Friday – Hereford – Grey skies form an unrelenting gloom as the air is wet but not quite raining. Not surprisingly the station at Leominster is fairly quiet although it sounds like there is plenty of traffic on the bypass. Great Tits call there two tone refrain in the trees behind the station. The old GWR signal arm drops indicating the train is imminent. Canada and Greylag Geese are on a field south of Dinmore Hill. A little further on is a herd of at least thirty Mute Swans on another field. In Hereford, off down Commercial Street to Commercial Square, although this is just a junction of Commercial Road, Blue School Street and Union Street. A large double-fronted house stands just beyond the junction down Union Street. This is the Old Dispensary, built by Lewis Powell and Thomas Davis 1880-1 in a sort of faux renaissance style. It is built in the beautiful, dark but very crumbly Beerstone from Beer in Devon. The street curves gently to the south mainly late Georgian and Victorian houses, now all shops, to the north the backs of modern stores on the pedestrian precinct to High Town. Gaol Street lays off Union Street with a modern police station and an imposing stone former prison. This building was originally the City Gaol and Police Station. Hereford City Council purchased the site in 1838 for £550. Work began on the 9th November 1841 and the architects were Trehearne and Duckham. It took three years to complete the building of the gaol. It was used until about 1877 when the County Gaol built by John Nash before his success with Brighton Pavilion was used. A pub on the corner is hard to date. Next to it is a substantial stone building that was the police station and then the Probation Service and then the Corinthian columns of the old Shire Hall. St Peter’s Church is locked, on Good Friday? Off down Offa Street. The Street is taken up on one side by a mixed age building now all solicitors. On the corner with East Street (formally “Behind-the-Walls Street”) is an imposing 19th century red brick house occupied by the Hereford Cattle Society and a number of other businesses. Across East Street into St Johns Street. A mediaeval wall runs nearly the full length of the street. A number of mediaeval houses and a 17th century barn, now a residence, are in the street. Harley House on corner was built in 1739 around a 16th century core. It was the home of Henry Graves Bull MD,1818-1885, a naturalist and one of the founders of the Woolhope Club. His best known publications are “The Herefordshire Pomona” (1884) and “Notes on the Birds of Herefordshire” (1888). On the opposite corner is the cathedral tithe barn and Cathedral Green.
Past the cathedral school and into Quay Street which would have abutted the Norman castle, and then on to Castle Green. Castle Cliffe, formerly Brideswell, now a self-catering holiday let, was the mediaeval water gate. The pavilion attached is being restored by the Friends of Castle Green for community use. A Twelve-spot Ladybird is floundering in a puddle in the middle of the path and refuses my help in going in the right direction. Eventually I manage to get it into a piece of paper and safely onto a leaf in the nearby hedge. Nelson’s Column with its attendant cannons stand in the centre of the green. Next to it is a bowling green and club house. Victoria Bridge crosses the River Wye. Past The Lodge and into Wye Way where the extensive former General Hospital buildings are now apartments. A huge metal statue of Wyverns stands in front of the buildings. Back into Nelson Street where there are terraces of large house dating from the last 19th century. Wolsley Villa has a plaque dating it to 1882. This road leads into Green Street and the suburb of Bartonsham. The terraces are of smaller dwellings, Bagley Place is dated 1863. The church of St James is about to show a film, so looking around is not practical. It was built in 1868 and rebuilt in 1903. Behind the church is a school. In Vicarage Road, Hayes Almshouses is a terrace of cottages of Arts and Craft design built in the 20th century.. At the bottom of the road is Rose Cottage dated 1860 and then open fields. A lane leads round to Bartonsham Farm whose dairy supplies milk to the area, including our local shop in Leominster. A path runs along the edge of the fields beside an earthen bank variously known as Row/Rowe/Bartonsham Ditch. It has been said to have been constructed by the Scots Army in 1645, however, the Ditch is mentioned in records of the time of Edward I and Henry VIII, called Rough Ditch and Rowe Ditch. This Rowe Ditch is actually a course of Offa’s Dike. It continues a few yards beyond the eastern end into Eign Road after crossing the brook as a well formed bank, then onto Mordiford and Checkley. The walls of the gardens of the houses in Park Street are built upon it. Some of the houses have iron ladders, certainly custom, blacksmith made, to give access over their wall. The path emerges onto Crozen Lane which in town enters Park Street.
