August 2020

Sunday – Leominster – Thin high cloud lays in bands across the pre-dawn sky. It is far cooler this morning. Down to the River Lugg whose water level is as low so as I have ever seen it. A bank of gravel has now appeared on the north-west side of Butts Bridge. It now seems that the Sunday market will not restart at Easter’s Court. Back round to the Millennium Park. A slight red flush is appearing of some of the cider apples but it will be at least six weeks until any are ready for collecting. The only bird Tomatoescalls are the constant cooing of Wood Pigeons. Into the churchyard where Rabbits race away into the undergrowth. Yelping and screaming Lesser Black-backed Gulls fly overhead. Jackdaws chatter on the Priory church roof.

Home – The paths around the garden are edged with Victorian rope edging tiles. One is laying flat onto the path and often trips me. So I dig out the space it has come from. The soil is full of roots, I guess from a large rose nearby. There is also some concrete of some sort which I suppose into which the tiles may have been set. Eventually I manage to get enough of a narrow trough to reseat the tile. I try to put another back into place but there appears to be a broken one in the way which will not move. However, I manage to replace a third one. A bowl of tomatoes are harvested along with potatoes, beetroot, a few carrots, runner and French beans. The peas are removed and the pods remaining on them produce a decent bowlful. The bed of greens are mulched with fresh compost to give them a boost.

Rocket the hen spends some time on the nest but fails to produce. However, Emerald is as regular as ever.

Monday – Titley – It is a fine, sunny morning with a blue sky and high, white, scattered clouds. A lay-by in the centre of the village lays next to a large stone house, the 18th century vicarage which was much altered in the 19st century with a 17th Wellor 18th century timber-framed barn-like outbuilding attached. A stream runs through an old stone culvert under the road. Opposite a tractor is hedge-cutting. A well is by the roadside outside the old Priory. It was erected in 1864 by Louisa Elizabeth Lady Hastings. There appears to be an iron ladder into the will although it is full of water covered in duckweed.

The Domesday Book names the village as Titelege, from the Old English and meaning “woodland clearing of a man called Titta”. The church of St Peter probably served as the chapel of the alien priory of Titley, a cell of the Abbey of Tiron, the head of a reformed branch of the Benedictine order. The priory lay to the north and west of the church and nothing remains of it. A 16th century house stands on the site. The church was entirely re-built in 1865 by E Haycock Jnr and is fronted by the graveyard. Swifts scream overhead. A grave stone states in English and Hungarian:

From 16 November 1858 to 5 March 1991 This was the resting place of Lieutenant General Lázár Mészàros Supreme Commander of the Army and Minister of National Defence in the first Independent Hungarian Government in 1848-49. His remains were exhumed on 5 March 1991 and re-interred with military Honours in the Cathedral at Baja on 15 March 1991 The Government of the Hungarian Republic.

Next to this grave is that of Edward Harley who died in 1735. In the church are plaques recording the deaths of Charles Gwyer, killed in 1915 in the assault on Chunuk Bait, Gallipoli, aged 32, his Harley Tombbrother Cyril, killed near St Leger, France in 1918, aged 32 and his son, MonumentsGeoffrey, killed in Tunisia in 1943, aged 27. Other plaques record that 52 men of the village served in the Great War of which 12 did not return. Four were lost in the Second World War. On south wall of chancel are two wall tablets, commemorate John Greenly, died 1729 and William Greenly, died 1834. The Greenly’s occupied Titley Court to the south of the village. The east window was presented by William Greenly’s son in 1879 and the organ, with colourful pipes was installed around the same time.

Back down the road is the War Memorial in red sandstone surmounted by a Celtic cross. School Lane passes the old school and master’s house built in 1873. House Martins twitter as they fly past at speed. The lane joins Green Lane and curves round and past the modern village hall. The lane meets the main road again by the village pub, The Stagg, known as The Balance until 1833, became in 2001 the first pub in the United Kingdom to be awarded a Michelin Star. I chat with the hedge-cutter for a while, who has an old dog at his feet in the cab. Eywood Lane turns off a short distance away. Past a large stone estate farmhouse dated EBC GREENLY 1838. A Gatekeeper butterfly flits around the heads of Yarrow. Balance barns are a number of barn conversions. A late 19st century red brick lodge for the Eywood estate has a small brick shed with a chimney in the garden. Opposite is a meadow, lumpy from old clay pits, with a rise on which there is an overgrown orchard. Other fields are horse pastures. The next field has been ploughed and harrowed. A Common Buzzard flies off, harassed by a Swallow. Oaks stand in a long line across the field down to woodlands on the other side of the lane.

