At the turn of the year…

A walk on Wednesday 27th December, 2017

2017 was more or less bookended by snow on The Long Mynd. The January fall was a light covering, short-lived and already receding by the time we descended; December’s looked to be made of sterner stuff…

The mix of blue skies – pale blue, admittedly – and freshly fallen snow meant that the climb away from the still relatively quiet Carding Mill Valley was full of promise of what conditions might be like higher up. Deeper snow, fewer footprints, extensive views; all of these crossed our minds. In the meantime we contented ourselves with regular pauses to take in the immediate surroundings; for all that these are our most frequently visited hills, it is rare to see them like this.

The combination of snow-covered rocks and swollen streams made for some interesting choices when it came to foot placement. On a warm summer’s day this clear running water can look inviting for a foot soak. Today it just looked to be best avoided. As we climbed the depth of the snow covering was progressively increasing and the sky intermittently darkened, threatening further falls which, apart from the odd flurry, never really materialised.

The path we were following leads to a short, steep, rocky ascent alongside Light Spout waterfall. It can be tricky in these conditions, when there is often a combination of ice and running water, but is generally more difficult to descend than it is to climb. We made our way gingerly up and over the top; I followed, so that if Jo slipped she would take me with her, and if I slipped I would put only myself at risk. I remember thinking at the time that it didn’t seem entirely fair but she would have to come and retrieve me because I was the one carrying the food.

By the time we’d started the return leg, the sun was already dipping low over the hills of mid-Wales, casting long shadows across the snow. There was a consistent six to eight inches of fallen snow across most of the higher ground, with drifts and wind-blown cornices of double that and more (See the picture below). Any evidence of a slight thaw was quickly disappearing as the temperature began to drop, and the combination of surface water running over compacted ice and snow made underfoot conditions for the descent increasingly uncertain. Progress was slow and deliberate, with the treads of our boots becoming repeatedly packed with a mixture of snow and ice and needing to be either kicked or stamped clear to restore some traction.

As we descended, in fading light and falling temperatures, we were both a bit perturbed to be passed by a mixed group of adults and children who had seemingly barely started their walk. More so when one of the adults asked us if there was “anything at the top”. They were all wearing what would probably be described as ‘street clothes’ – no waterproofs; casual wear mostly; trainers and leisure shoes. None of them was carrying any kind of pack, so there was nothing to suggest they had spare hats, gloves, a map, or any food and drinks. It was clear from the question that they weren’t familiar with these particular hills.

We did try to persuade the one who appeared to be in charge that, with the light fading quickly and the temperature falling, coming back down would be much more tricky than the climb, as indeed already was the case, but he seemed worryingly blasé.

Now, okay, this is The Shropshire Hills in a moderate covering of snow, with temperatures dipping down to around -1º to -2º plus a bit of windchill; it’s not the highlands with 100mph gusts, snow past your thighs and sub-arctic conditions. But the path back down to Carding Mill Valley is easy to miss in fading light and there are any number of options for making the wrong choice; it could take someone who didn’t know the hills a long time to realise they’d made a navigational error and possibly longer still to correct it. In the end we had to tell them to note the path junctions and the way marker posts (quite a few of which are down at the moment) and remember landmarks as they passed them.

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4 thoughts on “At the turn of the year…

  1. A contrast from the fabulous sunny day on18th September 2016 when I walked up Carding Mill Valley on my Macmillan Way walk. I knew nothing about that location as it opened up bit by bit as an increasingly pleasant surprise. Things discovered for oneself without prior knowledge are always the best. Another new and memorable summit was encountered a bit further on at Stipperstones.

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  2. Hi Conrad, I must admit I’m partial to the warm sunny days on the Mynd – simply because it’s such a fantastic place to sit, eat and watch the wildlife. The hills are quite different to any of the others which we can access quickly – like a bit of Wales on the English side of Offa’s Dyke.

    As a purely unscientific estimate I would guess that 90% of the visitors access no more than about 10% of the available hills and hollows (valleys).

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  3. I love the walks around there especially the deep valleys (Ashes Hollow is my favourite) and the hills on the other side of the A49. I find the top of the Long Mynd a bit bland and uninspring but the views across to Wales are grand. Must be interesting to see it in “winter conditions”

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  4. I like Ashes Hollow as well Andy; I think it’s the most varied route up onto the plateau. The crags to the left as you head up (Narnell’s Rock) often have nesting peregrines in the summer months. Thankfully it’s a monitored site so they have a good chance of breeding without disturbance.

    According to the NTS rangers it’s generally a pretty good area in terms of raptor persecution; ‘good’ in the sense that the number of incidents is low.

    There is another hollow (Callow Hollow) which doesn’t look to have an obvious path, unlike most of the others. It looks like it might be an interesting one to explore in dry conditions. What could possibly go wrong?

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