All Fools Day, Friday – Glascwm-Hundred House – The air in Glascwm is rent by a military jet rising over. Then relative peace returns, although the sheep and lambs call continuously. A Chiffchaff is calling from a garden. Past a digger which is laying a pipe across the lane and up into the hills. After a clear, cold night it is now grey with a chilly breeze. Some lambs just a few days old are on the track. Pied Wagtails flit ahead. A farm lies in a dip in Cwm-Shenkin. The stream which has cut the cwm lies below, lined by trees, as the track rises. Primroses dot the bank under a well cut hedge, their creamy flowers shining against the grey-green grass. The track drops down to cross the meandering stream and then rises along the side of Little Hill. Chaffinches fly along the hedge. On along the hillside. Below by the stream is Blaen-bedw, shown as two buildings on the map but now there is a set of roofless walls being used as a store for tree branches and a corrugated iron roofed barn. A stand of pines is a little way upstream. The lambs in the field here are older than many others on these hills. A Meadow Pipit calls from the dead bracken up on Little Hill. The hillsides are riven with deep gullies where stands of the moorland have eroded downwards. The track passes over one of these gullies but it is now dry and looks like it has been that way for a while. I can now see the gullies across the valley and their channels are grassed over and dry. A quad bike is deep down by the stream. It climbs the hillside opposite and drops some feed which brings the sheep running across the green sward. The track moves out onto the moor at Upper Blaem-bedw where the map shows two small buildings but there is no sign of them. However, they are recorded as a post-mediaeval two-roomed farmstead.
At the crest of the hill is a crossing of paths and beside it a round barrow, “Giant’s Grave”. A Red Kite quarters the hillside beyond. A single chuckle of a Red Grouse comes from far across the moor. Skylarks sing high above. The wind here is sharp. A wonderful vista across the hills and valleys of mid-Wales lies ahead. Past an old quarry where the beds lie tilted at bay 45°. The track drops. The farm is Ty’n-y-coed lies below and across the Edw valley, Wylfre rises, then beyond the Carneddau, that run to Builth Wells. Above a Raven dances on the wind. Up the valley, wind turbines whirl rapidly. The track is now a lane and dropping steeply. Flat stones from the roadside have the merest hint of shell fossil fragments. The roadside bank contains the circular, waxy leaves of Pennywort, named when the penny was a substantial coin, not the insignificant object of today. Past another outcrop of bedrock which now lies vertically aligned. A Great Tit calls his rusty bicycle wheel song ahead. Dog Mercury is coming into flower, if the tiny green balls can be really called flowers. Through a small woodland where Carrion Crows sit beside what look like three Rooks nests, but I am not sure the these are being used. The lane finally levels out after a worryingly long decent of 230 metres, worrying because I will have to climb back up it again soon! Stitchwort flowers on the verge. Across the valley are the undulating hills of Llandegly Rocks, Bwlch-y-cefn Bank and Bwlch-llwyn.
The lane joins the main road to Builth Wells. It was one of the few east-west turnpikes in the area. It crosses one of the tributaries to the River Edw over Hundred House Bridge. Just down stream is a high motte of The Mount. This castle, known as Glan Edw, was probably built around 1083 by Ralph Tosny of Clifford. It was taken by Madog ab Idnerth around 1135 and then rebuilt by Hugh Mortimer of Wigmore in 1144. It probably was under Welsh control again after Hugh was defeated by his Angevin enemies in the period 1148-53. The castle was rebuilt by the forces of William Braose in 1195 and besieged and finally destroyed by Prince Rhys ap Gruffydd in 1196. The village of Hundred House lies along the road. The name refers to the old Saxon administrative areas called a “hundred”, although the place was little more than an inn, chapel and a farm in the 18th century. The store looks stocked but closed. The Post Office is open on Thursdays only, it looks like our is in an old chapel. Along the road is Colwyn Bridge over another tributary, Colwyn Brook. Up on the hill are the earthworks of Colwyn castle, now with Fforest Farm built in the middle of them. The earthworks at Colwyn Castle have revealed a Roman fort which centuries later was adopted as a Marcher stronghold which was the caput of the lordship of Elfael and the centre of the hundred of Colwyn. The date when the castle was first constructed has never been determined but it seems likely it was around the time Glan Edw was abandoned in 1196. William Braose lost the castle after he rebelled in 1208. It seems to have been in Welsh hands, possibly as an appurtenance of Builth Wells which was granted to Llywelyn by its Braose lord in 1229. The cantref of Buellt had been seized by Henry III in 1240 and the castle there refortified by John of Monmouth. In 1248, Sir Owain ap Maredudd ab Einion Clud held the castle and by 1260 he was a sub-tenant of Roger Mortimer. In December 1282, however, Sir Owain and his sons rose in favour of Prince Llywelyn, immediately before his death on 11th December 1282, and as a consequence of their rebellion they lost Colwyn Castle and the lands of their ancestors in Elfael. The castle was then taken, or possibly rebuilt by Maud Mortimer, the widow of Roger, but seems to have been abandoned by 1397.
I return to the village centre and wait for the pub to open. The pub, The Hundred House Inn, was a drovers inn. After a couple of pints it is back up Little Hill which as predicted is anything but little. Some Dog Violets peep out of the verge grasses. A gaggle of off-road bikes pass kicking up a cloud of dust. As predicted it is a long haul back up to the Giant’s Grave. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Off down the road to the market. A Jackdaw flies to a roof ridge carrying a long, unwieldy stick. It repositions it in its beak and then flies off. Over the River Lugg which is flowing swiftly. Chiffchaffs are calling from the trees. A pair of Grey Wagtails fly off downstream. There are more Chiffchaffs around the Easters meadow – there must have been a large migration of them in the last few days. The market is fairly busy. I return round Paradise walk beside the Kenwater, which is also flowing quickly. More Chiffchaffs call from Pinsley Mead. Another pair of Grey Wagtails are on the concrete walls beneath the iron footbridge.
