Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Shropshire Lad

Although technically a Lancashire lad (born in Blackpool and therefore ‘sand grown’ according to my mother, whatever that means), I lived in Shrewsbury for 10 years until I was 18, at which point I went off to university and never really returned, apart from spending a few months on the dole before landing a job elsewhere.  Since then I’ve only returned for ‘duty’ visits to my parents.  Nevertheless I think of myself as more Shropshire than Lancashire, partly because I’ve always thought it one of the loveliest and most underrated counties, for the landscape if nothing else.

Admittedly the north of the county is limited in what it can offer in that respect, and even Shrewsbury, once a gorgeous medieval market town of half-timbered buildings and narrow streets with names like “Grope Lane”, has fallen foul in recent years of the usual planners’ fetish for anonymous shopping centres, the sort which always look and feel the same, regardless of which town or city you are actually in.

On the other hand, the Shropshire Hills, particularly as you head south through the county, are beautiful and they’ve rightly been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  It’s a part of the world that was once virtually on my doorstep, and which I now wish I’d got to know better when I still lived close enough to do so.  I did do a certain amount of hiking there as a teenager, and the local authority maintained a building – really just a large hut with a kitchen, toilets and bunk beds – for school geography field trips.  This was near Ratlinghope (pronounced ‘Ratchup’) on the Long Mynd, a place as bleak as it was beautiful and which felt as if it were a lifetime from anywhere.

Sadly I didn’t appreciate it then quite as much as I would now, so before long I'm determined to spend some time walking the Shropshire Hills.  Ideally I should do it very soon.  We are approaching a good time of year for it if the words of A.E. Housman, the original Shropshire Lad, are anything to go by:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Grope Lane, Shrewsbury

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