Good Friday – Cleobury Mortimer-Neen Savage – There is enough blue sky for periods of sunshine. However, a chilly wind keeps the temperature down. Along the High Street. A Georgian house has a large enriched stuccoed panel with heavily-draped shell ornament. Towards the town centre is the late 17th or early 18th century Manor House. The town centre is mainly Queen Anne and Georgian. One of the superficially oldest looking buildings has mock timber framing and is dated 1871. A red marble water fountain stands by a grey marble water trough, both of 1900. Nearby is the stump of the Weeping Cross, erected in 1502 to mark the passing of the funeral procession of Prince Arthur. The old Market Hall of 1842 stands next to the church. A plaque remembers members of the volunteers of the Cleobury Mortimer Company who died in South Africa in the Boer War,1900-02. An old carving of the 12th or 13th century is set into the wall on the roadside, the church being above. It may depict a Sheela-na gig but is very worn.
Across the road is the site is the old well, now dry. The Parish Hall stands next to the old Police Station and Court. Then the Methodist church. Opposite is a lane, Ron Hill Lane. A Weeping Willow flows to the ground. The old telephone exchange is now a residence. Houses here are 20th century. The bowling club is hidden behind hedges and walls. The lane descends steeply as it leaves the town and passes a large old quarry. The houses here are all modern.
The lane levels out as it reaches the River Rea. A Great Tit and Chiffchaff call. A bridleway crosses the river on Walfords Bridge. On the other side are some empty sheds and broken down walls. One of the sheds contains the remains of a Land Rover. There was a smithy here in the Victorian period. Wood Anemones flower both sides of the track which now leaves the river bank. Dog Mercury flowers and Wild Garlic leaves have emerged. A large brick barn is slowly decaying. This was the site of Walford Corn Mill, but it is unclear whether this building was the mill. The great pipes of the Elan pipeline, taking water from the Elan Valley in Wales to Birmingham, emerge from the hillside, cross the river and disappear again underground.
The lane passes between fields. A deep channel runs down to the river, its banks dotted with Primroses. There is no sign of any channel on the other side of the track. Into Neen Savage. Past the church and old Vicarage. Down the gentle hill to the ford and footbridge across the River Rea. The lane on the far side of the river climbs gently and steadily. Buttercups, Ground Ivy, Violets and Dogs Mercury flower on the roadside bank. Bluebells are in bud. Green and silver variegated leaves are frequent – a naturalised garden escape of Yellow Archangel. The true wild variety do not have the variegation.
The lane continues past fields of cereal. A Skylark sings overhead. As the lane reaches the summit of the hill, the dome of the air traffic control station can be seen on Titterstone Clee and the radio masts on Brown Clee. The lane comes to a crossroads at the 17th century Stone House, a large farmhouse in a shallow H-shaped. The barns have all been converted into residences.
The route turns left back towards Cleobury Mortimer. Broome Park Farm is a working farm. The lane descends. A pair of Swallows twitter on wires, the first of the year. A small stream flows down the slope below the lane. It passes under the road by Lea Crossing water treatment plant. On the other side of the stream are the Victorian cast iron railings around access hatches for the Elan Valley water pipes. A small road runs alongside the brook into a caravan park on the site of the Cleobury Mortimer Union Workhouse. The workhouse was built in 1836. From 1932-36 it was a youth hostel known as Styper House. During the WWII it housed refugees from Europe. It has now been entirely demolished. A public footpaths passes through to the far side of the caravan park. A sign states there is no public footpath through the park which is contradicted by the map but never mind, the route leads to where I want to be.
Path climbs across Workhouse Hill to Viol. Grassy tussocks of ant hills are dotted across the hillside. A pair of large Oaks stand together on the hill, a Greenfinch calling from them. A small herd of cows lay across the hillside. The path re-enters Cleobury Mortimer into a modern estate and the primary school. Past the old school and down a narrow lane to Childe Road, formerly Back Lane. Lacon Court is a greatly extended large Victorian house. William Lacon Childe was MP for the county of Salop in the 1720s and 30s. Nearby is Lacon Childe School on the site of Cleobury Mortimer castle. In the Domesday Book, the manor of Cleobury was held by Ralph de Mortimer. Cleobury Castle is first mentioned in 1154 when it is recorded as being destroyed by Henry II after de Mortimer’s rebellion. By 1179 had been rebuilt and Hugh de Mortimer came from overseas to reside at Cleobury. Leland visited the site between 1538 and 1545, and noted that there was a castle at Cleobury, by the church, the plot is yet cawled the Castell Dyk. In 1740 Lacon Childe founded the school. A twitten drops down into St Mary’s churchyard and onto Church Street. Back up High Street. There are a lot more people around now. Route
Easter – Leominster – The sky is azure and cloudless. But this has resulted in an overnight frost and the air is still cool. The railway foot bridge is frosty. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen further. Birdsong rings from all directions – Chiffchaffs, Wrens, Blackbirds and Robins. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drums nearby. Few of the larger trees have any leaves yet. A Carrion Crow flies up onto the station lift with a large piece of bread in its beak. The “flower” spikes of Wild Arum are rising from the leaves.
