Easter Sunday – Leominster – A bright blue sky and the sun is slowly warming the chilly air. The new apartment blocks are rising in the old Pinsley Mill site and there is, I suppose, a nod to the shape of the former mill. A Chiffchaff and Blackcap are in singing in the woods by the River Lugg. The water level in the river has changed little over the past week. A Dipper flies under the bridge and lands on old fencing that runs along the foot of the bank down from Lammas Meadow. It bobs for a few moments before zipping off down stream. There is a market, not yet of any great size. Along Paradise Walk. Cock Blackbirds squabble. Dunnocks sing. Leaves are beginning to appear on various trees now. The Kenwater is flowing deep and fast. A Magpie chacks by the cricket pitch. The minster bells till 9 o’ clock, then the compline bells ring.
Home –Into the garden and dig out the chicken run to the sound of the minster bells. The hens scurry around after the numerous earthworms that are exposed. A female Blackbird chases off two Robins from under the empty seed feeder, which I now refill. House Sparrows are in the laurel but my visit to the feeder has made them wary. In a few minutes, Blue Tits are back to the peanut feeder. A few minutes more and a Nuthatch is down for the seeds. I then remove the mass of branches of last year’s growth on the vines that cover the patio. Several of the wires that train them break, but they can be replaced later. Shredding the vines is a tiresome and noisy job but useful. The hens are now happily clucking quietly as they scratch through the new straw and chippings covering their run. Robins sing in the fruit trees. I decide my back is sore enough, so planting the potatoes will have to wait until tomorrow – weather permitting!
Tuesday – Home – The Nuthatch in the Horse Chestnut starts his piercing whoop around 6 o’clock in the morning. It starts to rain a couple hours later then out comes the sun, April showers! In go the potatoes. The ground is still very heavy despite the considerable number of worms which are being eyed by our resident Robin. After finishing the planting the new workbench for the shed is delivered. It is “simple to construct” which is actually true, mainly because it is in just a few sections. However, this does mean the sections are extremely heavy so the worst bit is getting the parts out to the shed. I manage it without doing too much damage to the property or myself and soon we have a new bench. Yesterday I sorted out the damage done to the netting over the chicken run and later in the week various bits and pieces are arriving to repair the fruit cage. There are still several panes to replace in the cold frame and greenhouse. It was a damaging, and expensive winter!
Friday – Mamble – The sun is breaking through high clouds. Through the village is Mamble. The earliest reference to Mamble, as Momela occurs in a 10th century Saxon charter. At the date of the Domesday Survey in 1086 Ralph Mortimer was recorded as holding “half a hide” of land at Mamble. The housing is mainly 20th century with a few older properties. The village hall is a corrugated iron building similar to tin tabernacles but erected as a recreation room. Outside is a red telephone box now housing a defibrillator. A little further on, a fairly modern wall houses a Victorian post box. House Sparrows are noisy. The Sun and Slipper pub was built circa 1620 as a house and later becoming an inn. It was just known as The Sun until the latter part of the 20th century. It stands on a junction of the old road to Bewdley and a lane, Clows Top Lane, to Bayton. I take the latter. The church of St John the Baptist lies off this lane. The preaching cross is a stump with a small sundial. Initials, something illegible and an H are on the base with the date 1752.
The church is largely 12th century, built in lovely yellow sandstone. It was restored by Arthur Blomfield in 1880. It was first mentioned in 1231-2, when the advowson was granted to the Abbot of Wigmore. The south aisle was added in the 14th century. The Blounts, the local “Lords of Sodington” added a 16th century North Chapel to provide them with a final resting place. Unusually, the north chapel was a catholic chapel attached to an Anglican church. The chapel was built in red brick with blue brick diaper patterning. The family moved away and sadly it is now just a shell. In the south aisle is a tomb upon which reclines a full-sized human skeleton. Above is a canopy supported by Corinthian columns. Originally at the back of the portion beneath the canopy were inscriptions commemorating Thomas Blount of Sodington, who died in 1561; Walter Blount, his son, who died in 1590; George Blount, brother and heir of the preceding Walter, who died in 1610–11, and his wife Eleanor, who died in 1624; Walter Blount, son and heir of George Blount, created a baronet by Charles I, who died in 1654 at Blagdon in Devonshire, and was buried at Paignton, in that county, and his wife Elizabeth, who died in 1656; and, lastly, George Blount, baronet, their son and heir, who died in 1667. In the chancel is a late 13th century recumbent effigy of a knight. The east window contains a piece of 14th century glass representing the Crucifixion. The font is from around 1200 and has a plain straight-sided circular bowl standing on a moulded stem of the same form. The tower is wooden, partly 17th century on a 13th century framework.
I never went to Mamble
That lies above the Teme,
So I wonder who’s in Mamble,
And whether people seem
Who breed and brew along there
As lazy as the name,
And whether any song there
Sets alehouse wits aflame.
The finger-post says Mamble ,
And that is all I know
Of the narrow road to Mamble,
And should I turn and go
To that place of lazy token
That lies above the Teme,
There might be a Mamble broken
That was lissom in a dream.
So leave the road to Mamble
And take another road
To as good a place as Mamble
Be it lazy as a toad;
Who travels Worcester county
Takes any place that comes
When April tosses bounty
To the cherries and the plums.
John Drinkwater 1882-1937
A pair of old cottages stand beyond the church. Back to the lane. The Clee Hills rise to the west. A grunting comes from a red-wattled Ring-necked Pheasant stalking through a field of sprouting kale. Some earthworks, not marked on any map, lay to the east. The lane lies deep between banks, indicating its age. Primroses flower on the banks. A small valley lies to the east, carved by Mill Brook. Linnets fly past and from the valley comes the call of a Chiffchaff. The lane turns at a wood, The Rance, and drops down to cross Mill Brook. The bed of the brook drops considerably under the bridge resulting in a waterfall. Old trees are entwined with Ivy and provide rooting for ferns. Beside the stream are swathes of Wild Garlic. To the south is a large modern pond. A large house, Coneybury, formerly Mill Farm, then Conybrough in the early 20th century, stands to the north. The lane climbs again. A white donkey watches from a field.
Bayton – A hill leads up to Bayton. A field of just a few sheep are making a considerable racket. Sheep in the next field are munching the grass quietly. Over the roadside bank is a mixture of Dog Mercury, Wild Arum and Lesser Celandines. Further to the hill, Cleavers, Garlic Mustard and Cow Parsley join them. At the primary school a narrow lane leads past the village hall and up to Broadmeadows Farmhouse, a mid 18th century remodelling of a 17th century building. Opposite is St Bartholomew’s church. From the west end is the church are magnificent views across the Rhea Valley to the Clee Hills.
There had been a church here since at least the 12th century. It was a chapel of ease to St John the Baptist at Mamble. In 1817, Edmund Wigley MP of Shakenhurst Hall paid for a new tower replacing the wooden one. The bells date from the 15th and 17th centuries; the treble from the 15th century and is inscribed in crowned Gothic capitals: Sancte Necolae ora pro nobis; the second is inscribed: Thomas Tayler Fransis Morley C.W. 1683, and bears the mark of John Martin; and the tenor, by the same, is inscribed: Francis Maylard Thomas Morelye C. W. Soli Deo Gloria Pax Hominibus 1672. There is also a small sanctus bearing the date 1652. The church was then largely rebuilt in 1904/5 by Charles Wigley Wicksted, of Shakenhurst Hall along with the vicar, Frank Ratif. They employed John Oldrid Scott and Son to design and rebuild much of the church, with only walls of the nave and the western part of the chancel being retained. The font is Norman and beautifully carved with a running strap ornament, carved elaborately, and below this is a heavy cable mould. The stem is also circular, diminishing slightly at the bottom, and is sculptured with formal foliage in low relief.
