As I wrote in my previous post (A New Meadow – Visiting Shrewsbury Town), at the weekend, for my birthday, I went to Shropshire with my family. As I have noted in other posts (see, for example, Favourite Poems – “A Shropshire Lad” by A.E.Housman, A Visit to Attingham Park, and Book Review: “The Lucky Ones” by Mark Edwards), I was born in Shrewsbury and grew up in Shropshire – mostly in Church Stretton and All Stretton. When in All Stretton, the view I woke up to every morning was of the Caradoc (or Caer Caradoc to give it its full name). I even managed to include it in some discussion of hills/mountains in my book Dealing With Disaster in Japan.
Here’s some information about the hill from Wikipedia.
Caer Caradoc (Welsh: Caer Caradog, the fort of Caradog) is a hill in the English county of Shropshire. It overlooks the town of Church Stretton and the village of All Stretton and offers panoramic views to the north towards the Wrekin, east to Wenlock Edge, and west over the nearby Long Mynd.
Caer Caradoc rises sharply out of a narrow valley known as the Stretton Gap. It is the highest point on a high, narrow, northeast–southwest “whaleback ridge”, sometimes called a hogsback ridge. Caer Caradoc can be fairly easily climbed from Church Stretton but the ascent/descent is steep; a more gentle climb is from the village of Cardington, which lies two miles (3 km) east. A good way of experiencing Caer Caradoc is via a linear walk and include the nearby summits of Ragleth Hill and the Lawley.
The hill is volcanic in origin, like the Wrekin and other hills, formed of narrow ridges of resistant Pre-Cambrian rock thrust upwards by movements deep down along the Church Stretton fault. This fault line runs from Staffordshire to South Wales and can be seen on Ordnance Survey maps as a line of springs on this hill.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caer_Caradoc
While it is true that the easier climb is from the back of the Caradoc, for me, the right way to go is up the front. While the first part is largely a straight-up climb, there is a path that cuts diagonally up the hill across the front to its northern edge. From there it is a straight climb to the top. It’s steep. It’s also frustrating as there are so many times that you think are at the top, only to crest that ‘top’ to see there is another one ahead (if you look back at the first photo above you can see these ridges going up the left side of the hill).
When you get to the top, you are 1,506ft (459m) above sea level. There is no agreed (as far as I can tell) definition of what height a mountain starts at. In many respects, the height above sea level isn’t, in my view, the key component – the height above the surrounding area is of more significance. The Caradoc towers over All Stretton and Church Stretton and is much more impressive than, say, the Long Mynd on the other side of valley – despite the fact that the Long Mynd has a higher peak (1,693ft/516m).
But it’s not just about height. Perhaps it’s just the fact that I grew up seeing this hill and so it has imprinted on my brain and set a definition for what a great hill should look like – but for me the Caradoc is the best looking hill/mountain, not only in the UK, but possibly the world. I have it right up there with all the other amazing mountains I have seen, especially in Japan. By chance, today, I am doing a text with my university students about religion in Japan and it includes discussion about how mountains can be seen as a deity in Shinto. It made me think, do I see the Caradoc as a deity? Probably not – but I can imagine why some would.
One of the things I will always associate with the Caradoc is being at home on Sundays and often seeing walkers going across the top as we prepared for our Sunday lunch (the dining room had a good view of the Caradoc). Seeing the silhouettes of people on the hill would usually bring the comment “Zulus” from my father, referring to the iconic scenes in the film Zulu. Ironically, I got a birthday message from Sheldon Hall, author of the excellent book about Zulu, as I was climbing the Caradoc and saw my son silhouetted above me. The image doesn’t have the same numerical impact as the scenes in the film, but with a bit of imagination you can perhaps see where the link comes from.
Another aspect of the Caradoc is that it was home to a fort – as Wikipedia also details.
The summit has an Ancient British Iron Age or late Bronze Age hill fort. It is this which the hill is named after – Caer Caradog in Welsh meaning Caradog’s fort. Local legend has it that this was the site of Caratacus’s last battle against the Roman legions during the Roman conquest of Britain, and that after the battle he hid in the cave near its summit. However, there is no river nearby and Tacitus refers to a river in his description of the site.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caer_Caradoc
When you walk around the summit of the Caradoc it is perhaps hard to appreciate that some of the ridges are not natural. I remember when I first went up the Caradoc as child not being totally convinced that there had been a fort there. Those were the days before Google Satellite views. The view that this now provides makes it very easy to see the fort-like structure.
One thing that never worked for me about the idea of there being a fort on top of the Caradoc (although I came to accept that part) was the part of the story relating to Caractacus. The issue is not merely the missing river in relation to the story about his last stand. It’s also a matter of the cave. I don’t know the full story and perhaps it doesn’t mention a cave, but certainly the local story is that Caractacus holed up in the cave on the Caradoc. But the cave – which (currently) has a photograph on the Wikipedia page, but no reference to it in the text – lies outside the fort. Not a great place to hide or defend, you would have thought.
Having said that, finding the cave isn’t straight forward. Many people, it seems, don’t even know that it’s there and the paths to it aren’t particularly well worn (and there are no signs). If you do want to find it quickly, I suggest using the app What3Words and it will show you where it is – you can then look out for some of the tracks (probably made by sheep initially) that will take you there. The three words you need are ‘imagined.decently.toys’.
Here are some pictures that I took of the cave.
Personally, I doubt that Caractacus ever used this cave. I think it’s much more likely that the cave was used by a shepherd looking after sheep on the hill. There appear to be carved spaces for sitting and placing things, but not much more than that. It suggests long term usage as in being used by people from time to time over many years, but not as a main living place used for consecutive days.
When I was a teenager I would sometimes walk from my house up the Caradoc, but although I would visit the cave, it was generally in front of the cave or elsewhere where I would choose to sit down and continue to listen to music and get away from things. Even on a day when the weather isn’t great, it still provides a brilliant view down to All Stretton below.
Having finished walking around the top and going to the cave, we descended to Church Stretton following the southern ridge. Along this route, make sure you look out for the heart-shaped pond at the foot of the Caradoc (albeit the angle would be better from the other side of the valley).
I actually find the climb/descent along the southern ridge harder than the northern ridge as it is both steep and has a lot of loose small stones which can be hard to walk on.
In the end, as much as I enjoyed the hike, the conclusion I have about the Caradoc is the same I have about other hills and mountains; it can be great to go to the top, but ultimately you will almost always get more pleasure from being able to see the hill/mountain itself.