Monday – Bodenham Lakes – August enters overcast, warm and humid. Ragwort, Ladies Mantle and Willowherbs are still flowering but looking tired. Teasels are now a delicate violet. The cockerel on the hillside crows and a Raven passes overhead, cronking. Further down the track, St Johns Wort is nearly finished, bramble flowers are almost gone but thistles and Centaury are still flowering brightly. There are more Robin’s Pincushions, caused by Gall Wasps, on the roses. A few Sloes are ripe. A small creature rustles through the brambles, maybe a Weasel. An electric blue and black-striped Common Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum, hovers over brambles, its wings invisible from this distance, so it simply looks like a floating needle. Marmalade Hoverflies, Episyrphus balteatus, swarm around teasel heads. Noise abounds from the orchard corner of the lake as some young (and not so young) people learn to canoe. I am slightly conflicted as their activity disturbs the wildlife, but getting people out and taking part in such activities cannot be a bad thing. From the hide there are the usual suspects – noisy Canada Geese, Mallard, a couple of Mute Swans and Cormorants. Some stones stick out of the water near the island, there is a spit under the water here, and on three stand Grey Herons. Another heron is on the spit, its legs indicate the water is only a few inches deep. A scan of the water reveals Coot and Tufted Duck, but just one of each. Oddly, a second scan shows that there are three Coot, they must have been diving slightly longer than usual. A Common Buzzard circled above Wood, calling persistently. More trees have ripe apples in the eating apple orchard, one is particularly sweet.
Tuesday – Caer Caradoc – A narrow road, Watling Street South, the great Roman road, leads to a path from the outskirts of Church Stretton towards the craggy hogback of Caer Caradoc, a Marilyn standing at 1506 feet. This is one of the sites reputed to be the the last stand of the British Chieften, Caratacus, against the Romans under Publius Ostorius Scapula, although it is unlikely to have happened here. The sun shines intermittently as there are many dark, threatening clouds in the sky. The path runs along the edge of a sheep field, outside of which is a very deep sunken track. To the west the hills of the Long Mynd rise, dappled in sunlight. The earthworks of Bodbury Ring, Iron Age univallate hillfort is clear above Carding Mill Valley. A Common Buzzard mews to the east. Farm houses and a fishing lake lay on the far side of the field. The sun shines and the temperature immediately rises. The path and sunken trackway meet and head toward the gap between Caer Caradoc and Helmeth Hill . The ground is carpeted with Chamomile and its heady scent fills the air. A track enters the valley beside ponds and reed beds. A path crosses the stream to the base of the hill. As always, it seems surprising that this little rill, hardly more than a trickle of water between puddles, has carved out this deep valley over the millennia. The Beech woods are left behind and Hawthorn and bracken takes over. The path rejoins the track. A single head of Ragged Robin, pink flowers which do indeed look ragged, sits in the marshy ground beside the track. I had intended to take an easy, gradual approach to the hill, but the path circumnavigates it, so a direct line is needed.
Straight up a well-worn hillside to an outcrop of rocks. English Stonecrop shelters in niches in these grey stones. Ravens call from above. Steps lead to a gate which is followed by a punishing steep trudge to a summit. These hills are made of Uriconian Volcanics material from around 560 million years ago. A Kestrel hovers high above. Meadow Pipits flit across the bracken and a pair of Magpies sail down the hill. Puffing and blowing like a worn-out shunter I reach a weathered line of boulders called Three Fingers Rock. These are an outcrop of Ragleth Tuffs, volcanic deposits from 544 million years ago. A wide saddle leads up to the next summit. The path undulates but keeps rising until, at last the summit of Caer Caradoc. Surrounded by beds of Bilberries and heathers. Below is the line of a rampart of the Iron Age fort (which may be late Bronze Age in date). The views are stunning despite the haze. To the north the Wrekin stands like a immense pyramid rising from the Shropshire plain. A shower of rain crosses this plain maybe 10 miles away. A freight train passes below looking like the tiniest model railway. The rain passes over Shrewsbury. A Raven glides down the hillside and across the sheep pastures, the sun turning its wings to bronze. The Lawley, another long hogback hill, lies ahead but it is a hill too far today and I turn back. A Wheatear bobs from stony outcrop to heather tussock. Off down the eastern side of the hill. From here the ridges of outcropped tuffs can be seen running across the hill SE to NW. As usual the descent is worse than the climb with my knees complaining painfully. Back to the fields where we skirt a flock of sheep sheltering from the sun under a tree. One of the sheep has an awful cough! I follow the track back to the sunken trackway. There is a notice on the gatepost declaring the track to be a “public road”! Unfortunately, sheep have got through a broken fence and are in the sunken roadway. It is fairly chaotic getting Maddy past, who in fairness is doing nothing but still causes panic. When we reach the road, two sheep are still ahead of us, but luckily there is a footpath around a new housing estate so we can avoid driving the sheep further away from the fields.
