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Return to the Fold

You may remember in an earlier posting on my Greenbenchramblings blog that we enjoyed a walk up a local hill to find the stone circle called Mitchell’s Fold. Recently when my brother and his wife, Graham and Vicky, came to stay with us in lovely Shropshire they fancied a walk somewhere with a feeling of openness, calm and peace. So, we returned to “The Fold”.

For the first set of photos I stood in the middle of the stone circle and took a series of six pics as I moved around in a circle taking in the 360 degree view.

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And then I took a series of shots of the stones themselves, the stones that give this special place a unique feeling and atmosphere. Calm. Peace. Contentment. When we stood within the circle of stones we realised why it has been for thousands of years a place of worship and magic.

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Mother nature has been at work here growing beautiful grasses, sedges, fungi and flowers specially suited to the difficult terrain.

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Graham and Vicky who live down in a town in the South of England, were blown away by the massive views and the 360 degrees through which eyes and mind can wander.

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This place is where we expect to see unusual birds but not very many of them. Today was no exception as we enjoyed the sight of small pipits and finches being buffeted in the winds and birds of prey such as Hen Harrier, Red Kite, Kestrel and Buzzard hunting in their own special ways taking advantage of the slopes and thermals. We met a special creature on our way up the track from the stone circle to the cairns atop the hill. A dung beetle. Its name is a little off-putting as is its habit of moving dung around by rolling it into balls. But they are fascinating little critters who are one of nature’s great recyclers. This little glossy black spherical beetle had iridescent kingfisher blue legs that flashed as it moved and when turned over it revealed similar brightness

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As we turned at the end of the outward leg of our trek we made our way up to the top of the ridge where we stop for refreshment at the cairn. We searched for a stone as we moved uphill as we like to follow the tradition of putting our own stone on the cairn to mark our presence. The views from the cairn wre stunning and simply huge!

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Our little stone sat happily among its much larger cousins who will protect it from the extremes of our weather.

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The coffee and fruit stop was most welcome and came at the right time as Vicky and Graham’s looks of anticipation illustrate.

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Suitably refreshed and impressed with the hill top cafe facilities we made our way along the ridge and slowly back down to the car.

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On the way back down we came across an area where the bracken was glossy and shone in the afternoon sunshine, a phenomena we have not experienced before.

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garden design garden photography gardening hardy perennials Shropshire village gardens

A Perfect Iris Day

We deserved a morning out of the garden so set off just a few miles up the road to visit a garden which we had previously visited late last summer. It is open under the auspices of Plant Heritage and it holds two national collections, Roscoea and Cautleya. But of course neither of these are at an interesting stage at the moment.

After our compulsory start for any garden visit – coffee and cake – we wandered off to discover that the dominant plants of the day were irises. The irises were mostly of the bearded type but a few sibiricas were showing early promise.

First though a look at a few plants of interest other than the iris.

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And now for the iris! The glamour plants of the June garden.

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When we returned home we had a look around our own patch to see how our own iris compared. The bearded iris were looking impressive but the sibiricas  were still in bud.

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I delayed writing this post for a couple of days as my favourite bearded irises always come out last. They were definitely worth waiting for as I am glad I can include the final two to burst into bloom, these dark gingery brown flowers with buds that appear almost black.

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Our Changing Borrowed Landscape

We love our borrowed landscape with its gentle sloping hillside and its big skies. Today as the weather changed and the snow began to melt away, the view from our garden looked different every time we looked at it. Things should be changing now though, as British Summer Time has arrived. We have been around the house changing the clocks. Luckily the cars, computers and our smart phones do it for themselves.




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Looking Back One – An Hour at Croft Castle

This is the third in the series of posts looking back at garden visits we enjoyed last summer and autumn. Here we shall remember our autumn visit to the grounds of Croft Castle in South Shropshire.

Croft Castle is a favourite National Trust property. We often visit to enjoy a walk around the gardens and take tea in the teashop. On this autumn day we only had a short time but still managed to do both!

