Monday – Leominster – Up to Ryelands and along Cock Croft Lane. The wind is building, the sky full of threatening clouds. A Swallow sweeps low over the field. Stalks of Cuckoo Pint berries are turning from green to vermilion. The sky is darkening. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies out of an Ash into a sapling where it watches me pass. Here comes the rain – and then it is gone again! The fields towards the Hereford Road are still fallow but towards Passa Lane, golden barley quivers. Pink trumpets of Lesser Bindweed lay all along under the hedgerow. A Gatekeeper sips nectar from a bramble flower, a wasp visits thistles. Further along the track White-tailed Bumble Bees are on thistles and inside the trumpets of Bindweed. Common Banded Hover-flies, Syrphus ribesii, are poised above flowers, especially Teasel, along here. Flies with striped thorax sunbathe, one of the Muscidae family. The track runs down to the Hereford Road and I turn back into town.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – The sky is still grey with piles of clouds. The sun emerges for brief periods. It is warm. There has been a hatching of Common Blue butterflies and they are feeding in good numbers on the edges of the meadow along with Small Whites. Common Blue Damselflies hover like needles over the grasses. The main part of the meadow has been mown. A Green Woodpecker calls from the lakeside Alders then it sounds like it is crossing to the island, calling constantly. Several Gatekeeper butterflies feed around the back of the hide. The lake is quiet, very few Canada Geese, a raft of about a dozen Tufted Duck, a few Mute Swans and a fair number of Mallard. One Cormorant is in the trees and another flies around. A Moorhen appears in front of the hide with three fairly young chicks, a late brood. Irish Peach apples are now edible but small.
Friday – Westhope – Another overcast day. A cockerel crows from Codling Hall, built late in the 17th or early in the 18th century across the railway tracks from Hope-under-Dinmore. Out of the village on Winsley Lane. A flock of domestic ducks at The Bury Farm, scuttle under the barn arch, quacking to themselves. The farm, recorded as Bury of Hope Farm, has a mid-18th century farmhouse with possibly earlier origins and mid-19th alterations. The farm was once part of Leominster Priory estates, then part of the Coningsby estate from 1690 to 1809. From 1809 to 1837 it belonged to Thomas Berington of Winsley Hill, finally being acquired by the Arkwright family of Hampton Court who held it until 1923. A Common Buzzard and a Green Woodpecker both call from the hillside. A flock of white doves bill and coo on the barn roof. An old orchard is reduced to a few trees. One has a large trunk which ends in a stump but new branches have grown out to form the new canopy. Pied Wagtails flit about the grass. My passing disturbs a Green Woodpecker and a rabbit. Hummocks across the orchards are covered in wild Thyme. Dwarf Thistles lay in the grass. There are more Common Buzzards on either side of the ridge up which the land rises. Swallows sit on wires. Hedgerow Hazels have plenty of unripe cob nuts. Through Woodmanton, a small number of cottages. A large pen of chickens contains hens of various varieties and chicks. A Goldfinch sits on the wires. At New House farm, two lads are in a digger shovel raised to the roof. They are fixing some lights over a pen of black and white calves. A dog barks but is immediately spoken to sharply by the digger driver. The little dog sits down and looks at me wistfully, the tip of its tail wagging. House Sparrows chatter in the hedgerow opposite. On past Winsley Park Farm, the lovely black and white timber framed farmhouse down the drive through fields of golden wheat. The house has sections from the 14th century with additions and alterations in every century up to the present. In the 14th century, the property belonged to Rowland de Wyndsley, by the marriage of whose daughter it was conveyed to Berrington de Lacy in the reign of Edward III. The arms of Wyndsley and the Latin inscription “Per Hoc Signum T Vinces” appears on one of the beams of the house. Bees are visiting thistles – a large Red-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius and a much smaller member of apparently the same species. A call comes from a field of ripe oilseed rape, a higher pitched rasp, very reminiscent of a Corn Crake, but I am doubtful such a rare bird would be here, or would it? Past Broomwell Farm. A large modern house has been attached to a small timber-framed cottage. The tarmacs road ends and a track crosses the brow of Westhope Hill Common.
