Winter On The Edge

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The National Trust owns the north-east facing scarp of Wenlock Edge. There’s a good path along the summit which, in gaps through the trees, offers stunning views of north-east Shropshire. It also skirts the old limestone quarries which now provide quarters for, among others, a garden fencing company and an outfit turning trees into pellets for industrial wood burners. The quarry enterprises are by no means scenic, but they have a certain drama. The National Trust trail and map are HERE.

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Looking towards the North Shropshire Plain and the Wrekin

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Edge Renewables

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Walking Squares #8  Join Becky on her daily November walks

Coming Home From The Edge

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It’s interesting but when you are walking about in Much Wenlock, you are very rarely aware of how steeply the land rises towards Wenlock Edge, or of the fact that the town sits in a distinct hollow with other not-so-steep hills rising to the east and south.

In this photo I am walking down from the Edge, following the path that ends up on Sytche Lane, a short hop from our garden gate. We’re lucky to have so many good walks on our doorstep, and mostly field paths, too.

Walking Squares #5 Today Becky is taking a walk close to home.

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Over The Home Hill: More Hills

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Wenlock Edge behind our house runs for twenty odd miles, a wooded escarpment that bisects the county of Shropshire on a north-east-south-west axis. It’s not always easy to see out for the tree cover, but here and there, a few choice viewpoints give you a glimpse of Shropshire’s other hills, the Long Mynd living up to its name in the distance here. I’m fumbling for the name of the hill in the middle distance (not recognising it from this angle). It could be Caradoc.

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If we turn right round in the other direction, then we can see Clee Hill:

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Closer to home, you can take the National Trust footpath out of Much Wenlock and head for the Edge landmark, Major’s Leap, from where, on a winter’s day, you may be treated to an other-worldly view of the Wrekin, subject of many quaint Shropshire tales. (My version here).

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And coming down the Edge footpath behind our house you have a fine view of Much Wenlock hugged round by hills, Walton Hill and Shirlett Forest:

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And while I’m showing off our local hills, I can’t leave out the town’s favourite landmark: Windmill Hill with a small turquoise person heading over it:

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Lens-Artists: over the hill  Donna at Wind Kisses has set this week’s challenge.

There’s A Storm Coming…

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Over the garden fence this afternoon. And yes, after weeks of drought, we’ve had some rain, though the showers have not been as generous as these clouds seem to promise. I watched them roll out across Townsend Meadow towards Wenlock Edge. A cloud serpent, or a Chinese dragon in many shades of grey. There were pigeons flying every which way and some horizontal lightning.

Nothing like a spot of wild weather to stir the spirits.

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Quiet Scenes On The Edge

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The hamlet of Easthope lies a few miles south-west of Much Wenlock. To reach it you travel along Wenlock Edge towards Church Stretton, then drop down a winding lane, too narrow for comfort. At the village heart is St. Peter’s church and the meadows of Manor Farm. The houses are scattered round: old limestone cottages, some ancient timber framed buildings, some modern homes built last century, a gracious rectory no longer ecclesiastically engaged. Most look out on the Mogg, a darkly forested hogsback ridge whose trees hide the the remains of  an Iron Age hillfort known as The Ditches.

You can just see the conifer tops of the Mogg between the churchyard trees in the next photo.

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I took these photos one bright December afternoon. It was something of a pilgrimage.  My good friend and artist Sheilagh Jevons resides in this peaceful graveyard, the perfect spot for a woman so in tune with the Shropshire landscape and its liminal spaces and much in love with the Mogg. Her house and studio were just down the lane from the church and she called her home The Mogg.

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Here is another hill topped with a conifer plantation. It lies on the easterly side of Much Wenlock, and this is the view I see as I come home from the allotment, stepping out under the big ash tree that guards the unofficial ‘gateway’ through the field hedge.

