Monday – The Grange, Leominster – The sun is lighting up the Grange despite the presence of dark clouds. It is busy here; children playing football, young lovers talking, old couples sitting and watching, mothers taking children to and from the playground, grandparents pushing buggies, many people passing through and Maddy laying in the shade of a Maple panting from her ball chasing exertions. Swallows sweep close to the grass. Swifts scream far above. The minster bells call the half hour. A dead leaf clatters as it falls through the still vibrant green living foliage of the Maple. The verdigris leaves of the great Copper Beeches quiver in the rising wind.
Tuesday – Hergest Ridge – Louring grey clouds hang over the hills, stroking the tops to the west. Sheep baa, a Raven croaks and a Meadow Pipit chirps, quiet sounds breaking the silence. Vermilion spots dot the Rowans as their berries ripen. The plain to the east created by the Rivers Lugg and Arrow are hazy, hills rising like islands. A few Swallows dive and twist in the stiffening breeze. Suddenly the Gorse and Bracken are busy with Great and Blue Tits, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks. It looks like rain is approaching from the south-west. Past a large flock of recently sheared sheep and on across the old racecourse to the Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle Tree) grove. The weather is closing in, western hills covered in mist then clearing again. There is fine rain falling. On some hills and valleys the clouds disperse and they are bright with sunshine, others remain obscured by white mist. Ponies gather around a cairn of boulders. A patch of Gorse is draped in gossamer spiders’ web. Across the top of the ridge and back into a sea of bracken as the path begins to descend. I decide I am not keen to climb back up again, so turn about. A male Blackbird rises from a near dry pond. Old farm equipment lies rusting in the bracken. Common Buzzards mew in the distance. We have an extended search for Maddy’s ball which we find back up the path after I have abandoned looking for it! A large plane is travelling up the valley beneath me, only becoming visible as it climbs over the hills. There is then a brief period of sunshine. The extent of the massive quarry at Dolyhir can be seen from this direction, travelling west it is hidden by Hanter Hill. A Kestrel flashes across the gorse, rising to hover briefly before moving on. It returns and is joined by a second. Back down the eastern side of the ridge where a farmer is bailing dried bracken.
Wednesday – Tenbury Wells – The Leominster Historical Society have an outing to Tenbury with a tour of the town guided by a couple of members of the Tenbury society. It is splendid to have someone point out the many items of interest that one would miss if just looking around by oneself. We start outside the Pump Rooms, the old saline well with its wonderful “Chinese Gothic” building. It was meant to be a temporary structure, prefabricated in Birmingham but still stands. The original well was on the other side of Kyle Brook, in grounds of The Court, a large house now demolished, the property of Septimus Godson. A Mr Price of the pub called The Crow decided to dig for a well and found another saline source. He was soon bought out by Godson and the spa was created. However, it was never that successful as it was extremely saline. We head down Teme Street which has a wonderful collection of shops and houses from different eras making a patchwork of styles, sizes and shapes. Most, however, are still based on the burgage plots that line the street. One example is the Ship Hotel, once two buildings, each based on a burgage plot, an inn and a blacksmith, but now almost seamlessly joined into one building. One house bears a plaque commemorating Henry Hill Hickman, a pioneer of anaesthesia , who was ridiculed and ignored in his lifetime and only relatively recently recognised. The old Union Workhouse and Isolation Hospital by the river, subsequently used as Council offices is now abandoned. Unfortunately, Tesco has got its claws on the site and it looks like another unwanted supermarket will be built in a spectacularly unsuitable site and to the detriment of the many independent shops in this lovely street. Indeed, Kay points out not only how few empty shops there are, there are also few charity shops, unlike Leominster!
