Monday – Croft Ambrey – A grey morning, cooler than of late but still humid. Wood Pigeons coo from various areas of the Fish Pool Valley. Enchanter’s Nightshade is one of the very few plants flowering down the ride into the valley. A patch of Red Campion brings a flash of bright pink to the green undergrowth. Several Wrens tick warnings. One pond has a scummy look. The next has a large patch of yellow algae. Creamy headed Meadowsweet blossoms on the pond dam. Another pink patch is created by Herb Robert. A fish jumps. The third pond had large expanses of mud, green weed and algae. Honeysuckle, with a good number of flowers, weaves its way through a sapling, tendrils reaching into the air above the little tree for branches that do not yet exist.
Up the path at the end of the valley. A Treecreeper scurries up an Ash. Flies are a nuisance. A loose flock of Blue and Coal Tits move through the trees. A young warbler, Chiffchaff I would guess, wheeps despite having a caterpillar in its bill. Rosebay Willowherb creates another pink display. Brown Coprinus micaceus, the Glistening Ink Cap fungi, are turning black by the path. Parts of the cleared woodland have fenced off areas where Beech and Oak saplings are growing rapidly. Up the final slope to the hill-fort. Long-tailed Tits search an Oak. The pink theme continues with Common Hemp-Nettle. Even some white umbellifers have a pink tinge. From the hill-fort, golden fields of ripe cereal crops spread towards Wigmore. Harvest must be imminent. Flies are even more irritating here despite a slight breeze. Blue Harebells grow through yellow Lady’s Bedstraw. A few Speckled Wood butterflies are the only species seen. Only one of the Spanish Chestnuts in the field is completely dead. The young replacements are looking fine. Down the castle field. Young Pied Wagtails chase across the grass. The castle is busy; school holidays have started.
Wednesday – Welshpool – We stop briefly in the mid-Wales town. Not much changes, Gregg’s looks bigger and flashier; healthier food advertised now but everyone seems to be eating fat-dripping savouries. The store that sells everything has a box of carbolic soap, something of a rarity these days. The market sells books, clothes and witchcraft accessories, not provisions.
Oswestry – Another brief stop. We visit the memorial gardens with its field gun. The gardens are very traditional, formal planting, not popular these days but rather pleasing we think. We then visit the church of St Oswald. Little seems to known about the founding of a church here. The massive tower looks and is by far the oldest part of the building believed to have been built in 1085. The main part of the church was badly damaged in the Civil War and rebuilt poorly in 1675. G.E. Street substantially rebuilt and altered the building between 1872 and 1874, (Pevsner comments that it is not one of Street’s masterpieces). The nave is extremely wide, one of the widest in the country. A small Victorian screen in wrought iron separates the name and chancel. The reredos is in marble, designed by Street. The Lady Chapel is also a substantial space. St Catherine’s Chapel is a small quiet area. The Donne Memorial is in ornate alabaster, text in Latin, commemorating James Donne, Vicar of Llanyblodwell, then Headmaster of Oswestry School in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Another substantial monument is the Yale Memorial dedicated to Hugh Yale and his wife Dorothy who were interred in St Mary’s Chapel which was demolished in the Civil War. The south transept is the Chapel of St George which holds the War Memorials. The tower wall carried many Memorials dating back to the early 17th century. There are two fonts, one from 1662, the other Victorian.
Corwen – After lunch in Oswestry we travel on to Corwen, where we are staying. The town is small straddling the A5 which was Thomas Telford’s route from London to Ireland via Holyhead. Coaches would have thundered through the Dee Valley, some pausing here, thus there are several coaching inns. We are staying in a fine Victorian town house on the side of the steep hill that overlooks the town.The name Corwen may mean “White Choir” referring to the religious community founded by St Mael and St Sulien (two 6th century Armorican missionaries). It is quickly clear that Wednesday is early closing, hardly anywhere is open. The old Union Workhouse is possibly the most striking building in the High Street. It was built in 1840 in a cruciform designed by Sampson Kempthorne to house 150 paupers and rather ironically called Corwen Manor. Opposite was the “Tramps Rest” where vagrants earned bread and lodgings by breaking 1cwt of rock.
All the pubs are closed (the town seems not to have awoken to the possibilities of the tourist trade now the Llangollen Railway reaches here), although the Owen Glyndwr Hotel states it is open but is shrouded in darkness. It looks rather run down which is sad as it is a major feature of the High Street. Bradley commented in 1898, “...[it] wears the same complexion as when the Flood and Grattan, Burke and Clare, Castlereagh or the Iron Duke toasted their toes, as they must almost certainly at some time or another have done, before its cheerful hob”. One notes the “almost certainly” which suggests some doubt, is missing from the information board across the road which uses this quote! The hotel is said to be haunted by a lady weeping for her banished lover, a monk. The building may be on the site of a 13th century Cistercian monastery. The hotel hosted the first ever Eisteddfod in May 1789 although there was much controversy as it was claimed the winner, Revd Walter Davis (Gwallter Mechain) was secretly informed of the “test subject” in advance. The town once hosted a monthly fair day when cattle and sheep filled the town. Prominent by The Square is a timber-framed building – the first branch of the National Provincial Bank of England (later The National Westminster Bank) to open in Corwen in 1913. The present building is dated 1928, and may have been designed by Palmer, architect to the National Provincial Bank. Like the HSBC bank opposite, it is closed down. A life-sized statue of Owen Glyndŵr on a charger dominates The Square. The Post Office is still operating in a building constructed as a house around 1750 and converted to a Post Office in 1936. It appears the electric appliance shop has closed. The cobblers looks deserted, just lovely old machines lying silent beyond the dirty windows. The old station was opened in 1865 on the Ruabon to Barmouth line, the terminus of the Denbigh, Ruthin and Corwen Railway which ran from Rhyl. It closed in 1964 and is now the main office of Ifor Williams Ltd, the trailer manufacturers.
