Friday 1st August – Home – The morning starts clear and bright. A thunderstorm rolled through in the early hours. All three hens are now laying, although Spotty’s eggs are quite small, especially compared to the double yolk monsters she was laying previously. At 9:30 a partial eclipse of the sun begins and by 10:00 a bite has been taken out of the blazing disc. Of course, it is now clouding over making observation of the event patchy.
Castleford – The train to Castleford passes an area of wetland around the River Calder. Much of the water margins are pink with Himalayan Balsam, pretty but a sad indication of how invasive this imported plant can be. Castleford is a typical northern town, in many ways similar to Barnsley with a mixture of older buildings and awful 1960s and later shopping developments. A large car park stands between the town centre and the station. The footpath passes through a wide concrete passageway which is dripping water. Although there are some “proper” shops – a butchers, greengrocers, ironmongers etc. there is is also numerous cheap shops, charity shops and takeaways – indeed the latter seem everywhere! Castleford, unlike most of the local towns, has a considerable history but one would hardly know it from the modern town. The name is self-explanatory, a castle on a fording place of the River Calder. In this case, the castle is actually “castrum”, the Roman fort of Lagentium. The fort covered a large area of what is now the main shopping centre. The alternative route of Ermine Street, the Roman road from London to York, ran through here. The main Ermine Street route ran across the River Humber but it could be impassible in poor weather, so the alternative forked off at Lincoln and ran up through Doncaster and Castleford. There is no indication of the route in the town now. It is recorded that it passed the end of the main shopping street, presumably crossing the bus station and under the shops to emerge by The Junction pub and up past the Parish Church of All Saints and over the river. Up past the church the road meets the A6032, a busy through route. There is a green here under which are the remains of a Roman bath house which stood just outside the north-east edge of the fort. It was built around 90CE. The Roman army left some 100 years later but the area remained in settlement. The Anglo-Saxons called the area Casterford. In the mid-10th century, King Edred (or Aedred) had reached an understanding with Wulfstan, Archbishop of York, to recognise Edred as king of Northumbria as well as king of Wessex. However, Wulfstan reneged on the deal and threw his lot in with Norwegian Eric Bloodaxe, son of Harald Harfagar (Harold Fairhair). Edred went north again with his army and ravaged Northumbria, burning Ripon. As he returned south, the rear guard of his army were attacked at Castleford. Edred turned north again and was about to ravage Northumbria some more when Eric withdrew and compensation was paid. However, there is nothing in the town which indicates this long history. Indeed, road signs at the border of the town state that Castleford is Henry Moore’s birth place. Yet, I found nothing in the town to commemorate one of England’s greatest sculptors. Past Allinson’s Flour Mill to a new footbridge over the river, designed by McDowell+Benedetti and opened at the beginning of July this year. It is a long S-shaped structure of steel and wood making a very pleasant crossing just below the weir where the water rushes downstream. The old bridge built by Jesse Hartley, who built Albert Dock in Liverpool, is just downstream. The River Calder here is a large southern loop. Up north of the Hartley Bridge is the Aire and Calder Navigation which cuts off the loop via several locks. Over the fields are the now flooded Allerton Bywater open cast pits. A field next to the lakes is densely populated by Mallard (all looking the same as the males are in eclipse), Lapwings, Black-headed Gulls and a few Grey Heron. Back past a breakers yard with a tableau constructed of waste metal parts and eastwards on the south side of the river where there are chemical works. The once most well known in the area, Hicksons and Welch are now owned by Arch Chemicals. Hicksons were once a major employer in the area, along with the pits. A boardwalk has been constructed along beside the river although it is danger of becoming overgrown. Heading back into town, there is a small street with a pair of cottages dated 1911, next to offices of Thomas Fawcett and Son, Maltsters since 1809, although the Fawcetts were making malt back in the 1790s. On the junction of Lower Oxford Street stands a superb Art Deco house in pristine white with a semi-circular viewing room above the top floor. I head back into the centre; a quick visit to the extensive markets, both indoor and out. There is a fine Art Deco cinema, now a bar. The Congregational Church strangely has a shop either side of the entrance porch. Bank Street fittingly starts with two banks, one with the town coat of arms on a pediment – a Roman eagle, tinctured gold and wearing a red collar from which is suspended a miners safety lamp in proper colours, alluding to the local mining industry. On each wing of the eagle is the badge of the Lacys, Lords of the Honour in which Castleford used to lie. The eagle holds the shield depicting a castle and two white roses of Yorkshire. The motto incorporated in the Arms, “Audacter et Sincere” meaning “Boldly and Frankly”. In Sagar Street is a large piece of art – two metal shipping containers welded together, one containing a spiral staircase up to a circular “room” made of yellow crates. Back to the station, where only one platform is used now, the footbridge blocked off and the opposite platform slowly rotting as weeds grow out of the cracked asphalt. The signal box stands forlorn and boarded up.