Beside the old workhouse, there is a ramp from the River Teme up which stones were brought from barges to be broken down by the manual labour of the inmates. Beside this is the wonderful old Teme Bridge with its dog-leg. The far side is older and after one of Tenbury’s many floods in which this side of the bridge was destroyed, the replacement was aligned with Teme Street resulting in the bend in the middle. In 1996, whilst dredging the Teme down by the Peacock Inn, some huge timbers were found, some measuring 22 inches square by 50 feet long. These are believed to be the remains of an early Tenbury bridge destroyed by floods. The present course of the river dates from the 1580s. Indeed, 10,000 years ago the river flowed in the opposite direction, to join the Wye. The great ice sheet that built up south of Wigmore dammed the river and it eventually burst through and formed its current flow to the Severn. Here, the river formed a horseshoe bend out towards where factories now stand (on the site of the old railway station). The flood circa 1580 resulted in the river cutting a new course on its present route. The meadow that was once to the south of the river and is now to the north has a sizeable tump. Apparently it has never been excavated and there are various explanations for its origin – a Bronze Age barrow, a Norman motte and, the favourite of our guide but probably the most unlikely, the burial place of Caratacus, the legendary Celtic king who fought the Romans. Given its siting, it seems a wooden Norman castle seems most likely. The border between Worcestershire and Shropshire is in the middle of the bridge, resulting in the hospital and the fire station for Tenbury, Worcestershire, both being in Shropshire.
We then proceed round to the church of St Mary. Beside the church is a lovely row of cottages, one with a small plaque towards the top of the main door which shows the level of flooding in 1886. Interestingly, the floods are not the result to the Teme overflowing but the Kyle Brook, a relatively small stream which regularly backs up when the Teme is in spate and burst its banks. Beside the church is the old fire station. Back up to the Butter Market, built in 1858, known as the Round Market although it is oval in shape. Beside the market is Bank Chambers, fine Queen Anne houses. Up cross street, past the King’s Head built in the 17th century and probably referring to the Restoration (as does a similar box timber framed inn in the centre of town called The Royal Oak). Next to the pub is Cornwall House, a lovely Jacobean house. I note there appears to be no chimneys, a point our guide cannot explain. It maybe the house was originally thatched and there were chimneys or that heating was from a kitchen extension at the back of the building. Next is the old Goff School, built in 1868, now the town museum. At the top of the street is The Pembroke, a large timber-farmed inn which used to belong to Pembroke College, Oxford. The original Saxon village was centred in this area. The name Tenbury comes from Temettebury, a fort on the River Teme. The “Wells” suffix was actually added by the railway company. We end the tour at the Methodist Church Hall with tea and cakes provided by the Women’s Institute on WI tea services!
Thursday – Bodenham Lakes – South from the car park through old concreted yards where Birch, Ash, Evening Primrose, St John’s Wort and Teasels are reclaiming industrial land for nature. The path leads down to a meadow beside the River Lugg. A Green Woodpecker calls. Another path passes a field containing a horse and two sheep, one black and one white. This path comes to another field of cattle and up a small path, over a dry channel into the churchyard of St Michaels. The church is mainly 14th century Decorated style with the nave roof raised in the 16th century. The tower, topped with a nice six sided pyramidal roof, is late 13th century and has a good peel of six bells. Of course, the church received the usual Victorian make-over, in this case in memory of Henry Arkwright who was vicar for 47 years. In the chancel is a tomb of a woman with a baby, thought to be a member of the Devereux family and dating from the early 14th century. The walls of the chancel are made of tufa which was much used by the Normans and is probably from an earlier building. The font is 14th or 15th century but was lost until the late 19th century when it was recovered from a field where it had been used as a trough. The replacement was given to a new church in Derbyshire. The base of the village cross stands in the churchyard with an old roof cross on it. Along the meadow to the lakes. Small White and Gatekeeper butterflies flit along the edge of the meadow. Brilliant blue needles alight on the dry grass, Common Blue Damselflies, Enallagma cyathigerum. A pair of Mute Swans with two grey cygnets glide across the water. At the edge of islands are numerous upended Mallard feeding. There is a stiff breeze.
