Monday – Radnor Forest – Common Buzzards sit on telegraph poles along the A44 near New Radnor. More circle the hills behind the village. The scent of wood smoke permeates the air. Tatty tailed Carrion Crows fly over. Nuthatches call from the trees on the castle mound and a rosy-breasted Bullfinch flits across the road. The Radnor Hills are a dirty white with a thin layer of snow. It is around freezing this morning and the sky is a uniform grey. Only one slope of Cwm Broadwell is snow covered and tracks in it indicate that sledging had been enjoyed over the weekend. Blue Tits forage the trees, keeping in touch with piercing whistles. A Red Kite circles the top of the cwm. The mud is frozen only in places, often the for sinks through. Up through the woodland art the top of the valley. A Raven sits in a pine making a strange hiccuping sound. Into the Forestry Commission plantation. Dead Dock plants are still shedding tiny seeds which dot the snow. The snow becomes deeper just before the track across the hill. Apart from humans and their dogs the only other tracks in the snow are the occasional rabbit. On up between Bache Hill and Whinyard Rocks. Behind, billowing white clouds are building over the snow covered Brecon Beacons. At last the path stops climbing as Black Mixen comes into view. However this does mean I am now heading into the face of the bitter wind. Across to the gate at the top of Ystol Bach through some deeper snow. There is silence up here, not a squeak or whistle. The track has snow drifted but not deep. Further down the track at the junction of the track between Whinyard Rocks and Whimble, the flowing water of Ystol Bach Brook is heard; it looked frozen further up the valley. A Common Buzzard flies into a stunted Hawthorn deep in the valley. A pale sun glows through the cloud. A pair of Ravens circle the Harley Dingle and Kestrel hovers over the heather. Carrion Crows call from the Cwm Broadwell trees. Walking down the road is difficult as the snow has been compacted by vehicles into ice. The top end of a board running up a half end has cracked leaving a gap which is being inspected by both a House Sparrow and a Blue Tit.
Tuesday – Home – A cold but dry morning. The first bean trench is full of kitchen waste, chicken waste and shreddings so it is filled in and the next dug. Then I start on pruning the fruit trees. Little is done with the Gladstone other than one group of branches going in the wrong direction across the crown are all removed. Down to the new trees. The Worcester Pearmain is just clipped slightly. Several large low branches are taken off the Herefordshire Russet. This is a bit more of a drastic decision because one of the branches bore a lot of fruit last year, but it really is in the wrong place and needed propping up as the apples were too heavy. The gage, plum and pear are all given a bit of a trim. There are three long stems rising from the pear so two are removed. I then cut the apricot back severely. It has grown up through the fruit cage netting and gave no fruit at all last year. So it is brought back into the confines of the netting. The prunings are cut into pieces, leaving larger ones for pea sticks.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – The sun is blindingly bright, the sky azure and the air freezing. The lake is frozen over. The organiser of the sailing club tells me the ice is an inch or more thick – thick enough for skating but also thick enough for dogs to run out over it and fall in where the ice will be thinner in the centre of the lake. We discuss the possible impending take over of here and Queenswood Country Park. He notes that the Government inspectors have stated that anyone taking over the running of the sites must be independent to the Council and he reckons New Leaf, the preferred organisation, seem to be funded by the Council! He relates the problems he had with the Council over getting the sailing centre opened and how he had to call on the offices of the Lord Lieutenant to sort the Council out. The meadow is frozen hard. There is a fair sized area of open water in front of the hide and it is teeming with wildfowl – Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Mallard, Wigeon, Coot, Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Teal and a single Goosander. There are over 100 Wigeon standing on the ice and many more in the water. The Canada Geese are fractious, with much neck waving, head bobbing and yelping. More come in, landing in an ungainly fashion on the ice. A Coot pinks anxiously as it finds itself submerged in a flock of Canada Geese and it is looking this way and that before finding an escape route. Wigeon are whistling and also being argumentative. There appears to be just a single Cormorant in the trees. Back out by the edge of the Alder coppice a Sparrowhawk explodes out of the trees and along the edge of the pasture sending a Blackbird fleeing with loud calls of alarm. Once the accipter has departed, Great and Blue Tits start chattering again. Yellow catkins dangle bringing the hope of spring.
