Sunday, 29 March 2015

Life on the Edge in Kinver

One of the restored rock houses at Kinver Edge 
There's a bit of the caveman in all of us and here in Kinver you can get closer to your primitive instincts than most places in Britain. It has some of the finest cave houses in Europe, carved out of the soft local sandstone among the high cliffs of Kinver Edge.
And the remains of another - literally carved into the rock
The distinctive deep red sandstone, worn smooth and grooved by the passage of time, had become a familiar sight as we neared Kinver, occasionally poking through the soil and sometimes demanding the canal builders carve a passage past – and sometimes even under – its outcrops.
But here it Kinver it rears up high into the air as we meet a massive sandstone ridge that towers around the local countryside. The village church standing high above the canal is an impressive sight but just a taster; the real hills are beyond.
Unsurprisingly Kinver and its surroundings are something of a tourist attraction – and have been for over a century. Way back in 1901 the Kinver Light Railway opened and brought thousands of trippers from the industrial grime of the nearby Black Country. Over 15,000 of them came on one Bank Holiday Monday.
The tramway is long gone but plenty still arrive today – though, as we discovered on our last visit fie years back, the village doesn't pay them much heed. Last time we arrived on a Saturday and found all the shops shutting up at 4pm; this time we came at 3.55pm on Friday and found the same thing! Only the Co-op and Spar shops disregarded the curfew.
Kinver's pretty High Street where every day is early closing day
Still, at least we knew our way around, which was just as well as Kinver doesn't provide a lot in the way of signposting. It's a pretty little village, with some handsome houses, but the real sights are a sharp walk further up the hill.
We headed upwards, out of the village, and kept going...and going until we were sure we must have gone wrong and then spied a distant car park sign for the Holy Austin Rock Houses.
These remarkable houses – there were eleven of them clustered together, built in three levels as well as alongside each other – were quite literally carved into the soft rockface. Need an extension? Just carve another room out!
They date back to 1770 but were at their peak of occupation when homes were short for workers at the local Hyde Ironworks. When that closed, families gradually moved away but the last two houses were occupied until the 1950s. After that they fell into disrepair and eventually so dangerous that there was serious talk of them being demolished.
The restored Victorian parlour in the rock house
Today they're owned by the National Trust which has stabilised the crumbling rockface and (since we were last here) restored two of them and furnished them as they would have been used in Victorian times. Apparently 17,000 people came to see them last year.
There's not a whole lot to see but what there is was fascinating. Life was simple then, it centred around the kitchen-parlour, heated by a large wooden range which of course also cooked the food and heated water. The range, incidentally, was made in Tipton by Charles Lathe & Co. It is exactly the model originally used in the house and was tracked down in a local reclamation yard. Beyond the parlour lies a simple bedroom, no bathroom of course and candles and there are oil lamps for lighting. The houses had no electric but they did have water and even, remarkably, got town gas by the end. Outside each had its vegetable gardens.
At its centre, this fine range
There's a certain appeal to this troglodyte (what a great word!) lifestyle. Plain whitewashed walls and ceilings, tiled floors, thick walls to keep you warm in winter and cool in summer – and create a cosy, sound-damped feel, some homely sticks of furniture. It makes one realise just how simply one can live a satisfying life. Of course, I don't envy those rock house dwellers the lack of modern medicine but I bet they were fit from walking, ate healthily, savoured the stunning year round views and the only twittering they knew of were the birds in the trees.
Spectacular views are all around from the top of Kinver Ridge
From the rock houses we climbed higher still to the top of Kinver Ridge itself. The top opens into a spectacular plateau which offers a panoramic view as far as Birmingham in one direction and the Malvern Hills in another as well as literally miles of walks across the heathland and woods of this huge high ridge.
The camera gives only a feeble impression of the scale of the views
I'm glad we did all that yesterday for today on the first day of British Summer Time it has most appropriately  p*ssed with rain all day so we have adopted our own troglodyte lifestyle and stayed on board.

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