Sunday – Home – Gardening may be many things but predictable is not one of them. As mentioned before, the “Swiss Chard” seeds I had been given at a seed swap event has resulted in the best crop of beetroot ever. Today I bottled another batch in pickling vinegar. The French Beans have been prolific, a freezer drawer is now packed with them. A strange tree against the wall has produced a surprise. It has been pruned in the past so that there is a long, fairly thin trunk some seven feet tall then branches sprouting out, many over the wall. Today we espy small purple damson-like fruits on them. However, they are not damsons but plums, very like small Victorias. (Monty Don in mentions in his book “The Ivington Diaries” that he has a tree with damson-like plums called a “Shropshire Prune” - this could well be one too!) Not a large crop and not really ripe but we decide to pick them before the birds find them. Indeed, the local birds have been very destructive this year. They took almost our entire Gladstone apple crop, all our gooseberries despite netting, and we have just noticed that many pears have gone too. As usual, I have failed to keep the lettuce succession managed, so the large crop is bolting fast and there are none to replace it. Courgettes are coming rapidly now. The Runner Beans that looked like they would succumb entirely to blackfly have rallied and may yet produce a crop. Chillies are beginning to ripen now, some of the Rokitas have gone through a beautiful chocolate brown stage and are now turning crimson red. Tomatoes are now ripening well. We had a delicious beef tomato the other day, I think it was the heritage variety “Anna Russian”. Unfortunately, it was the only fruit on the vine. Talking of vines, the grapes have begun to ripen. It is clear that my thinning was not ruthless enough and there are many bunches of small fruit. Kay has grown some glorious sunflowers on the edge of the newly cleared plot at the end of the garden, some typical yellow varieties and some resplendent chocolate brown examples.
Leominster – At least there is a break in the clouds and the stars can be seen. The Perseid meteor showers will be peaking this week. The annual display is caused by the earth passing through the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle. I see a couple of meteor flashing across the eastern sky. There are also three satellites passing over, two on polar orbits, i.e. passing over northwards, whilst the third was travelling towards the east.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The narrow area of brambles, flowers like Rosebay Willowherb and grasses is attracting a myriad of butterflies – Silver-washed Fritillaries, Small Whites, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Red Admirals, Speckled Woods, Commas and Peacocks. Up on the forestry track, Common Blues are numerous; most keeping their heads down as there is a much stronger breeze here. A Common Buzzard along edge of conifers. Small black bees and hover flies feasting on the last flower heads on thistles. A wasp feeds on an Angelica. Logs have been stacked near to where forest clearing is taking place. Large machinery can be seen down the hillside, but it is quiet. There appears to have been two major plantings here. The logs have either 45 or 25 annual tree rings. Cows are lowing from Hanway Common direction.
Thursday – Home – The pergola and rose bower that collapsed last month has now go to a stage where “something must be done”. I remove the twisted and broken pergola frame and cut the many stems of the rose near the base of the plant. It is then a case of pulling the whole thing down the path a way to the area that was cleared of trees recently. I put on my old drovers’ coat which is waxed cotton and thorn-proof and a pair of leather gloves and start pulling. The weight of the rose is incredible and it takes all my strength to get it moved. I will ache for days. I then add to my muscular woes by emptying one of the compost bins and transferring the contents of the second. When the lid of the latter is removed and the piece of carpet that covers it lifted there are two pairs of shining jet black eyes looking at me. Two mice have made it their home. I cannot bring myself to kill them so I wait whilst they scramble up and over the back of the bin and away through the dense undergrowth behind it. Just after midnight I venture out to see the peak of the Perseid meteor shower. It is not that impressive, only half a dozen quick flashes in about three-quarters of an hour, but I guess the light pollution does not help! A large moth flies by. In the dark everything looks bigger but this moth seems the size of a small bat!
Friday – Croft – Down Fish Pool Valley to squeaks, chirps and squawks from Wrens, Blue Tits and Jackdaws. Then up the path behind the lime kiln. This path rises up the side of a small valley, climbing so the valley becomes deeper. Below are tall spindly trees searching for the sun, something they will not find under today’s threatening skies. The valley bottom is littered with fallen trees and branches. The sides are wrapped in a dense covering of ferns. Blue Tits are providing the high notes over a drone of wind stirring the tree tops round and round. The tall deciduous trees, Ashes mainly, are coloured orange or silver with lichen; the shorter Beeches and Oaks, dark green with mosses whilst nothing grows on the rugged bark of the conifers, Hemlocks and Larches. New seats from tree trunks have been placed at the top of the Spanish Chestnut field. The views are magnificent and fortunately only minimally marred by poly-tunnels. Recently there have been many protests across the country to try and prevent the expansion of these unsightly growths. The response from the owners is that without poly-tunnels the strawberry season would be much shorter and fruit would have to be imported which bad for the environment. It never seems to be a consideration that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a short strawberry season. Sadly, people expect all fruit and vegetables to be always in season, despite the insistence of so many TV chefs on seasonality.
