December 2011

Thursday – Great Malvern – We visit this town and remember how it is attached to the side of the steep Malvern Hills as we puff up to the main Worcester road. We drop down into Abbey Road where there is the sad sight of a butchers, Cridland and Walker, which was established in 1830 and had London outlets, has closed down. A brasserie that opened in the premises has also closed “due to the turndown” according to a notice in the window. Further down the hill is Great Malvern Priory. A magnificent church which was founded by a Worcester monk, Aldwin, in 1085. He received a charter from MillenniumKing William I and built on land given by Edward the Confessor to Westminster Abbey, hence the Malvern priory became a Benedictine establishment. Inside we sit a while next to huge Norman pillars that line the nave. The pillar beside us has numerous masons marks which would have ensured the mason making that block got paid when it was laid. The pillars would have been plastered and painted in those times so the marks would have been covered up. The building was expanded considerably in the 1400s. The redevelopment, in the Perpendicular style, began in 1440 and finished in 1502. There was some damage during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, but the town people raised the vast sum of £20 to purchase the Priory. There were only some 105 families in the parish at this time and the money had to be paid in two instalments. The Priory also escaped the destruction of the Civil War but suffered neglect throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. Full restoration took place in 1860 under Sir George Gilbert Scott. In this case, Scott probably really did save the building. One of the Priory’s glories is its glass. The West Window was originally installed in the 1480s with glass donated by Richard of Gloucester who became Richard III. Much of the original glass has been either destroyed by the westerly winds or re-sited in other windows. However, there is still an impressive display of mediaeval glass depicting angels, saints and bishops. On the northern aisle, there is the Jubilee window, created to celebrate Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887. The main panel depicts Christ and side panels shows the people of the Empire in supplication. Three bottom panel depict Victoria, firstly the announcement of her accession in 1837, Glassthen her coronation and finally surrounded by her family, including her grandson, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, the only picture of him in a window in the country. Next is a mediaeval gospel window from around 1490. In the north transept is the Magnificat window given by Henry VII in 1501. It is made up of numerous scenes from the bible and includes the words of the Magnificat song from Luke chapter I. In the north-eastern aisle are two windows by Thomas Denny to mark the Millennium. The main East window is another superb array of mediaeval glass. From the top is the Annunciation, below it the apostles, then the Passion and finally at the base kneeling donors and benefactors. To the south is St Anne’s Chapel. We wait for a service to finish and then are treated to three wonderful 15th century windows showing scenes from the Old Testament. Between the sanctuary and St Anne’s Chapel is an Elizabethan monument to John Knotsford (died 1589) and his wife Jane Knightly (died1582). Knotsford presided over the disposal of the priory during the Dissolution and was instrumental in saving the church and its glass. Underneath the monument is a sunken chantry chapel. It contains two coffin lids. The first and better preserved is that of the second prior, Walcher of Lorraine. He was a renowned scholar and in the early 12th century made important astronomical observations and is considered to be Britain’s first astronomer. The lid is inscribed in Latin:

The second lid is that of William de Wykewayne, Prior in the 13th century. The south aisle contains a blocked up Norman doorway, another with toothed decoration stands at the entrance to the vestry. In the clerestory windows are the coats of arms of the donors for repairs at the start of the 19th century. In fact the money was wasted on these windows and pews instead of undertaking the much needed repairs to the roof. The pulpit is of oak and designed by Gilbert Scott. Here there is a mixture of Norman and mediaeval piers holding the tower. It is thought that the tower was leaning so badly in 15th century or that in fact the tower fell, leading to the rebuilding in 1440 onwards. It is possible the tower fell and destroyed the entire eastern end of the church which would explain why there is no Norman masonry in the choir and chancel. Around the chancel, on screens, is a large collection of mediaeval floor tiles, one of the largest and best collections in the country. The present floor tiles are 19th century Minton.

Friday – Leominster – Song Thrushes and Robins sing in the dark. A hint of dawn lays in the deep azure line above Eaton Hill. There is ice on cars in the car park. Two satellites pass. The one travelling north was the body of a Zenit 2 rocket which carried Cosmos 2227 a Russian Electronic and Signals Intelligence satellite launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in 1992. The one passing in the opposite direction is not so clear cut but would seem to be the debris of CZ-4, a satellite launched by China in 2006.