Thursday – Home – Welcome rain falls. The garden was getting drier and drier. Watering cans help superficially, but only a decent amount of rain really gives the plants what they need. However, plenty of produce is ready for picking – French and Runner beans, peas, courgettes, radishes, lettuce, chillies and capsicums in the greenhouse and soft fruits. The sweet corn stands about five feet high with tasselled cobs, still a bit thin but hopefully they will fill out by the time they ripen. Yesterday I cleared a large patch of brambles and nettles, a rather painful affair despite gloves and a coat which was too thick in the heat! A dead shrub was cut out but hopefully a few live branches off a runner may develop to replace it. The vines needed cutting back yet again, they really have been most prolific this year. Unfortunately, the grapes are very small as usual.
Friday – Mortimer Forest – Clouds dominate the sky although there are blue patches. A Raven flies silently like an indigo-black ghost through the trees. It is quiet, squeaks from tits, coos from Wood Pigeons and suddenly screams from raptors deep in the woods. Jays pass overhead with strangulated squawks. Along the track between the Hayes Park House track and the Iron Age enclosure. Butterflies are few and far between, single numbers of Peacocks, Red Admirals, Gatekeepers, Speckled Wood, a passing white and Ringlets. Lots of Hoverflies surround Ragwort, which is being devoured by Cinnabar moth caterpillars. Bees are also in short supply. Maybe the sun will bring them out. Along the path by the enclosure where Green-veined White and Small Tortoiseshell are added to the butterfly list. Corn Mint is flowering beside the track. Round high above Mary Knoll Valley. Below on a cleared area a russet-red Fallow Deer browses, slipping into a patch of bracken and is hidden from view. Two species of bee, the Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius and a White-tailed Bumblebee, probably Bombus terrestris are feeding together on a purple thistle head. Hemp Agrimony grows in a large patch on the edge of the valley. I take a path that heads off up the hill and into the conifer plantation. It undulates through the woods over the ridges and furrows made by the rows of conifers. The path emerges onto the track up to High Vinnalls. Finally the top of High Vinnalls is reached. A gentle breeze is welcome. The views of the hills never fail to bring pleasure. I realise that I am steadily climbing them one by one. The top of Caer Caradoc, Tuesday’s ramble, peeps above Wenlock Edge. To the west Hergest Ridge lays across the landscape. Behind me lie the Clee Hills and south to the Malverns. As I return to the track I notice a large lump of concrete with a steel fixing loop in it buried in the grass. I assume this was a fixing point for a steel hawser that held an aerial here, next to the radio relay shack.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – Again a grey sky covers the land. It is quite cool too; where are the hot August days we seem to remember from long ago? Canada Geese gabble and a few whistles and squeaks come from the hedgerows. The patches of algae seem to have diminished. Purple Loosestrife stands tall on the edge of the water. Traveller’s Joy, also called Old Man’s Beard, cloaks bushes with bursting stars of cream blossom. Hawthorns are laden with crimson berries. These Hawthorns are busy with numerous feeding Blue Tits, many young birds, and a few Blackcaps. One Elder already bears purple-black fruit. Cormorants and Canada Geese share the pontoons. A Grey Heron stalks the dry mud at the southern end of the lake. Tufted Duck dive. A pair of Barnacle Geese stand on the island. I pick a decent number of blackberries for a crumble. The sheep are in the orchard. An apple is plucked from a tree – Queen, an Essex apple raised in 1858 in Billericay – and consumed. Not the best flavour but satisfactory.
Friday – Croft – Another grey morning. The pools in Fish Pool Valley are swirled with green algae. Nuthatches pipe and Wood Pigeons coo. Maddy’s coat is blotched green with grass seed. Vermilion berries of Wild Arum brighten the green and brown woodland slopes. The stream that feeds the pond runs through the valley, here through, near the new pumping shed, there is a depression of nettles, saplings and brambles that appears to be an old pool, probably one where the dam has failed and has drained. A small Common Buzzard flies through the trees, softly keening. At the top of the valley where the paths join and split again to climb and encircle Lyngham Vallet, Jays squawk from the trees, noisy but hidden. From the top of Leinthall Common I take the Mortimer Trail north-east. The path crosses the top of Bircher Common with Dionscourt Hill to the north west. Beyond the plain of the River Teme lays before me before rising to the Clee Hills. Titterstone Clee summit is crowned with cloud. A small, twittering flock of Swallows flies through. The path leaves the open common and sheep and passes through bracken and gorse before turning north and crossing the top of a steep defile.