Friday – Stretton Sugwas-Byford – A cold wind blows across the flat plain of the River Wye. The sun is bright. I park in Stretton Sugwas. The first part of the name is easy, Street from the Roman road from Gloucester to Llandovery. Sugwas appears to come from sucga which is Old English and refers to the name of a bird, e.g. hegesugga is Hedge Sparrow. Was is from Old English again, wæsse meaning swamp. In other words, the place where birds gather in a swamp. At Domesday the village was held by Roger de Lacy and consisted of two and a half hides paying geld, in demesne there was 2 ploughs, 1 villain, 9 bordars, 4 oxmen, and 2 radknights, as well as a mill rendering 32d. From Stretton Sugwas a lane heads towards Barnfield. To the north the wooded hill of Credenhill stand dark overlooking the home of the SAS. Robins sing in the hedgerow. A single Fieldfare, a Magpie and a Carrion Crow stalk a field. Gunfire comes from the army camp. Barnfields consists of a couple of bungalows are pre-Second World War, a strange house called Corngreaves that are now offices for a passenger transport company and a small estate of modern bungalows. Over a railway bridge of the abandoned Hay and Brecon railway line. The lane passes close to the firing range, the noise is deafening. On the other side is Brockhall Quarry, large flooded workings. There are surprisingly few wildfowl present, just a few Coot and Tufted Duck. The Roman road is lost temporarily here. A Mistle Thrush sings lustily, hidden in thick Ivy. The lane is now muddy with a few cobbles showing. It is back on the line of the Roman road, more or less. Past a frozen pond where a small flock of Black-headed Gulls stand on the ice. Bullfinches appear and disappear again in the twinkling of an eye. Noisy Canada Geese fly in. The track joins the road from Credenhall. To the east is a field in which a Common Buzzard stands. To the west a slight earthwork running around a field marks the footings of the walls of the Roman town of Magnis. The lane joins another and I turn westwards. Ahead is Garnons Hill. To the south-west the Black Mountains are still snow covered, laying across the horizon like a vast iced cake. I stand and check the map and am deposited upon by a bird in the tree above, supposed to be lucky I believe! White horses are drinking from a large pond in the field opposite. The road rounds westwards. Another large pond attracts the attention of a skein of Canada Geese. A Song Thrush is searching the short grass.
At a road junction in Kenchester stands Lady Southampton’s Chapel. This chapel was built in 1830 by Frances Isabella, Baroness Southampton. She was influenced by Wesley and hoped to improve the condition of the poor by setting up two chapels with schools attached at Kenchester and Breinton. The school is now a private residence. Nearby is a late 20th century large timber-clad house prosaically called The Residence. Next to this is a short terrace of cottages. As well as the Canada Geese, the pond has attracted Coot, Mallard and Black-headed Gulls. The lane passes the Old Rectory, as usual a very fine, large house. Redwings, Blue Tits and Magpies occupy the roadside trees. Through Bishopstone, a largely 20th century hamlet with the older Bishon Farm and a forge and a couple of old cottages. By the forge is a block of almshouses with the plaque, “The gift of Anne Berrington of Bishopstone, Spinster 1723. Rebuilt 1910 on site presented by The Revd GH Davenport and his Son”. The orchard at Bishon Farm is full of mistletoe. It is getting cloudier and colder. Bishopstone House has a gate lodge worth a plaque, “R.L.F. 1842”. The house is set back from the road and mainly hidden by trees. Behind it are the remains of a Roman villa. The lane crosses the Mansell Lacy lane and proceeds past fields of winter cereal containing small flocks of Fieldfares and the occasional dwelling. Some like Downshill House are substantial buildings. Downshill Coppice is edged with a white and green carpet of Snowdrops. Ahead is the ridge that stands above Golden Valley and ends in Moccas deer park. The Steppes is a half-timbered house just before Home Farm. The lane turns sharply southwards leaving the Roman road and joining the busy A438. It appears an older lane curved eastwards of this one. Some large old Oaks stand across parkland called The Lawns. A gate lodge in the Victorian Gothic stands at the road junction. The large house of Garnons can now be seen across the parkland. Garnons was the seat of the Cotterell family. Sir John Geer Cotterell was MP for Herefordshire and created a baron in 1805. Recently, the family have lived at Downshill House mentioned above. The estate was inherited by John Geers Cotterell in 1790. Humphry Repton produced a Red Book of recommendations in 1791, which were carried out. The house was remodelled by William Atkinson from 1815. Substantial parts were demolished in 1957.