New Radnor – I commented in November 2009 on the sad state of the monument to Charles Cornewall Lewis, which stands on the road into New Radnor. It remained unrepaired as no-one would take responsibility for it. It seems that someone now has and scaffolding surrounds the monument and a stonemason’s board hangs there. The sky is grey and a strong wind howls. My route starts at Mutton Dingle. A fast flowing stream runs beside the road, access to buildings being over bridges. The road passes the castle mound and then some ruined stone sheds - maybe pig sties. A bridle-path heads on up the hill. The stream has created a deep dale, Cwm Broadwell, over the years. The track runs up the side of this valley, sunk in between high hedge mounds indicating its considerable age. Cottages dot the other side of the valley. One cottage has a fine modern timber extension. Nearby, around the source of the stream is a pleasant timber and stone chalet. I am not sure if it is newly built or a good barn conversion. On this side of the valley a reservoir lies on the side of Knowle Hill. MoorMoles have been busy in the fields with numerous mounds scattered across the grassland. The path reaches the top of the ridge and presents a view over the Walton Basin. A beautiful yellow and red Meadow Wax Cap, Hygrocybe pratensis grows by the path along with plenty of Grey Milkcaps, Lactarius vietus. A path leads into the woods. A Common Buzzard cries nearby. The rock is exposed on the path, layers of Ludlow Shale, Silurian siltstones. As the path climbs, so the views become more magnificent. Hergest Ridge, Old Radnor, Bradnor and Herrock Hills lie behind me with the Brecon Beacons peeping over one shoulder and the distant Malverns over another. The path joins a Forestry Parasoltrack. The open hillsides are flecked with sheep. Into young fir plantations. Twittering flocks of Crossbills fly to and fro. Up past a hill called Whimble. A Bronze Age round barrow can be seen on the summit. Up onto a moor which appears to be known as Whinyard Rocks, although the outcrop is on the southern edge of the moor. Two more Bronze age barrows sit on the skyline. Tiny patches of icy snow on the heather. The wind is bitter. Ravens fly over, calling. Finally I can see my furthest point, just as the clouds close in! A track drops into a valley. Notices declare the valley and a mile beyond to be a rifle range and test site for ammunition. A green track runs along the valley side, thankfully out of the full blast of the wind. As usual I am bemused that the tiny dribble of a stream far below, called Ystol Bach Brook, has eroded out this deep valley. A small clough comes down from Whinyard Rocks; below the path it is full of pieces of shale. Over on the far side, more shale filled cloughs descend the hill. The path passes a gap between Whinyard Rocks and Whimble exposed faces of weathered, layered rock are exposed with banks of scree beneath them. Across the valley Ystol Bach Brook flows into Harley Dingle. High above it is an impressive bluff called Great Greigiau. A large Parasol Mushroom, Lepiota procera, grows beside the path.The path swings round the Forestry Commission plantation to the opposite side of Cwm Broadwell, above the chalet. Down past the cottages where Blue Tits hop across hedges. Three Common Buzzards circle above the valley.

Monday – Croft – Bright sunshine and sudden showers starts a cold morning. A Common Buzzard is stalking the cow Fungusfield looking for worms or anything else edible. A Robin sings sweetly. Nuthatches call. Felled logs the top of the drive have sprouted bracket fungi which give the usual identification problems, enhanced even more by the different scientific names depending on which guide one browses. I settle on one of the Crepidotus family, although I am far from convinced . A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls in a very muddy Fish Pool Valley. Up the hill at the far end where a family of Wrens searches the undergrowth of Dog Mercury leaves and Brambles. I still have difficulty in naming the different hills to the west of Croft Ambrey. Hergest Ridge is fairly easy as the group of Araucaria on the top are clear. I need to establish the identity of the tall conical hill to the north of Hergest. I think it is in the hills south of Knighton. Ravens fly over, croaking. A log has numerous white tendrils growing out of it and this is a fungus whose identity I am more confident about – Xylaria hypoxylon, the Candle Snuff Fungus, also called Stag’s Horn Fungus. The first common name is because the fungus looks like a snuffed out candle wick, the second because of branches in it like a stag’s horn. Another fungus growing on dead tree trunks here is the Velvet Shank, Flamulina velutipes, a mass of golden caps.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The wind howled throughout the night and its destructive force is evidenced around the Grange with torn off branches and twigs. At Bodenham the wind is still fierce but the sky is blue and the sun, low in the eastern sky, is brilliant. Redwings, Blackbirds, Blue Tits and Chaffinches dash around the hedgerows. Two horses gambol around the paddock, one trying to tug off the other’s blanket. Numerous Cormorants are on the spit. One seems to have brought a fish ashore but soon loses it to a swooping Grey Heron. A few Mallard, Coot and Tufted Duck bob on the turbulent open water but most wildfowl are sheltering near or on the shores. A drake Goldeneye dives near the reed bed. A lone Wigeon ventures out into the bay by the spit, the main flock is on the spit. A Great Crested Grebe appears off the island. Blewits in the meadow have been crushed by the hooves of sheep and soaked by the rain. All the eating apples have now fallen but some cider apples remain.

