Wandering on Stapeley Common is to walk on the floor of the sky. Strangely apart from the hills and valleys of Shropshire and Powys, and where the border between countries may be a raven’s flight line or a skylark’s parabola over a gorse clump, this is an outlier place. The Stiperstones and Long Mynd lie to the east, Corndon Hill and Bromlow Callow are north and south of Stapeley Hill’s ridge, and there, as if looking out to sea, are the Berwyn mountains and Cambrian hill country rolling and heaving into the west.
It is quiet up here today. There’s a breeze, but little else to sound but light itself. The drone of cloud is pierced by cymbal clashes of sunlight, here across the common and 40 miles away on hillsides and valley deeps. Light is a clear music that rings further than the eye can see. Colours, like sounds, are muted greens: the squared-up fields of the far away, peppered with solitary trees and folded woods, the land’s life draws down sunlight through the alchemy of photosynthesis to create new life.
Despite the dangerous histories of our own doings, there is something about the nowness of plant life – the grasses, bracken and gorse of the common, the sheep-grazed hill pastures and lone oaks feeding their subterranean communities in the distance – that makes the idea of history impossible. In the orbit of an early bronze-age stone circle and the remains of iron-age earthworks, the brilliant yellow of gorse, the collapsing fronds of bracken, a few remnant heather bells are now as they were before these “monuments” were built.
The work of people and animals that shaped and continue to shape this land has not disappeared. For visitors who come to see this “heritage” and then drift into its mythical space, it is as alive now as it was then. In the lichens on the stones, and the heathy flora of the common, the presence of far wonders comes so near, into the now through growing plants and their symbionts. History lies in stories told, but your rushy plait of years means nothing, a raven calls overhead.