Croft is famous for its ancient avenue of Sweet Chestnut trees which are now sadly coming to the end of their lives. Their gnarled, pitted bark shows their great age and makes you imagine just what they would have seen going on under their boughs and all around them over the centuries. If only they could tell.



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“Sheila’s Cafe” – The Garden of Two Hardy Planters’

We spend many days visiting gardens all over the country, several of them large gardens run by the RHS or the NT, which we enjoy greatly. But we enjoy even more small gardens in our own county of Shropshire or in the neighbouring counties of ~Hereford, Staffordshire and Cheshire, many of them opening under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme. But most of all we enjoy our visits with the Shropshire Branch of the Hardy Plant Society, and in particular gardens tended by fellow members.

On a wet, dull, chilly mid-June day we visited just such a garden a few miles from our home in the Shropshire Hills.

Fairview is the garden of Geoff and Sheila Aston and although not a large garden it has a large heart. It welcomed us with such warmth.

It invited us to follow its paths and discover its secrets hidden behind hedges and around corners.




When we think back to this garden we think of Sheila’s Café and the tidiest garden shed in the world. I will admit to experiencing a bout of “shed envy” – just how does Geoff keep his work spaces so tidy and well organised? This shed envy was closely followed by “compost heap envy”!

Sheila had turned the garage into a café where we met for a coffee and cakes and a chat about the garden before we had a slow wander. Now that is what I call a welcome!



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Before finishing our tour we were to be impressed by the veggie patch.




Off to Holly Cottage now – just a short journey down a maze of Shropshire lanes. (see next post)

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Rural Shropshire – Architecture Old and New


Visitors come to Shropshire for its wonderful countryside, beautiful old market towns and for the peaceful atmosphere. Rural areas of Shropshire are dotted with old farms with ramshackle buildings, barns, cattle biers, cottages and farm houses, but there are isolated examples of good modern architecture. The Ludlow Food Centre provides a good example of this based around old farm buildings and a row of cottages but given a new use and so a new lease of life.

I have always liked their sign seen in the photo above, with the simple representation of fields in natural colours. Sadly recently it has changed to just lettering which is nowhere near as interesting.

There is now just the row of cottages left which have been renovated recently and  are lived in once again. The walls show an attractive combination of brick and wood and the chimneys are most impressive.






Behind the cottages is the new Food Centre and Garden Centre and these sit alongside a coffee shop and post office in old farm buildings. They have certainly been given a new lease of life. Needless to say we visit the coffee shop whenever we are close by.





The Food Centre itself is housed in a building that reflects the property’s farming past, with a huge entrance reminiscent of the old barn doorways that allowed loaded carts through and it is clad in darkly painted wood a popular finish for old farm buildings especially barns. Inside local food producers, a baker, a butcher, cheese maker etc, sell their wares and glass walls allow visitors to see food being made and packed before they decide to purchase.


At the side of the food centre a naturally planted wildlife pool with colourful shrubs enhances the peaceful atmosphere here.




The new plant centre is housed in a new building built just as you would imagine a new upmarket barn would be built. Modern materials are used in a traditional building style. Beautiful local products such as metal sculpture are displayed inside alongside organic gardening fertilisers, bird feeding equipment, books and a rich mixture of gardening sundries. All very tempting! Out back can be found a plant nursery.


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Bracken and Bilberries – Part 3. The Easy Walk at Stiperstones

In Shropshire we are lucky to have a few paths in nature reserves that are designed for visitors with mobility issues. The ones we have tried out are excellent, but the best we have experienced so far has to be the walk at Stiperstones. We tried it out when I was suffering with my spine and leg pain and followed the trail on crutches.

The route has been well chosen taking in many of the important features of the reserve and has a few useful information boards along the way. There are many resting places, some with wheelchair space alongside a bench for able-bodied companions. On our walk we were impressed with the design of seats for crutch/walking stick users. In actual fact seat is not the correct term – they were really like perches with backs all just at comfortable heights. Simple wooden construction makes them look like a section of fencing but they proved to be quite comfortable.