Tuesday 5th August – Barnsley – Down the hill through Honeywell to join the route of the canal behind Asda. This area used to be an area of rough ground with pools of water. Now there is a new housing estate and a ditch has been dug through which the water flows. Culverts bring more water from the new estate. Past The Keel pub, one of my favourite haunts. The pub was once much smaller and on its own. Now it has been extended and a motel and gymnasium built around it. A new house has been built on the spare piece of ground before the path rises to Old Mill Lane. Over the busy gyratory road system and back onto the route of the canal. Here it marked by a tall row of Leylandii. Beyond the car park is the short Old Mill section of the canal. Coots are squabbling, invisible in the dense reed bed. It is humid and overcast. It appears the Swifts have departed, I heard some yesterday but now the skies are clear of their dark scything forms. A Grey Squirrel in munching on green Haws in a bush overhanging the water. A wire mesh fence has been stretched across the canal just before the old junction of the Wakefield Branch – its purpose is not immediately obvious. Bright pink Great and Rosebay Willowherbs flower around the canal margins. The old, deep lock is disappearing under vegetation; Rowan saplings are shooting up from the old canal bed, brambles and other bushes overhang the lock sides. Down into the Dearne Valley Country Park for a short stretch. Three screaming terns fly over. Up through Hoyle Mill and on over the canal bridge, although one has to look hard to realise that is what it is, and on to the last winding gear left in the town, Barnsley Main colliery. Little has been done recently to preserve this reminder of the town’s mining heritage – most people seem to want to forget it. A track leads back towards the town, following the route of the Midland Railway Cudworth and Barnsley line, which had crossed the Dearne Valley via a high wooden viaduct. A yaffle calls out from the hillside but the Green Woodpecker remains unseen. Flowers bloom in the long grass – Common Centaury, Lady’s Bedstraw and various members of the dandelion and pea families. The hill is a mining waste stack and the flora relatively new, it will be many years before it becomes a mature landscape. The track meets Oakwell Lane, the road rising over the modern railway line. Down Doncaster Road past the school. The old entrances are still labelled in stone above the doors – “Boys” at one end, “Girls” at the other and two “Infants” entrances. “Barnsley Council School” is emblazoned in stone along the width of the main building. After the school are a couple of large Victorian houses and then either side of the main thoroughfare are mazes of small streets of terraced housing, homes to the miners and glass-workers who would have crossed the hill to their places of employment. A carpet shop has a stone at the bottom corner of the building declaring it laid by “Mr Thomas J.Pick on 5 July 1892”. The other face lists the director, board members and secretary – presumably of the Barnsley Co-operative Association.
Thursday 7th August – Home – The thread that lifts the automatic chicken coop door has broken. Spotty and Ginger are outside, pretty desperate to get to the nest and poor Freckles is trapped inside! Soon get it sorted out. All three are laying regularly. There is a surprising screaming overhead as a gang of Swifts hurtles through just over the tree tops – I thought they had departed for Africa. The first Runner Bean hangs from the wigwam of leaves. Courgettes are doing well. The Rocket bolted before it was large enough to crop.
