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At Liberty on Shropshire's Highest Hill

Taste an exhilarating sense of freedom on Brown Clee's upland commons.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 1,460ft (445m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Generally good, but can be very boggy in places, 5 stiles

Landscape Hill, moorland, pasture and plantation

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 217 The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge

Start/finish SO 607871

Dog friendliness Excellent, but under strict control near sheep

Parking Cleobury North picnic site, on unclassified road west of Cleobury North

Public toilets None on route

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1 Cross a stile and walk uphill. Intercepting another path by a bench, turn left; shortly you have plantation on your left, woodland on your right. When the track forks, go right to meet another track, then right again. Soon you're walking by the edge of woodland, with a field on your right.

2 There are two houses below and, as you draw level with the second one, you will see a small clearing on your left. On the edge of it a faint path begins to rise diagonally through plantation. It soon becomes clearer and quickly leads to a steep straight track (the former tramway). Join this, shortly crossing a cattle grid on to pastureland.

3 The track turns sharp left, leaving the tramway incline. It's an easy walk to Abdon Burf, with its ugly wireless station and awesome views. Stand next to the trig pillar, with the radio masts on your right, and look south west to see a path descending the hill. Follow it down to a line of posts. Go through the line and keep descending by a fence. The path swings right, becoming a hollow way.

4 Turn right when you meet a lane, then left at a junction and soon left again, at a stile. Go along the left-hand edges of a series of meadows, and maintain the same direction as the path merges with the remains of an old green lane.

5 As you approach Abdon, a stile gives access to a garden. Go straight through, with signs directing you past the house and down a hollow way to a lane. Turn left past farm buildings and continue to a collection of barns. There's a stony track opposite - walk a few paces along it to a bridleway on the left. Follow it uphill to Lane Cottage.

6 Bear right to a lane and cross to a stile opposite. Go up a steep pasture towards a fence/hedge on the skyline. Cross it at a stile and continue to the top left corner of the next field, then turn left on a track. When you reach Highcroft, the track continues as a hollow way.

7 Go through a gate into pasture and follow the right-hand fence to the top corner. Pass through a gate and continue to a line of beeches on the summit ridge. Go forward through the beeches, then straight on along a track, which descends through woodland, plantation and bracken to a junction. Turn right.

8 The track crosses a stream. This is where you leave it to head downhill, following the stream. When you meet a track, turn left. After 600yds (549m) you'll come to a junction. Branch right here if you want the pub or bus stop at Burwarton. If not, keep left to return to the picnic site.

Choose a clear day for this walk, because the stunning view from Abdon Burf, the higher of Brown Clee's twin summits, extends from the Cotswolds to Cadair Idris. At 1,770ft (540m), Brown Clee is Shropshire's highest hill, overtopping its sibling, Titterstone Clee, by 23ft (7m), and Stiperstones by just 13ft (4m). Brown Clee may be high, but it's not wild, though it appears so in places. It is a perfect illustration of just how intensive rural land use can be. There's hardly anything this hill hasn't been used for at one time or another in its long history.

Nobody knows when people first started making use of the Clee Hills, but three forts were built on Brown Clee in the Iron Age. Those on Abdon Burf and Clee Burf have been destroyed by quarrying. A third, Nordy Bank, still stands guard on Clee Liberty. Iron-Age people must also have hunted on the hills, and the tradition continued for centuries, with the Clees part of a royal forest for a time.

Brown Clee Hill must have been used for stock grazing since the hill forts were built, or even before that. More recently, in the Middle Ages, all of the hillside above the encircling roads was common land, divided between several parishes, while an outer ring of parishes also had grazing rights. Stock from the outer parishes was driven to and from Brown Clee on tracks known as outracks or strakerways, most of which are now footpaths or bridleways. Many are deeply sunken through long use, and commoners' sheep and ponies still graze Clee Liberty.

Mineral extraction also has a long history in the Clee Hills. Brown Clee is riddled with shafts and is said to be the highest ex-coalfield in Britain. Ironstone was dug from the coal measures from the Middle Ages onwards and fed a number of forges around the hill. More recently, a type of volcanic rock called dolerite (also locally known as dhustone) was exploited, mostly for road building, and the ruins of a stone-crushing plant still disfigure Abdon Burf. Wagons then transported the stone down a steep incline to the railway at Ditton Priors. Quarrying ceased in 1936 and the incline is now a footpath (though not a right of way), used in this walk to gain access to the hill. You can still see parts of the actual tramway in places.

What to look for

Just after the cattle grid crossed in Point 2, there is a profusion of mounds, with corresponding depressions. These are the remains of bell pits, an early form of mining which involved digging a short shaft and working the seam from the foot of it as far as was safe, leaving a pit with a bell-shaped profile.

Where to eat and drink

The Boyne Arms at Burwarton is full of character. Its name derives from the family that owns much of Brown Clee Hill. Many walkers stop here for a drink and home cooking, so you can expect a friendly welcome.

While you're there

Visit the hamlet of Heath, west of Brown Clee. The renowned Heath Chapel stands alone in a field and is the purest example of Norman church architecture in Shropshire. The chapel is surrounded by the earthworks of a deserted medieval village, with the remains of streets, enclosed fields, house platforms and fish ponds.

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