Wednesday – Home – The metrological start of winter. The morning starts milder than earlier in the week. A satellite passes over, designated SJ-7 and of unknown purpose, it was launched on 5th July 2005 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, China.
The day grows a bit colder. I harvest my chillies, although harvest is a bit of an exaggeration as the crop is poor and the chillies are tiny. There are up to three Grey Squirrels raiding the bird feeders now meaning daily filling is necessary. When the squirrels are chased off, Blackbirds, Robins, Blue Tits, Great Tits and the occasional Nuthatch come to feed. By the afternoon the sky is dark and a rainbow arcs over the Minster.
Friday – Leominster – Everywhere is wet from overnight rain. It is cool but some degrees above freezing. The sky is a mixture of blue and cloud. Over the railway. A Raven flies up from the tracks and off towards Eaton Hill. The River Lugg is flowing steadily. A Dipper flies a short distance downstream lands on the water then disappears below the surface. Blue Tits search the branches of an Ash tree. They depart and several Long-tailed Tits alight on the same tree. A Robin lands on one of the large rock blocking access to the bridge.
Into the Millennium Orchard where there are plenty of apples still on the ground for the Blackbirds and Redwings. Common Buzzard flies up from the ground and purchase on one of the Millennium stones. It deposits a streak of bright white guano on the stone before flying off into the churchyard. Work has begun on sawing up the fallen Yew tree. A Dunnock, Robin, Great Tit and Chaffinch all feed around its roots. A large Elder and other under growth has been cleared away revealing a simple cross. More Chaffinches, Great and Blue Tits are feeding in trees in the churchyard. The sun glances off the Yew trees painting them bright green as dark clouds move in from the north east. There seems to be Grey Squirrels everywhere under the trees. The tree that fell over the Polish grave has also been partially cut up revealing the tomb again. Ten Blackbirds are on the patch of ground or in the trees in front of the west end of the priory church.
Down The Priory to the Priory Bridge over the River Kenwater. The minster bells toll 10 o’clock. House Sparrows chatter in the gardens. The water level in the river remains low. A Common Buzzard flies towards the town centre.
Tuesday – Home – The early
When we shall hear
The rain and wind beat dark December, how,
In that our pinching cave, shall we discourse
That freezing hours away?
morning is dark but still. It grows light then darker again as Storm Barra (named by Met Éireann, the Irish National Meteorological Service) approaches. The wind rises. A Wren hops around the plant pots by the backdoor, then onto the window ledge under checks under the wood to see if any insects are hiding. It returns to the pots and works its way towards the garden. Rain starts to fall. It remains intermittent until the early evening when there is a very heavy downpour. Sheets of water pour down the street.
Friday – Bearwood – Off up Bearwood Lane from Dunkerton’s cider mill. The sun is shining but there is cold breeze and clouds are building overhead. Blackbird’s alarm calls ring out. An Ivy covered hedge hides the rows and rows of cider apple trees. The farmyard at The White House looks abandoned and much construction is being undertaken in the farmhouse. Buckthorn Cottage is timber-framed. The fields of mainly laid to grass with some autumn sown cereal. A few sheep are in the pastures. A Dunnock seeks food on the tarmac.
Into Lower Bearwood and eastwards at Bearwood Cross. A ruined building stands on the junction. The old OS Maps shows a smithy here. Opposite is a large cider orchard from which comes the chatter of Fieldfares. Unusually, the old maps show only a small orchard here, so the quite extensive area of orchard now must be relatively recently established. Lower Bearwood farmhouse has been much extended. Back to Bearwood Cross and down again towards Dunkertons. A Blue Tit searches the top branches of an Ash. A Robin is in the mud at the entrance to a field. A white flash is all that is seen of a Bullfinch disappearing into the bushes.
Past the large Dunkertons orchard again. This orchard is also not featured on the old maps, whilst further south around Luntley there were large areas of orchard where now there are none. Fieldfares, a Robin, Blue Tit and Ring-necked Pheasant feed under the bare trees. There are hardly any apples left for them.
