Saturday – Home – A very warm, muggy morning. Fast as I throw down apples from the Gladstone at the end of the garden, young Blackbirds devour them. Very young Blue Tits feed on the seed feeder. I dig the last of the potatoes. There are some decent sized bakers in them and overall I am pleased with the crop this year. The muggy weather has caused the first green pepper in the greenhouse to rot. I think the automatic window mechanisms have failed so I open the other windows to try and get some airflow. Tomatoes are ripening fast. I find a small tray of leek seedlings I had overlooked so they are planted out into the nursery bed with the main bulk of them. They may catch up, but what is there to lose? I check the gooseberries but they are still not ripe. Neither are the greengages yet. The summer raspberries are coming to an end. A few dwarf French beans are ready but not really enough for a portion. The callaloo is bolting into flower; I must remember not to put them into the compost as the seeds survive well and sprout profusely. Some more spinach, radish, rocket and lettuce are sown. In the early evening there is a sudden burst of rain.
Sunday – A bright morning. Kay and I take granddaughter Kitty down to the market. The water level in the River Lugg is now very low. A family of Grey Wagtails flit along the banks of the river. The market is about average size. Kay and Kitty manage to find things to buy, I do not, as usual. Back along Paradise Walk. The Kenwater is also low and very clear. Long strands of waterweed wave lazily in the current.
Home – The first French beans are picked. Tomatoes are now ripening rapidly.
Monday – Croft Castle – Kay, Tom and Kitty have gone to see Alice in Wonderland performed on the lawn in front of the castle. I really cannot face two hours sitting with screaming children. Under the eaves of the stables are House Martins’ nests with little white faces peeping out. Into the gardens. Grey clouds threaten rain and there is a wind building, but for the moment is very pleasant here. Goldfinches are twittering high in the shrubbery. Espaliers of fruit do not seem to be doing so well, large pears look very scabby and most of a peach tree is dead. A military jet roars over. Into the Edwardian greenhouse where there is a fine collection of succulents and a beautiful Angel’s Trumpet Tree. Out of the greenhouse into a brief shower of rain.
I wander around the house for a while but it is very crowded with visitors so then a quick visit to the church of St Michael. Again there are a lot of people in here. So I end up sitting on the wide walk that surrounds the house looking out over Herefordshire. I moved to a small enclosed garden by the north-west tower. Agapanthus rise through Lady’s Mantle. Roses are going over. A few Canterbury Bells are still in bloom. A Comma butterfly alights on this bench next to me. It then flies over to a climber that rises up the side of the house. A Gatekeeper also flies through the leaves. After the performance we go up to the seats by the café. Some sweet drink has been spilt on a table and this attracts a lot of wasps.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – There is blue sky to the west but above is covered in grey cloud. The season has blown, everything is beginning to look tired, leaves curl with diseases, small holes where insects have fed. Down the track where Brambles are covered in small tight green blackberries. Some haws are beginning to turn crimson. A huge Travellers Joy is covered in blossom being visited by bees, hover flies and other insects. There is a distorted mass of leaves on a branch of a Hazel sapling. Birds make a few whistles and squeaks but the main sound is the cooing of Wood Pigeons. Meadow is turning pale brown, dead Stinging Nettles and dead Clover and appropriately a Meadow Brown butterfly. Yellow Birdsfoot Trefoil, pink Centaury and Red Bartsia are still in flower. A Common Buzzard launches out of West Field wood, mewing loudly.
The lake is quiet. Mallard, Tufted Duck and Coot are scattered over the water. Canada Geese are at the west end and a pair of Mute Swans and their cygnets are on the new banks to the south. Ducks are still in eclipse. Three Mandarin swim along the edge of the island. At least four Cormorant are in the trees. Purple Loosestrife rises in large bunches on the scrape and along the edge of the reed bed. A Great Crested Grebe pops up. The the bank in front of the hide is spotted purple and yellow with Black Knapweed and St Johns Wort. The Osprey nest platform stand empty, maybe next year. One of the Mute Swans sets off with her cygnets in tow, four in all. Tufted Duck emerge from various quarters, there are more than two dozen of them now out in the lake. The wind is rising. The only other sound is the metronomic call of a single Canada Goose.
Spikes of Agrimony have yellow flowers only at the very tips and some spikes are just seed pods all the way to the top. A Robin sings half-heartedly. A walnut tree in the dessert apple orchard carrying quite a decent crop. The fruit on the Irish Peach apple is quite edible but has suffered a lot of damage and it is being exacerbated by wasps.