A short distance takes me into Eign Road, the main route from the Fownhope area into the city. I am plodding even more slowly now as my errant heel is still giving me gyp. Off along Clive Street and into streets of 19th century terraces for the middle classes of that era. Clive Street had been built over a twenty year period from the 1870s. Portfield Street was built over an even longer period, thirty years up to the end of the 19th century. This joins the main A438 road to Ledbury. A large house, now a children’s centre, is hidden behind trees alongside Templars Lane. On the sharp bend towards the city are St Owens Almshouses erected and endowed by the Hereford Municipal Charities in 1931. The road is now St Owen Street. St Giles Hospital, now a row of cottages, founded in 1290 by the Knights Templars and granted to the city by Richard II in 1392. It was rebuilt in 1720 under the auspices of Josias Clerks Esq, Custos. Next to it are Williams Almshouses, founded in 1601 by Richard Williams, an attendant of Lord Cobhans, renovated in 1675, rebuilt in 1728 and again in 1893. They provided dwellings for six elderly men. Next to these is St Giles Chapel. Originally standing on the corner of St Owen Road and Ledbury road, the chapel was built on the site of a 12th century circular chapel, the footings of which were discovered in 1927 when the chapel was demolished for road widened and rebuilt on it present site. A plaque records Ricadus (Richard) Cox as the original builder in 1682. The fire station is opposite The Victory pub we visited on our first start in the city. The Spinning Dog brewery at the pub is now more prosaically, Hereford Brewery. The city centre is busy and most shops are open. It is hard to see this as anything other than a normal day. On the return journey to Leominster, I notice the herd of Mute Swans is even larger than I had originally thought.
Saturday – Leominster – The opening of the museum for the new season takes place. We contrive to miss the mayor’s speech but do see the Leominster Morris and the women of Jenny Pipe’s Morris perform outside the building. Back home, a Coal Tit has found some of Maddy’s hair which had been sitting on a flower pot and takes seemingly forever to pull out the bits it wants before flying off. We ought to be doing some gardening but the wind and damp make it quite unpleasant.
Easter Sunday – Nunney – The weather is surprisingly promising for a Bank Holiday weekend. However, it has clouded over now. We go down to the Easter Bonnet and Duck Race. The Nunney Brook is flowing faster than in recent years so the Duck Race actually finishes in a reasonable time and Peter’s duck comes in third. Back at Apple Tree Cottage the bantams are crowing loudly, apparently one is laying. A little later we find a couple of eggs under a hedge.
Easter Monday – Nunney – It is a glorious morning, clear blue skies and blazing sunshine. Up to the Rack Field which is grass this year. Zebedee, the Springer Spaniel, rushes through the dew sodden sward getting his head soaked. The sheep are calling loudly so we get some feed out of the shed and Peter pours it into the trough. The sheep are small cross-breeds but still hefty enough to barge him out of the way to get to their breakfast. The rookeries that used to be along the edge is the fields and across the far side of Nunney Brook have all gone, who knows where? Back at the cottage, the garden is surrounded by birds. Jackdaws are everywhere, a pair are in the tall leylandii in the garden. Wood Pigeons coo, a Common Pheasant croaks from the fields, Great Tits call, Dunnocks and Robins sing and there is a rookery somewhere in the direction of the castle. I comment that there ought to be Chiffchaffs and one starts calling a few minutes later. Ravens fly over; a Greenfinch wheezes then flies into an evergreen at the edge of the garden; a Long-tailed Tit crosses the end of the garden; a Chaffinch calls; there is a burst of Wren’s song; a Red-legged Partridge flies low across the garden and a pair of Common Buzzards circle the old quarry. A rat suddenly pops out of the chicken run. We take a few pot shots with the air rifle, but miss, so Peter puts down a couple of traps. Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies visit the garden.
Mells – The queue of cars waiting to enter the village for the Daffodil Fair stretches for nearly a mile, but we get there. Brimstone butterflies, bright yellow jewels of early spring, flutter by. There are even more than ever standing engines chugging away. Someone has a large display of spark plugs. We watch the ferret racing, a strange event to say the least. Peter buys three tickets for a race of four ferrets, guess which one wins.... Through the churchyard to Selwood Street. Less stalls here than in the past but they stretch a long way up the road. Everything from “antiques” to plants to soap, pork pies, doggie treats, tools, chili sauces, cider and much more. Up by the junction of Gay Street, there is an area under some trees carpeted with Wild Garlic. Back down towards the War Memorial there are more stalls and I get a decent point of cider. We wander around to get back to the main field. There appears to be some sort of egg throwing contest, one youngster throws the egg across the field and another catches it with inevitable results. Kay gets a beer from the beer tent, it takes forever as the staff have no idea how to work a busy bar. I find a pretty decent pasty and life seems pretty satisfactory!
Nunney – A flock of corvids rises high above the castle. One of the rat traps has been successful. The bantams are wandering around the garden clucking contentedly. One is a fluffy pale ginger colour and as long as I can remember it has a habit of twisting its neck so its head is almost upsidedown and walking backwards. Apparently this is not an unknown syndrome but usually the poor creatures do not last long but this one has been going on for years. Peter rakes up dead twigs and grass from the lawn and flower beds. Soon as his back is turned the bantams move in and start scratching through it, scattering it all again. Helpfully, we laugh. The Red Peking is in a corner under a shrub where they have made a little nest. She takes great exception to being removed from this little nest as other hens wish to use it. She struts around the garden squawking loudly until a large iridescent black bantam tells it to shut up in no uncertain terms. Up to the sheep pasture. One of the pregnant ewes has dropped her first lamb – Peter is sure another is on the way. It is not the ewe he was certain was about to give birth. He has to manhandle another into a trailer, it is off to the slaughterhouse, such comings and goings; hatchings and despatchings!