A lane heads south to Byford. There was a Roman marching camp here as the Wye can be forded, hence the name. It was held by Ailward in 1066 and after the Conquest passed through the Norman lords of de Laci, Devereux and Baskerville before ending with the Cotterells. Past another large, square Old Rectory and down to St John’s Church which stands opposite Byford Court, which was built in the 16th century, extended and partly refronted in early 17th century and again in 1761. It was the old seat of the Gamond family. St John’s church was started in the 12th century. The building was extended in the 13th century and a small tower added. The chancel was extended again in 1300 and the south porch added around 1370. The steeple began to collapse in 1701 and was replaced in 1715. The Victorians restored the church in 1851 and 1882. Few parts of the 12th century church remain except a small window in the north wall of the nave and some corbels by the chancel arch. The roof is a pent-roof with cusped braces of the 15th century. In the south transept are wall painting from the early 15th century rediscovered in the late 20th century. One is of St Margaret, another St Michael weighing souls and another the Virgin Mary as the Mater Misericordiae. A painted canopy would have framed a statue of the Virgin and Child. Two large monuments of the Cotterells are on the south aisle wall, moved here in 1974 when the church at Mansell Gamage was closed. The font is dated 1638 and there are two donations boards on the west wall dating from 1702 and 1746. Snowdrops are flowering profusely in the graveyard.
Back up to the Roman road. A house that stands just beyond the bend in the road has a dressing of small stones set in a mosaic pattern. The whole looks decidedly Arts and Crafts, but seems to be at least half a century earlier. The gunfire from Credenhill camp can still be heard although I am now four miles away. A hole in the hedge reveal half a dozen Common Pheasants, mainly females, scurrying up a field of crops. At the crossroad I detour south to St Andrew’s Church at Bridge Sollars but unfortunately it is locked as it is now a community centre. There are a couple of typical Herefordshire school carvings of the 12th century by the main door, a dragon and a face with wurms issuing from his mouth. The bridge dates from 2004, replacing an 1896 one. The map shows a pub a couple of hundred yards along the main road but when I get there I find the Lord Nelson antiques centre and coffee shop, the pub another victim of the Tories’ “liberalisation” of the brewing industry. I stomp on a short distance to a footpath across the fields to Bishopstone. The footpath rejoins the Roman road by the almshouses. A flock of several hundred winter thrushes pass over. Rooks sit in pollarded willows in an area of marshy field in front of Court Farm, Kenchester. The lane leaves the route of the Roman road as at the Credenhill junction and heads for the A438. A footpath crosses the fields avoiding the main road. A sandpiper flies over piping, possibly a Greenshank. Several Reed Buntings sit on the hedgerow. A Skylark drops down into the grass that is growing through the stubble in the fields beside the path. I am now on the other side of Brockhall Quarry and there are Tufted Duck, Mallard and over 100 Wigeon. The field here has winter cereal growing and hosts a flock of Fieldfare. It is full of water-smoothed stones indicating the alluvial nature of the geology. The path enters Sugwas Pool, a 20th century ribbon development mainly along the main road. Past Kites Nest pumping station. This village’s pub, formally The Kite’s Nest, is now an Indian restaurant. There are a few older properties, Wood Terrace is dated 1872. Opposite is a tree nursery, hundreds of saplings planted a few feet apart in rows. Fortunately there is a pavement here. The Stretton Sugwas lane leads off to the left by a war memorial. A little up the road is the church of St Mary Magdalene, also locked. It was built in 1887-80 and has black-and-white timbered tower.