Saturday – Home – It has rained – and rained and rained. At the beginning of the week there was less than half a butt of water, now all three are full and overflowing. A thunderstorm passed by on Thursday night. The wind is still blowing and the rain comes in the form of sharp showers.
Sunday – Leominster – The weather remains changeable. It is dry as I head for the market. Bird song has all but stopped. Lesser Black-backed Gulls wail in the distance, as they have been doing since the early hours. There is only slightly more water in the Lugg compared to last week despite the considerable rain over the last few days. Goldfinches twitter in bushes in Easters Meadow. Given the changeable weather, the market is bigger than I expected. I watch old people buying cheap bits of china and glass. One says “Ooo, my daughter will love that”. I can imagine said daughter asking herself in a few hours, “What on earth did she buy that for?” Cheaton Brook is flowing fast and is deeper than recently. On the north side of Ridgemoor Bridge, Rowan berries are turning vermilion. Snow berries have appeared. On the south side, the summer congregation of Pond Skaters gather between the reeds. Round Paradise Walk, where I pick some Dandelion leaves for the chickens. The River Kenwater is a lot deeper that recently.
Home – The peas are cleared away, they have not been a great crop this year. French beans are cropping heavily. I sow some more of a dwarf variety. As usual, the vine on the garden wall is trying to escape in every direction and I prune off a large bin full which goes into the chicken run. Long, arching rose runners are cut and Kay decides to shred them. We really ought to replace our old and inefficient shredder. We ate our first courgette yesterday and there are plenty more on the way. The Marjory Pippin plum does not look happy. Several of the few plums on it are rotting. We are employing a tree surgeon in the autumn to remove an Ash and cut back the Hazel severely to try and let the plum get some air. The greengages are still not ready and the Gladstone apples are pretty much finished but the rest of the apple crop is some weeks off yet.
M – Kidderminster – A warm morning with a partly cloudy sky. I set off from a street that once was spacious with 1930s houses but now wholly infilled. Eight gulls pass over high in the sky, all yelping loudly. Wood pigeons coo from a large Plane tree. This street emerges onto Blakebrook, the name of the area as well as this road. Some large early to mid 19th century houses stand here although again there is much infill. One house has four stacks each of two chimneys. The road approaches the main A456, the Birmingham road through Kidderminster. Just before junction is Summer Place dated 1822. Summer Place Building Society was founded by 17 people on 25th May 1822 to build this terrace of sixteen houses. This was one of the country’s earliest building societies have a closed membership and being wound up around 1835 when all debts were paid. During the great strike of 1828, which lasted 5 months, the Revd Humphrey Price addressed the carpet weavers on the green opposite these houses from the window of his mother’s house. She lived in one of the three houses demolished around 1970. His support the strike led to him being jailed for three months in Hereford. Alongside the green are fine Victorian villas. Beyond on the A456 is the large Kidderminster hospital, on the site of the Kidderminster Union Workhouse. In Brook Street there is a former school, now Church House nursery, and short terraces of houses dating from the 1890s. It continues with modern housing. Up some steps by the nursery to St John the Baptist Church.
The church is constructed in bright red sandstone with a brick tower in blue. The tower is actually the older past, being built in 1843 by Gordon Alexander of blue brick. There was the a sizeable addition in 1890-94 by Julius Chatwin in red sandstone, which caused the demolition of much of the earlier building but the retention of the steeple and the re-use of several parts internally. The earlier building was in a Romanesque style with Chatwin’s being free-style Gothic including elements of French Flamboyant style and English Decorated and Perpendicular styles. Sadly the building is locked. In front of the church of two large monuments to Thompson family who were builders in Kidderminster in the Victorian era. Another grave is David Tonge, Clerk in Holy Orders and Chaplain to the Queen who died in 1995. A grasshopper climbs another tomb. Behind the church is a very large cemetery.