The church of St Mael and St Sulien is in the deanery of Edeyrnion. Entrance to the churchyard is up an alley from the high street and through a lychgate erected in 1886. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. The roof is late 17th century. Just beyond the lychgate is a stone platform that once had an elaborately carved wooden post but this has rotted away. Nearby are small slabs of stone with two semicircular indentations in them. These are “kneeling stones” to encourage people to kneel and pray for those buried in the grave. Inside the church is a fine queen-post roof. The chancel roof was restored after a lightning strike and fire in 1984. The pulpit is of Caen stone and Victorian. The font has been restored, originally being Norman or Saxon. A black wooden chest was carved from a single piece of Oak. Most of the glass is Victorian except for one piece dedicated to Robert Jones, killed at Warren Point, Ulster in 1979. Back outside in the graveyard is a headstone to Owen Owen, an engine driver.
Owen Owen was only 29 when he died in 1872. The grave also contains his widow Kate who died aged 47 and their son who was only 4 months old.
A preaching cross without its head is thought to be 12th century. The base however has a number of ring and cup markings and it is suggested it may be Neolithic. Over the south door is an incised cross that is called “Owen Glyndŵr’s Dagger”. Allegedly thrown in a fit of rage by Glyndŵr it left the mark in stone. Rather more prosaically, it probably symbolises a staff rood used by early missionaries and may date from the 8th century. A standing stone has been built into the porch wall. In Welsh it is called “Carreg y big yn y fach rhewllyd” which translates as “The Pointed Stone in the Icy Corner”.On the edge of the churchyard are six small houses built with a bequest from William Eyton of Plas Isa in the early 18th century, now used as a retreat. They are called “The College” which may refer to an earlier collegiate building.
Back along the London Road. A milestone declares Holy-Head to be 67 miles, Corwen 2 Furlongs, Llangollen 9 M 6 F. Several chapels are on this street, Baptist, Prebytarian and Wesleyan, although it is not clear all of them are still in use. The old Police Station is now holiday accommodation and very pleasingly presented in dark blue and silver.
Thursday – Corwen-Llangollen – My knee was painful and annoying yesterday. This morning it is clear something is really wrong, it is extremely painful, (a visit to the doctor’s the next day shows it to be an acute arthritis flare-up). Plans to have an early morning walk up to the Iron Age fort high above the Dee valley are abandoned. Although we had not made any particular plans we decide that we need to take it easy. We wander around a few little streets in the hill rising up behind the church. The large Bethesda chapel is closed, large bushes growing across the door. We then head for the station, as yet a long wooden platform with a small cabin as a ticket office. Construction is taking place to extend the line to an area behind the old station and build a platform with tracks either side so engines can be sent round to the other end of the train. Currently this has to happen at Carrog, a few miles towards Llangollen. The train is late, sheep on the line! The engine is BR Standard Class 80072 which was built at Brighton in 1953. Running-in turns were completed near Brighton, before it moved to Plaistow to work the suburban services from Fenchurch Street over the London, Tilbury and Southend lines. In 1962 she was moved to Swansea Docks and worked various Welsh lines before being withdrawn in 1965, only 11 years old! The journey is very enjoyable. As soon as we leave the station at Llangollen rain starts to fall. We wander up the main street but the rain just gets heavier so we retreat to The Corn Mill, a mill converted into a pub for lunch. The train back to Corwen is much busier than the earlier one.
Sunday – Leominster – Off to the market. It is a bright morning but windy. The River Lugg is still very low reflecting the lack of rainfall. The market seems a bit more varied today, not that there is anything other some cheap sellotape that seems useful. There is the usual mixture of locals and East Europeans.