Monday – Malvern Hills – A path runs above the road from Wyche Free Church, a quaint late Victorian prayer house. It does not seem to be climbing into the hill above, so from a stone monument and seating place, probably built to give views that are now obscured by trees, I head straight up through stunted trees, then bracken and finally out onto the ridge at Perseverance Hill. Here the views are sublime. To north and south summits rise, the southernmost topped by British Camp. To the west lies Herefordshire, a patchwork of green and yellow fields and woods and copses. These hills are some of the oldest rocks in the country, igneous and metamorphic rocks, schists and gneisses from the Pre-Cambrian, some 677 million years ago. These were thrust up through the overlaying sedimentary rock around 300 million years ago by an earth movement called the “Cheltenham Drive”. Above two Common Buzzards soar. Below the village of Colwall, the disused railway snaking past. A Kestrel glides along the hilltop.
I take the southwards path, walking in the footsteps of the greats – Edward Elgar who wrote a cantata “Caractacus” who was reputed to have made his last stand at British Camp; J.R.R. Tolkien who walked this path and was reported as saying the White Mountains of Gondor were inspired by the Malvern Hills; W.H. Auden taught nearby and wrote a long poem called “The Malverns” and far back in history, William Langland set “The Visions of Piers the Plowman”, written in 1342, in these hills. The track crosses a saddle and the eastwards vista opens out with more fields heading into the haze which makes the Cotswolds lay like a dark grey leviathan across the horizon. A huge caravan park lays at the foot of the slope. A Green Woodpecker yaffles and a young raptor screeches. I rise over Jubilee Hill, named in 2002 for Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee. Here there are the remains of round barrows, apparently destroyed by the Victorians. Down another saddle and up Pinnacle Hill. A pair of Ravens drift effortlessly over the hills. Looking down on Colwall I realise I have erred as a train, tiny as a OOO model, traverses the “disused” line, actually the line between Hereford and Worcester. Down to another saddle. A Linnet hops around the path. The bedrocks are exposed, their plane lying at a 45° angle.
Up Black Hill and then down to Wynds Point. Here the path are frankly confusing and I head through some woods before realising they going to deposit me far down the slope on the road. I decide not to head around the other side to get to British Camp – that can wait until another day. Back up Black Hill where a large fat Elephant Hawkmoth caterpillar is heading out across the stony path, very much the wrong direction so I return it to the shade of some bushes. From this direction the views show Great Malvern laying below the hills and Worcester across the fields. Back along the switchback of hills. They are now crowded with people, young and old, some enjoying the views, others seeming oblivious and preferring to talk at full volume. A path, the one I departed from at the start, takes me back down to the road. Maddy is panting furiously, hardly surprising as the sun is now very hot, but she keeps her ball in her mouth and still wants to chase. Kicking the ball has been a tricky proposition as there are some very steep slopes for it to disappear down. White fluffy seeds of Rosebay Willowherb are drifting. Grasshoppers rasp in the bracken. British Camp on Herefordshire Beacon and to the north Worcester Beacon, together with a number of other hills remain unvisited so I will be back!
Friday – Croft – It rained heavily overnight, enough to fill the water butts. The morning is damp and grey, clearly gloomy enough to persuade a flock of 20+ Swallows to head south over the town. On the track down to the Fish Pool Valley a few bursts of song ring out over a background of drops of water splashing through the leaves. The rain water has created rivulets down the track clearing the leaves and debris to form muddy tracks. The ponds which were algae covered a few weeks ago have now open dark water in them. A Wren chatters from the woods opposite. Clusters of vermilion berries of Wild Arum dot the green canvas of the valley sides. It is getting darker by the moment. I reach Croft Ambrey soaked, but not with rain. Sodden grasses, nettles and low branches have soaked my trousers whilst sweat encouraged by the climb and the warm, intense humidity has saturated the rest of me. A cooling breeze is welcome. Puffballs have emerged at the path's fringes. The hills are behind a great grey curtain of cloud. Mist covers the tops of the trees on the southern edge of the hillfort. Down the Spanish Chestnut field where I gather a decent amount of Field Mushrooms.