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And naturally, one of the most peaceful spots in the town are the ruins of Much Wenlock Priory whose origins, in the charge of Saxon princess and abbess, St. Milburga, go back to 670 CE. The remains you see here are much later, dating from successive building phases in the 12th and 13th centuries. In its day, Wenlock Priory was among the grandest monastic houses in Europe, its monks belonging to the Cluniac order and brought here from France. It’s a mysterious thing to think of now, a French community ruling the lives, body and spirit, of Shropshire folk. All dissolved in 1540 of course, with the protecting lead stripped off the roofs by Thomas Cromwell’s team of asset strippers.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: peaceful

And Another Shropshire Ghost

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In an earlier post this week I mentioned Wild Edric our heroic Saxon warlord who challenged the Norman interlopers and ended up as a ghost haunting the Stiperstones. Now shunt forward a few hundred years to the 1640s, a time when England was locked in civil war: Roundhead Parliamentarians versus Charles 1 and the Royalist army. The Parliamentarians were intent on curbing the king’s proclivities to do as he liked at the nation’s expense; the Royalists were set on protecting the monarch’s prerogative.

We’ve shifted from the South Shropshire hills to Wenlock Edge, a wooded limestone escarpment that rears up above the county’s farming lowland for nearly 20 miles. Enter one Major Thomas Smallman, fleeing on horseback from his home in nearby Wilderhope Manor. He is a King’s man, carrying despatches for the Royalist headquarters in the county town of Shrewsbury, some dozen miles away. On his heels are Cromwell’s troops. Trying to evade them, the major veers off along the Edge. But there’s no escape. He and horse leap over the precipice. It is a two hundred foot drop. The major was caught up in a crab apple tree, and so survived to deliver his despatches to Shrewsbury, but his valiant horse was lost. Perhaps that’s why a ghostly major on horseback may sometimes be glimpsed near this signpost on the Edge footpath.

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And to give you a notion of what lay before the major when his horse took off:

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The Square Odds #10

The Changing Seasons ~ January 2022

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Our January blew in with sudden squalls and sea gales off the Celtic Sea, and a week’s sojourn on west coast Anglesey. From the sands of Aberffraw and nearby Newborough we could see the mountains of Snowdonia across the Menai Strait, a wood-cut frieze: sometimes steely grey, sometimes indigo; watch as snow dusted the high slopes. The place was blisteringly cold, but enthralling too. And we did have sunshine interludes too.

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And the deep-cloud afternoons did give up their gloom just in time for some breath-taking sunsets.

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And then, too soon, it was time to leave, and then, as often happens when we drive over the Menai Strait away from Anglesey, the morning light failed. An eclipse of the sun? Some ancient Celtic curse on the land made manifest? In any event, our hundred-mile, mid-day drive home to Much Wenlock proceeded through a depressing dusk, although it did have its moment of mystifying grandeur as we wound through the Llanberis Pass. Can you spot the tiny white farmhouse at the foot of the photo?

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And so back home and last week’s walk up on to Wenlock Edge, taking the field paths behind the house. A gentler landscape certainly, and warmer too after a brisk upward hike. Also from our side of the Edge its true drama is quite concealed. We see only fields and treetops, but when you reach the path that runs along the ridge summit, it is only when you peer through the underbrush that you see that the land simply drops off – falling through hundreds of feet of hanging woodland, so steep as to be inaccessible except to birds and small mammals and perhaps an adventurous deer. This impression of no-man’s-land and apparent lack of management by humankind adds to its eeriness. On winter days, too, when the trees are bare, you can glimpse the village of Homer way below, and beyond it the farm fields of the Shropshire Plain.

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The path up to Wenlock Edge

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Looking back on the town

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Over the Edge

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On the homeward path with view of the Wrekin

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And on the home front, a wintery upstairs garden:

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But still a few crab apples left

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And in the kitchen: some surviving allotment marigolds and crusty spelt-flour soda bread:

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The Changing Seasons: January 2022. Please call in on our hosts, Ju-Lyn in Singapore, and Brian in Australia and see their January vistas.

So What’s Missing Here?

