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The view from Whitcliffe  
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Well known in south Shropshire, the view east from Whitcliffe Common across Ludlow town and over to the Clee Hills is inspiring.

Location: The toposcope (a display board showing features visible from this viewpoint) on Whitcliffe Common, west of Ludlow.

OS grid reference: SO 5056 7431

Access: The site is southwest of the town on the Whitcliffe Road which leads from Ludlow to Wigmore, about half a mile from the railway station. The toposcope is 20 metres from the lay-by on the east side of the road (on the outside of a gentle bend) and can be reached by an all-weather footpath with no steps.

Orientation: The general view from this viewpoint is looking east-north-east. Click here to see a much wider vista.

How did the view develop? The ground underlying the landscape you can see from this viewpoint is moderately old by geological standards, dating from an era known as the Lower Palaeozoic.

Almost all the ground you can see has been laid down as sediment (mud, silt and sand). This has been transformed into rock (thus sand has been turned into sandstone; mud into mudstone, etc.). Because of stress within the Earth's crust, these layers of sedimentary rock are now gently folded and tilted away from you, towards the ENE.

The bedrock geology that can be seen looking east over Ludlow is predominantly Silurian in age, deposited some 420 million years ago. The dome-shaped hill of Whitcliffe Common that overlooks the town, falling down from Mortimer Forest to the west, is the result of an upfold in these rocks, effectively demonstrating an anticline. Its detailed characteristics may be studied in the walk along the banks of the River Teme below Whitcliffe Common, described in a separate leaflet.

Four hundred million years ago, in the late Silurian, life was just beginning to become established on land.

Then followed a period of uplift causing dry land to appear in this region, during which time the Devonian period began. The ancient seas in which the earliest sediments were laid down have long since drained away, where deeper water lay behind you (westwards) and the shoreline lay to the east, towards the Malverns (out of sight, behind the Clee Hills). Its sediments, now red coloured mudstones and sandstone, form the flanks of the Clee Hills in the far distance. This was a time when major tectonic forces folded and later faulted the ground, largely as a result of being draped over much older crustal blocks beneath. These blocks moved along faults at depth in response to huge stresses generated by the collision of two continental plates towards the end of the Devonian. Subduction (destruction) of the intervening oceanic crust of the Iapetus Ocean was taking place north and west of Shropshire; movements continued for some considerable time as the stresses equilibrated. The land was thereby raised above sea-level as plate tectonics caused new mountains to build up in what is now Snowdonia. From there a broad arid plain developed across which occasional floods of water carried sediment south-eastwards, creating the Old Red Sandstone.

The land then sank and the sea returned, in conditions which were now much warmer, as a result of plate tectonics moving the whole landmass northwards into the Equatorial region. This northward movement continues to this day. The classic English upland sequence of Carboniferous Limestone, Millstone Grit and Coal Measures then followed, but the ground then cracked and molten rock intruded up from the depths, forming sheets of igneous rock that now occur in the high ground of the Clee Hills.

This area is situated on a plate which is steadily moving northwards at a few centimetres a year. By the Carboniferous Period this had brought the region into the Tropics, a time of warm humid climatic conditions in which plant-rich swamps flourished and with burial these sediments became coal. Seams of this valuable mineral were worked on the Clee Hills and the highest parts visible from Whitcliffe are composed of these rocks.

However, the weaknesses in the crust created by fault movement were at this stage subjected to further disturbance which enabled molten rock to penetrate almost to the surface. The resulting dolerite sills, locally known as Dhu Stone, now occupy the highest ground on the Clee Hills. The molten rock baked the Carboniferous sediments forming hornfels, an extremely tough rock which is in fact responsible for maintaining the high elevation of these hills.

In the succeeding era, as the dinosaurs ruled on land, this part of Shropshire probably lay beneath the sea. This ended as the ground bulged upwards and the Atlantic Ocean began to open. This was accompanied by a great deal of erosion of the cover rocks, so much so that virtually all have been stripped away. However, there was a period of extreme global warming at this time. The dinosaurs died out and the warm climate caused deep red soils to develop on the eroded landscape. A small remnant of this deep soil is visible on the top of Clee Hill, to the right of Titterstone Clee. This is an ancient weathered profile of orange laterite, evidence of a subtropical climate which is believed to have existed here at the beginning of the Palaeocene, the period immediately following the extinction of the dinosaurs some 55 million years ago.

Dry land continued and rivers wore down the landscape to broadly that which is seen today. However, cooling of the climate and the relentless movement north of the country then led to the Ice Age. Two main periods of glaciation have affected this landscape: 450,000 years ago (the "Anglian") and 100,000 years ago (the "Devensian"). Anglian glaciers moved southwards smothering almost everything you see, except for the tops of the Clee Hills which remained as islands above the ice ("nunataks"). As the glaciers progressed, moving from left to right, they smothered the landscape in debris, and even more was deposited as the glacial ice melted. Stagnant ice blocked the natural water courses and new channels were developed. In particular, the apparently flat ground on which the newer parts of Ludlow are situated (the Sandpits Estate), and indeed the small area of flat ground here at Whitcliffe over which the road runs, are remnant of the pre-glacial landscape. The Sandpits area was drained by a river flowing left to right down Corvedale and on towards the southwest, towards Tenbury; the present day Ledwyche Brook follows this route. The River Teme did not exist until now, but as the glacial meltwater escaped it rapidly cut down a deep gorge, the valley which now lies downslope from this viewpoint and in which the modern-day River Teme flows southwards. However, it was not the Teme that initially flowed here but the rivers Onny and Corve. It was not until 350,000 years later that the Teme pushed its way eastwards to flow through Ludlow, during the Devensian.

The Devensian glaciers advanced on Ludlow some 30,000 years ago but this time did not quite reach the town. Indeed, it is unlikely that glacial ice could have been seen from this viewpoint, but it would only have been a few miles both north and south that glacial ice could be found. Nevertheless the climate would have been extremely cold and the subsoil frozen for much of the year, enhancing erosion by freeze-thaw and by mudflows. Following the melting of the glaciers some 20,000 years ago the landscape broadly as we see it today would have come into view. An extensive tree cover was established by 10,000 years ago and then the impact of man, particularly agriculture, removed much of the forest about 5,000 years ago and opened the landscape up to create what we can now see.

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or click on the following name to learn more about the geology around Whitcliffe Common.

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