On along Bewdley Road the A456. Opposite Victorian terraces and villas is the large Woodfield House built in 1784. Modern estates lie either side of it, a large one still being constructed. To the east of the new build is all that remains of King Charles I Grammar School. In 1636 King Charles I granted a charter, in which he ordered that the school be called by his name. It was housed in the chantry of St Mary and All Saint’s from 1566 until 1848. A new school was built in 1848, probably by the architect Harvey Eginton. It has a crenelated parapet and round tower, buttressed porch and ecclesiastical style windows and doorways. It has the royal crest above the door. At the same time, head master of the school, Revd William Cockin, bought the estate of Woodfield House to be used as the master’s house and for housing boarders. On past a short row shops opposite a Chinese restaurant which occupies a former pub. The Bewdley Road comes to a major junction where the Telford Road crosses. North is Proud Cross Ringway, east is Park Butts Ringway. The latter drops down through a cutting to the canal basin and the town centre. Under the dual carriageway. A large former carpet factory stands next to a flight of steps which leads up to Mount Skipet. At the top of the steps was the factory of John Pearsall and John Broom who from around 1749 effectively founded the carpet industry. Pearsall first produced Kidderminster carpet in 1735. The Carpet Industry
Along Park Lane past the abandoned factory, which looks pretty much burnt out. Opposite is another factory which may or may not be used as a commercial premises these days. The hillside opposite, which presumably leads up to a housing estate, is being used as a rubbish tip. More large abandoned industrial areas lead to a short row Victorian houses and new modern properties. The Weavers pub stands with its back to the canal. A fine house of around 1840 stands nearby. Across a road junction is a house with an advertising sign painted on the end wall, or at least the remains thereof – “PILLS FROM RKINSO”. Nearby is the Castle Inn in a Victorian terrace. Opposite is the municipal cemetery with its Lodge House. The entrance is through tall red sandstone pillars with old cast iron gates and a Victorian post box. Several gravestones are also in red sandstone but they have not weathered well. The largest monument is almost illegible it appears to be to the Revd Richard Fry. He was remembered in a typically Victorian obituary, in part:
Another tomb, which is gradually tilting, was to Edwin Henry Dredge who at the time of “his decease” was Deputy Grandmaster of this District, referring to the Kidderminster district of Oddfellows Manchester Unity. The chapel is in the form of a Greek temple, built around 1840, with four Tuscan pillars holding a portico at either end. The monument of Revd Thomas Fisk who died in 1903 is in red marble holding a lectern with an open book upon it. in 1895, he wrote a book about the history of the church titled “Kidderminster Baptist Congregational Church – memorial sketch by the pastor”. Oner notes that not only do the clergy, of whatever denomination, seem to have some of the best houses when they are alive, they also get the some best monuments when they shuffle off this mortal coil! To the west the land drops away steeply to the modern graveyard. A Jay squawks from the trees.
Up Castle Road, formerly Cemetery Road, is a strange, early 20th century building with “employers” carved into the stone above the door, the former Employment Exchange, it appears now to be residences. At the top of the hill are streets of terraces all dating from the late 19th century. At the end of Castle Road is Briarcliff House, a three-storey late Victorian building somewhat spoilt by uPVC windows. Back down to Park Lane. Past Victorian terraces to a large estate on Roundhill Wharf. The entrance has a cast-iron construction over entrance across, a salute, I suppose to its former use. Two blocks of houses have ornate carvings and mock Tudor tops to the “towers”. They are in a sort of Arts and Crafts period look. Next is another entrance to Kidderminster cemetery where there is an even larger Lodge House. Beyond is Brinton Park.
Up the steps to the park sits on the top of the hill. Although it is the school holidays, the tennis court, skateboard park and basketball court are completely empty. A couple of lads kick a football around and a few dog walkers stroll across the grass. There are however organised activities at the top of the park. Prior to 1882 this area was previously part of what was then Sutton Common. In 1883, John Brinton DL, JP and MP for Kidderminster bought 26 acres of land. He commissioned the architect J.T Meredith. The park was presented to the people of Kidderminster in 1887. The park was extended by the Town Corporation up to Sutton Road by a further 6 acres opening on 12th May 1905. Across the park, past a stone built bandstand, which replaced a typical Victorian one in 1934, to a monument to Richard Eve. Eve was born in 1831 in Bromsgrove Street in Kidderminster, the youngest son of Ann and John Eve, the foreman in a local carpet factory. He spent most of his life as a solicitor and notary in Aldershot in Hampshire and was a prominent Freemason who was the Grand Treasurer of the United Grand Lodge of England in 1889 and the Chairman of the Royal Masonic School for Boys. The monument was opened the 21st June 1902, a drinking fountain erected to the designs of Joseph Pritchard.
