A road through the Shropshire woods
I find the land of lost content, west of the Clee Hills in the Shropshire, that poet A.E. Housman wrote about. It is deep England, thick with trees, stone-built farms that look like forts and tracks in gullies cut by ancient feet.
The villages here in the West Midlands have rhythmical names such as Bouldon, Peaton and Cockshutford or the simple Heath, where there is now no village at all, only the pure Norman chapel standing in grass with its long old iron key on a hook outside. It was built for a settlement lost at the Black Death. Few sounds here are unnatural; you hear birdsong more than cars or planes.
I am riding my horse James, with two friends on Cassie and Rubin, along paths bursting with nettles. We scramble over streams and slippery red mud on to the Brown Clee Hill by Nordy Bank, where our horses nibble at turf on Neolithic ramparts.
There is no better way to get the feel of a place than to be above the ground but travelling slowly enough to sense changes you miss in a car. The parkland of the Burwarton Estate gives way to the fringes of the Midlands, where we ride through wheat fields and eye up hunt jumps before we climb into the marches, heading for friends who live outside Craven Arms, the only town to be built by a railway junction named after a pub. At friendly Tugford Farm we stable our horses and ourselves, and commiserate with Cassie, who has been disgracefully kicked by her friend James as they race around in celebration at eating the greenest grass of their lives.
Amid all this — castles, half-timbered barns and big old inns that line the turnpike road from Much Wenlock to Ludlow — there is power, too, in the flashes of failed modernity. On Abdon Burf the hill fort was quarried away a century ago and the remains of the cable railway that carried off the hard black stone still lie rusting.
A country lane in Shropshire