Home – Produce needs picking so I start with the French Beans. The dwarf beans have been disappointing but the climbers are productive. A few runner beans are also ready. More courgettes are picked, they are coming quickly now. Kay harvests more blueberries, raspberries and domestic blackberries. Soft fruit is doing well, apples and pears look reasonable but the plums and damson look like a bad crop. The pond is under a blanket of duckweed so I net off as much as possible and put in a large pot beside the pond to allow any creatures to escape. The water is beginning to smell – too much organic matter is getting into the water and making it far too rich. Still, the frogs obviously like it as a number plop away as they sink away when I approach. The vine along the east wall is getting out of control again so it is pruned, filling a large bin. I then have a go at keeping the brambles at the end of the garden down – a hopeless job but a good number are removed. White Bryony has spread again and that is removed. Finally, the greenhouse is watered again. It was given a good soak last night but both tomatoes and peppers are beginning to droop already. That pretty much empties the last water-butt. Overhead all is quiet, the Swifts appear to have departed. Young Blue Tits visit the peanut feeder constantly. Others are feasting on the soft Gladstone apples. There has been a good crop this year, enough to avoid the previous years’ bird damage but the soft texture of the apples are not really to my liking.
Monday – Clee Hill – Clouds ripple across the sky. Being high on Clee Hill means a wind. From the top of the common, Herefordshire rolls away, eastwards to the Wyre Forest, Abberley Hill and clock tower, on to the hazy Malvern Hills, further hills on the Gloucestershire and Worcestershire borders are lost in mist. Round past Dinmore, the conical Skirrid, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons. Finally, Hergest Ridge. Off down a bridleway. Linnets twitter from wires. A small flock of sheep wander through the Gorse. Great Willowherb flowers profusely on the verge. A bee feeds on Hogweed, seeming to hang on grimly as the flower head lashes to and fro in the wind. A row of houses backs on to the western edge of the common, a couple of older properties are on the common. A gate leads out onto the common proper. House Sparrows flock into a large leylandii hedge, a Magpie is chatting constantly from a hidden spot in the hedge. Starlings sit on wires. A Wood Pigeon watches. Now to the west an area of land is being cleared, presumably for a new housing development. The common is a mixture of Gorse, Bracken, thistles (Spear and Meadow Thistles mainly) and Sedge. The path joins a track at Titrail, which is lined by a couple of dozen houses leading down the hill.
The common ends at Knowle, a sizeable hamlet. The Golden Lion pub seems to be a barber’s shop now. Off down Lion Lane. Many of the houses here are 20th century with just a few older properties much enlarged. The lane meets the Tenbury road. On the junction is a rusty corrugated iron building, the old Primitive Methodist Chapel, which was in use until 1973 but closed by 2002. Round the corner is a small corrugated iron church painted green, a “tin tabernacle” bought in the early 20th century, flat-pack from Harrods. It still holds regular services. Back down Lion Lane and of onto an eastwards track. Past Park End House which has an impressive garden. Further down a Rowan is heavy with vermilion berries. The track passes through a gate and then into Knowle Wood. Every tree has its trunk covered in Ivy.
The track joins a lane although, unhelpfully a barbed wire fence had been strung across the junction on which I rip my trouser leg. Down the lane past Sodom and Sherbourne farms. The sun is now out and warming. A bridleway heads back towards the common where Corn Brook gushes down to the road. The track follows the stream, crossing via a footbridge and rising past the small settlement of Studley. Across a cattle grid then a path leaves the track and climbs the common. Some large hillocks, possibly quarrying waste, give a view back south-eastwards where the line of Cornbrook aqueduct can be seen. The aqueduct is part of the Elan to Birmingham system. A Dwarf Thistle flowers in the short grass. Tormentil, Thyme and Mouse-eared Hawkweed are frequent across the hillside. From further up the common the aqueduct can be clearly seen. A female Redstart calls from a Holly bush. There is a single patch of flowering Heather and a Small Copper butterfly is feeding on it. Back up to the village where the sun shines brightly.
A Red Kite is seen over Brimfield on the way back to Leominster. I also catch a glimpse of another long-winged bird near Berrington Hall but not long enough to identify it.
Wednesday – Leominster – A bright day with fluffy clouds but no rain. Everything is getting drier, out water-butts are empty and water bills rise as we are forced to use tap water. Down to the river. The Lugg is more like a stream now, very shallow and very clear. A strangulated two-tone sounds as a non-stop rattler train speeds through. Large white cows lay in the grass on Lammas meadow. Under the A49 and into the Millennium Wood. The huge leaves of Butterburs are looking battered by holes chewed into them although I cannot find the culprits. Seven foot high dead umbellifers provide support for Bindweed. Something grunts in the wood and I try to slip quietly into the trees but everything notices so there are alarms from Wrens and a Magpie, much dashing to and fro by Blackbirds and loud clapping as Wood Pigeons clatter out of the trees. A Raven flies off, probably the source of the sound. Speckled Wood butterflies flit down the path. Back down by the river, a flock of Long-tailed Tits moves through Hawthorns whose berries and rapidly turning crimson. A Treecreeper climbs a dead trunk.