The houses of the village cover a wide range of ages. Reading Room Cottage is the old school cottage. It has a part cruck-frame and dates from around 1500. Out of village past a paddock in which two black lambs feed and down into the Rhea Valley. The lane turns towards Cleobury Mortimer. Glebe Cottage is a fair sized house but behind it is Glebe House, a large former vicarage of the late 18th century, remodelled in the mid 19th century. North, across the fields and woodland is Mawley Hall, built by the Blounts in the 1720s. It was on the market recently for £10 million. The lane drops down past Nineveh Ridge Care Farm, a farm run for those with various disabilities. Through the sides of a removed railway bridge. The OS map had indicated there was a path along the railway, the Bewdley to Tenbury line, but this does not seem to be the case. Beyond is Nineveh Farm which has a 17th century farmhouse. It is one of only three places in England called Nineveh, although I suppose one ought to wonder why there are any places named after an Assyrian city? The lane drops further down to Houghtonspole Bridge over the River Rhea. New railings have been erected and a watershoot empties a ditch into the river. As there is no route along the railway the only option is to return the way I came. Wood Anemones are in flower in the riverside woodland. A Chiffchaff calls.
A short detour up a muddy path. A Kestrel alights briefly on a telephone pole. At the top of the path is a view across the field to Reaside Manor, a late 16th century farmhouse. Back down to the lane. Back through Bayton. A Georgian farmhouse stands on a corner. Other cottages and goes have been extended, one has fake timber beams. Some Victorian and 20th century houses but many are timber framed 17th century buildings. High House is early 18th century house with a 19th century extension. A standpipe is at the foot of steps leading up onto a green. The former Post Office is an extended Georgian building. Back down to the bridge over Mill Brook. There are Ring-necked Pheasants everywhere. The bridge and brook are on the line where the Raglan Formation of mudstone abuts the Halesowen Formation of mudstone.
Through Mamble and across the main road to a lane that leads to Sodington Hall. Sudintuna, Sudtune, is mentioned in the boundaries of Lindridge in a 10th century charter. In 1086 Ralph Mortimer held Sodington, the principal manor in the parish of Mamble. Ralph de Sodington held half a knight’s fee in Sodington in 1230. It passed to the Blounts. Walter Blount died about 1323, and appears to have been succeeded by his second son John, who was lord of the manor in 1356. This area is now the main road and pastures but from the 1720s until 1944 there were coal mines here and on the land up to Bayton. The coal was run down to the wharf on the Leominster Canal at Southnett, a mile or so to the west, by tramway. Past a large pond with a small island. Sodington Hall, the property of Sir Walter de Sodington Blount and the residence of Mr. Hugh Francis Blount, J.P. in the early 20th century, is an early 19th century three-storied brick house built on the site of one pulled down in 1807. The remains of a moat surrounds the house.
Rock – I return to Mamble and then drive to Rock which lies a few miles to the east. The small village has been variously named as Le Aka, Roke, Hac, Oke, Rooke, Acha alias Roch, Akenborough alias Rock and Aker. South-east of the church of St Peter and St Paul is a moated site of about ¾ acre and a deserted mediaeval village. The manor was held under the Mortimers, passing to the Earls of Warwick, by the Ribbesfords. It descended with Ribbesford until the death of Anne Countess of Warwick in 1448. It then probably passed to her aunt Anne, wife of Richard Nevill Earl of Warwick and Salisbury, whose claim to the estates of the Earls of Warwick was set aside, after the death of Richard at Barnet, in favour of her daughters. Rock was assigned to Isabel wife of George Duke of Clarence, and passed on his death in 1478 to his son Edward. During Edward’s minority it was in the king’s hands, but it is doubtful Edward ever came into possession of the manor, which remained in the Crown until 1524, when it was leased for twenty-one years to Sir Humphrey Coningsby. but it had passed before 1786 to Sir Walter Blount.
The church is a Norman masterpiece. Pevsner refers to Rock as the “most significant Norman village church in the county.” The church features in both Simon Jenkins’ 1000 Best English Churches and Betjeman’s Best British Churches. It was built around 1150 by Roger de Tosny, the grandson of Ralph of Normandy who was standard-bearer to William the Conqueror at Hastings. The nave and chancel are Norman but the south aisle and tower date from 1510. Restorations were carried out in 1861, 1881 and early in the 20th century. The construction is of ashlar blocks. The north doorway is the principal one. It is an excellent example of the work of the Herefordshire School of stonemasons. The tympanum is plain, possibly originally painted. It is possible there was a similar if not finer south porch but this has been removed. The nave is punctuated by double window spaces. Of each pair, one is a window and the other “blind”. The chancel arch is finely carved with foliage, grotesques and chevrons. In the Lady Chapel is the tomb of Judge Coningsby, whose family resided in the parish for many years and were responsible for the building of the south aisle and tower in 1520. Also here is a stone slab now mounted for use as an altar which was found under the nave during restoration and is believed to possibly be of Saxon origin. By the altar is a memorial slab to Richard Smith, last of the Carthusian rectors. In the nave is a pre-reformation St Peter’s Pence chest. The contribution made in a St Peter’s Pence chest went straight to Rome rather than the parish. A whipping post, last used in 1860 and the village stocks, both dating from 1733 are at the back of the nave. The font is 12th century carved with stylised “flower petal” designs. Outside, the south wall of the chancel where there was vestry, now containing a heater, is pocked with holes where soldiers of The Duke of York’s Volunteers used it for target practice in the early 19th century. Route
Wednesday – Llangadog – As we head west a Swallow, first of the year flies over near Weobley. We continue west through Wales and after Llandovery seem to have taken a detour. We stop in this village in Carmarthenshire. Modern housing and a school are on the road into the village centre. A short distance down Church Street is the church of St Cadog, a 5th to 6th century Abbot of Llancarfan, a monastery famous as a centre of learning, where Illtud spent the first period of his religious life under Cadoc’s tutelage. Cadoc is credited with the establishment of many churches in Cornwall, Brittany Dyfed and Scotland. He is known as Cattwg Ddoeth, “the Wise”. The church seems to have previously known as St David’s according to a reference of English troops in 1282, “in the church of St David called Llagadanc. They made stables, lodged harlots and took away all the goods of the church and burnt the (priest’s) house and wounded the chaplain on the head with a sword by the altar in the church and left him there half alive”. The 14th century tower was restored in 1894 while the building, which previously had some restoration done in 1694, was largely restored and partially rebuilt in 1889. There are a number of ornate memorials on the walls but overall the church is typically Victorian. There are three splendid rush seat and back chairs with spindle backs in the chancel.
