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  • Matthew Slater

Walk around Black Hill and Rock of Woolbury, Clun

9.30am, 6 April

I walk up the sunken trackway from Clunton to the wooden gate. The catch clunks loudly as I open it and enter the woods. A portal to another dimension. A song thrush still sings and, is that a greater-spotted woodpecker I hear?

The views disappear into a white mist of rain. It isn’t heavy, but not what I really wanted today. There is a reasonable breeze too, the sort of day which makes deciding what to wear for a day’s walking difficult. I had returned after walking a few yards to change my layering and now I am wondering if that was a right choice. I know I will bake once I begin my ascent of the hill. A woodpecker drums, a chiff chaff ‘chiff-chaffs’ and the wind brushes through the trees amidst a gentle pattering of rain surrounding me.

I walk past a row of goat willows - old and weathered. I can hear a buzzing sound in the rain and, on looking for the source, expecting to find to find a bedraggled bumble bee nearby, realise the catkins of the tree have attracted a number of bumble bees. They are buzzing around the branches high above me.

My walk continues in the rain. Hedgerows are full of celandine flowers tightly closed - awaiting the sun when they will open out to show their faces; violets, ground ivy, one or two early bluebell buds and various other plants beginning to send up leaves to explore the springtime world.

The rain begins to clear as I reach to top of a hill above Obley and a barn gives me some lunchtime shelter. As the clouds drift away I am able to spread my wet coat, hat and shoulder bag over a fence to catch some sunshine and begin to dry out. I move on, following the road around the edge of Black Hill. The views to the west are superb. The welcome sunshine is warm, but the strong wind from the welsh hills is very cold. I am glad I have some gloves in my bag as my hands rebel against the exposure. It isn’t a time to stop to admire the view. As I drop down into the woods I begin to feel vaguely warm again and I search for my destination.

My father first brought me to the Rock of Woolbury as a teenager and I probably haven’t been to this old quarry for several decades. I don’t know anything of its history though I expect stone for building Clun Castle may have come form here. It is buried deep with an oak wood on the side of Black Hill. A path runs right past it. You can easily pass the few mounds of stone waste covered with moss and vegetation without realising a large quarry, now overgrown with ivy and numerous trees, lies beyond. You know you are in a large space carved out of the hillside yet with much erosion of the sides and tree cover it can’t be seen as a whole. The rock here is very shale-like and I am surprised anything of substance could be built from it. It looks so fragile and and liable to shatter easily.

The far eastern end blends into the surrounding woods with mature oak trees growing on ancient piles of stone. Moss, a vivid green when the sun appears carpets everything apart from hollows where piles of autumn leaves have gathered. Elsewhere it is a tangle of trees, brambles, bracken, stone and thickets. I would have done some drawing but the wind is cold and rain intersperses the odd patch of sunlight.

At 4pm I am sheltering from yet another rain shower. I am sitting beside a conifer to shelter from the wind but also in a place where I can overlook the valley around Clunton. To the east, the view is clear towards the Worcestershire and I can see two heavy showers - where blocks of misty grey obscure the landscape as if a giant is pouring water through a fine sieve onto the landscape below. A rainbow appeared at one stage.

I enjoy walking through conifers. I find them peaceful. On a windy day the turbulent outside world becomes a place of almost total stillness and, if it is hot, they are a place of refreshing coolness. When they are mature enough and the lower branches have been removed, the carpet of moss can be be spectacular. I know the wildlife content can be minimal yet it is the mix of trees, views, freedom to explore and terrain, particularly around here, that I like. I could walk in this landscape day after day and always see something of interest.

Now the sunlight is bright, illuminating the side of the hill I am on - and then a few seconds later it goes and the clouds return.

The weather: here you can see it change minute by minute. You can treat it almost like a theatrical experience - it isn’t just something seen out of a window. One moment a hillside can be obscured by rain. Then, only a few minutes later, brilliant green patches of sun-lit fields appear and the view is superb. In a place like this, the twists and turns of the weather can be unpredictable and how it interacts with the stage of hills, valleys, woods and fields is a complete drama production in itself.

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