Change in the Air

I love walking at this time of the year; summer is over but autumn has not really kicked in yet. Regular readers will notice that that this site has been quiet recently. I really don’t like writing about the same things over andover again, but this magical and slightly scary time of the year never ceases to engage my emotions and imagination. The changing nature of our seasons are always magical. The spectre of winter just around the corner is never far from the back of the mind.

S Shrops 1

So, to walk out in the morning was to enjoy much of what summer has to offer but also being impossible to feel the change. The temperatures are down but the sun shone. The wind blew from the West, not list but not strong. There was ‘nip in the air’ but there was a kind of intent. Just wait a week or two.

Foliage still sits on the trees waiting for the first high winds of the change. The landscape though its changing. The harvest is now coming in and the landscape is shorn. The sunshine illuminates the hills and the field but John Barleycorn is no longer swaying in the wind.

This was quiet walking weather. Showers threatened but while the sun was out we had the hills to ourselves for much of the time. Larks sang puncturing the walk with the most fabulous of concertos. The House Martins were still with us, not yet winging their way to Africa.

Bridges

At this time of the those other famous creatures come out in force. While much of the walk was quite and solitary we were regularly joined by groups of young women taking their Duke of Edinburgh courses. As ever we checked where they were going and inevitably we met them later in the day only to confuse them as we were now coming from the opposite direction to themselves. At the moment their map reading focussed simply on getting to their campsite!

S Shrops 1

A flock of D of E youngsters scrambling above the waterfall


We didn’t escape the rain, you really can’t avoid it at this time of year. As I’ve said many times before, if you want a quiet day on the hills then study the weather forecast and be brave. But with waterproofs suitably donned walking in the rain adds variety and in the reasonably mild air this part of the walk was just as interesting.

The sun fought back and as we regained high ground we could see the squalls, blown by the Westerly winds, heading down the valleys. Up high the squalls left us alone.

I shall be up on these hills a lot of the next few weeks, trying to catch the spectacular autumn colours. Last your heavy winds wiped out the autumnal display so perhaps this year I’ll be lucky. And there is still enough light of the day to encourage the last wild camps of the year.

DSCF0016

Changing the Season

DSCF0261-Edit.jpg

I almost started this post by stating that the move to autumn was my favourite time of the year. But in reality, the change from one season to another is always a very special time. I’ve written about this before but the joy of the UK climate is the changing of the seasons. They seldom disappoint.

Autumn is now coming in strong after a long and dry summer. Yesterday, there was a little edge to the early morning air and yet I spent most of the day walking in sunshine.  The skies clouded a little at lunchtime but a brisker wind soon whisked them away and the weather for the rest of the afternoon was glorious.

Working for yourself is always a mixed blessing. When things are quiet — as they are at the moment — there is a temptation to sit at the computer most of the day and generally create a false sense of productivity by, well, not doing very much in particular. Far better to get out there to the hills. A good hill walk calms the nerves and puts life back into some kind of perspective. For me, there is nothing quite like chilling out on the hills.

DSCF0250-Edit.jpg

Mid week is a good time for a snatched walk as inevitably you have the hills to yourselves. It was the kind of day that suggested a ridge walk or two. Although the days are shortening an intimate knowledge of your favourite hills allows you to squeeze the most out of your time. To extend the walk — and to preserve the solitary nature of the day — I chose to drop down form the ridges down on the of steepest, most scrambly, ‘batches’ in this part of the world. There’s nothing dangerous here but you have to have you wits about you. There is a steep drip down into Barrister’s Gully (how did that get named)? A narrow path descends sometimes over bare rock and sometimes crosses small reaches of scree. The path stays high above a small stream, the descent below a sharp and perspicuous one. There was no real need to use hands but at times progress was slowed simply because of the necessity to be sure about where you were planning your feet.

In all my years of walking this ‘batch’ I have never ever met another soul here. The paths while narrow are well defined and evidence that others do pass this way. It’s not just me and the sheep.