On to Eaton Bridge. Two streams of bubbles rise to the surface of the river just before the bridge, then stop. A Pond Skater drifts down on the relatively gentle current then works hard to travel back upstream again. Up the field to the old drovers steps. The saplings in the field are native trees such as Beech and Rowan. For some reason I had expected this new woodland to be cider apples but no. Another flock of Long-tailed Tits is feeding at the foot of the steps, it has clearly been a good year for them. Black Poplars and Sycamores have been planted on the slope on Eaton Hill. The field along the top of the hill had been set to wheat this year. A Gatekeeper flies through the grass. Large Burdocks have masses of green spiky fruits forming. There are some similar sized Burdocks with much smaller, more purple flower heads. The latter are Lesser Burdock, Arctium minus and the former Greater Burdock A. lappa. Some Elderberries are turning purple-black, other are still pale green. A rabbit bounces out of the wheat, under a bed of Stinging Nettles and into the hedgerow. A good number of bees, along with a Green-veined White are feeding on a large patch of White Bryony. Common Buzzards call from the fields and copses below.
Down the track off the hill. Bright yellow splashes of Ragwort line the track. Musk Mallow and St John’s Wort are in far fewer numbers. A Red Admiral flies past. A Southern Hawker dragonfly, Aeshna cyanea, is flying to and fro across the track, hunting its prey. It rests briefly on a nettle then flies up and off across the trees. Down to the fields beside the A49. They are mainly growing potatoes. Blackberries in the hedgerow are ripening, some are already large and very sweet.
Sunday – Leominster – A small group of House Martins chirrup as they fly low over the houses at the end of the street. It is strange that they abandoned the nests on the terrace of houses nearby. I now notice that there are nests on the small row of houses at the bottom of the road, opposite the White Lion. House Martins are now visiting these as I pass; maybe they simply moved across the road for some reason, or have these nests been in use in previous years whilst the ones just up the road were also being occupied? Building work has started at Pinsley Mill site. The loss of the mill was a great disappointment, but now the vandalism has occurred at least the site will be used, although it seems there will be too many dwellings crammed onto the land. With the lack of rainfall over recent weeks, the level of the River Lugg remains very low. The market is the normal size for the time of year. I purchase some green-yellow plums, a large bag for a pound. The “Black Country” man is there but although he has a couple of pieces of Scandinavian glass, they do not appeal to me. The Lugg moves slowly under Ridgemoor bridge. Himalayan Balsam is in flower on the banks. A Wren flies off into bushes. Round past the Kenwater. The Minster bells are in full swing, so to speak.
Home – I wait until mid-morning before starting up the strimmer and knocking down the nettles and cleaning up the edges of the paths and beds. Next the Cambridge Gage is pruned hard. It has been very unproductive, to the extent that I find a couple more gages as I prune which are the second and third ever and the tree is four years old now. The man from whom I purchased the plums this morning reckoned he had a gage that took five years before it produced a crop, so maybe I am just being too impatient. Next the tomatoes are stripped of the majority of their leaves to ensure that both light can get to the ripening fruit and air can circulate to discourage blight. Some more of the peppers need staking as they are top heavy with fruit. Finally, I decant some liquid off a bucket in which I have been soaking some Stinging Nettles for about a month now. The stench is horrendous but the resulting green liquid should be a nitrogen-rich plant feed. Later I must harvest the courgettes as some are growing large. There appear to be no squashes at all which is disappointing, although Monty Don, on Gardeners’ World this week, showed that his squashes have failed too because of the poor weather earlier in the year. I suppose it is some comfort that my lack of squashes is not my fault!
Monday – Radnor Forest – The morning is warming fast with a clear blue sky, blazing sun and only a hint of wispy high cloud. Into Mutton Dingle. House Sparrows chatter, one stands on a wooden footpath sign with a beakful of food. The stream running down the dingle is hidden under lush green growth of Great Willowherb, Meadowsweet, Stinging Nettles, umbellifers and mint of some variety. Nuthatches call in trees beyond the houses on the other side of the stream. Further up is a large clump of rushes. Onto the bridleway. Tiny gnats dance in the beams of sunlight. Many flowers have finished or finishing and setting seed. Common Hemp Nettle and Enchanter’s Nightshade both have just a few flowers at the top of their stems. Flies are a nuisance.
On up past the reservoir hidden on Knowle Hill with just a flue to reveal its position. A Jay squawks. The route turns near Jack’s Green Farm. A stand of Rosebay Willowherb is intensely pink at the junction. A Willow Tit buzzes nasally nearby, an increasingly rare sound sadly. The sound of two pebbles being tapped together means a Blackcap is nearby but remains hidden. Also hidden is Jack’s Green farmhouse. It is shown on the map as being fairly near this path but is completely obscured by the woodland. A Spotted Flycatcher is searching a bush for insects, moving to the edge now and again to cast an eye over the surrounding area for anything edible flying past. More Blackcaps call. Up into the Forestry plantation. Insectivores are in their element, Willow Warblers, Redstarts and more Spotted Flycatchers. A Common Buzzard soars overhead. The footpath is becoming overgrown, dangerously so as bumps and holes are getting hidden. It seems too few people are using this path, a classic case of “use it or lose it”! A Red Kite glides over Winyard Hill. Several Red Admirals are over a bed of Thistles.
