Monday – Queenswood Country Park – The sky is grey although glows to the south where the sun lights up the clouds. There is a brisk, blustery wind. A Robins sing from the still skeletal, bare trees. Chaffinches search the branches for grubs. They move steadily and deliberately along the branches unlike the restless tits. A Flowering Crab Apple has been infected by Mistletoe. Quite a few Acers and Magnolias have nascent leaf buds. Through the pines of Cotterells Folly. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. At the top of the southern slope a large number of Ash trees, maybe in the twenty to thirty years old range, have been cleared. The trunks have been piled up which I assume would not be allowed if Ash-die-back disease was the reason for their removal. From the look-out the distant hills are clear and sharp. Rays of sun beam down through the clouds. There is some water still lying on the fields but what looks like a large area of flooding is in fact polytunnels. On round the paths. The wooden carved statues of animals are weathering well. Blue Tits are active and vocal. More Robins sing. A Common Buzzard alights on a tree beside the busy A49. A pair of Cherry Kursar trees are in flower; their pink blossom is always the earliest in the arboretum. A Raven with missing secondary wing feathers flies over, calling quietly.
Friday – Ludlow – Another grey morning with a cool breeze. Out of Ludlow station and up to Gravel Hill. The street contains Victorian and Edwardian housing, some detached, semis and small terraces. The church of of St John the Evangelist, built in 1881 by Sir AW Blomfield at a cost of £5,000, from funds provided by Mary Windsor Clive, of Oakley Park, is locked. An Agnes Dei is carved over the entrance. The house overlooking the church has a fine three panelled window of stained glass. At the top of the hill is a Georgian house built onto an older building. Opposite is the Community Hospital. Part of the buildings were the old workhouse built circa 1833. It is sometimes called the East Hamlet hospital; this dates from when Ludlow had another hospital, on College Street. Gravel Hill joins a junction of New Road and Henley Road.
Opposite is the Roman Catholic church of St Peter. It is a square building of curves. The style apparently is neo-Byzantine and plain Romanesque. It was built in the early 1930s, the architect being Signor Dr Giuseppe Rinvolucri of Conway. He designed the church at Amlwch in Anglesea that we passed last year but did not stop at, unfortunately. Oddly the gates have an inverted cross in them. The parish centre behind the church is Art Deco with a curved frontage echoing the church.
On up Henley Road. The housing is mainly inter-wars, some with a nod to Art Deco. Ahead, Titterstone Clee looms darkly in the distance. A ginnel leads off into a post war housing estate. Goldfinches sing in the trees. One house has an old Mitchells and Butler pub lamp outside. Through the streets and past St Julian’s Well. The well was originally within the precincts of the Augustinian friary, which was established in the mid-13th century and is located to the east of the medieval town. St Julian’s Well was used as a source of water for the White Conduit, which is thought to have served as the town’s first public water supply. There are documentary references to the White Conduit during the reign of Edward IV (1461-83), and this is probably the water supply mentioned in a document of 1308. The street is more inter-war housing. A footpath runs down the hill. Blackthorn is coming into flower. The path runs behind the gardens of the properties in St Julian’s Road before emerging into Gravel Hill. Into St Stephen’s Close. St Stephen’s church, erected in 1880, at a cost of £1200, is now a motor parts dealer. A passageway leads to Lower Galdiford. The street is a mixture of small houses dating from 17th century to late 20th. The Bishop Mascall Centre opened as a National school in 1857. A device of the Prince of Wales feathers is carved on a wall and a coat of arms on another. Lead vents adorn the roof. Another ginnel, Friar’s Walk, runs down the hill. It has a high old stone wall down its length, reportedly the old town wall. It ends in Old Street just below where the town gate stood. Down Old Street to Temeside, which as the name suggests lies beside the River Teme. Past the large Horseshoe weir. Over Ludford Bridge.