Back in Church Street, there are a number of good Georgian houses. Church House has 16th century parts but the frontage is from the late 18th or early 19th century. Nythfa is an early 19th house, an inn for much that century, first as Bell Inn, later Glansevin Arms, later a bank. A veranda-roof between the bays on the front is an addition of around 1900. Great House was built in 1766 by William Powell, one side was once the post office, the other side the Midland Bank and upstairs was a tea room. On the other side of the street, a house opposite the churchyard was the Golden Lion public house, dating from the late 17th century. Other houses here have shop windows, although now residences. Further up the street, The Red Lion is an inn, formerly a coaching inn, and is a substantial building. There was an older building here but the inn was built around 1840 by Lloyds of Danyrallt. There is a large archway leading to a courtyard with stables. Access was available past the stables to the cattle market which closed in the latter half of the 20th century. Other pubs in the street are the Black Lion and the Goose and Cuckoo. The Limes is a large Georgian house in Queen Square said to have been the birthplace of Charles Thomas JP, (1821-1909) Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire. The road southwards seems to be only known by the designation A4069. On one side is the Capel y Bedyddwyr, a Baptist chael built in 1808 and rebuilt in 1886. A short distance down is the Providence Independent Chapel whose life began around 1825 meeting in the brewhouse of the Plough Inn, then in a barn in Backway. The first chapel on this site was built in 1840, on Glansawdde land. It was rebuilt in 1883-4 by the Rev Thomas Thomas of West Cross, Swansea, one of the last designs by this leading Welsh chapel architect. The chapel, vestry and dwelling house cost £900.
We leave northwards and pass the former Co-op Creamery, closed in 2005 with the loss of 200 jobs. The site now produces pet food. A Merlin darts alongside us was we drive along a narrow road. Red Kites soar overhead and one flashes across in front of us. The satnav takes us through tiny lanes along the sides of steep wooded slopes. Small settlements last in hidden valleys far below. Some of the lanes down to the houses seem precipitous. Eventually we reach the main road again and enter Newcastle Emlyn.
Newcastle Emlyn – The town is a typical market town. We park near the castle and walk down to the large grey stone market hall and town hall, dated 1892, designed by David Jenkins of Llandeilo. Into the High Street which is a mixture of shops, many closed as it appears Wednesday is half day closing, a traditional pattern for shops that is fast disappearing with the many chains taking over. Several cafés of differing styles are all busy. Some shops are in buildings with names that were clearly for different purposes than they are being used for now. Most are Victorian. Tivy Hall has a stained glass window with the name. Cawdor Hotel is now fast food takeaways with flats over. Down Church Lane is a large, pink chapel of 1820, rebuilt 1869, once a Calvanistic Methodist chapel, now Presbyterian, with a schoolroom of 1900 attached. Opposite is the Court House of 1870, designed by C Reeves (1815-66), architect to the county courts of England and Wales and built by George Morgan of Carmarthen. It is now the library. Holy Trinity church was built in 1841-42 by J L Collard of Carmarthen and remodelled 1920 by W D Caroe of London. It is in the “Commissioners Gothic” style.
We head back to the castle. A promontory overlooks a long loop of the River Teifi. The castle was probably founded by Maredudd ap Rhys around 1240 and is one of the few castles in Dyfed built by the Welsh in stone. His son, Rhys ap Maredudd, held the castle in 1287, and the castle changed hands three times during his revolt against the English crown from 1287 to 1289. After Rhys had finally been defeated and killed, the castle became crown property and remained so until 1349. The castle then underwent refurbishments under King Edward and the Black Prince, when the gatehouse was constructed. At this time, a new town was founded outside the castle walls. In 1403 the castle was taken by Owain Glyndŵr, but was described as being in ruins by 1428. Sir Rhys ap Thomas acquired and repaired the castle in about 1500. It passed through a number of hands before the Civil War during which it was held by Parliament until its capture by Sir Charles Gerard in 1644. Major-General Rowland Laugharne besieged it for Parliament in 1645 but was routed by Gerard in a fierce engagement below the castle walls. After the general surrender of the Royalists, the castle was blown up to make it indefensible and, according to a source of 1700, the castle was plundered and fell into ruin.
The legend of the Wyvern of Newcastle Emlyn, Gwiber Castell Newydd Emlyn relates how, on one of the fair days when the town was full of people, a fierce winged dragon called a wyvern breathing fire and smoke alighted on the castle walls and settled down to sleep. A soldier devised the plan of wading the river Teifi to a point of vantage on the castle side and letting a red cloak float in the river and shooting the wyvern in the vulnerable under-part of the body. The creature was startled from its slumber, caught sight of the cloak and fell upon it with horrible shrieks and tore it to shreds. The assailant meanwhile, escaped to a place of safety. The wyvern, in its death throes, turned onto its back and floated down the river. From its wound gushed forth a most loathsome venom which polluted the water and killed all the fish. A large wooden statue seat of the wyvern stands on the tip of the promontory overlooking the river.
On to Cardigan, Abertiefi. We park at our guest house which is just beyond the High Street and head into the centre. There is a good selection of shops, including butchers, bakers and green grocers which are often missing from many of today’s high streets. We find a pub with a decent pint near the River Teifi and settle in.
Thursday – Cardigan – We drive south across the Teifi and through St Dogmaels and pause beside the river. The Teifi has several channels through sand and mud banks. The channel narrows through two low headlands then flows out by Poppit Sands through Cardigan Bar. Boats are moored on both sides of the river, with a boatyard on the far side. Green hills rise in both sides. Gulls, Great and Lesser Black-backed, Herring and Black-headed, mostly juveniles, several Shelduck and Oystercatchers are out on the mud. Chaffinches and Chiffchaff sing in gardens of the houses of the hillside. White crucifer flowers of Common Scurvy Grass blossom on the sandy hillocks.
Moylgrove, Trewyddel – Along the coast south from Poppit Sands. A land drops steeply down to Trewyddel, a little village in a valley. Moylgrove derives from “Matilda’s Grove”. Matilda was the daughter of a local noble family who married the Norman Robert Fitz Martin, founder of St Dogmael’s abbey and builder of Nevern castle. Trewyddel means “Irish Village”, as Latin and Irish were the pre-Conquest languages here. A stream flows down past a Baptist Tabernacle of 1894. Up the road is the Bethel Chapel, the New Bethal Chapel is hidden behind the cottages in the main street. The New Inn once stood opposite the Tabernacle. A lane heads for the sea down Cwm Trewyddel. The banks beside the road are green with be plant leaves and shoots and large patches of Wild Garlic. Violets peep out of the grass, glorious clumps of creamy Primroses also adorn the banks. Several farms lie on the route to the sea. I take a muddy footpath that runs along the side of a hill, Ceibwr. The stream enters the sea at Ceibwr Bay through a beach of stones. Opposite are great cliffs of grey and black rock distorted into curves and whorls. The rocks are mainly either Carreg Bica Mudstone Member or Dinas Island Formation mudstone and sandstone, both of the Ordovician Period, 449-458 million years ago. Below are sea caves. One leads to the Witches Cauldron, a large cave whose roof has collapsed although it is not visible from here. A sharp chack indicates the presence of a Stonechat and a female is on the gorse on the hillside. Jackdaws fly to and fro carrying clumps of wool in their beaks looking like large, bushy moustaches.