Monday – Leominster – The morning is brightening after a night of rain. Up Ryelands Road where bird calls are everywhere – Chiffchaff, Goldfinch, Jackdaws, Blue Tit, Wood Pigeons and Blackbirds. Past the toll house and into Ryelands Orchard, a modern housing development on the site, as the name suggests, of large cider orchards. Onto the footpath of the old Cockcroft Lane. A rope has been stretched across the entrance to the field to stop people using the field edge as a footpath, which was not surprising as the official footpath had been frequently blocked over recent years by fallen trees. However, it is now clear, although many of the trees are thickly burdened with Ivy and will probably be coming down in a future winter storm. A Song Thrush, Wren, Chiffchaff and Nuthatch all call. There is rain in the air as dark clouds drift over. In the valley to the west of the ridge is a large acreage of plastic, shining silver, strawberry tunnels. The hills beyond are misty. The song of a Skylark tumbles down from high above. It is now raining. Buds and leaves are appearing on the hedge along the ridge. A Dunnock sits on top and sings. The big field is bare although it has been harrowed to a fine tilth.
The footpath drops down to the Hereford Road at St Botolph’s Green. There are a number of versions of the St Botolph story. One is here. Another tells that Botolph and his brother Adolph were young Saxon nobles living in the 7th century, and were to be educated at a Benedictine Abbey in France. Adolph became a Dutch Bishop, whilst Botolph returned to his native East Anglia. King Anna granted him land on which to build a monastery. This land was at Icanhoh, a site that has been said to be the present Boston (Botolph’s Town) in Lincolnshire but is more likely to have been Iken, near Aldeburgh in Suffolk. Certainly Icanhoh was in a marshland area, for Botolph was said to have expelled the swamps of their “Devils”. It is more likely he had the marshes drained and eliminated the “marsh gas” with its “will o’ the wisps”. He was the patron saint of wayfarers and a wayside cross once stood here.
Into Southern Avenue and then down a footpath behind the cemetery. A small stream runs alongside the path through a deep ditch. The stream is covered in bright green water plants, unfortunately none of which I can name. The path travels round between the Enterprise Park, here a vast open, grassy space and the older Southern Avenue industrial estate. Chiffchaffs are holding territories right along the path, calling from the thin row of large saplings. A small stone bridge crosses the brook, maybe once connecting fields but now blocked off by the industrial estate. A road ends by the Royal Mail depot over the far side of the stream. A path runs down onto the ditch and up this side. It is very steep and slippery and I cannot imagine humans have kept it clear. There are some large claw marks at the foot of the bank which looks like badger. The path emerges into the main road into the Enterprise Park. Opposite is the main sewage works for the town. The stream now heads south and will join the River Arrow near Broadward Lodge.
Along the Worcester Road to the White Lion and then past the piles of rubble that is all that remains of Pinsley Mill. A Goldfinch still is finding seeds in the dead heads of thistles. Through the Millennium Park. The apple trees have been pruned and mulched. Down The Priory and over the iron bridge. The pair of Grey Wagtails I noticed yesterday are in the same place today. A quick visit to B&Q and out into a downpour. Back up The Priory. Organ music emanates from the Minster. Past Grange Court where someone is practising the drums. Route
Tuesday – Leominster – Warm sunshine beckons me out into the garden. Firstly, in go the Kestrel potatoes that have been chitting in the summerhouse. The buds on them are not particularly well developed, but they should be fine. Four rows of five per row are sown with a couple left over which go into a large plastic sack with some compost which is deposited at the bottom of the garden. A Chiffchaff sings from a garden down the street. Next a majority of the leeks are dug to free up the bed for broad beans, variety Karmazyn which have sprouted well and been in the cold frame for the past week. I had planted out two rows of lettuces over the weekend and already half of them have been eaten. I suspect Wood Pigeons have got under the wire tunnels so I erect a line across the top from which old CDs are dangling. Another couple of lines are strung across the broad beans. The pak choi I sowed directly into the bed a few weeks back have sprouted. The tray of purple sprouting broccoli is looking decidedly unhappy so I prick out twenty seedlings into pots which go into the cold frame. The garden chairs and tables come out of winter storage in the summerhouse – a defiant if not wise statement about the emergence of spring, given the weather forecast of unsettled weather through the middle of the month. Finally I bring out the large tray of tomato and sweet pepper seedlings which have been indoors. They are beginning to get a bit leggy so hopefully they will be fine in the greenhouse, just hope there are no severe frosts in the near future.
Friday – Home – A strange cracking sound comes from overhead as I fill the bird feeder with seed. Looking up I see a pair of Jackdaws breaking off twigs from the willow tree by the shed. They then fly off to a chimney pot a few doors down where they must be building a nest.
