Friday – Bromfield – A couple of miles north of Ludlow, Bromfield straddles the busy A49. The Clive Hotel, a row of delightful cottages and the modern Ludlow Food Centre lay on the eastern side of the road. A large concrete bridge crosses the River Onny with a path underneath which makes getting to the west side much easier. On this side is a small meadow full of daffodils separated from the river by a line of tall Poplars. A cottage nestles beyond the meadow, appropriately called The Poplars. Opposite is Bromfield Manor, a late 19th century house according to its English Heritage listing, looking rather older, formerly the Rectory. To the west of the cottage is the church of St Mary the Virgin. By the gate is a large slab of stone with a word and 1813, however, I cannot decipher the lichen covered letters. I am surprised to find the church locked. On the west side is what seems to be the wing of a house. This is the remains of a house built by Charles Foxe on the site of a dissolved priory. A college of secular canons was established here at a very early period, and was converted in the 12th century into a priory of the Benedictine order, subordinate to the abbey of Gloucester. At the end of the churchyard, by the road, is a large gatehouse, built in 1400 which once led to the priory. The timber-framed upper storey was added after dissolution. Still further on is a large barn, converted into accommodation. To the north, behind the manor house is Crawl Meadow and reeds can be seen indicating the edge of an old moat. Legend has it that a maid of Bromfield fell in love with a landless knight. Her father disapproved and stated she could have only the land in dowry that she could crawl over between sunrise and sunset. Dressed in leather to protect her skin she crawled for four miles. The moat surrounds an island which is believed to have contained a grange or farm connected to the priory. Some foundation stones were recorded in 1928, but the site is now thickly overgrown. The road continues to a fine two-arch bridge over the River Teme; the confluence of the Teme and Onny is a few hundred yards downstream. Just downstream is a large watermill, a corn mill abandoned but not a ruin. The English Heritage listing states the building is mid-19th century but it seems older. Between extensive work is being undertaken building large dykes and sluices. A planning notice states a building is to be erected to house a hydro-generator. Another building stands behind the new dyke. A 19th century picture shows this was also a watermill. A cottage in what looks like modern red brick but topped by tall 18th century chimneys stands facing the river and the church beyond. The road then passes a gate lodge, a building with a face above the windows facing the road and an odd semi-circular enclosure at the other end of the rectangular building, and enters Okeley Park. The road continues whilst a drive runs from the other side of the gatehouse and sweeps gently away to a large house. Okeley Park was in the hands of the Crown in mediaeval times and managed by the Croft Family of Croft Castle. In 1555, it is reported that George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury was “Keeper of Wigmore Park, & Master of the Game in Okeley Park, & Mocktre & Bringwood Chaces.” At this time, Okeley Park (or in various spellings of Oakly or Oakley) were leased to Charles Foxe. His daughter married Matthew Herbert and took the estates of Bromfield and Okeley Park with her. Their grandson Richard restored the church chancel and made to Lodge his main residence. His grandson, Henry was made Earl of Powis in 1748 and sold Okeley to Lord Clive who had returned from India. Capability Brown was consulted on the layout of the estate but it was William Eames who laid out the park. Clive committed suicide in 1774 and his widow lived at Okeley until her death in 1817. Their grandson Robert brought in Charles Cockerell to remodel the house and after his death in 1854 the house was mainly used as a dower house. The large redbrick building in the classical Georgian style remains in private ownership. Some ancient Oaks rise beside the road, their girth would put some in the 600 year old class. The field between the road and house contain sheep and lambs. The road continues. To the left, near the house, is a lake with diving Tufted Duck. Further on an old farmhouse stands down a lane. The old maps indicate this was the kennels. The road dips down into a little valley then rises to The Lodge. Across the fields, Titterstone Clee dominates the skyline. The track enters Prior Halton. The name “Halton” has an interesting derivation. The Oxford Dictionary of Place-names states that hal comes from the Old English halh and ton is from tun, a farm. It further states that in the South and Midlands, halh means “a corner, an angle, a hidden place, a cave etc.”, whilst in the North it means “a piece of flat alluvial land by a river”. The three hamlets of Prior Halton, Hill Halton and Lady Halton are all farms on an alluvial plain, so I assume it is actually the Northern usage that applies here. The hamlet of Prior Halton consists of a large farmhouse, another large house and a cottage with extensive farm buildings. There is a gateway through a building by the second house with a dragon plaque over a fine set of wooden doors with a weathervane atop. A Pied Wagtail calls from electricity wires. A track heads off towards Bringewood, but my path turns off it and travels round grain fields. Yellowhammers flit around the hedges, Skylarks sing high overhead and pheasants croak in the undergrowth around a little stream. The path reaches Hill Halton, a half-timbered house then on to Lady Halton, another large farm with old and newer workers’ cottages and houses. A road heads back towards Bromfield past Duchess Walk, a tree-lined ride. Ravens cronk overhead and a Common Buzzard quarters the fields and coppices. This road rejoins the road out of Bromfield and back to The Clive.
