A climb up Earl's Hill


Earl's Hill


4 miles (6.4kms)

984ft (300m)

About the walk

This is a shortish walk, but it’s second to none in terms of steepness. This isn’t only true on the ascent of Earl’s Hill itself, but also as you descend into, and climb out of, the deep, lush valley of Habberley Brook. Take your time on the steep bits and the effort will be well-rewarded as this walk packs plenty of variety and interest into its short length. Earl’s Hill is composed of Precambrian rocks, formed about 650 million years ago, and is volcanic in origin. Iron Age people built a fort on top in about 600 bc, and there are intriguing local legends and customs attached to the hill, one of them involving a search each Palm Sunday for a golden arrow, a story that was the inspiration behind Mary Webb’s novel The Golden Arrow. Mary lived in nearby Pontesbury for a time and made long walks into the hills. 

Earl’s Hill is often said to resemble a sleeping dragon or lion and, from certain angles, you can just about see the lion. More prosaically, it is both a Scheduled Ancient Monument (because of the Iron-Age fort) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its wildlife value. It became Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s first nature reserve back in 1964; an auspicious start, given the quality of the site. The adjoining Pontesford Hill, where the walk begins, is leased and managed by Forest Enterprise.

Ecologically, Earl’s Hill is most valuable for its great variety of habitats, and you can see most of them from here, ranging from fast-flowing Habberley Brook through mixed woodland, anthill meadows, scrub, scree and cliffs to the acid grassland that surrounds you on the summit. The anthills, made by yellow hill ants, are composed of well-drained, sandy soil which heats up quickly in the first sunny days of spring, supporting flowers which appreciate a little extra warmth, such as wild thyme, heath bedstraw and heath speedwell. In this way, each anthill forms a distinct microhabitat with a different range of flowers than the surrounding meadowland.

In 2006 Shropshire Wildlife Trust acquired a further 25 acres (10ha) of meadows on the Habberley Valley side of the hill to extend the nature reserve. The Trust continues its long-term plan to restore floristic diversity to these meadows, partly through careful grazing by rare-breed sheep.

Walk directions

Take a bridleway that runs beyond the timber vehicle barrier. Go left at a fork and in a few paces descend to a gate half-hidden below the bank on your left. Bear right across a field to join a track. Turn right, following the bridleway past The Fishpools and on through farmland.

Turn left by Earl’s Hill Barn and descend through oakwoods above the steep valley of Habberley Brook. Turn right to cross the brook at a footbridge. Bear right uphill, through mixed woodland and plantations to a T-junction and track (bridleway marker). Turn right and follow the main track, soon curving left. Follow it until there’s a field on the left. Where the main track makes a sharp turn back right, leave it to continue along the (sometimes muddy) bridleway, following a hedged track towards the hamlet of Oaks.

Don’t join the lane at Oaks, but turn right, on another track. This fades in an open field with tree-crowned Church Hill above on your right. Follow the left edge of this field and then follow a cattle-track through the next to meet the corner of a fence which descends from the summit. Continue along the fence ahead to enter plantation once more.

Descend to a waymark post and bear left down a newer track (the bridleway has been re-routed here) to meet a clear track. Go right a few paces, then left over a stile. Walk diagonally down three fields to the far corner of the third. Cross into forest again. Go right and then descend leftward, in lush surroundings, to find a footbridge and cross Habberley Brook.

Go up a slope to a bridleway junction at a gate/stile; keep straight on, just right of a hedge, towards the south end of Earl’s Hill. Go through a gate then continue along the edge of a wood until another gate gives access into it. Go straight on to pass through another gate, then turn right and start climbing steeply across the southern end of the hill.

Take the second path on the left, which climbs very steeply to the top of the hill, passing through the Iron Age fort to reach the summit.

Descend from the top in a northerly direction, across the top of Pontesford Hill (with more prehistoric earthworks on your left – outworks of the main fort) and down through the conifers to meet a wide sunken path by another prehistoric fort at the northern end of the hill. Turn right, then keep left to rejoin the bridleway by which you originally left the hill. The car park is just beyond.

Additional information

Easily followed, may be boggy by Habberley Brook, 8 stiles

Hills, oakwoods and plantation above deeply cut valley

Can run free in forests, but keep under close control around livestock and in nature reserve

OS Explorer 241 Shrewsbury

Earl's Hill Nature Reserve car park off narrow lane to Pontesford Hill: turn off A488 just south of Pontesford

None on route

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About the area

Discover Shropshire

Perhaps nowhere else in England will you find a county so deeply rural and with so much variety as Shropshire. Choose a clear day, climb to the top of The Wrekin, and look down on that ‘land of lost content’ so wistfully evoked by A E Housman. Peer through your binoculars and trace the course of Britain’s longest river as the Severn sweeps through the county, from the Breidden Hills to Wyre Forest, slicing Shropshire in two. To the north is a patchwork of dairy fields, hedgerows, copses and crops, broken at intervals by rugged sandstone ridges such as Grinshill or Nesscliffe, and dissected by a complex network of canals.

Spilling over the border into neighbouring Cheshire and North Wales is the unique meres and mosses country, with serenely smooth lakes glinting silver, interspersed with russet-tinged expanses of alder-fringed peat bog, where only the cry of the curlew disturbs the silence. South of the Severn lies the Shropshire Hills AONB. It’s only when you walk Wenlock Edge that you fully discover what a magical place it is – glorious woods and unexpectedly steep slopes plunge to innumerable secret valleys, meadows, streams and farmhouses, all tucked away, invisible from the outside world. 

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