Access to Whimble was negotiated with the landowner several years ago but I have not taken advantage of it before now, so it seems a good time to climb this hill. A pair of Ravens circle the summit with a hovering Kestrel high above. A Swallow flies by. The summit is different to how I imagined it. The Bronze Age round barrow is clear but the rest of the top has been quarried. Not surprisingly the views from the top are panoramic although the distant hills are barely visible through the haze. To the east, the line of barrows on Winyard and Bache Hills are beacons on the landscape. A brisk wind brings some relief from the flies, which up here are mainly Flesh Flies, Sacophaga carnaria. Across Harley Dingle, the Three Riggles, gullies of rock exposed by streams, are slowly covered by a great shadow cast by a cloud. There are more Red Kites and a good number of Common Buzzards quartering the hills.
Off back down Whimble. A Small Copper butterfly is on a molehill. Several Red Admirals pass. Meadow Pipits squeak. Along the track to the gate leading to the party across the moorland. At least half a dozen young Wheatears are on fence posts dashing up to grab passing insects. A large flock of Rooks flies across Bâche Hill. I am wearing my big, expensive boots today and they are causing a lot of pain. A nasty blister is on my left heel, my right Achilles is pulling and there is a lot of pain on the ball of my right foot. These boots have not done well and I will have to abandon wearing them. The moors are a glorious sight covered in purple heather. Plenty of Bilberries are ripe with little purple-black fruits and bright scarlet berries of Cow Berry. Across the dried out marsh below Black Mixen and down the track beside Ystol Bâch Brook. A chacking noise comes from the heather, a male Stonechat across the moorland. The brook is completely dry. Clouds are building now making it cooler. More Stonechats are calling on the hillside and grasshoppers are rasping in the grass. Deep down in Ystol Bâch, where the brook turns under the headlands of Great Creigiau, water can be seen, just a trickle. Brand new electrical fittings lay beneath each pole along the path. About half way down, on Mynydd Yr Eithin, these components have already been fitted to the poles. On down the hill. A Common Buzzard sits in a tree on the edge of the wood at Cwm Broadwell watching the sheep below. A strange noise, round the corner to find two small girls playing a grass trumpet. Route
Thursday – Golden Valley – Chris and Penny are visiting from Brighton so we decide to explore some churches in the Golden Valley. However we start at a far older site, King Arthur’s Grave on Dorstone Hill. Kay and I visited this Neolithic tomb seven years ago. It is good to see several groups of people coming to see the site. Since our last visit there have been extensive archaeological work undertaken on the hill to the south-east of this tomb. Two long barrows have been shown to have been thrown up over the burnt remains of large early Neolithic halls, dating from 4000-3600 BCE. These halls are unique to Britain. The sites have now been refilled.
Down the hill to Vowchurch and Turnastone which I visited last month. Something I missed at Vowchurch is that the vicar from 1895 to 1910 was Skeffington Dodgson, brother of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. At Turnastone we have a chat with the owner of the shop and petrol station who tells us his grandfather came there in 1909 and he had been there since 1947. He informed us he had relined the fuel tank last year and sold 7000 litres of petrol since then.
Abbey Dore – We then drive down to Abbey Dore Court and have a very pleasant lunch before visiting the Parish church of Holy Trinity and St Mary. The church stands on the site of a Cistercian abbey founded in 1147 by Robert fitz Harold, Lord of Ewyas Harold, possibly on the site of earlier wooden monastic buildings of which no traces remain. It was a daughter house of the Cistercian abbey at Morimond on which it was modelled, with a presbytery, two chapels, two transepts, a crossing and a nave. It was built in local sandstone from around 1175 and construction continued through the next two centuries. During the early 13th century, the abbey expanded its land holdings, particularly through the acquisition of good quality farmland in the area granted to them by King John in 1216 and become wealthy, especially through the sale of wool, It was largely rebuilt in the Early English style. Around 1305, Richard Straddell, a distinguished scholar and theologian who at times served as a diplomat for the crown, became Abbot. In 1321 he was given a relic of the Holy Cross by William de Gradisson, and the abbey became a centre of pilgrimage. The abbey was dissolved in 1537. The building was bought by a local landowner, John Scudamore. Some items were hidden but most of the building was allowed to fall into disrepair. The surviving building was restored in the 1630s by his great-great-grandson John Scudamore, 1st Viscount Scudamore, who, after the early deaths of several of his children, became convinced that he should make amends for living off the proceeds of former monastic land. Scudamore was a friend of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, who is believed to have influenced the re-design and rebuilding of the church, for its use as a parish church. The original mediaeval altar was found in a nearby farm, being used for salting meat and making cheese, and was returned to the church. The original nave was blocked off and a new tower erected, and a new carved oak rood screen, incorporating the arms of Scudamore, Laud, and King Charles I, was made by John Abel.