Sunday – Leominster – The air is still damp but the temperature has risen. House Sparrows and Jackdaws make their presence heard. Wood Pigeons fly to and fro. The sky is mostly cloud lit up orange to the south-east. From the railway bridge the sun blazes through a thin gap between the hills and the clouds and the wet leaves gleam like fairy lights.
The water level in the River Lugg has risen considerably and it flows grey-green in colour. The tops of the tall Black Poplars shine yellow in the sun. Above them a Cormorant flies downstream. Long-tailed Tits squeak in the woodland. A Mistle Thrush rasps as it flies into a Black Poplar laden with Mistletoe. The high-speed firing of a Wren’s alarm call comes from somewhere along the river bank.
Back to the White Lion where the hanging basket holders each have a sprig of Mistletoe. Through Pinsley Mill. Two Cormorants fly north. One seems uncertain where it is going and is circling high above the river to the north before eventually heading south again. Several Chaffinches are in the orchard trees. Many Ladies Fingers apples are yet to fall although there is a fairly large amount on the ground. A Robin watches my passing; it is said they remain close to humans as they pass because historically they fed around herds of animals that kicked up insects and turned up the ground exposing food as they passed. Rabbits chase each other at the foot of the churchyard. A Magpie chatters in a tree above the overgrown pond.
Like the Lugg the River Kenwater has also risen and is flowing swiftly. The Minster bells ring out at 9 o’clock.
Home – The last row of bean sticks are removed and the rather extensive weeds are dug out. A male Blackbird with a bright orange bill is vigorously washing in a large plant pot dish that has filled with water on the patio wall. All the feeders are empty and after filling Blue and Great Tits move in quickly. The plastic compost bins need emptying into the big wooden bins but that will have to wait for another day. There is a small Rove Beetle species in the bin. With over one thousand varieties of Rove Beetle in Europe I am not going try a make a more accurate identification.
Monday – Leominster – Another grey damp mild morning. Even though the breeding season is some way off, Jackdaws still squabble over the best chimney pots. Over Butts Bridge, below the grey River Lugg flows steadily. A Common Buzzard flies in large loops over the A49. Under Mosaic Bridge. The paths are muddy and sticky.
A Chaffinch flies up into a bush. A Wren bursts into song. A molehill is spotted with rabbit droppings like a currant pudding. One wonders about the age of the trees in the horse paddocks. The base of the trunks are large but the multiple branches and trunks above clearly show years of cutting and breakage, I would guess 4-500 years. A small flock of Redwings flies out from Eaton Hill.
Some sort of large turquoise gazebo or tent has jammed under Eaton Bridge. It is hard to understand how rubbish like that gets into the river. A fair number of pears lay on the ground outside the house by the old A44. I recall that they are very dry textured and rock-hard which may account for why the birds have ignored them. A Dunnock squeaks as it moves through the hedges.
Over the old railway bridge and onto Worcester Road. A tree, some sort of maple, already has green buds on its twigs. On to the industrial estate. The large new unit is now being encased in aluminium sheets and the ground concreted. In the compound are three brand new concrete mixer units, one presumes to go on the back of new lorries. The amount of steel, both unprepared and that engineered into joists and columns for construction, has increased considerably in Dales’ compound. It seems clear they are moving out of Mill Street entirely. A Robin sings, the first bird I have seen or heard on the estate. Then a Pied Wagtail appears on Dales’ roof.
South to Broadward Bridge. The water level in the River Arrow has risen considerably over recent weeks. Pools of standing water have reappeared in the fields to the east of the bridge. Four adult Mute Swans and a brown cygnet are on the largest pool. Gulls fly westwards either singly or in a small flock. A Common Buzzard soars above Broadward Lodge causing over a dozen Jackdaws to rise up out of the trees, although they appear to do nothing about the raptor.
Back along Hereford Road and up to Cockcroft Lane. The wind is rising and the clouds are darkening. A large flock of finches flies along the top of the hill and disappears into the distance. Several Redwings fly over tsipping as they do so. From top of the hill view to the west is clear although cloud sits on the Black Mountains. Yet again the path is almost blocked by a fallen ivy-clad tree.