Wednesday – Wolverhampton – King Ethelred II granted extensive lands around Heantun to the Lady Wulfren in 985CE. A church was granted a charter in 994CE and the area was known as Wulfrūnehēantūn meaning “Wulfrūne’s principal farmstead”. An alternative version states the person was Wulfhere, a Mercian king who was supposed to have founded an abbey here in 659CE, although no evidence has ever been found of this abbey. I am staying in Tettenhall Road. I set off along Tettenhall Road. Terraces of Victorian three storey homes are mixed with both older and newer properties. Many are divided into flats. As the road approaches the city centre the terraces have classic Victorian names – Peel Place, Lansdowne Terrace, Blenheim Terrace, Osborne Terrace and Palmerston Place. The last house has a blue plaque to John Fraser 1820-1909, geologist and botanist. At the major road junction, Chapel Ash, Banks’s Brewery can be seen down Bath Street. The Clarendon Hotel sits on the corner of Brewery Road, up which is the brewery and a splendid little terrace of Victorian senior workers cottages in cream brick. On the other side of Tettenhall Road, a fine house, now Barclays Bank offices is almost hidden behind the hideous modern bank building. Across large ring roads to the market. It is quiet with many empty units but a fine range of Asian and West Indian specialities, butchers selling goat and mutton, two meats I seldom see and two fish stalls. Out into the shopping area and the first things I see are a betting shop and Cash Converters; a modern pawn shop and a way to lose the money again. Into Victoria Street. A 16th century timber framed house looks a little incongruous among the 20th century stores. The Giffard Arms, a building that is difficult to age has a plaque dated 1929! (Indeed the pub was built in 1922 by Birmingham architect J.A. Swann.) Beatties is a large department store in a fabulous Art Deco building. In 1877, Beatties grew from a small family drapers in Wolverhampton to a chain of twelve department stores across the West Midlands. They are now part of the House of Fraser Group. A small clock tower its on a traffic island, erected by James Beattie PLC in 1993.
Along the road to St Peter’s Church. As stated above, the original church was built under a charter from Lady Wulfrun. The church was served by a collage of secular canons and had the status of a Royal Free chapel acknowledging the authority of only the king and pope. After the Conquest the church was granted to King William’s chaplain, Sampson of Bayeux, later Bishop of Worcester. The collegiate status was re-established in 1205. The church was rebuilt in the mid to late 15th century. In 1479 Edward IV united the deaneries of Wolverhampton and Windsor. The college was again dissolved by Cromwell and restored again in 1660. This status was finally ended in 1846 when the deanery was suppressed and St Peter’s came under the authority of the Bishop of Lichfield. Inside, the Lady Chapel was built around 1350. It is partly enclosed by a 15th century carved screen. The altar is Jacobean, consecrated in 1635 when Archbishop Laud visited. The dedication was controversial as there was much High Church ceremony, favoured by the dean, Christopher Wren father of the architect and not by the puritan prebendaries. An alabaster tomb is of John Leveson and his wife Joyce. The nave is large with a pulpit of 1450 with an ancient stone staircase round the pillar, unique in England. The organ pipes occupy the place of the rood loft which was removed in 1572.The north transept is now the War Memorial Chapel. It was built around the early 16th century. The tomb of Thomas Lane and his wife Catherine is I the corner. A monument commemorates Colonel John Lane of Bentley, who ensured King Charles II was able to escape after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. After the Restoration, Lane as granted the right to use the lions of England on his coat of arms. The monument also depicts an Oak tree signifying the tree in which Charles was concealed at Boscobel. It is believed the monument is the work of Jasper Latham as it is very similar to one at Silkstone in South Yorkshire. The chancel was built in 1865, the original being in a ruinous state and replaced in 1682 by a very plain one. A pair of wall painting from 1865 depicting Moses and Elijah are all that remain of a complete set. Outside is a tall Anglo Saxon column reputedly a preaching cross. However I talk to a woman who studies this period. She is awaiting an expert from Keele who is going to examine the sandstone from which the column is carved. It is clearly nothing like the Old Red Sandstone from which the church is built and she believes it is possibly a Roman column from Viroconium, Wroxeter, made of sandstone from The Wrekin. Another strange object nearby is the Bargain Stone, a large rock with a hole in it. It is said that when deals were made in the mediaeval period, many could not read or write so the deal was confirmed by shaking hands through the hole in this rock.