Sunday – Leominster – It is freezing and a mist cloaks the area. The country is being dominated by high pressure, the barometer is recording 1032 millimetres of mercury at the moment. Up Green Lane. The road and pavements are made treacherous by a thin veneer of ice. Wood Pigeons and Blue Tits call. Into Ginhall Lane. Robins now sing. To the north Victorian terraces give way to 20th century houses then fields. To the south are the backs of housing developments off Bargates. Rabbits bounce off across frost covered fields. The Ginhall allotments are a fine sight, albeit that the few winter crops look forlorn in this frost. To the south is the large Buckfield estate. A sign directs down a lane to the rather quaintly named Figure of Eight Cat Hotel. Cursneh Hill rises into the mist. It was here that the inhabitants of the town took a part in the establishment of Mary on the throne, defeating Lady Jane Grey’s partisans, for which service she granted them their first charter of incorporation, dated 28th March, 1553. There were the remains of defensive earthworks on the hill, possibly a small Iron Age hillfort until the early 1980s when they were bulldozed. A Dunnock watches from a barbed wire fence. Past the old brickworks. The lane now runs between hedges on banks, the southern one faced with an old dry stone wall. Cursneh Hall is hidden behind trees. It is the head offices of a large local construction company. Ebnal Cottage stands on the junction of the main road. The opposite corner is a series of pastures containing sheep. These fields are under threat from housing development. On the other side of the road is the old Barons Cross Camp, a military camp that used to house exiled Poles. It is now long abandoned and only a single Nissan hut with a brick tower stands overgrown. This site has been earmarked for housing development for the past ten years but nothing has happened. The Marcher Lords met here in 1215 to discuss plans which resulted in the signing of the Magna Carta. The Toll Act of Leominster of 1728 records “Barons Cross to Ebnal” as a turnpike road.
Tuesday – Leominster – Although the temperature has risen slightly and there is no ice, it is a grey, misty and damp day, the chill penetrating to the bone. Outside the back door a Wren searches a hanging basket of violas for insects. Over the Grange and down the playing field. House Sparrows chatter in the bushes. The edge of the graveyard is a carpet of Snowdrops. Blue Tits squeak and a Blackbird is singing, although it is a disjointed, hesitant song as if he is just practising. Into the small park by the Kenwater where something has been chewing at the bark at the base of some riverside trees. I have not seen any deer in this area and would be surprised as access to open countryside is difficult.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – The grey and damp continues although the cloud cover means the temperature remain above freezing. A Song Thrush songs with clear, fluid repetitions. Great and Blue Tits chatter as they flit through the trees. The lake still retains large patches of ice. Over 90 Wigeon stand on one edge of a frozen area towards the western end. Another 60 plus are gliding slowly through open water on the southern side accompanied by half a dozen Goldeneye, a dozen Tufted Duck, several Coot and a few Mallard. A few Canada Geese are scattered across the lake, likewise a few Mute Swans. The water level has risen again and there is only a couple of square yards of the scrape above water and it is devoid of life. Dinmore woods are misty. As last week, there appears to be just a single Cormorant in the trees. There must be more Canada Geese behind the island as the usual raucous noise starts up from over there. A Grey Heron stands hunched in a patch of yellow reeds on the far side. A vehicle moves across the field in the south-western corner sending up the Wigeon in a whistling mass. The weather seems to have discouraged many birds from activity. Usually, Carrion Crows, Rooks and Wood Pigeons pass over with some regularity, but today the skies are empty. Light rain is beginning to fall. A Green Woodpecker yaffles briefly in Westfield Woods. An explosion of song comes from a Wren hidden in a bramble thicket. The hedge between the orchards is being pruned right back and relaid. Moles have been busy again in the dessert apple orchard, there are many more hills than last week.
Friday – Wellington-King’s Pyon – Into the village of Wellington which lays off the A49. The history of the village and St Margaret’s Church is recorded here. It is now raining. Through the village past a mixture of 16th to 21st century houses. A house has a long low building attached called “The Old Shambles”, the old slaughterhouse. Turn right at the end of the main road and over Wellington Brook via Moor Bridge. A large mill, now residences, stands by the brook. The existing mill was constructed in 1832, on the site of previous mills, the oldest in Herefordshire. The iron, breast-shot, bucket wheel powered two stones. The water for powering the mill ran under the middle of the mill, thence through a sluice under the road. The mill machinery is still in place in the ground floor of one of the mill residences. Water rushes down from the leet. Left at Wooton, a large walled farm with a number of listed buildings dating from the 18th century and along the lane. To the north Hill House and Cottages lie under the eaves of Crew’s Wood on Dinmore Hill. Ahead are the cone-shaped hills of Pyon Wood and Butthouse Knapp, locally called Robin Hood’s Butts. There are a number of stories about these hills. One is that they were created by the devil who dropped two sacks of earth that he was taking to bury Hereford but was persuaded that the city was so wicked it was already on his side! Another is that they were formed when two giants jumped over Wormsley Hill and kicked two piles off the top of it. John Masefield recalled a tale that Robin Hood fired arrows between the hills. It is now raining heavily. A large flock of Wood Pigeons rises from the fields. Past Lower Derndale Farm. Many lambs are in the fields, not enjoying the rain. A tall Pine at junction at Kinford Cross. The lane passes between banks of Snowdrops. An ancient Oak grows at a farm building entrance.