The road drops steeply down from the common. A ruined animal shelter stands in a field. Nuthatches call. The large Bulmers’ orchards are laid out below. Upper House is an early 19th century farmhouse with earlier origins. The Rafters is a 16th century property adjoining Upper House. Lower House was built in 1736 by John Plevy and repaired in 1853 by John B. Plevy, who with his brother William were believed to be hop growers. They were the grandsons of the earlier John Plevy. William’s son and family emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1912. St Francis Church is a splendid corrugated iron building painted green. It has been recorded as a Mission Hall and maybe one of the “flat pack” buildings supplied by stores such as Harrods. Out of Westhope and on towards Bush Bank. A pair of Ravens bark as they circle in an updraught. Round into the Roman Road to Magnis from Branogenium. Into the Bush Bank, a pleasant pub.
Along the road towards Upper Hill. There are houses lining the road, one or two may have some age but most are modern. One, a bungalow, has an Art Deco door surround. Fields towards Limekiln Grove woods are laid out with rows and rows of blackcurrant bushes. Roadside Blackberries are ripening, some are already soft and sweet. To the north the hills in the distance are now bathed in sunshine. Now fields to the north of the lane are filled with rows of fruit bushes. Now passing fields of what look like broad bean plants although I can see no pods. Through Upper Hill; Shepperds, the former country store is still deserted, the jet fighter and tanks that stood in the car park are gone. Two old Oaks of impressive girth stand opposite the drive to Upper Wintercott, a late 18th or early 19th century house which has a much older moat associated with a grange of Leominster Priory. Some orchards near the road have perry pears trees. A roadkill Badger is swelling by the hedge in a halo of flies. Through Ivington, a village I need to explore in greater detail. Over the River Arrow just beyond Ivington Mill where a sluice gate stands above the mill leet. Into Newtown. Ants are swarming on the edge of the road in numerous spots up to Ryelands. The afternoon is now very warm as I drop down the hill into Leominster.
Wednesday – Home – It’s three in the morning (sounds like a Leonard Cohen moment) and I wander outside. The sky is fairly clear with stars twinkling despite the light pollution all around. I have to manoeuvre myself to block out over-bright sodium lamps and security lights. My eyes start to adjust and almost immediately there are two brief light trails across the zenith, two of the Perseid meteor shower. The meteors are the debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle and the Earth crosses the orbital path of the comet during the first couple of weeks of August each year. Tiny pieces of comet rubble which would have been orbiting since the formation of the Solar System some 4.6 billion years ago and now hit the atmosphere at 130,000 miles per hour and are obliterated in a flash of light. I see another four meteors in the short time I watch. The Milky Way is a ghostly hint, too much light pollution to see it properly.
Whilst watching for meteors a couple of satellites are spotted. The first is called MTI which was launched from Vandenburg Airforce Base in the USA by a Taurus rocket on 12th March 2000. Earth Observation Services records “MTI (also referred to as P97-3) is a US DOE-funded (Department of Energy) satellite mission, an R&D program and a technology demonstration mission of DOE/NNSA (National Nuclear Security Administration) with the objective to develop a broad range of new technologies, and to demonstrate the efficacy of highly accurate multispectral imaging for passive characterization of industrial facilities and related environmental impacts from space.” In other words a secret spy satellite of some sort. The second is a second stage rocket body from a Thor SLV-2 Agena Rocket also launched from Vandenberg but much longer ago on 19th January 1964. It took two satellites into orbit, part of the DAPP (Defense Acquisition and Processing Program), a long-term USAF effort in space to monitor the meteorological, oceanographic and solar-geophysical environment of the Earth.
