Friday – Caety Traylow – The heatwave finally breaks on the Marches. It is raining steadily. Through Gladestry, past the church, barn conversion and modern houses then up a narrow lane with high banks on either side. A wooded hill rises to the north, Gobe Banks. There are signs of quarrying around its base. A Wren and a Whitethroat fly out of the hedges and return. Their uncertain flight indicates they are probably young birds. The small purple-red brushes of Lesser Knapweed are prolific on the banks. A track heads off to the hills. Yarrow and Hare Bells flower by the track. Halting for a moment immediately attracts flies. The rain stops then starts again. Up onto the moorland, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is typical Heather, Bilberry, Cowberry and Bracken country a few stubby Gorse bushes failing to rise above the heather. Meadow Pipits and Swallows are the only birds up here. The hill here is Caety Traylow. Weirdly, there is an alarm going off somewhere and the position seems to change. Shotguns are being discharged somewhere across the hills. This is supposed to be an important Red Grouse moor, but I have not seen or heard any sign of them. To the north is a steep escarpment. The surrounding hills are inevitably obscured by mist and clouds. The fields before are a patchwork of green with black cows and white sheep. The area was known as the township of Trewern Gwithla in the parish of Llanvihangel-NantMelan, within the liberties of the borough of New Radnor, union of Kington, county of Radnor. Now there are two tiny hamlets below, Gwaithla and Little Gwaithla and these divisions of our land often forgotten. There seems to be little point in continuing to walk up here, the rain keeps falling and the mist obscures any views, so it is back down the track to Gladestry.
Sunday – Leominster – At last there has been some serious amount of rain. Yesterday the garden got a good soaking, it certainly needed it. One of the occupants of the new houses has cut all the limbs off the damson that hung over our wall; their right of course, but dumping the sawn branches in our garden was rather unsociable! We have removed them and cleared out a lot of the vine that was ripped down by the falling branches. There are more damson trees growing so they should fruit in a few years time. Off down to the market where I buy a pretty dahlia and three large bunches of beetroot – mine did not even germinate this year. Overhead a Sparrowhawk is struggling to maintain its balance in the sky. It has something relatively large in its claws and as far as I can make out it is a Swallow. Just how it managed to catch that is a bit of a mystery. Back home and the vine is shredded and put in the bins. The French and Runner beans have gone into glut. I pick a trug full and process them for freezing. Courgettes are also coming fast and one is already like a small marrow. The peas are finished, not a great crop this year. Another session in the greenhouse sorting out the tomato plants. They are heavy with fruit but still sending out shoots in every direction which need removing and stems need tying to stop them breaking. Some red chard is picked for dinner along with more French beans.
Monday – Croft – The sun returns and beats down from a near cloudless sky. A family of Nuthatches chatter as they fly around the tree tops. Maddy is again splattered with grass seed. Further on up the Fish Pool Valley, adult Nuthatches are calling excitedly. Few other birds are heard, only a Wren makes an attempt at song and Blue Tits chatter. On up towards Leinthall Common. A Silver-washed Fritillary, Small Whites and Speckled Woods fly about. Numerous bees are in bramble flowers. Up to the hill fort. Clouds are now building, great cumulus pillows in the west. A Yellowhammer sings in the southern ramparts. Sitting on the old Ash branch does not last long as flies are very annoying. Gatekeepers and Small Heath butterflies visit flowers. Down through the woods towards the Spanish Chestnut field. A large patch of white flowered Angelica is attracting dozens of bees, hover-flies and bluebottles whilst a beautiful deep purple one has attracted only one mining bee. The clouds are now turning grey.