Home – For quite a few years clematis has been in a pot beside the wall that separates our path from the old stables, now part of the museum. It has steadily climbed the wall but never flowered, but now there are numerous pretty little flowers on it, white with yellow pistils, a December treat!
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The mild, grey weather continues. Chaffinches pink around the car park. The bushes down the track are quiet, just the odd Blackbird flits across. The lake is likewise quiet with just a few Canada Geese and Mallard around the islands. Chaffinches and Blue Tits are in the trees leading to the meadow. A Bullfinch flies in. He is so neat and pristine with his rosy pink breast, jaunty black cap and soft grey back in contrast to the dead, rotting leaves and grey branches. A Green Woodpecker yaffles loudly in the trees beside the meadow.
There are around twenty Mute Swans on the lake, ten take off and head south towards Wellington gravel pits. Several dozen Canada Geese are together on the small island in front of the new hide. Mandarin Duck, also numbering around twenty, fly around the lake calling with strange little noises. They eventually settle and others join them making about thirty in all. A fair number of Mallard are at the western end. Five Greylags swim out into the centre of the lake, nearby is a single female Goldeneye. There is a glimpse of copper on the far side of the lake as a Ring-necked Pheasant stalks into view. Moorhens feed by the scrape.
Back to the meadow where a Great Tit is intermittently calling his two tone song. Fieldfares are in the cider orchard feeding on the large quantity of rotting fruit.
Sunday – Leominster – Dawn arrives shrouded in mist. Down the street slowly as I ruptured the muscle in my calf again Friday morning. Jackdaws squabble over spilt chips. House Sparrows are noisy in the hedge beside the alleyway leading to Caswell Crescent. Onto to the railway bridge. The northbound stop signal glows red through the fog. A Song Thrush sings briefly, Wood Pigeons huddle on tree branches, a Blue Tit chatters. Onto Butts Bridge. A Common Buzzard flies out of riverside tree and heads down stream. The water level in the River Lugg has fallen slightly over the week.
Back round to Pinsley Mill. Robins sing. A Grey Squirrel runs through Silver Birch branches. A Magpie searches for food. The Paper Birch trees stand ghostly white in the Peace Garden. The River Kenwater flows swiftly, gurgling over hidden obstacles. Into the churchyard. A Nuthatch calls. The the microclimate around the Polish statesman’s grave has obviously change since the great tree above it fell in the recent Storm Arwen. The tomb is slowly turning green with algae.
Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws sit silently in the tall tree by the Forbury seemingly waiting for the sun but it will be a long time coming, if at all, today.
Monday – Home – Kenny, the tree man, comes to sort out some of the trees in the end section of the garden. Several evergreens have grown too large and sprawling for the space, a curly Hazel has numerous rogue trunks that have grown straight, the other Hazel needs coppicing and the dead Worcester Pearmain apple needs to come out. He and his team do the job with great efficiency.
The local Grey Squirrels are now a considerable nuisance, emptying the feeders every day and stopping the birds feeding. But at the present, there does not seem to be an answer.
Leominster – The Carols by Candle Light concert is on tonight after being cancelled because of the pandemic last year. We enjoy singing old favourites and the Leominster Choral Society regale us with some well-known and some lesser known carols.
Tuesday – Home – The Winter Solstice – we can now look forward to more light and less dark – maybe. The bird feeders are empty again and two fat Grey Squirrels wait for them to be filled. I decide this has gone on long enough. The solution to the seed feeder is simple, move it further away from the trees so the squirrels cannot jump onto it. There is a plant pot dish around the pole which acts as a barrier so they cannot climb the pole to the feeder. The peanut feeder is only slightly more time consuming – it has no barrier. A large plastic lid from a fertiliser bin has a hole drilled into it and is fitted over the pole. The feeders are refilled. A short time later a Grey Squirrel comes for a mid-morning snack and is somewhat perturbed by the new arrangement. It does not take long, a bit of running up and down trunks and branches and the reality sinks in – no free food! Off it goes into other gardens for an easier snack.
Leominster – The town is getting busy as Christmas Day approaches. There is a queue at the greengrocer and Clive tells me they have been pulled out all morning. I make my purchases but will have to return tomorrow for more.
