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Here be Dragons

Explore Merrington's medieval common and a sandstone ridge at Webscott.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 15min

Ascent/gradient 344ft (105m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and bridleway, can be muddy, 6 stiles

Landscape Farmland, medieval common, sandstone ridge with reclaimed quarries, panoramic views

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 241 Shrewsbury

Start/finish SJ 465208

Dog friendliness Under control at Myddle, Merrington and Webscott

Parking Car park on north side of road at Merrington Green nature reserve

Public toilets None on route

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1 There is a map of the reserve on one side of the car park and, on the other side, two footpaths: you can take either as they soon merge into one. Follow the path through grassland, then fork left into woodland. Turn right when you meet a pool. After passing one side of the pool, the path moves briefly away from it, then turns left to pass the end of it, with another pool on your right-hand side and a boardwalk underfoot.

2 Turn left on a tree-bordered bridleway, which runs for nearly 2 miles (3.2km). As you approach a road, look for a stile on the right (at a bend) and walk across fields to meet the road on the edge of Myddle. Turn right into the village.

3 After passing the church, turn right on a walled lane, then through a black gate on the left. Pass to the left of farm buildings, then cross two fields - you can see the path stretching ahead of you to a lane.

4 Turn right along the lane for 400yds (366m) until you can join a footpath on the left, which climbs a wooded slope. At the top a well-trodden path turns right by the woodland edge. However, the right of way goes diagonally across a field to a gate to the road.

5 Turn your back on the gate and go straight across the field, meeting the wood again at a corner. Go through a gate and descend through the trees, then through a garden (dogs on leads) and past a cottage towards the lane. Just before you reach it, join another path on the left that climbs back up the slope. As you approach a stile at the top, turn right, then left, descending through a former quarry and past a lovely house built into the rock. Turn right along the lane.

6 Join a footpath on the left and cross a narrow pasture. A right of way runs diagonally across the next field, but is currently impassable at the far side. If you suspect this may still be the case (new waymarkers might indicate improvements), play safe by taking another path, which follows the right-hand field edge.

7 Turn left along Merrington Lane, and eventually right at a T-junction at Merrington. When the road bends left, go straight on along the bridleway used earlier until you join a path that crosses the nature reserve to the car park.

The two main highlights of this walk are the former quarries at Webscott and the nature reserve managed by Shropshire Wildlife Trust at Merrington Green. It's a story of contrast. Webscott is a relatively new landscape, created by nature taking over a post-industrial site. Since quarrying ceased here, the holes so crudely gouged out of the sandstone have been colonised by mosses, ferns and trees. The effect is delightful. Merrington Green, on the other hand, is a very old landscape which can be maintained only by human management, otherwise nature will turn it into just another woodland.

Of course, it would have been woodland originally, but in the Middle Ages it was cleared. At that time, nearly every village would have had a similar patch of land where commoners could graze stock, collect firewood and dig marl or turf. Such a system results in a range of habitats, which is often more ecologically valuable than a uniform block of woodland. Merrington Green is still a registered common, but the commoners no longer exercise their rights, which means scrub is encroaching. It is controlled by hand as far as possible, but the reintroduction of grazing would be a better way. However, sheep would be at risk from traffic because the green is unfenced.

One of the most valuable aspects of the green is the presence of three pools which have formed in old marl pits. An incredible 17 species of dragonfly and damselfly have been recorded here, making this easily Shropshire Wildlife Trust's top dragonfly location. The easternmost pool is fringed by marsh horsetail, a descendant of the giant horsetails of the primeval swamps, where the first dragonflies evolved over 300 million years ago. The largest species of dragonfly ever known is preserved in the fossil record from this time - it had a wingspan the size of a sparrowhawk's. Modern dragonflies are much smaller and each is a miniature miracle of design. If you get to see a resting dragonfly it's worth studying it in detail to appreciate the lethal beauty of these precision-built killing machines. Typically, an adult dragonfly will live only a few weeks, but in that time it will consume large numbers of smaller insects, caught on the wing. Its aerial acrobatics can be spectacular and its wings beat 30 times a second, allowing a dazzling range of manoeuvres. It can even fly backwards. The adult stage is preceded by two or three years spent under water as a nymph, in which form the insect is also a consummate predator. When a nymph is ready to metamorphose, it climbs out of the water on to a suitable plant. The ugly larval skin splits and a jewel-coloured adult emerges, crumpled at first, until it dries off and its wings inflate.

While you're there

In 1403, Henry IV defeated the Yorkists at the Battle of Shrewsbury. The site is simply called Battlefield, and there's a church there, just to the north of Shrewsbury. It was built on the King's orders after the battle, and eight chaplains were installed to pray for the dead. It's very atmospheric, even when the church itself is closed.

Where to eat and drink

Try the Red Castle or the Bridgewater Arms, or the exceptionally good organic café and farm shop at Lea Hall (no dogs allowed), all on the A528 at nearby Harmer Hill.

What to look for

You will notice some footpaths have waymarkers labelled 'Gough walk'. This is a millennium project, inspired by Richard Gough (1635-1723), who achieved fame through his book The Antiquities and Memoirs of the Parish of Myddle. Go in the church to find out more - it's fascinating stuff, and you can buy a pack of walk leaflets if you wish.

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