Travel through geological time in Shropshire’s Great Outdoors
Shropshire has evidence through most geological periods of time, and examples of most rock types can be found within the Shropshire countryside, creating a diverse landscape.
The south east of the county falls into the Abberley and Malvern Geopark– one of only 10 in the country. This area includes rocks that reflect 700 million years of Earth’s history. The importance of the area geologically is reflected in the coal, quarrying and iron ore extraction along the Severn Valley and Ironbridge Gorge. The coal from the Coalbrookdale Coalfield, iron ore, sand, clay and limestone found near there, together with the River Severn for transport, led to the Industrial evolution and the building of the first Iron Bridge. You can learn more about this at the Severn Valley Country Park, which is itself a reclaimed coal mine.
Some of the oldest rocks, from the Precambrian age, are to be found to the west of the Wrekin. Though not an extinct volcano, the Wrekin was formed from lava and volcanic ash, and near here can be found some of the earliest fossil bearing deposits. Shropshire is said to be the best place in the UK for collecting Silurian and Ordovician fossils.
Going further west you will find the evidence of old coal, lead, and barytes mining. Deposits from mining are evident on the western slopes of the Stiperstones and on west up the Hope Valley. At Snailbeach you can go underground in what was Shropshire’s biggest lead mine. Once worked by the Romans, it also produced small quantities of Barite, Calcite, Fluorspar, Silver and Zinc. It is now looked after by the Shropshire Mines Trust. To the west of Shrewsbury, there were the Shrewsbury Coalfield and Leebotwood Coalfields. At Pontesford, coal was mined at the Nagg’s Head Colliery to smelt the ores brought down the Hope Valley from the mines. At nearby Poles Coppice, there were two stone quarries. Once noisy with industry, they are now a peaceful countryside recreation area, where you can look at the rock faces.
The Shropshire Hills, which now form a large part of the AONB were once part of a continental shelf pushed up when plates collided, and from Wenlock Edge north can be found a complete succession from late Precambrian through Cambrian, Ordovician and into Silurian. Along Wenlock Edge, the Silurian Limestone deposits were quarried. South around the Clee Hills dolerite can be found, which is still quarried today, and outcrops of old Red Sandstone, and limestone, and coal measures.
To the north, at Haughmond Hill younger Precambrian period sedimentary rocks are currently quarried for use on roads, and even further north can be found Permian and Triassic New Red Sandstone; still quarried at Grinshill. Old quarry faces can be found around the Corbet Wood Countryside Site, and in the nearby village of Clive, copper was mined. Sandstone was also quarried around the Nesscliffe Hills Countryside Heritage Site, and stone quarried from there was used in many buildings and bridges around Shropshire and beyond.
At Llanymynech Limeworks Heritage Area, near Oswestry, in the north-west of Shropshire, you can see outcrops of Carboniferous Limestone. Gold was once mined here. Coal measures can be found around Oswestry, and you can visit a former Colliery site near St Martins, Ifton Meadows Local Nature Reserve.
For more information on geology in Shropshire visit the website of the Shropshire Geological Society.