When you know your hills well you know where to make the most of the changing season and this is certainly the case as autumn arrives. Locally, I may not have the majesty and the splendour of, say, the Rothimuchus to experience but if you know where to look there is a lot to see and in autumn this walk can be stunning, the old oaks and beech trees sheltered from the prevailing wind so as to preserve their autumnal foliage.

In truth I was probably a week too early, the colours changing but not yet saturated in colour. However, one weekend storm can blow away the colours before you can blink. I might return next week,  maybe for an overnight, but only if the prevailing winds have obliged.

The lateness of autumn suggests that this season may be short. Soon the biting chill of the winter winds will arrive and the same walks will take on a wild and barren feel. The walks will be just as enthralling in their own way but very different of those of today.

Meanwhile, make the best of the season when you can. The extended summer and relatively calm weather promise some wonderful autumn displays.

DSCF0255-Edit.jpg

Spring Growth Bursting Forth

Ragleth Hil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Ragleth Hill

I’ve written about this before but I live too far away from the North to properly appreciate adventures in snow. For me things get going again when I can feel some warmth on my neck.

The last few days in Shropshire have been the first this year that feel like the real beginning of the new year. The foods have receded and the cutting north winds are relaxing. Everywhere there are signs of new growth.

In verges and rural gardens daffodils and tulips are in full bloom. In low lying fields lambs are gambling and singing. In the woodland the year’s new buds are on the edge of bursting forth. Pairs of unidentifiable birds called together across streams.

On the Ragleth Hill ridge I marvelled at the soaring and hovering Red Kite. Everywhere larks ascended in full song chorus. And in the most prominent of places that proper summer animal — the rambler group — was out in force.

Now the longer days have returned its possible to walk a good long day and still find time to have a couple of pints of Sunbeam pale ale in the pub before taking the train home.

But how about this fellow. He lives in a farm that sits on the Shropshire Way.  I suspect he has learnt to put on a show for passing wakers!

Proud Peacock

(Almost) A Close Encounter with Edric the Wild

One of the great things about the English countryside is that no matter how well you know the terrain, and how many times you have walked a route, you can still be surprised.

Out in my favourite South Shropshire the other day I sleepily stepped off the train at Craven Arms and started sleep walking towards the Shropshire Way. Before the path winds its way onto the seldom explored hills around Hopesay the walk took me through some lovely pasture, carpeted with a mass of buttercups and with cows sheltering from the sun underneath wide and ancient oaks.

Still walking on autopilot I stretched out to straddle a stile. I was struck by a cluster of waypoint signs which adorned a signpost. There is a lot to sign post around here. There’s the long distance Shropshire Way walk, the Hopesay Hill walk and a number of other, short, leisure walk. But through my slumber I caught a glimpse of a waymark that I don’t ever remember seeing before. I had found myself on Wild Edric’s walk.

Wild Edric? Who on earth was that? It sounded exciting.

I strode off with renewed purpose in the hope of following Wild Edric’s path. (I kept a tight grip on my walking poles — just in case.) Sadly, though the trail went cold very quickly. It seemed to me there was only one direction to take across their fields and at the next set of junctions and stiles I found a number of waymark signs but Wild Edric’s walk was not amongst them.

I felt cheated. Damn it I know the area like the back of my hand. This is a land of all kinds of legends and tall stories as you might expect from land that borders on misty and magical Mid Wales — there be dragons over those border ridges you know!

I walked on, hoping beyond hope that I’d pick up Wild Edric’s trail again but alas I seemed to have lost him forever.

Back home I turned to the wonder of the internet to pick Edric’s trail. Shropshire is well known for its wild men and there on the Discover Shropshire website I finally tracked Wild Ed down. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that my first encounter with Ed should be traced back so quickly to a tourist site but as ever in these parts there is a story to tell.