Back over the railway. A Greenfinch calls from the tree at the road junction near the White Lion. The Millennium Park and churchyard are filled with bird song. Some Wild Garlic leaves are collected for the hens. The scaffolding had gone from the west end of the Minster.
Home – My first plan is to dig out the chicken run but the surface has dried to the consistency of concrete! I simply cannot manage it, so I will either wait until it rains or put out the new bedding anyway. I leave the decision for now. The last of the leeks are cropped. By the time they are topped and tailed they are a rather pathetic amount. Still, our mantra is “there is always next year”! A couple of barrow-loads of compost is spread on the former leek bed and the broad bean seedlings planted out. The row of peas sown a couple of weeks ago do not seem to have done much, so another two rows are sown. Wire netting goes over the top in case it is pigeons that have gone after the first sowing. A tray of plugs are sown with beetroot – Detroit Globe. This goes into the greenhouse. The recently sown lettuces are looking good. The Buttercrunch lettuce is pricked out and planted in the greenhouse and one of the beds. Rings of plastic cut from yoghurt pots are placed around the seedlings to try and stop slugs. The ones in the bed are protected by a tent of material. Chilli and sweet peppers have been a complete failure, so another tray of sweet are tried – Marconi Rossa.
Tuesday – Leominster – Bright sunshine between fast moving clouds. A few minutes earlier there was a short blizzard. Onto the railway bridge. A Common Buzzard and a Carrion Crow tussle over the riverside trees. They twist and turn rapidly, updating the strong breeze. The water level in the River Lugg remains low.
Through Pinsley Mill. Lesser Black-backed Gulls fly to and fro. One half heartedly dives after another. A Dunnock sings from the far side of the railway track. Small bright green leaves surrounding tiny pink nubs foretell of apple blossom to come. Birds are silent, just the noise of traffic and children. A Magpie stands by a snowy drift off Blackthorn. The plum and pear trees on Pinsley Mead are coming into blossom. The Kenwater runs shallow and clear. The thin, paper like bark of the white birches rustles in the wind. A couple of Wood Pigeons fly off from the trees in the churchyard, otherwise there is quiet. Not so on the Grange where people sit and chat, youngsters play with a football and others just walk in the cool afternoon.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The airflow from the Arctic seems to have put spring on hold. A few miniscule patches of snow linger on the grass. House Sparrows are noisy around the barn by the car park. Spiky green catkins adorn a Grey Willow. Blue and Great Tits call along the track. Canada Geese gabble in the distance. Fresh leaves emerge on the Old Man’s Beard. Gulls are flying south west, mainly individually. Blue Tits, a Chiffchaff, Blackbirds and a Song Thrush move through the Blackthorn and Hawthorn. Dozens of Sand Martins sweep low across the water of the lake. A pair of Mute Swans stand on one of the islands. One still has the brown markings of last year’s brood. A Great Crested Grebe dives nearby. Tufted Duck are spread out across the water. A Blackcap and Willow Warbler are in song. One Oystercatcher is on an island. The adult Mute Swans are near the meadow.
Onto the meadow. Blackbirds and a Song Thrush probe the soil for food. The Goat Willow has faded to cream. Blackcap, Wren, Robin are are singing in the lakeside trees. A Willow Warbler stands on a branch silently.
The hide has finally been unlocked. A Swallow joins the Sand Martins over the lake. Only a small area of the scrape is above water. A pair of Mallard and a Coot occupy it. Several Tufted Duck swim nearby. Three Cormorants are on an island, two have pale breasts. Several feral Greylags are present. A House Martin appears in the southern side of the water. The Coot near the scrape is unhappy about the presence of the Tufted Ducks and chases them off.
The trees in the new area of the orchards are in blossom but only a couple of cider apple trees, the Bulmers Norman, have any flower in the older orchard. In the dessert apple orchard, none have come into blossom yet, which given the ongoing threats of frost is a good thing.
Friday – Bringsty Common – A cool grey morning. Rain is in the air. A metalled road leads down onto the common. A Dunnock and a Blackbird are in song, Blue and Great Tits call. A Carrion Crows sits motionless in a dead tree watching barnyard ducks feeding in the grass. In the field beyond are llamas. The Malvern Hills are in the skyline. It starts to rain. Several cockerels crow. A couple of older houses are at the foot of the hill, both substantially extended.