Tuesday – Kinnersley Castle – A Historical Society trip to visit this castle which is in private hands. Domesday records the land as being in the hands of Edric the Wild in 1066 and Richard of Brampton with the tenant Ralph of Mortimer in 1086. An old manuscript declares the Kinnersley family as being old Saxon nobility, their name coming from Cynheard and records:
It is believed a stone castle was built here by Edward I. In 1250 Hugh de Kynardesley was Sheriff of Herefordshire. In the mid-13th century the de Bere family had acquired the castle through marriage. By the late 16th century the Vaughn family had taken possession and remodelled the castle as an Elizabethan house. It changed hands many times throughout the subsequent centuries. Our tour is conducted by Katherina Garrett-Adams, the current owner. The house has a pleasantly decayed feel about it. It costs a fortune to run, the insurance bill exceeds £7000 per annum and the heating bill is astronomical. It rambles over several floors and with so many owners has had many alterations both inside and out. One of the jewels of the house is a magnificent Elizabethan solar with the original 1588 plasterwork of serpent dogs and sinuous vines. A Green Man is over one window and over the fireplace is a boy with a serpent around his neck, maybe a reference to someone being born with the umbilical cord wrapped around them. There are also pomegranates in the design, symbols of the family’s adherence to the Catholic faith. The walls of main hall were for many years of plaster covered canvas as the room was used as a kitchen. When the plaster was removed in the early 20th century the original wooden panelling was found underneath. It is in fine condition and has escaped the Victorian predilection for dark varnish. The Reavely family owned the castle from the mid-19th century and their daughter married George Frederick Bodley, the Arts and Crafts architect and designer. The estates have been sold off over the past century and the deer park that lay to the east has been completely destroyed and turned into fields. A notorious owner was the 2nd Baron Brocket, a Nazi supporter who was effectively driven from his ancestral home, Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, and spent the war in Kinnersley. Outside is the second highest Ginko tree in Britain. The family collect the leaves every year and sell them to Neal’s Yard to be made into complementary medicines. The garden also contains one of the largest Cedar trees in the country. Next to the house is the parish church of St James. It is 12th century in origin but mainly 13th century. It has some marvellous wall decoration and a painted organ by the Revd Frederick Andrews from designs by Bodley. In the chancel is a monument to Francis Smallman, Lord of the Manor, dated to 1635. Against the west wall of the nave is an angel monument dedicated to Lady Ann Morgan who died in 1764. There is also some fine Victorian glass.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another night of rain is followed by a showery morning. The lake is quiet, a few Mallard, the Mute Swan family, Coots and Moorhens. A family of Moorhens appears around the scrape, the chicks are young. The mother seems upset with one of them and is chasing and pecking at it until it joins another couple whilst ignoring yet another which is lagging some way behind. A Great Crested Grebe is at the western end. As often happens I regret my laziness in not bringing my scope. There are duck on the far side that I cannot accurately identify through my binoculars. Tufted Duck are preening but another group are simply to far away. Something arrows across the water line a kingfisher but is grey or brown. It returns and I see I was fooled by the light, it is indeed a Kingfisher and seems uncertain where to go. It moves back and forth before disappearing through the bushes on the south side. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. The clouds are gathering, time to move on. Blackberries are ripening fast. Traveller’s Joy, our only wild Clematis is in flower. Soon there will be fluffy plumes giving rise to the name Old Man’s Beard. Some Blackthorn bushes are loaded with ripening sloes.
Thursday – Home – The recent rain and warm days has meant everything is growing fast. Runners from the squashes must be putting on six inches a day. Tomatoes and peppers are still ripening well in the greenhouse. French and runner beans need cropping every day or things will get out of hand! I discover one big, big mistake – I have not put any netting over the purple sprouting broccoli and both Small and Cabbage White butterflies have visited. The leaves have been shredded by dozens of caterpillars which I now have to remove.
Friday – Hereford-Ruckhall – An overcast morning On the train to Hereford. Very quiet as the usual crowd of school and college students are on holiday. In Hereford, down Eign Gate and through the underpass where the profile of the city ditch is marked in the wall. Down towards the river crossing. Opposite are the remaining sections of the city walls. Off westwards along the River Wye. I take the path I followed to Belmont Abbey in November 2011. Past Hunderton Bridge, the large housing estate and over Hunderton Rough. Across fields where sheep rest under trees and onto the lane to Perry Hill. It is very humid. Belmont Villa is a pleasant, extended cottage beside the road. A flock of House Martins swirl over a copse. Past Perry Hill Farm and onto the Ruckhall road. A Wren rasps angrily. Wood Pigeons coo. Past Vallets Farm, which has a fine three-storey Georgian farmhouse and across a field to Ruckhall Wood. The path runs to Tuck Mill between Tuck and Lady’s Coppices. The wood is quiet, just a few Blue Tits chattering. The mill is a fine building, now a residence but it is not obvious where the power came from as the only stream is way down the track. This stream is Cage Brook which forms the boundary between the parishes of Clehonger to the east and Eaton Bishop to the west. The name Tuck Mill should logically imply a fulling or cloth mill from OE, tucien, to full cloth. However, the only records show Tuck Mill as a corn mill. I assume the pleasant, lawned back garden was the mill pool originally. The census of 1841 suggests the miller was one John Dandy. However, records show that by November 1841, the mill was in the hands of Thomas Wheeler. A track runs round the a steep promontory made by the River Wye and Cage Brook upon which is Eaton Camp. Up a path of deep, red mud (mudstones and siltstones of the Old Red Sandstone Raglan Mudstone Formation) and into the hill fort. A Heritage Lottery Grant has enabled archaeologists to carry out several digs on the site. The hill-fort dates from the Late Bronze or early Iron Age, around 500BCE and was occupied until about 50CE. The River Wye runs a hundred yards to the north. Jays squawk. There is no marked path off the hill fort so I go back down to the path and head down to a foot path along the river. Himalayan Balsam is widespread along the banks. Through cool woods where Hart’s Tongue Ferns and stalks of vermilion berries of Wild Arum grow. Steep steps take the path across the hillside above the river.