Bodenham Lake – The sun shines warmly on a dusty track. Dragonflies and damselflies fly around in good numbers. On the meadow, Common Blues are on Bird’s Foot Trefoil, one of the larvae’s food plants. A Common Buzzard calls persistently as it circles the edge of the lake. A Great Spotted Woodpecker sits on a bare twig emerging from the top of a tree, surveying the land below. The water level in the lake has fallen further. It is very quiet, now the Common Buzzard has moved off. A fair number of Coot, a few Cormorant, Mallard, Tufted Duck, a Great Crested Grebe, Mute Swans and only a couple of Canada Geese are present. A single Mallard is asleep on the now extensive scrape. A Grey Heron is almost hidden on the broken branch by the island. A donkey starts hee-hawing, which sets of a Carrion Crow. A Wood Pigeon calls from the woods. A brief burst of Robin’s song comes from the scrape willows, then alarm ticking, followed by two Robins flying off. Now a Reed Warbler is searching the willows for insects. A young Moorhen emerges from the reeds. Various species of Bumble Bee are visiting the purple flowers of numerous Black Knapweed on the bank. Unusually, Cormorants are muttering in the trees. Two cock Ring-necked Pheasants are on the pasture beyond the hide. The Common Buzzard returns and alights in a meadow-side Ash much to the annoyance of a pair of Carrion Crows. Irish Peach apples are beginning to drop, they are very sweet and flavoursome.
Sunday – Leominster – Off to the boot market. Despite heavy overnight rain on Thursday the River Lugg is still very low, gravel banks are exposed almost to the middle of the river bed. Bird song has finished now, just the chipping of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and the dark mutterings of Carrion Crows. The screaming gangs of Swifts have departed for Africa. Summer warblers are busy feeding in silence, ready for their departure. The market is of medium size but, as usual, I find nothing to purchase.
Home – I check the fruit on what we believe is a Shropshire Prune damson tree. Much of it is high up on long, whippy branches that have grown this year. They will need pruning as soon as possible. The fruit is not quite ripe yet so it is left for a few more days. Annoyingly the heavy crop on the Herefordshire Russet apple has broken a branch as happened on the Worcester Pearmain. I leave it for now but will have to pick the fruit later this week. The Marjorie Seedling plum fruit is also nearly ripe and will need a close eye to ensure it is cropped before the birds get to it. A bramble hangs over the back wall and is heavy with blackberries. I pick over 4lbs and freeze them. I then pick a large quantity of dwarf French beans and yet another courgette. Runner beans are appearing at a nice steady rate. Tomatoes are ripening quickly now and we will need to be eating them to keep up. I remove all the lower leaves to ensure ventilation around the fruit to discourage blight.
Monday – Eaton Hill – Clouds reflect the sunlight in a glare. It is humid and warm. Down Etnam Street and over the railway. Below the bridge are buddleia, the butterfly bush, but sadly no butterflies. Equally sadly, Himalayan Balsam is growing along the river bank, this invasive non-native will soon dominate the area. Three lads are fishing under the road bridge, I wish them luck, they will need it with the water this low and clear. Gatekeepers are on the flowers of Ragwort whilst the tiger-striped caterpillars of the Cinnabar moth feed on the leaves. Ragwort contains toxins, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which accumulate in the caterpillars body making them distasteful to birds which ignore the orange and black warning colours. Willow leaves are disfigured by red welts, caused by the Willow Red Gall Sawfly, Pontania proxima, larvae. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is at the top of a dead tree, calling constantly. Swallows sweep over the horse paddocks. A Robin sings from the far side of the pasture whilst a Common Buzzard glides overhead. Pond skaters are zipping around the surface of the river beneath Eaton Bridge but are sent scurrying away when two adult Mute Swans with four cygnets glide through. Something is feeding on the bottom of the water sending up a stream of bubbles. Vast Butterbur leaves are on the bank but they are being surrounded by Himalayan Balsam. Past the stone slabs of the old drovers route up Eaton Hill. The field at the top of the hill is planted with sweet corn this year. As usual planting goes right up to the edge. The path should be beyond this but it is covered in a mass of nettles, bramble thickets and dock. Subsequently a row of corn had been trodden down where a new path has been created. There are good numbers of ladybirds and their larvae on the corn. The next field contains the new solar panel arrays. Lots of new security signs and fences have gone up. Down the track and into the lane back to the A49. The field to the north of the lane had been harvested and great rolls of wheat straw lay scattered across it. To the south the golden wheat awaits the harvester which is working the fields on the far side of the main road. Through Easters Meadows, now Brightwell’s auction halls and over the Lugg for the third time via Ridgemoor Bridge enlarged in 1940.