The lane descends gently past Titley Pool. It is one of a number of naturally formed lakes occupying hollows in the hills formed of debris from Ice Age glaciers. Cattle are in the shade of the trees by the water. A large old oak has fallen, its root disk some 15 feet high. Various squeaks come from the bushes. Then the tapping indicates a Blackcap. Wood Pigeons coo, a Raven cronks high overhead, a Ringlet butterfly lifts up from the lane. The large harrowed field continues, its top lined by a conifer plantation, Beech Wood. A female Bullfinch flashes across the lane. A cupola is the large Eywood stables can be seen through the trees. Eywood House, was built 1705, enlarged 1806-07 by Sir Robert Smirke, rebuilt and re-fronted between 1898 and 1908. It was the seat of the Harleys, earls of Oxford and Mortimer. The family were widely connected, and Byron was a visitor in late 1812. Lancelot “Capability” Brown visited Eywood in August 1775 but there is no evidence that he worked at, or advised on the gardens. When the sixth and last Earl died in 1853 the estate passed, with Brampton Bryan, to his eldest sister Lady Langdale. On her death in 1872 it passed to another sister, Lady Charlotte Bacon. Later it was sold to second Lord Ormathwaite. The Gwyers purchased Eywood in 1892, and held it until 1950. It then passed to Mr Vowells before the house was demolished and the estate broken up in 1954.

Back to the Stagg and down the main road. Most the houses here are 20th century. Titley House has a converted timber-framed barn.

Tuesday – Home – Yesterday evening dark, angry clouds crossed the sky but no much-needed rain fell. The sky is still overcast this morning and there is a short hint of rain but it comes to nothing. The area of the lawn we have left to create a wild flower meadow is mowed. One man went to mow, but no dog called Spot! It is hard work. It is firstly strimmed then mowed. There is a large amount of what could be good quality hay. Much of it goes into the chicken run, the rest into the compost bins. The area is then scarified. Tomatoes and courgettes are prolific. The Marjorie Pippin plum is heavy with ripening fruit – indeed one branch has broken under the weight of plums. The Gladstone apples are finished and the other trees are not yet ready. Blueberries are ready but they are all small. Brassicas – kale, winter cabbage and pak choi have germinated and are now growing, although the germination was patchy and the pak choi in particular will need digging out and spacing better. The pond is cleared of duckweed again.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Grey clouds are overhead on a muggy morning. Driving down A49 when suddenly a Weasel rushes across the road, its little legs whirring like a clockwork toy. Along the track at Bodenham lakes. A large patch of Ladies Mantle is in flower. Himalayan Balsam is spreading through the undergrowth unfortunately. The wild clematis, Traveller’s Joy or Old Man’s Beard, is also in flower. Sloes are turning dark blue; they are not numerous but large and juicy looking. A Green Woodpecker flies up yaffling noisily from the track at the end of the lake.

Out onto the meadow. A dead Mole lays by the path. Blackberries are ripening rapidly now. A Waisted Beegrabber, Physocephala rufipes is on a thistle head. Its larvae are endoparasites of bumble bees of the genus Bombus. Straggly stems of Red Bartsia have spread over a wide area in the west end of the meadow. Agrimony is still flowering. The hide has been closed because of the lockdown. The cider orchard has been mown and large rolls of hay lay scattered across it. Dessert apples are ripening and I gather a few but they are a bit sharp still.

Home – It is always slightly strange that a row of seeds germinate unevenly, so there is a bunch of good seedlings all together and then none for most of the rest of the row. As mentioned yesterday, this has happened to some pak choi and kale. So they are gently dug out and redistributed down the row. The soil they are going into is bone dry so they are watered well.

Friday – Llananno-Moelfe City – Although there is some cloud in the sky, it is warm and getting warmer. I park in a lay-by on the A483 at Pont Pugh, in Llananno. A slope to the west drops down to the Afon Ithon. Rosebay Willowherb and Meadowsweet flower on the verge. A lane climbs to the east past old quarries, although not that old as the faces are still sharp. Oaks cover the hillside, planted in maybe the mid 20th century. The wood is older, once called Penlan Wood, now Church Wood. In a valley to the north-west is a sheep pasture. A Common Buzzard sails overhead. Another exposed area of Silurian deep sea mudstone has the occasional fragment of shell in it. Past Maesllan Farm. An ancient Willow has a broken and hollowed main trunk but a number of well-leaved branches.