Every point of interest and each special viewpoint seemed to have a resting place perfectly sited.

The pathway and its resting places gave good close up views of many wild plants which sparkled in the low light of setting autumnal sun.

Alongside the track we came across a small patch of woodland being used for pheasant rearing. The local finch population had cottoned on to the value of this woodland and the easy food source. There are so few trees on the Stiperstones that this group of trees must have seemed like an oasis to small birds. The feeders intended for the young pheasants were attracting Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches and Bullfinches as well as the odd Robin and Blackbird.

This was a surprisingly interesting and enjoyable walk so well done to whoever designed and built it. It combines easy access with features to view and plenty of info.

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Bracken and Bilberries – Part 2. The Stiperstones

As promised in the post “Bracken and Bilberries – Part 1” here now is a post about the Stiperstones, the ridge of hills that begins close behind our home and runs down towards the south of the county. It has been a long time since we climbed this rugged landscape, even though it is so close to home. My disabilities with spine and leg troubles coupled with  breathing problems stop me doing such things very often but I set myself a target each year to tackle something crazy! Climbing the Stiperstones was this year’s challenge.

The walk up to the ridge is a steep but wide grass path, shorn short by the resident ponies and cattle. From the gate at the bottom it looks a long way up. It looked even longer when we realised that we had left our flask of coffee at hom!. It was a bright day but there was a cold biting wind so we wrapped up well and set off. It looked much brighter than the day when we recently tackled the walk along the Stapeley Hill ridge.

Our green trackway through bracken was suffering from erosion from recent heavy rains which seem to come each autumn now. New drainage gulleys cross our path which mark an attempt to secure the surface more effectively when feet walk heavily over sodden turf.

Areas of bracken here, just as on the Stapeley Hill trail in my previous “Bracken and Bilberries” post, have been cut down in an attempt to get the heather back. This project is called “Returning to Purple”. Bracken does tend to take over but slowly the purples of heathers are re-emerging in our hills. Apart from bracken and the occasional heathers small evergreen shrubs which produce berries are the commonest plants – Bilberries, Cowberries, Crowberries and Whinberries. Locals still collect these berries for jams, jellies and fruit pies, but in previous centuries they were an important food source and even provided a little income for the cottagers. All these little, low-growing shrubs have dark evergreen leaves and berries offering varied colours and tastes. Cowberries, also known as Lingonberries, have edible berries with a stange mixture of sweetness and sourness. As well as here in the Shropshire Hills they are native to the Arctic Tundra and Boreal Forest. Bilberries produce edible black fruits and Crowberries similarly give black berries which have good flavour but are rather dry.

We stopped half way up the slope to get our breaths back and look back over the path we had so far covered. The view over towards “The Long Mynd was lit beautifully. Our next Bracken and Bilberry wander perhaps?

On the next stage of our ascent our eyes were drawn to a solitary tree high up on our left just below the top of the ridge. There are so few trees up here once you leave the low area where we parked the car. Every tree looks extra special because of this exclusivity and its stunted growth due to altitude, poor soils and prevailing weather.

As we neared the ridge the path got rockier and outcrops more frequent. The wind got colder making our eyes sting and run, and our ears. hurt.

The path divided as we reached the spine of the ridge with the route left taking us a short way along just over the other side of the ridge, the route right taking a long path right along the ridge to a series of rock outcrops. With the time we had left to walk and the sudden drop in temperature that hit us as we met the cold air rising up from the other side of the ridge we decided to do the shorter option. We would come back another day with more time and make sure we did not forget our coffee and fruit sustenance!

The path we took went  along the sharp top of the ridge occasionally dropping onto the colder side. It was freezing, so cold that little patches of snow lay on the path in places. This is a bit early in the year for snow around here! We walked into the sun and battled the strengthening biting wind, making our way towards the silhouetted rocky outcrops. It proved to be a lazy wind – too lazy to go around us so it went straight through.