Sunday – Leominster – Yesterday morning I saw the first bat of the year flitting over the cider apple trees in the Millennium Park. This morning is quite cold so I imagine the little bat may be struggling to find many insects flying. The morning chorus is now in full flow. It is very loud around the Grange, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes dominating but contributions from Robins, Dunnocks, Blackcaps, Great and Blue Tits, Chiffchaffs and Wood Pigeons all add up to an impressive refrain. A Common Buzzard rises from the grass in the Millennium Park. Rabbits just sit in the open and watch it. They clearly know what is a threat and what is not, and Maddy is obviously the latter as they barely bother to watch her now, never mind run for their burrows. She, in turn, ignores them! A little later I head down to the market at Easters Market. A small black bird flies off the gravel spit in the River Lugg, just beyond the footbridge. It lands beneath the opposite bank and displays a white breast – a Dipper. It then whirrs off up stream.
Monday – Croft – A dull grey sky threatens more rain, although this will be welcome after the exceptionally dry month of March. Nearly every tree has at least swelling leaf buds now, many are unfurling into delicate and verdant leaves. Nuthatches are calling and running across branches in pairs. A woodpecker drums. Anemones, the Windflower, wave gently in the slightest of breezes. Up the path into Highwood Bank. Below swathes of yellow daffodils adorn the valley bottom. A pair of rasping Mistle thrushes fly over. Down to the path junction and up the valley below Bircher Common. A Chiffchaff bounces around the branches searching out insects. Even whilst singing, his eye is looking here and there for morsels. A Fallow stag with a fine spread of horns bounds across the path and up into Lyngham Vallet. Climb on up to Croft Ambrey. I sit on an Ash bough that almost touches the ground. The breeze is stiffening and when the winds rise the bough sways up and down gently. Fresh molehills dot the top of the fort. Down the hill again where large leaves are unfurling on the old Spanish Chestnuts. Some trees look entirely dead but most have at least a branch or two of new growth to greet the Spring. Common Buzzards float with apparently motionless wings. Various members of the plum family, damsons, Blackthorn and in our garden, the new plum, are in blossom. Near the castle, House Sparrows squabble in a bramble thicket. Just before Bircher a House Martin flies over the road.
Wednesday – Queenswood Country Park – Cherry trees are now in full blossom, great domes of pink or white blossom. Some Acers have tiny green leaves emerging on bright red branches. Magnolias are beginning to flower. Some varieties are in full bloom, but the huge pink variety are still like rose coloured cones and yet to unfurl. A delicate, almost lacy, pink variety seems to be fertilised by flies as there are plenty of them buzzing around the tree. It is sad that the white magnolias are pristine for such a short time before brown marks appear, defacing their glory. Blue Tits and a Chiffchaff flit around the trees below the viewpoint. Below, Primroses dot the cleared woodland. In the open woods and glades near the road, the grass is covered with white and pink Wood Anemones, custard yellow Primroses and delicate pale violet Cuckoo Flowers, one of the bittercress family. A couple of Cowslips have emerged.