The village of Ludford probably grew up on the other side of the river from its present position on the south side of the bridge. The bridge was recorded in connection with St John’s a Hospital which stood at the bottom of what became Broad Street. Ludlow was a later development. The Church of St Giles is thought to have been built on the 12th century, there is a Norman window in the tower. However, little is known about it. It was part of the chaplaincy of the Priory of Bromfield until its dissolution in 1538. The nave and chancel are Norman. The Royal Arms hangs on the nave wall. It has the arms of Hanover in the centre and dates from 1808-1815. To the north is the Fox Chapel built around 1555. In this chapel are some fine brasses of William Fox, his wife and children. An altar shaped monument is for Edward Fox who died in 1610 and a tomb-chest with a recumbent effigy of Sir Job Charlton. Sir Job was Chief Justice of Chester but was removed to make way for Judge Jeffreys, the notorious “hanging judge”. Job was forced out of the judiciary for opposing James II’s use of power to dispense laws. The figure on the tomb is painted red to signify his judge’s robes. A leper house dedicated to St Giles was built next to the church in the early 13th century later becoming an almshouse. At dissolution the possessions of St John’s Hospital was obtained by William Foxe, a rising lawyer and later MP for Ludlow. He demolished the leper hospital and built a mansion on the site. His grandson mortgaged the estates and after his death, the manor of Ludford was sold to Robert Charlton. The Charltons held the estate until 1920. The Old Bell House is a partly timber-framed merchants house built around 1600. Behind it is Ludford Mill whose gardens were probably first laid around 1911 by the Arts & Craft’s architect Basil Stallybrass who was doing extensive work on Old Bell House at that time. At the end of the lane is the cemetery and Ludford Park. Over the road to the Charlton Arms for a pint.
Up onto Whitcliffe Common and down to the river. Robins sing, Nuthatches, Jackdaws and Mistle Thrushes call. Along the riverside walk. Beside the path are tall cliffs created by the deposition over millions of years of Silurian limestone. Over Dinham Bridge and past Dinham Mill, also called Castle Mill. This 14th century mill was probably the last to be established along this stretch of the Teme despite the Dinham area possibly being the oldest part of Ludlow. A path runs around underneath the steep outcrop on which the castle stands. Up into the town and through the market to the Church pub. After a couple of pints I head down Corve Street, a wonderful mix of building styles ranging over several centuries. Stone House, a mid 19th century façade on an 18th century core, now housing the South Shropshire district Council offices, stands next to a 16th century timber-framed building next to the 18th century Maltster’s House. A little further on is a little cottage in stone then another timber-framed house then a Georgian townhouse, followed by a lovely timber-framed house in yellow and black. Corve bridge is modern concrete, replacing the old bridge which was swept away. The weather is deteriorating, angry clouds move over and there is rain in the air. As the train approaches Leominster the conductor announces, “This station is called Leominster and that’s because it’s in the town of Leominster.” I comment with a grin as I leave the train, “I get bored,” he replies.
Shrove Tuesday – Leominster – A walk takes me down Burgess Street which has a number of buildings, none of which are being used for their original purpose. Most dominant is the Congregational or Independent Chapel, now occupied by J Mart stores. The church was built in 1866 by James Page at a cost of £1600. It replaced a Presbyterian chapel built in 1719. They became “Llewellyns”, a sect that had no connection with any other. Opposite is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel now an arcade of shops and an Indian restaurant. This chapel was built in the 1860s to replace a chapel further up Burgess Street. It cost £985 and seated 300. In 1939 it was decided to only hold fortnightly services for the duration of the war. Soon after, the schoolroom in Burgess Street was requisitioned by the Army. The secretary of the chapel was asked to disconnect the electricity supply to the schoolroom and to block up the access between the chapel and the schoolroom and by January 1940 the majority of services were being held at the Primitive Methodist Chapel on Green Lane. In 1944 part of the building was still being used by the Army and consideration was given to turning it into a British Restaurant, but it was decided that it was unsuitable. There was discussion about building a new Methodist Chapel but the funds were not available. In 1945 the pews and organ were put up for sale and the pulpit bible and hymn books were distributed to the surrounding country chapels. The building was sold in 1945 for £2,400.