A track heads up into Dionscourt woods. Occasional stones suggest this track may have been cobbled once, however it seems rarely used now and diminishes into a narrow, overgrown path. Into the woods where the track heads downhill in a sunken trackway. A path runs along the edge of the wood past a triangulation point. Below to the east the patchwork of fields, edged with hedges and trees, spreads away into the distance. The dominant hue is the pale gold of ripened grain. There is a sharp prick to my arm as a horsefly, probably a Cleg-fly, Haematopota pluvialis, bites me! The path turns onto a track that leads to a footpath towards Orleton Common. It starts to rain. The path passes through a conifer plantation on Yeld Hill. Across a sheep field and onto a field dotted with china blue Harebells. Down Woodcock Hill past the entrance to Woodcock Hall which is hidden in woods on the hillside. A track heads downhill. A Green Woodpecker flies up from the field and noisily off into trees. An ancient Bedford pickup lies beside the track, an Elder growing through it. The track continues down past a house called “The View” and joins the track at the entrance to Yeld’s Hill Wood. I turn down, away from the wood, known as “Sheepwalk”, to the lane from Orleton.
It has stopped raining but the humidity is intense. The hillside towards The View seems to be an old overgrown garden of considerable proportions. Unusual shrubs, trees, including rhododendrons and plants grow amongst more usual Ashes, Elders and Birches. The house in the “garden” is difficult to age, but does not seem to appear on the maps before the 1980s. The rough garden continues with a large patch of bamboo. Down the track to Rise Hill which has a number of interesting breeds of chicken which may be for sale – it needs investigating. Along the road and then back onto the Mortimer Trail and up towards Lodge Farm. One Blackthorn by the edge of the field is heavily loaded with sloes, most of the other bushes here have none. Through the farm. There is a nice old set of scales laying against a wall. The path emerges on Bircher Common. Down the common and into the woods above Fish Pool Valley. Down and across by the second pool. A white water-lily is about to open. A dragonfly passes. Back up the ride to the car park, now very weary.
Sunday – Home – Yesterday I gathered up a rucksack full of cider apples that had fallen in the Millennium Park. I crushed them through the machine and left the pulp overnight. This morning it was put through the press and a gallon of juice obtained. I plan to be a bit more organised about my cider making this year, although only time will tell. So I have actually labelled the demijohn – “Tom Putt”, the variety of apple and the specific gravity, which shows that if the juice ferments to an S.G. of zero, the cider will be 6½% alcohol. Another batch of French beans has gone into the freezer. We are having to water every day as it is very dry. The butts are empty and there seems to be little hope of any significant rainfall in the near future. After much heart-searching, Jaq, the Light Sussex hen, was dispatched yesterday. She has not laid an egg all year so it was pointless keeping her, but it is always something I loathe doing.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – Start off from the Whitcliffe car park for a change. A gravel track leads up past Upper Evens. Eight foot high Hogweed plants rise out of the undergrowth. The track crosses a sunken, disused trackway. A little further on a tree trunk has been carved with the Girl Guides badge and the logo, Girl Guides 100 to celebrate the centenary of the organisation in 2009/2010. The sun is hot but a bank of grey clouds is moving in from the west. It is quiet, only Wood Pigeons cooing. The track reaches the edge of the Mary Knoll Valley. High Vinnalls stands on the far side. A Willow Warbler makes a half-hearted attempt at a song. I retrace my steps a short distance then take a path that ends up at Mary Knoll, a house in the trees. Down across a field of sheep then back along the hillside through a new plantation. The path enters older woodland. The calls of Common Buzzards and Green Woodpeckers ring around the valley. The woods consist of Oaks and Beeches, maybe 30 or 50 years old, Yews and new Beech saplings. Unfortunately, the path suddenly disappears into a hillside of trees and ferns, then a dense thicket of Yews. I climb up around the thicket and find a path that drops steeply down to the bottom of the valley. A copper and black Comma butterfly sits on the path. A Garden Spider with its distinctive white cross lurks in the centre of the web it has woven between the trunk of a Hawthorn and a conifer sapling. Down the valley and up by the great old quarry. Scarlet Pimpernels grow out of the track, quite an achievement as the ground is very dry and hard. The track climbs out of the valley. Chain-saws snarl across the divide. The slog through the woods back to the car park is hot and humid, as the gentle breeze does not reach into here.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – A brief visit as I had noticed that apples were falling in the cider orchard. I have already got a rucksack full of windfalls from the Millennium Garden this morning. But disaster at the orchard! The farmer has put his sheep in and they have hoovered up the lot. I pick a couple from various trees to check them which brings the sheep flocking around. Poor Maddy does not know what to do, she knows she must keep away from sheep but here they are coming to her! I do get a bag of dessert apples but I am still suspicious of the board that identifies the trees. One variety is a pale green and red apple which the board says is Worcester Pearmain but I am convinced they are not.
