Walking with Clare
Sun, Feb 11, 2018
On the rellie trip to Shropshire each year I always like to get out for a walk through the green and pleasant land. Leafing through the leaflets with a local 1:25K map on my lap, looking for a gem of a route never disappoints and last year I spied a cracking walk from Ironbridge to Wellington over the Wrekin.
At 407m it’s not high in highland terms but it’s just as wild in places, especially on the steep and forested SW ridge which is little frequented compared to the hordes who ascend the NE route, through such wonderful features as Hell Gate. I was headed up the Shropshire Way past Needle’s eye with stunning views out over the fields and woods of that most wonderful of English counties.
To get there I planned a route from Ironbridge along the old Rope Walk, through the quietly wooded Loamhole Dingle on the edge of The Wilderness before crossing the high bridge over the roaring main road to reach the Coalbrookdale Road. A left turn onto The Moors on what looked like a private track made me a little uneasy and that feeling grew steadily as I began walking across a field, trying to find the path marked on the map. The Shropshire Way was shown crossing the slow rising ground towards the masts on Braggers Hill but all I could see were faint desire-lines highlighted in the shade of the sunlight.
Being a child of the mountains north of the border meant that most of the whole of Scotland was more or less a giant garden. From coasts to summits I was free to wander anywhere, within reason and the generously permissive law of course. Down here I was acutely aware of private land, rights of way and angry landowners tired of trespass. Looking out over that green sea of wind-waved grass, it just didn’t feel right to cross but there was no other way. I could have tried getting into Holbrook Coppice but that would have meant fence climbing and straying from a right of way, the Shropshire Way. The masts were just across the field under a blue sky but seemed a statute away. In the words of John Clare’s poem “Trespass”,
I dreaded walking where there was no path
but on I had to go on my walk to the Wrekin,
and pressed with cautious tread the meadow swath
I imagined people in the house behind me watching through binoculars,
and always turned to look with wary eye
and always feared the owner coming by
but I kept on as Clare’s words followed me across the green,
yet everything about where I had gone
appeared so beautiful I ventured on
Crossing the field of cracked clay and defiant grass I linked up the dried up puddles, walking in slight depressions here and there to remain inconspicuous until eventually I climbed the stile at the far edge and onto a rough track that led down to Buildwas Lane but the feeling lingered;
and when I gained the road where all are free
I fancied every stranger frowned at me
I imagined the man working on the mast tut-tutting and shaking his head as I wandered over the field but I felt much easier walking down the lane that linked Little Wenlock with the ruins of Buildwas Abbey down in the vale. There were beautiful fields and woods, secluded dells full of bird-song and off in the hazy distance the Wrekin rose from her skirt of dark green conifers. I stopped for a sandwich on the edge of Little Wenlock on a bench looking south, down over the cattle studded fields to Devil’s Dingle and thought,
How beautiful if such a place were mine
The rest of the walk was a wonderful tramp in the sunshine, along quiet country lanes, up and over the Wrekin and down through The Ercall to Wellington and a tasty grub-up in a nice wee cafe as a busker played the accordian in the street thronged with life.
Such a beautiful county, such quiet and secluded spots although with the SW wind the roar of the main road was amplified from its deep cutting all the way along Buildwas Lane. No matter, the cool breeze on top of the Wrekin made up for it as did the shady green woods of The Ercall and its geology laid bare for public interpretation. The curiously English feature of one moment walking in quiet woods with no one else to disturb the peace, the next crossing under a motorway and emerging into the edge of small town suburbia. It shows how near everything is to the countryside, how easy it is to get out and walk on a network of paths going everywhere, or nowhere, depending on your mood or inclination for the day. Yet, always at the back of my mind is the access and John Clare’s poem has the last word for me as I warily cross private land as I,
cannot use another’s as my own