Here we are – midday on Christmas Day in Ashes Hollow, Little Stretton, Shropshire, walking across some of the oldest landscape on the planet. Such vast antiquity is perhaps an unexpected distinction within a rural English county whose location, even to the citizens of the United Kingdom, is often a total mystery.
But here it is, one of the valleys, locally known as batches, whose streams wheedle their way down from the flanks of the Long Mynd, a 7-mile ridge of Precambrian rock, formed around 570 to 560 million years ago. It is also well travelled geology, having moved 13,000 miles from its origins in the Antarctic circle where its iron-rich sediments (eroded from volcanic mountains) first accumulated on the sea bed. This was closely followed by some tectonic shunt and shift which squeezed the sediments into a U-shape, so tipping them from the horizontal to the vertical. It’s a feature you can glimpse here and there on exposed rock faces. It means too, that in one sense at least, as you pass, you are walking through time.