Across the hillside a short distance is the The Live and Let Live pub. A small thatched cider house built as a cottage in the 17th century, it has been greatly extended and seems to be undergoing further enlargement.
Across the common onto a bridleway. Another stone cottage has been incongruously extended in brick. Past an area that has been burned in the past year. Opposite is a wood of mainly Silver Birch. A Chiffchaff calls from within. More cottages have been extended greatly. Primitive Methodist Chapel stands next to the track. Wall plaque states, “Mount Sion Primitive Methodist Chapel Erected in 1861”. It is believed it closed as a chapel before 1940. The building is now a store. On past a late 20th century house with no redeeming features.
By the entrance to Cider Mill Farm, a path runs down into Mitchell’s Coppice. Across a small stream. Over the stream is an area of mud with several clumps of Marsh marigolds – arrow shaped green leaves and bright yellow, large buttercup-like flowers. The path had been churned into a quagmire. A track passes more houses, one seems to be a genuine timber-framed building. A grassy track runs alongside paddocks before rejoining the cinder track. Flowering Cherries abound. The track descends through Nuttage Dingle. The track leaves the common beside pillars and gates of Nuttage Farm. The rain gets heavier.
The lane joins the Linley lane at Hainscroft. There is no easy way to get back to the common from this road, so I retrace my steps. A Willow Warbler sings its descending notes. A grassy path heads up hill. Violets peep out of the grass. Up the steep hillside to the triangulation point. The land is now covered in a grey murk, hiding the Malvern Hills. However, the rain has eased. Along the hilltop is a toposcope, dated for the Millennium on a plinth erected for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, not that this makes a lot of sense!
A seat is dedicated to the Roberts, two blacksmiths and the postmistress. The smithy, which is still a working forge, and the post office are side by side back up the Bromyard Road at a place called Bedlam. A path returns to the car park. Route
Sunday – Leominster – A cloudy morning with the temperature only just above freezing. Down the road, over the railway and onto Butts Bridge. A Blackcap sings in a tree overhanging the station fence. Below a Dunnock flaps his wings at a female. A pair of croaking Ravens fly over. The water level in the River Lugg continues to fall. Leaves are yet to appear on the Ash or Black Poplars. A Chiffchaff calls.
Into the Millennium Park. A Song Thrush sings from across the railway. Wood Pigeons coo. A Blackbird is repeating its alarm call from the foot of the churchyard. A rabbit bounces away. Marsh Marigolds are in flower in the old pond. The water level in the Kenwater is also falling.
Into the churchyard. Wild Garlic leaves are gathered for the hens. The Minster bells toll 9 o’clock followed by the Compline bells. The flag is at half-mast as the country gets rather hysterical about the death of Prince Philip.
Along Church Street. The antique shop has some wonderful old stone devils in the window, although I dread to think how much they are charging for them. They are also displaying a rather eccentric but wonderful diorama of a church.
Home – More lettuces are planted out and a row of Swiss Chard is shown alongside them. Carrots and beetroot are sown in another bed. The seeds are covered with fresh compost from one of the bins. The air is still cold despite periods of bright sunshine. By early afternoon the sky has turned dark grey and there is a brief downpour of snow.
Tuesday – Leominster – After a cold start, the day is slowly warmed by an intermittent sun. A Dunnock sings lustily outside the White Lion. A Blackcap sings at the end of the pub garden. More Blackcaps, a Robin, Chiffchaff and Wren sing near the river. The water level in the River Lugg remains low and the water clear.
Back over the railway and through Pinsley Mill. A train races south, clearly not stopping at the station. White Comfrey is in flower at the foot of the churchyard. Again, some Wild Garlic leaves are gathered for the hens. Back to Pinsley Mead. A Dunnock is displaying to a female on a fallen tree by the River Kenwater. Into town. The partial lifting of lockdown rules has brought out shoppers and those who are just wandering.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A cool start to the morning with a scattering of cloud which is thick enough in the east to obscure the sun. The usual calls around the car park – House Sparrow, Wood Pigeon and Great Tit. Along the track where most bushes and trees are in leaf although the Lombardy Poplars remain brown. Forget-me-nots peep out from under the Brambles. A Blackcap moves through the snowy blossom of Blackthorn before emerging into an open branch and breaking into song. He has competition just a short distance away. A Wren explodes into song in the undergrowth.
A pair of Mute Swans sail serenely past on the boating lake. A Greylag stands on one of the islands. A couple of dozen or more Tufted Ducks are around the islands. A few Mallard, Coot and Canada Geese are around this section of lake although many of the latter can be heard from the big, wooded island further to the west. Along the path, flowering Ground Ivy is being swamped by new growth Stinging Nettles.
