Travel

Fox’s Knob and The Squeeze – Carry on Shropshire

‘How about climbing a volcano? Exploring some caves?’
The response is rolled eyes, attention drifting back to phones. I tell them to bring a torch and some decent boots. We’re short of funds and it’s the fag-end of the summer holidays. Jake’s restless about starting high school, Joe bemoans the speed of our wi-fi. Distraction therapy is needed.

The Wrekin is a steep hill formed of volcanic rocks – not really a volcano – so thankfully there’s no threat of lava for the tearooms and galleries of Much Wenlock and Coalbrookdale. We climb through a steep track that turns back on itself, giving framed glimpses of the misty Shropshire plain. As we step above the canopy of trees we see Shrewsbury, the silver glint of the Severn, endless acres of reddish-brown farmland.
This was the hillfort of the Cornovii tribe, rulers of these parts. It’s shrouded in cloud and stories. We sit by a trig point as I tell the boys the tale of the giant who wanted to flood Shrewsbury by tipping the mud from his shovel into the Severn. On the way he met a cobbler who showed him a bag of shoes full of holes. He said Shrewsbury was so far, he’d worn out all those boot and shoes walking from there. The giant gave up, dumping the earth on the spot where he stood and forming the Wrekin. Jake wrinkles his nose in disbelief and spends the twenty minutes it takes us to get to Hawkstone Park calculating the tonnage of earth needed.

 

The park and follies were once a medieval castle and grounds, later belonging to Lord Hill of Shrewsbury, Wellington’s second in command at Waterloo. Jake and Joe tear up the ridge and sprint beneath rhododendrons and towering coast redwoods, before climbing the White Tower and gazing out over the Midlands and Wales.

Then it’s a stride down to Swiss bridge where the boys inch above a steep cleft in the rock. Passing the wonderfully-named Gingerbread Hall, we climb to Raven’s Shelf and dizzying views of the golf course, where a young Sandy Lyle mastered the game. The drop into the valley was named the Awful Precipice by Dr Johnson, but it’s a majestic view of woods, parkland and distant Welsh mountains. Jake shines the torch into caves and tunnels, believed to date from the fifth century, perhaps Roman, which were carved out of the rock by men in search of precious copper. When we emerge, blinking into the daylight, we trek back along the limestone ridge, smiling that so many of the points we pass could’ve been taken from a ‘Carry On’ film. After the Cleft, we must get through The Squeeze and then use a tunnel to avoid Fox’s Knob.

We haven’t travelled far, and we’ve travelled cheaply. We’ve walked in the footsteps of Celts, Romans and Marcher Lords. It’s a curious landscape: just down the M54 from Wolverhampton, yet part Swiss Alps, part Italy, a hint of New Mexico.

Travel

A Perfect Day in the Country – Shropshire

A piece I wrote about a perfect day in Shropshire

View of Shropshire countryside from Hawkstone Park
View of Shropshire countryside from Hawkstone Park

The sun sparkles on the Severn. Rushing waters fetched down from the Welsh mountains shimmer as they twist and turn beneath us. We’re standing on the Ironbridge built in 1779. The industrial revolution began right here in Shropshire with Abraham Darby. We walk a muddy trail past abandoned workings through Benthall Woods. Industry has given way to heritage and nature. These days the only smoke is the drift of grilling bacon that draws us to breakfast at Darby’s, named for the great man.

Ironbridge has some fascinating museums – tiles and science and engines and Victorian shops and streets – but Joe and Jake have visited on recent school trips so, fortified with tea and full English, we decide to swap industry for royalty.

Boscobel House lies close to the Shropshire/Staffordshire border, surrounded by woods and farm fields. It’s a timber-brick house full of hidey-holes and most famous for being the place where a king hid up an oak tree.

Boscobel House where Charles II hid
Boscobel House where Charles II hid

Sometimes when we visit historical houses there are too many plaques and Joe and Jake’s attention drifts. We spend the next two hours keeping them away from wobbling candlesticks and precious vases.

But Boscobel keeps us busy with a ramble over to that famous oak (or at least its descendant) and a beautiful mile-long walk down to the ancient ruins of White Ladies Priory.

Most important of all for young Cavaliers the history is wrapped in activities and the scariest game of high stakes hide-and-seek imaginable.

When King Charles II fled after defeat at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 he arrived in a desperate state – exhausted and soaked through with shoes full of gravel and feet ‘not only extremely dirty, but much galled by travel.’

As the search closed in the King took to the woods with a local Royalist officer. They spent the day in a thick, bushy oak tree as soldiers hurried beneath them searching the woods.

When the soldiers had gone the King returned to the house to hide in the attic. We crept up the same stairs and the boys pressed their noses to a glass plate covering a tiny, cramped space between the floorboards.

Charles would have hidden here and watched anxiously for signs of Cromwell’s militia. Another hidey-hole is reached beyond wood-panelling and down through a hatch. A wooden box is carved with a tiny Royal face peeking through the branches of a lush oak. The boys loved finding those faces and symbols.

Descendant of Royal Oak
Descendant of Royal Oak

Those surprised to find industry or kings hiding in trees may also wonder that Shropshire has lakes. Ellesmere is a beautiful and tranquil spot to finish our day. The mere is a legacy of the last ice age and a popular haunt of day-trippers forming snaking queues for farmhouse ice cream.

We grab the last table and take a delicious cream tea as ducks waddle past in search of crumbs. One decision remains: Shall we take the boat onto the mere or the horse and trap along the shore?

Travel

David Jones at Oriel Ynys Mon

In the last blog I mentioned Kyffin Williams. We try to visit Oriel Ynys Mon whenever we can and enjoy his work immensely.

But there are other excellent works on show including the wildlife art of Charles Tunnicliffe.

Last summer there was an interesting exhibition by David Jones – an artist ‘fuelled by his imagination.’ You can learn more about Beaumaris-based David here. The colours were striking and vivid and stood out tremendously in the whitewashed room.

David Jones exhibition
David Jones exhibition
Travel

Staring at the sea….

Newborough Warren looking over to Lleyn. I’ve written about this place so many times. It’s getting more popular but we went again a few weeks ago and had so much space to enjoy.

In the dunes with the scent of the Corsican pines your could close your eyes in summer and be fooled into thinking it’s the Mediterranean.

Newborough Warren
What a place to hide….

Newborough Warren

Newborough Warren

Travel

Painting Penmon Point

We’ve spent a lot of time on Anglesey and on a recent return to Penmon I saw a man in the distance who appeared to be working on a huge canvas.

Instead it turned out to be a walker looking at work which was already completed (see below).

What a great idea and a brilliant spot to take in a tremendous view that includes Snowdonia, Puffin Island, Anglesey and the Great Orme.

The story is reported on in the Telegraph here.

The work is in place until October when the wild weather would presumably do damage.

Art at Penmon Point
Art at Penmon Point