We were so glad of our thermal gloves and thermal coats but we had forgotten our thermal beanie hats. Jude tried to cope with her jacket hood which proved simply too thin. I tried to cope with a baseball cap – the wind that was too lazy to walk around us was sadly not lazy when it came to blowing my hat away!

When we reached the rugged outcrop we were aiming for we knew it was worth getting cold for. A dramatic spiky rough outcrop!

From this ridge the views westward back towards Mitchells Fold and Stapeley Ridge and Wales beyond were breath-taking. Another place to stand together and think what a wonderful place we live in.

The views to the south were equally stunning.

The cold was penetrating too deeply and lack of sustenance was beginning to tell so we turned away from the sun and made our way back to the parting of the paths to begin the descent through the bracken and bilberries along the grassy track. The wind was now on our backs, so biting less and even helping us on our way a little.

As we reached the paths’ junction before turning back downhill we took a long look along the other walk we were determined to return to tackle another day. It looked inviting with the sun shining on it, calling out to us to return. We couldn’t refuse, so pledged to come back soon.

As we stood considering the trek we would make on our return to the Stiperstones, we watched Red Kite hunting the slopes below us. A rare chance to watch these big predators from above. Little else showed, just one Meadow Pipit and the commonest bird of the day Raven working their way over the hills in pairs.

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Bracken and Bilberries. Part 1. Walking in the footsteps.

Bracken and Bilberries is a short series of posts all about walking and appreciating our local uplands, The South Shropshire Hills. Bracken and Bilberries are the main herbage underfoot as we walk these beautiful hills. They have a special atmosphere all of their own that is tangible. You can experience this atmosphere in its silence and smell its delicate scents wafting in the wind that never quite goes away. It is interesting but up in these hills the silence has a particular quality – the secret sounds of grasses moving, the wind pushing at foliage, clouds scurrying and rocks groaning through the centuries gone before. Strangely romantic words but there is no other way of explaining it!!

These hills have their own wildlife, difficult to see and only slightly easier to hear. Creatures here have to adapt to the uniqueness of place – the micro-climate, the acidic upland soils and topography moulded by passing glaciers. The wild creatures here are below our feet or above our heads, not actually sharing the space we walk in.

We decided that as we have so many wonderful walks within minutes up in these hills we should take advantage of them more often.The first trek was up to find a stone circle called Mitchell’s Fold which is a few minutes drive from home. We left home in bright sunshine, under clear blue skies, well wrapped against the cold but just as we approached the starting place the sky darkened, the rains fell and the mists rolled in to hide the hills from sight.

We had a quick coffee in the dry and warm car and then as usual decided to defy the rain and as usual within ten minutes of setting off on our gradual uphill climb the rain stopped, the mists lifted above our heads but continued to cap the taller hills. The sun even came out at times through our wanderings. The light changed with every passing minute and I hope the pictures I took show this well.

From memory there was going to be a long steady climb to the stone circle. In truth it took just ten minutes or so. It shows how our perspectives change for the last time we came exploring up here our children were small so their short legs must have thought it a long climb.

We walked up through bracken browned by autumn on a soft path of green where sheep had mown the grass short with their munching. This gave little chance for few  other plants to grow. The air hung with the unpleasant smell of sheep – dung and wet wool – simply too many sheep. In less favourable areas for sheep grazing the much more pleasant aroma of bracken won over, sweet and herby.

The weather brightened as our first sighting of the standing stones came into view. Sadly what showed most was the information board which presents a dilemna. We want the info but prefer not to see the board! Perhaps it would have been better for it to be fixed out of the view first seen on approach. Walking up to the stone circle we felt honoured to be walking in the foot steps of our ancestors from thousands of years ago.

Mitchell’s Fold originally boasted 30 standing stones varying in height from 1 to 2 metres and arranged in a circle of 27 metres in diameter, but today there are 14 stones left with only a few standing. The people of the Bronze Age, between 3000 and 4ooo years ago, constructed the circle it is assumed for ritual or ceremonial purposes. Originally there were three such circles within a few kilometres of each other. Hoarstones is still in evidence but of Whetstones there is no sign.