Another Blackcap sings by the gate to the meadow. I can hear a Magpie chuntering in the hedgerow but it takes a moment to find it. It seems impossible that such a striking bird can be difficult to locate. Through the Alder plantation, where a Chiffchaff calls, to the hide. A cock Ring-necked Pheasant and two hens are on the bank. A couple of dozen more Tufted Ducks are on the water. More Greylags are scattered around. A pair of Great Crested Grebes swim across the lake. A Robin stands atop a flowering Gorse. A single Long-tailed Tit bobs by. Sticks have been placed on the Osprey platform but there is no sign of any occupation. A Green Woodpecker alights on a fence post near the Pheasants. A Carrion Crow drops in but decides the cock Pheasant is too big, so departs. Half a dozen muttering Greylags fly past. The Green Woodpecker drops down into the grass and starts probing the soil with its long beak.
Back to the meadow. A Jay flies over calling continuously. A pair of Common Buzzards circle over West Field Wood. Into the cider orchard where more trees are coming into blossom, others have nascent leaves whilst on many, buds are barely discernable.
Thursday – Leominster – Bands of soft pink cloud cross the sky to the east of the zenith. Brilliant fiery orange line of cloud is above Eaton Hill. The temperature is barely above freezing. Onto the Grange. Blackbirds, a Great Tit, Robin and Dunnock are in song. Gulls yelp high overhead. Wood Pigeons sit in the trees of the old playing field whilst others search the ground for breakfast. There is a grass frost here. A pair of Canada Geese fly north.
Birds song is loud in the Millennium Orchard. A Wren is particularly persistent. A Chiffchaff calls across the railway. Nearer to the White Lion, a Blackcap is in song. Up Etnam Street. A Starling disappears under the eaves of the large house by Duke’s Walk. The sun is now blindingly bright in the east.
Sunday – Leominster – The sun is bright although cloud is thickening. The air is cool. Cherry blossom adorns trees in the street. Over the railway to the River Lugg. Song Thrush, Wren, Great Tit and Chiffchaff are all in fine voice. More gravel is exposed as the water level in the river continues to fall. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips.
Into Pinsley Mill. Blackbird, Chiffchaff, Blue Tit, Wren, Blackcap and Dunnock all sing on the far side of the railway. Yelping Lesser Black-backed Gulls pass overhead. Into the Millennium Park. A Bird Cherry is covered in long pendulous spikes of white flowers that have yellow centres. A sawfly rests on one of its leaves. Amorous Wood Pigeons flap and clatter in a tree. The Kenwater is shallow and flowing quietly.
Into the churchyard. A large Elder thicket had been removed leaving a mound, stumps and a pile of sawdust. Onto Church Street. House Sparrows are active around the still empty rectory. More are chattering excitedly in a hedge of lavender outside the Forbury Chapel.
Home – Courgettes (Lungo Bianco and Black Beauty), cucumber (White Wonder) and Kale (Uncle Bert’s Purple) are sown. Six old compost bags are rolled down and compost poured into the bottom. Three are planted with two potatoes in each (Nadine and Duke of York). More compost is added and the bags placed in spaces either side of the cold frame. The first beetroot seedlings are appearing in the greenhouse. As usual, the purple sprouting seedlings are dying fast. I have no idea why this seems to happen every time.
Tuesday – Home – The temperature keeps rising throughout the day and by mid-afternoon it is warm for the time of year. The tomato seedlings are pricked out into individual pots. The Tumbler variety go straight into the hanging baskets but are kept in the greenhouse. The Cox and Herefordshire Russet apples are just about to blossom. The root crop seeds sown in one of the beds are not showing. It may be that it has simply been too cold but worryingly, Wood Pigeons have been on that bed and may have simply eaten any shoots. The netting over the purple-sprouting have torn beyond any use allowing birds to finish off the remaining heads. The stalks and leaves are now going into the hens one at a time. In the evening, clouds cover the sky and it is clear that the temperature will be nowhere near freezing, so the tomatoes are left in the greenhouse.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – It was indeed a much milder night than of late and the morning is grey. The usual suspects are all in song along the track – Chiffchaffs in the trees, a Dunnock on top of a Blackthorn whose blossom is fading now, the distant Green Woodpecker, an explosive Wren in the undergrowth, a croaking Pheasant across the fields and melodious Blackcaps in the bushes. A rabbit dashes across the track. A couple of dozen Tufted Ducks are on the water. Above them a fair number of Sand Martins and Swallows sweep after insects. Mute Swans are across the far side. A few Mallard are on and around the islands. A cloud of small insects passes by. Several Great Tits are active in the scrub.