Pembridge-Staunton-on-Arrow – The bright start to the morning has turned to grey as thick clouds move in. Along Pembridge high street. The bell in the wooden tower, separate from the church, tolls nine o’clock. House Sparrows are cheeping loudly both sides of the road. An old Automobile Association yellow sign informs it is 144 miles to London. Unfortunately this village stands on the A44 and large lorries thunder past. Turn right into the Presteigne road. Alms houses stand on the junction, founded in 1661 by Jeffrey Duppa and augmented by Bryan Duppa, Bishop of Winchester. A plaque reads:
Forget not your Good Benefactor Brion Duppa Bishop of Winchester who bielded this hospitoll in 1661
Glan Arrow cottages are a 16th century house, subdivided into tenements with later alterations. . The Rectory is a typical large, solid Victorian edifice in red brick. Cottages by the River Arrow are wonderfully tilted. They are a 14th century hall later divided into tenements with later alterations. The road crosses the river via an early 19th century bridge. A Grey Heron flies upstream high above. A Chiffchaff calls and a Greenfinch wheezes. The ditch alongside the road is speckled yellow with Lesser Celandines. White and Red Deadnettles are also in flower. Middle Brook is a 17th century timber-framed farmhouse. The farmhouse at Clear Brook farm is a magnificent black and white house, sub-divided into two tenements. The rear wing is late 16th century and the main block, early 17th. The old station is a substantial set of buildings now residences. The line was the Leominster-Kington line, opening in 1857 and closing to passengers on 5th February 1955. Some freight was still carried until 24th September 1964. A turning by the station is the Staunton-on-Arrow road. A brook runs alongside the road with vast old Oaks standing with their feet in the water. An old single plank footbridge has almost rotted away. The Leen farmhouse is 17th century. A sign reads “1979&1780”, not immediately obvious why. The farm is ancient, mentioned in Domesday but almost certainly older. The farm has been owned by the Smith family for over 100 years. They had oldest herd of pedigree Herefordshire cattle founded in 1780 – one part of the sign! The name “Leen” is interesting. There was a “Leen Hundred” referred to in Domesday. The Arrow valley is referred to as the Leon Valley from the frequent use of the name Lene, or Lien, i.e. Monkland was Monk’s Lene, Leominster was Llanlleini, Eardisland came from Earl’s Lene – all referring to marshy or drained land.
South of a crossroads is three arch Noke Bridge over the River Arrow, built in 1782 and widened in 1939. Just beyond to the west is The Court of Noke. The name “Noke” comes from the Old English for Oak, either atten Oke meaning “at the Oak” or La Aka, similar to “Alac” the name of a lost manor which this may well be. There is uncertainty about its mediaeval history as “Noke” is not an uncommon name. It seems likely that the Braose and Mortimers held the lands. By the late 16th century, the Noke estate was in the hands of the Brace family. The property passes through a good number of hands in the succeeding centuries. George Mason seems to have owned in in the period circa 1673 to 1718 when the large house, still standing, was built. There were extensive water gardens but at some time between 1718 and 1749 the house fell into divided ownership, and degenerated into a tenanted farm by the end of the 18th century. The gardens were neglected and much of them were destroyed in the mid 19th century. Mill ponds lay next to the river.
I return to the crossroads and head west. A large orchard probably less than 5 years old leads to the village of Staunton-on-Arrow. Gig Bridge is a footbridge over the river. The lane bends round past a leet and the mill now a house with a far more substantial leet to the far side. A footpath crosses a sheep field to a large motte and the church. The village stands on a ridge above the Arrow valley, a good defensive site. Evidence has been found of settlement on the floodplain dating back to the late Bronze Age. A number of Roman artifacts have been discovered over the years. In 958CE, the estate of Staunton was granted by King Edgar to Ealhstan, one of his noblemen. In Domesday the manor was held by Ralph de Mortimer and Drogo who held it under Osbern, son of Richard Scrope of Richards castle. There would have been a wooden castle on the mound and there is some evidence of one or more baileys to the west of the motte. There is some evidence that the castle was rebuilt in stone.
The church of St Peter was rebuilt in 1856 by Thomas Nicholson. There are records of encumbants from 1273 but it is likely there was a chapel here previous to that. The Victorian church is rather plain and austere. It was never a rich parish, two local landowning families were its main benefactors – the Parrs and the King-Kings. There are tablets in the church and graves of various members from both families. A side chapel has several tablets dedicated to the King family and appears to have been a private chapel with a fireplace. There is a plain northern trancept chapel, possibly for the servants? Through the graveyard and out put into the centre of the village. By the church gate is the old school now a residence. Opposite is Staunton House, a 19th century rectory. The village hall is modern. Beyond are some old cottages, late 17th or early 18th century and formally the post office. The village appears to never have had an inn.The road north out of the village is lined on one side by modern housing and on the other by extensive orchards. I turn back through the village and retrace my steps towards Pembridge. A light aircraft rises from Shobdon airfield, one of a succession of them. Cleavers are growing quickly at the foot of the roadside hedges. Dandelions and Ground Ivy are in flower. Just west of The Leen is a substantial wooded bank running more or less north-south across the landscape. This is the Rowe Ditch. The name “Rowe” may come from the Old English word ruh, meaning rough or uncultivated, and in a document of 1219 it is recorded as Rogeditch or “Rough Dyke”. In Old English the inflected form “h” was often exchanged for “w”. It seems likely that it dates from the first arrival of Anglo-Saxons in the area around 650CE. The ditch, some two metres deep and five metres wide, is on the western side of the dyke which indicates it was a defence against invaders from the west, i.e. the Welsh. Dunnocks sing in the hedgerows, a Yellowhammer calls from across a field.
Saturday – Home – A female Blackbird is making repeated trips to a hanging basket by the back door to pull pieces of grass and moss from the liner. She stands in the basket and collects a beakful then flies up to the top of the wall and sorts it out before flying off. On one occasion she had a long piece stuck to one of her claws and was hopping backwards whilst trying to pick it up, unsuccessfully as it moved back with her. She eventually gave up and flew off without it.
Sunday – Leominster – In the early hours of the morning the sky is sparkling with blazing stars – sign of a frosty night. And indeed, there is a sharp frost first thing although it has almost all melted by the time I head off to the market. From the railway bridge there are bird calls and song all around – Chiffchaff, Coal Tit, Blackcap, Blue Tits, Song Thrush and passing Carrion Crows. The river level has dropped and the water bubbles noisily over the rocks beneath Butts Bridge. The market has a fair number of traders and buyers. It is always amusing to watch a vendor bring out a box of tat and it being descended on by older women. Why on earth do they want cheap and generally nasty china trinkets?