Monday – Bodenham Lakes – It seems strange that summer is nearly over. The Swifts have gone and Swallows and Martins are departing. The hedgerows are loaded with ripening fruit, purple-black Elderberries and Blackberries, crimson Haws and vermilion Hips. In the orchards on the slope up to Westfield Wood, apples of varying hues of green to scarlet festoon the trees. A noisy flock of Canada Geese fly the other side of the tall Poplar trees. The lakes are busy – 17 Mute Swans in immediate view, 220 Canada Geese with more hidden on the island, a single Grey Heron, one Cormorant on the pontoon, one in the water and a third circling, a couple of dozen Mallard and half a dozen Tufted Duck. A violently swaying willow branch reveals another Grey Heron trying to maintain its balance. As I leave the hide, gaggles of Canada Geese are still arriving. A Sparrowhawk approaches from over the woods and heads across the lake. A Chiffchaff sings near the boat yard. A family of Coots is in the narrow channel between lakes. The bell of St Michael’s church tolls the hour. Blue Tits chatter. Sand Martins skim the surface of the water, which is green with blue-green algae; warning notices remind people to keep their dogs out of the water as the algae is poisonous. A pair of Carrion Crows survey the area from a tall willow. It is clouding over. Lines of ripples reveal feeding fish which occasionally break the surface of the water with a splash. A large stand of Purple Loosestrife rises at the top of the bank above the lake. Nearby a much smaller purple flower with white blotches within the throat of the labiate petals, Hedge Woundwort, hides in the long grass. The Evening Primroses are at an end, their delicate large yellow flowers collapsing into mush. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is tapping on a nearby trunk or branch and chirping now and again but remains elusive and unseen.
Tuesday – Eardisland – We seldom visit this village some six miles west of Leominster despite nearly buying a house there. Indeed, this is my first visit to the church. Eardisland lays on the River Arrow. It was one of a series of pre-Conquest manors in an area called Lene or Leon running from Lyonshall to Leominster – both names referring to Lene. It seems Lene meant a wet area originally. The main manors were Earl’s Lene or Orleslene, now Eardisland; Kingslene, now Kingsland and Moneschelene, which would seem to be obviously Monkland. However, Lord Rennell of Rodd writes in a paper for the Woolhope Club that it is possible that Moneschelene was a manor to the west of Eardisland at Monk’s Court and Leen Farm. He argues that the manor lay in the ancient Hundred of Herzetre and the inclusion of the present day Monkland in this Hundred would extend it eastwards of Watling Street and there would have to be a lost manor in the west of the area. However, Rennell considers it likely that the eastern border of Herzetre Hundred was Watling Street and Monkland was was simply that, “Land of Monks”.
Eardisland was owned by Harold Godwinson, King Harold II, and after his defeat at Hastings by Duke William, much of his lands were taken by the Conqueror as personal estates of the king. A castle was built on an impressive motte which is now wooded but the moat remains, although a causeway to the motte was lost in fairly recent times. It is thought the castle was built by the de Braoses and was taken by King John in 1213 and destroyed by William Cantilupe on the king’s orders. It does not enter historical records again. The church of St Mary the Virgin was sited on an earlier Saxon place of worship. The present nave is Norman from the 12th century and probably constitutes the entire Norman church. The chancel, vestry and south porch were added in the 14th century and the tower in the 15th although this collapsed in 1728 and was replaced by the present one in 1760. There was the usual Victorian “restoration”, here by Henry Curzon, the London architect, in 1864 at a cost of £2000. There are four lancet windows, the original Norman windows in the nave whilst the other windows have been replaced in the 14th century to admit more light. The chancel roof is a fine 14th century trussed rafter type. The main east window dates from 1902. The original bells were presumed lost in the tower collapse of 1728 and a new set of five were cast by Abraham Rudhall. These were rehung in 1906 with an additional treble cast by Whitechapel Bell foundry. The bells were taken down in 1950 after Death-watch Beetle was found in the frames and recast and rehung with the addition of two more bells, all cast by Taylors of Loughborough. A Swallow is on a nest in the south porch, very late! Outside there are stone heads at the base of the window arches. It seems clear that some are much earlier than others, indeed some look Norman.
Back onto the main road through the village where there is a late 17th century Dovecote, now housing the village community shop, standing on the mill race. The River Arrow is flowing high and fast. The view here is near perfect for a black and white timbered village, indeed almost chocolate box perfect! Beyond is a mound in a field, the Monk’s Court mentioned above. Some hold that it was the manorial meeting place, others a siege castle from the Anarchy, the time of the war between Stephen and Matilda in the mid 12th century. We leave Eardisland and head off down a lane towards Bearwood. We pass Hardwick House, a splendid 15th century timber-framed building. We pass through the hamlet of Bearwood – a name that conjures up ancient times of wild animals in the forest but is more likely from Bearu meaning grove or wood and the source of “barrow”, significant as both Barrow Farm and Barrow Leasowe are nearby. The lane leads to Luntley, an important manor recorded in Domesday as belonging to Ilbert. Luntley Court is a timber-framed Jacobean house. Opposite is a lovely black and white dovecote built in 1673, the date can just be discerned over the low door lintel. Inside the walls are lined with battens forming squares and a fine timber beam roof.