A Green Woodpecker, not the one yaffling earlier, flies across the meadow into the orchards. Three Cormorants are on an island, another on a pontoon but none in the trees. A pair of Mute Swans fly south. A Coot is noisy on a nest in the still brown reed bed. A Grey Heron flies into the north western reed bed. There appear to be only a few Canada Geese around and, unusually, they are fairly quiet. A pair of gabbling Greylags take off and head west. A Moorhen swims past, disappearing into the reeds. A Great Crested Grebe is on a tiny islet. Trails move in ripples across the water as fish, probably Carp, swim through the shallows.
Back to the orchards. Perry pears are in blossom. A breeze is making it colder. Two Gennet Moyle and two Irish Peach dessert apple trees are in blossom.
Thursday – Llandrindod Wells – We spend a couple of hours in this mid-Wales town, our first visit to the Principality for a long time because of lockdown. We spot a good number of Red Kites from Kington onwards. It is a lovely, sunny spring day but the wind has a bite. Up the gentle slope of Princes Avenue. Near the road is the site of Capel Maelog. The site was extensively excavated between 1984 and 1987. A sub-rectangular enclosure of the 4th to 5th century was discovered, with some evidence of activity in the 6th to 9th centuries, possibly of a domestic or agricultural nature. A small cemetery dating to a period between the 9th to 12th centuries was immediately superseded by a simple two-cell stone church, apparently set out with regard to features within the early cemetery. Apses were added to the east and west ends in the 13th century (a unique arrangement in Britain) using stone from the Roman fort at Castell Collen, and the church remained of this plan until its abandonment in about the early 16th century. The existence of the church was known in records but the actual site was lost. It was known originally as Llandemaylon and the traces were found in the early 19th century. There is now the outline of the walls, a modern grave marker indicating the site of a grave that the church seems to have been constructed around and a modern altar.
It is believed St Maelog was the son of a Romano-British chieftain from Strathclyde, born around 500CE and brother of St Gildas. Maelog and his family settled in Yns Môn in 510, then moved to Cornwall to be come a disciple of St Cybi. He moved again to Gwent then to Ireland in 532 before returning to Yns Môn in 538. The following year he moved to Brycheiniog and established a clas, community, at Llowes. He established a number of churches in the area before returning to Ireland in 545, and on to Brittany the following year where he died in 590.
Nearby, three modern standing stones have been erected. A Nuthatch calls and a Chaffinch sings in trees. The road continues to Llandrindod Lake. This was a peat bog which was dammed in the Victorian era to form a boating lake. The lake houses a sculpture of a water serpent and leaping carp, the scales of which are made of thousands of copper plates initialled by local people and visitors during construction of the work. Mute Swans, Mallard and Canada Geese gather in front of a café and gift shop which sells bird food. Out on the lake are more of these species and several Tufted Duck. There is a walk all the way around the lake via Princes Avenue. In many places around the edge are brilliant yellow patches of Marsh Marigold. Near the end, in the park, is a tree-trunk carving of a horned crocodilian called “Llandoddy” by Dave King.
We head into the town across The Common and down to Temple Street. Into the centre past large Victorian houses. The town centre is quiet as many of the commercial premises are cafés or bars, and all are still closed.
Friday – Peterchurch – The sun is rapidly warming a cool morning, shining from a cloudless sky. In Peterchurch churchyard. Overhead Rooks are noisy in conifers. The tower and tall spire rises towards the sky. A stone bridge crosses the River Dore. A Wren sings loudly. A path heads west. Sheep and their lambs are in an adjoining field. A large, old pear tree is in blossom. Through Hinton Court, a farm with a large late 17th century farmhouse enlarged in 1723 with a large stone barn-like extension. Just beyond is a large 19th century house, probably a former farm worker’s. A Chiffchaff calls above in an Ash. Bluebells, white Bluebells, White Dead-nettle and Yellow Archangel are in flower on the banks.
The track joins a lane. Hinton Grange is a long, two storey house. The core is early 16th century, modified to create a three room format in the early 17th century. An additional room was added in the early 19th century. Hinton Hall is an even larger house, a former vicarage built in the 19th century. This is followed by a number of uninspiring 20th century residences. Boston Cottage, at Hinton Cross, is timber-framed with a stone extension. All along the lane, the hedgerow had been drastically chopped down. A Raven searches a field for food. To the east the long range of the hills runs south east to north west. A herd of red cattle lay in a field. The east side of the lane has white flowers – Greater Stitchwort, White Dead Nettles and Cow Parsley; the west side is yellow with Dandelions and Buttercups.