Northwards at a T-junction and down a hill. Black Knapweed attracts bees and Meadow Brown butterflies. The trees here are Beech, Ash and Hazel. At the bottom of the hill is Migram’s Bridge, a relatively modern construction over Migram’s Brook, which is a gentle trickle. The lane rises past rough pasture. Meadowsweet and Wild Angelica attract Bluebottle flies, hoverflies and bees. A yellow flower of the Daisy family is, I think, Marsh Ragwort. A Nursery Web spider, Pisaura mirabilis, is on a leaf with a large white egg sac beneath her. The lane rises past a modern house before dropping down past Criggin. Opposite is a large old quarry. Up again past another house, The Crugyn.


The lane turns sharply eastwards, then north again and continues to climb past another modern property. Swallows fly overhead and there are fleeting glimpses of Blue Tits in the hedgerows. Patches of Square-stemmed St John’s Wort grows on the bank. Betony, Tormentil, Yarrow, Black Knapweed, Harebells and the last of the Foxgloves are also in these banks. As the lane levels out, these disappear and are replaced by Creeping Thistle. Across the fields is a hill with the ramparts of Castell Tinboerth atop it. To the east stands a fragment of the now largely collapsed twin towered gatehouse. The castle was built on the site of an Iron Age hill-fort some time in the late 13th century probably by the Mortimers. In the early 14th century William Mortimer was referred to as William of Castell Tinboeth. The castle was still functional in 1316 and in 1322 was amongst those Mortimer possessions that were surrendered to the king with the disgrace of that family. After this, Wales was effectively conquered and there would be little use for the castle here. Below is the valley of the Afon Ithon.

The lane had been resurfaced recently. A large patch of Tufted Vetch is beside an old corrugated iron shed. Rich chestnut brown cattle lay in the field beyond. The flowers on the bank continue to change, the is the tiny pink flowers of Broad-leaved Willowherb and the dark red ones of Woundwort. My passing is watched by a Wren and a Great Tit. A family of the former are moving through the hedges and bracken. A section of hedgerow is densely covered in butter and coral Honeysuckle. Goldfinches fly off from a wire. The lane comes to a junction and my route heads eastwards which entails Moelfreclimbing again. Past a large bank of mudstone chippings which I scan unsuccessfully for any signs of fossils.

On up past Golsty, a farm. A Nuthatch calls from a roadside row of conifers. Past a lane which leads to Moel Willym, the most northerly of a row of rounded hills. The others are Pwll Tew, Gors Lydan and Moelfre Hill. A Red Admiral flits along the road. A grasshopper calls from the grassy verge. A farm, Little Crigau, lies down a track. The lane descends steeply past workmen filling holes in the road. Past Ty’n-y-rhyd (meaning “House on the Ford”) and a cattle grid being cleared by a gully clearing a lorry. The ford is up a side track where Migram’s Brook flows off the hill. The lane rises through hummocks carved by another small brook. The area to the east is called The Groes, The Cross, an open hillside covered in bracken.

The lane begins to descend high on the flanks of Moelfre, the southern-most hill. To the south-west are wooded fields and moorland with scattered houses in an area called Moelfre City. I cannot discover whether “City” is a corruption of another word or a wry joke. In a field, a tyre hangs from a rope attached to a beautifully domed Oak. The lane descends steeply. Past sheep pastures. Ewes and lambs run away, well-hung rams just stand with an “Any time you like, Matey” look on their faces. The lane passes City Shop, formerly City Farm, now a residence, a telephone box, no phone and a GR post box.

A bridleway heads south, unmarked but a path leads through the bracken. Into open rough pasture where thistles stands apart, socially distancing. Gorse is stunted close to the ground but still with numerous chrome yellow flowers. A Meadow Pipit flies off. Suddenly there is a newly surfaced road crossing moorland and I take it westwards. A Linnet perches on top of the sea of bracken. Small White and Peacock butterflies visit thistles. There is now a slight breeze which helps with the heat. An Outreach van and an engineer is doing something to what must be telephone cables by a gate, a long way Llananno

I often call there.
There are no poems in it
for me. But as a gesture
of independence of the speeding
traffic I am a part
of, I stop the car,
turn down the narrow path
to the river, and enter
the church with its clear reflection
beside it.

There are few services
now; the screen has nothing
to hide. Face to face
with no intermediary
between me and God, and only the water’s
quiet insistence on a time
older than man, I keep my eyes
open and am not dazzled,
so delicately does the light enter
my soul from the serene presence
that waits for me till I come next.

R. S.Thomas
from any habitation.

The lane bends round Drainllwynbir, Draenllwynbỳr on the old maps, a farm. On along the lane with hedges in each side. The hedge and verge beneath a telephone pole is splattered with guano. The lane emerges at the junction above Magrim’s Bridge. On down the opposite lane back to the main road at Pont Pugh.