Friday – Downton – Start out again from Burrington and climb the concrete road into the hills. The sky is cloudless and the sun already hot on my neck. The road banks rise high, green with Dog Mercury, patches of purple Violets, the occasional Cowslip and the furry green leaves of Mullein. Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs, tits and Blackbirds all combine to fill the air with song. The drone of farm machinery suddenly stops but the incessant baaing of sheep does not. A path drops steeply down to a valley carved by a small stream, Nunfield Gutter. A pair of Jays flap across to woods lining the stream. There are pheasants everywhere. A bridge crosses the stream which flows over steps of limestone, which in a valley cut this deep is probably part of the deeper Elton Beds rather than the Bringewood Beds. Up a field past a venerable Oak to a little ridge before down into another little dell. The tumbling notes of a Willow Warbler ring out from white-blossomed Blackthorn. A woodpecker drums in the distance and a Chiffchaff sings on and on. A Raven barks from the hillside ahead. I must move on, I am attracting flies! Across the vale out of which emerges a deep gully, evidently a spring now dry. There is a ridge or dyke across the meadow some 50 yards uphill. The 1926 OS map shows a track across this field and this must be the remains of it, now buried under grass. Now up into Burrington Hays. Fir trees were clearly growing here until relatively recently but now Ash, Beech and Limes have taken over. A photograph on the internet indicates that the felling was carried out in the winter of 2008/09. A Treecreeper scurries up the trunk of one of the larger trees. A Blackbird and Blackcap seem to be trying to out-sing each other. Spurges grow tall by the path, red stalks with swirls of dark green leaves and brilliant green flowers. An Orangetip flutters across the hillside. The first Bluebells are emerging, as are Red Campion and Wild Strawberry. From the wooded hillside the path emerges on a field. To the east lies the dark hills of Bringewood, the Saxon and Norman hunting forest now defiled with conifers. Behind is Wigmore beyond the wide plain of Wigmore Marsh. Up the field past some very new born lambs and through a gate. A track leads along the side of Downton Walks. Across the valley is Downton-on-the-Rock, then The Pools Farm, St Giles church and finally Downton Castle. The castle was designed and built by Richard Payne Knight, possibly with assistance from John Nash, in the 1770s. He was also responsible for landscaping the gardens. Humphrey Repton wrote, “When I compare the picturesque scenery of Downton Vale with the meager efforts of art which are attributed to the school of Brown, I cannot wonder at the enthusiastic abhorrence which the author of “The Landscape” expresses for modern gardening.” The footpath drops down to a track and then the arrow points across a field of sheep and lambs and an electric fence. I walk around the field but still have to unhook the battery to get Maddy through and reattach it again. This is repeated at the far end of the field where a wooden sign confirms the route. Here I can see there is a perfectly good alternative route, but the landowner could not be bothered to put up a sign to show it. The track leads down to Castle Bridge crossing the River Teme where it emerges from Downton Gorge. On the far side of the bridge is an abandoned cottage and upstream a ruined half-timbered mill. The leat to the water wheel is dry and full of dead leaves. It is marked on the 1904 OS map as a saw mill. In the cliffs beyond, at the end of the gorge, is a cave with a pair of entrances. These were “hermit caves”, part of Richard Payne Knight’s landscaping of the gorge in the 1780s. The track runs along beneath the slope to the castle. It drops back down to the river beside a lovely pair of cottages at Stoney Yeld. A Dipper whirrs off upstream. I decide this is far enough and turn back. By the electric fence is a post with a large spider sunning itself. I think it is a Walnut Orb-Weaver Spider (Nuctenea umbratica). At the top of the field with the electric fence are two old Oaks, and these are very old indeed, The trunks are massive, hollowed out remains, one is split into two sections, with fresh branches growing out of the ruins. These trees may well have been here as long ago as the Norman Conquest. Back up the slope and across the top of the ridge and back down Burrington Hays. As I cross the field with the old track something makes me look behind - a herd of Fallow Deer are running along the edge of the wood. They pause for a while then move towards Bringewood. Suddenly they break cover at the top of the field and charge across to the next copse. Over the hill a chap is making a new hedge and fence. He tells me there are 16 deer in the herd, but they are pretty much all that are left here. Apparently there was a call for a cull as some said there were too many deer, but it has been uncontrolled with no records have been kept as required and the chap believes far too many have been shot by all and sundry. Back across the bridge and field. A Brimstone butterfly flits along the edge of the trees lining Nunfield Gutter.