Thursday – Mortimer Forest – The night was relatively quiet but the wind is rising. Dire warnings have been broadcast for Scotland and the north of England and Ireland – 165mph winds, rain and snow. A brief walk around the woods by the Black Pool car park. There are lots of fungi still growing, the relative mildness and damp weather is ideal. Most old stumps have their colony of Velvet Shanks. Older dead logs have ridges of Varicoloured Bracket, Coriolus versicolor, a small bracket fungus. Much of the woodland floor is utterly devoid of fungi, which tends to reinforce my idea that collectors frequent these woods. Bird life is also very sparse here. An old Golden Retriever trips over some broken branches trying to avoid Maddy, although she passes the old fellow with nary a glance

Friday – Hergest Ridge – The gales of the past few days have subsided leaving a strong breeze. It has turned much colder. Dark clouds still linger, indeed the western sky is black and rain starts to lash down. Cock Common Pheasants chase each other noisily. Rooks caw from the trees. The rain turns to hail. I turn back, I am simply in the wrong frame of mind for wet, cold and buffeting wind.

Home – A quick visit to the tree nursery where a first year plum – Marjorie’s Seedling – is purchased to replace the Yellow Pershore which failed to take. Marjorie’s Seedling is a late fruiting purple plum particularly good for cooking and jam. I plant it immediately and water it in. The garden is more or less closed down for the winter now. Garlic, red onions and broad beans are all looking good. Leeks, Pak Choi, chard and parsnips are all still thriving and will provide vegetables into the new year. We have cut the vines right back (actually Kay did most of it, I just pulled down the very top runners in the trees and cut the tendrils off the frame on the patio).

Pluteus umbrosus

Saturday – Nunney – Down to Somerset for the weekend. Peter and I head along Nunney Brook as it flows through a small dell. The path is a quagmire of mud and Maddy, Judith’s dog Cleo and Zebedee are soon nicely coated. A Common Buzzard flies through the trees. Many of these trees are covered in Ivy and ferns grow on the horizontal branches. The water in the brook flows clear and fast. A strange toadstool with a blackish network of scales grows out from the bottom of a fallen log. It is Pluteus umbrosus, which some call the Velvet Shield. We head up to the fields beyond the valley. Peter finds several sizeable clumps of Wood Mushrooms, Agaricus silvicola. Over the fields, clambering over locked gates, once an easy operation, now not so simple with unsteady limbs and complaining joints. Small flocks of Fieldfares chack in the trees near the quarry.

Wells – Over to the city of Wells. Henry and his family live near the back of the cathedral. We head down Tor Road and into a walk beside the moat that surrounds the Bishop’s palace. Across the fields, beyond the unsightly roofs of some industrial estate, is the distant mound of Glastonbury Tor. We pass through mediaeval walls into the market place. After shopping we head back across the green in front of the glorious front elevation of the cathedral. Past the museum where Henry works, through a gate house and back towards the house. Everywhere there are houses, terraces, squares of different periods from mediaeval through Georgian to Victorian.