A short distance down the main road from the lay-by is the church of St Anno down below the road. Through a kissing gate and through a tunnel through a wide hedge and into the graveyard. Iron railings surround a plot that is completely covered in Brambles. Another fenced plot is that of Richard Moseley of Criggin, who died in 1870. Most the other stones are illegible. The Rood Screenchurch is now managed by The Friends of Friendless Churches. It is open. It is a medieval church entirely rebuilt in 1876-7 in 19th century Gothic style by David Walker, architect of Liverpool. Glynne visited the church in 1851, observing the undifferentiated nave and chancel, a south porch and a wooden belfry. The west end was used for a school. There is a magnificent rood screen of around 1500. The bressumer trails with vines, pomegranates and water-plant issuing from the mouth of a wyvern. The screen was restored in 1880, when the pre-Reformation niches were filled with new figures by Boulton of Cheltenham. The screen was restored again in 1960. The plain octagonal font is 19th century. In the north-west corner is a late 17th century box pew, now a vestry, with simple geometric flower patterns, and a panel with “David Lewis Churchwarden 1681” in raised letters. Late 19th century pews have open backs and open arched ends. The pulpit, of similar date, has open arched panels on a freestone base. In the nave, on the north wall is a corbelled freestone wall tablet to David Morgan (d 1814) by Edward Stephens of Llandrindod. The chancel north wall has a marble tablet to Evan Stephens (d 1833), the south wall a freestone tablet to John Stephens (d 1875). Route

Sunday – Leominster – The sky is a uniform pewter grey. The temperature has dropped considerably since yesterday. The water level in the River Lugg remains low. Rust brown Dock is scattered across Easters Meadow. In a corner there is a large patch of Burdock with spiky green flower heads. Several large army Man flatbed lorries are in the compound at Brightwells along with the usual ambulances and private vehicles. The Sunday market has relocated but to the fields beyond The Wharf and I do not feel up to the trek this morning. The River Kenwater is also running shallowly.

Monday – Home – The temperature keeps rising and it is rapidly getting too hot to work in the garden. However, the beans need cropping. The last of the dwarf French beans, along with climbing French and runner beans are picked a five containers-worth are frozen. Tomatoes will have to be picked soon as there are dozens of ripe ones on the vines. They are almost all cherry varieties which do not lend themselves to preserving. The hoped for rain does not materialise although other parts of the country, and not far away, have violent thunderstorms and flash flooding. A couple of beetroot are dug for dinner.

Wednesday – Home – We watched a lightning map on the net last evening but all the storms were moving away from us. So of course, there was a spectacular lightning storm in the night which we both slept through. But there was no rain! A few patches are watered this morning and really some more needs doing. A Wren is hopping around the flower tubs and then retreats into the Ivy thicket around a dead pear tree. Long-tailed Tits are on the peanut feeder – they are rather less common in the garden than I would have expected. Blue Tits and House Sparrows are also filling themselves up.

I gather a trug of tomatoes. Two large roasting trays are filled and into the oven. The roasted tomatoes, with home-grown garlic and thyme, will be frozen. A fledgling Song Thrush stands on the path near the Howgate Wonder apple tree and just emits pathetic little cheeps. We walk right up to it and it just looks around in hope of seeing a parent. We retreat quickly and a few minutes later it hops into the bean patch, still cheeping. It is getting hotter and hotter. We spent the afternoon keeping an eye on the app that maps lightning in real time. We watched the storms approach through Hereford and it hit us around five o’clock. There was thunder, lightning and rain through until the early hours of morning.

Thursday – Leominster – Grey torn patches of cloud cover the sky. A thin, ethereal mist lays over the river valley. A Chiffchaff is still calling from the far side of the railway. It is still warm but the air is less oppressive. I gather some plums which gets me wet. Back through the churchyard.

Home – The garden looks refreshed. As usual, courgettes are running out of control and we now have a fine collection of large courgettes and marrows! One water-butt has refilled. It is less warm than yesterday but the humidity makes any movement uncomfortable. The plums make seven jars of jam.

Thursday – Capler – Having been pretty much grounded all week by a badly strained calf tendon, Kay and I go for a short walk on this south Herefordshire hill. Far below the River Wye follows great meanders, although the view is obscured by trees. Overnight rain has departed and Storm Ellen is approaching from the Blackthornwest. Gawky young Pheasants run around the road and risk getting flattened. We take the Wye Walk up towards the Iron Age hill-fort of Capler. Shiny black berries hang from large thickets of Laurel. A Raven croaks overhead and soars into view above the trees. A Jay is squawking nearby. Puffballs are emerging in the grass beside the track. A pair of Common Buzzards soar high above the hill. Blackberries are small and many are covered in mould, a product of the recent humid weather. Along past the high ramparts of the hill-fort and into the large pasture that is part of its interior. Purple-black Elderberries dangle and Blackthorn bushes are heavy with blue-black sloes. I manage to badly pull my damaged tendon again so we return to the car. A Spotted Flycatcher darts out from a stump of a branch on a tall conifer and returns.

