When I was a girl, I was very fond of Benjamin Luxon’s performances of A Shropshire Lad by A. E. Housman, set to music by George Butterworth. And so, as I happened to be close by I paid a visit to three places that I associate with these songs ~ Much Wenlock, Clun and Knighton.
Much Wenlock is a puzzling name for many, as we don’t use the word much these days to mean great or large. But that is exactly what the much in Much Wenlock stands for, to distinguish it from another (smaller) settlement also called Wenlock. The town of Much Wenlock grew up around a famous priory that was founded in 680 CE by King Penda of Mercia. In 687, he installed his daughter Milburga as Abbess, and she became famous for the many miracles she performed. For example, she banished each and every goose who were destroying the monastery’s crops. This miracle is celebrated today by the willow sculptures of two geese that you can see in the ruins of the priory (destroyed by King Henry VIII.)
Clun is named for the river that flows through it. Clun became important in the Middle Ages because it was on the old drover’s road where livestock from Wales was driven to markets in the Midlands and London. Today, you can still see the 14th century packhorse bridge, built to accommodate all those animals.
Knighton is in Wales, but only just. It straddles the Teme river and abuts the border between Shropshire England and Powys, Wales, but to my eye has a very Welsh character (all of the signs are in English and Welsh.) In the Middle Ages it became a defensive border town, used to deal with the frequent Welsh raids on England. Today, I sampled the best ice cream I have ever tasted, made locally, and packed full of raspberries!
Clee Hill is one of the highest hills in Shropshire, rising to an elevation of 533 metres (1,759 feet). Imagine driving your car with the windows open (we are having a heatwave in Britain) and seeing an interesting-looking hill. Eventually you climb up its very long (and steep slope) and there you are, on top of it, looking at magnificent scenery. I didn’t stop to take one of my inevitable photos because it was so hot (about 90 degrees) that everything was covered in a haze. But what a wonderful surprise it was to come across it! For those of you who are Cadfael fans, you might be interested to know that this location was the setting of Ellis Peters Virgin in Ice.