This old Salopian goes back to the days of Willie the Conqueror. Old Ed was Saxon thane who used the income from his estates to finance a huntsman’s life. Ed was without doubt a big man in old Mercia.

Edric the Wild didn’t much like the sound of this French interloper William and he took exception to the Norman troops who began to plunder and impose themselves on these western lands. Wild Edric quickly made something of a nuisance of himself, so much that Richard FitzScrob and his new Norman Garrison at Hereford were ordered to march on Shropshire to quickly deal with things. However, Edric’s guerrilla tactics gave the Normans a really hard time and buoyed with this success the wild hero began to foster greater ambitions.

Wild Ed threw in his lot with a load of wild Welsh Princes and together they marched on the Hereford garrison and sacked the place. Next our freedom fighters set off to bash the Normans at Leominster and, after amassing rather a lot of loot and dosh, they continued on to Shrewsbury. Ed and his Welsh mates lay siege to the Castle but this time couldn’t break through. So, they burnt the town instead.

All went well until Wild Ed decided to have a crack at Chester. By this time the great Conquerer William had decided that he would have to deal with Wild Ed himself. After dealing with a number of Midland rebellions William finally thumped Wild Ed at Chester. Wild Ed quickly swore allegiance to William.

Did Wild Edric then settle down. Of course he didn’t. History gets a bit cloudy at this point but Ed next decides to pitch up in the company of the King Malcolm of Scotland who was being forced to pay tribute to the Normans. Malcolmn. Really?

Wild Edric was finally bashed by the fine sounding Ralph de Mortimer and imprisoned. Some think that Wild Ed died in custody, but others think that he may have continued with his rebellious ways and escaped to end his days in Wales.

But while I had not ever heard of Wild Ed I soon found that stories of his exploits still reverberate around the Shropshire hills to this day.

In one of the most famous Edric gets lost one day while out hunting in the Clun forest. Stumbling around for some sign of life Wild Ed came across a fine house in a clearing. From the house came the sounds of wild music and dancing. Six beautiful girls were dancing in a ring and in the middle of the ring was simply the most beautiful and wonderful girl that Wild Ed had ever seen. He was immediately smitten. He had to process her. Edric broke through the ring of dancers and carried he the woman he saw as his would-be-bride. But he hadn’t reckoned on the other girls who were her sisters. Furious at having their sister stolen from them the sisters quickly transformed themselves into monsters with fiery eyes and talons that could tear human flesh.

Ripped, shredded and bleeding Wild Ed managed to carry his would be bride to his horse and on through the forest he fled until he came across familiar ground.

Back home Edric took stock. He was a little surprised that his captured bride to me hadn’t put up any struggle during her abduction and neither had she uttered a word or a sound. Wild Ed bought her the finest foods and the finest wines but his bride to be neither drank not ate, she just sat impassively in his great house.

After four days she broke her silence, speaking sweetly and complimentary about our Ed.

Here was the deal. She would become his bride. She would guarantee that Ed’s good health and fortune would last for all time. But she had one condition. Her one rule was that Ed should never utter any criticism of her sisters or their home from which she had been plucked.

The wedding was fabulous and Ed and his wife lived in great luxury and happiness. Until that is Ed returned from hunting one day to find his bride gone. When she finally returned home Ed, rather loudly, made his views known — her late return home was the doing of the dreaded sisters. Like a phantom he disappeared into the mists and was never seen again.

Edric was beside himself. He scoured the forest for days on end until he found the fateful clearing but discovered that the house, and the sisters, had simply vanished into the ether. Edric pined away and died a distressed and broken man.

And that might have been the end of Wild Edric. But no — others in this borderland believe our hero lived on and some even believe he lives on today, walking and sleeping between life and death.

Some say Wild Edric was banished to the underworld for finally bowing to the power of the Normans. The lead miners of the area believe that it was Edric they heard making knocking sounds in their galleries to help them make their way to the ore. Others believe that Ed finally found his bride — now called Godda — and that they live on, riding across the storm filled skies.

