There were widespread floods in Shropshire this weekend and they reached right to the boundaries of Century Wood. I had planned to stay for the day but in the end I broke off early and went up to the Lilleshall Monument for a wider view and then to Lilleshall Abbey. Inundations aside, it was a beautiful sunny autumn day.
This first picture shows the view from the bridge over the mainline railway near Mill Meece, with a flooded field beside the tracks. A diversion had been put in place, but this led to a completely flooded lane complete with abandoned Land Rover Discovery half sunk into the verge.
Century Wood itself stands on the Weald Moors, an ancient lake which became a marsh laying down many metres of peat over the millennia. From the 16th century onwards the marshes were drained for crops and pasture, although still vulnerable to flooding. A network of ditches is maintained by the local land drainage board.
These two pictures show views of one of the ditches which run alongside Century – first this weekend and then in February 2009, taken from almost the same point. At the weekend the water was almost overtopping the banks and the ground was water logged. My roadway crosses a culvert bridge across this ditch. I did not wait to see if more water from the surrounding fields would trap my car inside the wood by the end of the day.
This picture shows one of the pools of standing water I found within the wood. Now and then I’ve seen wet patches emerge and become temporary ponds after very wet weather. If I wanted to dig out “scrapes” to make seasonal or even permanent ponds, these would be good locations.
At lunchtime I added another stone to the cairn and then left the wood. I decided to drive to Lilleshall and to go up to the monument to the first Duke of Sutherland. It has good views of the surrounding countryside, and takes much less time to climb than the Wrekin. The three pictures are the monument, one of the fields with standing water than peppered the landscapes, and the Wrekin itself.
You can just see the ruins of Lilleshall Abbey from the Monument: much easier in winter with no leaves on the trees.
At the Abbey, I was alone for a while and I’ve never seen it busy the few times I’ve been there. In the Middle Ages it became a great owner of land, although not so great a centre of learning. After Henry VIII determined to dissolve the monasteries, the core of the estate entered the hands of the Leveson family, and ultimately passed to the Dukes of Sutherland by inheritance. Century Wood was part of this estate and was sold on the open market when the Duke’s estate was broken up after the First World War.
The Abbey grounds have several veteran yew trees, so often associated with churches and monasteries. The trees, which may have been planted around the church or are survivors from pre-Christian uses of the site, are flourishing in contrast to the decay of the buildings (now arrested by English Heritage and its predecessors.) It reminded me of a passage by Thoreau in “Walden”:
Towers and temples are the luxury of princes. A simple and independent mind does not toil at the bidding of any prince … To what end, pray, is so much stone hammered? … Nations are possessed with an insane ambition to perpetuate the memory of themselves by the amount of hammered stone they leave … One piece of good sense would be more memorable than a monument as high as the moon. … Most of the stone a nation hammers goes toward its tomb only. It buries itself alive.
I had my Macmillan copy of “Walden” with me and found that passage. As I sat on the wall and read it, I could hear a nearby stream which had become a raging torrent in the flooding. If the remains of Lilleshall Abbey were swept away by the water, in a flood or storm or by centuries of frost and rain, how many would think of the buildings that once stood there? There is nothing left standing of Thoreau’s tiny cabin in the woods, and yet millions of people know of it because they have read what was written in and about it.
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