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Titterstone Clee

Remarkably Titterstone Clee (533m), and the neighbouring Brown Clee (540m) to the north, survive as the highest points in Shropshire despite being on the ‘lowland’ side of the county. This is due to the presence of the sill of dolerite which caps both hills, and protects the summits from erosion.

Titterstone Clee provides one of the best views in England (on a good day!).  From the summit there are 360degree views: West into Wales, north to the North Shropshire Plain and the Wrekin, east to the Clent hills and south to the Malverns and Black Mountains.

There are few places in Shropshire that more clearly reflect their geological foundations than Titterstone Clee, which is why it is an SSSI (click here to see the reasons for notification). The distinctive profile of the hill follows the gently dipping line of the volcanic sills which cap the two parts of the plateau top. The history of settlement on the hill is intimately linked to its geological resources – first through exploitation of the Carboniferous limestone, clays, ironstone and coal and then from the nineteenth century onwards, the more intensive quarrying of the dolerite; first as road setts and now as aggregate. And the ecological interest similarly reflects this varied geology which presents a microcosm of the Carboniferous of England from the Carboniferous Limestone through to the Upper Coal Measures, as well as the underlying Devonian (formerly Old Red Sandstone) sediments.

For more detailed geology click here

Titterstone Clee – GEOMORPHOLOGY

Titterstone Clee Hill owes its distinctive shape to the presence of a dolerite sill and a basalt intrusion.

The resistant dolerite has protected the softer coal measures, limestone and sandstone that lie below it from erosion. The basalt intrusion has done the same for the summit.

Titterstone Clee cross-section

Titterstone Clee – FOSSILS

The lower slopes of the Clee Hills are mostly made of rocks of Lower Old Red Sandstone age.  These are the only outcrops of this age in Shropshire as most of Britain was above sea-level at that time and so was being eroded.

Even in the Clee Hills area the deposition can be said to be terrestrial.  Sediment was brought into basins inbetween higher areas of land via rivers. There would have been some shallow lakes in which some of the more calcareous deposits would have formed along with the most interesting fossils which are those of early fish.

Shown here is one example of an early fish, scales of which might be found in the rocks on the slopes of Titterstone Clee.

The climate at this time could be described as semi-arid. This environment can lead to the formation of ‘fossil soils’. These are known in this area as cornstones. They often contain fossil fragments of fish that presumably died when the lake they were in dried up and the sediment also dried out forming a harder soil surface.

However the earth is constantly changing and for part of its history this area was beneath clear warm tropical seas where coral reefs grew. Over time these were fossilised to become Carboniferous Limestone (known locally as Oreton Limestone). These rocks still show some evidence of the animals that used to colonise the reefs – corals, brachiopods etc.

Due to earth movements the shallow seas became infilled with grit and sand from the land (now the Cornbrook Sandstone) which built up to form a delta where huge coastal swamps developed colonised by giant fern-like plants. The plant remains formed a thick layer of peat which changed to coal as the earth moved up above sea level.

Because of the conditions not all the plant material rotted away completely. Most of this material bears little resemblance to the living plants but occassionally you can find pieces of rock that will split to reveal very recognisable pieces of plant material – particularly the woody stems of ferns or occassionally the finer fern-like fronds.

This rock has a split along it. Hit the split with your hammer (click on it with the mouse) to see what is inside.

If you found something like this you would be very lucky. However do not hit every bit of rock to see if there is something inside – leave some for the next person – and remember to always only hammer lumps that are already loose. There are lots of spoil tips in the Titterstone Clee area that are made up of loose rock so there is no need to hammer exposures.

Titterstone Clee – INDUSTRY

The rocks of the Clee Hills have been the basis of industrial activity for centuries. 

COAL

Mining of coal started in a basic form in Medieval times with the construction of small bell pits which have resulted in a distinctive pattern of random “craters”, with some of the best examples seen in the vicinity of Crumps Brook. Some of these areas have now been scheduled by English Heritage as Ancient Monuments.

The nineteenth century saw the exploitation of the four productive coal seams at places where they were below the doleritic sill. Strangely, deep shafts were dug through the sill rather than driving adits from the side of the hill below the sill. The visible remains of this activity is a large number of quite extensive colliery tips, clearly on a bigger scale than those of earlier bell pits.

A branch line was constructed from the mainline near Ludlow to Bitterley wharf in the 1870s where it was fed by standard gauge inclines from Titterstone and Dhustone. Both were fed in turn at their upper ends by a complex network of tracks taking stone from the quarry faces.

LIMESTONE

The two Carboniferous Limestone outcrops, on the north-eastern and southern margins of the outlier, have been exploited for many centuries as a source of limestone for burning to lime and to a lesser extent as building stones.

The oolitic limestone of Oreton Quarry was used as and ornamental stone known as Oreton Marble.

Today there is very limited exposure of the limestone on accessible land. It is our hope to encourage the Shropshire Wildlife Trust, owners of Knowle Wood (SO597836), to expose some of the rock face in this overgrown quarry. In the vicinity of Oreton although the limestone ridge is a prominent topographical feature there is little access to exposures.

DOLERITE

After the mining came the quarrying. The dolerite had been a hinderence to the coal miners but came into its own for paving the streets of the ever expanding Victorian towns. The nature of the jointing (which allowed it to be split vertically as well as horizontally) and the hardness of the rock meant it was ideal for the production of ‘sets’.  These are no longer produced here but the rock is still used for roads as well as for sea defences and as rock wool for insulation. It was this industry that sparked off the growth of Cleehill village

OTHERS

There was an iron furnace down Cornbrook Dingle making use of the local Coal Measures ironstone. Little remains of this other than remnants of slag (a glassy material) from the furnace. Similarly there is some evidence of a glass works in the same area. There are also signs of old brick works in the area.