Bullfinches fly up from the road by the entrance to one of the many fields of cider apple orchards contracted to Bulmers that surround the hamlet of Westhope. The hamlet had been greatly enlarged during the late 20th century by numerous bungalows. In the 19th century, the Steele family were blacksmiths here and in a number of other forges in the area. On to Bush Bank which lies on the A4110. A house has a small plaque containing the mason’s mark of a set square and dividers and James Watkins 1871 AD. Over the main road and off down the road to Weobley past the Bush Inn. A small standing stone is beside the road. Off down the King’s Pyon lane. More acres of cider apple trees containing Fieldfares and Chaffinches in large flocks. A dozen plus strong flock of Long-tailed Tits squeaks as it proceeds down a hedgerow. Another flock twitters in a field, this time Starlings. As the lane approaches King’s Pyon, a flock in excess of 500 Fieldfares flies off from a stand of Ash trees. It has stopped raining at last.
Enter King’s Pyon. The name derives from land owned by the king, Edward the Confessor (nearby Canon Pyon was owned by the canons of Hereford Cathedral) and the name of the hill, Pyon Wood. Pyon appears to mean “island of gnats” and would have referred to the hill standing above a large marshy area which would certainly have been infested with biting insects. After the Conquest the land was held by William Fitz Osborn. In the 13th century the lands were held by Stephen Devereux, a Marcher Lord of Lyonshall Castle and part of William Marshall’s retinue which supported King John. A small castle stood to the south of the village but there is little to see now. The church of St Mary stands on a large mound which looks man-made but there is no archaeological evidence for this. However, it seems likely there was an early place of worship here and there was a Saxon burial ground that extended beyond the present perimeter. The Domesday Book records the presence of a priest here. The walls are of local sandstone and calcareous tufa. The western part of the north wall of the nave is probably of late 11th or early 12th century date. The nave was largely re-built and probably lengthened towards the west, and the Chancel was re-built at the end of the 12th century. The south transept was added late in the 13th century, but may have been partly reconstructed early in the 14th century; two altars were dedicated in the church in 1329. The tower was constructed in the early 14th century, and the vestry was probably added later in the same century. The church was restored in 1872 when the north transept and organ chamber were added. The South Porch is of a similar age. In the south transept is a canopied recess containing the effigy of a knight and his lady. They are in a poor condition and their identities unknown, but may be Sir Gerald de Aylesford who gave land to Wormsley Priory in 1341. The tomb has been moved here at some time as the recess is not contemporaneous. There is a delightful 20th century wooden screen and wooden font at the rear of the nave.