Sunday – Nunney – It is a little later in the morning than usual as I take Maddy up to the field. Zebedee the Springer Spaniel came down stairs to say hello before we left but went back up to bed. Carrion Crows pass over, flying far apart but calling to each other. A Rook caws in the distance. A Song Thrush is singing lustily, but Blackbirds just chatter their alarm calls. Pete and Jo’s sheep are feeding on hay, these are last year’s lambs, the ewes are away to be serviced by a ram. A squadron of gulls flies over, probably Lesser Black-backs. Three peel off and head off in a different direction, making me wonder about the dynamics of small, loose flocks like this. There is probably a complex paper on the subject somewhere.

Whitesheet - We climb the wet, chalk-mud path towards the top of this wonderful West Wiltshire Down. My last visit here was in 1997. As I recorded then, the top is a superb example of man’s occupation of this landscape over millennia. A Neolithic causeway camp, Bronze Age barrows, an Iron Age hill-fort, a bowl barrow, probably that called Posses Hlaewe in CE940, an undated cross-ridge dyke, Barrowpossibly one mentioned in a Saxon Charter, a road, still a rough track across the Down, which was the main Exeter to London road in the 17th century, a milestone from the mid 18th century and a modern reservoir. On top the views are magnificent - Stourhead House stands behind us, Alfred’s Tower stands above surrounded by woods, hills roll off in every direction. The wind is blustery and sudden burst of rain lash us. We collect a decent amount of Blewitts. Peter comments that there are usually numerous Wax Caps up here but we find just one, a tiny intensely crimson cap in the grass. A post stands by the National Trust notice. It is old with fungi growing out of the top of it. The fungi are Gregarious Elf Caps, Mycena inclinatta, which only grow on oak, thus identifying the wood from which this post was made. As we head back down a Kestrel hovers below us.

Tuesday – Leominster – A brilliant near full moon, high in the sky, casts moon shadows but makes star gazing difficult. But Meteor 1-1 is clear to the west as it passes over swiftly, heading south. It was the first fully operational Russian meteorological satellite, launched in 1969, but is thought to have operated for just over a year.

Queenswood Country Park – The wind still blows strongly although far worse is being predicted for later in the week. A very few trees still have leaves although most are now start black skeletons against a blue sky. There are leaves on many trunks but these belong to the Ivy that cloaks them. In the Autumn Garden most Acers have retained their leaves despite them being brown and shrivelled. In open spaces the ground is sodden, squelching underfoot. A Common Buzzard calls as it flies away, unseen across the trees. Blue Tits chatter. The view from the lookout point is of hazy hills in a glare of diffused sunlight. In the playground, an Amey (the company who undertake all the work that Council workers once did) employee vigorously bounces a ride whilst another looks on with his clipboard - must be stress-testing!

Thursday – Croft – A cold air nips the fingers and face. It is quiet in the woods; if the weather forecasters can be believed, it is the lull before the storm. A Robin sings across the valley. Up through the Beech woods where Maddy gets excited by Grey Squirrels, not that she gets anywhere near them. Nuthatches call from the branches above. The copper leaves covering the ground are turning dark as they rot into leaf mould. A Grey Squirrel starts chattering which greatly increases the Nuthatch calls. Up to the Mortimer Trail. Many stumps and fallen logs have Candle Snuff fungus growing on them. It starts to rain. A large fallen branch at the top of the Fish Pool Valley, near the car park had set up expectation of much evidence of the recent gales but there is actually very little damage. From Croft Ambrey the distant hills are hidden in mist and cloud; the closer are hazy. Down to the Spanish Chestnut field. Aconbury Hill, far to the south, lies under thick cloud but is backlit by a sunshine glow. Shafts of light illuminate fields towards Weobley.

Sunday – Leominster – The forecasted snow storms did not really happen. Some places had some snow, here it was hardly a sprinkling, just enough to melt slightly then freeze into treacherous ice. This morning the sky is clear. The waning moon is half-full but brilliant white high above. There is a heavy frost and, at last, the ground on the Grange is frozen and one no longer sinks into the mud. Overhead JB-3, a digital imaging satellite launched by the Chinese in November 2004, passes over, winking as the sun catches it. The car-boot market is very quiet. It seems strange, one would think traders and people wanting to sell to catch the the Christmas trade would be out in force but most the regulars are missing and there are few private sellers. The chickens are still laying three eggs a day. I have the devil of a job cutting a sprig of mistletoe from high up the apple tree. Just hook a piece with the pole chopper and cut, but for some reason it just is not that simple. I get a piece in the end from much lower down. Bird seed is spread on the old stump, the peanut feeder filled and fat balls hung off the Ash tree.