There are extensive wall paintings with many passages from the scriptures, several figures including “Old Father Time” with scythe and hourglass dating from 1701 and the Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne after the Union with Scotland. Behind the chancel is a large collection of roof bosses and other stonework recovered from the destruction of dissolution. A musicians gallery was built in the first decade of the 18th century against the wall which was built during restoration which divided the monks’ quire. Originally, the quire stretched a considerable distance across what is now part of the graveyard. The Hoskyns Chapel contains the tomb of John Hoskyns (1566-1638) which is used as an altar. Hoskyns was a lawyer who spent a year in the Tower of London for making some remarks about James I’s favourites. It is said he edited Sir Walter Raleigh’s “History of the World” and “polished” Ben Jonson’s verse. He is also said to have organised a Morris dance in Hereford for the amusement of the King where the combined ages of the dozen dancers, called “a nest of Nestors”, exceeded 1200 years. A poor box dating from 1639 stands by a pillar. There was an extensive restoration starting in 1901 by Roland Paul who also excavated and recorded the original abbey foundations.
Bacton – We the moved on to Bacton. This small village whose name derives from “Bacca’s homestead” is near the site of a Roman fort. A nearby field is called cwm sayce meaning English or Saxon Valley. Pre-Conquest the land was held by Edwy and Alfward and post-Conquest by Gilbert from Roger de Lacy. There is a motte and bailey to the north. The church of St Faith stands on an old site. St Faith was a martyr whose centre was in Conques, France, but the name was used because the original dedication was to St Foi, a disciple of Bishop Dyfrg, known as Dubricius. The present church dates from the early 13th century. It retains its rood screen on which there is a large cross. The tower was altered in the late 16th century. The church is renown as the family church of the Parry family. Harri Ddu and Miles Ap Harry are in the family vault but it is the tomb of Blanche ap Harry, known as Blanche Parry, that is famous.
Blanche Parry was Queen Elizabeth’s close confidante, in charge of the Queen’s money, jewels and furs. She held the Great Seal of England for two years. Blanche was actually buried in St Margarets, Westminster in 1590 although her intention was to be placed here in Bacton having prepared the tomb around 1577. It displays Blanche kneeling before the Queen, the earliest known depiction of Elizabeth as Gloriana. There was a silk, shot with silver and gold, altar cloth here which has now been shown to be a court dress belonging to Elizabeth, but it has been removed to Hampton Court Palace for conservation. Another tablet shows the kneeling figures of Alexander Stantar and his wife Rachel. He died in 1620 and Rachel died in 1663. Two tablets are dedicated to two Partridge family brothers who died in the First World War. Unusually, possibly uniquely, coloured military ribbon decorations are carved on the tablets. In the porch is a tablet of Benefactors including Mrs Blanche Parry who ordered by the 3rd codicil of her will of 1589 that land be made available to grow seven score bushels of grain to be distributed to the poor. The corn was provided from an estate called “The Moor of Bodenham”. In the graveyard is a Yew with a girth of 6.4 metres which is reckoned to equate to a tree 1350 years old.
Sunday – Leominster – Over the railway. Someone is sleeping in a tent by the path near Butts Bridge. The tent is virtually in a bramble thicket which seems a strange place to camp. Some idiot has thrown what looks like a decent bike into the river. If there was someone else around I would think about wading in to retrieve it but it would not be wise to do so on my own. Brightwells’ compound is full of police cars, ambulance cars and 50s, 60s and 70s cars, all for auction. There are more stalls than I expected, there has been heavy rain and high winds over the last few days but the weather is quiet now. A Nuthatch calls by entrance, somewhere in trees above Cheaton Brook. Pond Skaters shelter in lee of a water plant which lies on the river’s surface. A Rowan has vermilion berries. Maple keys have turned brown. The wind is rising. Robins are ticking at each other in a garden along Mill Street. Young Robins flutter in the trees by the River Kenwater.
Monday – Leominster – A dull and overcast morning but mild and dry. Up Ryelands Road. Past the old Toll House and into Ryelands Orchard. A Wood Pigeon sits hunched on a television aerial, Jackdaws look at a chimney pot and Robin sings. The big wheat field on the hillside has been harvested. Swallows sweep low over the stubble. Off along Cock Croft Lane, just a path here. All the fallen trees have been cleared. A large clump of Corn Mint is attracting bees. Flies are buzzing around and a Nuthatch calls from overhead. Wood Pigeons and Carrion Crows stalk the stubble. The first field to the west is covered in clover, fixing nitrogen for the next crop. Across the Arrow valley the area covered in plastic seems to have grown and a bulldozer levelling the slopes on the far side may herald more. North-westwards the spire of Monkland church rises through the trees and far beyond the great bare back of Hergest Ridge stretches across the landscape. On the western horizon is the sharp edge of Hay Bluff. Similarly shaped but softer bluffs spread eastwards from the Black Mountains. Down the footpath to the Hereford Road. A Common Blue butterfly rests on a grass head. A large Common Earthball fungus, Scleroderma citrinum, lies beside the path. Blackberries are ripening.
At Bengry’s car showroom one vehicle already has “66” plates fitted ready for the 1st September. A lorry from Felixstowe has a Chinese container on its trailer and is unloading tyres at the tyre yard. I suppose the days of British manufactured tyres are over. I recall visiting the large Goodyear tyre factory in Scotland when I was a teenager. The smell of hot rubber is unforgettable. Past the rows of brand new John Deere tractors at Alexander and Duncan. A new business stands on the site of the Skymark factory that burned down in June 2009. there are a couple of new “New Holland” tractors outside – competition? Along the Worcester Road. One of the trees near the old houses beneath the former road bridge is a Walnut with a decent number of nuts – it will bear watching.