St Dogmaels, Llandudoch - We head round the lanes back to the abbey at St Dogmaels. Although the English and Welsh names very different, but it has been suggested that possibly both names refer to the same saint or founder, with mael (prince) and tud (land or people of) being added to Dog/doch. However, it is also thought that Dogmael was a 6th century saint said to have been the son of Ithel ap Ceredig ap Cunedda Wledig, and also reputedly the cousin of Saint David. The abbey was of the Tironensian Order, the Grey Monks, named after the mother abbey in Tiron in France. It was founded between 1113 and 1115 as a priory by Robert fitz Martin and his wife, Maud Peverel (sister of William Peverel the younger, died 1149). In 1120 Abbot William of Tiron consented to fitz Martin’s request that the priory become an abbey. Abbot Fulchard was installed by Bishop Bernard of St David’s. It remained a daughter house of Tiron, probably until the Dissolution. In 1138, the village and abbey of St Dogmaels were sacked by Gruffudd ap Cynan’s sons, Owain Gwynedd and Cadwaladr, acting with princes Anaraud and Cadell and their Viking allies. In 1188, Gerald of Wales stayed at the abbey with Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, whilst they gathered support for the Third Crusade on their preaching tour of Wales. At Dissolution, the majority of the abbey’s possessions were leased to John Bradshaw of Presteigne in Radnorshire. He built a mansion, probably within the abbey precinct. The ruins are extensive although the east end of the church is entirely missing. Some of the tiling remains on the floor. Beside the ruins is the church of St Thomas which houses of the statue of “Our Lady of Cemais” and is now the only Anglican Marian Shine in Wales. There have been several churches around this site dating back to pre-Conquest times. One record states that on 5th May 1680 complaints were made that the fishermen of St Dogmaels were storing their oars and nets in the church. The present church was built in 1848 to designs by A. Ashpitel, London architect. John Davies and John Thomas of Llechryd were the builders, with the work superintended by Daniel Evans of Cardigan. In the church, partly hidden by the storage of chairs, is the Sagranus Stone, inscribed in both Latin and Ogham and dating from the 5th century, which helped provide the key to deciphering the Ogham alphabet. On the face is an inscription in two lines of Roman capitals, running downwards: SAGRANI FILI CVNOTAMI. On the dexter edge is an inscription in Ogham characters, which reads: SAGRAGNI MAQI CVNATAMI. Both indicate that the stone was set up to mark the grave of the local chieftain, Sagranus, the son of Cunotamus. There several other stones around the church dating from the mediaeval era. A fine clock is inscribed “Rhodd yr Ysgol Sabbothal”, the Sunday School Gift. It is very noticeable reading the gravestones outside how many local men were lost at sea in the 18th and 19th centuries. Down the street from the abbey site is a working water mill.
Aberporth – North to the seaside village of Aberporth. In the 16th century, Aberporth was a subsidiary landing point for the port of Cardigan. The port grew with the maritime trade and lime kilns, warehouses and coal yards were built on the south shore. It became a major centre for the herring fishing industry with some twenty full time herring smacks operating out of the village. However, in the early 20th century the fish stocks collapsed and the industry went with them. The sandy beach is popular in the season but there seems little else in the village. A boat is lifting lobster pots. A few birds fly past, low and fast, probably Common Scoters. Up the hill out of the village is the church of St Cynwyl. It is a small church that was renovated in 1857 and is very plain inside. A small model of the Holy Sepulchre is on a window sill. Outside the village is West Wales Airport, apparently now a centre for drone research.
Cardigan – We return to Cardigan and visit the castle. When we visited in 2013 the castle was closed and renovation after decades of neglect were underway. Now the Georgian house, grounds and new restaurant are all open. A castle was built by Roger de Montgomery in 1093 after a Norman army conquered Ceredigion. The area, but not the town and castle of Cardigan, was taken by Owain Gwynedd, Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd, and Gruffydd ap Rhys in October 1136 after their victory at Crug Mawr over Norman forces army led by Robert fitz Martin, Stephen, constable of Cardigan Castle and Maurice and William fitz Gerald. The Welsh lay siege in 1138 supported by fifteen boatloads of Vikings from Dublin but they failed to take the castle. The town held out until 1164. Rhys ap Gruffydd fortified the town and was credited with the establishment of the castle near the bridge over the Teifi.The castle was the location of the first National Eisteddfod in 1176. Lord Rhys’ grandson Maelgwn seized the castle and sacked the town in 1198, then sold the castle to King John of England. The town received its first charter and became an important trade centre. In 1227 a weekly market was established which continues to this day. Welsh rule over Cardigan continued, for some periods under royal lordship, until it was annexed to the English crown in 1283 when the country of Cardiganshire was created. The town wall was built in the 1240s and the castle was rebuilt. A Benedictine priory was founded in the town. At the end of the 16th century the port’s principal trade was fishing, but during the 17th century trade expanded to include a range of imports and exports, and a Customs House was established to collect revenues. During the Civil War, the town’s castle was held for a time by the Royalists. After then the castle fell into disrepair. In 1808 John Bowen built a Georgian country house within the wall of Cardigan Castle, on top of the foundations of the keep, and making use of a 13th century round tower. Further alterations were made by Arthur Jones, the High Sheriff in 1827. Cardigan continued to grow both as a herring port and a commercial centre with seven times the number of vessels as Cardiff and three times that of Swansea. However, the sandbar mentioned above made it dangerous for vessels over 300 tons to enter and the coming of the railway led to a steep decline in the port. A giant Eisteddfod Chair stands by the walls. A pill box was built in the wall of the castle in WWII overlooking the bridge across the Teifi. Below is a large rock with a statue of an otter. Behind the house is a fine kitchen garden.
After the castle we head up the High Street. Most buildings are 19th century with a few earlier examples. The Guildhall was built during 1858-60. The Black Lion hotel was the principal inn of Cardigan from the 18th century and site of Town Council meetings before Shire Hall was built 1784. By the mid 19th century there were more than 60 taverns in the town. Our hotel was the old gaol built by John Nash between 1793-1797, although it is hard to see anything that resembles a prison now. Next door, Stanley House was built for David Davies, wine and spirit merchant, donor of the Town Clock 1892. It may include part of the gaol’s west wing.
Friday – Cilgerran – We stop in this village a few miles south of Cardigan despite having visited the castle before. This time we visit the church of St Llawddog on the western end of the village. The site may be early medieval in origin. The church was mentioned in the 1291 Taxatio. Cist graves found in the churchyard in the 19th century contained 13th century coins. The church, with the exception of the tower, was rebuilt in 1836 by Daniel Evans but was of such poor quality it had to be rebuilt again in 1853-5 by Benjamin Ferrey of London. The north vestry and south organ chamber were added around 1865, the west doorway in the 20th century. Fittings include an ashlar Bath stone pulpit with marble shafting (JE Thomas, 1855), ornate octagonal font in Bath stone, reredos (1877 by EB Ferrey) and encaustic tiles in the chancel. Stained glass is by Wailes 1854-5 (east window), O’Connor 1854-5 (south aisle), Ballantine 1860 (nave north windows), JG Howe 1855-60 (chancel windows) and Celtic Studios 1970 (two of the south aisle windows). In the graveyard is a stone with the Ogham inscription, TRENAGUSU MAGUI MAGUI TRENI and the Latin, TRENEQUSSI FILI MACUTRENI HIC IACIT, meaning “(The body) of Trenegussus the son of Macutrenus lies here”.
Monday – Southend-on-Sea – Into Southend in Essex, a county I have hardly ever visited. I park in a large near empty car park and wander around to the church of St John the Baptist which is locked. This church was the first in Southend, consecrated in 1842. Southend was once simply the south end of the village of Prittlewell. The name “Sowthende” first appears in a will of 1481. It consisted of a few fishing families until the 1790s when landowner Daniel Scratton sold off land around the area that became the High Street. The Grand Hotel (now Royal Hotel) and Grove Terrace (now Royal Terrace) were completed by 1794, and stagecoaches from London made it accessible. The arrival of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway in 1856 and the visit of Princess Caroline of Brunswick enhanced Southend’s status as a seaside resort. In June 1830 the pier was first constructed and extended several times until by 1848 it was 7000 feet long – the longest in Europe. The Clifftown development was built between 1859-1861. Southend was recognised as a separate town in 1892 and grew as a holiday destination but this was in decline by the 1960s as cheap overseas holidays replaced the traditional British seaside one, although the town still gets over 6 million visitors per annum. The town was a centre for credit card management but this has declined. 20% of its working population commute to London. It also has a high population of retired people.
