The Stiper Stones

There are five tall tors on Shropshire’s Long Mynd,
jagged rocks with an origin in Ordovician times.
Those Stiperstone sculptures seen in other counties
stand out like spikes on a crouching dinosaur.

The sentinel silhouettes of vulcanized sandstone
thrust up in a violent volcanic past.
The ragged rocks on the whaleback hills
show sparkling surprises among the dark scree.

When ice fills cracks and bites into the stone
twinkling crystals of quartzite are revealed
among the dull and usual greys;
small metamorphosed miracles of geology.

Wind wildly whips high exposed hilltops,
and shapes and weathers ridge rocks.
The northerly gales whine with satanic noises
as they wrap and whirl around torn stones.

The Stiperstones are surrounded by superstitions,
Shropshire stories full of Salopian prophecy.
Tales of ghosts and devils loom in local folklore.
The spirit of Saxon, wild Edric, bewailing his lost lands.

Slashrags the tailor who stumbled across the Devil’s Chair
on a cold, foggy Winter’s night; startled and sworn at.
The devil demanded a suit sewn within seven nights;
Slashrags delivered it with the local parson. The devil flew.

On lower slopes are stone stripes and circles from the Bronze Age.
Seasonal feasts remembered from a pagan past.
In Spring, well dressings from Celtic ceremonies.
To the east, the Cornovii had their capital.

Sheep have grazed on fields below Shepherd’s Rock
since times when man first herded a flock.
The bodies of stillborn lambs were placed on branches of trees.
They believed that burial would cause more abortions.

The Spring rain tells the quiescent heath
to waken the seeds of dormant plants
and sprinkle the ground near the Stiperstones
with white speckles of cotton grass.

The area around Cranberry Rock no longer blooms
with that small shrub, but bilberries grow.
The acid soil supports bushes of prickly gorse
whose burnt pods open and crackle in Summer heat.

Soon, heather’s cousin, ling, and heath bedstraw
come tumbling over the welcoming soil.
And above, a lark hovers with a territorial call,
over a chosen patch of boulder-strewn ground.

Can you find the craggy face in Manstone Rock?
Have you ever seen the red grouse run there?
A ring ouzel is also a bird that is now rare,
but the stone chat and pied flycatcher enjoy the air.

The Summer-blazed heath ignites with heather
and there is a hot stillness in the air.
A hovering hawk against a bank of blue sky
checks the scrub below for rambling rodents.

The curlew’s call of plaintive and clear sound
has a staccato echo along the hot ground.
In late Summer, berries decorate small shrubs
with food for foraging wildlife.

The smell of warmed heath wafts up to the five tall tors,
whose ground surround looks worn and burned.
Soon, Autumn mists will move around the Long Mynd
and clothe the tors with foggy cloaks.

During the bleak clarity of a sunny Winter day
the Stiperstones are covered with ice crystals.
Scattered Rock glistens with a frosted coating
and an iron-dark sky is full of impending snow.

The Stiperstones have always called people
to this place of the long and steep climb.
To the vista surround of the big sky and endless views,
to explore among the five rocks and sit and stare into space.