Into Ruckhall. The hamlet has a lot of 20th century houses and all look expensive. A Primitive Methodist chapel has been converted into an artist’s studio; the two adjoining buildings were known as “Poverty Cottages”. There is supposed to be a pub here but it is not until I get home that I discover I have passed the Ancient Camp Inn, which certainly did not look like any sort of inn I frequent! However, it was very popular in Edwardian times when people would either walk or punt up the Wye to Ruckhall and take tea at the now demolished Laurel Tearooms or at the Camp Inn, now Ancient Camp, where there was a donkey called “Beer Barrel”. Off back down the Belmont road to Ruckhall Mill another large collection of buildings now a luxury home. It appears that Thomas Wheeler also owned this mill, both mills passing to Charles Beavan in 1879. Pedestrians can cross Ruckhall Bridge although it is being repaired. The main stone layer reckons the job will take until Wednesday, the gaffer prefers Tuesday. “Is there a bonus for finishing Tuesday?”, asks one of the workers. Silence. It looks like Wednesday. Off along the road. The sun is out and it is getting hot. Gatekeepers visit thistles. This walk has been pleasant but not particularly visually exciting so my camera has remained in by rucksack. So when I arrive back at Perry Hill and see a furry caterpillar being attacked by a black wasp I rush to get it out. The caterpillar twists and turns and eventually shakes the wasp off and rushes to the roadside grass. The wasp seems to decide it is not worth the effort and flies off. I now have my camera out... Considering the situation, I wonder if the wasp has in fact managed to lay an egg in the caterpillar and so, job done, it abandons the caterpillar who has not really escaped. In the hedgerow are Blackberries, Honeysuckle – red berries and flowers and heart-shaped Black Bryony leaves. The bell of Belmont Abbey is tolling. On along the road. A lad passes on his bike and then returns some while later – “Have I found a wallet?” “Sorry, no.” Past the abbey and on to the Hereford-Abergavenny road. It is a long and hot tramp back into the city. On the large junction by Asda is Pool Farm, a 15th century farm house, extended in the 16th century and restored in 1977. It has a wooden shield, apparently 20th century, with the date 1624. There is over an hour wait for the next train so I retire to the Merton Arms. The landlady is on the patio as I enter and she directs me immediately to the dog bowl and tap, for which Maddy is grateful. Having watered the dog, I slake my own considerable thirst.
Monday – Bodenham Lake – The remnants of Hurricane Bertha passed through the Channel and southern England yesterday. There was a fair amount of rain across our area and a bit of wind but nothing serious. The year is slowly changing. Bird song has mostly ceased now. The Swifts have gone and Swallows and Martins are preparing to leave. Himalayan Balsam is widespread; a most invasive plant. Great Willowherb, Ragwort, Dark Mullein and thistles still flower. Blackberries are shining purple-black jewels on the bramble thickets. The lake is relatively quiet, Canada Geese gabble on the island but there is hardly a duck to be seen on the water. A Cormorant is fishing, another is in the trees. Blue butterflies are flitting around the bank in front of the hide. On returning to town, I notice that House Martins are still visiting nests under the eaves and a head is peeping out of one. There have been several showers here that missed Bodenham.