Along to Pinsley Road, the footpath from the White Lion now closed for a development of new housing on the Pinsley Mill site, and round to the old playing field. The Lime trees have their pale green seed sheaths giving them a pretty variegated look. The wind is rising again. The apple trees in the Millennium Garden are all carrying decent crops although it will be a while before any are ready. The perry pear however is not looking so good. A freight train thunders past hidden by the hedge. Meadow Cranesbills are pretty much the only plant in flower apart from a glorious display on the buddleia, the butterfly bush without a single butterfly. A few more flowers are at the other end of the meadow, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, a small area of Betony and Purple Loosestrife around the overgrown pond.
Tuesday – West End, Surrey Heath – The sky is cloudless and the temperature is climbing relentlessly. Off to the recreation ground. There seems to be construction, both new houses and extensions everywhere. There are only a few people on the recreation ground and nobody using the various playground rides, zip wire or exercise equipment. In the school holidays I was expecting the place to be busy. There is activity at the pond though. A number of dragonflies, mainly Southern Hawkers and damselflies darting this way and that. Fish are rising to the surface to grab a floating insect. A Moorhen scurries across the water and some white ducks with silly tufts on their heads move away from the edge when they see Freddie the Westie. One of the new houses at the end of the road is still unsold, which does not surprise me at nearly a million pounds for a house, which whilst nominally four bedrooms, really does not look that large and is on a mean plot of land.
In the evening, I watch the numerous at aircraft heading to Heathrow. An app on my phone tells me everything imaginable about the aircraft. A helicopter flies over and the app tells me who has chartered it! There are a number of large aircraft owned by parcel delivery companies. A Robin sings strongly. As it grows dark, I see my first satellite for long time, Cosmos 2123 rocket.
Freddie is staring at me. He knows I will be taking him for his evening constitutional. The stars are out now. Ursa Major indicates the way to the Pole Star. Another Cosmos rocket body passes over. A Tawny Owl tuits from behind Malthouse Farmhouse. There is something in the hedge as Freddie is staring intensely; I see nothing.
Friday – Leominster – At last, a decent amount of rain. It started yesterday afternoon and rained continuously until the early hours. Two of our water butts are now full. Sadly there is a dead frog on the patio – no obvious reason for its demise. The Worcestershire Pearmain apples are ready to harvest, although they seem to have moth damage despite the use of traps in the flowering season.
Wyre Forest – It is cooler this morning. The sky is cloudless and it soon start to heat up. The Wyre Forest visitor centre in Callow Hill is an extensive building with café and other facilities. The historical extent of the Wyre Forest is unclear. It was mentioned in Domesday as “Foresta de Wyre” and was in the ownership of the Mortimers as a hunting chase before passing to Edward IV. It was leased to various local people. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the forest was intensively managed as coppice to provide cordwood for the production of charcoal. The charcoal was used to fuel iron forges at Cleobury Mortimer, and at Wilden and elsewhere in the Stour valley. The iron was manufactured into finished iron goods mainly in the Black Country. Charcoal burning continued into the 20th century. There are bell pits in the forest from the extraction of coal. Off onto one of the trails through the woods, now the largest Oak woodland in England. The woodland is named New Parks. The trees are a varied mixture of broadleaf and conifers. A Grey Squirrel runs along a bough overhead. Robins fly up down the cinder track. Blue Tits chatter. A few flowers are still brightening the verge, Water Mint, Fleabane and various umbellifers. Small streams cut through the woodland. On westwards, the wood is becoming dominated by conifers. Occasionally a brief puff of wind shakes rain drops off the trees. The charcoal production means there are no old trees. Speckled Wood butterflies dance in the patches of sunlit undergrowth. Clumps of Heather are dotted around. A few small areas are surrounded by deer fencing. Mainly Birch saplings grow within. Common Buzzards are mewing, one appears briefly over the tree tops.