A track descends the park to the Stourport Road. Large houses sit on the hill opposite. Road crosses the canal where there is the site of an old watermill, now a large pub, looking like a watermill but entirely built as a pub. It is in part on the site of Bradley & Turton Ltd, the last working forge in Kidderminster and closing in 1979, which made waterwheels amongst many other things. Over the road and down to the tow-path which runs between the canal and the River Stour. Under Caldwall Mill Bridge and an arch of tubes carrying electricity cables. Five canal boats are moored in a rebuilt Roundhill Wharf. Goldfinches fly across the canal into willows. Gulls screech from the industrial buildings behind. The Victorian terrace I passed in Park Lane have wonderful long gardens running all the way down to the canal. The Castle Inn beer garden also has a fine view of the water. Caldwall Hall Bridge is a modern affair of RSJs and concrete. The tow-path comes to humped-backed bridges under which the canal entered wharves for the large mills that still stand here although now converted into large department stores. The wharves are, of course, gone to be replaced mainly by car parks. The chimney of one of the mills still stands towering into the sky. At Kidderminster bridge I take steps up to Park Butts Ringway and back to the car.
Tuesday – Leominster – In the middle of the night I peer out of the window at a partially cloudy sky. Within a few moments I see two meteorites of the Perseid shower, produced by debris from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet, which passes earth every 133 years.
Grey clouds are building; it is warm again. Down to the White Lion and along the new footpath to the Millennium Park. The flowers of Rosebay Willowherb beside the railway track are turning to fluffy white seed. Meadow Cranesbill have bright purple flowers among great swathes of Stinging Nettles. Black Knapweed, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Common Fumitory are also still in flower. A Blackcap is ticking from the trees at the foot of the churchyard. The last few umbellifers still have white umbrellas of flowers but most are now brown seed. Yarrow is also in flower, looking like an umbellifer but one of the Daisy family. Elderberries are beginning to turn purple black. Along Pinsley Mead following the route of the lost Pinsley Brook. The Old Priory hospital remains unused, a tragic waste of a fine historic building. Red Valerian blossoms by the wall of the Priory. Rowan berries are turning vermilion.
Thursday – Manchester – Out of Manchester Piccadilly station. Past a bronze, “Victory Over Blindness”, depicting seven blinded soldiers from the First World War marching, each with their hand on the shoulder of the man in front. It was designed by artist and sculptress Johanna Domke-Guyot. A Free Bus takes us to the cathedral. Domesday records a church of St Mary the Blessed Virgin in the Hundred of Salford. It would have been a wood and possibly stone building which was replaced by the de Gresle family, Barons of Manchester by the 13th century. The de Gresle estates passed to the de la Warre family. In 1421, Thomas de la Warre obtained licences from Henry V and the Pope to found a collegiate church, which was dedicated to St Mary, St Denys and St George. The church was completely rebuilt over the next century. In 1595, John Dee became Warden. Various chantry chapels were added by leading merchants as the town grew prosperous in the wool trade. These were incorporated into the church during the Reformation making the nave the widest in England. The church became a cathedral in 1847. Its windows were all destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War and have been replaced by some extraordinarily beautiful modern glass. The Fire Window, in various orange and red glass is particularly vivid, being the point at which the bomb hit. There is much superb mediaeval wood carving in the screen, quire and Lady Chapel. Near the latter is a statue of Sir Humphrey Cheetham, who founded Chetham’s Library and School of Music. The misericords in the quire have many often amusing carvings. Above the screen is the new Stoller organ. Funded by the Trustees of The Stoller Charitable Trust and built by Tickells in 2017, the organ has over 4800 pipes inside the instrument, ranging from 6 inches to 32 feet high. The pipes facing into the quire were gilded by hand with wafer-thin 23½ carat gold leaf, so that they will never tarnish. Angels playing instruments are high on the nave walls.
We then head down towards St Ann’s church. The centre of the city is a fascinating mixture of vast Victorian buildings and equally monumental modern architecture. The Commercial Exchange, now shops, theatre, etc. is a massive buildings, rebuilt and enlarged (for the 4th time on this site) in 1914-21, by Bradshaw, Gass and Hope. On one corner of the building is Arthur Kay and Bro, Jewellers. On the wall are old plaques of 1901 declaring “As Advertised Wedding Rings Charged Only by Weight”.
Cotton Mills, Canal Boats, Peterloo, Ancoats, LS Lowry and Steam Trains
Bouncing Bombs, Burning Bras, Henry Royce, Pankhurst and Marx – paved The Mancunian Way
Now Miraculous Medicinal Machines, Music, Art and Graphene break new ground today
For innovation, audacity and imagination is the make-up of our DNA
David Scott aka Argh Kid Underneath is a disclaimer, “Wedding Rings Today are not Priced Solely by Weight”. Barton Arcade is a block of shops and offices enclosing shopping arcades, built in 1871, by Corbett, Raby and Sawyer. It has some fine cast iron open work and to the rear is a round-headed top with a dome and cupola in cast-iron and glass in Crystal Palace style. The Corn Exchange was built on this site in 1837 but demolished in 1897 and replaced in two sections between 1897 and 1903. Each section was designed by a different architect. It was badly damaged by the IRA bomb of 1996. Old Bank Chambers were built for Manchester Liners, around 1925, by Harry S Fairhurst in Portland stone, with a relief sculpture at the corner depicting a Viking ship. A commemorative statue of Richard Cobden, industrialist and Liberal politician stands in front of St Ann’s church. By Marshall Wood, it was erected in 1867.
