A Night in the Snow - The Legend of Reverend Carr

Back in Victorian times there was a Rector who lived in a large vicarage on the northern foothills of The Long Mynd in the village of Woolstaston. Every Sunday he gave a morning service at the pretty little church in his grounds. He would then have lunch before setting out over the hills (usually on horseback) to give an afternoon service on the other side of the hills at another church about four miles away in Ratlinghope.

He continued doing this for nearly ten years without once missing a service despite having to often cross over the hills in the worst of winter weathers when he would have to travel on foot. Cold ice, thick snow, dense fog - he was never put off, he never got lost. He had to travel over the highest parts of the hill where there were no footpaths or any landmarks such as rocks or trees to mark his way, for the top of The Long Mynd is a broad expanse of heather. There are no houses on this plateau, no one lives there....except the ground nesting birds such as red grouse, meadow pippit, wheatear and skylark. Sometimes you might be lucky enough to see a kestrel or buzzard, but you can walk amongst the heather for up to ten miles (if you go from one end of the hills to the other) and just have a few sheep or rabbits for company.

The views from the top of the hills are really quite splendid on a clear sunny day and often the Reverend Carr really enjoyed the exercise in the fresh air. But because the hills are high it can often be cold and misty and on one particular winter's day in 1865 it was covered in a deep carpet of snow. In fact the snow had been falling all week and it was said to be the worst snowfall there had been for at least fifty years. Well Reverend Carr thought that this really could turn out to be one occasion when he might not get to see his parishioners in Ratlinghope. He did however feel he at least should make the effort and not spoil his record. He got his servant to saddle a couple of horses and they both started out together fairly soon after his morning service in Woolstaston (previously named Wulverstanton owing to the number of wild wolves thereabouts, for it really was a rough and wild area of Shropshire countryside!). He set off without having much lunch for he knew his journey would take him longer than usual. He also decided only to wear a light coat as he felt he would actually have to work quite hard to struggle through the snow. In fact it was only after half a mile that he decided to send the servant back home with the horses and continue alone on foot. The horses could no longer cope with the great depths of some of the drifts.

The vicar struggled on and it really was a struggle as the snow was up to his thighs and it is a great effort pulling out one leg up over the snow and pushing down before you can lift out your other leg. There were places in fact where the snow lay so soft but deep that he had to crawl over it on hands and knees. He was not daunted by this however because he had been on holidays to the Alps where he had similar encounters. What did amaze him however was the brilliance of the snow when he eventually reached the top of the slope. The reflection of the sunlight on the snow was actually painful to his eyes.

He struggled on, at times having to peel off great lumps of ice that had built up on his knees and coat cuffs. It was quite an exhausting four miles but he eventually reached the little parish church of Ratlinghope by half past three in time for the afternoon service. Needless to say the few parishioners who had braved the weather were surprised to see he had turned up and after a short service they begged him not to return over the hill to Woolstaston but to stay over in their village. However he felt he had managed to get there without too great a problem and was desirous on giving his evening service back at Woolstaston Hall (as the Woolstaston church was being renovated and with the roof off - full of snow!).

Thus he started back up the hill to cross the plateau. Picture his consternation when as he ventured over the brow he was swept off his feet, for an incredibly ferocious storm had whipped up whilst he took his service! Despite having encountered many gales in his life he had never come into anything like this before. Again and again he was blown down and the force of the icy sleet was so painful to his face that he could only look down. He pressed on and pushed himself forwards without losing his way - well not until he had nearly finished crossing the hill when having picked himself up from one of his falls the wind slightly changed direction. He was in fact steering himself by the feel of the wind on his cheek. He was just wondering why there began to be an unfamiliar slope to the ground when he suddenly found himself sliding on his back down the side of the Long Batch at a terrific speed. He thrust out with his walking stick to check his fall only to have it snatched from his grasp and find he was now careering downhill headfirst at great velocity. His whole life appeared before him as he now felt he was to be dashed to death on the rocks below. He had enough presence of mind to bring his knees up sharply and dig in his heels into the snow with all his might. This indeed brought him to a standstill.

He now found himself precariously positioned upside down nearly hanging over the edge of a crag. With very great care and with great relief he worked himself round until he could crawl and make it down to the base of the hill. There his troubles worsened as he now found himself in a drift of twenty or more feet in depth. How he scratched, scraped and struggled to climb out of such a drift of snow! But get out he eventually did. And how tired he now was. How hungry too. And how lost! For night had now begun to come on and he had no idea where he was.

He climbed the next hillside only to encounter the same disastrous event as previously but this time sliding down the hillside sideways, feet first then headfirst at a greater speed than before. On his travels down he lost his hat and gloves and his coat became undone. This was now very serious for without his gloves his hands became so cold he got frostbite, he was therefore unable to do up his coat which in any case was a lightweight one. His head suffered too, for without his hat he found that when he kept getting into drifts and scratching his way out his hair got hot and melted the snow and on reappearing into the bitterly cold night air it froze into a solid block of ice. He tried to fasten his silk handkerchief over his head but found his fingers unable to make a knot so for a while managed to hold its corners in his mouth. Hour after hour he walked on taking many falls and becoming embedded in many drifts.

Even the coming of daylight was of little use, for a heavy fog clung to the hills preventing him from recognising the form of the land and thus where he might be. Worse than that was the discovery, when trying to look at his watch, that he was snow-blind. He could not tell a rock from a dead sheep - his sense of touch was of course also no use!

The one sense he could, and did, put to good use though was his hearing. On recognising the sound of running water he attempted to follow a stream downhill. He was at this time actually following the stream above Light Spout Hollow and it was his acute hearing that only just saved him from walking over the edge of the waterfall when he heard a change in the sound.

It was now the afternoon of the following day and he was near complete exhaustion for although he thought he was following alongside the stream he was actually encircling the waterfall. Perhaps seven or eight times he climbed up one side and then down the other and worse than that perhaps the most unbelievable event now happened - he lost his boots! With pulling his feet out of the snow for so many hours the laces and the leather must have stretched to allow his foot to pull out of the boot as he ascended the waterfall. First one then the other came off. He attempted to carry them but in his tiredness dropped them. Though would you believe it! They were found by those who later traced his journey and are now in the hands of Shropshire Museums Service.

In nearly his last efforts whilst struggling in a drift that was up to his shoulders he heard the joyful cries of children playing in the snow in Carding Mill Valley. He called to them for help and what happened do you think? They all ran for cover. All they could see was a head poking out of the snow with a block of ice on it. They thought a bogey man had risen from underground to get them.

One brave girl ventured out from behind a tree to take a closer look and recognised Reverend Carr. He was saved. The children helped him out of the snow and led him down to a cottage near the Carding Mill where the adults gave him a hat and boots then helped him into Church Stretton where he was tended by a doctor and taken home. Eventually after much rest he made a full recovery.

It is incredible to think that anyone could have survived the sort of ordeal that he went through for twenty-two hours in the sort of conditions he had to endure. His will to struggle on for so long, he says, came from thinking of the despair that his loved ones would have felt should they have found he had perished in that incredible snowstorm! Whatever difficulties you might encounter in life, remember ...... don't give up ...... have faith in yourself ...... and struggle on!

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