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – Grey skies again with a cool breeze. The hedges are beginning to whisper autumn; yellow leaves and red and black berries. Teasels are turning brown A Coot slaps across the water, its wings puddling a trail. A Common Buzzard cries as it circles and hovers above West Field Wood. Barking Ravens fly over. The Common Buzzard is carrying something small in its claws. It circles over the fields, drops its prize then sweeps down to recover it, calling all the time. There is a second one around the woods. Five Barnacle Geese stand on the scrape. A Great Crested Grebe fishes nearby. Mute Swans and a Grey Heron are at the western end. A few Canada Geese, Tufted Duck, Coot and Mallard are scattered around the lake. Three Mallard are feeding on the grass at the western end but quickly re-enter the water when the Common Buzzard swoops overhead. A few Cormorants are in the trees and several are flying around the area. Squabbles break out amongst the Mallard, the drakes have yet to regain their breeding plumage. A Moorhen flicks its tail as it paddles around by the reed bed. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies over the lake and into the trees on the island. A small flock of Ravens rise above Dinmore Woods and tumble and joust in the breeze. The Common Buzzards have also moved to this area of woodland, still calling continuously. Several couples come into the hide which is unusual but it is good to see the facility being used. As I leave the hide it starts to rain. In the orchard I collect a few Irish Peach apples, they are very perfumed and sweet.
Friday – Leominster – It is hard to believe it is the middle of the holiday season. Of course, memories are always selective, but somehow August always meant long, sunny days and nights when the bedclothes were on the floor. Now it seems so different, a cool wind blows and it is damp and overcast – again. Up Bargates, the traffic pounding past continuously. A house next to the Hester Clark almshouses, with the famous man with his chopper, has a plaque on the wall I cannot remember noticing before. At the top there is a winged skull, then an empty shield and beneath the head of a bewigged cherub. In 1905, Henry Pugh, a stonemason lived here. The Radnor Arms pub, an early to mid 19th century listed building, is closed, its sign removed. Beyond Westfield Walk, Albion Cottages are dated 1861. Sadly many of the gardens up here have been replaced by parking spaces. The Pleasaunce is a terrace of four houses, the name boldly displayed in a large stone block with raised lettering, the house numbers also in large form on stone blocks. Opposite is St Ethelbert’s Catholic Church built in 1886, from the designs of Peter Paul Pugin. A Victorian house next is built in cream bricks with black and red embellishments. An iron finial ends an iron decorative roof ridge cresting. Wellswood House had been hidden behind a rather unsightly red wood fence. A terrace of varying design is beside the coach house of Wellswood House. The end four houses, Excelsior Villas dated 1889, have a frieze of coloured tiles along them. Opposite are early 20th century detached and semis. An early to mid 20th century bungalow, Birkdale, has a fine crop of plums in the garden. Ashfield House is a huge building of cream brick, now a nursing home. In 1905 it was the home of Henry Gosling M.A. solicitor, Clerk to the Guardians and Assessment Committee of Leominster Union, Superintendent Registrar of Leominster District and Clerk to the Leominster Rural District Council. Opposite the old Presbytery is hidden behind tall Yew hedges. Next is a large Victorian Gothic pile, Buckfield House, home of Newman Henry Stanley, a magistrate in the late Victorian period. This faces Peel Villa and Clyde House, again late Victorian and home to Revd Robert Horton, vicar of Ivington in 1905. A long row of Wellingtonia run the edge of Buckfield estate, a mid 20th century housing estate, towards Greenfoot Lane. In front of them is Buckfield Place, two houses built in 1838. This is now Barons Cross Road and with the exception of a few houses, Buckfield Terrace, dated 1880 and opposite White Lodge, another Victorian house in cream brick, the housing now is all 20th century. Past Morrisons’ vast superstore. A short row of houses dated 1896 gives way to more mid-20th century. Kingsthorne House and Barons Cross Lodge are both late Victorian. I turn south down Portna Warden Lane. The lane passes Portna Warden Cottage, a house we considered when we were house hunting here, and then should continue south but is, as often around here, lost in a field of maize. So I head back to Barons Cross. This is a blessing in disguise as my tendonitis is getting increasingly painful. Back through the Newlands estate and down Ryelands Road into town.
