Exploring Whixall Moss

NEAREST LOCATION

Prees

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

10 miles (16.1kms)

ASCENT
98ft (30m)
TIME
3hrs 30min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Hard
STARTING POINT
SJ537337

About the walk

North Shropshire is meres and mosses country. Meres are lakes or ponds, but mosses are perhaps less familiar. They are raised peat bogs, which may not sound particularly interesting. Reserve judgement until you have explored Whixall Moss, part of Fenn's, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses National Nature Reserve (NNR). Only the best or rarest places receive NNR designation, but Whixall is also a European Special Area of Conservation and a Wetland of International Importance. Since most of our mosses have been destroyed by forestry, agriculture and peat digging, it is also very rare. Commercial peat cutting ceased here in 1991 and since then work has been in hand to restore the moss, as far as this is possible.

Endangered habitat

A moss is waterlogged, stagnant and acidic. Despite this, or because of it, 1,700 insect species can be found in this habitat. However, some are so specialised they can't easily survive elsewhere, which is one reason that mosses are so important. The raft spider, for instance, is very much at home here, as is the rare white-faced darter (a damselfly). Uncommon birds of prey such as the hobby patrol the skies and the snipe finds a refuge here in winter. Characteristic plants include cotton sedge, bogmoss, cross-leaved heath, bog rosemary, cranberry and sundew - which feasts on insects. When mosses are drained for peat cutting such species are inevitably lost. There are few rights of way through the reserve but, in 2001, a partnership between English Nature, the Countryside Council for Wales and British Waterways developed three circular trails, parts of which are included in this walk, along with the adjacent Llangollen Canal. Canal-side fens overflow with plants such as great hairy willowherb, water figwort and flag iris. In places carr has developed - a damp woodland, characterised by species such as alder and willow. Mallard ducks, mute swans and kingfishers haunt the canal, along with dragonflies and damselflies.

Walk directions

Join the bridleway by the signal box. After 100yds (91m)turn right through a gate (blocked stile hidden in the hedge nearby) into a field. Follow the right-hand edge to a stile. Cross to the other side of the hedge, but continue in the same direction. Keep straight on across four more fields to the B5476.

Walk along the road opposite (signed Whixall') and keep straight on at two junctions. Take care here. Turn right by Whixall Social Centre, then left on to a driveway before Church Farm.

At Farthing Cottage, turn right. Cross a field, passing a pond, then continue across the next field. Go slightly left across a third field to a pair of stiles and a footbridge. Don't cross these, but go through a gate, left, opening into a large field. Turn left, keeping about 100yds (91m) from its left-hand edge. On reaching a row of three large oaks, go diagonally right to a gate and then cross another field to a lane.

Turn right, then left at a junction and straight on at the next. Join the first path on the right after Whixall Primary School. Cross four fields to the Llangollen Canal and cross Roundthorn Bridge, then turn right to an information board telling you about the NNR. Take a leaflet from the box - it acts as a permit to enter the reserve. In 100yds (91m) turn left, following the orange-coded Mosses Trail.

At Point 8 on the trail, turn left to meet the canal at Morris' Bridge. Turn right on the towpath to a canal junction, then cross Bridge 46 (Roving Bridge) to join the Prees Branch. The towpath changes sides at Bridge 3 (Dobson's Bridge). Beyond Whixall Marina the canal is disused and has become a Shropshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve.

Pass some houses and meet a lane. Turn left, then immediately right, signposted 'Edstaston'. Keep straight on past a turning on the left, but turn left when you come to a T-junction and follow the lane into Edstaston.

Just before the church go through a gate on the left; a second gate and then a stile lead into a field. Go diagonally across this to the B5476. Turn left, then cross to a lane. Follow it past Edstaston Hall and turn right at a T-junction. Turn left on a bridleway (sign decaying). In 300m (274yds) bear right to a gate and continue to the railway. Follow it north, bearing slightly left to join a clear track which leads back to Prees Station.

Additional information

Some road walking (take care on blind bends on Post Office Lane), about 15 stiles (some in disrepair)

Dairy country, canals, Whixall Moss

On lead in nature reserves and where cattle present, some electric fences

OS Explorer 241 Shrewsbury

Where bridleway meets lane by Prees Station, take care not to block access

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.