Tuesday – Nantwich – We travel up to the Shropshire Union Canal again to join Ken and Brigid who are now on the boat. We head into the town via Welsh Row, a Roman and Mediaeval road and one of the architecturally most diverse and interesting streets in the country. Nantwich was active in the Roman times as a source of salt. Domesday recorded eight salt-houses. A Norman castle stood in by a crossing of the River Weaver but nothing remains of it. The Normans burned the town entirely and there was another disastrous fire in 1583. Elizabeth I contributed to the town’s rebuilding. The town was held by Parliamentary forces during the Civil War and was besieged by Lord Byron commanding Royalist forces. On 25th January 164, Sir Thomas Fairfax led Parliamentary forces to victory at the Battle of Nantwich, which was a major setback got King Charles. By 1530 there were over 400 salt-houses in the town but the trade declined and died out in the mid-19th century. There was also a good trade from coaches on the London-Chester road but Telford’s London-Holyhead road took the coaches away and this was compounded when the Grand Junction railway by-passed the town. Nantwich maintained its popularity as a market town to this day. We pass the 6th Form College and Tollemache Alms Houses, built by John Tollemache in 1870 to replace earlier ones built in 1631 by Sir William Wilbraham. Other houses date from just about every period – a 17th century timber-framed house has a 19th century extension, the Old Grammar School from the late 18th century, another Grammar School with a tower from around 1860, the Black Lion pub of 1644, the Savings Bank built 1846, Widow’s Alms Houses from 1637 ouside which is a very worn set of mounting blocks to ease getting on and off a horse and numerous late 18th and early 19th buildings. Townsend House, home of the Wilbraham family which hosted James I in 1617 is sadly gone. Over the River Weaver by a bridge of 1803 which replaced a bridge of 1644 which itself replaced the old timber bridge. Up into the town centre. The Crown Hotel is a huge timber-framed building built in 1585 after the great fire. It stands on the probable site of the castle. Past shops, many fine old buildings to a grassy square, the old burial ground beside St Mary’s church. The building of the present church started in about 1340 in the Decorated style by Yorkshire masons using local red sandstone, probably from Eddisbury near Delamere. Building work was interrupted between 1349 and 1369, probably due to an outbreak of the Black Death plague. By the 1380s the town’s prosperity had recovered and building work resumed by master masons associated with Lichfield and Gloucester cathedrals, now building in the Perpendicular style. There is an alabaster effigy of Sir David Craddock, who died in about 1384 in the south transept. The effigy was damaged in the Civil War, and was found buried under the chancel floor during the 19th century restoration. Sir David, who came from Nantwich, was once Mayor of Bordeaux, Justicar of Wales and a money-lender to Richard II. A Green Man is on a pillar the crossing. The reredos is from 1919. 15th century misericords decorate the choir stalls. The canopies are superb examples of mediaeval wood carving. Most of the glass is Victorian but there is a fine window by Michael Farrar-Bell installed in 1985 dedicated to a local farmer. Nearby is 1 Pillory Street, a V-shaped building by Ernest H. Edleston is in the French Baroque style of the late 17th century. Queen’s Aid House, a newsagents, has plaque on the gable carved by the builder, Thomas Clease in 1583 acknowledging the help given by Elizabeth I in rebuilding the town.
Nantwich-Calverley – After lunch in the Black Lion we return to the boat and head north. Past Nantwich Marina and up a pleasant, fairly wide waterway. A Magpie watches from an overhanging tree. It is noticeable that there is a lot of shrubbery and tree branches overhanging the canal, often causing substantial narrowing. Ken comments that the cutbacks in staffing by the privatised waterways, now a Trust rather than British Waterways, is resulting in a lack of maintenance and as the trees block the edges they will be unused and start to silt up, a much more expensive problem. Glorious stands of flowers adorn the banks – pink Willowherbs, yellow Ragwort and Orange Balsam (an American escapee) with the occasional yellow Monkey Flower, also from the Americas. Mint is also common and pink heads of Amphibious Bistort rise from the water. Mallard of various ages are very numerous. Some wires over the canal have dozens of Swallows gathered, preparing for the journey south. Keys have developed on Ash trees, another sign of the waning summer. We are lucky with the weather, it is showery across the country but we mainly avoid them. The Llangollen Canal junction is busy but we pass it easily enough. We moor at Calverley but discover our chosen pub for the early evening has closed down. There are more distant options but we decide that sitting in our chairs on the tow-path with a beer is much easier! A Moorhen has three tiny chicks and a single older bird but certainly this year’s brood. There is also a second adult occasionally present. The main adult takes pieces of bread back to the chicks who are under the vegetation on the far side of the canal. After dark the sky, which had been mainly cloud cloud, clears. To the south is a super-moon, huge and yellow and several meteorites from the Pleiades showers pass over into oblivion.
