Wednesday, August 23, 2006

2 hours and 15 miles in south Shropshire - a road trip.

Another 'away day' - this time with Doreen.

.......And off we go through torential rain. It's pouring off the hills, coursing 'cross the roads. My windscreen wipers are flapping double time. We wonder where all the water will end up. No wonder the Severn floods. Up through Tankerville and Stiperstones and Snailbeach, saluting the remnants of the lead mines as we go - we both have lead mining antecedents - and agree we'd rather study the social history of the miners rather than the mechanics. Perhaps it's a girl thing?

I don't know what our mission is, and I doubt if Doreen does either. We are in pursuit of our elusive past, the key to which is in these hills and barely tangible. In this respect we are hunters. I think perhaps we're going to see where places are with a view to coming back later and examining the intricate details of landscape and monument.

Doreen has the benefit of me - having spent her life hereabouts. I sit back and drive (eyes on the road but ever on the q.v.) and listen to Doreen's narrative of who lived where, bequeathed what and married whom. She does not, however, take it all for granted, and is as awed as I am at the vistas that unfold as we drive on.

From Snailbeach we dip down to Lords Hill - where the Baptist Chapel is. (Lord Tankerville would not allow a non-conformist place of worship on his land so it was erected yards away, across a stream.) The Chapel, a fairly elegant building, barely used these days, sits alone in a still cleft in the hills. In its graveyard, tombstones loll raggedly, on them the incised names of the deceased are slowly losing the battle to wind and weather. An elderly woman, living in a shabby dwelling adjacent to the chapel keeps the keys and will act as guide. She mourns her companion - a dog, who died recently. I suspect the isolation of these parts is not good for one in such a frame of mind. We do not stop here save to open a gate, and leave the Chapel and it's elderly keeper to solitude. We follow an unmetalled lane. We go off-road. Great excitement as the car bounces on the muddy rubbled tracks and brings us to a filthy farmyard where we are observed - dolefully - by a single rangy beast pulling wisps of hay from a stack.

And on we go - the Shropshire landscape opening up before us through narrow lanes, barely cart tracks, hedgerows wet and heavy rising high on either side. Rowan trees already hung with orange berries. By now the rugged landscape of the old lead mines - long softened by grass and brush-wood - has given way to more pastoral scenery. We glimpse, through gateways and across fields, the lumpen mass of nearby Pontesford Hill rising in the north. Beyond and to the east is the Long Mynd. Skirting Habberly we follow the eastern aspect of the ridge that is the Stiperstones. This is a land of myth and legend, trodden since ancient days, its fields and bye-ways, ridgeways, cairns and tracks still bearing the mark of early man.

We meet no one on the road and pass only the odd farm and cottage. Sheep and cattle barely raise their heads as we pass then resume their steady grazing. We admire a buzzard on a fence post - which on meeting our gaze flops into the air and flaps languidly away. A wisp of cloud drifts, like smoke, from a conifer plantation on the other side of the valley, then evaporates. We clatter over another cattle grid. We have by now circled the Stiperstones, it has stopped raining and it's time to go home. The cars we meet when we turn onto on the main road come as something of a suprise. It is as if we had been gone centuries rather than a couple of hours.

So, an interesting afternoon going nowhere. The kind of journey I like.

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