Until the beginning of the 18th century, St Mary’s was the only church in Manchester. As the town grew, a new church was required and funds were provided by Lady Ann Bland to build St Ann’s in 1709. It was reputed to have been designed by Christopher Wren or one of his pupils or friend, John Barker in the classical style. The church interior was remodelled in 1887-9 by Alfred Waterhouse. It was built in red sandstone from Collyhurst. There are galleries on three sides, supported by stout Tuscan columns. It has a very fine Art Deco West windows by Frederick Shields. dedicated to Hilda Collins who founded the Northern School of Music in 1920. Although almost unscathed by Luftwaffe bombing in World War II, its upper windows were blown out by the IRA bomb. The church formerly had strong Whig and Anti-Jacobite connections. John Wesley preached here in 1733 and 1738. Thomas De Quincey was baptized here in 1785. 18th century gravestones stand by the wall outside.
We then visit Trinity Bridge which crosses the River Irwell, joining Manchester with Salford. It was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and constructed in 1995. Two Black-headed Gulls are furiously paddling to move upstream but the current is pushing them backwards. They decide that flying upstream is easier.
Next is the People’s History Museum. It stands beside the Manchester Civil Justice Centre built in 2007, designed in the Expressionist style with the artistic Futurist movement of the 1920s which promotes dynamic lines and a sense of fluid movement. The museum features superb collections dedicated to the working class struggles over the centuries. It was here in Manchester that Friedrich Engels studied the condition of the working class:
We return to near the cathedral to a pub near the Hanging Bridge, a medieval bridge spanning the Hanging Ditch, which connected the rivers Irk and Irwell. The bridge is now hidden under modern buildings. The bridge may have been part of Roman defences and the name may derive from the Old English hen, meaning wild birds, and the Welsh gan, meaning between two hills. The stream which flowed through the ditch was possibly the lost River Dene, which gave its name to Deansgate.
We now walk through the Northern Quarter, a bohemian area of shops. An end wall is decorated with a large mural. Shops include bookshops, alternative shops, grocers selling Caribbean and other ethnic foods and a market with a wonderful fish stall. One Book and Magazine Exchange has what these days is an extraordinary neon sign, “English and American Girlie Mags”. Mosaics are set in a wall detailing various Manchester people and places – the football clubs, Emmerline Pankhurst, The Factory venue and one with Vimto, Danger Mouse, Rolls Royce and Alan Turing.
Back towards Piccadilly where our hotel is located. The City Police Courts is an extraordinary, huge building of 1868-71, by Thomas Worthington. It has a massive clock tower and at each entrance, mythical creatures are carved in the pillars. On the front is the building is a modern façade.
Friday – Manchester – A rainy day in Manchester, something of a cliché. We breakfast in a local café which has a brisk take-out trade in local workers. Through to St Peter’s Square, site of the Peterloo massacre which happened today, 200 years ago. There are to be celebrations later in the day but all that is here now is the Mayor’s car in the pouring rain.
Monumental architecture both modern and old surrounds the square although the centre is taken up by a tram station. The Midland Hotel is a huge Baroque edifice. It was built between 1898-1903, by Charles Trubshaw, for the Midland Railway Company on a steel frame, with cladding of brown polished granite, red brick and much buff and brown glazed terracotta. Nearby in the square is a large Gothic memorial cross marking position of former Church of St Peter which was demolished in 1907. Opposite is the Central Library, a Classical circular building built in 1930-4, by Vincent Harris out of Portland stone. The vast offices of Manchester council, also by Harris built in 1938 takes up the north side of the square. Opposite is all modern. Outside the modern block is a bronze statue called “Rise Up Women”, depicting Emmeline Pankhurst standing on a chair, giving a speech. At the other end of the square is the First World War memorial, 1924, by Sir Edwin Lutyens with later additions for the Second World War. It is in Portland stone, comprising a cenotaph, two flanking obelisks, and a War Stone all on a slightly raised, coved, platform. The cenotaph is like that in Whitehall, London. At the end of the square is a row of four late 18th century town houses, now shops and offices; the former offices and showrooms of furnishing manufacturer, now shops and offices from around 1880-90 and the Northern Assurance Buildings, shops and offices built in 1902 by Waddington, Son and Dunkerley. Opposite is the substantial Manchester Town Hall, Grade I listed built between 1868-77 by Alfred Waterhouse.