The track joins a lane. Hinton Grange is a long, two storey house. The core is early 16th century, modified to create a three room format in the early 17th century. An addition room was added in the early 19th century. Hinton Hall is an even larger house, a former vicarage built in the 19th century. This is followed by a number of uninspiring 20th century residences. Boston Cottage, at Hinton Cross, is timber-framed with a stone extension. All along the lane, the hedgerow had been drastically chopped down. A Raven searches a field for food. To the east the long range of the hills runs south east to north west. A herd of red cattle lay in a field. The east side of the lane has white flowers – Greater Stitchwort, White Dead Nettles and Cow Parsley; the west side is yellow with Dandelions and Buttercups.
A couple of dozen Linnets are feeding in a bare soil field scattered with sheep feeding on mangelwurzels. Past a few dwellings that make up Fine Street. A Blackcap sings in a garden. Just beyond are two lime kilns. The lane continues past pastures, some beginning to brown where sheep have nibbled the grass right down, others green and lush, awaiting the sheep. To the west Cefn Hill comes into view; to the east, Woodmere and Blakemere Hills. Yellowhammers are in the hedgerows. Past an old stone farmhouse. Garlic Mustard flowers on the “white” side of the lane. A lane, The Castle, climbs westwards towards Snodhill.
At the top of the hill is Snodhill Castle. The castle had almost disappeared but a group of local volunteers and English Heritage have brought it back from complete obscurity. The castle was first constructed in 1068 by William Fizt Osbern, Earl of Hereford. He granted it to Hugh L’Asne who held it until his death in 1101. It then passed to Roger de Chandos. The high keep was built in 1160 and it was refortified between 1200 and 1230. The north keep tower was built in 1321 after a surprise attack during the Despenser Wars. Roger Mortimer, Hugh Audley, John Giffard, Henry Tyes and John Maltravers broke into the castle around Easter 1321, assaulted his servants, and threatened to burn his manors if de Chandros did not join them. However, by 1355 Roger de Chadros had died and the castle was partly ruinous. In 1403 Sir John Chandos was ordered by King Henry IV to fortify the castle against the Welsh rebel Owain Glyndŵr. Following Sir John’s death in 1428 Snodhill passed to Giles Bruges and then later to The Crown. By 1436, Richard de la Mere, sheriff of Herefordshire, held the castle, but later it past to the powerful Neville family, Earls of Warwick, but was seldom used. Four years later it is reported as falling into ruin. In 1568 Queen Elizabeth granted the estate to her favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. The estate now had a one thousand acre deer park to the south west, a Pleasaunce – a summer banqueting hall – to the north and a “Royal Free Chapel”, the chaplain of which was Robert Fayrfax, a favourite composer of Henry VIII. However, Leland had stated in 1549 that the castle was “somewhat in ruin”. Dudley sold it to the Vaughan family. In 1645 the Royalist Vaughan family made repairs to their castle and prepared for a siege by Parliamentary forces. Scottish forces bombarded the castle causing further damage to the already partly ruinous walls. The Vaughans sold the castle to William Prosser, a successful coachbuilding businessman, of 31 St Martins Lane in London, in 1657 who dismantled it to use its stone for the building of Snodhill Court and farm.
From the top of the motte, it is easy to see why the castle was sited here, the views are magnificent in every direction. Parts of the curtain wall remain. A staircase leads up to the high keep where there is a portcullis slot. On the east side the hillside has been made even steeper with a vertiginous drop.
Into Snodhill. Snodhill Court farmhouse is a striking building of the early 17th century, extensively remodelled in 1665 and extended in the late 17th century. It was built, as stated above, by William Prosser who died here in 1674. A number of fine barns lay across the lane. Off along the lane, Snodhill Old Tay, towards Urishay. House Sparrows are everywhere and noisy. Several farmhouses and barn conversions are passed. Over a ford at Lower House Farm. There is a footbridge but the stream is low enough to step across. The lane starts to climb. A large patch of Dog Violets on the bank are accompanied by Greater Stitchwort and Garlic Mustard. On the other side of the lane, the bank is covered in Dog Mercury with an occasional Cuckoo Flower, also known as Lady’s Smock. A Willow Warbler sings nearby. Now large clumps of Archangel flower on the south facing bank along with Wood Sorrel.
The hill is steep and long, and I am not in the best of conditions! Sheep across the valley are noisily rushing down the hillside as they espy the farmer’s truck and trailer carrying munchies. The hill grows steeper. Herb Robert flowers. Finally the lane summits at a junction by Snodhill Park. A short section of the verge is covered in Primroses. Past the junction of a lane which leads down to Fair Street. On down the lane, now called Urishay Villa which is descending steadily. Over a brook which had been reduced to a trickle.
There is a short, sharp climb again. As the day warms, the views are becoming hazy. A Common Buzzard glides across the hillside. The lane descends once more. A small track runs out of a field, under the fence and hedge and then up the other verge – a Badger run. Trenant Brook runs under the road then drops into a deep ravine. Nearby an old ruin has been “bodged” in wood up to form a dwelling again. A Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1857 has been converted and is unrecognisable now. Set back from the road is Urishay Villa, a 19th century house.
