A beautiful sunny April morning. I decided to catch a bus somewhere. I originally thought I might go to Ironbridge, but I had to queue at the ATM (no money, no bus ticket!) and by the time the machine finally coughed out my cash, I would not have been able to reach the bus station before the Ironbridge bus left. Except that I then remembered that the 96 comes up through the town, and I could probably just make it to the stop in St Mary’s Street in time…. I did. I even had a couple of spare minutes to catch my breath before it came into sight.
It was a lovely run through the spring countryside. This is a pretty route, going through Atcham and Wroxeter and Leighton. Rolling hills, the River Severn meandering in great loops, and the Wrekin gradually coming closer. English countryside. I got off the bus at Buildwas, thinking I would have a look around there, see the ruins of the Cistertian Abbey, and then walk on into Ironbridge. I saw a sign to the abbey, and that road took me across Buildwas Bridge. A much replaced bridge: the original one, built by the monks, was swept away in 1795, Thomas Telford made the next one three years later – there’s still a small section of its iron arch by the side of the road. The third one was built in 1905, and finally the present bridge replaced it in 1992.
While I was leaning on this bridge, taking a picture of the river and the house beside it (avoiding the power station, the other dominating feature of Buildwas), a lady came along walking a couple of friendly beagles. She told me that she used to live in the house I was busy photographing, and her mother still lives there. It’s mostly 16th Century, she said. The roof tops and walls were a wonderful tangle of creepers and vines.
I walked on up to the Abbey entrance, but it was not yet open for the day, so I decided to continue walking. There was very little traffic, and the grass verge was scattered with white dog violets and purple ground ivy. There were butterburs near the water and patches of salt-loving scurvy-grass at the road edge.
As I continued walking, the traffic was gradually becoming heavier. I spent more and more time waiting on the verge for streams of cars to pass. After a while, I passed a roadsign sign telling me where I was going; “Much Wenlock 2”, it said. So I was not on the road to Ironbridge after all. Well, Much Wenlock’s very pretty, and I could probably manage another two miles without much trouble. Although the traffic was getting annoying. Or I could walk back the way I’d come and see the abbey instead? Decisions…. I decided to walk as far as the brow of the hill before making up my mind.
Just before I got to the top of the rise, a Land Rover passed me and then pulled to a halt. It was David and Jen from the Shropshire Community Flickr Group, offering me a lift. “Are you going to Wenlock?” they asked. “It looks like I am now!” I replied. I was amazed that anyone I knew would pass me and would recognise me when I was so far out of my usual stomping grounds. I was very happy to accept the lift.
Thanks to their kind offer, I was soon at The Edge Arts Centre on the outskirts of Much Wenlock. They were there to attend a couple of events at the Wenlock Poetry Festival, a new venture for the town. I walked on into the town centre, had a look around the little museum and found a cafe for a second breakfast – scrambled eggs on toast and coffee. I needed that!
After further walking around the town, which was bustling with people, I went into Priory Hall. There I watched a stone carver, John Neilson, inscribing a piece of local stone with couple of lines from a poem specially written for the festival by Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate and the festival’s patron.
I went into Wenlock Pottery, and spent quite a long time sitting in the sun in its courtyard, talking to the lady in charge of it. This was the venue for a couple of free poetry events, but it was too early. Nearer the time, I moved inside but the Wirral Poets, who were to provide the first item, were still on their way. Instead I had the pleasant room almost to myself – I say almost, because there were a few people at a table to my left, and over in the far corner, Roger McGough and John Gorman were having a quick, quiet practice of some pieces they were to be performing later.
Gradually more audience turned up. And finally the Wirral Poets arrived in force – a large group. They were handed hi-vis waistcoats, as they were going to be out and about, taking poetry around the town, after their short performance in the Pottery. More people turned up to watch, all the chairs in the audience were soon taken and still people were coming in. And then the poetry started. I listened. Afterwards I was back in the courtyard of the pottery, in the sunshine, with a very nice pot of tea, wondering where I would to go next. In the end, I decided that what I really wanted to do next was to go back home and think about things. So I did. A pretty run on the 436 bus, over and down Wenlock Edge and finally back into Shrewsbury in the now quite hazy sunshine. Happy.