Bird song continues around Paradise Walk and the River Kenwater also flows lower but fairly swiftly. A Wild Cherry, also known as a Gean, is coming into flower. A Chiffchaff searches the branches just a couple of feet from me, completely ignoring my presence. Up through the town where, as usual, some shops have closed down and new ventures have opened up. One shop in the High Street is being decorated and looks suspiciously like another beauty salon. Although one has closed in School Street, there must now be getting on for twenty hairdressers across the town. It is hard to see how they all make a living.
Wednesday – Adderley – Heading north on a grey, rainy morning through patches of mist. Adderley is a small village but I only visit the Grade I listed church of St Peter. The oldest existing part of the present church is the north transept, which was built in 1635-36 as a burial chapel for the Needham family, the Viscounts Kilmorey of Shavington. The tower was built in 1712. The rest of the church was built in 1801 by Richard Baker, his only known work. The chancel was restored in 1822. The interior of the church was divided in about 1970 (or 1956 depending on whose records are believed) for the nave to continue in use as a parish church, and the rest of the church to be preserved by the Churches Conservation Trust. Clear glass fills most of its pointed cast iron windows, made in Coalbrookdale in the Severn Gorge. Unfortunately, the church is locked shut, unusual for one supported by the Trust. Outside is an 18th century sundial on a base and shaft, but sadly the sundial itself was stolen a few years ago. Outside the gates of the churchyard is a mounting block of four sandstone steps dating from 1744.
Weston – Bright sunshine now makes it a lovely Spring day. Out of the village past a pond hidden down a slope with bright green fresh reeds, shining yellow Marsh Marigolds and Bluebells peeping out of the undergrowth. Past the village school, an imposing Victorian building that was the Boys School, and off along the road to Crewe. A very large footpath sign indicates the South Cheshire Way but I stay on the road. Chiffchaffs call, a Great Spotted Woodpecker chips, Blue Tits chatter and Rooks caw. A milepost of 1892 tells me I have 2 miles to go to Crewe. Over a single track, but electrified railway line. This was the North Staffordshire Railway Crewe Branch. Right onto the B5472 at Stowford.
Crewe – The gate lodge to Crewe Hall looks like offices. A sign says “Crewe 2¾ miles”. This is some half a mile closer to the town that the milepost claiming 2 miles! Nessfield House and Fir Tree are estate cottages (although they are substantial houses) from 1865, designed by W. E. Nesfield. Just before a roundabout is woodland with a rookery and loudly calling Chaffinches. A small pond hosts a drake Mallard. Over the roundabout where Crewe begins with a car showroom and vast pressed metal warehouses of distribution centres. I only recognise the names of two, Tesco and Bargain Booze, although there is a “To let” sign outside the Tesco. It is no real surprise when workers leaving the site pass me speaking an east European language. More car showrooms. The road ends in front of the fine visage of the Crewe Arms Hotel built in 1838 specifically for the station, the first to be built thus. The hotel stands beside a road bridge over the railway. On the far side is Crewe railway station, an iconic station which cannot be seen without a ticket, rather typical of our modern railway system somehow.
Although Creu appears in the Domesday Book, Crewe started as a rail junction station for the Grand Junction Railway in 1837. The Grand Junction Railway Company was established in the second half of 1832 by the consolidation of two rival companies: the Birmingham and Liverpool Railway Company and the Liverpool and Birmingham Railway Company. In 1846 it was amalgamated with other railways to form the London and North Western Railway. The town was planned by Joseph Locke (from Barnsley) in 1843 to house a railway colony which has developed around the station. The Grand Junction Railway also sited its locomotive works here. By 1871 the population had risen to 40000. In 1946 Rolls Royce built its cars in the town. There is still some railway and other manufacturing in the area but it is vastly reduced from the many thousands previously employed.
Rail House is a towering sixties block. Beyond is Crewe Alexandra football stadium. The club was formed in 1877 and named after Princess Alexandra. The road towards the town centre is lined with fast food takeaways, bars, Indian restaurants and the Crewe Weight Loss Centre... The low end shops and takeaways continue although I find a butchers and a bakers. The road is now lined with late Victorian houses and terraces. A four storey college is where I decide to turn north. House prices are cheap, down to £46000. There are several letting agencies but these are not so cheap! Up Ruskin Road where there are very long unbroken terraces of later Victorian homes built when the town was a railway industry centre. Sadly more than half of the house have concreted over, paved or pebbled their front gardens. Ruskin Community College is an imposing orange brick three storey school. It opened in 1909 as the Ruskin County Secondary School. St Stephen’s Methodist church is a modern building attached to a small Primitive Methodist chapel of 1903. A gap in Alton Road leads to a footpath running beside Valley Brook, called Coppenhall Brook on the 1876 map but had gained its current name by 1899, which runs to Queens Park, built by the railway company. The Methodist nature of the area is reflected in the paucity of pubs. A road leads to a major junction and The Duke of Bridgewater. Not the most salubrious but cheap! A board lists drinks with the heading “Best way to get drunk” – obviously following the “drink aware” policy!