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We were walking along the top of Wenlock Edge earlier this week – Edge on the left of this photo, Ironbridge Gorge right of centre. This is a circular walk that can include Windmill Hill as a slight detour, but otherwise takes you out of Much Wenlock before sending you up a field path (with fine views of the Wrekin) to the Edge above Homer village.

The final climb to the Edge top is quite steep and rocky, but once negotiated, you step out on a  pleasingly level track, farm fields on one side, hanging woodland on the other. I should say, though, that for those nervous of heights it doesn’t do to stop and look down into the wood. There, the huge ash, beech, oak, and sycamore trees grow hugger mugger on prodigiously tall, straight trunks that cling to several hundred feet of near vertical hillside. Here and there, between rare gaps in the canopy, you can just glimpse the fields of the Shropshire plain way below.

This is a winter’s day view of the Edge trackway, the seeming benign but beetling Edge wood on the right:

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There’s a point further along this track where a path hives off at right angles, taking us back and down to the town. There’s also a particular fence post here that I often use in lieu of the tripod. I used it to take the header shot, including the grass stem pointer,  but in the past I used it to capture these views – the cooling towers of Ironbridge Power Station, shortly to be developed into a very large riverside housing complex:

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Here’s another winter’s view with the cooling towers steaming away, and to the left a glimpse of the chimney beacon that finally came down this summer:

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All gone now. This may well be a good thing. On the other hand,  we need to think very hard and carefully how, and at what precise cost, we will heat and power our homes in the future. At present there is, to say the least, something of a technological shortfall. Nothing, it seems, is settled.

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Past Perspectives ~ Up the Meadow And Over The Edge

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Those who come here often will know that our cottage in Much Wenlock sits at the foot of Townsend Meadow, a field that rises quite steeply to the west and towards the summit of nearby Wenlock Edge. At the Edge top (c 1,000 feet above sea level) the land plummets through hanging woodland of beech, ash and yew to the Shropshire plain below. From our perspective in the undulating Edge uplands above this drop we see the sky above a false horizon that turns this vista into a gallery. Every moment we are treated to ‘cinematic’ sky doings, either viewed over the garden fence, as in the header photo, or from the upstairs’ rooflights as in the next two photos.

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There can also be curious effects – strange prisms of light that may be due to cold air rising from below the Edge, a bit like a fire rainbow. I’m sure a weather person can tell me. This next was spotted in early summer on a sunny evening:

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I’m also often treated to some good cloud installations when I’m on the field path, to-ing or fro-ing the allotment. A good storm brewing up is always exciting:

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Or a quieter top-of-the-meadow sunset:

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The wood at the top field corner behind the allotment also goes in for its own cloud formations:

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Past Squares #23

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It’s A Wonderful World: From Kenya’s Rift To Wenlock’s Edge

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Two landscapes a world apart, but for the most part both largely shaped by human endeavour. The first shot is one from the old Africa album: the Great Rift Valley just north of Nairobi. In the foreground is Escarpment, a faulted terrace of the Eastern Rift. The patchwork of fields are smallholdings – some 12 acres, others much smaller. This was one of the study areas for he-who-builds-sheds-and-greenhouses’ doctoral thesis on the smut fungus of Napier grass, an essential staple fodder crop for farmers who, for lack of pasture, zero-graze their cows and sheep (i.e. stock is kept in pens and paddocks and food is delivered to them).

Beyond Escarpment on the Rift floor you can see the yellow wheat fields of large-scale farming concerns. The last time we drove that way from Lake Naivasha there were zebra and other plains game helping themselves to the crop. Zebra in a wheat field? Now there was a sight to excite a Shropshire lass used only to seeing flights of greedy pigeons in her homeland fields.

The hazy peak in the distance is the old volcano, Longonot.

But that was then.

So now to Shropshire – a winter view from Wenlock Edge not far from home: farm fields and the Wrekin, which is not actually an old volcano but a hill composed of lava layers spewed from other volcanoes.

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Lens-Artists: wonderful