Looming in the landscape like the breaking crest of a wave, this dramatic tree-covered escarpment was once a tropical seabed, formed 425 million years ago. Now the longest ribbon of continuous native woodland in the country, it cuts across the Shropshire countryside like a dark brow. Steep slopes defied the plough and agricultural improvement: last vestiges of meadow cling to the Edge.
For centuries, timber and limestone provided a livelihood for many: industry peppered these woods with the noise and smoke of quarries, kilns and hearths. Now the limestone supports rare habitats, meadows, ancient limes, a nature corridor for dormice, an ark for threatened species. Still a working woodland, it is also a place of recreation with swathes of seasonal colour, as ‘into the scented woods they go’ to explore paths and holloways criss-crossing this spinal route, stumble through drifts of bluebells, the heady smell of wild garlic, the sound of mewling buzzard and croaking raven, to emerge from the shadows of flickering leaves to suddenly light expansive views.
A landmark with its own climate, often shrouded in mist, frost or fog: negotiating its gradient is an event, a challenge. It has always inspired music, poetry, prose and folklore: Ippikins the Highwayman and Major’s Leap. ‘This wooded axis is the living edge between past and present, presence and absence, light and darkness, myth and reality.’