Monday – Croft – Arrival at Croft is greeted by a yaffling Green Woodpecker, piping Nuthatch and singing Blackbird. Down to the Fish Pool Valley and down towards the last pool. Blackcaps are in full flow, woodpeckers drumming, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Dunnocks and Robins singing and a Raven barking. It is good to see the estate are clearing out some of the Rhododendrons, they may be beautiful in flower but can overwhelm a wood. Down by the pool Bluebells are emerging. Wild Arums are “flowering”, a hooded spike which gave them the name “Lords and Ladies”. Chiffchaffs call overhead. It looks like the Ash has beaten the Oak into leaf – Ash before the Oak, In for a soak, as the rhyme tells. Out of the woods and onto Bircher Common. Skylarks are singing high overhead. It is clouding over and there is a breeze blowing but it is still warm. A Willow Warbler sings above the valley down to Lyngham Vallet. A Common Buzzard quarters the valley, dropping down into it. At the top of the common a woodpecker has found a particularly good branch to drum, it resonates hollowly and loudly. Along the top of Leinthall Common and on under Croft Ambrey. This is the first time I have taken this path rather than go up onto the hillfort. The steepness of the hillside is more apparent here. Old Hornbeams line the path, were they specially planted along here? There seem to be old overgrown tracks along the hillside just below the fort. Are they tracks, terraces or ramparts? It has been suggested in research (Analysis Of Earthworks At Croft Ambrey by David Field and Nicky Smith for English Heritage) that these terraces may have contained buildings. The path turns south at a point where some pines look over Yatton Common. The common falls away to the hamlet of Yatton far below. To the west the hills rise, all covered with conifers. The pyramidal dome of Pyon Wood with its hillfort can be seen from here to occupy an important position. The River Lugg runs through a gap in the hills to the west then runs south through a gap at Aymestrey. This is the line of the important Roman road from Branogenivm (Leintwardine) to Magnis (Kenchester). This gap was significant before this as a cist burial from the Early Bronze Age (2400 BCE to 1601 BCE) was found in 1987.
Thursday – Westonbirt Arboretum – Westonbirt is a few miles south of Stroud in Gloucestershire. The Holdford family owned the estate from 1665 until 1826. A manor house built in the Elizabethan era was firstly replaced with a Georgian house then the present house was designed by Lewis Vulliamy and built between 1863 and 1870 by Robert Stayner Holford. The house is now Westonbirt School. Robert and his son, Sir George Lindsay Holdford founded an arboretum on common downland. The house was sold in 1928 and the arboretum was given to the nation in 1956 and is now managed by the Forestry Commission. The visitor’s centre is very busy, the schools having broken up for Easter; there are probably more Oscars, Olivers and Charlies per square foot than anywhere else in England! But away from the centre, the main woodland, Silk Wood, is quiet and peaceful. There are numerous specimen trees, many in flower. A long track called “Waste Drive”, a name derived from when the track was used by villagers to reach the common, or waste, north of the wood. A notice board tells that May blossom traditionally heralds the start of summer. The old rhyme, “Gathering Nuts in May”, is believed to refer not to “nuts” but “knots” or bunches of May blossom. Another board refers to a Lucombe Oak, a cross of Cork and Turkey Oaks. Its name commemorates Mr Lucombe who first raised it in 1762. He decided to use the original tree to make his coffin, but having lived to 102 years of age, when he eventually died it was found the planks had rotted and an alternative had to be used. Deep in the wood is a Lime tree that is large number of separate stools that have been coppiced for centuries. The stems all have developed from a single tree that is probably at least 2000 years old. Nearby is a stunning collection of Acers – every shade of red seems to be present. We have lunch at the centre then head into old Arboretum which has a wonderful collection of rhododendrons. One can keep trying to think of more superlative to describe these beautiful flowers but it seems the next tree is even better. Over recent years, both here and in other collections such as Stainborough Castle in Barnsley, plant experts have realised that there are a number of very rare and often now unique cultivars that are becoming very old, so efforts are being made to propagate from them.