It has started to rain again. A lane leads to Canon Pyon which also lies on the A4110. Some way before the village is the church of St Lawrence. A tower stands beside the south aisle and the entrance is through it. The north arcade of the Nave was built about the middle of the 13th century; the south arcade and south aisle a few years later. The north chapel was added, with an arch opening into the chancel around 1300. The rest of the chancel was largely, if not entirely, re-built late in the 14th or early 15th century and a small vestry, now destroyed, was added on the north side. The tower was added late in the 14th century, and the north aisle re-built and widened in the 15th century. In the 15th or early 16th century three arches were built across the south aisle to support the south arcade which can be seen leaning outwards. The chancel was restored in 1865, and the church generally in 1870. The screen has 19th century tracery. There are three windows by A J Davies of Bromsgrove circa 1926. The Bromsgrove Guild were a group within the Arts and Crafts movement. My time is getting short as I have a bus to catch in Wellington, so I have to curtail my visit this fascinating church. A lane heads back to Wellington. Derndale can be seen across the fields. It is a 17th and 18th century farmhouse and attached outbuildings remodelled in the 19th century. The house was the property of Thomas Jay. The House of Commons archives record, “The leather workers vainly tried to revive their guild and, assisted by the Whig banker and currier Thomas Jay of Derndale, High Sheriff of Herefordshire. They petitioned the Commons against the Combination Laws, 25 Mar., and the hides bill, 31 May 1824”. The road passes through the large Upper Derndale Farm. A Dunnock hops along the hedge. The sun emerges. Trees along brook across field are full of Wood Pigeons. White clouds against grey sky drift across the tops of the trees on Dinmore Hill. A flock of Redwings flies out of the roadside hedgerow. Past Festive Farm Christmas trees. Three Magpies sit on the hedge, widely spaced apart, just watching. Back into Wellington more quickly than I had anticipated and the pub is open! As I wait for bus, white clouds roll along the eastern horizon. The temperature has dropped noticeably since the rain clouds moved away. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Along the Worcester Road to Southern Avenue. A Chiffchaff is singing from saplings by a drainage ditch in the Leominster Enterprise Park. I have to go back to 1998 to find another February record and that was on the south coast. Blue Tits are chattering; Blackbird and Robins singing. Sky grey but milder than of late. On into the estate. A Song Thrush sings from the top is a small tree. The Magpies are atop a tree over the unused rough ground. Dales new site has a vast shed on it now. A caterpillar-tracked digger inside looks like a Dinky toy. The fields stretch away to the south. Just beyond the hedge is a long patch sown with broad beans. A Robin is in the trees lining the southern edge of the estate and is ticking and bobbing about, clearly agitated about something in the fields but I cannot see anything. After a few minutes it settles down and starts singing. Up the Hereford Road. The old Orphans Print works are now demolished with plans for housing on the site. The old primary school has been flattened. Half a dozen Greenfinches dance around the top of a Silver Birch. Into South Street. There are a number of large and historically important houses along this street. Heather Hill was built circa 1830 with 17th century rear wing; Copper Hall, a guest house is from the 17th century; three houses, 106-110, are 16th century, remodelled early 19th century; 102 and 104 have a 18th century front to a 16th century core; 88, 90 and 92 were originally a barn from the mid 17th century, probably converted in the late 18th century; the Black Horse was originally houses from the late 18th or early 19th century and has now been converted back into a residence; 72 is of the same date as the Black Horse and was also partly an inn, The Bowling Green, once. On the eastern side, the Moravian Church and manse date from 1759, the church being altered in 1875 and the manse around 1900. The Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah Witnesses became a nightclub but is now the Freemasons’ Lodge. The site was a former Quaker Meeting House and burial ground alongside the town ditch. A long 17th century wall runs along the garden of Dutton House which stands on the corner of High and Etnam Street.