Friday 8th August – Barnsley – The morning starts with rain, but it looks like clearing so I set off wandering. Up Kensington Road and down Thorntree Lane, a small street behind the chippie. I have never been down here before despite passing the end of the street countless times. There is a short terrace, numbers 4-10 to one side and the backs of the houses in Palm Street to the other. The 1894 map seems to indicate a single house where some garages now stand – probably the missing number 2. Up to the junction by the hospital. A house was demolished here a short time ago. Fruit trees still stand in what was the garden. The large plum tree seems, like ours, to have no fruit at all. Across the road and along Pogmoor Road. The butcher’s shop has finally closed and the Post Office has expanded into the premises. Further along, it looks like the end of the road for the Collectables shop. A grocers store shut a while ago, but now the building has gone and flats built on the site. Pogmoor Club is still a wreck but the Remploy factory has been levelled. I have passed this by car on many occasions but have not noticed the changes. Following the road round to the main Dodworth Road and across and into the estate around Moorland Avenue. At the end fields take over, above the M1 motorway. A Kestrel is in the tall evergreen trees – it flies from tree to tree before heading out to hunt across the field. Somehow I misread the map and end up down the hill in the middle of the fields. A quick discussion with a dog walker sends me along the hedgerows until the footpath is found. A muddy track runs off and a spur leads to a footbridge across the motorway. On the far side is rough meadow dotted yellow with Ragwort. The path emerges by a stream being fed by culverts. It passes under the road and off through old stone walls. A Grey Wagtail bobs on rocks in the stream bed. This area was called Rose Hill and was at the bottom of Keresforth Hill. The school is called Keresforth Juniors. Keresforth Hall is up on the hill, the other side of the motorway. It is now noticeable how the motorway has divided the valley. The valley side rises to the west, Water Royd, now a residential home and housing estate. Up towards Dodworth and past Holroyd Yard and down Stainborough Road. Several short terraces run off the road. The road comes to a junction at Dodworth Bottom. Stainborough Road rises and turns into Smithywood Lane. A track leads off, Saville Hall Lane. This leads towards Saville Hall Farm. The farmhouse is a fine affair. It is suggested that the Saville or Savile family came from Sevielle in Normandy. Some say they came with the Conqueror, although they are not listed in the Battle Roll. John Savile, born in 1170 was stated as living at Saville Hall. The family prospered and spread across Yorkshire. In the 1720s a Mr Fenton, agent to Lord Strafford occupied the Hall. The current Hall is considered to be 17th century, built on the mediaeval hall. A footpath leads across a field and down by a hedgerow containing some gnarled Oaks to a stream running down from Ratten Row. The name is the subject of much conjecture. Some say it comes from rotteran, meaning to muster, hence rot, a file of six soldiers. Others that it comes from the Norman “Ratten Row” (roundabout way), being the road that corpses were carried to avoid the public thoroughfare. Yet another suggestion is “Route de Roi,” the King’s Highway. And again it is from the Saxon Rot, pleasant, cheerful, or rotten referring to the soft material with which the road was covered. The lane leads up Green Lane, part of the Salter’s Way bringing salt from Cheshire to Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. Opposite is Tanyard Farm, quite possibly referring to a former use as a place of tanning pits. St John the Baptist church stands above the road. The tower has large, bulbous pinnacles which Pevsner regarded as “monstrous” and they are indeed rather unusual. The graveyard stretches back from the church, whose entrance is at the opposite end from the road. The majority of the remaining headstones have been laid flat, although there are a couple of military ones almost submerged into the bordering hedgerow. Next to the church is the old School. The stone plaque from the school building, dated 1853, is incorporated in a wall. Along the road is The Travellers Inn. Here, in 1886, Police Constable Austwick was murdered by a poacher, James Murphy who was hanged at York. The pub bars are empty but there is a considerable trade in the dining room. Stone bottles are on display bearing the legend “The Barnsley Botanical Brewery Co, Westgate”. The inn would have had a good trade when the packhorse trains passed and stopped after travelling down from the top of Longdendale. The Wesleyan School, 1873, is now apartments. On past the Methodist Church with ugly plastic sheets protecting the windows. The High Street leads off by the War Memorial. Opposite are probably the oldest shops in Dodworth, the barbers has 1641 carved on a massive lintel. The Horse and Jockey is now an Indian Restaurant. The Thornley Arms apparently does not open at lunchtimes. Behind the Thornley is the Miner’s Welfare dated 1925. Down Jermyn Croft where new houses have been built. I have not passed this way for nigh on 20 years when this was the route home after a regular Thursday evening with friends in the Horse and Jockey. A house has two founding stones, one reading, “Thornley Taylor Esq. Gave this site of the this house in memory of his father – founder of the Dodworth and Gilroyd Nursing Association”. The other, “Erected by Dodworth Miners Welfare. Dodworth and Gilroyd Nursing Association. May 17 1934”. Further down the lane are some allotments with raised beds and an excellent display of vegetables. A large compound contains a sizeable pond and a dozen or more ducks. The track turns into a path which emerges on Barnsley Road. I have a vague memory of hitching a lift from here whilst travelling from the South to Manchester in the early 70s.
