Literary legends and locations

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  • Literary legends and locations in the Shropshire Hills

    The Shropshire Hills have inspired storytellers across the centuries: from legends, passed on by oral tradition, to the more recent works of authors and film-makers drawn to its dramatic scenery, period-piece towns and characterful buildings.

    The border hills and valleys around Clun have proved especially inspiring, and Clun can sit proudly alongside Patagonia and the Australian Outback in the list of places to written about by the late Bruce Chatwin, whose distinctive style brought a new dimension to the travel writing genre and was replicated in his fiction.

    He wrote The Black Hill in 1982, while based at Cwm Hall, just a couple of miles from Clun. Curious? The Independent published this five-mile circular walk from Clun “in Chatwin’s footsteps”. A similar route is included in Clun Valley and Borders, a collection of 33 walks published by the Clun Walking Group.

    A E Housman, author of the classic poetry collection, A Shropshire Lad, was inspired by the Clun Valley to the extent that he immortalised it in verse:

    Clunton and Clunbury,
    Clungunford and Clun,
    Are the quietest places
    Under the sun.

    Housman’s immortal lines “blue remembered hills” and “land of last content” appeared in his Into My Heart The Air That Kills, as the poet captured the very essence of this quiet landscape.

    Much less quiet was the playwright John Osborne, who wrote the play, Look Back In Anger and – with Kingsley Amis, John Brine and others – was one of the so-called Angry Young Men post-War literary movement. But his home in later years was very tranquil – The Hurst, near Clunton, where he lived with his fifth and final wife, Helen. They are buried alongside each other in the churchyard at Clun. Nowadays you can draw on Osborne’s legacy by staying at The Hurst and following a writing course courtesy of the Arvon Trust.

    Clun became the fictional town of Oniton in significant passages of E M Forster’s Howard’s End and so where could make a better base from which to explore these hills and lanes of inspiration than the historic White Horse Inn, at the centre of the town.

    The Carding Mill Valley, on the eastern flank of the Long Mynd, is the setting of A Night in the Snow or, A Struggle for Life, a dramatic account by Reverend E Donald Carr of a night and day lost in gales and blizzards while attempting to walk from Church Stretton to deliver a service four miles away, over the Long Mynd, in Ratlinghope. Stay at the Bridges, Ratlinghope.

    Authors who have drawn inspiration from the whole breadth of the Shropshire Hills include Mary Webb and Malcolm Saville. Saville was a prolific writer of adventure books for children and had sold nearly three million copies when he died in 1982. Although from Sussex,  he was drawn to the Stiperstones and Long Mynd when his family was evacuated here during the second world war, providing  the setting for many of his Lone Pine books.

    Mary Webb is best known for novels including Precious Bane, set in the Shropshire Countryside. What is seen as a sometimes over-sentimental style is held to be the main inspiration for Stella Gibbons’s satirical and celebrated classic, Cold Comfort Farm. Webb was born in Leighton, at the foot of the Wrekin, and was living at Rose Cottage (now Roseville), in Pontesbury, when she wrote her first novel, The Golden Arrow, between 1914 and 1916. Places featuring in her work include the Stiperstones ridge and Church Stretton, under the fictional name of Shepwardine.

    Webb’s Gone to Earth was turned into a film by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger in 1950 and features locations including Much Wenlock. You can still view it today, courtesy of Amazon and other providers.

    More recently, Stokesay Court provided the magnificent backdrop for the filming of Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement. You can rekindle moments from the film by joining one of Stokesay Court’s guided tours. Details of these can be found on the website above or see Events pages.

    Bromfield, near Ludlow, provided the setting for a Brother Cadfael story by Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter), cited as one of the top five mystery writers ever by the New York Times. In all, Peters wrote 20 Brother Cadfael novels, many of them adapted for TV or radio.

    This product has been developed as part of the Shropshire Hills Tourism Cooperation Project, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs under the auspices of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. The project is delivered by Gravity Consulting Ltd on behalf of Shropshire Hills and Ludlow Destination Management Partnership.

     


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