Home – After Bodenham I go up to the chicken supplier, Wynne’s of Dinmore, and get a couple of new Bowman Brown Warren hybrid point-of-lays. One is particularly pretty with long, white-tipped nape feathers. There is, of course, considerable commotion when I introduce them to the chicken run. It will be some days before the bullying settles down, but I suspect the one with the nape feathers is going to be fairly dominant although old Ginger still rules the roost. Runner beans are growing at a furious rate. We pick and freeze nearly half a stone and there are still plenty more on the way. The French beans also need cropping. Yet again, the rain bypasses us so the watering can will have to be used again.
Friday – Mortimer Forest – After a glorious start to the day with azure skies and bright sunshine, it has now clouded over. Not that these clouds bring any desperately needed rain. The dust puffs up as Maddy gallops after her ball which is soon a disgusting saliva and dust coated object. A Great Tit sings briefly and warblers twitter and peep. Wood Pigeons coo in the distance. Already leaves and grasses are turning yellow and brown. Flowers along the forestry tracks are limited in variety now. Large umbrels of Cow Parsley rise above the last remaining vetches and trefoils. Thistles and Ragwort are still abundant. A Small Copper butterfly feeds on the latter. A little hover-fly, the Chequered Hover-fly, Melanostoma scalare feeds in the trumpet of a Greater Bindweed.
Saturday – Barnsley – Up to Yorkshire for the wedding of Dave and Annie – at last! It seems this wedding was supposed to happen years ago but somehow did not, but now it really has all come together. We head into town with Ken and Brigid. The tower block has been finished at Town End and we have a drink in the bar which looks out over Town End and Racecommon Road. The lines of terraces rise up the hill where St Edward’s Church stands on the hilltop at Kingstone. The Co-op distribution centre lies along the skyline, now empty I believe. As usual, the town centre changes. A very loud bar is at the top of Dog Lane. On the other side of the lane is a new Asian restaurant where Draycotts used to be. I can remember how it was difficult to get to the bar in Draycotts because of the crush of people, how times change. However, the restaurant is very good!
Sunday – Barnsley – We all meet at Dave and Annie’s for champagne and nibbles before the ceremony. It is good to see so many old friends. Their daughter, Ruby, is everywhere in her bridesmaid dress offering crisps and pretzels – it would be rude not to take one or two or... We then journey to Wentworth Castle in a splendid old blue and cream Sheffield Corporation double deck bus. There is much crashing of gears as the driver gets into first gear to crawl up Stainborough hill and into the drive of the great house. The wedding is in the old barn next to the church of St James, which today is being used as a quiet room – a disco will be playing later in the barn. Dave Bottomley and Zöe sing in the bride and the ceremony commences. There is only a slight hitch when one of the bridesmaid faints; it is very hot in here. Formalities over we have more champagne, a few beers, a barbecue and some wedding cake. We wander around the gardens. The car park in front of the house is gone and new gardens, the John Arnold Garden, named after Wentworth Castle’s first head gardener, have been laid out. Beyond the parkland has been turned into a deer park and Fallow Deer graze. Two young bucks are practising the rut, locking horns but not taking it very seriously. Round the back of the house, the Victorian greenhouse is in a terrible state, held up by extensive scaffolding, but there is good news in that a major grant has been obtained to restore this wonderful building.