Saturday – West End, Surrey – We head for Surrey leaving a grey, damp Leominster. The further east we travel the sunnier and hotter it becomes. We are lucky in avoiding the summer holiday rush accidents – the M4 is partially closed just before we join it and then another long column of standing traffic is on the westbound side from Hungerford. However we do get delayed leaving the motorway at Bracknell but it is not long before we get going and arrive in West End, which is just as well, the temperature has hit 30°C. We had not seen a single Red Kite all the way from the Marlborough Downs to here, then one drifts southwards over the village. We sit in the sun with a cup of tea whilst a large Hornet crawls across the table.
Sunday – West End, Surrey – I am awakened before six o’clock by the roar of engines of aircraft out of Heathrow, a continuous stream one after another. Off to the recreation ground with Freddy the Westie. The sun is breaking through thin clouds. A raptor is calling in the distance and a number of Magpies closer. A Jay is also around the trees. A small flock of Black-headed Gulls drops down onto the grass. Mid morning the Red Kite returns, circling overhead. This draws mutterings from the local Magpies. The sun seems to be losing the battle with the clouds. There are some pretty dire weather warnings being issued by the forecasters. Apparently, Morrisons in Leominster had to close yesterday when tiles started falling from the roof in a tremendous thunderstorm! We just hope our greenhouse survived intact.
Friday – Walton Basin – Clouds drift across the sky driven by a blustery breeze. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls from a cottage garden as I leave Evenjobb. Out into the countryside. Goldfinches twitter in a large garden planted with saplings – Weeping Willows, Rowans, Silver Birches and others. Green hills surround the Walton Basin, this being the eastern side of that prehistoric landscape. The lane heads towards Burfa. Offa’s Dyke runs down the hillside to the north-east. Ahead is the wooded hill of Burfa Bank with its hill-fort hidden by trees and to the south of this is the bare hump-back of Herrock Hill. Dark clouds are building over the western hills. Common Buzzards circle high above the Dyke. Flowers are almost completely absent from the verges now, the last gasp of Red Campion and Herb Robert, a few umbellifers and White Dead-nettles. The hedgerow is of some age, a mixture of Holly, Hazel, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Honeysuckle, Beech and Elder. A large modern house lies across the field, too recently built to be marked on the OS Map. Rain is coming. Caety Traylow is already covered in mist and spots are falling here. I quickly don my wet gear. Rain and sunshine. A rainbow arcs over Bache Hill, its end on Whimble – is there gold in those Bronze Age barrows; almost certainly not! The lane turns at Burfa Bog Nature Reserve. A line of a dozen chattering Swallows lifts into the air. Into the reserve and under a large Alder as the rain falls intensely. The stream is more a wet ditch. Alders are the predominant tree here. A couple of walkways traverse the bog, just as well as cattle have churned up a lot of the more open ground. A notice board informs that Fen Bedstraw and Marsh Valerian, both scarce species, grow here, however, it is probably too late to find them flowering and the rain and marshy conditions are rather off-putting.
Back to the lane. The rain is coming in waves and entering a green “tunnel” of trees is welcome as the next downpour starts. Vermilion berries on stalks, Wild Arum, dot the banks. I then retrace my steps when I realise I have overshot the site of a motte. It is not easy to see as the high hedges. Known as Bogs Mount Castle. Evidence has been found of masonry footings and a bailey, but the castle was probably wooden. It was one of a number of small strongholds probably built by Philip de Braose at the turn of the 12th century. There are also remains of 14th century occupation here and the remains of a cottage called “The Bog” that was recorded in 1913. Long-tailed Tits chase through the hedgerow. Back along the lane to Ditchyeld Bridge, where a stone bridge crosses Hindwell Brook. The road crosses on a modern concrete construction. Offa’s Dyke crossed here, so the stream crossing is ancient. Crop marks found on the field over the way from indicate the presence of a defended enclosure. The dyke appears to respect the line of the enclosure which would date it to before the construction of the earthwork.
