Thursday, 12 September 2013

Time on the Hill

In Ludlow with a few hours to kill before meeting a customer, I was idly studying an OS map when my eye caught the name "Clee Hill". It was only six miles away and by the looks of things, had a quarry. We fired up the car and high-tailed it up to the village of Clee. After the Georgian gentility of Ludlow, this place seemed like a Kentucky mining village. It has what must be the unfriendliest village shop in Shropshire; but I liked it. A pub called "The Kremlin" was also noted, surely a story there. Provisions purchased, we headed up by the sign marked "Dhustone". From the Welsh name for Dolerite, apparently, although the locals called it "Jewstone".

Much has been written about the railways hereabouts, and I won't labour the point; there are other places on the web for that. I'll give some links at the foot for those who want to browse further. We rolled up the steep road, noting what looked like a ruined incline beside some lovely brick houses with fantastical chimneys, built by the quarry company for it's workers. One rejoiced in the name "Hedgehog Cottage".

The weather wasn't promising at all, but as we reached a plateau, the bulk of Titterstone Clee loomed from the mist. It's not high by Welsh standards but it's imposing. 533 metres, and the third highest in Shropshire. From this distance it seemed more like a gigantic spoil tip, but I could make out the remains of  rock bins and the concrete standings for machinery.

We parked up and walked about, heading for a water filled hole. Rounding the corner of a spoil tip I had a sudden stab of alarm. Slowly revealing itself from the mist was an enormous white golf ball on the skyline, like something from a 1960's Dr Who episode. I checked, none were filmed here, although they should have been. I felt the scene needed a Cyberman coming towards me and imagined the Brigadier screeching to a halt in his Mk 1 Land Rover nearby. It was only a strangely disoriented gull, unfortunately, but it didn't spoil the magic.

The golf balls; the larger one is part of a National Air Traffic Control radar network, it's little brother being  a Met Office weather radar . There are also the remains of an RAF radar station here, too, mainly bits of concrete in the grass. A bronze age hillfort completes this embarrassment of riches, although I failed to note any evidence of ancient activity- but my eye was concentrating on the quarry remains.

We noticed graffiti  everywhere with the motif "RIP Mitch". I wondered if someone locally had died here, but later found that it referred to Mitch Lucker, frontman and vocalist of a California Death Metal band called Suicide Silence. Their music is typical of the genre, but the artist was a fan, I guess.

As normally happens when we explore places, I charged about excitedly like a Jack russell terrier scenting rat and ran up to the summit. Petra more sensibly decided to mooch about near the stone crushers and crafted some fine images. All too soon, it was time to leave, as the mist came down to veil the hill again.  Later in the afternoon, sitting talking with my customer, I couldn't help but notice the hill in the distance, with it's two strange white shapes atop the crest. We'll be back!

Titterstone Clee from Ludlow. You can trace the railway incline running down centre right.

 Links and interesting facts:

I found a site while browsing for information which has some fascinating photographs of the quarry from 1955, with many other interesting details, called "Photos by D J Norton". Recommended.

Factoids courtesy of the Industrial Railway Society:
" The quarries date from 1858 when a railway was being constructed from Ludlow for the transport of coal. A quarry, opened to produce ballast for the Ludlow & Clee Hill Railway (opened on 24th August 1864), produced such good stone that the industry has flourished there ever since. Three main quarries have operated over the years and in one of these a 3ft 0in gauge rail system was introduced with horse haulage, going over to steam about 1910 when a second-hand loco was obtained. This 0−4−0 saddle tank (Bagnall 1717 of 1903) came to Titterstone Clee from H. Arnold & Sons Ltd, contractors for Embsay Reservoir, Skipton, on which job it was named MARY. It is assumed the loco proved to be superior to the horses, as a few years later a new 0−4−0 side tank was purchased from Avonside (1666 of 1913) and put to work carrying the name TITTERSTONE. This loco was followed by a new Sentinel 4−wheel geared-drive shunter (6222 of 1926) which was named LILIAN.

Wagons were pushed by hand along tracks from the quarry face to a collecting point in the middle of the quarry known as "the turnout", from where they were hauled by locomotive to the crusher. From the crusher a mile long incline, which included a three rail section, ran down the side of the hill to an interchange point at Bitterley on the standard gauge line. Although the rail system was closed in 1952, the quarry remained in use until 1962, the stone being conveyed in road vehicles."

There is a widely held belief in the local area that the Clee Hills are the highest land eastwards until the Ural Mountains in Russia. Hence the name of the pub in Clee Hill village - The Kremlin Inn. It has even been known for radios in the area to pick up signals via the air traffic control masts from Radio Moscow.

The Clee hills are mentioned in A.E.Housman's poem "From Clee to heaven the beacon burns", which is a section of A Shropshire Lad.
  • Titterstone Clee and Brown Clee also figure in Ellis Peters' Brother Cadfael mystery, The Virgin in the Ice.
  • The Clee Hills have given rise to many place names in the area, including the villages of Cleehill, Cleeton St Mary, Cleestanton and Cleedownton.
  • Some people believe that 'The Shire' in Tolkien's famed novel 'the Lord of the Rings' was based on this area, which he was known to visit frequently, having grown up in Birmingham.
Bullet point factoids courtesy of Wikipedia


Anonymous said...

Lovely photos. Are they yours or Petra's? It is remarkable how fast the land recovers after even our most enthusiastic attempts to mess things up.

I remember similar 'golf ball' radar domes at Fylingdales in Yorkshire. In one of the sillier attempts at cold war 'secrecy' they were not marked on any maps even though they were clearly visible for miles, and despite postcards of them being on sale at local gift shops...

Iain Robinson said...

Thank you, Andy. The photos are mine...Petra wouldn't let me use hers...they are much better than mine, too!

I am always amazed at how quickly nature takes over...depends on the elevation, but even here grass has taken a surprising hold on things.

Anonymous said...

Now that looks like a great place to explore, Iain! I especially like the shot of the brutal blocks in the hillside. Carry on, that man!

Iain Robinson said...

Thanks, Graham! Hoping to get out a bit more soon. I am beginning to develop a taste for brutalism as a school of architecture...must be all that time in Aberdeen:-)

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