Wednesday – Bunbury – An early morning wander up the canal. A long stretch of scrub and woodland beside the tow-path has signs warning of “Danger – Deep Mud”. Eventually a sign almost buried in the undergrowth reveals this to be a dumping ground for canal dredgings. The bright yellow faces of Fleabane shine beside the path. The canal reaches Bunbury Locks, two wide-beamed staircase locks over which passes a road. The Shropshire Union Canal Carriers’ office stands by the lock, now an information centre. The road heads off to the village of Bunbury. Cows peer out of a gate at Bunbury Locks Farm whilst waiting to go into the milking parlour. There are several fine houses up the road, the farmhouse being one. Another has a lovely garden of trees and flower beds leading to a large pond and a stream which is actually the River Gowy. A little further along the road is the old mill, only open on Sundays. Into the village. On 23rd December 1642, some of the prominent citizens of Cheshire met here to draw up the “Bunbury Agreement”, which was a plan to keep Cheshire neutral in the Civil War. This proved a forlorn hope because of the strategic important of Chester. Sir William Brereton and Dunham Massey, the leading Parliamentarians in Cheshire were in London and did not agree with the Agreement. On 9th January 1643 Brereton was commissioned by Parliament to take control of the Parliamentary forces in Cheshire and Massey was ordered to take command of the Cheshire Militia. These actions effectively ended the Agreement. The church St Boniface dominates what I assumed was the centre of the village. However, I later learn the village is in two parts, Upper and Lower and the centre of the village is down a hill where I do not venture. The centre was historically up here by the church but in 1940 a German bomber returning from a raid on Liverpool jettisoned its bombs and destroyed Church Row and the local shops. The latter were rebuilt in Lower Bunbury. The church is in rich dark red stone with a delightful parapet. Sir Hugh de Calveley rebuilt an earlier church in the 14th century. As usual the church is locked so the inside remains unseen. There is much talk these days, being the centenary of the start of the First World War, of “fortunate villages”, those who suffered no losses in the conflict, but this is not one of them. A long list of losses is carved into the gates of the church, often the same name repeated as families lost several, if not all of their sons. Opposite is a fine looking pub, the Dysart Arms. Back down Bunbury Common to the locks. A small wood and several large Oaks on their own are on the far side of the canal. The tapping of woodpeckers comes from both and Swallows are circling the tree tops.
Nantwich-Audlem – We head off southwards down the canal towards Nantwich. Stands of phragmites reeds with rich purple flower heads stand in clumps or larger beds. The tower of Aston church peeps over a hill. We pass the marina and swing round and over a small aqueduct and on along the canal. Much of the countryside is meadow and pasture. We pass numerous canal boats, most the ordinary type but occasionally there is an old, unconverted commercial boat. A strange small cabin cruiser with a large “shed” built on it has sunk; Ken says it has been there for some months. Grey Herons appear on the bank and now and again we espy a Kingfisher. Information boards are regularly placed down the tow-path. One tells us we are at Hack Green. Here there are a pair of locks, actually the first I have passed through, dating from 1827-1835 and built, almost inevitably by Thomas Telford. Also here is the secret nuclear bunker. A radar station was built here at the start of the Second World War. After the war it became part of the Cold War scenario as a component of the “ROTOR” network of radar stations protecting against Soviet bomber and missile attack. The radar station closed in 1966 but in 1983 it was completely rebuilt to become the seat of Regional Government in the event of a nuclear war. It closed in 1992 and became a museum in 1997. It is rather amusing to see numerous signs pointing to the “secret” bunker. Past a large marina holding several hundred canal boats. We come to the large village of Audlem. It has an entry in Domeday as Aldelime and gained a market charter in 1245 from Edward I. The church dates from 1278 but we do not stop long, just enough time for a couple of pints and then back to Nantwich.
Thursday – Nantwich – An early morning walk with Maddy around the town. A road runs from our mooring near the aqueduct to the junction at the end of Welsh Row. The Welsh called Nantwich Hellath Wen meaning “White-pit”, probably a reference to the salt trade. On this road is a car park called “Snow Hill” where waste from the salt purification process was dumped. Into the town where I am amused to see the auction house of Peter Wilson often featured on “Bargain Hunt”, our somewhat guilty lunchtime viewing. A sign on a building declares “The Olde Wyche Theatre, 1919” Along Hospital Street where a fine timber-framed black-and-white house is Sweet Briar Hall, built in the late 15th century and occupied from 1758-61 by Joseph Priestley, discoverer of the element Oxygen, who was a local Unitarian minister. The building narrowly escaped the great fire of 1583, the neighbouring building being destroyed. Round into Pratchett’s Row, Victorian terraced houses ending with a larger block of three storeys. The opposite terrace has been demolished and is now a supermarket. Past the Railway Hotel which has a larger than life statue of Elvis Presley high on its façade. The pub is themed around The Beatles, apparently for no other reason that the owners are great fans. Down Pillory Street past another terrace of cottages and into the shopping centre. Welsh Row takes me back past the 6th Form College where staff are arriving to distribute the A-level results. Back to the canal where a late Swift is feeding with House Martins and Swallows. Breakfast, then off home whilst Ken and Brigid take the boat north.