At Urishay, a lane heads down eastwards back towards Peterchurch. A very deep holloway runs next to the lane. A ruined probably 12th century chapel stands next to the road. The nave is intact, having been restored in the 19th century but blocked off from the ruined chancel. Behind it is Urishay castle. Unfortunately it is not accessible. The estate at Urishay probably took its name from Urri de la Haie, to whom the land was granted by Roger de Chandos some time after the death of Henry I in 1135. Urri would have constructed the chapel soon after completion of the castle, to serve his family and garrison, and the later 12th century extensions to the chapel may correspond with his grandson Roger’s success under Richard I and King John. The motte is now occupied by the ruins of a 17th and 18th century house, and the sides have been terraced and revetted with 17th century stonework. The estate remained with the de la Hay family until the demise of the house in the 1920s. Opposite is an ancient Sweet Chestnut. On down the hillside. A wind has sprung up. Across a field are old Willows by Trenant Brook which flows under the road.
The lane now climbs again. A White-tailed Bumble Bee is visiting Dandelions. A Chaffinch sings loudly. An Orange Tip butterfly flits past. The ditch beside the road has been lined with flat stones sometime in the past. The lane crests the hill at Penllan Farm and then drops down into Peterchurch. Past the modern High School. A slight hump in the road marks where the railway line crossed but there is nothing else now to mark its route. The Golden Valley Railway branch line to Hay-on-Wye was opened on 1st September 1881 as far as Dorstone and later extended to Hay-on-Wye. The new railway station and junction involved considerable addition to the track layout and buildings at Pontrilas. The last passenger train out of Dorstone was on 23rd August 1951. Over the River Dore and back into Peterchurch. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Another sunny morning. It has been sometime we have had any rain which means the garden is now dry as a bone. Down the street to the sound of cooing Wood Pigeons. Chairs are being set out in the forecourt of the Baptist church for a service. There is enough of a breeze to keep the air cool. A Blue Tit calls and House Sparrows chatter; in the distance a Blackbird sings.
On to the railway bridge. A Chiffchaff and Song Thrush sing in the trackside trees. Onto Butts Bridge. The river level has fallen again with more of the shingle banks exposed. Lesser Black-backed Gulls sail overhead. A Wren bursts into song. Leaves are unfurling on the Black Poplars but the Ash trees remain bare.
Into the Millennium Orchard. Apple blossom is now appearing on the trees. Blackcaps tick in the hedges. Another is in song. A few Wild Garlic leaves are collected for the hens. Into the churchyard. The shell of a pigeon egg lays on the grass. The blossom of a crab apple is a glorious deep rose pink, new life but last year’s dead and shrivelled fruit still hangs beside it. The vergers on their bicycles are unlocking the church. The bells ring out.
Monday – Leominster – Another sunny morning with a cooling breeze. Over the steadily diminishing River Lugg. A Song Thrush sings in trees beside Butts Bridge. Across Easters meadow to Mosaic Bridge. Clumps of creamy comfrey flower on the bank next to the bridge. Into Easters Wood. Chiffchaff, Wren and Blackbird are in song. Wayfarers trees have white blossoms.
Back to the river. Butterbur leaves are beginning to unfurl, the flower spikes already faded. The large tree trunk that was obstructing the river has moved to the edge, which seems odd given the lack of flow. Much of the rubbish has gone. Ground Ivy and Lady’s Smock flowers among the Stinging Nettles by the path. Hogweed and Cleaver leaves push their way through the dense nettle beds. Tree branches are stranded around Eaton Bridge by the shallow water. A good flood is needed to shift everything.
Along the old Worcester Road. Tiny white buds indicate that Hawthorn will soon be in flower. Large rosettes of Great Mullein leaves grow beside the road. A yellow flower has me stumped – maybe an early St John’s Wort? Up onto the railway bridge. The signal shows a train is due. There is something satisfying awaiting a passing train, memories of teenage trainspotting. The Wales bound train passes under and the signal clanks back up to danger.
Into the Worcester Road. Large Hungarian lorries manoeuvre in and out of the plastics factory.
Wednesday – Home – Finally there is rain. Two of the water butts have been emptied during this cold and dry month. The Metrological Office reports there has been frost somewhere in the country every day during April. A Blackbird stands on the scaffolding next door. His feathers are glossy black and his bill a luminous orange. He flies onto the cottage roof and few moments later there is a furious argument which tumbles down to the wall outside our backdoor between the Blackbird and a Jackdaw. The former is screeching his alarm call loudly before fleeing over the roofs. Meanwhile a female is plucking small bundles of sisal out of the hanging basket liner by the backdoor. She stands on the wall, beak full of sisal, looking like Jimmy Edwards.
