“the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” ~ Or Is It?

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Every other Thursday we’ve taken to popping along Wenlock Edge to Church Stretton. This used to be Graham’s daily commute – eighteen miles of Shropshire hills, old quarries, small villages and neat farm fields. Oh yes, and the occasional deer. Just now the Edge woodlands along the road are a haze of blue bells and bursting greenery. We never fail to think how lucky we are to live in such a place.

The object of the excursion is to stock up on organic and other ethically produced foodstuffs at my sister Jo’s brilliant shop – Entertaining Elephants  (a name coined by the previous owners from Maurice ‘Where the Wild Things Are’   Sendak’s  Alligators All Around  alphabet book.

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With the shopping done, a few picnic items gathered together, and the weather apparently in spring-mode, we decided to head west around the southern end of the Long Mynd towards Bishops Castle and the Welsh Border, and so to the Bronze Age stone circle of Mitchell’s Fold.

The last time we were there was at least twelve years ago and it had been snowing (see header photo). I don’t remember what prompted us on that occasion to drive out to so remote a place in such bad weather. We weren’t even living in Shropshire at that time, but in the midst of Christmas visiting from Kent. I remember tramping up the icy track to the circle, and despite the bitter cold, being entranced. All of Wales spread before us. It was like standing on top of the world – a parallel universe of Celtic warriors, old gods, poets and shamans.

On Thursday our notions of spring proved deceptive. Once out of the valleys the wind was vicious. We huddled in the car on top of Stapeley Hill to eat the picnic since attempts to stand outside blew the food away. While doing this we observed and were observed by a passing police Range Rover, which carried on over the hill track on a route that was distinctly signed ‘no vehicles’ and disappeared into Wales.

Police car – what police car. There it was gone. Very odd.

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Having got ourselves this far, we determined not to give into wimpishness, and inappropriate clothing, and pressed through the gale to Mitchell’s Fold. Of course it was not ideal photographing conditions due to wind, haze, midday light and cold fingers.

An English Heritage information board had made an appearance since our last visit, although I thought its proximity to the circle rather insensitive. It anyway did not have a great deal to tell us, other than the monument is now believed to be at least 3,000 years old, and that the largest of the standing stones was once one of a pair, probably forming an impressive portal. I’m assuming that the presumed partner is the one you can see lying prone beside it. The stones are local dolerite.

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As stone circles go, it is no Stonehenge, but it does have the edge (in all senses) when it comes to setting:

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Looking back into Shropshire from the circle (and on maximum Lumix zoom) you can see the cairn-like summit of the Devil’s Chair on the ridge of hills known as Stiperstones, a wild terrain of old mine shafts, ghosts, satanic dread and legend:

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And then when I turned back to the stone circle, there was that strange lone figure loping through the stones. Here he is again (btw the title quote is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet ).

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It seemed like a good moment to leave, although not before agreeing that we would return in summer – with hopefully more warmth and some clearer skies.

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As ever, as we return to the car, Graham is in my shot. Here though he is providing a convenient marker for some ancient  medieval rig and furrow plough marks. You can just make out the light and dark stripes running  north-south in the cropped grass behind him. At least I’m assuming that this is Graham and not another traveller from the undiscovered country of Shakespeare’s imagined after-life. In places like Mitchell’s Fold you just never do know.

copyright 2016 Tish Farrell

P.S. For more on the earlier trip to Mitchell’s Fold see my long ago post Witch-catching in the Shropshire Wilds – also including the legend about the wicked witch Mitchell, who gave the place its name.

Even though she’s off on her travels again, and by way of wishing her the best of times, I’m linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk

 

 

47 thoughts on ““the undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveller returns” ~ Or Is It?

  1. Lovely read with my coffee.
    Public holiday down here and it is unbelievably quiet.

    Whenever I read of Standing Stones I am always reminded of the Stones that crop up in Pratchett’s Witches stories.

    1. Good old, Terry. Nice to summon his good spirit, Ark. And yes, it’s quiet here too, also being a public holiday. But very WET. I know. I’m becoming a weather-bore. We are promised spring this week though. Which is good to know. My sunflower seedlings are getting very leggy in the conservatory. In fact I may need to start again with them. Have a happy day. I think I need to go and make some comforting soup 🙂

      1. Oh indeed yes, including old lime kilns, but lots of more recent debris and buildings and general dereliction. Others have been reoccupied by new companies, but they still look rather desolate places.

  2. I agree with Sue, Tish. I love the combination of photos and history and would love one day to walk around these areas, too, although definitely not in the rain and cold. Maybe we should start a series of Rosemary Sutcliff tours and walks. 🙂

    janet

  3. Gosh, this is a bit spooky. Great narrative combined with your lovely photos, Tish. Nice to see stone circles like this, not fenced in. You live in beautiful surroundings and if could, I’d pop in and gets a few somethings from your sister’s shop. 🙂

    1. Actually, once you start looking, and turn off the well beaten paths, it’s amazing how much of our ancient landscape survives – and so much of it the product of prehistoric man, not only the building of ‘monuments’, but also his systematic clearing of forest from our uplands.

  4. Ah, I was going to return to Mitchell’s Fold in the summer time as my visit was in the snow. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t, but it is good to still have links to the ‘old’ county and you can certainly tell a good tale 🙂

  5. There is something so mysterious and haunted about that region. I’ve never been there, of course, but that’s the feeling I get from your photos and words. Graham’s presence in the photo gives a good idea of perspective.

      1. I am just sorry that I do my reading in spurts. It is going to be like that for awhile as we make our way to Singapore. But it was very enjoyable to catchup.

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