Nearby Park Inn is a vast hotel, apartment block, casino bar and who knows what else. It was built as The Metropole in 1901, one of the last great Edwardian hotels and the only 5 star hotel on the east coast. Its name was changed to the Palace Hotel. It had 200 bedrooms, a billiard room and a magnificent ballroom. During the First World War it was temporarily converted into Queen Mary’s Royal Naval Hospital and treated over 4,000 soldiers. Its fortunes declined and at one point it was a cut price bed and breakfast. It has now been restored by the Radisson group. Opposite is a huge multi-storey car park. Up past the graveyard. At the top of the road is a large shopping mall. Past a row of late Victorian or Edwardian terraces houses, most in multi-occupancy and poor condition. Broken coloured glass lights and patterned tiles are reminders these were one fine middle class homes. Up Queensway, a busy dual carriageway. Rows of terraces off the main road have been truncated to accommodate the enlarged carriageway. Down a street where one side of terraces has been demolished for a car park. Across another dual carriageway and into the pedestrianised shopping area. The shops are in some large late 19th and early 20th century buildings. One range has two copper Art Deco square domes at each end but the centre is a late 20th century intrusion. Several ornate façades vie with an Art Deco building and a mid 20th century white tile block of dubious value. The ornate façade is on Burtons, a purpose-built shop of three-and-a-half storeys with a hipped roof, designed in Edwardian Baroque style, by Bromley and Watkins, dating from 1915. It was occupied by Boots the Chemist until the 1980s. Next is a row of small shops with flats over with arched verandas with marble columns. The street then degenerates into 20th century brutalism, much of the older town being demolished and rebuilt in the 1960s. Down one road is a block, the University of Essex student accomodation block, in yellow grey, green and black panels with a clock consisting of three faces with one hand each, clever but would be better if it told the right time.
Across a large road junction is Southend Victoria station which opened in 1889. It is much modernised inside. A short distance up Victoria Avenue is the Central Museum and Planetarium, formerly the public library, built in 1905 to the design of H T Hare. Andrew Carnegie contributed £8,000 towards the cost. Next to it is the Borough Council and Beecroft Art Gallery. Both museum and gallery are closed on Mondays. Now everything is modern with tower blocks behind housing developments behind clad multi-storey offices. Past the Court House and Civic Centre built in the 1960s. Outside the latter is a plinth with the town arms and motto, Per Mare Per Ecclesiam, which translates as “By [the] Sea, By [the] Church”, reflecting the town’s position between Prittlewell Church and the sea. Apartment and penthouse blocks, some still under construction and the early 20th century housing lines one side of the avenue. Opposite is a strip of parkland. Beyond the parkland strip is a deep ravine with a lake at the bottom, Churchill Gardens created in the 1960s from a former brickworks sandpit. Unfortunately, it is becoming overgrown and rubbish is in the lake. A Blackcap is singing in the thick undergrowth covering the sides of the ravine.
Across the road is the church of St Mary the Virgin, Prittlewell. The Saxons erected a small chapel on the site of the present church in the 7th century. A portion of the Saxon doorway of that tiny chapel remains today as part of the north wall of the chancel. The nave and chancel date from the late 11th or early 12th century. The tower is dated to around 1470 and the south aisle is from the same time. The building is in Kentish ragstone. The porch is 15th century with a Tudor door. The font has the Tudor Rose and Pomegranate motifs of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. The tower was restored in 1871, restoration to the church took place in the early 20th century. In the nave is a 13th century stone coffin lid. Beside the Victorian pulpit are stairs rising to the now removed rood loft. The chancel roof is part of a 1870s restoration and was painted in the mediaeval style in 1965. The organ is by William Hill and Son, built in 1915. In the south aisle is a state of the Virgin and Child by the Nicholson School.
A timber framed shop stands on the nearby road junction, built as service end and passage to a mid 15th hall house and altered 17th and 19th centuries. Past the Spread Eagle and Golden Lion pubs. Behind them is Roots Hall, the Southend United football ground. A row of buildings advertises plans for a new stadium. Into Prior’s Park. A canalised stream runs through the park. Large monastic fish ponds are still in use for angling. This is the site of Priddlewell Priory. The Priory was founded by the Cluniac Order as a cell to the Priory of St Pancras at Lewes, Sussex. It was one of the lesser monasteries housing not more than 18 monks. After the Dissolution the Priory was a private residence. According to William White, in his 1848 Directory of Essex, on the dissolution “...[the Priory’s] revenues were valued at £194.14s.3d. per annum, and it was granted to Lord Chancellor Audley, who conveyed it to Robert, son of Lord Rich. It afterwards passed with the manor to various families”. The last family to live there in the 19th Century were the Scrattons. In 1917 the building was purchased by Robert Jones, and in May 1922 it opened as Southend’s first museum. In the early 20th Century the Refectory was restored and partly rebuilt. Through the gardens where a Jay watches from a tree.
Back towards the seaside. Round to the east of the shopping area, past All Saints church. Across the road is Porter’s Civic House, where Benjamin Disraeli started in 1833-4.The house takes its name from le-Porters, a prominent family in south-east Essex in the 14th century who owned the estate. One of the family may have built an earlier house on the site. The first known owner of the present house is Humfrey Browne (d.1592) but it may have been built by a member of the Tyrrell family who owned the estate earlier in the 16th century. It is a late 15th or early 16th century red brick manor house with cross wings at the east and west ends gabled on the north and south fronts. At the end of the 16th century it was completed or extensively rebuilt. Nearby is Montague Buildings, a large Art Deco corner building. Back down Queensway.
Down to the beach. A container ship is moving up the Thames, probably for Tilbury docks. The Kent coastline is beyond. A train rumbles down the pier, the longest on the country. The seafront is a large amusement park with rides, amusement arcades, fast food and dodgy pubs. A lot is yet to open, the season has barely started. The Palace Hotel dominates the view. Up to the Royal Hotel and Terrace, built between 1791-93 and named after Princess Caroline who stayed here in 1803. A ball in honour of Lord Nelson was held here in 1805 by Lady Hamilton. The shrubbery below the terrace was built at the same time. In WWII, houses in the terrace were used as headquarters of the Naval Control Service for the Organisation of Convoys. At the end of the terrace is the Naval and Military Club, 1920. A small funicular railway runs between Clifton Terrace and the seafront. Along the terrace is a large white statue of a seated Queen Victoria – Regina et Imperatrix – presented to the town by Alderman B Tolhurst and erected in 1898 to commemorate the Queen’s jubilee.. Sadly one of her hands is missing. A yellow brick terrace was built by Brassey of the firm of Sir Morton Pete Brassey Lucas and Co., who also built the Southend Railway, circa 1860. Prittlewell Square is a lovely garden dating from 1855 with a large water feature with fountains. A clock at the entrance to the Square was donated by local jeweller and philanthropist R A Jones who bought Prittlewell Priory in 1917. This is the monied area with fine terraced villas. Through Geller Corner. Past old stables in Alexandra Road. Church now a nursery. The styles of houses are very varied. Here there is a Victorian mock Queen Anne opposite a late 20th century apartment block. A fox wanders past along the street, ignoring me completely, it is only early evening. It checks out a garden then continues along the pavement. Much of the street consisted of solid semi-detached houses of the early 20th century.