Monday – Croft – Wondering what I am doing out here. It is cold, dark and raining. Patches of snow linger. A Common Buzzard falls forward off a branch, opens its wings and gently sails off across the fields. The cattle huddle together under a tree that gives little shelter and low mournfully. Large areas of ice cover the fish ponds. Jays squawk in the woods. Up a little used path in the general direction of the Keepers Cottage. The hillside has a number of fallen trees lying down its slope. Silver Birches are being demolished by the white cushions of Birch Polypore, a bracket fungus. The path becomes blocked by a number of fallen trees so it is necessary to join the path down the bottom of the valley, not easy descending on wet leaves covering wet clay. Past moss covered Elders, Ashes and Sweet Chestnuts. Something excites Maddy by moving away through a rhododendron thicket, probably a deer. Up a leaf and mud climb, churned by horses in a slippery morass and out onto a snow covered slope. The path emerges onto the track to the Keepers Cottage near its junction with the main Forestry track. Cloud and mist fill the valley and visibility is much reduced along the trail. Out onto the Spanish Chestnut field. The Arrow valley is dull and grey but beyond to the west, the hills and Black Mountains shine white with snow. Mistle Thrushes fly overhead. The farmer delivers a bale of silage to waiting cattle. Blackbirds chatter in the hedgerow.

Tuesday – Leominster – This morning’s space traveller is H-2A-RB. The H-2A is an active expendable launch system operated by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). RB indicates the object is a rocket body. This one was launched in September 2010.

Hereford – My first free bus journey now I have a bus pass. Not something I will do often as the bus company refuses to take dogs. So much more can be seen when one is not driving. Seven Common Buzzards in field south of River Arrow. Molehills like measles on Hope-under-Dinmore churchyard. An air vent for the railway in the trees on the west side of Dinmore Hill. The herd of swans to the north of Wellington gravel pits. A house on the west side of the A49 at Pipe and Lyde looks like it was built for something else and the old maps reveal it was a school. Holmer House can be seen from the bus behind its imposing hedge. It is a fine three storey country farmhouse dating from 1739. An earlier building preceded it. John Caldicott lived there in the late 18th century, marrying Mary of the Scudamore family of Kentchurch. He had inherited and assumed the name of Hereford and adopted their coat of arms.

Wednesday – Bodenham lake – It has become much milder overnight. Bodenham is quite noisy - the cockerel on the hill is crowing, Blackbirds and Redwings mutter, Robins sing and tits chatter. A Great Spotted Woodpecker stands alert on a branch on the edge of the orchard. A Jay flies over the village. A Nuthatch searches branches and Chaffinches the track. Goldfinches clamber over the dead, brown heads of Teasel. A birder is scanning the lake. He tells me an American Wigeon has been reported but he cannot find it. There has been one for some time at Wellington gravel pits so it may be that bird. There is, however a Green Sandpiper on the far shore. There are good numbers of Mallard, Wigeon, several Goldeneye and a Great Crested Grebe. Small numbers of Tufted Duck and Pochard dive to feed. A Green Woodpecker flies off from the sheep pasture towards the orchard. Sheep are now in the cider orchard. Down to Wellington to check the herd of swans I have seen from both bus and train. There are 95 of them, all Mute Swans including 35 juveniles.

Thursday – Leominster – The sky is mainly clear as Maddy and I cross the Grange. It is very dark but from today the hours of day start to increase. The lack of a moon increases the darkness. Two satellites pass over – both rocket bodies, CZ-4 RB, launched by China in November 2004 (although different information sources give different launch dates, different by some years and one states this rocket body was involved in a collision with a US rocket body in January 2005) and SL-8 RB, a Russian rocket launched in 2006. There is a brief flash as a meteorite appears in the western sky and is gone in a blink. Back on the Grange, a Robin sings sweetly. Pale clouds move in, eating the stars.