The last sighting of Wild Edric took place in the nineteenth century when a local lass told how she had seen a terrible apparition dashing across stormy skies with his ghostly hunting party. Her father ordered her to close her eyes until these ghouls had passed but — of course as always happens — the fickle lass disobeyed. She saw Ed and Godda.

Nothing much happened to the girl despite her father’s warning. But here’s a funny thing. Locals say that Wild Ed’s ghostly hunt appears before a war and that they charge in the direction of battle. The local girl’s siting of Wild Ed occurred just before the Crimean War. Edric was said to have been sighted again prior to the First World War. For some reason Edric seems never to be sighted before the last war but before the one before last — he was not sighted at the Second World War.

So, there you go. If you are out a walking in old Salop and the weather takes a turn for the worse think carefully about looking to skies. You might chance across Wild Edric and his spooky hunt scorching their way across the sky. But if your do, well this might be a sign of terrible death and destruction to come!

There were no rain clouds or winds on the day I stumbled across Wild Edric and maybe that’s the point. I have should have expected the trail to run cold in such fine weather.

I love the stories of this area and I’ve written about it before. The folklore of the Welsh borders is just so vivid and imaginative. The story of Wild Edric is a fine story and makes the Wild Man of Ben Macdui seem very tame indeed.

I shall keep on the look out for more sightings of Wild Edric and of other fine stories and traditions. Our landscape may be fine and beautiful or rugged and wild but, for me, it is made all the finer by the stories and imagination of those who have lived in these hills for thousands of years.

Wild Edric. A man of the Midlands who stuck to fingers up to the establishment, a man of action, energy and passion who finally succumbed to a beautiful woman and then blew it all. Edric; I salute you.

http://www.discovershropshire.org.uk

Just Where Has All the Water Gone?

My Restoration of the Seasons was misplaced. It sure looked like the change had come but her in the middle of the UK we still seem stuck in a fantasy season. Temperatures are lovely and mild and everywhere is still very dry.

Quite simply this is November, in the heart of England, and we are suffering from drought — something that is almost unheard of. On the Eastern seaboard of the US people are buried in snow and we’re enjoying summer. Something is going wrong somewhere!

Our dry conditions seem be becoming more regular occurrences. One of my most viewed photographs on Flickr was taken a couple of years ago on the South Shropshire Hills. I’m sure it is so well viewed because it shows a normally lively stream almost completely dry. I’d never seen this before, but since that photo has been taken this has become a more familiar sight.

South Shropshire — my local hills — present a wonderful English landscape, a patchwork of green fields and lush grassy uplands. But the drought here is getting quite severe. Here farmers and small settlements depend on rainfall. Many have never had cause to link to the local water grid but now their wells are running dry and the grid connection costs are prohibitively expensive to a community that continues to struggle through the economic crisis. Water tankers are now a common site in local lanes and farmyards. There is beginning to be desperation in the air after what has become an extremely dry year. Now many ploughed fields should be a blaze of young and vigorous green, instead they and dry and barren. What rainfall there has been has simply ran right off the parched ground.

Back at home things are hardly much better. We have had rain. The watering can which fills from the greenhouse is often full in the morning but the water butt has a long day to go before it is full. On Sunday a cleared some vegetable beds to plant garlic. The soil was moist but as I dug I found it was almost powdery dry just a centimetre from the surface. The drought here is not enough to leave my winter crops in distress, but growth is much slower the usual and the plans far smaller. It takes little imagination to see what a challenge such dry ground is to farmers.

The weather forecast suggests little change in the next week but maybe the simple act of posting this will prompt the rains! Mind you, we need a lot of rain over some time.

Sales of gaiters will not be that healthy this winter!

The Horseshoe Inn, Bridges — Welcome Back Old Friend

There is a symbiotic relationship between walkers — ramblers — and good pubs. While the relationship between an inn and a traveller is an ancient one the bond between the walker, or rambler, few during the industrial revolution when mill workers and factory workers left Manchester on their day off and headed for the Derbyshire Hills. This form of walking to the pub has for long been a fine feature of working class life.