Into Wilson Road, then across Cambridge Road and into Park Road. Over the railway, a train to Fenchurch Street passes underneath. A Wesleyan Methodist Church, 1872 by E Hoole looks disused. The foundation stone is dated 1871. The church was built as part of the Park Estate on ground given by J G Baxter. Nearby stood Hamlet Mill, a corn mill, which was recorded 1299 when a “new mill” was built for £15 5s. 10d. The post mill was demolished in 1869. Down Hamlet Road. The church of St Mark the Evangelist has lights on but it is too late to go visiting churches. It was built by Edward Wright in 1885 as a Baptist tabernacle. The orientation was reversed in 1901 when taken over by the Church of England, the porch becoming the sanctuary. To the east are futuristic silver oval walls of the university building. Route
Tuesday – Southend-on-Sea - Great Wakering – Down to the seafront. A line of steel columns leaning inwards towards the land line the sea wall. They light up at night. There is a brisk and cold wind. The tide is out leaving an expanded of mud in which a few gulls and a Mallard wander. A crabbing boat is beached on the mud. The domed tower of the Kursaal stands as testament to different days. The Kursaal site was opened in 1894 by father and son Alfred and Bernard Wiltshire Tollhurst on four acres of land purchased the previous year, as the “Marine Park and Gardens’ and opened in 1901 as part of one of the world’s first purpose-built amusement parks. The venue is noted for the main building with distinctive dome, designed by Campbell Sherrin. In 1910 the Kursaal was bought by Luna Park and Palace of Amusements (Southend) Ltd, which had been registered on 14th March 1910 by William Hilton. In 1915 American industrialist Clifton Jay Morehouse became the new owner of the park and reinstated the park’s original title of the “Kursaal” (German, meaning a “Cure Hall” or spa) and converted the circus into a ballroom and ice rink. During the 1970s it became as Southend’s pre-eminent rock music venue. At the end of 1977 the decision was made to close the ballroom, with the main building finally closing in 1986. The outdoor amusement area was later redeveloped for housing. In 1998 the main Kursaal building was reopened after a multimillion-pound redevelopment with a bowling alley, a casino and other amusements.
Eastwards past amusement arcades (often with cash machines outside), fast food shops, a gym and the aquarium. A terrace of early 19th century cottages, all with front doors up a flight of steps are in varying condition. Opposite old public conveniences, Darlows Green Toilets, have demolition orders attached to the door. The former gas works is a car park. Large concrete blocks have a brass plaque stating that 1804 of them were constructed as part of the coastal defences in 1940. Inland through a grid of early 20th century terraces. Southchurch Park has a decent sized lake, flower beds and games pitches. Southchurch United Reform church has foundation stones dated 1907. Up to Woodgrange Drive. A shopping parade is in 1930s buildings.
Northwards through more terraces of larger houses from the first half of the 20th century. Southend East station, opened in 1932, is a glass and steel construction around the older buildings. On up to the A13 and another parade of shops. The Plaza Centre is a religious building in a row topped by a green dome. The shopping parade is of considerable length. The Salvation Army is in an early 20th century hall. Breakfast is a bacon sandwich and mug of tea in a small café. Street name signs in Southend are on posts, a much better idea than placing them on walls in a usually random manner. The Old Walnut Tree is a Victorian pub with a hideous plastic façia. Opposite is a modern apartment block. A large house, formerly the rectory built circa 1830-35 and extended in early 1850s, now divided into flats, stands beside Holy Trinity church. A Chiffchaff calls. The church is locked. The church is constructed of irregular ragstone blocks and flints. The church is Norman mainly 13th century with a 15th century (or later) belfry. Restoration 1857 including rebuilding the west wall. To this was added a major extension in brick on the north by J N Comper, 1906 and a chancel of 1931-2 by F C Eden. Beyond the church hall is a former school and school house. It now is Thorpe Bay Bridge Club. I return to Lifstan Way and head south to the sea. Under the railway. Bungalows stand above the road. Then interwar semis. Past Southchurch Park which straddles the road. The west side is pitches, courts and playgrounds, the east has a reed surrounded lake with a few Mallard, Coot and Moorhens.
Onto the coast road. It is lined with modern blocks and Victorian villas, one dated 1880. Dinghies are on the beach, larger fishing vessels out on the mud. The onshore wind is cold and fierce. The Isle of Grain and Sheerness lay across the Thames estuary. Wind surfers are way out on the water. A Chinese restaurant is in a building with a fancy portico dated 1913. Bait diggers are on the mud. A container ship owned by Hamburg Sud moves slowly upstream past a large black hulk laying on its side. The wreck is the SS Richard Montgomery, a WWII ship that sank and cannot be moved due to all the explosives still on board. Palm trees along the roadside are looking a bit battered. The houses have become larger and grander. Rows of beach huts last beneath the promenade. The houses are now set back behind hand and tennis courts. Another container ship, MSC line, is heading down the estuary. Oystercatchers are on the mud. Black-headed Gulls discover someone throwing food onto the grass. The promenade moves away from the road onto Shoeburyness Common. Two more ships, both look like liquid gas tankers, are moving in opposite directions in the estuary.
The path comes to a Coastguard observation point at Gunners Park. All the walls here have War Department markings. The area is a nature reserve on a former firing range. Fences prevent entry. Yellowhammers, Magpies and House Sparrows can all be heard. Sadly, plans are afoot to develop a large section for housing. The rest is the open area is popular with dog walkers, a large number of their charges are Border Collies. A Chiffchaff, Greenfinch and Blackcap sing in another thicket. Back to the sea part a housing development that appears to be “design a building, then repeat one hundred times”, very uninspiring. The park contains a number of military sites. The “Heavy Quick Firing Battery” was built in 1899 as a coastal artillery training facility with two 6 inch and two 4.7 inch guns. There are also 1940s searchlight and machine gun emplacements. Out at sea is an anti-boat boom built in 1952. The east end of the park has been shown to have been occupied in the Bronze Age and a settlement called “Danish Camp” dates from the middle Iron Age. In the park are two brick built powder magazines of 1852-3. At the end of the park is a large house, the Commandant’s House with Commandant’s Park in front of it. The house built in 1851, by D Nicholson and Sons, Wandsworth and extended in 1860 was for the Commandant of the Proof and Experimental Establishment, Horseshoe Barracks. Between the park and the sea are houses including one which was the Assistant Superintendent’s Quarter and another built around 1825 as a Coastguard Station becoming the Officers’ Mess in 1852. At the end of the road are the garrison barracks. A row of now private residences were the Single officers’ quarters at British School of Gunnery built in 1871.The seaside path continues north-eastwards.
Across a wide grassed area above Shoeburyness East Beach. The road comes to another Coastguard lookout. There is no access across the area, it is a military firing range, so I head inland. Over a railway line that once supplied the military base but had not been used for some time. Into Wakering Road. A red brick cottage dated 1673 stands on the corner. Eastwards past houses from the first half of the 20th century, then smaller later ones. The road enters Great Wakering past a crescent of former MOD houses. The road comes to a T-junction. However straight ahead is a track that should lead straight to Great Wakering. Past Crouchman’s Cottage and The Lansdowne. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. Past Crouchman’s Farm. In the distance a Grey Heron descends behind a grove of trees. Skylarks sing overhead. Between fields and into a housing estate. Towards the centre of the town. A house looks like it was the old firestation.