Wednesday – Aymestrey – I leave the main road, originally Roman, just above Aymestrey. Past the mill, hidden in the trees but the sound of the mill race rushing by is clear. Although some cloud drifts across the sky, yet again promised rain has failed to fall. We have had no useful rain for some six weeks now. A Green Woodpecker yaffles in the woods. I lean on an old, moss-covered gate overlooking a field with earthworks, maybe an old pond. The mill race runs alongside the road. An outcrop of limestone, slightly tilted rises beside the road. Water bubbles and rushes through the sluice gates for the mill race . A small overflow channel leads back to the River Lugg. The whole area between the sluice and the river is covered in pale pink Himalayan Balsam, pretty but an unwelcome invader. A little further on there is a wide sweeping curve of the weir where the river tumbles down in one direction whilst the rest of the flow feeds the millrace. Opposite limestone cliffs rise up vertically but are obscured by Ash, Elder, briars, brambles and Ivy. The cliffs are of Aymestrey Limestone, part of the Ludlow group of Silurian limestones, over 400 million years old. From Ballsgate Common the Mortimer Trail crosses a field of sheep, up a small bank, probably an old river bank and into the woods. The hills here are mainly tall conical. Behind stands Pyon Wood, the Iron Age hillfort on its summit covered in conifers. Below the wood, The Leathers is open ground down to Garden House Wood which reaches down to the road. The river has headed west through a gap in the hills, between Sned Wood around which this path is proceeding and Mere Hill Wood. Mallow flowers pink, Burdock displays brown burrs, Nettled-leaved Bellflower has blue-purple bells and numerous Small Teasels, the flowers have mainly gone leaving spiky balls of seedheads. A Song Thrush flies out of the bracken. An old, very overgrown track descends the hillside and joins this track. Clearly it has not been used for years. Flies gather on the cream flowers of meadowsweet. There are no really old trees here, they were all felled to be used as charcoal in the Downton forges. Pleasingly, the trees covering the hillsides are mainly native, Ash, Oak, Beech, Hazel, Field Maple and only a few conifers. Greenbottles buzz all around me. Speckled Woods, Gatekeepers and Green-veined Whites feed and dance in the open spaces. . A Chiffchaff sings a pale imitation of its song. The path continues to the Lingen road, but I do not go that far. The map shows the Mortimer Trail proceeding towards Shobdon and a path back round the far side of Mere Hill Wood, but it is unclear whether there is any way to get from one trail to the other. If not, it is a long walk down the road which I prefer to avoid. We retrace out steps and Maddy goes for a swim in the Lugg.
Thursday – Whitcliffe Common – It rained last night, enough to give the ground a soaking. Clouds hang low over the Mortimer Forest. Down the path towards the River Teme past quarried cliffs of limestone. The Whitcliffe Beds are eroded by the Teme exposing the Upper and Lower Leintwardine Beds of siltstone and thin layers of limestone. The 420 million year old sedimentary stones were laid down in warm seas when this area was near to the equator. A Grey Heron stalks the long weir across the river. Mallard, drakes still in eclipse, preen on top of the weir. The river is quiet above the weir, the arches of Dinham bridge reflected in the water to form a complete circle.
Monday – Lingen – The village of Lingen lies in a valley to the north-west of Aymestrey, east of the Mortimer stronghold of Wigmore. The Wigmore road passes through the old Deerfold forest, felled in the 18th century to provide charcoal for the iron foundries. Indeed, a large Oak at the Cross of the Tree, a crossroads above Lingen, is said to be the only tree of the old forest left standing. Lingen is a pretty village with church, chapel, castle and pub. The old Post Office is, inevitably, a private residence. The castle is reduced to a mound and earthworks of a motte and bailey. There are traces of a curtain wall around the bailey. The western defences can now hardly be traced. There is evidence to suggest that a shell keep with a gatehouse on the western side may have once existed on this site. Turstin held the manor under the Mortimers at the time of the Domesday Survey. A nicely hewn seat overlooks a dried up pond, even the recent rains have not left a puddle. Beyond the pastures are marked with lumps and banks signifying the site of a mediaeval village, apparently a typical Norman planned village. The streams that have carved out the valleys are small yet they have formed a wonderful landscape of steep sided valleys over the millennia. The Limebrook runs through Lingen and joins the Lugg a little further south. The name “Lingen” has various origins postulated, but consensus seems to point to the name of both the village and stream coming from the Welsh, llyn-gain, meaning “clear water”. The church of St Michael and All Angels was built in 1890 by Henry Curzon at a cost of £1500. This was the third church on the site, the first built in the 13th century was replaced in the 17th century during the reign of James II but was in a state of neglect and disrepair by 1860. Only the west tower remains of that church. Most of the nave roof of the 1890 church was destroyed by fire in 1953. A clock was installed in the tower in memory of the four men who lost their lives in the Great War. Today there is a flower festival in the church and with them are displayed quilted blocks made by villagers over recent years. A pair of House Martins flit around inside the nave and chancel. The parishioners who are setting up the the flowers are hoping they will fly out of the door but do not seem to be that keen on doing so!