We then visit the Art Gallery where there is a fine display of Nordic Craft and Design, with wonderful glass and ceramics. Another fascinating exhibition is by Halima Cassell, one of the UK’s most distinctive and dynamic ceramicists and sculptors.
Back in Piccadilly, two Jacobean Baroque buildings in Portland stone with brown terracotta ground floors, one, Clayton House, dated on the pediment, 1907. They were designed by W and G Higginbottom. We are now thoroughly wet so we retreat a pub before heading back to the station.
Saturday – Home – The weather remains autumnal despite it being mid-August. Temperatures dip overnight then rise during the day to a muggy heat. Then Atlantic depressions move in, more October than August, bringing heavy rain that has caused flooding in many places.
The chicken run is muddy, so are the eggs! The hanging baskets of tomatoes are still heavy with ripe fruit. It is a delight to wander out and pick what we want for a meal. As the light fades in the evening, bats appear over the gardens. They seem to wink in and out of existence, it is impossible to follow their flight. “The pranking bat its flighty circlet makes”, proclaims John Clare. They seem different sizes but I have no idea what species they are. I think they are roosting in next door’s roofspace.
Sunday – Leominster – The sun emerges then disappears again as cloud moves across the sky. There are a few patches of blue. The sky is empty of Swifts, Swallows and House Martins. There has not been much change in the water level of the River Lugg. The water is not as clear as it has been but it is not really silty. Along Easters Meadow. A bee visits Woody Nightshade, Red Campion is still in flower. Fresh mole hills have been thrown up. A hoverfly is on one of the last remaining umbellifers, this one is Cow Parsley. Himalayan Balsam is slowly taking over the bank at the confluence of the Kenwater and Lugg. The rest of the bank is a mixture of Brambles Stinging Nettles and Greater Bindweed, so it will be interesting to see which of these invasive species dominates in the end. Long stalks of Dog Roses rise out of the bank on this side of the river. Small green fruits resembling berries have appeared on the Black Poplars. The silver leaves of White Poplars are looking tired. The market is a fair sized but seems to be rather more junk than usual. Water boatman are in their usual small area of still water on the Lugg close to Ridgemoor bridge. Every now and then one drifts out into the current and has to paddle furiously to get back to still water. The water level in the Kenwater has fallen slightly. A fluffy Dunnock fledgling pops up from the path and disappears into the hedge. An excellent job has been made of one of the houses in Bridge Street which was a decaying mess. Hopefully this will encourage number of others, some of which are boarded up and in very poor condition, to renovate and turn the area from being an eyesore into an attractive entrance to the town centre.
Home – Runner and French beans are still being produced at glut levels. I checked the courgettes the other day and there were a few small fruits appearing. I look today and they are rapidly heading for marrow status! The gooseberry near the pond is stripped of fruit. It is never touched, never pruned or fed yet it produces a small crop every year. The large bushes on the other side of the garden are a disaster, one always succumbing to mildew, the other always being stripped by birds before the fruit is anywhere close to ripe. I check the Cambridge Gage. This is the first year we have had a crop on this nine year old tree. It is not a great crop but anything is better than nothing! A lot of the fruit has damage, leathery patches and insect incursion. One still has a wasp inside the fruit, another a ladybird. The fruit is stoned and gently stewed. The plum is checked. Rotting fruit is removed but hopefully there will still be a small crop.
Saturday – Home – My rambles are temporary on hold, problems with my left leg have now been joined by either back or hip problems on the right hand side. A trip to the shops is painful and it is all most annoying. It is getting very hot as the afternoon progresses. The sky absolutely cloudless, but fortunately there is a breeze keeping the temperature comfortable when sitting in the shade. Blue Tits, Great Tits and Coal Tits are visiting the seed and peanut feeders. Many are young birds, their muted tones now beginning to sharpen up. A Wood Pigeon stands on the shed roof for a long period looking around before descending to the newly filled water bath for a quick drink. Although something of a pest they also are the most beautiful birds, all soft, muted greys from the blue-grey heads, pink-grey breasts and brown-grey wings with a bright white flash either side of the neck. It now moves to the sundial and stands around for an even longer period before suddenly launching into the air and taking off out of the garden. A few minutes later another, or possibly the same bird, appears and goes into the thicket of Ivy which is covering the top of one of the ancient pears that grow up against the wall. A squeaking noise comes from somewhere so maybe there is a nest in there. Female House Sparrows turn up at the seed feeder. Suddenly a Common Buzzard sweeps low overhead before rising to sit on a chimney short distance down the street. This is unusual, they often pass over but this is the first time I have seen one pause here and what seems even more unusual is the lack of attention from any Jackdaws which are usually in the area. Filling the water bath was obviously a good move as female House Sparrow and a Coal Tit both come down for a drink. After some time the first male House Sparrow, a cock sparrer, as we used to call them arrives on the seed feeder. Below a Dunnock slips out of the hedge and grabs some fallen seed from the huge stump. A ladybird, black with two orange spots on its back and two white spots towards its head lands on my hand. It is one of the very variable Two-spot Ladybirds, Adaia bipunctata. A dragonfly passes through far too quickly for any identification.
