Clun is a small town of grim grey stone among huge hills scattered with bilberries, Neolithic earthworks and iron age hill forts. The past rolls into the present in these hills for the landscape has hardly changed and there is precious little plough— fields are still sprinkled with trees and there are oak and beech woods hanging on to steep hillsides. Clun itself sits on the convergence of eight roads and was for centuries a fierce bastion protecting the Salopians against the turbulent Welsh. At the time of the Norman Conquest Clun formed part of the extensive lands of Eadric the Wild who led a revolt against King William and had his lands promptly confiscated. It was then given to Robert ‘Picot’ de Say and succeeding Lords of Clun added to Picot’s original earth and wooden Motte and Bailey rendering it a sturdy castle fortress. The remains stand high on a mound to the west of the town in a perfect defensive position, with the river Dun sweeping in a great bow around them. If you stand under the half-ruined tower it is like looking up at a modern skyscraper. During the 1990 Clun earthquake, described by a local as ‘being shaken like a rat by a terrier’, the castle’s tower stood firm as a rock.
Since prehistoric times Clun has stood on an important trade route which crossed the river here. The sturdy humpback bridge with its five unequal arches and triangular stand-ins into which you can shrink from passing traffic is fourteenth century but its foundations are Saxon or some say even Roman. The local saying, ‘Whoever crosses Clun Bridge comes back sharper than he went’, is still much quoted, so if you do take these steps you might be described as ‘pert as a spoon’ in Clun dialect, meaning sharp and bright. Other good Clun dialect words include ‘taxy-waxy’ for tough, stringy meat, to ‘kwank’, meaning to snub, a ‘crod’ for a short, stocky person, a ‘butty’ for a comrade or one of a pair (e.g. the left shoe is butty to the right one), and a ‘box-neck’ for a somersault. Because of its remoteness, Clun’s hundreds of strange words are kept alive and well by the locals.
On the far side of the river from the castle, up a short steep street, stands the solid Norman church with its square, fortress-like west tower, which suits the landscape around. There are angels carved on the north aisle roof and Welsh names on the gravestones among the yew trees in the graveyard. Beside the church is a good early- eighteenth-century vicarage, and back across the river again a simple rustic Georgian town hall, now houses the wonderfully eclectic Clun museum with its thousands of flint arrowheads. Perhaps the town’s pièce de résistance is the magnificent Hospital of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, a refuge founded by Henry, Earl of Northampton, in 1614 for ‘twelve poor men with a warden, sub warden, a nurse and a barber’.
In the last century there were fourteen pubs in Clun which were ‘sniving’ (swarming) with people on market day. By the 1920s there were eight and now there are only two.
Having been a busy market town with a thriving shoe-making trade Clun has long been known for its quietude. John Osborne, the celebrated playwright chose to live here and Sir Walter Scott stayed in Clun while writing The Betrothed, in which Clun Castle appears as la Doloreuse Garde.
The adjective in the following old couplet can be changed depending on how you feel:
Clunton and Clunbury, Clungunford and Clun/ Are the quietest places under the sun.