Wednesday – Mortimer Forest – A Common Buzzard mews and what are possibly youngsters screech. Up to the path that leads down to the Mary Knoll Valley. Birds are calling rather than singing. Alarm calls from Wrens, Blackcaps, Crossbill, Great Tit, Willow Tit, Jay and Rooks ring out. Logging is taking place above Sunnydingle Cottage. Wood Pigeons are motionless sentinels at the top of trees. Willow Tits are scattered, their buzzing coming from different directions. Occasionally a Robin song will commence but quickly fall to silence again. I plod on through the woods on the forestry track. A regular task is kicking Maddy’s ball. I am useless at kicking balls so I usually slice it off to one side or the other. Sometimes the kick is so pathetic that the ball gets dumped immediately back in front of me with a reproachful look of try better please! Sometimes I actually manage a decent punt but often, frustratingly the ball hits a stone or rut and all its momentum is lost. Even more annoyingly it hits Maddy’s legs and bounces off ineffectively. People do not understand the stress that a dog and ball can engender! Up the steep path, with frequent pauses to regain some breath. A Willow Warbler wheeps from a scrubby Elder bush. Then out onto the common. Suddenly the magnificent views are revealed. Titterstone and Brown Clee are first soon to be joined by the rest of North Herefordshire and South Shropshire. The hills are hazy and wispy clouds drift through the valleys. Finally the top of High Vinnalls is reached and a welcome rest. Just below the summit, a Larch is festooned with large cones. The sounds of tractors drifts up from below and that of forestry machinery, otherwise silence. Down Climbing Jack Common where a large area of Bracken has been mown and removed. Delicate blue Harebells and white Yarrow adorns the edges of the path. On down the path where an old Collie walks into me. “He's blind,” the owner explains bringing back memories of Dill the Dog. There is a patch of pure white Harebells. Over the Iron Age enclosure and into the woods. From across the valley there is a crack, a tear and a thud as another tree is felled.
Saturday – Mortimer Forest – Brigid and Ken are visiting from Barnsley so we are all off to the forest. We climb up the steady slope through the Forestry Commission plantations towards the Iron Age enclosure. Squeaks, buzzes and ticks show the tits and Goldcrests are flocking up for the winter. Blue, Great, Long-tailed and Willow Tit are all calling from the dense forest. We cross the enclosure where there is an old whitened stump laying in the heather. Sunning itself on top is a Common Lizard. It slips off as we approach and hides behind the stump, but soon disappears off into the heather. We continue on up to High Vinnalls where the views are superb. Many conifers are carrying big, fat cones. Ken finds one that has been nibbled down to a stump, by a Grey Squirrel maybe? Down the long track towards Vallets. Maddy is delighted she has four people to choose from to dump her ball for kicking or throwing. The path through the top of the Deer Park is very wet and there is soon a very wet and muddy dog trotting along. Across the top of Hanway Common past sheep who stare anxiously at the dog, although she is now on her lead. A Common Buzzard soars over the hilltop. The trail, this is part of the Herefordshire Trail, a long distance footpath, divides here. Straight ahead drops down to The Goggin whilst an eastwards path crosses a field towards the path to Richard’s Castle. We take the latter despite the field being full of cattle with young as it avoids a steep climb back out of The Goggin valley. In the event, the cattle are disinterested in Maddy so there is no problem.