Friday – Humber – The first of my two BTO Breeding Bird Surveys for the year. This patch is hardly the best, mainly because it is not possibly to get two transepts across it, just a single footpath crosses the kilometre square from corner to corner. It is very overcast, slightly misty and begins to rain. The footpath is fairly typical for the areas to the east of Leominster – underused and overgrown, locked gates, crops sown straight across it and generally difficult. Birds are few and far between, but if that is what is to be found, so be it.
Eaton Hill – Down to the River Lugg and onto the Lammas Meadows which lay to the south-west of the river. It is not the most picturesque of meadows but is a very important part of the history of Leominster. Dr. Anthea Brian defines such a meadow as: “a Meadow called the Common or Lammas Meadow where the hay needed to feed the p1ough oxen and other stock through the winter was grown: Farms which had Commoners’ rights on the Lammas Meadow grazed their animals there from Lammas Day (1st August) to Candlemas (2nd February); then the animals had to be taken elsewhere to allow the hay crop to be grown”. The meadow is up for auction and there is concern that a developer may take an interest in it. Unfortunately, it seems that the local morons have already taken an interest and dumped a large pile of rubbish near the entrance from the by-pass. I backtrack and cross the river. A Dipper is on the gravel spit. I wander under the by-pass. The Butterburs along the edge of the banks are in flower. Singing Blackcaps are in their territories all along the banks of the river. I head up the meadow towards the old drovers’ steps. It is now called “Widgeon Meadow” and there is a row of purple topped stakes across it, for what purpose I know not. The field on Eaton Hill is still covered in rows of maize stumps, but someone has cleaned up the footpath and put in a new post and direction arrow. Down the track off the hill. Blue or purple flowers dominate the edges of the track, Bluebells, Common Vetch and carpets of Ground Ivy. There is a real cacophony of bird song which takes some sorting out, but I can clearly discern Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Song Thrush but there may be others.
Sunday – Leominster – Some new trees have been planted in the meadow area of Millennium Park in conjunction with the BBC Countryfile programme. The trees are a mixture of apples, Herefordshire Russet and Christmas Pippin; medlar; plum and damson, Shropshire Prune. The older trees are in full blossom now apart from Dabinette, which looks like it will be at least another week.
Home – The drought continues. Last week’s rain amounted to nothing and the ground remains bone dry. There has been no appreciable rainfall since February. We are now using the last butt of water, over 600 litres have gone. Yesterday I emptied Friday night’s bath water onto the potato patch. The leaves are just beginning to show. Parsnips have sprouted and there are the beginnings of carrots but these will need constant watering to come to anything. The broad beans have flower buds but the plants are less than a foot high. Peas are climbing the sticks. I sow some courgettes and squash. Indoors, tomatoes and cucumbers are doing well on the bathroom window ledge. There is blossom on both of the new apples. The Bramley that overhangs our wall is covered in blossom but we have proved that the Howgate Wonder is biennial as there is no sign of blossom this year. It cropped well last year but nothing the previous. The gooseberry bushes are covered with tiny berries so assuming we can keep the birds off it looks like a good crop this year.
