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Potteries Orienteering Club

West Midlands Orienteering Association

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First published in The Potter January 2005
Text © Copyright John Heaton 2005

Weston Heath and Bury Walls

Weston Heath is the south facing wooded slopes of a high land west of Hodnet, a small village near to Market Drayton over the Shropshire border. The Bury Walls is a Iron Age hill fort surrounded on three sides by steep wooded slopes and on the north side by man made earth banks. Also on the map is a large flat, almost boggy area of forestry and an area used for motorcycle scrambling both to the south and below these slopes. Most of the slopes are broken up by almost unique reentrants. The reentrants are very narrow and are bounded by steep sandstone crags. The reentrants are very close to each other and I can easily count 40 over a length of hillside of 3km. In between the reentrants is a large number of large and small knolls and small hills, another quick count shows at least 80 of these. We are more than justified in calling the area complex in our event leaflets. In 1993 for the National Event we staged we had to fight to keep the map at 1:10000, where a 1:15000 is normally required for that class of event. The map is split by a large 500m wide reentrant which contains the only watercourse on the map. The stream then drains through the flat forestry to the south.

History

Bury Walls was a major Iron age settlement. It is surrounded on three sides by 50–80m steep slopes and on the north side was built a double banks and ditches fortification. The inner bank is 11·5m high, the highest such bank in Britain. It enclosed some 13 acres of flat land. This well fortified and large site had an advantage over other hill forts of similar size, it is only 150m above sea level and bordered land suitable for arable use. It was thus more acceptable for all year round occupation. It is thought to have been the capital of the Cornovii tribe before moving to a site at Wroxeter near Shrewsbury. This site was later taken over by the Romans who built a major fort there. Evidence of a Roman presence has been found at Bury Walls.

Leaping forward nearly 1700 years, the 1890 map of the area, as with Swynnerton, shows a shape of woodland almost identical to that of the present day. For the forthcoming event I have done some minor revisions to the map, including adding a small area of rough pasture with areas of vegetation within it. This land some 500m by 200m was shown as woodland in 1890. New House Farm in the middle of the map was new 115 years ago. The other farm on the map called Hermitage Farm, near our normal car park, is also shown, but I know parts of this building date to the C18th.

Ownership

The forest is owned by a number of private parties but is managed by Tilhill Economic Forestry, who are Britain's largest non-F.C. foresters and are now part of a larger corporation called U.P.M. based in Finland. The scramble course and the immediate woodland is owned by Sir Breville Stanier. He is based in Buckinghamshire and also owner other farmland estates locally. It would be a good guess to say that he could have owned much of the forest at some point in time. The small area I have added to the map is owned by a smallholder who grazes a small herd of cattle. For the first time the event this year will be starting from this vicinity. We will therefore be able to take more advantage of the more interesting western side, where the shorter courses have up to now not reached.

Event and Map History

The first map of the area was produced in 1982 by Neville Mitchison . I do not know what events it was used for prior to 1987. I organised a colour coded event in February of that year and unfortunately the event file was mislaid prior to that. In April 1989 Deeside O.C. hosted a Badge Event and in March 1991 we put on a joint Badge Event with DEE. In 1993 Neville produced a new map which omitted some areas which were not useful. The far eastern end of the old map was woodland owned by the West Midlands Shooting Club and by a Naturist Club, and for obvious reasons was never utilised. Rough pasture and the field system north of the western end was also omitted. This was used for the National event in February 1993. Over the next 10 years we had a number of access problems, however in February 1997 we managed to stage a Badge Event. By 2003 the map was in need of another revision. The map was converted to OCAD digital format and then re mapped by Dave Peel as part of our Lottery Grant mapping programme. We staged a Badge Event in February 2003 on the new map. For the 2005 CompassSport event we are jointly staging jointly with Wrekin O.C. I was asked to do some revision to the map. Access to the normal car park could not be guaranteed, for that reason a car park to the west has been selected and I have mapped the rough pasture between the car park and forest. There is a large area of rhododendron in the middle of the map, the Forestry have cleared much of this creating a network of rides and opening up new areas and routes. At the same time they have clear felled a nearby block which they then raked over to form earthbanks of soil and branches. It looks like an experiment because they have planted much smaller than normal trees on the clear ground.

Salop Motor Club lease the motorcycling scramble track from Sir Breville Stanier. International class events are staged here and in previous years the competitors and spectators area has made an excellent car park. The courses cover the sandy fields at the bottom of the hills and rise to within 20m of the top of the eastern slope of the hill fort. The course first opened in 1938 when it was used as a hill climb test event for small off road cars. The Salop Motor Club took it over in 1946 and developed its use as a motorcycle course.

Local attractions

Not open at the dates of our events, Hodnet Hall Gardens are very close to the village of Hodnet and are traditional large house gardens open from April to the end of September.

Hawkstone Park is the name shared by a Golf Club and a Parkland with grottos just north of Weston Heath; it is also the name used by the motor club for their venue. The park was part of the estates of the adjacent Hawkstone Hall, home of the Hill family which included Sir Rowland Hill, the initiator of the first penny post. The attractions are made possible by the same geology that forms the interest at Weston Heath; during the C18th–C19th tunnels were built through the rock to link the natural caves, paths carved into cliffs and a 100ft tower monument with an internal spiral stairway to a view point at the top. The attractions were a major tourist attraction in Victorian times and are now more aimed at children, but still worth a visit for adults.

John Heaton