Off up Market Street past an unsightly 60s development of shops, including a Polish butcher! Down a side street, High Street oddly as it looks an unprepossessing backwater, is the Bombay Restaurant in a three storey building with a white tile edging to the roof with Restaurant in large blue letters. It is apparently the oldest Indian restaurant in Crewe. Over Chester Bridge which I assume once had a railway line running underneath but it is difficult to tell now (the old map confirms a line ran here which joined the LNWR London-Holyhead line. It seems a building has been demolished on the far side. A large late Victorian building has the ground floor built in a shining bronze marble, the upper floors in brick and white stone with white faiance pediments. Possibly once a bank but is now a bookies and bits are falling off. Into Market Square which is an extraordinary collection of mainly 20th century buildings. There is a row of three Art Nouveau shops of 1911 with hideous modern shop fronts, a mock Queen Anne, a mid Victorian block, a 1930s block containing M&S, a block with a square tower which I would guess at 1950s and late 20th century infill. The War Memorial stood in the centre of the square but has been moved to Memorial Square. Round to Memorial Square where the Market Hall which opened as the Cheese Market in 1854 (built by the railway company) is full of closed stalls, not market day. The Lyceum Theatre was built in 1911 and still has shows, although an evening with Edwina Currie may be a step too far. The shopping centre is like many, the lower end chains and lots of to let signs. The Victoria Centre is a plinth holding a steam train axle and wheels and a Cash Converters. Back past the market and the Municipal Buildings which have some fine reliefs on the walls. Into The Crown, a Robinson’s pub.
Across Memorial Square is the War Memorial then the Law Courts and Library. Christ Church was built in 1843 by by John Cunningham, paid for the railway company. The yellow sandstone square tower was added in 1877 by J W Stansby, Engineer. The church had its roof removed and was gutted in 1978. Through Market Square again to the bus station, which is about as squalid as one can get. It is an hour to my bus so I wander off. Down a side street is The Liberal, built in 1901 in a French château style with towers. Round the corner is St Mary’s RC Church, locked of course. Up the end of the road is another vast church, once a Congregational Chapel, now claiming to be a nightclub but looking abandoned. Opposite is Jubilee Gardens, celebrating the Borough of Crewe, 1877-1927. Into Hightown, which is anything but! Down Browning Street is a remarkably hideous house, stone-class with a mock timber-framed extension on top!
Back to the bus station and into the bus. My bus pass does not work. “No work” says the driver. He gives me a ticket anyway. “It’s from Herefordshire”, I say “Nothing works there.” I get a blank look. Past a shop with a large professional looking sign that declares it is an “of licence”, sells “news pappers” and has the “lottary”.
Thursday – It is a very grey and very damp morning. Rain fell overnight. A Robin started singing fitfully at around 4.30am and a Song Thrush took up the chorus just after 5. I am staying in the White Lion Inn, which was a house dated 1682. Outside the church of All Saints, House Sparrows chatter, Wood Pigeons coo, Jackdaws chack and a Great Tit calls. The church was built around 1840 and a rounded chancel added in 1893. Across the from church is Weston House, the former vicarage built in 1841. Up the road towards Crewe. Jackdaws are everywhere, most roofs have a pair eyeing the chimney pots. Past the former blacksmiths and post office, both now residences. Red Lion farmhouse is a fine 17th building, greatly rebuilt in the early 19th century. A row of cottages nearby is dated 1796. Into the main road. A pair of cottages is in that strange Victorian mock Elizabethan/Gothic style and dated 1865. Called Stowford and Magnolia Cottages, they were designed by W. E. Nesfield and described by Nikolaus Pevsner as “cheerful and just a little Kate Greenaway”. Into the long drive of Crewe Hall.
Crewe Hall is a Jacobean mansion built in 1615-1636 for Sir Randolph Crewe who was born in nearby Nantwich, reputedly the son of a tanner. He rose through the legal profession to become a judge, member of parliament and the parliamentary Speaker. His fortune derived from his successful practice in chancery and other London courts. He briefly served as Lord Chief Justice in 1625-26, but was dismissed by Charles I for his refusal to endorse a forced loan without the consent of Parliament. The park was landscaped in the 18th century by Lancelot Brown, William Emes, John Webb and Humphrey Repton. A fire that gutted the building early in January 1866. Extensive restoration work by E. M. Barry for Hungerford Crewe was completed in 1870. Just before reaching the hall there is a large industrial estate just a stone’s throw away. What seems to be an industrial bakery disturbs the bird song with its mechanical drone. Wrought-iron gates are by Cubitt & Co, and were exhibited at the Paris Exhibition of 1878. bear the inscription Quid retribuam domino (What can I render to the Lord?) Beyond, the hall is a magnificent building, Pevsner called it one of the finest in Cheshire. Constructed in red brick with stone dressings and a lead and slate roof, the hall has two storeys with attics and basements. The eastern half of the present building largely represents the original Jacobean hall. To the west is a large west wing and stakes with a carved stone horse’s head keystones over the entrance arch. The Apple House was originally a dovecot, is beyond the stables and an estate cottage stands around the back with beyond a large modern centre. Back by the gates a large flock of twittering finches flies over. A Blackcap sings in the strip of woodland across the drive.
Woore – I leave the inn and head south. A quick stop in the large village of Woore to look at St Leonard’s church. One explanation of the name of the village is that it came from the Anglo-Saxon word Oure meaning a boundary. The village is in the Domesday Book, where it is shown as held by William Pantolf. There was once a National Hunt racecourse here, where Dick Francis, the novelist rode his first race. St Leonard is the patron saint of pregnant women and prisoners, a slightly odd combination. There was a chapel-of-ease recorded here in 1552. It was rebuilt in 1750. In 1830 it was decided a new church was required and a new site adjacent to the old chapel and vicarage which was the stables of The Swan Inn was used. The designer was George Hamilton of Stone and it cost £1200. The chancel was either rebuilt or added in 1887. The bell tower is an Edwardian addition of 1910 by Chapman and Snape of Newcastle under Lyme. It is a white brick building faced with cement made to look like stone and of either Italianate or Grecian style, depending on one’s understanding of either. It is plain white inside with groups of three globular glass lights hanging from the ceiling. A simple oak chancel screen added in 1917 separates the chancel from the nave. Stained glass in north window is by Kempe and Tower and installed in 1905. The Swan, opposite, is a 16th century coaching inn with what I would guess is a Georgian frontage.