Bank Holiday Monday – Leominster – Being a bank holiday, the town is quiet, most shops closed. Down to the Old Ludlow Road, Mill Street, Bridge Street junction. This junction has changed considerably over the years. Before the River Lugg was diverted along the back of The Marsh, it flowed under the junction. The Hop Pole, now being converted into apartments was not, as now on the junction, but further up Bridge Street. A pair of cottages and The Anchor Inn stood between The Hop Pole and Mill Street. On the western side of the junction was The Golden Lion Inn and on the northern side, the Pheasant Inn. Both these inns are gone, the former a dwelling, the latter an antique shop. Up Bridge Street, also called the Old Ludlow Road and then along the long track, the former Leominster-Kington railway line, towards Summergalls farm. A Common Buzzard is mewing in the distance. House Sparrows chatter in bushes. Lesser Black-backed Gulls yelp from the town refuse centre, on the site of Osbourne Mill. The River Lugg is low. The Common Buzzard launches out of a tree, over the Lugg and away across the fields. The stream from Croward’s Mill pours down a step into the Lugg close to the farm gate. This stream was formerly the River Lugg, the present Lugg being part of the Kenwater. Close study of old and present OS maps is required to understand the changes of courses and names.
I manage to collect a decent amount of fallen plums from a pair of trees beside the stream. Back over the farm bridge across the Lugg to where a footpath heads south from the farm gate. It passes a long row of containers being used, I assume, for storage. In places, large numbers of broken hazelnuts shells lay on the path. A Chiffchaff calls a weak, thin version of its song. The path divides. One short leg leads down to a rocky bank which stands over a weir on the River Kenwater.
The main path heads eastwards between woods and then Bridge Street playing fields and Briarwood, Leominster Town football club’s ground to the north and the Kenwater to the south. The path continues to Kenelmgaer Bridge, now usually called Crane’s Lane Bridge. Along the westward path beside the south side of the Kenwater. It is very humid. Vast banks of brambles lay under the trees that cross the hillside although blackberries seems very sparse on them. A Devil’s Coach-horse, Staphylinus olens, a rove beetle, scurries across the path. Through an old hedgerow of Hawthorns into another rough pasture. Here the brambles are much smaller but heavy with green and red fruit yet to ripen. Further on there is another old hedge row of Hawthorn, Elder, Lime, Blackthorn and Hazel. The banks of brambles at the foot of this hedge face south and are clearly far in advance of the north facing ones as there is a family collecting the blackberries, although the little lad seems more interested in playing with his stick.
Along the edge of another meadow to a lane. A Jay flies over squawking continuously. The lane travels south through Wegnalls Farm to Ginhall Lane. Across the lane into the Buckfields, a post 1970s century housing estate. Through the estate to Barons Cross Road, the A44, and back into town.
