Striperstones: Where the Devil Takes his Seat
While Shropshire boasts some stunning hill ranges such as the Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge, there are even more dramatic places lying between them and the Welsh border. The Stiperstones is one such range, a quartzite ridge that runs roughly north to south between the Long Mynd and the Welsh border.
Folklore tells us that The Devil was striding across Britain long ago, carrying thousands of rocks in an apron he was wearing. This was a tiring slog for him so he sat down on the ridge for a rest and a nap. When he rose suddenly the straps of his apron broke and the rocks came tumbling out, scattering along the ridge to give us The Stiperstones. The place where he rested is known today as The Devil's Chair, and it is also said that on the winter solstice he will appear at The Stiperstones to take a seat on his rocky throne, and every ghost and phantom in Britain will gather around him.
In reality the dramatic rocky landscape is the result of sudden freezing and thawing several times over during the last Ice Age, causing the rock to split and tumble apart. This has created some strange formations and tors, including the aforementioned Devil's Chair but also Manstone Rock, Cranberry Rock and others. There are also several cairns, some ancient and some newer, along The Stiperstones including a large Bronze Age burial cairn with its top opened. This was evidently a sacred landscape for the early people of Britain.
Wild Eadric was a legendary Anglo-Saxon rebel who would disappear into this area after raiding Norman held settlements. He attacked Shrewsbury and Hereford with an alliance of Welsh rebels and earned the nickname “Wild” from his tactic of always sleeping rough in forests with his warband. Other rebels followed suit and these bands were called the “Silvatici” by the Normans, meaning “The Wild Ones” or “Those of the Forest”. He was eventually trapped and forced to surrender but it is at this point that folklore comes in again.
According to the legend, Wild Eadric's people were not happy at all with his capitulation to William “The Bastard”. They formed a mob and surrounded the thegn with his wife and bodyguards, forcing them out and up on to the hills. Making their last stand on the Stiperstones, Eadric, his wife Godda and their remaining men were trapped against the cliffs of the Devil's Chair by the gathered mass of torch bearing locals. With nobody willing to go forward and risk being cut down, a sorcerer appeared – some say it was actually Merlin – and magically created a cave where he sealed the lord's household up for eternity. The only release is to ride forth as The Wild Hunt, galloping across the sky when England is in dire need. There are a couple of well-known accounts of encounters with Wild Eadric leading his spectral hunt at pivotal moments in British history such as the outbreak of the Crimean War, and it is said that looking at them will seal one's fate, to be cut down by this terrifying procession.
There is a lot more to the legends surrounding Eadric the Wild, including the fate of his sword and another very different version of his last days so we will return to him in another post, but suffice to say on a dark and windswept afternoon it isn't difficult to imagine the approach of the Wild Hunt as a storm approaches! A lot of mining went on in the valley directly adjoining the Stiperstones during the 1800s and the many strange sounds and smells in the shafts and pits were always attributed to Wild Eadric and his imprisoned household...a fascinating subset of folklore as in other areas such things are usually blamed on various types of goblins.
One more thing – another tale tells us that should the Stiperstones ever sink completely into the ground then all is lost and Britain shall collapse completely...be careful on a busy Bank Holiday!
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The Devil’s Chair, with “The Eye of the Needle” just visible
Manstone Rock with its marker for the highest point
Bronze Age burial cairn on the Striperstones showing its opened top
Looking out across the Long Mynd