Monday – Croft – Ludford Bridge is open again after frost damage caused part of the stonework to fall off. However, the road to Ludlow is closed before the Black Pool car park by a traffic accident. So I have to turn around and head for Croft instead of the planned visit to the Mortimer Forest. Bird song fills the woods. It is bright sunshine again – the forecast offers no hope of rain to quench the parched earth. Woodpeckers drum, Ravens and Pheasants croak. Great cello heads of ferns unfurl. Fresh leaves turn the skeletal trees back to emerald clouds. High pitched squeaks mark the passing of Goldcrests. Wrens tick angrily as we pass. A Garden Warbler sings lustily from inside Honeysuckle thicket. A constant hum of bees underlays the birdsong. The hills are hidden from view on Croft Ambrey by mist. Numerous Willow Warblers are singing on Leinthall Common. Sheep are laying in the shade of an Oak on the main southern rampart of the fort. Butterflies flit across the glades, Speckled Wood, Peacock and an unidentified white.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – Another glorious sunny day, indeed it seems to be so heretical to be wishing for rain, but everything is bone-dry. Maddy chases her ball across the car park, skids and turns, sending up a large cloud of dust. Blackcaps are singing all over. A Dutch Elm is covered in flowers, little oval disks with a red spot. The orchard is coming into blossom. With so many different cultivars, it is hardly surprising that some of the trees are a mass of pink or white flowers whilst others have hardly started to shake off their winter starkness. We head round to the river. A Sedge Warbler scratches out its song, only the second I have heard this year, the first being on the same river far upstream in Leominster on Sunday. The river is low and gin clear. We return through the churchyard and quiet village.
Easter Sunday – Nunney – The morning is fresh following a thunderstorm and brief downpour yesterday evening. We need much more rain but every little bit helps. We drive down to Somerset in time for the traditional Easter Bonnet competition which is as busy as usual. Jemima enters one of her rats into the pet section. She does not win but certainly generates the most conversation. The Duck Race is one of the slowest for some years. Apparently the sluice gates have been opened at the quarry but it appears to have made little difference. Several people follow the ducks stirring up the water to move them along. Eventually they reach the finish line and a winner is announced – not me of course. There is a family of Mallard ducklings on the other side the net. We spend the afternoon in the garden surrounded by blossoms. There are a pair of Silkie bantams in a run now. The white cockerel has an extremely loud crow, which quickly palls. We take the dogs up the field at dusk. The hedge around the sheep pasture has grown considerably. A satellite glides across a darkening sky.
Bank Holiday Monday – Asham Wood – Peter and I with the dogs drive up past Westdown Quarry and down into Dead Woman’s Bottom. Along through Bull’s Green and park near Asham House. Garden Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Goldfinches, Bullfinches, all within a few feet as we pass under the road and follow a track between fields and then into Shearmoor Wood. The ground is carpeted with Wild Garlic, delicate white flowers rising from the strong smelling leaves. The bank on the other edge of the track has a wonderful medley of spring flowers – Yellow Archangel, Red Campion, Primroses, Anemones, Bluebells, Stitchwort and Cow Parsley. We drop down into the wood; an ancient woodland of coppicing but probably not touched for several decades. Several huge old Beeches stand, the soil beneath them bare apart from clusters of Bluebells at their feet. Down towards the stream which runs along the bottom of the valley. Sadly the area has been viciously disfigured by 4x4 drivers who for some unfathomable reason, find pleasure in churning up the delicate woodland infrastructure. Up the other side of the valley, past a couple of Early Purple Orchids, to a old, overgrown path which runs along the side of the valley. Some of the trees have huge, moss covered boles, sometimes hollow. We note that ferns growing on the branches are looking limp and distressed, signs even here in this damp woodland glade that the drought is having an effect. We climb back up to the fields. A large pond lies behind thickets of brambles. It is almost dry, the sluice gate and overflow channel are several feet above the grass which covers the bed of the pond. Yellow Flag are growing, again high and dry. A Mallard sits in a tiny patch of muddy water. A Garden Warbler is sitting at the end of a branch above our heads, singing loudly. On the way back to Nunney we notice several Oak trees with close to full canopies of leaf, whilst the Ash have yet to burst a bud. Here, at least, it seems a splash rather than a soak as foretold in the old rhyme.