Market Drayton – A small market town on the River Tern in north Shropshire. It was formerly known as “Drayton in Hales” (circa 1868) and earlier simply as “Drayton” (circa 1695). The Shropshire Union Canal passes through the east of the town. Into a car park which charges 10p for 2 hours! I head for the town centre. A Victorian house has blue and white ceramic plaques naming it “Towers View” although I can see no towers in any direction. Down The Burgage, a street of Victorian semis and terraces dated 1878-1888. Into the town centre past a lot of closed shops, it seems Thursday is not the day to shop! The High Street is a mixture of shops in buildings ranging from the 17th century to modern. A strong scent of beer brewing pervades the town.
Into the churchyard. On the far side is St Mary’s Hall, in which Sir Rowland Hill, first Protestant Lord Mayor of London founded a grammar school in 1555. Robert Clive was a pupil. The hall and church of St Mary’s stand at the top of a steep scarp slope overlooking the River Tern. There was almost certainly a Saxon church here. The Norman arch, over the main west door, is the only remaining part of the first stone church. The original doorway was incorporated, in about 1325, into the larger structure. The large west window above the door, has ornate 14th century stonework, pointed arches and elaborate patterns. The church is built largely of local red and grey sandstone, in a random mixture. The battlements were added in the 16th century and the pinnacles in the 19th century. Restored and largely rebuilt in 1819-84, by Carpenter and Sugden at a cost of £7747 10s 10d. There is a service taking place in the church so I retreat quietly. The Sandbrook Vaults is a timber-framed pub, formally a house built in 1653. Round into Cheshire Street where there is a simple market hall built in 1824, 16 Doric columns holding a roof with stone pediments. A large part of the street is taken up with Buttercross Village and the library, both modern constructions with little architectural merit. The Natwest bank is in a building of 1870, erected for the Manchester and Liverpool District Bank, and was the first purpose built back in the town. The site was previously occupied by The Drovers Arms. At the end of the street is the War Memorial in a well kept little garden. Opposite is The Hippodrome, opened in 1927 but now a Wetherspoons.
Saturday – Home – The first snow that has fallen here in over a year is a surprise. It is eight o’clock in the morning and large flakes are falling thickly. It is very unlikely to last long and indeed it has stopped half an hour later and has not laid. It is cold, the weather coming straight down from the Arctic. This is not good news for the fruit blossom that is now appearing – damson, pear, greengage and plum.
Thursday – Redditch – We visit this Worcestershire town that is a dozen or so miles south of the great Birmingham hinterlands. Several Swallows are seen feeding over the fields on the way. Our main reason to visit the town is to go to the Needle Museum – like the Kidderminster Carpet Museum, not an obvious choice for a day out but is, in fact a fascinating place. The museum is housed in Forge Mill, a water-powered scouring mill, the only one still in existence. The Victorian mill received bundles of needles from the many manufacturers in the area. The needles would be blackened steel when received. They were placed in bundles of canvas wrapped tightly with sacking with soap and emery powder. They would then be placed on a water-driven machine that rolled the bundles back and forth for eight hours. Basic needles would then be washed and dried in hot sawdust. Special needles such as “brights” may go through the scouring process for up to a week. The new, shiny needles were then repacked and returned to the manufacturers. The museum also has machinery for the manufacture of the needles. Wire was drawn and cut into the length of two needles. Each end was sharpened by grinding wheel by a “pointer”. This was the most dangerous job in the process as the tiny particles of steel and stone dust would get into the pointers lungs. Few pointers lived beyond the age of 30, most died of tuberculosis or “pointer’s rot”. The needles would them be stamped and punched to created the eyes, then all the rough edges would be smoothed and finally the needles would be tempered to harden them. It was now they were sent to the scouring mill which could handles over three million needles per week. There is also an exhibition of miniature needlework which fascinates Kay rather more than myself.
Outside the mill is a millpond (with Tufted Duck and Mallard in residence) fed by the River Arrow, called the “Red Ditch” from the red marl of its banks. To the west of the mill is the site of the Cistercian monastery of Bordesley was founded by Waleran de Beaumont between 1138 and 1140 and dissolved in 1538. Although there are few remains above ground an extensive set of earthworks are still present covering some 35 hectares. The size of the monastic community was recorded in 1332, when there were 34 monks (including the abbot), one novice, eight lay brothers and 17 serving men. By 1380-1 there was a reduced number, of 14 monks and one lay brother. At the Dissolution 20 monks including the abbot received pensions.
We then head into the town centre. The centre is unremarkable – a large shopping mall with the usual stores and outside some shops, cafés and pubs. The market is by The Green with a “barker” on a meat stall, not something I have seen for quite a while. Georgian houses were built around a green on which a chapel was erected around 1138 as the monastery gatehouse, dedicated to St Stephen. After dissolution the building was in agricultural use but the Earl of Plymouth brought it back into use in the 1687 and placed it in the care of the Vicar of Tardebigge. With the development of needle industry and the subsequence growth the town, the chapel was modified but by 1805 was in a “decayed and ruinous state” and “unsafe for a congregation to attend Divine Worship there”. A new chapel was build on what is now Church Green. This was completed in 1808 using stone from the older building. As the size of the town grew a new church was commissioned built in the Gothic style to the designs of Henry Woodyer. Chapel Green became known as Church Green, and the area was further improved by the planting of more trees. The new church was consecrated in July 1855. The chancel was rebuilt and enlarged to the design of Temple Moore in 1893-4. The church is very much a Victorian one, fairly plain with few distinguishing features, although a number of tiles from the monastery are incorporated into the vestry floor which is not normally open. One fine feature is a stained glass window depicting the Adoration of the Magi by Belgian artist Jean Baptiste Capronnier, installed in 1880 in the north aisle.