The Art Gallery has an exhibition of art connected to the space race. Into The Posada, a splendid old pub of late Victorian décor, built in 1886 on the site of its predecessor, the Noah’s Ark; with a faÏence frontage dates from a remodelling of 1900 by local architect Fred T. Beck, and a good range of real ales, although oddly my pint comes in an Edinburgh Fringe glass. The original Methodist chapel was behind this pub. Wander on through a typical city centre. There are a decent number of buildings from the late Victorian and Edwardian period when both commercial and civil pride built big, as industry moved from the traditional woollen trade into mining (mostly coal, limestone and iron ore) as well as production of steel, japanning, locks, motorcycles and cars. Then back around St Peter’s and past a vast modern monstrosity of Civic Centre. Memories of the woollen trade are recalled by the number of streets referred to as “Fold”. Giffard House, built in 1727-29 in the name of a prominent local Catholic Peter Giffard, architect Francis Smith of Warwick, contains the earliest remaining post-Reformation public urban chapel for Catholics, now forming the sanctuary of the church, and was the home of Bishop John Milner, from 1804 until his death in 1826; an important figure in the Catholic church of the early 19th century who had an important role in the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. The City Archives are in the former home of the Molineux family, the mansion was built by Benjamin Molineux, a wealthy banker and iron-founder, on the outskirts of the town centre in early/mid-1700s. The house became an hotel but was almost completely destroyed in 2003 but rebuilt by the Council to house their archives. Nearby is Molineux Stadium, the home to Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club; Billy Wright was their most famous player in the 1950s. Edward Elgar was also apparently a fan! The Magistrates Court is the former Town Hall built in 1869, designed by Manchester architect Ernest Bates and built by Phillip Horsman of Wolverhampton who also built the Art Gallery. Another pint in The Lychgates, partly a 17th century timber-frames building and a Georgian house. Back down to the ring roads. Darlington Street Methodist Church was built by Arthur Marshall in 1900 to a Baroque design. On the junction is a large retail and office block, virtually empty apart from a loan shop. I then realise that even that is closed down. A church in Bath Street was built as a Unitarian place of worship but has housed a number of evangelical cults for some years.
Down to West Park which is overlooked by some fine late Victorian houses built for the burgeoning middle classes. Round the park to a lake populated with Canada Geese, Mallard, Coot, Mute Swans, Moorhens, a couple of Greylag and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. There is bread everywhere, much of our being ignored by the wildfowl and gulls. The area was historically prone of water-logging and the lake was dug in the late 1870s. A garden fête raised funds for a large conservatory. A bridge was built in 1880. The park is well used, of course the schools are still on holiday and there is a fun fair which had attracted hoards of young people. It is getting really quite warm now in the sunshine although there is a light breeze to cool things a bit. I wander around the lake perimeter. A few Tufted Duck are around this side and some more Greylag Geese. The bandstand is deserted, whilst the playground is heaving and noisy. A statue to Charles Pelham Villiers was erected by public subscription. He was in the House of Commons from 1835 to 1898, making him the longest-serving Member of Parliament. Pelham Villiers also holds the distinction of the oldest candidate to win a parliamentary seat, at the age of 93 and is chiefly remembered for his role in the repeal of the Corn Laws. Nearby a large glacial erratic has been erected. It is a block of Felsite from Arenig, Merionethshire found in Oak Street in 1881. Out the Connaught Road gate. Opposite is West Park church. West Park Rehabilitation Hospital is an architecturally uninteresting set of buildings on the site of the original Wolverhampton Women’s Hospital. Back past the brewery and across to St Mark’s church which I had seen earlier. The church was built in 1848-9 by C. W. Orford but was converted to office use in 1990. It seems the building I mentioned above as being now Barclays Bank offices was the vicarage where Kenneth Hunt lived. He played football for Wolverhampton Wanderers and England, winning an FA Cup Winners medal in 1908 and won a gold medal in the 1908 Olympic Games.
In the early evening I catch a bus back into the city centre. My attempt to find somewhere to eat comes to nought. I wander for a while finding George Street, terraces of large Georgian houses. One was the meeting place of the Villiers Club set up by George Pelham Villiers. At the foot of the street is a large square with a massive church, St John’s in the Square in the centre. It is surrounded on three sides by a graveyard. The church was built between 1758 and 1776 to the designs of either William Baker or Roger Eykyn. A long drive runs down from the front of the building to an ornate gate and Church Street runs on down the hill. At the foot of the road is a vast building site. Worcester Street heads back towards the centre and I take a break at the White Hart Inn. On to Cleveland Street and Dawat Punjabi Restaurant. A large dining area is a bit bleak with only two single men eating! However, the food is good and a decent price.