Wednesday – Home – Out to the chicken run to change the newspaper that lines the chicken house. It is immediately obvious that something has been digging under the fence. It then, to my dismay, is evident that one of the Warrens is missing. It can only be a Fox! I block the hole with bricks, jammed in by sledgehammer and brick up another weak spot. I suspect the missing hen was the one who seems (or seemed) reluctant to go to bed and often got stuck outside the door when it automatically closed. She was likely the only one in lay at present. (An egg appeared today, Thursday, so it seems not.)
Annoyingly, the Grey Squirrels can get around the baffle to get to the peanuts. Some grease band is tied around the pole so see if that will discourage them until a new, larger baffle is made and fitted.
Leominster – By early afternoon the air has warmed slightly from the frosty start of the day but it is still cold. A thin orange glow lays above the hills to the south, the rest of the sky being a mottled grey. Just a few cheeps and chirps mainly from Blue Tits come from the woods. The water level in the River Lugg continues to fall slowly but rain is forecast so it may rise again in the very near future.
The White Lion is busy, a hopeful sign for them as Government confusion on Covid restrictions is badly damaging the hospitality business. Just a few Blue Tits and Blackbirds flick along with trees on the opposite side of the track from Pinsley Mill. There is a song, Goldfinch I think, from a thicket. Into to the Millennium Orchard where Blackbirds feed on fallen Dabinett apples. The River Kenwater looks unchanged, still flowing swiftly and grey.
Into the churchyard where the Nuthatch is still calling. Rain falls heavily in the late afternoon.
Christmas Eve, – Home – No white Christmas this year. They sky is leaden and drizzle falls intermittently. Blue and Great Tits are constant visitors to the seed feeder and fat balls. The baffle on the peanut feeder has not yet been sorted so I leave it empty. A Grey Squirrel sits on the stone base of the sun dial nearby, maybe pondering on its failure to get to the seeds.
This poem still seems relevant:
Near Clapham village, where fields began,
Saint Edward met a beggar man.
It was Christmas morning, the church bells tolled,
The old man trembled for the fierce cold.
Saint Edward cried, “It is monstrous sin
A beggar to lie in rags so thin!
An old gray-beard and the frost so keen:
I shall give him my fur-lined gaberdine.”
He stripped off his gaberdine of scarlet
And wrapped it round the aged varlet,
Who clutched at the folds with a muttered curse,
Quaking and chattering seven times worse.
Said Edward, “Sir, it would seem you freeze
Most bitter at your extremities.
Here are gloves and shoes and stockings also,
That warm upon your way you may go.”
The man took stocking and shoe and glove,
Blaspheming Christ our Saviour’s love,
Yet seemed to find but little relief,
Shaking and shivering like a leaf.
Said the saint again, “I have no great riches,
Yet take this tunic, take these breeches,
My shirt and my vest, take everything,
And give due thanks to Jesus the King.”
The saint stood naked upon the snow
Long miles from where he was lodged at Bowe,
Praying, “O God! my faith, it grows faint!
This would try the temper of any saint.
”Make clean my heart, Almighty, I pray,
And drive these sinful thoughts away.
Make clean my heart if it be Thy will,
This damned old rascal’s shivering still!”
He stooped, he touched the beggar man’s shoulder;
He asked him did the frost nip colder?
“Frost!” said the beggar, “no, stupid lad!
’Tis the palsy makes me shiver so bad.”
Christmas Day, Saturday – Home – No white Christmas here. The sky is steel grey, everywhere wet after overnight rain and a slight breeze. It is also mild. House Sparrows, Blue, Great and Coal Tits are visiting the seed feeder in quick succession. Grey Squirrels chase one another up and down the Ash tree.
Monday – Leominster – Today is another Bank Holiday, substitute for Christmas Day which fell on a Saturday. Another grey, mild morning with vague drizzle which soon turns to light rain. The water level in the River Lugg has risen considerably and it now flows a thick looking grey-brown colour. Across Easters Meadow to the A49 which is busy. Into to Easters Wood where the logging contractors have turned the tracks into quagmires. The woods are quiet although there is barely a moment when one can hear anything over the traffic noise. A sawn off branch is bright blue green with lichen.