A water trough has a good population of Water Boatmen, a beetle that sculls through the water. There are two common types, the Greater, Notonecta glauca and the Lesser, Corixa punctata. The former swims on its back, the latter on its front. Checking the rather poor photographs later, I am unsure which were present, although it may be that both species were there. We head on down the track. A number of young Common Pheasants scurry along by the fence. I keep Maddy next to me as a farmer who has been feeding the pheasants watches. He passes us commenting that “It is good to see a dog under control”. The stream from Boney Well is hardly more than a trickle, which seems odd considering all the rain we have endured recently. Up the meadow and into the St Bartholomew’s churchyard. We all head up to dutifully look at the single visible wall of the castle, there are a couple of other sections but they are so overgrown that viewing them is too arduous. Then a visit to the redundant church. There is a strange inscription on one of the grave slabs in the chancel. It refers to two burials, the first William Deuerell, Gent. (presumably Deverell) whose date of death is impossible to decipher, the other to Margaret, his wife, who died in 1714/15 Ætatis Sux 83. It would appear that the old lady of 83 died in either 1714 or 1715 but the engraver was not sure so hedged his bets! We set off back to the Black Pool via Batchcott. Butterflies feed avidly on a long border of flowering herbs. Brigid finds what look like damsons in a hedge but she says are very sweet, so may well be Shropshire Prunes. There are lots of very sweet Blackberries in the hedgerows.
Bank Holiday Monday – Stretford – It is hard to believe it is an English Bank Holiday as the sun is shining in a blue sky scattered with fluffy white clouds. Normally we expect rain! Stretford is a small hamlet near where Watling Street (Leintwardine to Magnis section) crosses a stream. The name is self-evident – Street and Ford. In Domesday, the manor was held by Alfred of Marlsborough, having previously been part of King Harold’s holdings. The hamlet consists of several farm workers houses and Stretford Court, but the gem is the church, Sts Cosmas and Damian. There is evidence that the church was dedicated to St Peter at some time. The land around Monkland was owned by Ralph of Tosney at Domesday whose father, Roger of Conches founded the Abbey of St Peter of Castellion in Normandy, which may have some relevance or not! However, in the 13th century the Abbot of Reading granted a charter to the Prior of Leominster to hold a three day fair in honour of Damian and Cosmas and pilgrims walked from the town to Stretford carrying a black and white candle. This practice stems from the reported miracle where Damian and Cosmas, two Arabian brothers raised as Christians by their mother, Theodotia, and who became physicians, removed a cancerous leg from a man and replaced it with the leg of a Moor who had just died. The man awoke to find he had a black leg and a white one! They were martyred and became Patron saints to the Medicis and are still Patron Saints of Physicians and Barbers. The church is from the outside a squat and broad building but within actually consists of two naves and chancels with shrine to Sts Cosmas and Damian between. The north nave and chancel is Norman of the 12th century, the south is 13th century. The arches between the naves do not reach the roof which is a single span built in the early 16th century. There is evidence there were separate roofs before this. There are two identical screens between the naves and chancels with a Jacobean pulpit between them. The shrine has a crested top and a section of a foliated 13th century coffin lid as a sill. In the northern wall are two arches with stone monuments of couples, the man in armour, the woman in a dress and wimple. It is clear they were sculpted by the same hand and the shields held by the men bear the arms of the de la Bere family. It is believed they may be Robert de la Bere (died around 1334) and his son John de la Bere (died in the mid 1340s) and their wives. The roll of Rectors shows Roger de la Bere as incumbent in 1331. A plain Norman font stands by the late 16th century porch. The church became redundant in 1970. There is a shingled bell turret with a broach spire.
Yatton – A track runs from the north of the village of Aymestrey. A green, duckweed covered pond lies between the track and the road, Watling Street, part of a chain of fish ponds of unknown date that runs down side of the road. On through a tunnel of green woods and out between fields. On one side is a closely mown meadow dotted with white plastic wrapped bales of hay and on the other a Willow plantation on an old gravel and sand extraction site. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. The track is running northwards below Beech Grove and Yatton Hill. It joins a narrow lane running between hedges and an occasional stretch neatly built stone wall. The lane enters Yatton, a hamlet of farm cottages, the odd newer build and a lot of barn conversions. Upper Yatton Farm has a fine house constructed mainly of a pale yellow brick. A large barn has a beautiful arched dovecote in the end wall. Other buildings span the years, a long stone barn with a semi-circular entrance above the main doors leading to a hay loft. A trio of young cattle stop munching sweet hay from a bale to watch Maddy and me. A combine harvester trundles out of the farmyard and growls off down the lane. The lane joins the main road. Opposite is Pyon Wood, a tree-covered conical hill containing an Iron Age hillfort, which I leave for another day. The moon peeps over the trees in a blue sky.