Thursday – Wolverhampton – The morning starts bright but cold. Clear skies at this time of year mean temperatures drop low overnight. I catch a bus into the city centre. From the Art Gallery I wander along to the Gateway. Here the major roads cross and the industrial/retail parks start. Back along Thornley Street, a terrace of Victorian cottages, now a mixture of homes, doctors’ surgery, pharmacy and taxi office amongst others. A female Blackbird rises from a patch of shrubbery with a beakful of dried grass. Past The Civic, a legendary rock venue and The Chubb Buildings, built in 1899 for the famous locksmiths. The Prince Albert is a large pub on the edge of the older part of the city, beyond is all new. On the opposite corner is the long, curved façade of the Britannia Goal topped by elegant cream and red brick chimneys. On the third corner is a bistro in a building with a plaque, W. Butler of Wolverhampton, indicating it was a Butler’s pub. A building I suspect is the old bus station stand in isolation in a sea of steel and glass. (In fact the building is The Queen’s building and railway offices which once formed one side of Victoria Square. The Queen’s building was built by the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Railway Company in 1849 by Edward Banks but is now part of the bus station.) Up Bilston Street where the County Court, with an array of Corinthian columns is boarded up. The building dates from 1813 and was given its upper floor in 1829 by Vulliamy. It was built as a library and assembly room. Next door is the Express and Star, founded in 1880 and is the largest selling local newspaper in the country. The date of the building is 1934. The architect was Marcus Brown of Wolverhampton. The building is faced in a reconstituted Hollington stone called “Vinculum”, produced by another local firm, Tarmac. The building contract, for £14,000, was given to yet another local firm, Wilson Lovatt. A figure of Mercury was sculpted by R.J. Emerson in 1932. Disappointingly I cannot find an independent café to have breakfast and end up in Sainsbury’s of all places! Back to the hotel. Steeplejacks are high up on a chimney stack at Banks’s brewery working on the brickwork.
Saturday – Home – It is a clear night, perfect for a view of the International Space Station as it passes over. Firstly, Cosmos 1908, a Russian rocket body launched from Plesetsk in Russia on 6th January 1988 passes close to Jupiter (relatively speaking). Venus is brilliant in the west, close to Pleiades, the Seven Sisters, to the north side and Aldebaran, a red giant, a little southwards. Mars should be visible but is too low in the sky. Then the ISS appears out of the west and crosses the sky. Currently on board are Expedition 43, NASA astronaut Terry Virts, commander; along with Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, all flight engineers. This crew are there until September but Kelly and Kornienko will remain on-board until March 2016, the first time anyone has spent a year in space.
Wednesday – Home – Stuck at home for various reasons, one being my annoyingly painful heel. The main reason is the presence of a tree man who is sorting out the pear that became damaged at the end of March in a gale. He removes a large part of it and a majority of the Ivy which was the reason why the wind was able to do so much damage. He also tidies up the tree next to this one, also a pear. Both have some living branches but now they have been trimmed the old espalier structure can be discerned. There trees are probably in excess of a century old and still producing pears, albeit very high up and seldom can be cropped before they rot. First thing this morning I clean out the hen house using a large bucket from the shed. When I return there is a female Blackbird with her beak full of shreds of plastic sacking. We look at one another; I am cutting off her retreat so I withdraw. She keeps returning during the day. A Grey Squirrel is running along the long telephone wire from the pole to the new houses over the wall. Things really are beginning to grow in the garden. I put stakes next to each of the healthy looking broad bean plants. Runner and French bean frames are put up, although the French bean one is incomplete, more bamboo stakes needed. The tomato seedlings leave the house and are put into the greenhouse. At the moment there seems to be no threat of the weather turning too cold. We have bought a tool for extracting dandelions; Kay has fun pulling them out and feeding them to the chickens. They are still laying well, four eggs on many days!
Saturday – Birling Gap – Birling Gap is at the end of a valley, one of a regular series along the English Channel where the South Downs meet the sea. From Seaford Head, the Downs are cut by the River Cuck to form Cuckmere Haven, then the Seven Sisters, chalk headlands with valleys ending many hundreds of feet above the sea, dropping down to Birling Gap before rising again through Belle Tout and Beachy Head before finally descending into Eastbourne. The valley does not drop down to the sea but ends in a cliff some 50 feet high. The cliff erodes at nearly half a metre a year. Once there was a cut in the cliffs defended by an arch and portcullis so ship-wrecked sailors could get ashore but this has long been eroded away. As a popular tourist spot it is busy with visitors. The steps to the beach which used to be by the cliffs are now standing out from the face and connected to the clifftop by a walkway. Beach is just as I remember it, grey, flint pebbles. It is warm down here as we are protected from the cool wind. There are some Gannets far out at sea but little else.