Round to Mosaic Bridge and back across Easters Meadow to Butts Bridge. On to Pinsley Mill. House Sparrows chirrup energetically in bushes. The bright pink breast of a Bullfinch shines from within a grey Hawthorn. Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons sit hunched and silent in the rain. A Dunnock is on a twig above the railway line looking this way and that. A South Wales train passes slowing for the station with just a few passengers aboard.
Into the Millennium Park. Blackbirds continue to feed on the fallen cider apples. The River Kenwater is flowing fast and grey-green. The Manchester bound train heads north. Through the churchyard to the accompaniment of Robin song. As usual there are a good number of Blackbirds in front of the western end of the Priory church. The removal of a number of large bushes on the edge of the churchyard has revealed at the end house in Church Street has four bricked up windows in its eastern end. There is another on the front of the house. The town is quiet.
New Year’s Eve, Friday – Malvern – A blustery wind goes dark grey clouds across a pale grey sky. In the south east the sky shines a blazing orange with the rising sun. Into Malvern and I park up in the strangely named Hornyold Road, (the name it transpires is an old Worcester family, John de Hornyng Wold, a former Saxon chief, being hanged in 1068 for agitating against the Normans). Behind houses to the west are the cliffs of an old quarry on North Hill. The houses are from various decades of the 20th century. Passed a small green area of trees to the main A449, Worcester to Ledbury Road. On the junction stands the Holy Trinity church and church hall. The church was built in 1850–51 with money raised by subscription. It was designed by Samuel Daukes and enlarged in 1872 by George and Henry Haddon 1872 with more additions in 1909. On the opposite side of the road is a stone with a plaque commemorating the memory of those from Trinity Ward were killed in the World Wars.
The road enters Great Malvern. To the east the land drops away and then stretches out across the plain of the River Severn to the Cotswolds. To the west is a large thatched house with Gothic glazed windows, Lodge Cottage built in the early 19th century and then modern housing back to the foot of north hill. A former Police Station has modern wings attached and the whole is now apartments. Still at the top of the steep bank that drops down to the River Severn plain. Large late Georgian and Victorian villas line the east side of the road. In a garden are several dozen fallen apples; strangely hardly any touched by birds. The late Georgian Oriel Villa has castellations. In 1881 wealthy widow Celia Jane Taylor aged 53, born Stourport, was living here; her occupation was described as income from dividends and insurances. She died at Brighton in 1890.
The road now enters the centre of Great Malvern. Shops are at the foot four storey Victorian buildings. Behind is the United Reform Church with its tower surrounded by scaffolding. Past more shops, former banks and the 16th century The Unicorn pub. The road crosses the top of the main shopping street and the former Post Office. Into Rose Bank Gardens which were presented to the town in 1918 by Charles William Dyson Perrins. A large metal statue of two buzzards by the sculptor Walenty Pytel stands in the centre of the gardens. The view from the gardens is dominated by the Priory Church and its associated buildings.
On along Wells Road. Warwick House is a vast former Victorian department store now apartments. It was built between 1846 and 1888, established in 1833 as a drapers and expanded in the 1840s/50s but closed in 1992. Large Victorian and Georgian houses continue along the road. The Emmanuel Chapel, described as “reformed episcopalian church of Emmanuel” was built in 1874, by George and Henry Haddon on the site of 1827 Countess of Huntingdon Connexion; windows below road level may be from this building. The road divides with one taking traffic over the Malvern Hills to Colwall and the other continuing towards Ledbury and Hereford. The temperature is remarkably high for the time of year and it would appear that this New Year may be the warmest on record. The huge buildings continue on down the road some being former hotels for those “taking the waters” at Malvern.
Wells Road enters Malvern Wells. A stone milestone with a cast iron plaque records “To Worcester Cross 9 miles”. The two tone call have a Great Tit rings out from the trees. Lamp standards along the road are still powered by gas. The road is passing through a large area of common land. A Song Thrush is singing, albeit rather tentatively. The sun breaks through over the Severn plain but the Cotswolds are shrouded in mist. Old Wyche Road climbs into the hills. A short distance along Old Wyche Road is Lower Wyche Spout and Trough which is a stone and brick construction housing a spring, erected for the inhabitants of the neighbourhood by Charles Morris Jr Esq in 1840. Further up the hill is another stone building dated 1896, the former Wyche Pumping Station. It is now a residence.