Monday – Hergest Ridge – The sun glares through thin, high cloud. A biting wind shakes the conifers. A Chaffinch is singing but few other birds manage more than a brief chirrup. Blue and Coal Tits flit through the hedgerow and up into overhanging branches. Onto the ridge where vestiges of snow linger in sheltered nooks and crannies. There is more snow on the path as it climbs higher but still only a thin, patchy layer. A Skylark sings as it drops down to the dead bracken. Another emerges and flies off low across the hillside pursued by the first. Across the old racecourse. Although cloud is moving over the Radnor Forest, the tops are clear. The white rendering on houses in the Walton Basin shine in the light. More Skylarks are aloft and singing. To the south, the Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons are almost invisible in haziness. The Skylarks seem to have this wind-blasted hilltop to themselves, no corvids, no Meadow Pipits, no raptors, no sheep or ponies. Over into Wales and even the Skylarks are gone. As the track begins to descends the wind loses some of its fury. Sheep are grazing here. Tiny flecks of snow are beginning to fall, if horizontal snow can be called falling, and it looks threatening in the west. However, the threat passes after just a short flurry. Down the hill where there are good numbers of Skylarks again. A Red Kite appears and quarters the hillside. Carrion Crows call from the fields below. Instead of taking the track down the side of the ridge I walk on to the very peak at the end. There are two small tops, one with an elderly Yew giving the peak the name of Yewtree Bank, the very end has a young, fenced-in Yew. Screams of schoolchildren rise from the playground far below. Three Red Kites circle the village of Gladestry. The descent is very steep. Unfortunately this is not a route down to the village and fences forces me back up the hillside to the track. If I had bothered to check the map, I would have seen there was no route down here! So I decide to return over the ridge rather than along the road as I had planned. Up the hill whilst a Red Kite searches, barely moving a wing as it floats on the wind. On the other side all the snow has melted away. Over on Bradnor Hill, single files of sheep move along tracks.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – Another grey and damp morning. Bullfinches disappear in their usual corner of the meadow. The lakes are much quieter, relatively as the few Canada Geese present are making a considerable noise. The Wigeon numbers are much reduced, just small groups scattered around the water. Likewise there are a few Mallard and Goldeneye and a scattering of Tufted Duck and Coot. A small raptor appears and quickly disappears again, probably a Sparrowhawk. Four Cormorant sit the trees. The water level remains high leaving very little mud. Many of the wildfowl seem to be watching and waiting but what for? Suddenly a small number of Tufted Duck and some Wigeon fly down to the bottom end of the lake but again I can see no reason for their sudden movement. A pair of Teal are on the island. A power tool, probably a chainsaw is sporadically snarling loudly. I have heard this annoyance for many weeks now and if it is like this every day it must be hell for the local residents. Back out in the coppice, several Wrens are ticking furiously. A Great Tit calls repeatedly above my head obviously unhappy with my presence. The hedge between the orchards had been beautifully cut and laid, the work I saw being undertaken a fortnight ago. All the prunings from the apple trees have been chipped and removed but a large amount of the hedge trimmings are yet to be processed. A Green Woodpecker calls from near Bodenham Manor.
Friday – Llandbedr and Rhulen Hills – A frosty start to the morning. The sky is clear and blue but clouds lay on Hay Bluff and Lord Hereford’s Knob. I park up in Painscastle. A lane climbs north from the chapel, which stands next to “The Roast Ox”, an old drovers’ inn once called “Maesllwch Arms”, still operating as a pub. The chapel is called “The Adullam Baptist Church”, one of the many strict Baptist sects, this one named after the cave where David hid (1 Samuel 22). Beside the stone built chapel is a corrugated iron schoolroom and vestry. Up past Pendre Farm where the farm dogs come to inspect me. The lane rises into open land. A track of some age diverges to the north-east and the metalled road carries on. Chaffinches, Great Tits and Robins sing, Carrion Crows caw. Moors stretch away now. A side lane heads down to Lower Lundy. My lane carries on upwards. The guttural call of Ravens floats down as they pass overhead. Ditches carry crystal clear water. The lane crosses the bridleway from New House. A large flock of Starlings crosses a field where Lapwings are displaying with the call that gives them one of their old names, Peewit. Skylarks are singing high above. The sky is clouding over and a chill wind blows. Red Hill rises to the north-east. Between lies a pond, Ireland’s Well and springs. A track crosses them to get to Ireland, a small area in some trees. Ponies are dotted across the moorland. Onwards, a valley lies below with an isolated farmhouse, Llancoed-du. A Common Buzzard circles high above. Sheep and Carrion Crows gather around a pool. The road begins to descend. Lichen covered Hawthorns are dotted around the steep slope above Cwm-piban. The road passes through a small stand of Larches and Ashes. A stream, which rises from a spring high on Rhulen Hill drops down a defile in a series of waterfalls. It passes under the road in a modern pipe and then pours on down the steep wooded valley. The stream joins the River Edw in the valley which flows westwards to join the Wye at Aberedw. The lane now has a route of Hazel trees with dangling yellow catkins and chattering Blue Tits. Below in the valley is a white church. Above the road there are the remains of field enclosures. The lane drops steeply now.