Saturday 9th August – Rawdon – A brief stop on the way to Leeds-Bradford Airport to collect friends. Rawdon is a village between Leeds and Bradford, now part of the Leeds Metropolitan area. The Littlemoor is a pleasant late Victorian area around a triangular green space. In Quaker Lane is the Quaker Meeting House and Quaker Cottage. The Meeting House is recorded from 1697. Across the Harrogate Road is a chapel being converted into apartments. Along the road is the main crossroads. The Post Office is now used for other purposes. Across the road is Micklefield Park with a large house marked with dates of 1662 and 1847. The house is certainly from the latter date. It was previously the Council House for Aireborough, an local government district divided between Leeds and Bradford in the reorganisation of 1974 – something that apparently still rankles the locals.
Sunday 10th August – Ingbirchworth – We take a stroll around the reservoir in windy conditions and the threat of rain. A large flock of gulls is circling high above the moors, drifting west. There are still Swifts around, sweeping low over the dam wall. A large bank of purple heathers is flowering in a glorious range of purples and pinks. A large stand of Tansy has dark green feathery leaves topped by flat bundles of bright yellow button flowers. Butterflies are visiting knapweeds, Ragworts and many other flowers despite being buffeted by the wind – Meadow Browns, Large and Small Whites, Gatekeepers and a tiny Small Skipper. Electric blue damselflies hover in the air, their wings invisible. A large dragonfly appears and disappears far to quickly to identify. Cows watch us from the fields over the wall. The path crosses the stream that feeds with reservoir with brown, peaty water. Up on Whitley Common all the windmills are whirling round. Shooters line across a field directing their dogs to flush pheasant or partridge. A large flock of Mallard, males in eclipse, bob on the water just off the dam wall. A Grey Wagtail bobs by the water’s edge. Coots and Moorhens move away from the foot of the dam as we approach and a Dabchick dives.
Tuesday 12th August – National Coal Mining Museum, Overton – The museum is on the site of Caphouse Colliery near Middlestown in West Yorkshire. The area is the western edge of the Yorkshire coalfield. A shaft had been sunk around 1790. The colliery was owned by the Milnes family until 1827 when it passed into the hands of the Lister-Kaye family. In 1917, a company part owned by former pit manager Percy Greaves ran the site. It was bought by Arthur Sykes of Lockwood and Elliott in 1941 and was nationalised in 1947. The official record states that the coal was exhausted by 1985 and the pit closed, but it is notable that it did not re-open after the Miner’s Strike of 1984 when the Government decided to destroy the mining unions and the industry with it. After closure the colliery was converted into museum. There are extensive displays relating to mining on the site but to many, the real museum is underground. There are two shafts but one is in a poor condition and is undergoing renovation. Groups of 15 people at a time are taken down 140 metres to the underground workings. Our group collects a hard hat each and then has to hand in their “contraband” – items that must not be taken underground. It is interesting how much I have – nothing with a battery can go down, so I hand over my mobile telephone, camera, watch and even the car door lock remote controller. We are then fitted with a battery pack and light and head into the cage to descend. The tour shows tableaux of how coal was hewn and hauled out originally by families working in near darkness with only naked flame candles for light. Conditions slowly improved during the 19th and 20th centuries, although it is interesting to note the almost throwaway comment from the guide that he had not seen any breathing masks until a couple of years before he retired. The underground roadways cannot reproduce the noisy and dusty conditions that would have been present in a working mine, but do show the change of technology which reduced manpower so considerably. We return to the surface and retrieve our belongings. Opposite the office where we are handing in our hats and lights is a ledge where a family of Swallows is lined up about to fledge. They are almost certainly a second brood. A nature trail runs down the hillside to the north-west of the site to a stream and back up. The woods are damp and quite quiet.
