(Notes from a recent visit to the Shropshire Hills)
A dry, hazy Sunday morning in February. The distant hills are hidden in the paleness that hides the boundary between the hills and the sky. It is cool, but not too cold. I am above the village of Clunton in Shropshire, looking over the Clun valley below me and hearing a landscape that is full of birdsong. Snowdrops fill gardens and roadside and the river tumbles over stoney rapids between feelers of sheep.
In front of me is a magnificent oak tree. It stands on the northern side of the steep hill between the valley field and the start of the extensive conifer plantation that reaches high above me. It is a huge tree and surrounding it is a grass clearing that looks as if the conifers were intentionally not planted in its immediate vacinity sixty or so years ago thus allowing the tree space to breathe. A fence has been place around this clearing, approximately 15m x 30m in size, though quite why I am not sure as it now separates this patch of grass with the adjoining sheep grazed field that leads down the hill and there is no gate or access to this clearing. Perhaps it was just becoming an awkward area of grassland for the farmer to manage but I don't quite see why it has been contracted this way.
It is just a beautiful tree. It's broad central trunk branches out in almost perfect evenness to form a huge symmetrical arch. It probably stood out for me because, in the dull light, its dark form is highlighted by the pale pastel colours of the misty backdrop of fields. Branches of dull brown,grey and black are highlighted by bright green mosses.
I am tempted to draw the the tree but I am not sure that in a small amount of time I can do it justice. There are just so many branches all radiating out in even patterns of intricacy that I will spend most of my time being visually lost in its complexity.
I am grateful that the forestry planters years ago seemed able to have a heart and not swamp this tree with conifers. It seems to have been left to reach a glorious maturity.