On the green outside is a bandstand, built in 1898 and a fountain, opened in May 1883. Across the road are some wonderful Victorian municipal buildings. The Library, known as the Scientific and Literary Institute is dated 1885 and by G.H. Cox of Birmingham. The Court House was built in 1888 as a Post Office and converted to a Court House as recently as 1990. The Library and Court House are both now commercial properties. The original hospital is a fine building by William Henman. William Smallwood was apprenticed to Richard Bartlett as a needle maker, but later established his own needle making business, and refined the process by gilding the eye of the needle. The business, which took in other members of the Smallwood family, proved very successful, but as there were few heirs, the accumulated wealth filtered down to one Smallwood brother, who left his fortune to the Hospital Trust Fund, enabling the town to have its first hospital, (named after the family) which opened in 1895. None of these buildings are listed! Down the hill is the Palace Theatre, built in 1913 by Bertie Crewe and extended in the 1960s.
Friday – Alvechurch – We visit this large village on our way to Birmingham. Alvechurch means “the church of the Lady Aelfgiva”, possibly a relative of King Athelstan. King Offa gave the land forming the parish to the local church in the late 8th century. The church is on high ground and the centre of the village is down the hill on the old route of the A441. To the east of the village there was a palace owned by the Bishops of Worcester, first mentioned around 1230. To the west is the railway and Alvechurch marina on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. We visit the church which is locked despite a large modern extension (the building of which was opposed by the people of the village) being open. The building was largely remodelled by William Butterfield in 1858. A few Norman details remain and the tower of the 16th century. The broken shaft of a preaching cross stands in the churchyard. A large monument is dedicated to Robert Windsor-Clive, great grandson of 1st Baron Clive, Clive of India and father of Robert George Windsor-Clive, 1st Earl of Plymouth. Robert Windsor-Clive was MP for Ludlow but held the seat for only two years and died five years later at the early age of 35.
We drive down the hill to the marina. A bridge crosses the railway and Alvechurch station stands below. It was built as part of the Redditch Railway and opened on 1st November 1859. From the beginning it was operated by the Midland Railway, who had extended the line south of Redditch to Evesham and Ashchurch (the Gloucester Loop Line) by 1868. It became part of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway during the 1923 railway grouping. Under the 1948 transport nationalisation it became part of the London Midland Region of British Railways. It was destined for closure under Beeching, but was reprieved as the Redditch New Town development was announced in 1964. There was originally only one platform but a second was added in 2014.
The marina is home to ABC Boat Hire. Their distinctive boats often have bird names, usually quite unusual ones such as Barred Warbler and Bewicks Swan. On the road is Greenfield Cottages, a terrace probably built for marina workers in the Victorian era and a pub.
Saturday – Home – There is a chilling breeze despite the bright sunshine. A few lettuces have survived under the netting in one of the beds. There are a half dozen seedlings left in the cold-frame so are planted out and plastic collars placed around them – if it is slugs that should stop them. Time to sow cucurbits – two varieties of courgette, Coucourzette and Soleil; squashes, Georgia Sugar Roaster and Maltese Marrow and a saved cucumber which I have to admit do not look too promising. Another tray of lettuce are also sown. The tomato bed in the greenhouse was covered with the diggings from the chicken run some weeks ago. I should have kept it damp as it has set into lumps of concrete. I pour over a few gallons of water and attack the lumps with a rake. By tomorrow, hopefully, it will have softened enough the rake out properly and the tomatoes and peppers can be planted out. Earlier in the week I pricked out a tray of kale but it looks like the lot have died. I am not having much luck with brassicas at the moment! A Great Tit is calling loudly from close by. The hens are still laying well and get into a tizzy as Dandelions are extracted using the rather wonderful extraction tool. Half a bucket of leaves are thrown in which they descend on with relish.
Sunday – Home – Twenty five each of Runner Beans, Climbing French Beans and Dwarf French Beans are sown in large pots. I then find I have forgotten one of the heritage varieties of Climbing French Bean I saved last year. Must remember to sow another pot.
Monday – Home – A fledgling Blackbird is cheeping furiously at his father in garden, demanding food. As I approach the fledgling stands and looks at me then seems to realise the adult bird has gone and rushes after him.
Mortimer Forest – Grey clouds are broken to leave a few patches of blue. A cold wind is still blowing down from the Arctic. Forget-me-nots flower by the car park. A Robin hops through brambles and a Chiffchaff is in full song along with Wrens and Chaffinches. Wood Pigeons coo. Wood Sorrel have tiny pure white drooping heads and trefoil leaves. Stinging Nettles and bramble thickets are green with fresh growth. Foxglove leaves are developing fast. The warblers have arrived – apart from the Chiffchaffs which have been here for a few weeks, there are now Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers singing. Out onto the enclosure. More Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. One Willow Warbler wheeps as it searches the brambles and Hawthorn scrub next to me.
Out now onto Climbing Jack Common. Yet more Willow Warblers, Great Tits, Wrens and Skylarks in song. A dead Silver Birch trunk is infested with white nodules of Birch Polypore. Although our garden is awash with Bluebells, here the great annual display is probably at least a fortnight away. The surrounding hills are dark but sharply defined except for the South Shropshire Hills and Brown Clee on which rain is falling. What looks like a badger sett is under a bramble patch with a small arched entrance and a path worn through Bluebell leaves. Flowers are appearing on the Bilberries.
