• Matthew Slater

Sowdley Wood and Black Hill, Clun



Sowdley Wood, Clunton, Shropshire, 2 April, 11am

Entering the wood at the top of the sunken track, edged by arching hazel and steep banks of loose shale, I realise why woodland in spring is so beautiful. A woodpecker drums in the distance and two greater-spotted woodpeckers fly to a tree above me, chattering in their loud squawking voices before flying off again. Birdsong fills the trees. A pigeon cooing, a chiffchaff ‘chiff-chaffing’, numerous SUBs (Small Unseen Birds) chirping in the trees and a song thrush singing.


Plants: celandines, greater stitchwort, ground ivy, daffodils, blackthorn; elder and honeysuckle in leaf.


Trees just beginning to show the faintest green tinges of developing buds (it is probably just a couple of weeks away from orchards being in full blossom - flowers just beginning to open at Broomfield Farm Shop and Orleton Court Farm).


The ground is dry where I am sitting. A bumble bee passes by. Woodpeckers are drumming, one in the trees near me and another down in the valley perhaps half a mile away - the sound filling the valley below me - as well as the occasional noise of distant traffic on the Clun to Craven Arms road.


There is a well-worn deer path leading up through the trees. A wren sings nearby - its song loud and penetrating - surprising for such a tiny bird. I see it as a silhouette perched at the top of a ten foot high ‘Christmas tree’. The air is cool with a very light breeze, lightly overcast. A patch of green catches my attention and I discover a gooseberry bush at the edge of the wood. Distinctive leaves and the fine thorns on its multiple long stems. Not a plant I often see in the wild.


Many of the trees (silver birch, ash, conifers etc.) here have the bright orange algae growing on their north/valley facing side which, when you walk further up the track to face the trees from another angle, becomes invisible and the trunks are a normal brown/green/grey colour.

There is a very large clump of faded snowdrops here, about 12 m x 5 m beneath what could be scots pines. I later find another larger area growing nearby. A jay squawks in the trees.


I walk on, forgetting to comment on one other thing. I’ll have to return later.


I follow the track along the bottom of Sowdley Wood, knowing the further I go in a horizontal direction, the steeper the climb up onto Black Hill will be. I am looking for a plantation of conifers I found a few years ago but which I couldn’t identify. I will try better this time. I find them again: so tall I can’t see the tops, perfectly straight, almost no lower branches for perhaps 20 meters or so. The bark is a smooth green/grey/teal with subtle horizontal ridges. On most trees, long tears in the bark extend for for several metres at various heights, gently curving to the left. As there are other conifers interspersed between them, I cannot be sure which cones or fallen branches with needles come from which tree so I pick up a few possibilities to look at when I get home. I later identify them with fair certainty as noble firs and remember I did previously identify them as this!


My journey now continues straight though the trees up a rather steep slope hoping my memory of open oak woodland further up is reliable. Fortunately, I find a mountain bike track and follow it, keeping my eyes and ears open for cyclists. I find a log to sit down on - out the way of any biker pounding down the hill and aiming at me if they decide to misjudge a corner and fly off into the trees. After about a minute I hear a thundering sound above me and a bike hurtles past me. It is not something I would want to do alone. A few minutes later a group of five or six pass by.


The path zig-zags straight up the hill. It meets several horizontal grass forestry tracks which provide breather spots before opening out on a large road which looks very similar to another place further along the hill. Above me, about five minutes walk on the tree line is the transmitter mast which immediately gives me a location confirmation. I continue on, walking along an old track lined with beech trees which would have preexisted the conifers growing on either side.

I am now up with the buzzards and SUBs hiding in the trees.


Something is going che-che-che, che-che-che in the trees. It isn’t a tit or SUB - sounds far too bold and loud, and might be buried in a dark patch of conifers, so will not investigate. It has now stopped. Did see a coal tit later elsewhere in a noisy flock. Fragments of snow on hill top.




A few trees have been uprooted in winter storms. The silence up here is incredible. Just birds chattering and singing. Buzzard, chaffinch, tits, goldcrests (?) flocks of SUBs high in conifers. Even tapping on my iPad almost seems too loud a sound to make up here. A few Robins around.


I do enjoy exploring forested landscapes such as this at Black Hill, near Clun. Countryside footpaths may be interesting, but here I know I have freedom to explore almost anywhere. I’ve been coming here for years and the landscape changes as trees are cut down, views revealed, areas replanted and once accessible shaded and mossy glades become impenetrable stands of conifers, brambles, gorse and heather.


It i interesting what people will do. This ad hoc log sculpture was a little quirky, the trees behind having been felled a few years ago.




I was making effort to find a stone. A slightly odd, out-of-place lump of stone that appeared here a good few years ago once one area of trees had been planted. It was a large lump of rock, several feet in diameter, deposited by person(s) slightly off the beaten track - and recently - due to the lack of algae or moss on it. It has always been a puzzle. The conifers were replanted in the area and now it is inaccessible with 20 ft high Christmas trees, brambles, bracken, gorse etc smothering the area. I will have a to wait a good few years for the trees to grow and be thinned before I am able to see if the stone is still there. I was thinking about it again a few days ago as I am planning to create a story or folktale around the idea of it.


I return later in the afternoon to where I sat first thing in the morning, startling what was possibly a woodcock on the way. A dark shape flew up from the ground in front of me and vanished into the trees.


One of the conifers, which I later identified as a spruce, was noticeably oozing a pale white sugary solution from its trunk, dripping down forming what looked like small icicles or candle wax drips. It seems to run down most of its length from high up beyond where I could see. I wondered if it had suffered from some storm damage in recent months and rising sap was oozing out. It was on an exposed edge of the woodland. Tasted of turpentine! Other trees looked fine.


3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All