Nunney – Plans to go to the Daffodil Fair at Mells are abruptly halted when Jo twists her ankle badly. Peter takes her to the local hospital but they are unable to X-ray it before tomorrow morning, so we do not know if it is broken or bad ligament damage. Either way she can barely walk so we decide on a lazy afternoon in the garden. Peter barbecues some chicken, maybe a bit insensitively doing it a few feet away from the bantams, and serves it with sauces from the Canaries and salads. In the evening we walk the dogs up the field. The International Space Station glides over, brilliantly shining in the crepuscular light. Back in the garden the stars slowly turn on as the light fades. There is less light pollution here than at home but it takes an age to get dark. No planets are visible but there is a constant stream of satellites and rocket parts passing over. Several Cosmos rockets and a satellite pass within a minute of each other. Most are in polar orbit, travelling south to north.
Saturday – High Offley – Camping at the Anchor at High Offley. The night is windy and cold but I do not emerge until after 6:30 in the morning. Maddy has spent the night in the car and is pleased to set off round the lanes. In these days of industrial farming it is pleasing to note how many working farms there are in this relatively small area. We set off down Pegg Lane, past Old Lea. Right into another lane and past Leawood Farm and then Oldershaws. On to Grub Street which heads back up towards High Offley. A short distance and there is the bridge over the Shropshire Union Canal. Down to the tow-path and back to the Anchor. “Second Venture”, Dave and Joy, Brigid and Ken’s canal boat is here. They brought it down in relays from Yorkshire in the past few weeks. Late morning we take a short trip to Norbury Junction. We stop briefly as there is an electrical problem which is partially solved. However, the fridge will still not work (major issue, no ice for gin and tonics!) So it is decided to see if there is an engineer available at the Norbury Junction workshops. The journey is very pleasant through wooded slopes. Garden Warblers, Blackcaps, Chaffinches, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds sing from the dense green canopy. Mallard swim alongside. A Moorhen slips into overhanging brambles and foliage and manages to completely vanish. Norbury Junction is crowded. Fortunately we find a berth quite easily just a short way up the canal. The chandlery is a fascinating combination of café, tourist tat and serious boat engineering stock. It transpires an engineer can look at the electrics in an hour or so. We retreat to the pub. There is a narrow boat festival taking place with a line of boats selling merchandise from t-shirts to cheese. Whilst we sup ale (I enjoy Banks’s Mild) a young couple try to turn their boat in the dock. It is proving extremely difficult as there is a strong, gusting wind. Advice from the dockside probably is not helping. Eventually, the senior man from the British Waterways workshop goes on board and gets them turned around. We have this fun to come! Whitethroats are singing in the brambles on the opposite bank. We dine on Ginger and Coconut Soup (Brigid) and Curried Vegetable Pasties (me). The engineer arrives and after quite some time it is decided that one of the batteries is on its way out, the inverter is working perfectly but some reconfiguration of the circuits would be helpful. However, none of this solves the problem of the fridge - maybe it needs pure sine wave A.C. and not the semi-sine wave output of the inverter. So now the boat is taken into the junction to turn round. In the event Dave and Ken manage it with aplomb and we are ready to head back to the Anchor after waiting for Ken to hand over large amounts of cash for the engineer’s services and the new battery. On the way back we pass the clearing where there is still a white Rolls Royce and a line of rather sad decaying canal boats. A Common Buzzard drifts over. Back at the camp site where Dave and Annie have arrived. We sit around with wine and cider (well, I drink my lethal home-made cider, the less brave are drinking alcoholic ginger beer). Off to the boat in procession bearing pots of curry. Dave had a monster chicken curry in the oven. Even after seconds we seem to have barely made a dent in it. Likewise with a huge spiced potato dish from Annie. The night is blustery. I pop out in the early hours for a natural break. A shooting star zips brightly, explodes and vanishes in an instant.