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Kinver's Impressive Rock Houses

A short walk combining curious cave dwellings with some of the best views in Staffordshire.

Distance 2.7 miles (4.4km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 374ft (114m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Wide gravel tracks

Landscape Woodland and escarpment top

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 219 Wolverhampton & Dudley

Start/finish SJ 835836

Dog friendliness Can be taken off lead

Parking Ample parking in car park at start

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the National Trust car park, head back along the road towards Kinver village. Within 100yds (91m), after going right at a fork in the road, follow public footpath signs to the right, up into the woods. Once you're in the woods proper, take the obvious stepped path left to the small clearing and then turn 90 degrees to the right to follow the short, steep path to the viewpoint.

2 From the viewpoint, continue along the top of the escarpment, following a wide, gravel track running more or less alongside the western edge of the ancient rectangular earthworks to the left, with glimpsed views across the Severn Valley through trees to the right. After 400yds (366m) you come to the end of the clearing. Take the fork to your left here, up a slight rise at the corner of the earthworks, before carrying on along the escarpment top, past the trig point.

3 Staying on the highest path, continue as far as the National Trust boundary gate and then continue straight along the main track avoiding smaller trails off to the left and right. The path descends gradually to a picnic spot with benches, an information board and signs for the Staffordshire Way and the Worcestershire Way. A narrow track to the right leads back down to the road and a public toilet if required, although it criss-crosses other paths and it's very easy to lose your bearings!

4 For this reason, it's easiest to return the way you came. From the path junction, head back along the escarpment to the viewpoint. At the end, head right and then left, back down to the clearing, and then left again down the wooden steps, through the trees to the road. Follow the road left as far as the car park. For those armed with the relevant OS map, there is a suitable alternative which returns via the forested slopes to the west of the ridge top, but because of the number of little tracks that cross back and forth, it's difficult to give adequate directions here.

The impressive sandstone ridge to the south west of Kinver has been occupied in one way or another since 2500 bc, and impressive earthworks, believed to have been built at around this time, still exist near the summit.

The views from the summit, and in fact along the length of Kinver Edge, are indeed tremendous, and it must have seemed an impressive vantage point on which to build defences. Today, a brass relief map at the north end (Point 2), presented by the local Rotary Club in 1990, points to a selection of the world's major capitals, in addition to less distant landmarks. Both the Malvern Hills, 30 miles (48km) to the south, and Long Mynd, the same distance to the west, are visible on a clear day and, at times, it may be possible to see the Black Mountains, over 45 miles (72km) away. But for all its breathtaking views, the real interest on Kinver Edge lies below the summit, in small houses carved into the rock.

Of these, by far the most impressive are the dwellings at Holy Austin Rock, a short walk to the east of the car park. Legend has it that it was named after a hermit who lived near the site. The first written reference to people actually living in houses cut out of the rock face is believed to be in a book about a walk in the area, written in 1777. The author, seeking shelter from a storm, encounters 'this exceedingly curious rock inhabited by a clean and decent family', before going on to describe the rooms as 'really curious warm and commodious'.

By the beginning of the 19th century there were several rock houses, and for the next 100 years or so they were permanently occupied. By 1861 there were 11 families in residence, the increase almost certainly due to the demand created by the local iron works. When these went into decline at the end of the 19th century, the houses were gradually abandoned. Having said that, two families continued to live there until the end of World War Two, and the last occupants didn't move out until 1963. A tourist café also lasted until 1967, after which the houses suffered decades of decline and neglect: vandalism led to collapses and, sadly, one area had to be destroyed for safety reasons.

It wasn't until the 1980s that plans were finally drawn up to renovate the houses to their original state, a task which was achieved with the help of postcards popular 100 years earlier. The rebuilding was completed in 1993 and the site was again occupied, this time by a National Trust custodian. While this house is private, the rest of the site is open to the public all year-round. The lower rock houses are only open on Saturday afternoons or by prior agreement with the custodian (telephone 01384 872553).

Visitors can see how occupants would have lived 100 or so years ago, and may be surprised at just how cosy the houses feel. The combination of thick sandstone and fireplaces would have kept them warm in winter and cool in summer, whilst in many places interior walls were plastered and whitewashed. Today, Holy Austin Rock has also been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its sandstone, which was formed from solidified sand dunes in the Permian era, 250 million years ago.

What to look for

Nanny's Rock, just inside the National Trust boundary, and just off the path, provides a breathtaking viewpoint and a great place to sit and have a picnic or admire the view - it too has a collection of simple cave or rock dwellings carved out beneath, although considerable care should be taken to reach them as the ground is a bit steep and rocky.

Where to eat and drink

The Vine Inn has a beer garden right on the canal at Dunsley and is ideal for children and families in the summer, when it serves burgers, sandwiches and other bar snacks outdoors. The food is good value and the portions are suitably generous.

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