Country diary: the sound of saturation

Wenlock Edge, Shropshire: Slow-motion sloshing, drips from moss and the seeping of leafmould are among nature’s delights

Paths are claggy up the fields. What is the sound of saturation? The inaudible flow to ditch and drain, slow-motion slosh, a creeping, leaving thing now the earth is fat with rain.

Take the narrows from the gate into trees, they make sense; it makes sense to edge upwards, scramble through barbed wire along a way that has little use from boots.

The path is barely visible, a faint line with its own purpose to nick the contours up the knoll, under and over wet boughs rotting under the scratch of December trees open to the sky and everything else.

A half-turn up Standhill and a twist through timber and then an opening. On top is a circle, flat, surrounded by a ring of trees: a couple of big old ash, a tall oak, a dead and broken beech and the still-living ruin of a hornbeam. Inside are some scrubby hazels, field maple and elm that have stepped into the circle since it became abandoned by people.

Dog’s mercury, ivy, windthrow branches, cider cans, the floor has an old kind of stillness, and the traces of its transgressions are lost in someone else’s memory somewhere else.

Wings in the treetops watch the walker cross the circle to the brink, the lip of quarry edge fringed with fern and spurge laurel. There are two ways down, around the quarry; I take the left, cross a fallen tree then sidle, hanging on to ash staves, into the ravine that leads back to the quarry face.

The floor is ferny with shield, hart’s-tongue and polypody ferns, felted with moss and decorated with a few bits of things chucked down from above.

The rock face, sheer for 20 feet or more, grey, yellowy, intimate stone with fossil creatures from 425m years ago, marked by lines from rock drills a hundred years back but still raw.

Turn out of the quarry down to the lane within earshot of the brook, chortling from culverts into liberty. What is the sound of saturation? It is the merging of brook song and jackdaw roost, the drip from moss and seep of leaf mould, the flow of stone over aeons and a wet night drawing in.


Paul Evans

The GuardianTramp

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