Home – For once there is some clear sky on a night when there is something to see. Not completely clear, clouds are covering probably 75% of the sky and as usual the light pollution is irritating, but clear and dark enough to look out for meteors from the Perseid Showers. The meteors are fragments of the comet Swift-Tuttle and the earth passes through the stream of debris every year around now. There were five or six streaks of light in the ten minutes or so that I peered skywards. Their name comes from the constellation Perseus from which they appear to come, although they are nothing to do with those stars. The weather forecast is not looking hopeful for Saturday’s lunar eclipse.
Friday 15th August – Worsbrough-Silkstone Common – The bus drops me at Bank End where Kendray ends and a steep slope drops down to Worsbrough Dale. The valley has been carved by the River Dove, now not a lot more than a stream. From the road that runs along the edge of the valley, Grove Street drops down and then runs in parallel along the valley side. Victorian terraces run down and across the hillside. Some old people’s bungalows have been abandoned and are rotting away. Up the slope is rough ground with the odd house set into the hillside. A large clump of Buddleias have numerous butterflies on their purple flower spikes – not for nothing are they called the Butterfly Bush. The visitors are mainly whites and Peacocks. At the end of the street is Darley House, hidden behind old walls and fences. Down Pantry Hill, once home to a number of the victims of the Darley Main Colliery disaster of January 1849 when 74 men and boys were killed in an underground explosion. James Street runs off along the hillside. One of the end of terraces is rather grandly named “Granville House”, the other has “Turner’s 1904” in large letters carved into the apex of the roof. Clarkson Street runs down the hill. Here the Victorian terraces have more ornamentation on the pediments and around the windows making them very pleasant looking homes. The road emerges onto High Street by the Darley pub and opposite Darley Yard. The yard would have led into the Darley Main Colliery, now an open green surrounded by a housing estate. Down the High Street the Co-op, opened in 1896 is still trading. High Street comes to a crossroads at Pantry Green. Along West Street to Worsbrough Reservoir and up to the mill. This is a working flour mill and a museum – one I have been meaning to have a look at for years. A mill is recorded here in the Domesday Book of 1086. Records indicate that the site has been continuously occupied ever since. The Old Mill is thought to date from 1625 powered by water, as it is now. An larger mill, the New Mill, was built in the 19th century powered by a Watt beam engine which was replaced in 1922 by a 1911 model Hornsby hot bulb oil engine. This remains in place but is not used to power the mill now. Outside a path leads up to the reservoir. A Peacock butterfly is resting on the stonework of the mill outbuildings. It is pristine, thus probably recently hatched.
A Mallard is sliding down the long spillway on its backside – looking fairly ridiculous. A Great Crested Grebe is diving a little way out from the dam wall. I prepare to photograph it when it re-emerges but weirdly it does not appear again. I watch and watch but there is no sign of any grebes on the lake. I head off round the side of the water and eventually spot a grebe towards the far end. I am mystified as how it got there without me seeing it somewhere in between its diving point and present position. Off along the Trans-Pennine Trail, the old Dove railway line. Many thistles have turned to seed and bundles of fluff float past on the breeze. Tansy, Ragwort, St John’s Wort, Knapweeds and Willowherbs are all flowering and providing sustenance to a wide range of bees, flies, hoverflies and other insects. At the construction site I passed the other week there is a worker by the gates. He tells me that they are not building anything but constructing settlement ponds for the closed mines. I manage to peer through a fence and see a long, lined pit filling with water. Despite there being plenty of water in the vicinity, a large flock of finches – Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Chaffinches are crowding around a puddle in the path. A steel sign welcomes travellers to “The South Yorkshire Forest” – it is covered in graffiti and disappearing into the undergrowth. A male Small White butterfly is attempting to mate with a female, however, she seems much more interested in feeding on a flower. A Willow Warbler moves through the shrubbery calling wheep continuously. A large stone seat stands by the track, dated 1989, with carved stone ends depicting a miner. A side track leads down to Moorend Lane. A few yards down the road is Nabb Wood. Inside the wood is a monument, erected in 1988 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Huskar Pit tragedy of 1838 when 26 children died in the pit. From the wood, I head up past South Yorkshire Buildings built by the “South Yorkshire Coal and Iron Company” for their workers. Their crest is still on the apex of the central building. At the junction at the top of the hill is the very welcome sight of the “Railway Inn”!
