Clee Hill Yomp

Clee Hill Yomp

 

For a couple of years now, I have belonged to a walking group, Peak Hostellers.  We take quarterly yomps of between eight and twelve miles in March, June, September and December, predominantly, as the name implies, across the wild and lovely Peak District.

In May 2008, we slotted in an extra trek, this time in Shropshire’s Clee Hills.  I wrote a piece about the day, mainly for my own enjoyment and to exercise my creative muscle.  Then I thought I’d share with you too.

 

Our eleven-mile slog up and down and across Titterstone Clee Hill proved to be the most punishing I’d done with Peak Hostellers.  It took more than six hours, on diverse terrain and in wavering weather conditions.

The forecast rain thankfully never materialised, and the day remained bright – though when the seven of us convened at 10:30, a cutting wind was buffeting the hillside car park.

Opening the car door proved an effort against the elements, and once outside I was grateful I’d packed the fleece, gloves and benny hat I hadn’t been sure I’d need.  Within an hour, though, the hat and gloves were shed; by lunchtime the fleece was in my rucksack; by the end I was sweating and my cagoule was knotted round my waist.

It was a gradual gradient to the 533-metre summit of Titterstone Clee Hill via expansive scrubland that was historically a very productive mining and quarrying area.  Edifices ancient and modern crown the skyline.  The ruins of an Iron Age fort form a fragmented necklace around the giant ‘golf balls’ of the National Air Traffic Control System.  These gargantuan orbs on stilts are actually radar domes.

On such a clear morning, we had a splendid view of the boundless greenery below.  It was pretty exposed up there, and the fingerpost on the crest of the hill was a welcome prop in the robust wind.  In this once industrial landscape, the post was a waymark for the Victorian miners who crossed this moorland to nearby Magpie mine.  We clung to it while posing for the obligatory ‘looking windswept on top of a hill’ group photograph.

And on we went.  We felt noticeably warmer the minute we began our descent of the bracken-mantled slope, and thus became protected by it from the gust.  By the time we reached the scenic hamlet of Cleeton St Mary, the first layers of thermals were coming off.  This three-mile mark also proved a perfect snack-and-respite spot.  We perched on the squat church wall, and out came the muesli bars, apples and bottled water.

From Cleeton St Mary we advanced, via the country lane (single file, yelling ‘Car alert’ to one another when an intermittent Land Rover or tractor obliged us to hug the hedge) and then quaggy footpath, to the adjoining hamlet of Farlow.  This remote path is home to a surprising feature – Lanes End Recording Studio.  The studio is not visible from the track, but a ramshackle sign on a farm gate declares its presence.  Well at least there’s nobody there to bemoan the noise.

Most of the neighbours are canine in any event.  They scampered, yapping, from the nearby farmhouse to greet us: five Yorkshire terriers and a Jack Russell.  Hairy, scratchy mopes with barks that could curdle the soup in a thermos flask.  I am not a dog person, though this spry pack were friendly enough.

It was nearing lunchtime now and we tramped into Oreton the proverbial weary and hungry travellers.  Well sheltered from the wind, we were being blowtorched by the sun, and more layers would have to be shed.

Our leader, Robin, had forewarned us to pack sandwiches as the tiny pub in this hamlet was not renowned for its gastronomy.  Robin was right – the New Inn was shut.  Near derelict, in fact, with only the presence of a budgie in the upstairs window implying life inside (unless this bird had ceased, like its distant Monty Python cousin, to be and was in fact nailed to its perch).

In the absence of inn seating, we deposited our rucksacks and bodies on the grassy verge opposite to devour our picnic.  One thing regular walking teaches you is that the childhood cliché about food tasting better outside is so, so true.

The post-lunch leg of the trek was the toughie.  Predominantly uphill, in searing sun, on country lanes, spongy grass, mud, brambles, woodland and ultimately scrubland revisited.

It was lanes first, and close to our roadside picnic station was an industrial relic.  The Oreton brick kiln dates back to 1870 and is one of the country’s two surviving examples built to the distinctive ‘beehive’ design.

The remainder of the route was rather more featureless, which lent a consequent monotony to the last couple of hours and made the walk feel never-ending at times.

Hardest on the calf muscles was the spongy grassland that began our circuitous return across Titterstone Clee Hill.  In places we were knee-deep in brambles which could impale even the most impervious of waterproof trousers.

On such undulating and partially obscured terrain our steps were slow and ankles might easily be twisted.  The innocuous looking hump of earth on which you ventured a foot could give way and suck you into its muddy belly, or turn out to be concealing a trench.

This vast common was bisected by a gully of gunge, and our passage from one side to the other was by means of an obstacle course that involved inching around tree trunks, crawling under low branches and fashioning makeshift bridges, Swallows and Amazons style, from stray chunks of wood.

Now if you like your walks to have a gentle, downhill ‘last lap,’ membership of Peak Hostellers is not for you.  It was upwards all the way in sludgy boots for us.  The final hour was gruelling as we trudged to that towering car park and in that forgotten wind.  Each time we scaled a slope, or rounded a corner, I felt sure we must be nearly there – then spotted ‘there’ a disheartening two miles, mile and a half, one mile, in the distance.

It was after 5:00 by the time our cars were no longer a mirage and we could fold our dead-beat legs into them for the meandering drive home.  It had been a challenge, though on the whole a rewarding one.  I buzzed all over with energy, relief and the self-satisfaction of having done something more constructive with my Saturday than shopping or ironing.

Next day, I indulged myself with the intemperate luxury of a midday lie-in.