Spent the new year with family and friends in Yarpole, Herefordshire. A lovely part of the world, a few miles south of Ludlow, Shropshire, and north of Leominster (pronounced Lem-ster). Herefordshire and Shropshire don’t attract the attention of the West Country or the Peak District, say, but they are equally beautiful. That classic English country scenery: the rolling hills, in various blends of green, maybe some purple-brown heather, to offset the verdant hues. In winter I love the skeletons of the leafless trees, unceasingly intricate. Set against the sun they form awesome silhouettes in photographs. Nature as art.
This part of the world is somewhat forgotten territory, but in the Middle Ages it was of strategic importance as battles ebbed and flowed. The Norman invasion, the conquering of Wales, later the English civil war. I picked up snippets of history as we went on walks and visited towns and villages. The area is known as Mortimer country – and a National Trust trail with the same name weaves its way through the hills and woodland. The Mortimers were Norman warriors originally. Like so much of our countryside, there are roots going back to at least the 11th century. In the civil war of the 17th century the local gentry, the Crofts, owners of nearby Croft Castle, sided with King Charles. Lost!
We walked through the woods around Croft castle up to the Mortimer trail one day. The trail weaves in and out of the woods and at one point goes along a ridge overlooking the lower ground. I loved the views – as the title of this piece says, this is England’s green and pleasant land, even if they were carving each other up in the battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1641! One of the shots here shows a quarry, still working. A blight on the landscape or just another feature of the living countryside? I prefer the latter.
Yarpole village is, like most settlements, a mixture of the pretty and the mundane. I’ve two shots below of those lovely beamed exteriors that feature heavily in this area; but there were just as many modern and rather nondescript bungalows. People have to to live.
The church features a separate bell tower that dates back to the 12th century. The church is very much the centre of the local community. It houses a shop, selling a bit of everything, including some local produce. There is a post office too. It is run by volunteers. So you don’t have to run off to Tesco in Ludlow all the time. A little piece of the so-called Big Society.
One day we went for a walk around Wigmore, a few miles from Yarpole. The blurb in the map of a circular walk told us that the town used to be a major centre in the Middle Ages. There was a strategically important castle, guarding the Welsh border. It was part of the Mortimer family’s centre of power. In the 14th century they relocated to Ludlow castle and Wigmore entered a slow decline. The blurb, rather poignantly, marks the loss of the magistrates court in 1970, as the final nail in the coffin for any regional influence. It made me think about the symbolic importance of courts even when they hardly do anything. Inevitably, over the past few years, many have closed, and many more will, all in the name of efficiency and tax payers’ money. But each time there is a closure, something departs from the spirit of a community, never to be restored.
After an enjoyable pub lunch, we launched into the surrounding hills. The peacefulness was punctuated by the sound of gunshot. It echoed through the valleys – it almost sounded like missiles being fired. Pheasants were the quarry. Eventually we had to give up the circular walk and double back, as our route would have taken us into the firing line. We glimpsed a bit of the action. A man with a large orange flag disturbed the birds and the shooting began. We saw one pheasant escape, gliding like an arrow into a cabbage field near us. Some of of our kids were spooked by this and wanted to turn back as quickly as possible. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in Ealing! Mind you, we did have a riot last summer.
Brutal, but part of country life, I guess. And I enjoyed some very nice pheasant from a butchers in Ludlow, perhaps the best I have ever tasted. So I will not complain!
I like the shot of synchronised yomping below. All at the same angle.
I just like the magnificence of this tree, Lord of the manor.
Can’t resist the shots into the sun for some dramatic skies and silhouettes.
The trees almost seem to dance. In the background of the photo on the right are a whole load of coops. We wondered whether they were chickens or maybe pheasants, bred for shooting. No idea whether that happens. But it felt possible that day.
The detail of this gnarled tree is exquisite – I think.
A moody sky and the trees in mid ground seem brushed somehow – maybe by the wind.
A half moon lurked in the daylight, about half past three. A counterpoint to the tree’s naked branches.
Nature as art, again and again.