Off down the road from Presteign. The sun now shines warmly, but more clouds are approaching. Over a small bridge crossing Riddings Brook at Lower Harpton, a hamlet consisting mainly of a large farm of that ilk and several cottages. This is now England. The Turnpike cottage lies on the south side of the road at the junction with Dunfield Lane. The national database of turnpikes and associated buildings does not list this cottage as being a “turnpike cottage” but names one on further at the junction of Watery Lane. At Walton Green I am back in Wales. Watery Lane leads off this road. Bollards prevent vehicles using the lane now. The lane shortly is joined by a new road that has yet to appear on the maps. A clump of fungi, probably one of the coprinus family, grows on the verge. A deep ditch flows beside the lane and Hindwell and Riddings Brooks both flow under. In flood these watercourses would have flooded the lane giving rise to its name. The bridge over the latter brook is dated 1942, the former crossed by a modern bridge. The road turns at Womaston Lower House Farm. House Martins chase overhead. Opposite a motte is hidden behind woodland, another Norman construction. A driveway leads to Womaston School, a school for young people with severe learning disabilities, although it now seems to be closed after incidents of abuse were alleged. A Victorian post box is in the wall. Trailer-loads of potatoes are being unloaded into a barn. The lane turns into a track, then just a grassy edge to a field. Across the field is the tower of Old Radnor church and the crag of Gore Quarry beside it. Over a slight ridge and ahead is the Radnor Forest. The stream-carved valleys down from Bache Hill are clearly defined from here. A wheat field is beside Hindwell Farm. Beyond the far hedge is the site of Hindwell Roman fort, although nothing remains visible on the ground now. A large palisaded enclosure encircled the farm and across the area I have just crossed. It has been dated to the late Neolithic, around 2700 BCE and may have a diameter of 2.35Km. The Hindwell Cursus, two parallel tracks, runs straight across this landscape possibly from the foot of The Smatcher to near Ditchyeld Bridge, a distance of nearly 5Km. Carbon dating suggests the cursus is Mesolithic, from 3950-3520 BCE. The bridleway reaches the road to Evenjobb. The scent of Camomile is strong. Up the road towards Evenjobb. Over an unnamed stream, then Knobley Brook. Into the village by the castle motte. A distant siren signals blasting at one of the quarries. Route
Saturday – Home – Worcester Pearmain apples are falling frequently now. Disappointingly, nearly all have little tunnels through them where apple moth has emerged. This is despite placing pheromone traps out early this year to catch the moths before they lay their eggs in the flower buds. Perpetual spinach has sprouted in thick bunches which are dug up and the best seedlings replanted in rows. The extra seedlings provide the hens with a snack. French and Polish beans are still prolific, many are being left to develop into dried beans. Tomatoes are also ripening in good numbers. Courgettes are out of control – I will have to pick some small marrow sized ones this weekend and probably pickle them. The damson tree is pruned back substantially, at least on my side of the wall, I am not keen on dropping branches into other people’s gardens. The pruned branches are heavy with fruit which is pulped into sorbet and hopefully fruit leather, (the leather has been in the oven for 12 hours now and is still sticky and soft!) A number of plums from the Marjorie’s Seedling are ripe but quite a number have mould on them. A few figs are soft and darkening. I should leave them but birds and wasps are causing a lot of damage so picking them now at least ensures some edible fruit.
I go to the passage through the house (Mr Newman’s Passage according to the old deed maps). A large length of wood moves as I enter, which seems odd. It moves again and I reach out to replace it at which point a Grey Squirrel leaps from behind it, straight at my face which it scratches slightly, although enough to draw blood, before the pest rushes down the passage and under the door. The cut is tiny but I bathe it in neat TCP just to be careful.
In the late evening the sky is lit by a glowing “supermoon”. Supermoons or “perigee-syzygy”, their astronomical title, occur when the moon is simultaneously at its closest possible point to the Earth as it orbits its elliptical route and directly opposite the Sun, meaning it is fully illuminated.