Monday – Richards Castle – The sun is bright but a strong breeze is blowing. Along the Forestry track then down another track to the cottages at Woodcroft. Nuthatches are calling excitedly in the Oaks. A garage door is made of a large old road sign, one pointing to Leominster. A track drops down past Batchcott Farm to the foot of Hanway Common, where several cottages cluster around Hanway House. A muddy track enters a field and up to the Richards Castle lane. I am looking for a damson tree we found several years ago, but without success. Into Richards Castle and up to the disused church of St Bartholomew. A seat outside provides a resting place to view the plain across Orleton towards Tenbury. A Grey Squirrel passes me and almost runs into Maddy who is laying beneath an old Yew. The squirrel makes a dash up the trunk of the Yew, leaving a daft dog looking at me as if I was supposed to do something! Back down towards the road past flowers being visited by Small White and Gatekeeper butterflies and bees.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – It is almost autumnal with a very cool start to the day. A breeze ruffles the water. Fluffy clouds and a weak sun look down on noisy Canada Geese. A Grey Heron is in the scrape but very wary, it knows I am here. Soon as the window of the hide is opened it takes to the air and is off. Coot, Tufted Duck and the Mute Swan family are in the south side of the lake. More Coot, Mute Swans and some Mallard are to the west. Cormorants are in the trees and one flies low over the water. A large wasp-type visits the Lesser Knapweeds but never stops making positive identification difficult, but I suspect it may be a Hornet. A Great Crested Grebe appears at the western end. Irish Peach apples are ripe and delicious but it is not a particularly prolific variety.
Friday – Radnor Forest – The sun is weak and again it is cool but the hills look clear. On the drive here I could see a thick layer of cloud sitting on the Black Mountains. The hillsides above Vron Farm are dotted with sheep and they are calling constantly. Up the track towards Warren Wood. Ragwort and Tansy grow together, both yellow flowered but very different, the Tansy in buttons, Ragwort with its paler petals against an almost orange centre. Good numbers of young Robins, their red breasts not yet fully coloured, are feeding in the edge of the track. Under the eaves of the conifer woods are Great and Blue Tits, Redstarts and a warbler, probably Chiffchaff. The Redstarts may be young too as their plumage looks look quite washed out. Up the woodland, which is made tricky with fallen trees, one fir being quite a leg stretcher. Out across sheep meadows and into the Forestry Commission plantations. There is a boggy section where purple heathers grow and bilberries are ripe. The wind is brisk and cold. Blue Tits call. Along the track where Jays are active. Half a dozen or more Blackbirds explode out of the bushes. The path from Luestau’r Haul onto the moors is overgrown with bracken. It is a worry that these paths are not being used despite the claims that walking is such a popular pastime these days. If they can quickly be overgrown and will be lost, especially as Government cuts mean there are no staff to maintain them. Sheep splashed with bright turquoise wander along the far hillside. The path meets a track at a ford over Mithil Brook, a mere trickle. A deep defile runs off westwards. Rowan trees grow below the level of the top of the dingle keeping them out of the wind. They are loaded with vermilion berries. The track climbs past the end of Carrog Dingle. A Red Kite drifts up the dingle. Another dingle lies to the east carrying Mithil Brook down from Esgairnantau. Ravens croak as they pass over. Several Common Buzzards quarter the moorland. The views westwards are magnificent; Llangegley Rocks lie bathed in warm sunshine. Swallows zip across the rough grasses. Numerous Meadow Pipits chase too and fro. The hills have headlands divided by the dingles created by streams. Up to the east are similar headlands also created by dingles running down towards the north-west. These headlands contain the round barrows I visited in August last year. Another valley drops down between Cowlod and Cefn-y-Grug to Cwm Farm. A Cross Dyke lies by the path, just a small ditch and rampart a few feet high. There appears to be no obvious connection to the larger Cross Dyke to the east at the top of Harley’s Dingle. The track runs off the open access land. To the west is Shepherd’s Tump, a small conical hill topped by a tumulus. The site is a protected ancient monument but is of unknown date. The track meets a tarmac road which drops down, and down to Llanfihangel Rhydithon. I cannot help but be daunted by the thought I have to climb back up this road.
