Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Long Mynd: Carding Mill Valley & Minton Batch – 10.75 miles

Saturday 16th February 2013

Map: OS Explorer OL217 – The Long Mynd & Wenlock Edge

Church Stretton – Carding Mill Valley – The Port Way – Shooting Box – Pole Bank – Minton Batch – Minton – Little Stretton – Church Stretton

At last, a proper walk!

The triple constellations of climate, opportunity and inclination came into alignment, and, for the first time in a long time, a trip into the hills beckoned.

Carding Mill Valley was beginning to get busy as we made our way through and began to climb out of the valley beside the tumbling beck. Taking the main route it’s a steady pull to the top: nothing too strenuous, but one that works the legs and lungs a bit after weeks of relative inactivity.

We turned southwards, making our way along the summit ridge towards the trig point at Pole Bank. There are great views to either side: Corndon Hill and the Stiperstones to the west, the linear ranks of the Shropshire Hills to the east.

After a brief lunch stop, we dropped down into the steep-sided gully of Minton Batch. The top section was wet and muddy, but this soon gave way to firmer footing – and running water. Apart from the occasional MTB, it’s a pretty quiet route off the Mynd. Buzzards can often be seen soaring overhead in the thermals and, as if in anticipation, the sun came out.

These pleasantly bucolic scenes were somewhat spoilt by the farm at the bottom of the clough. Now I’m the first to accept that the lot of a modern-day farmer is not necessarily a happy one, but we’ve been walking this circuit for three or four years now, and in all that time there has been little or no change.

For the life of me, I can’t see the attraction in living in such squalor – especially since the surrounding countryside is so beautiful, and the Shropshire Hills an AONB. Never mind the accumulation of old tyres, plastic, feed buckets, rolls of barbed wire and so on, you’d think the scrap value of the rotting vehicles alone – two Land Rovers, a tractor, a Transit van, an Escort van and two animal boxes at the last count – might be worth something.

But I digress.

For the remainder of the walk we were accompanied by warm sunshine. Beyond Little Stretton we climbed a steep bank above Ashes Hollow before dropping down to Church Stretton to finish the walk.

So, a first decent outing for some time, and one we definitely needed – both to shake off the lethargy that had begun to settle in and to kick-start the training we need to do to get back into shape. It seems a long way off at the moment but, come spring, we will need to be at our best if we are to get full enjoyment out of our planned route.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

8 Miles Eggsactly

Saturday morning arrived, along with some long-awaited sunshine – seemingly the first decent day in a while. Time wasn’t on our side, but we fancied a bit of a walk to get the legs going and enjoy a bit of fresh air.

It had been noted that, a la Old Mother Hubbard, the cupboard was a bit bare, and I go weak at the knees if I don’t know where my next meal is coming from. So we decided to go and buy some eggs from a farm a couple of villages away, fresh Scrambled Egg on Toast being a favourite.

Despite the sunshine it was a surprisingly chilly morning, and a thin scrim of ice covered the occasional puddle. It was still quite early for a weekend morning, so the lanes were mostly quiet and we made good progress. The views were nice, if not spectacular, but the event of the walk came when a Stoat, complete with black-tipped tail, shot across the road in front of us.

We picked up our plunder, put a pound in the honesty box, and returned by the same route. The GPS confirmed a round trip of some two and a half hours, totalling 8 miles – eggsactly!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Book Review: The Wild Places – Robert Macfarlane

OK, so the eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted this is not a new book and has been out for some while – about 5 years or so, in fact. Indeed, I have owned a copy for well over a year and not got round to reading it before. Given that I was captivated by Macfarlane’s first book, ‘Mountains Of The Mind’, it might seem odd that I’ve delayed reading this for so long. But there are some things in life that are not rewarded by instant gratification, where the anticipation of discovery is enhanced by the denial of temptation: would this be worth the wait?

As the title suggests, the central theme of the book is wildness. Are there any genuinely wild places left in Britain? In order to search out the wild landscapes of these islands, Macfarlane undertakes a series of journeys across the length and breadth of the country, climbing, walking, swimming and sleeping out – in all conditions and in all seasons – through some of the most extraordinary locations across the UK and Ireland.

Although this is a journey through wildness, it is not confined to wilderness alone. As well as remote Scottish glens and Lakeland mountain tops, the author explores Limestone pavement, Beech woods, ancient holloways, hedgerows and coastal mudflats, providing an insight into some of the less obvious wild places about us.

As with ‘Mountains Of The Mind’, the quality of the writing is peerless. Throughout, Macfarlane manages to convey his love for the great outdoors and the awe and wonder his experiences provoke. The observations are acute, the arguments well formulated, and complex concepts are skillfully explained. What he describes is as much a journey of discovery for him as for the reader.

The other central theme of the book is how the concept of ‘wildness’ impacts on the human condition. He argues that it is of vital importance – we need ‘wildness’ about us as a contrast to ‘civilisation’, in much the same way as we need sadness to fully understand joy, or hate to appreciate love – and that without it we are diminished as human beings.

This is the sort of book that should appeal to all lovers of the outdoors, from summiteers to Sunday strollers: bird watchers to backpackers. It articulates a lot of what those of us who appreciate being confronted by nature actually already know – concepts and ideas that we can all understand and relate to – but in a language that is clear and coherent, and in a way that can engage even the most cynical of minds.

As such, I would recommend it to anyone who considers themselves even remotely interested in our wonderful countryside.

More importantly, though, I think it is the sort of book that could enlighten even those who don’t understand what the countryside means to people like us: those who gain something special from being outdoors that cannot be gained in any other way.

In fact I’d go as far as to say this book should be required reading for those in our society whose actions impact on our countryside – planners, politicians, landowners, developers, utilities companies and the like – and whose decisions directly affect the future of our wild places. What is lost when short-term gain is put ahead of the need to protect this dwindling resource is both irreplaceable and incalculable.

It is the greatest irony that only those who understand the integrated nature and delicate balance of wildlife and ecosystem can see the true impact of Man’s interference in such ecosystems. For an example of this, you need look no further than the report that concludes that wind farms built on peat moorland are net contributors of Carbon Dioxide to the atmosphere. That’s right: not only do they not reduce overall CO2 emissions (as claimed), they actually add to them. And what kind of land are most wind farms built on?

Of course I don’t expect this book alone to inspire such unbelievers to born-again environmental zeal. But it might at least be enough to effect a minor epiphany: an acknowledgement that there are many people who see the few remaining remote spots of our tiny country as valuable for what they are, not simply a hitherto fore unexploited resource to own, desecrate and make money from in the name of Mammon.

In the end, this book has many plus points, not least of which is the fact that it concentrates on the positive aspects to be gained from connecting with wild nature rather than focusing on the negatives of citing specific examples, appointing blame or crusading campaigning. It celebrates what we have and why it is important, rather than bemoaning it’s loss and castigating those who are instrumental in that decline, and helps us understand why being out there makes us feel good.

It is a gentle persuasion rather than a clarion call, and for that reason it makes it’s point all the more emphatically.

Verdict: if you have any feeling at all for the wild places in our countryside, the effect they have on us, or their influence on the human psyche, read it!