An alternative version of the story of the circle’s creation is very much a local tale. The tallest stone is a petrified witch who was turned to stone as a punishment by the local Shropshire folk for milking a magic cow through a sieve. Our Shropshire ancestors sensibly built the rest of the circle to prevent her from escaping. This tale is told in carvings in the sandstone of a local church.

If given the choice of the Bronze age peoples creating it and the petrified witch story I would opt for the second as it seems eminently logical and sensible to me. And obviously much more fun.

As with most places of mystery in England and Wales there are said to be links with King Arthur, the largest stone being the one the young Arthur pulled his sword from to make him the rightful king. This tale is not exclusive enough for me so I am sticking to the petrified witch story!

Close up to the stones we could admire Mother Nature’s artistry. She had painted landscapes of woods and fields out of lichens an mosses.

After soaking up the atmosphere of the magical circle of stones we decided to move on along the Stapeley Hill Ridge where we hoped to find further evidence of ancient man’s influence on the landscape. We were not to be disappointed. We found lots of earth works and shapes in the  ground from the activities of ancient man. We even managed to pretty confidently work out what some were, surmised as to what others might have been and scratched our heads at others that totally baffled us. So we left the stone circle and followed the Ragleth Hill Path.

The first signs of man were more recent. The remnants of old hedgelines from the time after the Enclosure Act, just a few small trees along with broken bits of wall finished off with strands of modern barbed wire.

Before we encountered any ancient works of man to be confused by, we met a more recent addition to the Shropshire landscape which was designed to make the lives of walkers easier. This sign post definitely failed to make anything clear. Too many choices!! And the photo only shows the choices on two sides!

The first sign of man’s hand at work beyond the sign post was this long raised rampart.  We thought it could be a trackway or perhaps the outer ring of a hill fort.

We were still climbing slowly and the air was moist. Water droplets sat on the webs spun by spiders on the Gorse bushes.

The views gradually  became clearer and we could see further into the distance. As we walked these gentle slopes we were entertained by the Red Grouse calling in the bracken, but we failed to actually see one.

We skirted around the bottom of a ridge upon which we could see two piles of rock . We were determined to see what they were so we turned away from the track and followed a narrow sheep walkway up towards the top of the ridge. When half way up the climb we stopped to catch our breath and take in the views.

The clump of trees atop Callow Hill on the horizon is an old friend, as we see them ahead of us as we drive towards home from Shrewsbury.

The ridge of stones and raised ground, although difficult to see on the picture, appeared on the ground to be a part of the ditch and way into an earthwork.

The area of stones here at the base of the hillock that took us to the first stone pile were around a circular depression in the ground so we presumed they were the site of a hut circle.

As we reached the top of the ridge we realised the pile of stones was a cairn. We noticed just below the summit that the raised area was encircled by several clumps of different varieties of fungi. There were many different colours and shapes but none got much above the height of the shee-grazed grasses.

The most beautiful of all was this tiny bright red fungus. In the second shot Jude trieses to show us the underneath without damaging it. The grey woolly gloved finger shows how tiny this specimen actually was. Underneath we noticed that the inside of the gills was bright yellow with the outer edges painted in red.

When we reached the summit we had to follow the hill walkers’ tradition of adding a stone to the top of the cairn. The damp clear air up there provided the perfect atmosphere for lichen growth as this close up of the rock surfaces highlights.

This photo shows the landscape beyond the ridge which we planned to follow next to a second stone cairn. We promised ourselves a banana and a coffee when we reached it to give us energy and to warm us up. It was a good incentive.

We stood drinking our coffee and letting it warm us through as we drank in the view, looking out over the huge panorama. In the middle distance we could see the hill in the lee of which we live. We quietly stood hand in hand both having the same thoughts which we shared “How can we be lucky enough to live in such a beautiful place.”

Partway back along the ridge we enjoyed distant views of The Stiperstones, a high rugged ridge famous for its rock formations along its long ridge back. That distant view gave us an idea for our next walk in the Shropshire Hills.