It wasn’t just in Britain that the Inn had such a relationship with the worker. One of my oldest friends (who is French) bought an old inn building fifteen years or so ago just outside of Limoges. Here the Porcelain workers used to journey on their day of rest, the inn being at the end of the train line which ran out of the city to the South West. But, while the workers of Manchester strode out in search of peat and heather, the workers of Limoges came with their guns and searched out something of the pot that evening!

But in the UK pubs still have a great affinity with the walking fraternity and it is sad to see a once great pub descend into chaos and misery.

I’ve mentioned the Horseshoe Inn several times on this blog before. It has always been a great country pub since the days of my youth, a fine stone building located in the heart of a tiny hamlet in the shadow of the Long Mynd, set at a pace where five or so streams come together. Like many of these pubs I guess, The Horseshoe Inn was probably hit by drink and driving legislation and the opening up of cheap curry houses in the cities! But there were still the ramblers.

About eight or nine years ago the pub was taken over by a guy who could be quite nice on his day but who hated walkers. And I don’t exaggerate when I say hate. He used to rant about the lovely warden from the hostel around the corner who locked her doors at 11.00, and who had been known to drop into the pub and round up her customers. He hated walkers who descend on his pub and sat outside eating their own sandwiches, even though they had bought a pint of his beer. I once saw this guy chase off a high group of walkers, about thirty or more. Many of them were wanting to buy a pint and some of the group had ordered pub meals when their comrades were chased away. On that day I calculated he’d chased away something in the order to £80 -£100 of profit! No wonder the pub eventually closed.

Low margins, and a lack of walking customers no doubt took their toll but a pipe burst during the winter was the last straw and the pub closed. In January this year I walked past and saw a place that was broken in every kind of way. In the picture here you can see the strange structure that had been built to keep smokers happy, by all means put something like this around the back — but at the front! No wonder I used to see people drive up, take one look at this gerry-built structure and drive on to Wentnor.

Bridges Pub

Sad, Lonely and Empty

At the beginning of the summer I was pleased to see a group of workman hard a work. They were not just modernising the place but gutting it. They told me that it had been bought by the famous Three Tons brewery from nearby Bishops Castle.

So, last week while planning a walk I thought I’d have a stroll to the pub. And I wasn’t disappointed.

The facade of the pub has been tidied up and now looks almost like you’d expect. Walk inside and the building has been transformed, the old bar taken down and moved to a far better place leaving a fine space in the main room which features more cover space and provides — I goes — a better venue for open mic sessions and the like. Tables, walls and the bar are now constructed out of natural wood, and much of it looks old and characterful.

The Horseshoe Inn, Bridges 

Still rustic — but better!

The beer is the main star here. The Three Tons never disappoints and my pint was heavenly. Great beer, well kept. But the food menu is not far behind. This is a sensible and simple menu and, although I didn’t eat, the other diners — all walkers — declared the food to be fine and home made (previously we had to put up with Brake Brothers-like food sauces in a bag). There is a good looking ploughman’s, a huge portion of fish and chips and daily specials. There is thoughtful vegetarian food as well. The days I was there the vegetarian option was squash fajitas which I think may have come from Tomasina Myer’s cookbooks, which is no bad thing at all.

I chatted to the Manageress and told her that I’d seen walkers — customers — chased away on a regular basis. She told me that I was not the first to report that to her. Apparently the previous owner was loved by some locals but then as hardly anyone lives here he’d obviously embarked on a suicide strategy.

I was here on the day that the weather had turned and our Indian Summer had been replace by a cold wind and rain. It was in the middle of the week. Still, there were enough customers to keep the pace ticking over. And guess what? They were all walkers!

The Horseshoe Inn, Bridges

The Horseshoe Inn is back and if you are in these parts it is worth planning your walking route around it.