Friday 22nd August – Anston – We exchanged contracts on the house on Monday, so the week has been filled with packing and visits to the dump to offload the mountains of rubbish we have accumulated over the years. Anston is a village divided into North and South either side of the A57 between Sheffield and Worksop. Originally the road snaked round through South Anston but has now been straightened, bypassing the village. There are Late Upper Palaeolithic remains nearby, although the evidence shows the sites were occupied for only a short time. North Anston appears in the Domesday Book as Anestan and South Anston as Litelanstan. The Saxon name may refer to a local feature known as “One Stone”. The lands are listed as belonging to Roger de Buili, a Norman knight, the lands being taken from their previous owner, Edwin (an Earl of Mercia), by William the Conqueror to reward his supporters. The parish church of St James is in South Anston. It dates from the 12th century, extended by the addition of the north aisle in the 13th century, the south aisle and the new chancel were added in the 14th century and the tower in the 15th century. The style of architecture is mainly Early English and the pale local limestone has been used in its construction. In the village centre is an impressive Methodist chapel, which is known as the Cathedral of Methodism. James Turner, a working mason in the Anston quarries, joined the Methodists in the old room, helped them to build a small chapel, and set his heart on giving the people a worthy temple of their faith. In 1924 Mr Turner died and left the land for a new church and his four sons built it as his memorial. It is an impressive place, designed by Mr B. D. Thompson and built in Norman style because it was the Norman Minster at Southwell which led the Westminster Commissioners to the Anston quarries when looking for stone. Anston Stone was selected for use as the principal stone in the construction of the Palace of Westminster (new Houses of Parliament 1839-52) buildings in London. Nearby is “The Loyal Trooper” pub, once a farmhouse. There are a number of farmhouses and farm buildings in the area, nearly all converted into dwellings, along with considerable new build.
Lindrick Dale – A narrow dale to the south-east of Anston. Once there was a mill here with a few houses. Now a number of modern, and frankly pretty monstrous, houses have been built. A new one is being built at the head of the old mill dam. Bullfinches slip silently away down the dark track beside the water, which is hidden behind tall hedges.
Roche Abbey – After the abortive attempt to visit the abbey in April, this time the grounds are open. A combine harvester can be heard gathering the grain over the hill. The abbey is set in a valley with steep magnesian limestone cliffs to the north. It was a Cistercian house. Roger de Buili and Richard Fitzturgis invited monks from Newminster Abbey in Northumberland to found Roche in 1147. The earliest stone buildings date from the 1170s and the main buildings were completed by the 1180s, with the rest being added during the long rule of Abbot Osmund (1184-1213), formerly “cellerer” at Fountains Abbey. The layout of Roche much resembles Fountains. Maltby Dike runs through the site and parts of the monks’ dormitory and day room and the refectory were built over the stream. The bases of the walls of the abbey buildings remain giving a clear view of the layout. The two transept walls still tower over the ruins. They are in the early Gothic style which had originated in the Paris area in the 1140s. The master mason was probably from the Aisne valley in the Laonois where there were many Cistercian settlements. Occupancy peaked in the 12th and 13th centuries before declining in the 14th century. The Black Death reduced the community to 14 monks and 1 lay brother. Roche was dissolved on 23rd June 1538, when there 14 monks and 4 novices who received pensions and 20 shillings for new clothes. The abbot, Henry Cundal received the relatively handsome pension of £33 and was allowed to keep his books and a quarter of the abbey plate. The buildings were quickly looted by the local people. After various owners, the site passed to Robert Saunderson of Fillingham in Lincolnshire. His son was created Viscount Castleton, an Irish title, in 1627. In the 1720s the site was left to Thomas Lumley, 3rd Earl of Scarborough whose heirs still own the site, although care of the ruins is in the hands of English Heritage now. In 1774, Lancelot “Capability” Brown was employed to landscape the valley.
Tuesday 26th August – Home – Home only for one more night. Most of our belongings have been taken by the removal firm and put in store. Sitting on the back door step with a beer – aching all over. A Sparrowhawk circles high above. It drifts eastwards and starts to circle again. It disappears and the sky is empty but then, almost as if they have winked into existence, there are several House Martins chasing insects, twittering. A Grey Squirrel is moving noisily through the apple trees. I tell it, “You wouldn’t be so bold if Dill the Dog was here!” The last few days would have been a nightmare for her. A few Starlings head towards the town centre. A Large White butterfly suddenly appears and flutters around the garden but moves off without visiting any of the flowers. There are more plums on the tree than I had expected, indeed I thought there was only one on the whole tree. A couple are ripe and are delicious. We have had several meals from the Runner Beans and Courgettes and the new owners of the house should have plenty more, along with lettuces and tomatoes.