The church of St Nicholas is closed. It only opens on Wednesday according to a notice (and Sundays I assume). It was built around 1100. According to mediaeval tradition, Wakering (probably Great Wakering) was the site of a monastery during the 7th century and so predates the current building. In Saxon times, probably circa 400 -500 the area was settled by the people of Waeccer; hence the name of Wakering. In the Domesday Book it is referred to as Wachelinga. The church is in roughly coursed ragstone flint and septaria rubble walls with limestone dressing.
Up the High Street where there are a good number of 17th to 19th century cottages. There are three pubs, The Anchor is up for sale and may be open but is dark, the Red Lion had been gutted so fortunately the White Hart is open and comfortable. The pub was originally a 15th or 16th century, if not earlier, medieval hall house with right cross-wing with a later roof raise to the hall and other additions and alterations. Opposite, the school is now the community centre and nursery. Up a side lane is the United Reform Church although it is now clear it is still being used.
I take a lane north east out of the village. Past a duck pond with over a dozen Mallard in residence. Out of the village along a lane that says Private Road. The lane is lined by coppiced willows. Out into the flat lands. The sun is now hot. There seem to be no hills in any direction. A cock Pheasant stalks a hen across a stubble field, she seems unimpressed. Unfortunately the road ahead is blocked by a large automatic gate, MOD property. A fishery lays to the west with a board with a list of rules longer than my arm – weird. Everywhere Blackthorn is in blossom. Violet-blue Periwinkles flower coyly in the undergrowth whilst Dandelions are in your face brilliant yellow. Back to Great Wakering and a bus takes me back to Southend.
Back in Southend I head into the centre. By the High Street is a Herring Gull who has decided there is something edible in a discarded paper bag and is tossing and throwing it around. It sticks its beak into the bag and I am not sure whether it actually finds anything to eat or not. It is not until later I look at a photograph I took of the gull I realise it was ringed and report it. The bird was ringed as a four year old in 2016 at Pitsea Landfill and been seen in Southend in March of this year. Route
Friday – Burford - Greete – The sun beats down from a cloudless sky. Yesterday was the warmest April day for 70 years. Today a breeze keeps it a bit cooler. Out of the large former council estate in Burford onto Boraston Lane. A factory is apparently the “largest independent converter of PET the UK”. I am going to have to look that one up – something to do with plastic... (Googled and none the wiser.) The lane comes to the main road. A line of pine trees stands beside the road. Seven of them, the majority have had all their branches removed so they stand like telegraph poles. Up the Clee Hill Road beside the Rose and Crown. A large industrial site is all shining steel pipes and storage tanks. Past the former Tenbury station site. Into Greet Lane by an abandoned cottage, Harp Bank or Signalman’s Cottage. It was a canal house later used as a railway signalman’s house built around 1795 for the Leominster-Stourport Canal and altered around 1858 for the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway Company. A Garden Warbler sings in a Hawthorn that is now in leaf. The lane climbs. Violets, Greater Stitchwort and Hedge Mustard are in flower. Climbing steadily past green pastures. A row of Blackthorns on the hill crest are snowy white with blossom. A Green Woodpecker yaffles in the distance. A field drops away to the west, hummocked with old ant nests and containing a couple of ancient Oaks. The bottom is the field is an old perry orchard. A patch of Violets are all pure white. To the north-east is Hopesmoor Copse, a small conical hill and further on, Greenwayhead, a farm. Behind all rises Titterstone Clee Hill and the village of Clee. To the north-west is the Mortimer Forest. At the crest of the hill are Round Oak and Church Cottages. There are earthworks on the conical hill but no references to any buildings can be found. Church Cottages is a large house with a mansard roof and a small building looking like two small chapels placed together but not quite in line, the Keeper’s Cottage. There was a pheasantry behind these buildings in the 19th century. Across the field is a large house, Hopesmoor. There are modern houses, some just a couple of years old around the lanes and fields.
The lane descends. Several Oaks line the lane, one has been felled. It is tricky counting the rings but I reckon there are at least two hundred. A damp copse is filled with brilliant yellow Marsh Marigolds. A Chiffchaff sings. Blue Tits are in good numbers as are Dunnocks. A Treecreeper scurries up a thin trunk. Past Middle Dale, an extended cottage. A large farm, Harpfields, lays to the west. The lane descends to a stream. Another Chiffchaff and my first Willow Warbler of the year are in song. The stream is Greet Brook, the village, Greete, it appears the “e” is optional and Greote, or Grete have been recorded. Greete is not in the Domesday Survey, but was possibly included with Burford, the manor held by Osbern fitzRichard in 1086. By 1255 Greete was held by Peter of Greete, who also held Plaish in Cardington. Over a modern bridge. One side has banks of Primroses, Wild Garlic, Wood Anemones and Celandines. The other has been swamped by the shooting leaves of Himalayan Balsam. The lane rises into the village. On a junction are the grounds and vast house of the old Rectory. The Parish House stands on the opposite corner; this is a mid 20th century building. A third corner is the old smithy. Into the village. Brick House Farmhouse is dated 1760 (although Newman and Pevsner reckon it is about 1700), a square building with a chimney stack in each corner. The church of St James has a 12th century nave, 13th century chancel with 15th and 18th century alterations. It was restored in 1856 by James Cranston. There is a twin oak mullion window in the north wall with a small bracket presumably for a statue. The nave has a purlin roof with king post trusses. The pulpit is 18th century, the font 14th. A memorial tablet is to Catherine, wife is John Hall who died in 1775. Two bells are late 17th century, one inscribed “Haste Away, Make No Delay”. The altar table was a gift from visitors from Tranmere and Sunderland who have camped here since the early 1930s. The east window, Christ between saints, is 1869 by John Robinson of Shrewsbury. There are several Yews in the graveyard although not of any great age.
Opposite the church is Greet Court, a 16th century farmhouse with a brick in-filled timber frame. It was noted by Mrs Baldwyn Childe, in her “Notes on Houses round Tenbury”: “The curious table on which the tailors made the home-made garments is still there.” This sounds similar to the table we observed at Kinnersley Castle. Back up the lane out of Greete. An Orange Tip butterfly is active over the grass. Further on a Red Admiral is in the wing. Back down to the bridge. A Blackcap is making his “tapping pebbles” alarm call. Up the other road from the bridge. The road rises to Harpfields then descends again, over a small brook then back up again. A Comma butterfly sits on a Stinging Nettle. A complex of buildings is called The Hales, formerly Pennsylvania Cottage. It has fine gardens, crosses by a public footpath leading to The Hole and Ledwyche Brook. An iridescent beetle scurries across the road. A Chaffinch calls in the hedgerow. Down and over another little brook. After another river the serious and bends through Little Dinmore. It then passes through the removed railway bridge of the Tenbury line. An ancient pear tree is in blossom. Past Burford Farm which has a partly timber-framed farmhouse. Barns and oast houses, called hop kilns in the West Midlands, have been converted into dwellings and units. The lane meets the A456. The school built in 1873 by Ernest Day of Worcester is now offices. Northwick House dates from around 1840. Lockyers Farm has a large farmhouse. Turnpike House is late 18th century. Opposite is the former forge. Cottages have a plaque “1867 N”, almshouses built by Lord Northwick. Lineage Farm has workers cottages on the other side of the road. Northwick House dates from around 1840. A row of flowering damson trees line the road just before the industrial estate. Large houses are on the bend that runs around to the Tenbury junction, Stanbrook House and Castlemead, formerly Caldwell Villa, both early 20th century. On the junction the former Swan Hotel is being restored. Route
Saturday – Home – A bright sunny day. The first cut of the lawn. The clippings are thrown into the chicken run where they are well turned and scratched. Tomatoes and peppers, sweet and chilli, have been potted on now. Purple sprouting broccoli, lettuces and kale are all sprouted in the greenhouse. Rows of peas have sprouted in the bed. I cannot see if the frogs’ spawn has hatched yet. There are still several frogs in the pond, black eyes watching as one approaches. Plum, gage, damson and pear blossom is just starting to appear. The Nuthatch that has been calling dawn to dusk has quietened a bit but not the Chiffchaff which is calling almost continuously. Fat Wood Pigeons are regulars in the garden. A Blackbird flies up onto a roof with a worm in its beak, I wonder if it is feeding chicks although it seems early, especially with the recent cold weather. Around lunchtime the sky darkens and there are a few spots of rain but it soon passes and the sun is out again. The last of the old fruit cage wooden base and netting has now been removed and the new one can be constructed.