Back down to Wells Road past the Wyche Institute and the Wyche Primary school of 1885. A short distance on is All Saints Church with a foundation stone of 1902. It was built by a local builder, William Porter, to a design by Troyte Griffith – a friend of Edward Elgar who is depicted in the “Enigma Variations”. Next to it is the Railway Inn. The houses here are early 20th century some with a hint of the Arts and Crafts, although one large house on the hill is very much of that genre. A number of house are faced with a mosaic of stone. The road is now above the tunnel that takes the Worcester line underneath the Malvern hills. A footpath heads down the hill. Ahead across the valley is a large white ferris wheel. Several Robins are singing.
The footpath enters a golf course and runs down to a modern clubhouse then turns North. Following the paths, across a stream pouring down from the direction of the hills and out into another path. It shortly passes under the railway line. On through a modern housing estate. The road enters Peachfield Common via a cattle grid although I suspect there had been no animals (other than numerous dogs) on this common for many a year. The sun is now shining brightly and I am over dressed for the warm weather.
Along Peachfield Road and over railway line. A Hereford bound train clatters by. Into St Andrews Road. An abandoned railway line is barely discernible running alongside the road. It was the Midland Railway Ashchurch, Tewkesbury and Malvern Branch, opening in May 1864. The Malvern to Upton-upon-Severn section was closed in December 1952, the remainder closed to passengers in August 1961. St Andrews Road is a long straight thoroughfare heading towards the centre of Great Malvern. The houses grow progressively older as it proceeds into the town, although there is plenty of modern infilling. A large estate is being constructed to the east of the road. The Fountain Inn closed and turned into a shop that is now completely abandoned. It has a fine stone carved plaque above the main window dated 1898. St Andrews Road becomes Court Road. A 17th century timber-framed thatched cottage has been extended over the years and new build on site. Another two 17th century timber-framed houses are opposite a rendered pair of cottages whose irregular roofline suggests they have some age. The road turns past 20th century buildings.
Into Christ Church Road. A stupid Wood Pigeon flies off a gatepost almost hitting me in the head. Into Avenue Road where Christ Church stands. It was built in 1875 by T D Barry and Sons Ltd of Liverpool to serve the expanding suburb around the recently opened station. It was founded by Lady Emily Foley, the Lady of the Manor at a cost of £8,000-£9,000. The sun is slowly being swallowed by thick black clouds. The road is line by large Victorian houses and Malvern St James Girls School. The school building was formerly the Imperial Hotel built in 1862 to the design of E W Elmslie, and the first to be lit by “incandescent gas” and to be equipped with all types of baths. Brine was brought specially by rail from Droitwich. It has been a school since 1919. Over the railway line again. Below is the corrugated iron tunnel as allowed passengers from the Imperial Hotel to access the platforms of Great Malvern station which lies on the other side of the road.
Beyond the railway bridge is the Edinburgh Dome, a sports hall which is a rare surviving Parashell form and opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1978. It is surrounded by a moat on which there are a large number of Mallard. Into Imperial Road. Between the Dome and a large modern apartment block is a wall that was clearly part of a large walled garden with the gardeners sheds still standing. Into Church Street Which rises past large former hotels to Malvern Priory and the A449. The town centre is now very busy. Back along the main road to Hornyold Road. Route
Home – And so another weird year draws to a close. One always likes to think next year will be better but so much seems to be getting worse. It would probably be a poor choice of words to say progress on climate change is glacially slow, but there is little chance of keeping the planet from over-heating at the rate we are going. Covid-19 is still causing the whole world problems, particularly as the rich countries put profits for the few ahead of vaccines for the many. The world’s largest countries are becoming evermore chaotic with Russia and China descending in ever more authoritarianism and the USA more divided than ever. And here we are led by utter incompetence and corruption. Happy New Year!