Thursday 28th August – Ridgmont, Bedfordshire – We are homeless! The house has been sold and, although we have exchanged contracts on our new home in Leominster, we will not complete for another week. So we pack up the car and head south. We decide to spend a couple of days in Bedfordshire. We camp behind the Rose and Crown in Ridgmont. The field is on a spur of sandstone sticking out into the plain below. The steep sides of the hill are wooded with both coniferous and deciduous trees. A heavily laden Crab Apple tree stands beside the path. Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers and Nuthatches are all calling. Wood Pigeons rise from the grain crop and fly up into the topmost branches. Jackdaws also use these perches to survey the land below. Down the road are some pleasant Victorian houses and a church, dedicated to All Saints, built in 1854/5. It has some brown diamond shaped stones decorating the top of the external walls looking very much like the end of wooden roof beams. The same coloured stone is repeatedly used as decoration around the tower. Down the road, opposite the school, is a cottage with a large thatched roof.
Friday 29th August – Ampthill – A pleasant Georgian town, although it is considerably older. The name is Anglo-Saxon Aemethyll, which means either “ant-heap” or “ant infested hill”. In 1242, King Henry III confirmed the right to hold a market on Thursday’s in the town. There are several fine Georgian townhouses. What looks like a gentleman’s club has an odd curved cutaway section of roof to the rear. The church of St Andrew the Apostle is built of a chocolate stone with pale mortar. A path leads off beside the church past a large overgrown graveyard. Large Victorian tombs are slowly disappearing into the undergrowth. An allotment has a fine display of sunflowers, Runner beans and dahlias. A sign points to “Holly Walk” which is a long, straight path, made in the early 1820s as a short cut from the church to Park House, back to the Bedford road lined in part by Holly trees and in other sections by a mixed deciduous woodland.
Bedford – We do not stay long in this busy County town; it is hot, crowded and full of chain-stores. However, there is a good “park and ride” scheme which delivers us to the centre quickly – it also stops at the hospital which seems an excellent way of dealing with the problems of parking from which all hospitals seem to suffer. The church seems to be open but we get some foul looks from the women inside who are decorating the building with flowers so we do not feel welcome and tarry no longer. The Great Ouse flows through the town. It is very wide with a long promenade on one side and grassy banks on the other. A large flock of Mute Swans is being fed scraps downstream. More swans pass by and come to look at us to see if there is any likelihood of food but they are disappointed.
Elstow – Near the Bedford “Park and Ride” is the village of Elstow. The High Street contains some pretty “black and white” cottages and some unfortunate modern developments. The church is on the site of Elstow Abbey. Founded in 1078 by Countess Judith, niece of William the Conqueror, it was built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery. It was a Benedictine nunnery until dissolution in 1539. The present church of St Mary and St Helena is the abbey nave. The foundations of the monastic building lie under a meadow beside the church. The property was granted to Edmund Hervey of Ickworth in 1541, then bought by Sir Thomas Hillersdon in 1616. He used part of the abbey remains to build a mansion in 1625. It was demolished between 1767 and 1781 after the deaths of three Hillersdon sisters.
Saturday 30th August – Sundon – A small Bedfordshire village split into Upper and Lower parts. We call into the church, somewhat to the surprise of priest who says he is soon to celebrate Mass. There are no parishioners around and no sign of any heading for the service. It is a pleasant village church of no particular merit. Outside is a plaque to the memory of over thirty workers from the Sundon Cement and Lime Works who were lost in the Great War. Up on the hills is the Sundon Country Park, which whilst having some nice views does not seem to have anything else. Some information boards would have been helpful.
Sunday 31st August – Addlestone, Surrey – Off down the motorways to Surrey to Kay’s mother’s home. Screeching in the car park reveals the presence of Ring-necked Parakeets. They have spread out from the area around the canal. Seven fly over still screaming continuously. Outside Rose’s flat are some mature trees. A Chiffchaff hops through the leaves of a copper tree. A little later a flock of tits and finches moves through – Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits and a tiny Goldcrest.