Walk: 31st March 2017.
‘It’s sedimentary dear Watson,’ said Tony, spade in hand. We were going on a clay hunt: Anthony, Tony, Neil, Tania, Natalie, Kate and me (and dogs Effie, Pip and Dot). We began by squeezing like Emmeline through the grass-snagged gates to cross the road and meet the disused railway line.
At first the line was on an embankment and then through a cutting; the consensus being that the material from the cutting had built up the embankment. To the left of the cutting was a small hollow where mudstone for yards and gateways had been excavated. I recalled the term ‘rabbit gravel’ and Tania asked, ‘Is that because it looks like rabbit poo or because rabbits burrow in it?’ Nobody knew the answer. To the right was a clarty looking ploughed field and Tony wielded his spade, digging down for our first sample.
At Rodd Hurst we returned to the other side of the road and headed up the side of a spindly crop field. Parallel was a linear hollow, lined with trees and running with winter water. To me, it felt like an old sunken way and Anthony agreed. We entered a copse called Little Roughs and, much to Neil’s delight, the sun came out. Like Neil, the celandines lifted up their faces and I noticed how many little green plants were emerging from the earth. I collected a variety, attempting to identify them by leaf shape alone. There was one plant whose name I couldn’t remember.
Tania and Anthony were talking about a quarry called Stanna, but I didn’t catch where it was and, as I look at the map now I can see a multitude of tiny disused quarries but none called Stanna. Tony braved some nettles and dug a sample from a boggy area and Kate recorded the squelching of his spade. The sample was dark brown, liquid and full of vegetable matter which was, of course, a source of amusement.
I spied a lovely little gash of ochre clay in a rivulet that joined the stream and we called Tony over. He told us it was run off from the field and when he dug deeper found only gravel. Kate was beginning to form an idea of painting with the clays and this was such a pretty colour so we put some in a bag. As Natalie said, the silky texture of it made you think of a beauty treatment and there was a real compulsion to smear it on your face.
Neil had already headed back and Tania and Pip just stayed long enough to look at another rocky outcrop before they returned to the Rodd. Those who remained left Little Roughs for the top of a large field (Bradleys?) and Effie and Dot enjoyed a run through the grass. There had been extensive coppicing of some hazel by the powerline company and a vast amount of long straight sticks were stacked awaiting a purpose. I’m sure Chris Drury could have built a shelter with them.
We joined the top of Rodd Wood where a few bluebells were starting to flower. Tony had collected clay from this area before. The birds were singing and Anthony identified a willow warbler. He said this was the only bird song he knew and none of us were knowledgeable enough to dispute him. He asked me if I could identify a plant growing at the base of a tree; it was the same plant whose name had eluded me in Little Roughs. He told me it was Moschatel (not Neufchatel ; that’s a cheese) or Townhall Clock and I remembered then that I had seen it a few years ago up at the Mynd.
As we walked we talked about how little we knew. We talked about people we had met or known who were fonts of knowledge regarding identification and classification of the natural world. I realised again how much I admired those people and how enriching the crossover between science and art can be. Anthony mentioned inviting a naturalist from Elan valley back to the Rodd. I mentioned a local botanist John Clayfield and a butterfly expert called Dave. I thought about my friend Mark with whom I went on annual fungi forays until his death 6 years ago and about my brother who had seemed to have known just about everything there was to know about nature.
Kate, Natalie and Tony dug two more samples of clay from the bottom of the wood. Despite being only metres apart one was a beautiful grey and the other bright yellow ochre. We left the woods to cross the lane and the field to the farm and Tony joked he could make a pot from the clay stuck to Dot’s coat.