Monday, 4 May 2009

Hopton Titterhill: Part 1 - The Journey

Hopton Titterhill is a hill a few miles west of Leintwardine in south Shropshire. Like many of the hills in the area it has been planted up with conifers but the top remains open. Here there is a small but steep rocky hilllock that rises out of a patch of open heathland of mainly grass, billberries and bracken. Much of the view has been obscured by the surrounding trees, but it is still a spectacular location commanding views for miles around. My Father would have taken me up here as a teenager and it would a have been a much more open place back then. Now I am making another visit to the hill to await the sunrise on a May morning.

It is Friday evening on the 1st of May and I leave Luton at 7pm on what feels like a mini pilgrimage. I am always amazed at how long it takes to prepare to go away, even for a couple of nights and now, after a busy week at work and an almost impossible wait, I set off up the M1. This is my time, my time to enter a wilderness, my time to journey and my time to see what nature will bring to me.

It is cloudy, with sunny intervals. I drive steadily with the busy traffic, seeming to head towards the setting sun and a distant clearing western sky where a bright band of cloudless sky hugs the horizon. At one point the sunshine is dazzling even though the rain clouds are dark above me and raindrops cover the windscreen. I am surrounded by the brightest of light, turning newly formed leaves into almost un-natural greens and fields of oil-seed rape reflecting an impossible yellow. A few miles further and the brightness has gone - a blue landscape emerges under rainfilled clouds that have hidden the sun. In the dimming light everyhting has turned a shade of green-blue, all apart from yet more of the swathes of yellow. .

As I pass Coventry, another band of brightness on the horizon guides my way and a lightening sky shows huge cumulous clouds. Unfortunately I have to keep my eyes on the road more around here, but the last transformation occurs as I follow the M42 west around Birmingham to the M5. The great billowing clouds seem to flatten out into flat black forms with a lighter, clear atmosphere behind. These are the last clouds I see this evening. The light is fading fast and I have to concentrate as I join the twisting road the Tenbury Wells at Ombersley which seems quite busy with traffic.

Finally, as it approaches 11pm, I reach the hamlet of Hopton Castle and I can just make out the dark form of Hopton Titterhill ahead of me. I continue along the narrow country lane up into the hills and then turn onto the forestry track ascending to my destination. I drive up the rough track for about half a mile or so and enter the forest. There is a clear, starlit sky above me and, almost directly ahead of me and leading my way is a half moon lighting the landscape.

I park in the car park, eat a croissant and boil some water on my small gas stove for a hot chocolate. Then I sit to write my notes on a picnic bench by torchlight.

Here I am in a forest bathed in moonlight. As the moon dips down behind the trees so the long shadows of the pines begin to fade into a deeper darkness. All is still, just a whisper of a slight breeze surrounds me, but I can hear a more distant ripple of the trees on the more exposed higher edges of the forest. I can hear a sheep, a dog, an owl. Something patters by in the nearby trees and then runs off - presumably scared by my light. A very distant aeroplane rumbles past way above me. Then all is quiet. A few occasional noises of birds in the trees and the scratching of my pen on my sketchpad. The trees are still whispering in the darkness, almost barely audible. I almost struggle to hear anything - I feel my body is making too much noise.

This evening has been a time of journeying, of seeing changing weather patterns and observing the light and the clouds around me and how they interact with the landscape. By covering a large distance myself I probably saw more varied cloud formations this evening than I would have done if I had stayed in one location.

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