The village lies on a fairly busy road from Knighton to Penybont. The name means “the church of St Michael on the ford over the River Ithon”. The river is some way away, the church actually standing on Maes Brook which is a tributary of the Afon Aran which in turn joins the Ithon. The church is one of the ring dedicated to St Michael around the Radnor Forest which by legend keep the dragon of the forest trapped in the hills. The community is also known as Dolau, which seems to have been adopted from the name of a farm by the Central Wales Railway Company in 1865 when they built a station there. The much shorter name probably just made things easier for the railway. The church was in a bad state at the end of the Georgian era and completely rebuilt in 1838 Stephen William Williams. The new tower only lasted 70 years and had to be completely demolished and re-erected in 1907. There is a window in the south wall of the nave made by Howard Martin and Hubert Thomas of Morriston in 1939 and is the only example of a pre-war window in an anglican church made by them. By the porch door is a memorial in memory of three shepherds, John and Thomas Chaundlour and their cousin Edward Chaundlour who went out to bring in their sheep in a severe snowstorm on 13th February 1767. All three perished and legend has it they were found later locked in each others’ arms. A Red Kite flies over village. Opposite the church is the school building erected by public subscription in 1848. It is now a residence. Back up the hill, which is not as hard going as I had expected. Back across the moorland track. Toadstools are frequent on the ridge between the wheel tracks on the route across the moor. As usual I have difficulty in identifying them, but I think they may be False Chanterelle, although looking little like the pictures in the guides! A guano covered wooden post stands by the track, a watching post for a Common Buzzard or maybe an owl? Back in Warren Woods, there is a constant drone of insects. Back down the track from Warren Wood to the car park, flies are particularly irritating. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The sun is shining after several days of rain and gloom, but the forecast suggests this is a brief respite. Haws and hips are now ripening fast. A brilliant turquoise flash signals the departure of a Kingfisher. Sheep are in the meadow. A large group of Mallard and Canada Geese are on the scrape but take flight when I open the window. The geese retreat to the edge of the island and create a din from under the overhanging tress. There are good numbers of Mallard, some drakes just beginning to emerge from eclipse. Several Tufted Duck and a Great Crested Grebe are present. It seems the Swifts really have gone now, although I note that every time I believe this, one or more make an appearance. A Cormorant drops down from the trees leaving at least five more up there. Several dragonflies, one of the hawkers, hunt the edge of the reed bed. A tatty winged Common Buzzard circles the lake. A pair of Mute Swans feed at the western end. Suddenly a female Peregrine Falcon is flying low over the western end. It circles a couple of times before departing. A few minutes later a Common Buzzard appears, mewing loudly, a different bird to the earlier one with much tidier wings. Mallard are plunge diving to clean their plumage. The varieties of apples ripe enough to eat is increasing each week, although the Irish Peach apples though are now finished.
Thursday – Berrington Hall – A fairly short visit to this National Trust managed house just north of Leominster. We have been here on a number of occasions; this time we are interested to see an exhibition of Georgian clothes that were used in a BBC production of “Jane Eyre”. House Martins are diving and swirling around the portico of the house. The exhibition turns out to be not really that interesting, most the dresses and menswear is fairly bland and indeed it is mainly the permanent display of Georgian wear that is most arresting in their colour and materials. Some undergarments catch the eye, or rather make the stomach wince. Corsets that pull the poor women’s midriff into a waspish twenty inches or less must have been excruciating. Whilst wandering around some plates and a bowl from the Sung dynasty (960-1279) Celadon ware is eye-catching. The pale jade-green glaze and the subtle patterns in the clay are sublime.
Friday – Old Radnor – Dark clouds with glowing edges threaten rain. A blustery wind rustles the leaves. Sheep sound forlorn as if anticipating bad weather. Along the track past the village school. Summergil Brook is dry which is more than can be said of the track which sports numerous large puddles. The Radnor hills are clear and sharp, the barrows on the skyline maintaining their watch as they have done for several millennia. Within minutes mist starts to cloud the tops and a fine rain blows in. The track drops into an old hollow way. Hazel bushes have fine crops of cobs. On down the track where the choice is often deep puddles or deep mud. Few flowers bloom now, a few Common Mallows and Lesser Knapweed. Many Blackthorn bushes are heavy with sloes. Blue Tits chirrup and a large flock of Chaffinches pink in the hedges. A puddle that could easily double as a pond fills the track. I have to hope there is a ridge along the centre as there has been along the way and I am fortunate. What I believe is a Common Buzzard is noisy over the fields but when I look a pair of Red Kites take off, I really ought to be able to distinguish the calls by now! The track is quite overgrown now with St John’s Wort, Agrimony and Meadowsweet flowering. The farmer has brought down a good number of trees and trunks and branches block the track, although he is there with his tractor removing them. I can pass along the edge of a wheat field and rejoin the track which is now in a much better condition. Another large flock of Chaffinches scatters along the hedgerow. The track joins the Kinnerton road at the Four Stones, a small neolithic stone circle. Their presence and the Four Stones Cursus on the far side of the road suggest the track I have just followed is contemporaneous with the neolithic constructions here in the Walton Basin. Likewise, the road to Kinnerton which then runs south to Old Radnor, is also an exceedingly ancient route. Down towards the A44. Over Summergil Brook by a small bridge. The brook is still bone dry here too. Old Radnor sits on the hill ahead. White flowers dominate here, White Dead Nettle and Bindweed. The rain finally arrives. Across the main road into the continuation of the old track, here called Wellin Lane. The lane is becoming choked by Hazel, Bracken, brambles and nettles. It becomes an old holloway and clearer under banks of Hazel. The track emerges onto the Walton to Old Radnor road at Stockwell Farm. Opposite the end of the track is the farmhouse, Probably 16th century in origin. The listing states it appears to be a re-fronted one-and-a-half storey hall block with two-storey cross-wing. Later ranges to south and east including service wing, stable and traphouse.
