Dec 042010

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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What could be more traditionally Christmas-y than a sprig of holly with its festive green leaves and cheerful scarlet berries? The Hollies, the largest and probably the oldest hollins or holly grove in Europe, is cared for by the Shropshire Wildlife Trust. The grove stands on a sloping outpost of the Shropshire Hills, and I kept a promise to myself by walking out there to admire it in all its winter glory.

The cosy Mytton Arms in Habberley offers good beer, but no fancy food. Its decor keeps alive the roguish name of ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton, a 19th-century Shropshire squire whose watchword was ‘excess all areas’. He drank 8 bottles of port a day. He once tried to leap a toll-gate in a 4-horse gig (the horses made it, Mytton and the gig didn’t). Mad Jack got through half a million pounds (much of it literally blown away by the wind), and died a pauper in a debtor’s prison. If rock’n’roll had been invented back then, he’d have had to be a drummer.

Out in the fields, pigeons and partridges went clattering off. The sun lay like a pearl in a blur of cloud, softly lighting the green whaleback of Earl’s Hill. Up through coppices of oak and elder I went, and south over fields full of ewes, their rumps smeared blue with raddle. An exhausted ram tottered among them, utterly drained by his exertions. In the distance rode the broad ridge of the Long Mynd, one of England’s proper upland wildernesses. It was a view to make you sing, and so I did.

Under their soft covering of grass and trees, these hills hold a remarkable history. They were mined for coal and lead right up until the 20th century; the lead mine at Snailbeach was the largest in Europe in its heyday. At Lordshill above Snailbeach, shadowed by an industrial chimney, a beautiful old chapel bears testament to the religious faith engendered by the subterranean dangers and hardships of mining.

On the hillside above I found the ancient holly trees, gnarled, bent, many-trunked, bristling with prickles and glowing with fruit. Mistle thrushes rustled in their tops. The hollins would have been cleared long ago if the farmers had not found the holly leaves invaluable as nutrient-rich winter fodder. Pollarded and pruned, these trees were ancient when Mad Jack Mytton rode the land with his personal Furies at his heels. They’ll certainly outlive us all.

Start & finish: Mytton Arms, Habberley, Shropshire SY5 0TP (OS ref SJ 399035)

Getting there: Train ( to Shrewsbury (8 miles). Bus: Shropshire Hills Shuttle ( from Shrewsbury and Church Stretton.

Road: Habberley signposted from Pontesbury on A488 (Shrewsbury-Bishop’s Castle)

Walk (5 miles, moderate, OS Explorer 216): From Mytton Arms, right past church. 2nd left (‘Minsterley’); in 100 yards, right through farmyard (397037); bridleway (blue arrows/BA) for ½ mile NW into woods. In 30 yards fork left; follow track; in 150 yards at T-junction, left (yellow arrows/YA) up steps, along wood edge. In 200 yards left (391044; ‘Chris Bagley Walk’/CBW) through kissing gate; south across fields. Cross road (389040); on into woods. Descend to T-junction (388037); right along track; in 50 yards, left uphill (YA) through woods for ¾ mile. Leave trees (382027); cross field into wood; left (380025; YA) down to road. Left; first left down past chapel and chimney (381021); in 100 yards fork right (YA) uphill. At top of rise, post with 4 arrows (383020). The Hollies are scattered across the Access Land to your left here. Wander at will, then return to post. Head downhill between wooden gateposts on grass track. At Upper Vessons Farm (387021) follow farm lane; at bottom cross cattle grid (391023); ahead along lane; in 50 yards, right (fingerpost) over stile (YA). Diagonally to bottom left corner of field. Follow path near stream through successive gateways (YAs) for ½ mile. In 5th field, right across stream, through gate (CBW/YA). Diagonally left to top left corner of field; over stile (CBW/YA); on to road (398033). Left into Habberley.

NB – Online maps, more walks:

Lunch: Mytton Arms, Habberley (01743-792490) – sandwiches (at weekends only)

Accommodation/lunch: Stiperstones Inn, Stiperstones (01743-791327;

Holly from The Hollies on sale: Shropshire Wildlife Trust shop, 193 Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury (01743-284280; from 9 December

National Tree Week: 27 Nov-5 Dec. Visit for 10 ancient tree walks.

More info: Shrewsbury TIC (01743-281200);

 Posted by at 15:25

  4 Responses to “Habberley and The Hollies, Shropshire”

  1. Thanks for the Hollies walk on Saturday, a local gem, but I do hope no one relies on the Shropshire Hills shuttle bus as it only runs during the season and stopped at the end of September!

    In case you wondered why the Lords Hill Baptist chapel is located in such a remote spot, there is a story. The Marquis of Bath was the landowner at Snailbeach and he made a fortune out of royalties on all the lead taken from his land. In the nineteenth century, religious fervour was strong and many factions grew up all wanting their own place of worship. The Marquis granted land to several of these to build their own chapels but he did not approve of the Baptists and refused their request. However, the land at the top of the Stiperstones was held by the Earl of Tankerville, who was deeply envious of his neighbour’s good fortune so he took any opportunity to put one over on him. Thus, he offered the Baptists land to build their chapel just inside his boundary.

    The chimney you remark on is the flue for the engine house at chapel shaft, which you will have noticed opposite the chapel. This shaft was sunk at great expense by the Earl of Tankerville, where it was calculated that the galena (PbS) vein so rich at Snailbeach would enter his land. Unfortunately, neither he nor anyone else at the time, realised that the geology changes and the Stiperstones quartzite had not been mineralised. This is a classic example of the old adage that the best way to make a small fortune from mining … is to start with a large one!

    Thanks again,

    Andrew Hon Sec Shropshire Caving and Mining Club Publicity Officer Shropshire Mines Trust Membership Recruiter Shropshire Wildlife Trust etc etc

    • Dear Andrew,

      Thanks so much for getting in touch. That is fascinating – what a fable! Worthy of Aesop.

      With good wishes,


  2. Re: The Hollies walk.
    Concur with Andrew about reliance on the Shuttle Bus – only Easter to Sept at weekends. If trying to use your car, then the hill roads over the Long Mynd are officially “not maintained in winter”.

    This area was the setting for the 1947 film `Gone to Earth`, and featured locals as extras – but a bit more than that, using local musicians and dancers. Recently the `Lordshill project` reunited the remaining locals as a reminiscence project, and, led by John Kirkpatrick, recreated the folk music and dance shown in the film. This coincided with screenings of the original film locally.

    Snailbeach mine is open for visits on a few occasions each year.

    • Thanks, Steve – that’s very helpful to know!

      John Kirkpatrick has been a favourite of mine for ages – we used to go and
      see him and Sue Harris play in folk clubs all over the West Country and
      Midlands. Once I’d started to play the melodeon, I suddenly realised (a) how
      very good he was, and (b) how very bad I was. That’s still exactly our
      relative positions.


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