The path has been descending gently for some time. It now crosses the disused railway, now a cycle route. This is the Tenbury Branch of the Severn Valley Railway branching off at Bewdley and crossing the river at Dowles Bridge and ran through to Tenbury, using the disused Leominster canal bed in places. It closed for passengers in 1962 and completely in 1964. I continue down the hillside. Nuthatches call overhead. A young Song Thrush is unsure what to do as I approach. It opts for a squeaky cry and an unsteady flapping across to a small Rowan tree. A single Hemp Agrimony flowers by the track. The bank reveals an outcrop of soft yellow stone. The area is underlain by Carboniferous sandstones dating from 310 million years ago when Britain was part of the Pangaea super-continent, lying south of the equator. More extensive patches of Hemp Agrimony grow just before a bridge over Dowles Brook, a tributary to the River Severn. A metal waymarker in the form of a helmeted warrior declared this to be Route 45, The Mercian Way, 87 miles to Chester. Wimperhill Wood rises to the north-west. The track turns eastwards. Further along is a sign indicating this is a Butterfly Trail and telling of all the species one may see. Of course, there is not a single butterfly in sight! A smaller track leads off and recrosses the Dowles Brook. The track is now a path running above the brook. Fresh deer slots are in the mud. The path divides and I climb back up the hill. A patch of woodland has a good number of nest boxes attached to trees. The path joins the old railway track. To the south of the track the land falls steeply into a deep valley through which flows one of the many streams feeding down into Dowles Brook. As that valley rises to join the level of the track the land to the north now falls away steeply down to Dowles Brook. The track passes under a brick and sandstone bridge. Lodge Hill Farm lies a way north of the bridge. Knowles Coppice nature reserve lies to the north with a track leading down to Knowles Mill. A delightfully carved seat depicts the “Foresta de Wyre”. More and more people are in the track now walking their dogs, cannot be that far from the car park, he thinks cynically. The track passes above deep valleys to each side, then under another brick and sandstone bridge. A few yards further on is the anticipated car park and Dry Mill Lane. The lane climbs past a large early 20th century house, Hittershill, the name of the coppice to the west.
The Severn valley drops away from the lane to the north then rises to Trimpley and Wassell Wood. The Clent Hills lie on the horizon. Suddenly the lane is in a large modern suburb of Bewdley, The lakes on Tanner’s Hill. Down Richmond Road, lined with 20th century houses. A Painted Lady butterfly feeds on a buddleia. The road starts to descend steeply down Bark Hill into the town. Extensive restoration work is being carried out on the church of St Anne, partially closing the road which makes the usual traffic congestion even worse. The riverside of the Severn is busy. I sit briefly before returning to Welch Gate and then take some steps, the Racks Alley, up into the Bark Hill estate.
The wind is rising providing a relief from the hot sun. The footpath passes behind the houses on Richmond Road and emerges shortly before Dry Mill Lane. The last house on the north side, leaving the housing estate, was once a police house. Down Dry Mill Lane and back along the railway. An alternative track leads back to the visitor centre. Unfortunately the last mile is steadily up hill. A Wood Ants’ nest is covered in busy workers. Some parents take pictures of their children clambering up a log stack, despite the signs warning against it. The stacks are not secured and can easily shift, possibly rolling and crushing a child. Doubtless, if it happened it would be the Forestry Commission’s fault, not the unthinking parents. The visitor centre is very crowded and the car park is full, meaning a good day’s income for the site. Route (started late)
Saturday – Hereford – Down a backstreet in the city is the Hereford Indy Food Festival. It is a small festival but packed with top quality local produce. I start off inevitably, with a pint, this being Gregg’s Pit perry, a small producer from Much Marcle. Kay gets a pint of Wild Beer from Shepton Mallet, maybe not so local but a fine small producer. We then order a burger from the Beefy Boys. It takes twenty minutes to arrive, but worth every second of the wait, probably one of the best burgers I have ever had. William Chase has a stall and a bottle of their gin is obligatory. I then get a pint of Yarlington Mill cider by Gwatkins, sold by a stall with a fascinating selection of vegetables and fruit. I chat about various successes and failures this season. I finish up with another pint of Gregg’s Pit, this time their cider whilst chatting to a couple of chaps about the Miner’s strike, music and the world in general. Kay has a Shepherd’s ice cream.
Sunday – Leominster – The river water level is still low. I assume that the land is so dry up in the Radnor Hills that much of the recent rain has been absorbed and not entered the river system yet. Two adult and one juvenile Mute Swans are just beyond Butts Bridge. A Grey Wagtail flies off. Large patches of Himalayan Balsam are flowering on the banks. The sun trying to break through a leaden sky. The market is smaller than of late, the threat of rain and the likelihood of larger Bank Holiday Monday markets have kept the stall holders away. Round to Paradise Walk, where a Chiffchaff is still calling, albeit rather half-heartedly. New fencing has been erected along the Kenwater. Around through Pinsley Meads. There are tiny catkins on a Hazel in churchyard.
Home – The weather is rather unpleasant; very humid and rain is still threatening to fall. Out come the peas, now all withered and brown. A lot of weeds need clearing. Then the red onions are harvested, sadly rather a small crop. Again, weeds need removing. It starts to rain. I sow over-wintering lettuces, Arctic King and Winter Density, and spring cabbage, Durham Early. Later, in the afternoon, the rain has moved on and the end of the garden where the fruit trees stand is strimmed. Then some roses that have gone over the garden wall are tied back and pruned.
Tuesday – Home – Early morning and the house is quiet. There is an irregular tapping noise from somewhere. A Grey Squirrel is bouncing against the back door. My appearance causes it to run off without much haste. Tomatoes and cucumbers are still being harvested. Rocket is just about big enough for a little bit to be plucked. The Worcestershire Pearmain apples are ripe but it appears all have moth damage, annoying as I put out the traps early this year. The old pear tree that needed the attention of a tree surgeon last year has a decent crop now, but they are too high to pick!