Climbing Clee: “If you don’t go, you won’t know” and other tall tales

“If you don’t go, you won’t know.” It’s an oft repeated mantra among mountaineers and explorers – and has long been a favourite saying of the Man in our house.

It’s what tumbles out of his lips, unbidden, every time he sees me casting a wary eye over the weather forecast on the eve of a proposed outdoor adventure. “They’re wrong 50% of the time,” he says. “I prefer to just do what they did in the olden days – stick your head out of the door and see for yourself. And then go anyway.”

So I did. This morning. And, like my ancestors before me no doubt, I decreed that as my head was getting wet it was, in fact, raining. Thus, a walk up the Titterstone Clee (renowned locally for being bleak, windy, remote and completely lacking in shelter), with two kids in tow, was probably not such a good idea.

I trotted off back to my still-warm bed and plotted a grand day in – listening to the radio, catching up on some reading, playing a family boardgame, building the Taj Mahal out of lego, maybe even doing a bit of work…bliss.

Two hours later, I had lost all feeling down the left side of my face. Not a stroke – that might have come as a blessed relief – but the result of being lashed in the cheek by galeforce, icy winds. My hood kept getting blown back, my wet hair was whipping into my eyes and my jeans were soaked through.

Littlest boy was just behind me, plaintively crying out: “I just want to go home,” while his stoic elder brother was yomping on ahead, leading us through the storm towards the summit.

Titterstone Clee, for those of you from further afield, is a famed landmark in my part of the world. It’s the third highest hill in Shropshire, standing a paltry 533m high, but is also perhaps its most unattractive. It is scarred by old mining works and is also home to a radar station, including the uber spaceage “golf ball” satellite, which helps control air traffic. Some 2,000 people used to work in the mines hereabouts – now its home to a handful of radar station staff and thousands of sheep.

It’s a peculiar place to be in a rainstorm. It is close to civilisation – a road runs to the radar station on the summit – yet it seems particularly desolate and bleak. Today it was foggy, dark and downright spooky.

On a clear day it provides fantastic views across England and Wales. From the top it is possible to see all the way to the mountains of Snowdonia, the Peak District, Cotswolds, Malvern Hills, Black Mountains and Brecon Beacons. Today we could not even make out the road, mere feet away.

We’d brought a beautiful new kite with us, hoping to take advantage of the wind to send it soaring into the sky. It was too windy to even take it out of the bag.

We’d also brought a flask of hot chocolate and a picnic, in the vain hope the rain would miraculously clear and we could breathe in the refreshing air while feasting on Philadelphia sandwiches and bananas. It was too cold to stop, even to catch our breath.

I’d brought my camera with me, with grand plans to take some multiple exposures of the radar installations while also photographing the kite flying antics. These quick snaps were the best I could do without drowning all the equipment.

We didn’t even make it to the true summit. This picture of the radar installations, just metres below the summit post, shows how close we got.

All in all we were out of the car for a paltry 45 minutes. It felt like hours. The littlest was crying, the eldest was soggy, my mission to capture our day on camera was thwarted.

But hubby – he was pleased. Apparently, we could now be delighted because we had “put a deposit in the bank of weather” and so were now “in credit”. (I’m not making this up. This is what my husband told me, seemingly forgetting I am 42, not four…)

On the bright side, once we got back to the car and turned the heating on full, we had a lovely half hour watching the rain continue to lash down and gazing as an impenetrable fog cast a ghostly pall over the entire hill.

While tucking into the picnic and slurping down the hot choc, we all sang along with the only CD in the car, a home-made reggae Christmas album (sample lyric: “On the first day of Christmas JahJah gave to me, a garden full of sensei”). The kids know it off by heart. I live in dread of the day the Reception class teacher quizzes me about my littlest boy’s knowledge of ganja and weed.

This hiatus also gave me a chance to share memories of my first boyfriend, Morris, who had the middle name Clee as he was conceived in Clee Hill village. This was long before the Beckhams made this slightly queasy concept fashionable.

My three month relationship with Morris, aged 11, consisted of him walking me to my bus after school every day and giving me a peck on the cheek in the same alleyway en route. That was it. We didn’t speak the rest of the time. I dumped him very publicly in front of his friends, telling him: “I think we are getting too serious. I just want to be friends. Do you still want to walk me to my bus?”

Once the reminiscing had finished, accompanied by “yuk” and gagging sounds from the boys, we then decided we would make it to the summit after all by driving up to it. To do so involved passing through a gate marked “no public access beyond this point”.

Now, our eldest is a stickler for rules. Breaking them, no matter how trivial, brings him out in hives, and we hadn’t gone 20 ft through the gate before he began to beg us to turn back. I trundled on regardless, but I too chickened out when we reached a second sign warning we were now entering a restricted area patrolled by security guards. So we didn’t even make it to the summit by cheating.

But it wasn’t a wasted morning. If we hadn’t gone, we wouldn’t have known, would we?

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