Monday – Croft – A cooler morning with a breeze. Down into the Fish Pool Valley. Blackbirds, Chiffchaffs, Robins and Great Spotted Woodpecker are filling the air with an avian chorus. The sun breaks through the clouds making creamy patches of Primroses shine. Most trees are coming into leaf now. A Mistle Thrush flies over with a short rasp. The fiddle heads of ferns are unrolling. Rhododendron, previously cleared, is making a comeback. A Wren explodes into sing and a Song Thrush flies up into the branches. Two drake Mallard are on one of the fish pools. A cronking Raven flies over. Up through the Beech wood. Wood Spurge is in flower. I listen for Wood Warbler, although it is early in the season but just Chiffchaff, Great and Blue Tit song is heard. A Blackcap sings at the end of the valley. More Wood Spurges. Wild Arum flower spikes are starting to unfold revealing why they are also called “Lords and Ladies”. Up the path beside the little rill that flows through the foot of Bircher Common. A female Blackcap, with her brown cap, is feeding high in a tree. She starts her “tapping pebbles” call. Two Treecreepers scramble to a trunk, one calling. Foxglove leaves are emerging. The green sward is spotted purple and white with Violets and Anemones. Towards the top of the path at Whiteway Head the trees thin to well spaced Hawthorns, Holly and Gorse and here the fluting descent of Willow Warbler song is heard.
Onto the Mortimer Trail through a gate that takes some strength to open as the posts are rotting away. A small dark orange bee, probably an Early or Orange tailed Mining Bee, Andrena haemorrhoa, flies along the dried out mud of the path. Three Common Buzzards circle and mew overhead. Another raptor calls from the woods then a Peregrine flies out over the Leinthall valley. Up onto Croft Ambrey. A Tree Pipit shoots up into the sky from a high branch on an Ash then parachutes down to ground. Ash leaves are appearing ahead of the Oak. Although hazy, the Brecon Beacons can be easily seen today. A pair of Bloody-nosed Beetles, Timarcha tenebricosa, are mating in the grass, another stumbles is way through the stalks a short distance away. Down the Spanish Chestnut field. Another mining bee, Ashy or Grey Mining Bee, Andrena cineraria, is on the path. Swallows sweep over the mud and the grass field beside the farm entrance near the castle.
Sunday – Leominster – A flowering cherry is a huge candyfloss of white blossom, celebrating spring. The sky above it is grey and threatening, anything but spring-like. Jackdaws chack; they are agitated by a large, probably female, Sparrowhawk flying over. A Cormorant flies upstream along the course of the Lugg. A Dipper darts downstream to alight on its favourite spot on the old fence. The river level has fallen slightly. Blue Tits churr in the bushes. Groups of eastern Europeans head for the market, many will have arrived recently for the summer fruit picking work. If they stop coming because of Brexit it will be a disaster for the local fruit industry and bad for the town in general as they spend well. Leaves are unfurling over the Ash and Black Poplars, the former lime-green, the latter a rich verdigris-tinged copper. There is rain in the air which quickly turns to real drops. The market is not as large as recently but busy. I get a couple of clematis for the garden. The rain is coming in very light showers.
Home – A leaking and rusting mini-greenhouse is replaced. Tomato plants are put into the ground in the greenhouse freeing up some space. The broad beans in a vegetable bed are looking well as are several rows of peas but there is no sign of the beetroot or parsnip seeds sown some time back. The cold, wet weather has not helped and I suspect the seed has rotted. The berry bushes in the fruit cage are flowering well. The pond is a worry, too much vegetation has gone into the water and it is rotting creating some foul smelling sludge. It may need emptying later in the year and cleaning out. Egg production is slow, only Speckles is laying regularly and it seems Silver is not laying at all.
Monday – Croft – A Blackcap sings loud and clear at the top of the ride down to the Fish Pool Valley. A chilly wind sways the trees, some creaking in protest. Great Tits flit from bush to bush. Wrens sing, Blue Tits chatter. Clumps of creamy Primroses flower by the track. Large patches of ground are coloured lime-yellow by Saxifrage. A new sign identifies one of the Douglas Firs. It is over 57 metres tall, the tallest in Herefordshire. More work has been done on the line kiln. The top is now clear of vegetation and a wooden retaining frame is supporting the rear. A Treecreeper calls. A Blackbird sings. The Ransom, Wild Garlic, patch is in leaf now. A few Violets still peep through but they will be swamped soon by the garlic. The first Bluebells on this site are emerging, they have been flowering in our garden for several weeks now. In the valley, below the rustic shelter, a stone built channel from one pool to another had been excavated. However both pools have dried up some time ago and a stream flows through now. A stone culvert is nearby.
Up a side valley. A Song Thrush hops through a mat of Dog Mercury. The track has been churned up by logging vehicles. A Chiffchaff calls. Rhododendron is being cleared from the end of the valley. A new path, or maybe an old lost one, is being cleared around the steep slope up out of the valley. Steps climb up the steep slope but the final approach to Captain Sir James Croft’s grave is still a muddy path. Delicate narcissi flower on and around the grave. Back down to the path which runs around the top of the valley to the west. It is noticeable both here and at home that Nuthatches have fallen largely silent. Their courting days are past and they are now nest building. Of course, soon as I type this, one starts to call! Steps from the path lead into the woodland pasture, where there are many of the famous Croft ancient Oaks. One had recently split asunder, another had fallen and uprooted its base, yet others are mere stumps, but there is yet life in others. Although the core of the magnificent Candelabra Oak had rotted away, branches carry leaf buds. The tree is the second oldest at Croft being between 700 and 750 years old. It is always strange to look at a living organism of such age. When the tree was a sapling Henry IV was on the throne; Harry Hotspur was raiding into Scotland; Owain Glyndŵr was proclaimed Prince of Wales and started his campaign against the English. The tree was maybe a century old when the Americas were discovered by Columbus and the tumultuous years of the Tudors occurred. It was ancient and venerable when the Industrial Revolution arrived. Across the pasture, a female Pied Flycatcher is on a low branch. If she is very lucky her life span may be 15 years.
Into the Spanish Chestnut field. Leaves on Horse Chestnuts and Beeches are unfurling rapidly now but those on the Spanish Chestnuts and Oaks are barely visible. A Long-tailed Tit investigates an old wooden gate post near Park House. Chaffinches sing near the farm. No Swallows fly around the farm, which is hardly surprising in the blustery cold wind.