From the vaults: Leaf fall (30/11/2009)

Leaf fall

Autumn is an ambiguous season. There’s an inevitable melancholy associated with the end of summer and shrinking of the daylight hours. But there are compensations too: that distinctive autumn light, the smells of garden bonfires and, perhaps best of all, the turn and fall of the leaves.

This year’s leaf fall was a protracted one here in the English midlands. As late summer gave way to an extended spell of mild
autumn weather, mixed woodlands were a riot of colour as the different varieties turned and gradually dropped to ground over a number of weeks. It was also helpful that wind speeds stayed unseasonably benign throughout much of that time, giving the trees an opportunity to shed their foliage at an unhurried pace.

All in all it was a spectacle which went a long way towards lifting the gloom surrounding the dying of the light. A clear, crisp, blue sky winter, with bone hard frosts and snow on the tops, would round the year off nicely.

Where it all began: The Hills of home – Part Two

Emboldened by the commercial (15 reads) and critical (1 comment) success of the debut post, there seemed to be only one logical course of action – a sequel. Thus, within a day, The Hills of home – Part One was followed by the imaginatively titled The Hills of home – Part Two.

Where it all began: The Hills of home – Part Two

The Clent hills will be familiar to anyone who has ever driven the first two or three junctions of the M5; just about where the urban sprawl of the West Midlands finally surrenders its grip and the landscape takes on a somewhat more bucolic aspect. Their double humped profile stands well clear of the surrounding land and in winter months the main hill is topped off by a distinctive Mohawk fringe of Beech trees temporarily stripped of their leaves. In terms of height they are unspectacular, topping out at just over the thousand foot mark, but height alone isn’t always the point.

There are obvious paths which are well walked; sufficiently so at times as to be best avoided. More interesting is the latticework of smaller paths which cross and re-cross the hills, connecting the main tracks and providing opportunities to walk a good part of a day and not cover the same ground twice. There are hidden depths here too, in more than one sense of the expression: tracks which dive away into the deeper hollows; places where almost no one goes, even at the height of summer. Places too where folds in the landscape insulate out any traces of traffic noise, and it’s easy enough to separate yourself from the dog walkers and recreational weekenders. On the other hand, those of a sociable disposition are well catered for (literally so) at the National Trust visitor centre and can partake of one of their excellent array of healthy options: bacon sandwich, sausage sandwich, bacon AND sausage sandwich, cheese (lots of it) on toast and various other delights.

The character of the hills varies considerably with the changing seasons. Minor paths can disappear as summer reaches its height, only to reappear again as autumn sets in. From the tops there are views of many of the hills of Worcestershire and Shropshire – The Malverns, The Clees, The Wrekin, Long Mynd – and, on those (surprisingly frequent) days when the air is clear, all the way to the Beacons, Cotswolds and even the shadowy forms of the high Berwyn summits some 60 miles distant.

There’s a variety of birdlife in and around the hills, some of it with seasonal variations. At least three varieties of raptor – Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard – seem able to coexist and survive; it will be interesting to see if Red Kite eventually manage to gatecrash the party. There are Raven here too; resident it seems and not just itinerants. Jay seem to have established a particular stronghold throughout the area and it is possible to see Nuthatch, Bullfinch, Siskin, Long-tailed Tits and numerous other varieties on a regular basis. Crossbill are also a possibility but to date I’ve not been that lucky.

The hills form part of the North Worcestershire grouping and are included in a number of LDP routes, including the LDWA (Long distance walkers association) North Worcestershire Hills Marathon

Where it all began: The Hills of home – Part One

This was the first ever post on my old Blogger site, back in November 2009. It’s posted unamended, and doesn’t read particularly well. But here it is, warts and all…

The Hills of home – Part One

2009 could easily have been a write-off in terms of getting out there: opportunities for trips to the usual haunts in mid and north Wales restricted; the annual visit to Scotland significantly curtailed. All unavoidable but no less frustrating for that.

There’s this perceived ‘wisdom’ that from difficulties can spring opportunity. I never really bought into that kind of talk; it seemed the sort of guff a politician might trot out at a particularly weaselly moment. However, in the same way that even a busted clock is right twice a day, it seems that there might be the odd nugget of truth buried in the avalanche of androidspeak which so blights our daily lives.

‘Opportunity’, in this case, presented itself as a chance to become more familiar with the (admittedly modest) hills right on our doorstep and with familiarity came an acknowledgement that I have been doing them something of a disservice.

It’s true that I’ve walked them many times down the years, but often done so seeing them as a stop-gap; a filler on days when time was restricted; sometimes just leaving the car at home and setting out from my own front door. What I’d never really done was take the time to fully explore them; these last few months have shown that to have been a serious omission.

There’s much to be gained from revisiting these places regularly, throughout changing seasons and in varying conditions. Over the months we have watched the process of regeneration; from the stripped-bare winter depths, through the burgeoning of new growth, the late spring profusion of Bluebell and Hawthorn, into the full dense overgrowth of high summer and the slow descent into autumn and the next cycle of renewal. These processes of subtle change are ones we don’t share in quite such intimate detail in those places where our visits can only ever be occasional.