Tuesday – Leominster – A light mist obscures the Minster tower that peeps through the trees. Mist hangs over Sydonia Park. The sun is a ghostly disc the majority of which is masked by cloud, however overhead is clear and there is light cloud to the west. The False Acacia in Westbury Street which lost a limb last year is now being attacked by a pure white fungus which is on its trunk. As usual, identification proves tricky, I guess at the Bitter Bracket, Postia stiptica. A small road which runs around the telephone exchange. The area was once part of the cattle market that spanned both sides of Dishley Road and the garden of Mount Villas, now gone. Bright yellow Oxford Ragwort and Red Valerian make a bright kerbside display. Oxford Ragwort was introduced from Southern Italy in 1794 to Oxford Common. The lane returns to Dishley Street past a fence covered in Traveller’s Joy.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The sky is dark, threatening rain. A Green Woodpecker yaffles near the car park. Two Wood Pigeons on the electricity wires cooing. Most Haws are now scarlet, blackberries are ripening as are hips. The sailing bay of the lake is very quiet, just a single female Tufted Dick sailing across the water. Along the meadow. A barking Grey Heron passes by on the other side of the waterside trees. Into the hide. A Kingfisher flashes across the lake, a dart of turquoise and is gone. Two Grey Herons now fly past. A fair number of Mallard on out on the water, the drakes all still in eclipse. Several Mandarin are close to the island, either females or drakes in eclipse. The water level is much lower now. The Mute Swan family is on the south side of the water. At least a dozen Cormorants are in the trees. Coot bob up and down as they plunge for weed. Back along the meadow. A pair of Carrion Crows are harrying a Sparrowhawk overhead. A Giant Puffball has been well munched by slugs. A Large Red Slug, Arion rufus, is on the grass next to the fungus. In the dessert apple orchard some fruit is coming into ripeness, but many apples are small with both insect and bird damage. It starts to rain shortly after I leave the site.
Friday – Leominster – Dark grey clouds scattered across gleaming pale grey sky, just a few tiny pockets of blue show through. The Royal Oak Hotel looks a sorry sight as it has done for a number of years now. However work is being undertaken although there is no indication as to what is going to happen to the building. The old cinema still looks good, a classic Art Deco building although it is a pity there are no lights behind the intricate coloured glass windows. Plans for this building have come and gone and it still remains a bingo hall. On the other corner stands a pair of fine Georgian houses. One has a plaque stating is the Old Malthouse. This house has a large pillared doorway with a pediment and above the compasses and set square symbol of the Freemasons. Coincidentally the Freemasons are now opposite in the old former Friends Meeting House. On down South Street. Downes Court is a small modern development through an archway. Above the archway is a painted sign “E E Downes” and a blacksmith’s symbol. A row of cottages follow including the Black Horse pub which has been a residence for several years now. Some of the cottages are 16th century but remodelled in the 19th and the others are late 18th and 19th century. Gateway Lane is accessed through a high archway. Cottages continue before more recent development takes over.
South Street becomes Hereford Road. At Town End Cottage I take the footpath up to Cockcroft Lane. The pure white trumpets of Bindweed sprawl over bushes at the sides of the path. Three Swallows fly overhead. Now a House Martin sweeps low over the stubble field to the south of the path. The field between the path and the primary school has already been ploughed. A lot more Swallows and House Martins are flying over the field at the top of the hill, twittering gently. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are also congregating in the air above the hilltop. The field running down to Passa Lane is being ploughed. Like its larger relative Lesser Bindweed is an invasive plant but is particularly beautiful with its pink and white flowers dotted across the hedgerow.
To the west in the Arrow Valley, is a large acreage of plastic tunnels and a processing plant for strawberry production, real industrial farming. The distant Black Mountains are hazy. Fat blue-black sloes are irresistible. We not drink much sloe gin, so I have vowed not to make it too often, but these need picking! The footpath is blocked again by a fallen ivy covered bush so a detour runs around and rejoins the main old Cockcroft Lane. Gatekeeper butterflies are on fading Stinging Nettles. A large old Oak tree has fallen in the garden of the Cottage beside footpath. The reason for its demise is clear from its rotten core.
Cockcroft Lane comes into Ryelands road then on to Orchard Close, a cul-de-sac of early and mid 20th century bungalows and houses. A footpath leads up to Stockenhill Road. On a corner, down a drive is a large house, Stockinghill. The road heads back towards the town centre along Newlands Drive. The houses here are mid to late 20th century. A house used to stand to the north of this road, The Vista, home of Theodore Neild, a relative of Henry Newman, the Quaker founder of the Leominster Orphans Home, of which Neild was a trustee. Halfway along as a large mound with a low semi-permanent building on it and nearby, a telephone mast. Opposite were allotments in the early 20th century. All around were orchards. The mound is a reservoir. It was constructed as two 20,000 gallon reservoirs in 1887 following an outbreak of cholera. Water was pumped from near the railways station. Next to the reservoir is a cemetery. It is divided into two sections. The first appears to date from the late 19th century and contains a number of recent burials. A low chest tomb dated 1875 is made of cast iron. There is a similar one a short distance away. Two others close together are in the shape of a boat. The inscriptions are badly worn but appear to be from around the 1890s. This second graveyard is the Friends Burial Ground dated 1904. The headstones are simple, in most cases just birth and death dates. Just one states “He lived adventurously”. A couple of others are of German origin, one born in Dresden in 1914. I leave the peaceful site and head back into town.