The church of St Stephen stands on the hill above here. When I visited two years ago the church was locked but it is open today. This is the only church in Wales dedicated to Stephen and it is thought that because the old Celtic church was dedicated to St Ysteffan, the Normans mistakenly assumed this was the martyr St Stephen. After the Conquest Old Radnor became the property of the Mortimers. There is a plain grave slab set in the floor in front o fhte chancel and this has been associated with Hugh Mortimer, Rector of Old Radnor from 1257-1290. The church is mainly a re-building of the 15th and early 16th centuries as a small section of the north aisle from the 14th century was the only part to survive the attentions of Owain Glydŵr in 1401. Inside the west wall holds three funeral hatchments of the Lewis family of Harpton Court. Here is also a massive stone font on stubby stone legs. Some say it was hewn from a fifth menhir from the Four Stones but this seems unlikely. Above the roof is a flat oak waggon roof with carved bosses. Across the entrance to the chancel is a magnificent late 15th century rood screen, the work of the school of Gloucestershire carvers. In the chancel is the earliest surviving organ case in the British Isles. It is said it came from Worcester cathedral and it is conjectured this may have been something to do with John Bull, composer and organist to the Chapel Royal, the first Professor of Music at Gresham College and the organist of Antwerp cathedral who was born in the parish of Old Radnor in 1563. Near the organ is a Green Man on a wall pillar. The presence of five piscinas and aumbries mean there were once five altars which gives some indication of the church’s mediaeval high status. In the south aisle is the Lady Chapel whose east window was removed to accommodate the substantial memorial of Thomas Lewis who died in 1777. Strangely, the Lady Chapel is hidden behind a curtain. On the floor near the Lady Chapel, and in several other places are lovely mediaeval tiles. Just along the road is the Harp Inn, a 15th century longhouse, which unfortunately is not open.
Off down the road to Dolyhir. Jays squawk, Nuthatches burble. The rain comes in short showers. A screaming raptor this time is a Common Buzzard. At the junction is a boarded up corrugated iron building. There seems to be some dispute as to its origin. Someone recalls it containing a snooker table as was a men’s club, but it looks very much like a “flat pack” chapel to me, like the one at Blists Hill Victorian Town near Ironbridge. However, others say it was a Reading Room. A house, apparently two cottages once, stands opposite Dolyhir quarry. There is a Victorian postbox in its wall. The place looks deserted, possibly not an ideal residence with the roar of the quarry machinery opposite. A large drum rotates coating the crushed stone with tar. It then is raised into a hopper and is released into lorries. The attached contraption is even larger although I have no idea what our does. A digger works in a vast shed across the site loading tons of gravel into articulated trucks. The old station at Dolyhir is still here in the yard. A small building has a GWR notice on the door, the rather short platform is near the road. Around the site are large walls with what look like old kilns in them. On along the Yardro road. A row of houses, prosaically called, “The Row” seems to be in the middle of nowhere. Hundreds of free-range chickens scratch around a field by a large modern hen-house. Into Yardro, to the horseshoe bench outside the chapel. The sun appeared briefly a short time ago but the grey has returned. An old track runs up the hill. The map states it is open for traffic, but rain run-off has created deep gouges in the track and I would be surprised if a tractor could not negotiate it safely. The rain has set in by the time Smatcher Courage is reached. The road enters woodland. A Common Buzzard is hunched on a branch pretending to be an owl, but our appearance makes its neck stretch and off it goes. The lane drops steeply down to the A44. The Old Station caravan park and tea rooms look rather empty; this sort of weather at the end of August must be awful for the businesses who are in the holiday trade! Route