We came across a big earth work partway back where a long ditch and raised bank crossed our path. We realised after exploring it for a while that it may have been a part of Offa’s Dyke, the massive wall built to keep the Welsh marauders from crossing into England (we had been following the Offa’s Dyke Trail for part of our walk). We crossed without resistance!

I hope you enjoyed sharing this wander through the Shropshire Hills with us. The weather was a bit dramatic and ever-threathening, the ground beneath our feet wet and slippery but we defied the rain and wind and cold and enjoyed the gentle climb and the views that unfolded for us.

Stiperstones next stop!

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Follow that stream!

A walk along a tiny stream in a deep valley in our Shropshire Hills seemed most inviting on a warm May afternoon, so we set off for a half hour drive from home to Cardingmill Valley at Church Stretton. Much of the countryside here is managed by the National Trust so at weekends the valley gets too busy for our liking. Hence we chose midweek for our stream side walk, and found a few cars and people close to the Visitor Centre but as we left that behind we were almost on our own.

The stream leads us into the valley.

The wide valley where we joined the tiny stream looked most inviting with its steep slopes running up the tall hillsides towering overhead, all topped off by a clear blue sky. We hoped to see different birds here in this upland habitat and a scarcity of plants but those we see should be interesting in how they adapt to their environment.

One of the gentler slopes.

We were heading for a narrower side valley called “Light Spout Hollow” where if all went well we anticipated discovering a waterfall. So the first section of our walk along the Cardingmill Valley the path was relatively wide and even and the climb gentle. Looking up the slopes towards the sky we searched for the Buzzards which we could hear mewing overhead as thye wheeled in the thermals. But these are steep head-spinning slopes so it was a matter of glances of these wide-winged soaring birds of prey. It was easier to appreciate the hovering hunting tactics of the Kestrel hunting on the lower slopes.

Storm clouds brewing over the hills.
The green side of the valley.
Looking back to see where we have come from.
A Hawthorn bonsai shaped by the weather.
Looking up at the bonsai Hawthorn.
Fresh Whinberry foliage.
We turn left as the valley splits into two.
Clear water stream.
Lichens enjoy the moist atmosphere near the stream and clean air.
Some boulders have a soft cuhion of moss.

The extreme winter conditions here become apparent in a variety of ways. The huge boulder has been split in half by repetitive freeze-thaw action in successive winters – such nature power. Trees are sculpted by the weather into natural bonsais which create dramatic silhouettes on the horizon.

Mother Nature – rock splitter.
The extreme weather takes its toll on wildlife and livestock.
Bonsai Hawthorn.

The effects of the weather varied from place to place and from slope to slope. On one side of a hill Birches grow in abundance but just turn a corner and the hillside is empty of trees bar one lone stunted Birch.

All on my own!

The stream changed character as we moved up the little valley with miniature waterfalls, rapids and swirling deeper pools, until finally we reached our goal – the main waterfall. Here we stopped for a well-earned rest and to take in the atmosphere and views, and enjoyed our usual outdoor victuals of fruit and coffee. The boulders which we rested on were slippery and shone from the action of resting walkers’ bottoms.

The stream clambers noisily over boulders in its path.
The stream flowing over smooth rocks under an overhanging willow.
The clear water passes beneath sprigs of scented Water Mint.
Water power has gouged deeply into the rock.
Nearly there.
As good as we expected.
Looking and listening while enjoying a coffee.
Our little green friend who joined in our picnic.

Here at the top we listened to the constant songs of the birds and tried to identify those fast flyers over our heads. Wheatears, Stonechat, Whinchat and Pipit. On our way back down we concentrated on finding the wild flowers that managed to find a foothold or sheltered place.

Jude the Undergardener leads the way down.
The winding path shows us the way.
The glossy round leaves of Pennywort.
Fresh ferns flourish in the cool shade at the base of rocky outcrops.
Almost back.

What an enjoyable walk, wandering up valleys with just birds and sheep as company. We must return in the Autumn.

Shaun the Sheep was here!