Home – More fruit – raspberries, cultivated blackberries and blueberries are harvested. Lots of stalks of callaloo are cut and the leaves stripped. They are quickly pressure cooked and then frozen. The cloud is thickening and the wind rising.

Friday – Home – Shortly after midnight, Storm Ellen strikes with thunder, lightning and very heavy rain. The wind is roaring through the trees. By morning, the wind has dropped but the sky remains grey and angry. Several large courgettes are harvested.

Saturday – Home – I had left our car under a tree in the street for a few days. When I moved it this morning it was covered in sticky honey dew and a couple of dozen Common Wasps are feeding on it. Unfortunately for them, I wash the car off.

Sunday – Home – The rest of the potatoes are dug. It has been a mediocre crop but better than some years. The freshly dug ground has a sack of manure added and then the leeks are lifted from their nursery bed and planted out. For some reason, the runner and French beans are turning tough very quickly. The third sowing of peas are just about ready for harvest. It starts to rain. The grass is pretty much always wet nowadays and this makes cutting it difficult. However, it will need sorting out soon. The conker season is beginning with large, green spiky fruits scattered across the lawn.

The day had been a day of wind and storm;
The wind was laid, the storm was overpast,
And stooping from the zenith, bright and warm
Shone the great sun on the wide earth at last.

William Cullen Bryant

Tuesday – Home – The trees are being battered by the gales of Storm Francis. Heavy overnight rain subsides but the skies remain grey and angry. More conkers have come down. Trees are reported uprooted across the county. The runner bean frame has been blown over and some of the plants uprooted. Before the end of the day the storm has passed and sun returns although the wind remains lively.

Saturday – Home – My damaged Achilles tendon has meant no walking again this week. The weather has been changeable, although mainly wet. It seems ridiculous that at the beginning of the month the water butts were empty and the ground bone dry. Now all three butts are brimming and the ground is soaked. This morning is bright and sunny but a stiff wind shakes the trees. The grass is cut, it has grown long with the rain and warmth. Apples dangle all around the Howgate Wonder on long, too slender branches. The majority of the plums have been picked off the Marjorie Seedling – it has been a good crop despite losses to rot. I managed to get the runner beans upright again but the crop looks small. There is a much heavier crop on both the climbing beans and borlotti beans, both of which I am leaving now to harvest as drying beans rather than pods. A Chiffchaff is in a tree at the bottom of the garden alternating between calling a weak version of his onomatopoeic song and a gentle wheep.

Sunday – Bodenham Lake – Shortly after dawn. The car park is locked, so I leave the car at the top of the lane and crawl under the barrier. Swirls of mist drift across the lake like wraiths. I gather some sloes. Some bushes are laden, others barren. A couple of skeins of yelping Canada Geese fly over, about a dozen in each. A single Cormorant also flies past. A Mute Swan sleeps on the boating bay. Another is drifting down the main bay. There seem to be very few duck around. Into the cider apple orchard. A few trees have dropped some apples but not enough to be of any interest. Into the dessert apple orchard. I check a few windfalls. Some are pretty sharp but others are pleasantly sweet. A bagful is gathered.

Home – The tomatoes in the greenhouse are tended. All fresh shoots, and flowers or small fruits are removed. A few plants have finished so they are dug out. Various peppers are fruiting well – many small ones, some purple but most are still green. The numerous basil plants – some in the greenhouse, others in the cold frame – are pinched out. The resulting bunch of leaves is turned into cashew pesto. Some windfall apples are stewed into a pulp and frozen. The sloes picked earlier are pricked and put into a jam jar with sugar and topped up with gin. A young Blackbird has got itself trapped in the chicken run. It keeps trying to fly through the netting and trying to manoeuvre it towards the large hole in the top netting just causes panic, so I leave it. Half an hour later it has escaped.

A towering Wellingtonia in the garden of Dutton House, at the top of the street, has died. A large mobile crane has been brought in, South Street closed and a tree surgeon lowered into the top of the tree. Branches come off and it is slowly cut down. It is a sad loss as the tree was a notable feature of the area and one of the last. We think the huge stump in our garden was a Wellingtonia but when it was cut down, we know not.