Country diary: This humble slab is as old as sedimentary rock gets
The Long Mynd, Shropshire: Under an immense view sits a pale mattress of stone that seems to float in space and time
Feeling stodgy (solemnly dull) from the weight of gravity and the pooling of decay, we head for the hills. Above winding lanes, a high blue sky opens across the Long Mynd plateau, and stepping into it, we are unprepared for the sharpness of light and wind, and the immensity of the view.
In those seconds before the senses settle, there is a kind of vertigo of overwhelming space, before a reacquaintance with this place leads us along sheep tracks to a green lane and a view facing east. Across the Stretton Valley to Caer Caradoc, the whoosh of vista swings north along the Lawley hill, through the wooded wave of Wenlock Edge to the Wrekin; the hills and plains stretch far below and we are up in a sky with wind-raked clouds crossing the fields of light.
The green lane we stand on is part of the Port Way, a Neolithic ridgeway that runs the length of the Long Mynd. At the point where other tracks meet it above the batch (a short, steep valley) and where flight-lines take off to surrounding hilltops, is a rock. Like a pale mattress of stone, this rock seems to float. Countless generations of sheep have scraped a shelter against it, so that it appears to have lost contact with the heath that pollen records say has been like this since the bronze age – the blink of an eye.
The rock belongs to the Longmyndian supergroup, a series of sedimentary layers laid down in the Precambrian era over 500m years ago, making it about as old as sedimentary rock gets. Those layers were formed from decayed mountains in a coastal basin, and from estuaries of a long-vanished and dispersed continent, and are now folded within the great long lump of the Mynd. The rock by our side feels full of the ebb and flow of waves. It was perhaps once a boundary marker, or part of a chamber tomb or tumulus.
A little buttery dot of the waxcap fungus Hygrocybe ceracea pops up along the track. Tonight a cider-apple moon will rise above, and there is this rock floating between time and space as everything joins the flow of putrescence and renascence.