Even when you’re full of fidget pie, Shropshire has so much more to give.Read more...
On May Day in Clun a fight between the Green Man and the Frost Queen determines whether summer comes to the Clun Valley © Deatonphotos, Shutterstock
A E Housman was right: Clun, tucked away in the countryside 14 miles south of Bishop’s Castle, is quiet. More so now than in days of yore when marcher lords staked out their borders with strongholds and moats, or even into the mid 20th century when it was an important market town. Clun’s officially a village now, but don’t tell that to residents.
What to see and do
Cross the wooden footbridge from the main car park to find the riverside ruins of Clun Castle (free public open access), high on a natural spur. The original motte-and-bailey structure was probably established by Picot de Say, a follower of William the Conqueror, in the years after the Norman Conquest. The stone successor you see today was built by the Fitzalan family, better known as the Earls of Arundel.
© Richard Hayman, Shutterstock
Owned by the Duke of Norfolk and managed by English Heritage, the site is an atmospheric place for dog walking and picnics. The remains of the four-storey keep, unusual for being set into the side of its mound rather than perched on top, overlook the Clun Forest and into the Kerry Hills of Wales. Clun Castle is thought to have inspired Sir Walter Scott’s The Betrothed.
The packhorse bridge
Back by the car park, the uneven stone arches of Clun’s 15th-century packhorse bridge are mostly original, although the bridge’s position on a modern-day through road means the parapet has been knocked off and replaced more times than people would care to remember. Tradition has it that crossing the narrow bridge sharpens one’s wits (although presumably knocking the top off precludes you from making such a boast).
On a quiet day you might see brown trout and kingfishers in this stretch of water and, if you’re extra lucky, otters. Look for the alder trees along the riverbank: these were once prolific in this area and used by the many clog makers who lived in Clun (you can view old clog patterns in the Clun Town Trust Museum (Easter–Oct Tue, Sat & Bank Hol Mon), alongside other local artefacts).
St George’s Church
South of the bridge on a steep rise, St George’s Church has Saxon foundations and a squat, partially Norman tower typical of borderland churches which had defensive as well as religious purposes. The playwright John Osborne, author of Look Back in Anger, made Clun his home in the last years of his life – and the churchyard of St George’s is his final resting place. He’s buried next to his fifth wife Helen Osborne (née Dawson), with whom it is said he shared the happiest of his many romantic relationships. Their house, The Hurst in nearby Clunton, is now a writing retreat managed by the Arvon Foundation.
Still in the churchyard, look also for Clun’s oldest living inhabitant: a 2,000-year-old yew tree in front of the church. Nearby you’ll find a touching tomb memorial to the Hamar family, from which seven brothers and sisters were in 1811 carried off by a ‘Putrid Fever with awful rapidity in the short space of Three Weeks – a sad instance of the uncertainty of human life’. The churchyard, almost circular, has areas of conservation managed under Caring For God’s Acre (a national programme which started in Shropshire) and, as such, is rich in plant and insect diversity.