Back on top of the cliff, the row of coastguard cottages, Crangon Cottages, is shorter than it was the last time I was here as another house has been lost. The cottages were built in 1878 with the hotel opposite in 1898. Controversy continues as to whether or not the cliffs should be defended against the sea; currently the position seems to be to let nature take her course. A swallow sweeps over, the first I have seen this year. The hotel is now mainly the National Trust visitor centre. Inside are records of various ship wrecks that have occurred off the Gap. In 1790, “Two Brothers”, sailing from Malaga in Spain to London was lost with a cargo of 800 chests of lemons. The crew and cargo were saved but many lemons were “rescued” by locals who sold them for 2/- for 100. In the same storm the brig “Eningkeit” from Mecklenburg in Germany went down with her cargo of salt, but her crew were rescued. In 1796 the “Anna Amelia” from Sweden floundered with a cargo of wine. Troops were sent from Eastbourne to rescue the cargo but unsurprisingly some leaked out and the soldiers used their hats and boots to capture the leakage. UB-121 was a German U-boat surrendered in 1918. It was being towed with two others in 1921 but all three were lost, one near Hastings, one near Beachy Head and U-121 at Birling Gap where it became a popular tourist attraction. Tiny purple Ground Ivy flowers in the grass.
We head inland a short distance to the Seven Sisters Sheep Centre. On the hillside opposite is a large and noisy rookery. Inside there are pens of rare breed sheep with their newborn lambs. These fascinate Kitty. A small room has guinea pigs, bantams and rabbits. There are a couple of sows, one with a good number of piglets all feeding in a mass of wriggling and squealing. In the picnic area chickens check on what people have dropped. A magnificent Light Sussex cockerel struts up and down the meadow. Rooks stalk around the pastures picking up the droppings of the visitors snacks. A lamb has just been born in a pen of pregnant sheep. The mother is pushing it around with her hoof apparently trying to persuade her offspring to suckle, without success. Several other ewes look likely to drop in the very near future.
Saltdean – In the evening I pop out to the car and as I step out of the door I come face to face with a badger. We stand and stare at each other then it turns and is out of sight. I go to the car and the badger is up the road waiting to see if I am going to go away and let it follow its usual route. Sadly, from the badger’s point of view, I do not so it gives up and scuttled off to find an alternative route.
Sunday – Saltdean – Down to Longridge Avenue shops. As well as the usual local shops there is a stamp shop, something of a relic from the past now. A bus for Brighton appears so on I hop.
Brighton Marina – Into the temple of consumerism. There is a Sunday boot sale on the top of the multi-storey car park. It is mainly low end antiques and junk. The sun is bright but there is a quite vicious cold wind. The market is punctuated by regular bangs as items are blown over. I catch another bus into Brighton. I am not sure where I am going next and whilst thinking about it the Eastbourne bus arrives, so on board to Seaford.
Seaford – Off the bus and past the railway station. The town was the original port of the River Ouse until it was diverted to Newhaven because of frequent silting up. The river was almost certainly the Mærcryd or Mercredesburn, meaning Sea-Ford, where the Britons battled the Saxons under Ella and his sons in 485. There is doubt about the actual outcome of the battle but it did seem to halt the Saxon advances for nearly ten years. The town was attacked and sacked on a number of occasions during the reign of Edward III and was badly de-populated by the Black Death between 1348 and 1350. Claude d’Annebault, and his fleet, attempted a surprise attack in 1545, but were repulsed by Sir Nicholas Pelham. For many years the town had a reputation for smuggling and wrecking. It declined until the coming of the railway on 1st June 1864. The original plan was for the line to continue to Eastbourne but this was never realised and it is now a terminus.
Seaford is now a popular place for retirement as well as a dormitory town from Brighton and Eastbourne. The old town is narrow streets with numerous alleyways and yards; walls and buildings using the abundant local material, flint and the long seafront. There is a service in progress in St Leonard’s church so it is not possible to view the interior. The church dates from the 11th century. Fitzgerald House is a large late 19th century house in the Gothic style, built of flint with red brick dressings and tiled roof. The Old House was the residence of Thomas Tufton, Bailiff of the Town Cinque Port of Seaford, in 1712. The Old Town Hall dates from the 18th century. I have a coffee by the Martello Tower at the far eastern end of the promenade. The cross-channel ferry reverses out of Newhaven across the bay, then turns and heads out into the calm, blue sea. Across to the north is Corsica Hall. In 1823 it was purchased by John Fitzgerald (1775-1852), but within a year he had pulled most of the old building down and built a new house which he named The Lodge. Fitzgerald lived in the house when he was MP for Seaford between 1826 and 1832. The house was later occupied by Fitzgerald’s son, John Purcell Fitzgerald who was a considerable philanthropist to Seaford. Corsica Hall housed Seaford College for many years.
Along the promenade. Much of the building here is relatively modern apartment blocks. The area was called Beame Lands, an area of marsh. A few houses and a hotel were built at the end of the 19th century. Past the large recreation ground where rugby practice is under way, a cricket match for youngsters, all bright in their whites, is being played and more young people playing tennis. The promenade looks different to how remember it from my youth. This is because the beach was raised in 1987 using 3 million tonnes of shingle and 58,000 tonnes of granite blocks. Yachts are racing in the bay, or I assume they are, I never have the faintest idea what is going on where yacht racing is concerned, it just looks like they are going all over the place without any rhyme or reason. The promenade is busy with walkers, with or without a dog, cyclists, joggers and fishermen by the edge of the water.