Apple blossom is now in its full glory on the Bramley, Herefordshire Russet, Gladstone and even a small amount on the new Christmas Pippin. The ornamental crab apple is also completely enveloped in flower. However, it looks like the Worcester Pearmain has perished for some reason. The tree is ten years old and, in retrospect, has never really done well but we are surprised it has suddenly died. The blossom on the plum, gage and cherry is now fading but the two pears are still looking good. Courgettes and a couple of cucumbers have germinated in the bathroom. The Zimbabwe Black chillies have also transplanted successfully. These are the only peppers to have germinated this year – very disappointing! The tomatoes in the greenhouse are doing well and the lettuces under cover in the outside bed are progressing. The purple sprouting is almost finished now and one of them is pulled out each day to be chomped by the hens.
Friday – St Margarets – A cool cloudy morning with the hint of rain in the air. Blackbirds, Blackcaps and Robins are singing loudly around St Margaret’s church. Off down the lane to the south west. The lane is sunken some 10 feet below the level of the surrounding fields. The steep banks are dotted with Primroses and Common Vetch. Fountain Cottage stands on a junction. Right onto Rock Road towards Newton. A house called The Sun, a former inn, backs onto the church graveyard. The lane descends. Past an orchard of flowering apples, pears and cherries. Large patches of Cowslips adorn the verge. Upper Rock is a largely extended farmhouse. More Cowslips with Forget-me-nots, Yellow Archangel, Greater Stitchwort and Ground Ivy are flowering on the roadside banks. Rock Cottage is another extended older building. A stream flows far below the lane. It becomes Dulas Brook, joining the Monnow at Pontrilas.
The lane descends steeply towards Newton. It levels out and passes over the stream. Newton is a scattering of houses partly on a crossroads and on the hill opposite. I cross onto the Longtown lane. A deep ditch runs beside the road, then under it, pouring its water down into a deep gully which disappears down the hillside to join Dulas Brook. The lane climbs past a scolding Wren to St John the Baptist church.
An old extract from a book, framed on the wall, states church was built in 1839 through “the exertion of John Powell a farmer, who walked all around the country soliciting subscriptions for the building. He was the first Churchwarden and continue to in the office until his death.” It is also recorded he walked to St David’s cathedral to petition the bishop. The extract also details the silver chalice and paten, the former marked for London 1682, the latter, London 1805, obviously no longer held in the building. It is a simple building. The Royal Arms are on the west end above boards quoting the Lord’s prayer and Exodus XX. The entrance is through the base of the bell tower. The only monument is to Reuben Powell who feel at Ypres, July 31st 1917 aged 23. In the graveyard by the west end is the tomb of John Powell with the inscription “John Powell who founded this church”. A small stone church room stands by the graveyard.
The lane continues south west between pastures. Dunnocks and Linnets are on the hedgerow, Chiffchaffs in the trees. Ahead are the long, misty flanks and ridge of the Black Mountains. The old school stands on a junction. It was built in 1876 and closed in 1960 and has now been extensively modernised into dwellings. Across the fields, Black Hill is topped with cloud. This road heads north. A large Bumble Bee is visiting Blackthorn flowers. Although the northerly wind is light, it brings a chill to the air. A warble rings out and two Curlew lift from a field. A Skylark sings overhead. The lane winds is way round past the old Rectory, a very modest house by the standards of the Victorian clergy, although it may just be Edwardian. There is a splendid arch on the end made by the external chimney breasts.
Yatt Farm stands on the edge of Middle Maes-coed. A few more houses are on the Newton road and Tump Farm on its northern edge, just a couple of hundred yards away. Swallows sweep across a field of sheep. A lane by the entrance to Tump Farm heads north east. A Blackbird and Blackcap sing, Goldfinches and a Bullfinch disappear into the hedgerow. The verge is decorated by Cowslips and Bluebells. A stone cottage, sadly with plastic windows, is attached to a large ruined building. The lane drops down to cross a small brook then rises to a junction, Upper Crossway. A lane runs the short distance to Gilfach, which the farm sign at Upper Gilfach spells “Gilvach”. Some houses here are much extended older buildings, other modern. The lane descends to Lower Gilfach. Gilfach Court stands above a manicured lawn on the hillside. It is a long, white painted stone house, possibly 17th century.
The sun has emerged and is warm on my back. The lane rises. Chaffinches, Bullfinches and Blue Tits are in the trees. Carrion Crows are arguing noisily. The lane comes to a junction with an old Oak dominating it. The right turn leads back to St Margarets. South of this lane is a panoramic view of the full length of the Black Mountains. Route