Friday – Bodenham Lake – It is a grey and wet morning. The boat-hard bay is busy with Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Coot, Great Crested Grebe, Pochard and Canada Geese. The sloping meadow is treacherous with slick mud. A Bullfinch slips quietly through the hedge. Rain falls harder. A large flock of Canada Geese head off noisily. There are far fewer Cormorants than in recent weeks, just three on the spit and a couple more in the trees. A Little Grebe swims at the south end of the lake. A Grey Heron is also on the spit, which is slowly disappearing as winter rains raise the water level. A female Goldeneye dives by the scrape reed bed.

Boxing Day, Monday – Windlesham – Yesterday we travelled across the country to Surrey for the family Pram RaceChristmas. We saw 14 Red Kites beside the M4 approaching Reading, a contrast having not seeing any during our last couple of journeys along here. Today we go off to the annual Boxing Day pram race in Windlesham. We stand outside the Surrey Cricketers pub. Being early the roads are relatively clear of people but as the prams start to arrive the crowds grow. As usual there are some superb efforts. A large expanded polystyrene Concorde, a gorilla in a bamboo cage, several George and The Dragons – one of the teams light a firework in their dragon’s mouth and the big, hairy “maidens” run off down the road screaming “a dragon, a dragon” whilst being chased by the said fire-breathing beast. Possibly my favourite is a group of mime artists with just the handle of a pram, the team of Marcel Marceau’s moving people out of the way of the imaginary pram.

Tuesday – Avebury – We take Kay’s son Tom to Avebury where we have lunch with his partner’s parents. We pause on the way at the Sanctuary, a ceremonial complex built some 4,500 years ago, initially with wooden posts which were later replaced by stone. It formed part of a processional way via West Kennet Avenue to Avebury Ring. WeeEverywhere one looks reveals history. Over the road, the Ridgeway, a prehistoric track passes several round barrows whist heading north. To the west lies the great and mysterious Silbury Hill, the largest man-made prehistoric mound in Europe, its use still is the subject of debate. To the south, another barrow rises as the land drops away to East Kennett. We meet at the Red Lion, a busy pub built inside the huge ring of standing stones. In the front bar is the village well, now covered by a glass plate and ringed in brass with the legend, “86 feet deep and believed to be the last resting place of at least one unfortunate villager”. The well is believed to have been sunk around 1600.

Wednesday – Croft – The early morning rain has stopped but the wind still growls through the tree tops. Nuthatches jabber and Jays snarl, no avian ballads here. Up the path towards the Keepers Cottage. Horses have churned up the path into deep mud. Cloven footprints of deer abound. The Nuthatches are even more vocal here along with chattering Blue Tits. A Song Thrush sings and Wrens tic, then all stop leaving silence broken by the distant cronk of a Raven.

Friday – Mortimer Forest – Up the muddy and slippery path from the Black Pool car park to the Iron Age enclosure. Out along the Forestry Commission track under the hillside and wood that lays between Hayes Park Wood and Sunny Dingle Wood. It is strange that the old maps show no name for this area; just about every other wood has its name! Everywhere is cold, wet, brown and dead. No birds to be seen and few can be heard, just the occasional squeak. Whilst I scan the Mary Knoll valley. Maddy decides to lay in a muddy water-filled rut in the track. The calls of Crossbills suddenly rings out but they remain hidden by the tall pines. Then a Raven croaks in the distance and silence falls for just a minute then loud voices are heard. I wander on around the track before espying a loudly talking couple with dogs. Maddy had a violent altercation with an out of control Alsatian near the Grange last night and I am not in the mood for another, so it is off up a track branching off of the main one. This track is rutted and muddy. It climbs and then turns back along the hillside. The track starts back down again but a spur climbs on up towards Climbing Jack Common. Again, Crossbills call loudly all around but remain hidden from view. The path is still muddy but much of it is thickly carpeted with pine needles. Whorls of Foxglove leaves have new leaflets in their centres. The path emerges onto the Mortimer Trail to High Vinnalls. The surrounding valleys are grey with mist. The hulking dark shape of Titterstone Clee stands on the skyline, but the hills beyond are lost in the grey. It starts to rain so we head down across the common back to Black Pool.