I leave the sea at The Buckle and head up to the railway bridge. The lost village of Tide Mills stood near here. In 1761 three corn-merchants, John Challen, William Woods, and John Woods took a 500 year lease from the owner of the land, the Duke of Newcastle, and obtained a private Act of Parliament that allowed them to build a dam for the mill across a tidal channel and to construct a wharf close to the mill. A small village grew around it. Tide Mills was involved in a major incident in 1795. Britain had entered the war with France in 1793, and to guard against possible invasion militia groups were stationed along the south coast of England. Sections of the militia at Blatchington, aggrieved at their inadequate food supply, mutinied in April 1795. Having seized food from shopkeepers in Seaford they moved to Tide Mills. Two men were charged with stealing 1000 bushels of flour from the sloop Lucy, moored at the Tide Mills wharf, and another was charged with stealing three quarts of rum and a quantity of flour from the mill. Eventually the mutiny was suppressed by troops from Brighton. Five ringleaders were executed, and other participants were transported. (From Abandoned Communities by Steven Fisk.)
Above is Bishopstone station. Under the bridge and across a corner by a footpath to the busy A259 main road. The track soon leaves the edge of the road and becomes a proper walking/cycle track. My first Whitethroat of the year is singing fitfully in a bramble patch. The track ruins alongside a large area of what should be ponds but the recent dry weather has left them almost entirely dry. Phragmites beds are extensive, still pale brown stalks from last year. A Reed Bunting sings from within. The flowering of the Goat Willow’s grey spiky pussy buds has ended and the thick waxy leaves are now unfurling. A rabbit feeds on the grass by the path seemingly unconcerned about my presence. The track runs round past Denton and into Newhaven. My heel is now beginning ache, though it has been better than of late! I catch the bus by the railway station and head back to Rottingdean.
Rottingdean – We lunch at the The Plough, an inn from 1840s, although rebuilt in the late 19th century when the landlord was Edward Blaber, remembered for his arguments with Kipling, especially on the subject of the South African war – arguments so violent as to endanger the publican’s health! Afterwards we wander around the pond and over to Kipling’s Garden. The gardens were once part of Elm House where Rudyard Kipling lived from 1897 to 1902. In 1929 the property was bought by Sir Roderick Jones, Chairman of Reuters, whose wife, Enid Bagnol wrote “National Velvet”. After his death the gardens became derelict and in 1980 were put up for sale for development. The Rottingdean Preservation Society stepped in and bought the garden for £51,000 and restored it. It is delightful place, a number of small walled gardens of flowers and shrubs with a croquet lawn and club house. Jones had purchased North End House nearby previously owned by Edward Burne-Jones. We wander over the hill back to Saltdean.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another glorious day courtesy of the area of high pressure sitting over us. The sky is blue and the wind has dropped, it is going to be hot! A Chaffinch sings lustily from the top of a poplar. A Chiffchaff calls beside the meadow. A Green Woodpecker yaffles in Westfield Wood. The path into the coppice has been planed and gravel laid to improve the drainage, so hopefully it will not turn into a quagmire again when the rain returns. Canada Geese are noisy in the woods on the island island. A Great Crested Grebe dives by the reed bed. A lone Greylag Goose is on the scrape. Two more Great Crested Grebes are nest building in the reeds in front of the hide. Canada Geese start squabbling on the scrape with the usual noise. A couple of Mute Swans, a few Mallard and a Cormorant are also present. The absence of swallows and martins is surprising. A pair of Coot are also building a nest near the grebes. Canada Geese approach the grebe nest but are clearly wary of the grebes and quickly move away in a manner that makes me wonder if the male grebe is giving the Goose a poke from under water. The Coot on the other hand noticeably avoids getting near the grebe nest by swimming a wide arc around it. An area behind the hide has been flailed to remove the willow and alder scrub to enable wild flowers flowers a better environment. An Orange Tip butterfly passes. Some of the apple trees and most of the pear trees are in flower in both orchards. Some have beautiful cerise buds, others have opened into white flowers with a hint of pink.
St Georges Day, Thursday – Home – Awake at 3:00AM in the morning so sit outside staring at the sky. Tonight is supposed to be the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. The shower consist of bits of rock burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. They are left over from Comet Thatcher, which was last visible on Earth in 1861. Each year in April, Earth’s orbit passes through the debris left behind by the comet, which circles the sun once every 400 years. Of course, I do not see a single meteorite. Several satellites pass over, all rocket bodies. A Robin starts to sing.
Today is supposed to be the day of our national saint – St George. Hardly anyone in England bothers these days unlike the saints’ days in the other parts of the United Kingdom. And given George was Turkish, our right-wing parties would probably ban him from the country as having no skills to contribute (dragons needing to be slain being in short supply). Everything is accelerating in the garden. The grass already needs cutting again. The greenhouse is full of rapidly growing plants. I spend some considerable time constructing a frame to place over the greenhouse tomato bed. Strings are attached for the tomatoes to grow up.