There has been much clanking coming from High Vinnalls and when I arrive there are two large forestry machines stripping and piling up felled conifers. This is especially pleasing as these conifers had blocked the view down the valley from the summit. Down the track a Tree Pipit soars into the sky and parachutes down. Another Pipit sits on a sapling. It starts to rain but ceases almost immediately. Down near the path junction another patch of conifers has been felled and the stripped logs piled by the track. The growth rings show these trees were about 28 years old. Two sets of chained metal bars lie beside the track. They fit around the front and back wheels of the forestry machines to form caterpillar tracks. A Song Thrush sings at the junction. Honeysuckle climbs Silver Birches.
The track and paths drop down through the Deer Park. The area cleared a couple of years ago has been replanted. I peer down the long plastic tubes which protect the saplings against deer but cannot identify them other than they are broad-leaves, not conifers which is good news. Clumps of Primroses appear here and there. Tiny Dog Violets peep up from beside the path. Wood Spurges have red purple stems and rosettes of lime green leaves and flowers. The pond at the top of Hanway Common valley is fairly full. Another burst of rain. Wood Spurges have specific requirements, they seem to like shallow rocky soil but banks not too steep. If the soil is suitable for Bluebells it seems unsuitable for Spurges. A Small White butterfly flies along the bank, the first I have seen today. One Stinging Nettle plant in a clump has very pale yellow leaves although the veins are still dark green, giving a very pretty and unusual look. The rain starts again and becomes a little more persistent as I reach the car park. As I head back, just south of Orleton, a Red Kite drifts past.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Great billowing white and grey clouds move slowly across a blue sky. A loud chorus greets me, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Song Thrush and Chaffinch. A Chiffchaff hops through a lake-side bush with a small twig in its beak. A Dunnock is in another bush. A Willow Warbler sings his descending shiver of notes near the end of the orchard. A pair of drake Tufted Duck are on the water, their dark purple heads shining in the sunshine. A House Martin flies over. Another Dunnock, several Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and a Mistle Thrush are searching the meadow for insects. A Blackcap is in the copse by the hide. How can such an explosion of song come from such a delicate little creature? Swallows, House Martins and an early Swift feed over the lake. There is just a few feet of the scrape showing but nine Canada Geese, two Mute Swans and juvenile Cormorant crowd on to it and preen. A pair of Mallard feed alongside. The trees on the island are turning lime green. There are few trees on Dinmore Hill in leaf yet. A single Great Crested Grebe is on the far side of the lake. A solid mass of grey cloud is moving in from the west and it looks like rain may be imminent. Back to the meadow. A Green Woodpecker yaffles loudly from the paddock. A few cider apple trees are in blossom. Sheep lie under the trees in the warm sunshine. Into the dessert apple orchard. Many of the old original trees are dead, most of those remaining are carrying heavy burdens of mistletoe. A Sparrowhawk flashes across the orchard. Dessert pears are in blossom. I arrive home just as the rain arrives.
Friday – Humber – The sky is clear and the sun rising over the eastern horizon but it is cold. The temperature shows 3°C on the car thermometer but a bitter wind makes it feel far colder. It is the first of the two annual BTO Breeding Bird Surveys. Despite the wind there are a reasonable number of birds calling and moving around. Warblers are infrequent just single Whitethroats and Blackcaps and two Chiffchaffs. A Curlew flies over. The surprise is the number of Ravens, although counting them is difficult as they are very mobile. I end up with around ten but I suspect the true number was rather more. For some reason Great Tits, Goldfinches and Greenfinches are in short supply. A couple of Swallows are seen, which is not always the case on this early visit.
Hereford – It is much greyer now and looks like rain. Through the city centre and over the old bridge. A pair of Mute Swans fly upstream. One, the pen seems uneasy about flying under the old bridge and lands but the other flies on. The pen quickly takes off again and follows her mate and they both alight on the water on the far side. Beyond the bridge in St Martins Street is a fine Georgian row, beautifully balanced despite the individual buildings being just that, similar each side of a rather plain central house, but not identical. Sadly the central house had a plaque which is now missing (it used to say “Norfolk House”). Drybridge House is also Georgian standing in the other side of the road. The house was owned by Benjamen Bird of Hunt House, Shropshire and his wife Jane Gwynne. He rebuilt in 1742 by enlarging and modernising the original stone farmhouse. He was a Freeman of the City of Hereford. Drybridge Villas, dated 1871, now stands on a major junction of the new bridge road and a superstore entrance. Two pubs stand on the junction, both closed down. Into Hinton Road. The houses are all past 1950s except for a cottage on the corner that may be late 18th century. A row of shops is built in in a pre-cast reinforced concrete blocks similar to the post-war Cornish units. The shops are an angling centre and a hairdressers. Two more are closed, in all typical of local estate shops these days. A short route row of I think post war houses which replaced a terrace of much earlier housing. Then a large former council estate opposite Blackmarstone and King George’s Fields that lead to the River Wye. Hinton Crescent and Court Crescent replaced Hinton Court in the 1930s.
The threatened rain arrives, except it is more ice than rain. By the time I have crossed the park my face is sore from the bitter cold. Barrel rafts are being constructed on the river bank for the weekend May Fair. Over Victoria Bridge and across Castle Green where a firework display is being constructed. Past Castle Cliffs, the only remaining part of the castle. A Blackcap sings beside the river. A drinking fountain, which incorporates the late 14th head of a crowned king said to have come from the destroyed west front of the cathedral, marks the site of St Ethelbert’s Well. The earliest reference to the well is in 1250, a further reference occurs in 1359. An elaborate canopy was constructed over the well at the beginning of the 14th century. It is also depicted on Speeds plan of Hereford. A pair of late 20th century houses stand on the corner of the green, totally out of keeping with the place. The cathedral bell tolls midday. It is still wet and cold, so The Barrels pub calls me with some insistence!