Another lane turns off to Rhulen, which I take. Past a farm at Pant and into the scattered farming community and the church of St David, that which I could see from the hillside. The church is a stone built, rectangular, whitewashed 12th century building, delightfully simple. Some enlargement place in the 14th century. The barrel ceiling was plastered in the 18th century and a large windows was cut into the south side of the sanctuary at the same time. The church was re-roofed in stone slates in 1961. The west wall which had a lean outwards possibly for centuries was close to collapse in the mid 1980s and rebuilt in 1987. A heavy beam over the altar would have supported the rood. The altar stands in an unusual recess arch. The font is 14th century on an older base. A number of stone monuments on the walls date from the 18th century. Two mediaeval bells are in the Radnorshire bellcote. The coffin-shaped door has a sanctuary ring still attached. Outside are a number of Yews over half a millennium old, some even older and may have formed part of a pre-Christian burial ground. One of the oldest fell in 1984. Back along the road and down into the valley. Beyond the road junction is the old Primitive Methodist Chapel, built 1861 but now a private house.
Back up Rhulen Hill. A pair of Common Buzzards are tussling in the air and spin down together towards the fields, possibly duelling for the attentions of a third, maybe a female, who remains aloft and aloof. The road veers to the east but I take an old track straight on up the hillside above Cwm-sŷch. By an old, small quarry, a horseshoe of boulders has been set out. Nearby is the ruin of a tiny cottage. Up past some fields on the slope called Pant-y-ffynon. The path climbs around Rhulen Hill and Llanbedr Hill over wild moorland. Behind, a couple of windmills rotate in the hills above Rhulen. Past a cliff of outcropped rock, Gareg Lwyd with a pool at its base. A couple of walkers are taking lunch here, the first people walking on these hills I have seen for a long time. Just beyond is the crossroads of the path along the Llandeilo, Rhulen & Llanbedr Hills, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, from Aberedw to Ireland and this one. I keep in this track down towards Llanbedr. To the east is an area of moor called Dancing Ground, possibly because of the deep, springy peat bogs. Two Red Kites appear, the first of the day! Down to Craig y Fuddal cliffs. I can hear but not see a Stonechat. Down Pen-y-cwm. Past Penbedw farm, bit of a state. Down to a junction. One lane runs round to a large farm at Penllan, the other down to Llanbedr Hall and St Peter’s Church. The porch is 13th century, the nave, 14th and the chancel 15th. The bells are undated. In the yard is the grave of Solitary Revd John Price. He was a Master of Arts from Queen’s College, Cambridge and invented his own shorthand. He came to live in solitude in a cabin. Kilvert records that he visited, “At our request the anchorite hunted among his pile of rubbish with a candlestick covered in the thick grease of years, trying unsuccessfully to find one of his shorthand pamphlets imprint”. P.Thoresby-Jones records:
Revd Francis Kilvert has left in his diary a most pathetic and moving account of his visit to “the poor eccentric solitary”, as he termed him, in his wretched little grey thatched hut in Cwm Cello, tucked away in Llanbedr Hill. With his usual graphic insight he portrays the miserable squalor and grimy untidiness in which the poor neglected old man passed his lonely days. The old vicar was treated with respectful reverence by the country people, and Kilvert suggests the idea that rises at once to the mind in regard to him, that he could be regarded as an early Christian Anchorite saint who had come into the world some 1500 years after his due time. Again the church is a very plain building, although larger than St David’s. The wall plaques are late 18th and early 19th century. Another notable incumbent was the Revd Williams, known as Parson Button. Kilvert records “He was a good Churchman but he was a very drunken man. On asking, “How then being a very drunken man could he be a good churchman?”. The reply was “Oh, he read the Lessons very loud and he was a capital preacher. He used to say to the people in his sermons, “My brethren”, says he, “don’t you do as I do, but you do as I say”. He was very quarrelsome, a fighting man, and frequently fought at Clyro on his way home from Hay. One night he got fighting at Clyro and was badly beaten and mauled. The next Sunday he came to Llanbedr Church bruised black and blue, with his head broken and swollen nose and two black eyes. However, he faced his people and in his sermon glorified himself and his prowess and gave a false account of the battle at Clyro in which he was worsted, but in which he represented himself as having proved victorious.” The lane joins the main road from Painscastle by Llandeviron farm with its large timber-framed farmhouse. A report comments there was a witch living here once. A stream flows rapidly under the road. Along the road back to Painscastle. Several more streams pour off the hills and into ditches and small culverts under the road, down to the River Bachawy. Route