When I was
younger, one lot of my grandparents – and later my auntie –
lived in the house we live in now, right on the top of Clee Hill, and
I used to stop here a lot then, because I never attended school a great
deal, and it was always very convenient having places like this because
nobody could ever find you.
I left home when I was 14 as I didn’t get on so well with my dad.
He used to like a drink and sometimes I’d be the loser when he’d
had a drink. So I went to live with anyone who’d have me –
with my gran, or aunties.
After my auntie left the house, it became derelict, and we used it as
outbuildings for stock. We had sheep up the stairs and everything. But
eventually, ten or twelve years ago, me and my wife got the house and
built on it. We’ve got no electric. The lights are from a generator,
and we’ve got a small windmill and batteries that we charge up
Our family have always been part and parcel of Clee Hill. I’ve
cleared sheep off this common since I was about 10 years old, back in
the 1960s. Three or four times a year, they’d clear the sheep
for lambing, for tupping, for dipping and occasions like that. We’d
start at Clee Hill village and go right over the top and end up at Callow
Lane on the other side. There’d be as many as 20 people driving
the sheep across, and 40 dogs, and the majority would be on horseback.
It’d be an occasion. They’d funnel them into Callow Lane,
and drive them to the top of the lane where there was a pen, and then
alternate farmers would catch their stock out. They’d have jugs
of cider there, and all the farmers would be helping. We do still do
it, but there’s nowhere near the numbers involved now.
My gran, when she lived here, she said once when the weather wasn’t
too good she went four weeks without seeing anyone else – apart
from the immediate family. Four weeks! Not even people walking. I used
to feel terrible claustrophobic when the fog was down. And it’s
a crazy place to live if you don’t like the fog. But you do get
used to it.
It’s only a matter of time before someone is killed on Clee Hill.
In the last four years, I have seen
three old mineshafts collapsed in. You are talking about a hole that’s
straight down, 10 feet round, and 50–60 feet deep, if not deeper.
They are capped with a brick dome, that’s all. They aren’t
filled in. Either the dome gives way, or the wall further down gives
way; and then it all falls in. Not a month ago, I had to go and tell
some boys on BMX bikes what they were riding back and forth over the
Another danger is the old quarry at the top of the hill, with sheer
straight-down drops of over 100 feet. I’ve been up there, in thick
fog, on a horse that’s a bit fresh, and you’ve got them
big white radar domes going bubububububub with the wind –
and the horse is looking at that and going sideways towards a 100-foot
drop. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
It’s a place of beauty, here. But I’m convinced a lot of
folks who come into the area would like to see the old workings pulled
down, and all the slack tips levelled and grassed over. We’ve
had battles with people wanting to put up parking areas, and picnic
areas with benches and things for people to sit on. They should leave
it as it is.
I find it quite pleasant being so high up and remote, to be fair. I’ve
got no peer pressure to do anything I don’t want to do. Also I
find it easier dealing with horses, dogs and kids than with adults,
because with animals and kids what you see is what you get.
As I get older I find myself stopping more and looking at the view,
and looking at different things, whereas 20 year ago I would have thought,
so what? But when you have been into the centre of Birmingham or somewhere
like that, you really appreciate what you’ve got. There’s
no comparison between somewhere like that and here – none whatsoever.