ in Mary Webb’s novel, where Hazel Woodus lives with father Abel.
Continue a short distance on foot to Lordshill Baptist Chapel and adjoining cottage in a dip with Lordshill rising above.
The Chapel and cottage are Mary Webb’s exact location in the novel, where the young minister Edward Marston lives and marries Hazel:
‘The chapel and minister’s house at God’s Little Mountain were all in one – surrounded by the graveyard, where stones, flat, erect, and askew, took the place of a flower garden. Away to the left, just over a rise, the hill was gashed by the grey steeps of the quarries. In front rose another curve covered with thick woods…Behind the house God’s Little Mountain sloped softly up and away apparently to its possessor.’
- ‘Gone to Earth’
This authentic setting was used in the 1950 Powell and Pressburger film of the novel starring Jennifer Jones as Hazel Woodus. There are lovely walks from this fascinating Mary Webb location.
For the energetic : About 45 minutes
Walk up the track from the chapel, taking the right fork to go over Lordshill.
This is the heart of Mary Webb Country and you will be walking where Mary Webb walked many times. There are fine views of the Long Mynd to the east - ‘Wilderhope’ in The Golden Arrow. The walk takes you past The Hollies, remains of an ancient holly wood, and through a conifer windbreak to a stile on the boundary of the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve. Here there is an information panel and lovely views of Bromlow Callow and the hills of the Welsh Borderland.
For an extended walk : (1 – 2 hours total)
Continue over the stile to The Devil’s Chair on the Stiperstones.
This walk takes you along part of an old Roman road. After the next stile follow the track, bearing right, across heather clad moors where wimberries grow – a local name for bilberries:
‘They had reached the highest level. The budding heather was round them like a dull crimson sea, encroached upon by patches of vivid wimberries flecked with leaves of ladybird red. In the lustrous air all colours were intensified…’
- ‘The Golden Arrow’
After a short distance you will see the Devil’s Chair, an enormous quartzite outcrop which ‘in gigantic aloofness’ dominates the landscape, an important setting in Mary Webb’s novels. Her descriptions are vividly evocative and she uses local legends brilliantly. There is a local superstition that when the Devil’s Chair is concealed from sight by low grey mists the Devil is on his throne.
‘For miles around, in the plains, the valleys, the mountain dwellings it was feared. It drew the thunder, people said. Storms broke round it suddenly out of a clear sky; it seemed almost as if it created storm…. It had the look of a chair from which the occupant has just risen, to which he will shortly return.’
-‘ The Golden Arrow’
From the Devil’s Chair on a clear day you will see ‘counties and blue ranges’ – an immense panorama of the Shropshire Hills and the Welsh Borderlands.
A shorter walk :
Take the track from the back of the clearing where you parked your car. Follow the track through the conifer wood to a gate into a field. Cross the field close to the fence on the right to a stile into Maddox’s Coppice.
This is an enchanting short exploration along Forestry Commission paths with lovely trees and wild flowers:
Deep, deep in wizardry
All the foxglove belfries stand….
For a longer drive:
From Snailbeach Village Hall drive through lovely scenery to The Bog and on to a car park on the Stiperstones. There are fine views of the Stiperstones and the Long Mynd from this car park and a track takes you along the Stiperstones ridge to The Devil’s Chair.
An Interpretation Centre in The Bog Field Centre is open from April to October, 10.00am to 5.00pm .