Monday – Croft – Despite bright sunshine it is cool. My heel is still painful but I am getting stir-crazy and need to get out. So down the throat go the pain killers and off I go. A Song Thrush sings loudly in the woods. Jackdaws chack over in the fields. Several Ravens suddenly appear and a Common Buzzard is calling. I imagine the two appearances are connected but the corvids disappear as quickly as they arrived. Great Tits are feeding and calling at the end of the car park. Blackbirds disappear into the undergrowth. The Common Buzzard that was the subject of the Ravens’ attention flies out of the trees and off across the valley. Down the old ride to the Fish Pool Valley. Chiffchaffs call from across the valley. Most trees are now in leaf although the Ash is only just beginning to show any green. Primroses and Lesser Celandines are still in flower. Tiny Opposite-leaved Golden-Saxifrage carpet the banks in lime green and yellow. Foxglove leaves are getting large but no flower stalks yet. Down in the valley bottom, pure white Wood Anemones and rich rose pink Herb Robert are flowering, as are the inconspicuous green flowers of Dog Mercury and the tiny white Chickweed. Brown fiddle-heads of ferns are unrolling. Wood Sorrel has small faintly purple tinged white flowers. Cuckoo Pints unfurl to reveal the chocolate brown spike within. Just a few Bluebells are beginning to open. The occasional Dog Violet peeps out of the grass. A woodpecker drums loudly from the Beech wood. Beyond the lime kiln, Ransoms, wild garlic, covers the banks. A Nuthatch climbs the trunk of an Ash. A small patch of Wood Anemones are tinted with purple, surrounded by pure white ones. At the end of the valley bird song still fills the air, Wrens, Chaffinches, more Song Thrushes and Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap. Silent though is a Marsh/Willow Tit, which appears briefly but without a call is pretty much impossible to distinguish. Up the track between Bircher Common and Lyngham Vallet. A pile of bloody feathers marks the demise of a Wood Pigeon. A female Chiffchaff with a quiet wheep call come to investigate a loudly calling male. Up to Whiteway Head where my first Willow Warbler of the year is in song. An Oak looks like its opening leaf buds are just further advanced than the Ash standing next to it. Maybe this means, according to the rhyme, that we are in for a soak. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips loudly as I pass under an Ash. The woodpecker darts to and fro on the trunk, its beak probing for food. Clouds are beginning to build and it is noticeably cooler when one covers the sun. The southern and south-eastern slopes up to Croft Ambry had been completely cleared of conifers. On the hill-fort, a Tree Pipit stands on a branch of an Ash looking all around before launching himself upwards with an explosion of song and parachuting down into another tree. The views today are extensive and wonderful. More Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs sing. I chat to a couple from Darlington before heading across to the western end of the hill-fort. A Redstart flashes his chestnut flanks and tail. Down the track towards the castle. Only a thin strip of conifer trees have been left, the rest cleared completely, by a company amusingly called “Practicability Brown”. Some dark clouds have now formed, threatening rain. Down in the strip of wood at the bottom of the Spanish Chestnut field is another black capped, brown tit, but this one calls and identifies itself as a Marsh Tit. Cows graze in the car park field, their calves asleep nearby. At last, Swallows, a good number sweeping low over the grass. A goodly amount of work has gone into the garden of Park House and it looks splendid.
Wednesday – Leominster – Last night brought very welcome rain. Today is true April weather, sunshine and showers! At this moment the sun is bright and warm although I could do without the wind, but rain could start again any time. Down to the Millennium meadow where the apple trees are in blossom, hopefully heralding this year’s cider crop. Clumps of creamy yellow Cowslips are dotted across the grass. A few White Dead Nettles are flowering. The leaves of Meadow Cranesbills are everywhere, but it will be some time before the flowers appear. Chiffchaffs call, a Blackcap ticks like two tapping pebbles, a Robin sings. A Blackbird in the grass cocks its head sideways then darts forward to grab a morsel. A swathe of brilliant yellow Marsh Marigolds gleam around the dried up pond. Red Campion is in flower. Down by the Kenwater a Goldfinch sings in an Ash sapling yet to come into leaf. The river is shallow and clear. A Wren explodes with sing from inside an Elder tree. Greenfinches chase through the trees in the old Pinsley Mead, site of the priory. Apart from the hospital, used now as Council offices, little else remains of this monastic complex attached to the Minster. Down The Priory. A Blackbird stands on the end of a roof ridge singing its heart out. The May Day fair vehicles are parked up in the car park built on the old town tip, which in turn was on the monastery fish ponds. They will set up tomorrow in Broad Street and Corn Square. Down and over the Kenwater. I look in vain for the trout that sometimes lay by the bridge. Back through the town centre, a lot of people are about despite being a Wednesday afternoon, traditionally half-day closing, but the majority of shops are still open.