On up the street from the Congregational Church is Grafton House, a 14th century hall with later alterations. Along the upper windows sills is inscribed “This is Grafton House”. In the mid-Victorian period it housed the Leominster Liberal Association. Until recently it housed the Women’s Institute Friday market, but that has sadly gone. Next the old Magistrates’ Court, closed in 2002. The old Police Station was built in 1885 on the site of the 13th century town theatre. It is now a National Farmers’ Union office. Next is the earlier Wesleyan Methodist Chapel built in 1841 and sold to the Roman Catholics as the first post-reformation catholic church in Leominster after the larger premises down the street were opened. Bengry Brothers Ltd purchased the building in 1946 and converted it into a garage over a period of 12 months. It is now a hairdressing salon.
I had forgotten this morning that today is Shrove Tuesday, the last day before Lent, and Pancake Day. Thus I have to nip around to the green grocer for a lemon, the traditional dressing with sugar for pancakes. The name comes from “shriving”, the pre-Lent confession and absolution before Lent, a period of abstinence leading to Easter. Lent itself is probably an old Anglo-Saxon word denoting Spring, from an older root meaning “long”. There would have been a festival around now to celebrate the lengthening days and stores of food would be running out or risk becoming rotten as the weather warmed, so it was a good idea to eat them. As for now, the pancakes turned out well!
Sunday – Leominster – A sky of broken cloud. It is cool but the predicted freeze had not arrived, nor the possible snow and it may yet be a winter without snow. There is a hint of frost in the footbridge over the railway. Bird song is becoming louder and more sustained. Song Thrushes, Robins, Great Tits, Chaffinches and Blackbirds. The water level in the River Lugg has dropped. It does fast with a green tinge. Wood Pigeons coo. High in one of the riverside Black Poplars, a Blackbird feeds on Mistletoe berries. The grass on Easters meadow is lightly dusted with frost. From Easters Court a Green Woodpecker can be heard yaffling far towards Eaton Hill. The Brightwells’ site is surrounded by singing Song Thrushes. A Grey Wagtail bobs in the mud where Cheaton Brook enters the Lugg. Round the walk beside the Kenwater. Some of the Alder trees are scraggy and dying, one has fallen across the river. A Dipper flies downstream at a considerable speed. Into the town. On the corner of School Lane and Corn Square is one of the oldest buildings in the town. There is a space where two ancient black timbers meet on the corner of the building. In the space is some nest material and a Wood Pigeon facing outwards. On top of the pigeon is another, this one facing inwards so only its tail can be seen. Route
Monday – Hergest Ridge – A cold north wind blows but the sky is blue as a Starling’s egg and the sun is blindingly bright. Up the lane that leads to the ridge. A Wren flies into the wood with a rasping alarm, which continues from the undergrowth. Blackbirds fly off from the edge of the lane, Great Tits feed on Beech saplings and a Song Thrush sings loudly. A Robin stands on a post surveying the adjoining field. Surprisingly, the crab apple trees on the edge of the field are still spotted gold with fruit. Sheep are still out on the hillside, bulky in their thick winter fleeces. Half a dozen Carrion Crows pass, dancing in the wind. A Skylark sings from the blue yonder. An aeroplane passes over taking holiday makers from Manchester to Las Palmas. Ahead more Skylarks feed on the path.
To the south the Black Mountains belie their name by shining brilliant white with snow. The Brecon Beacons are also gleaming icebergs. From the grove of Araucarias it is clear the snow on the Black Mountains is thin and dissipating in the sunshine. The Radnor Forest and all other hills are devoid of any snow.
The wind is bitterly cold. Puddles are frozen solid but the larger pools have open water in their centres. Unusually there does not seem to be a single Gorse bush in flower. Across the moorland to the triangulation point which stands next to one of the large piles of rock that are dotted across the ridge. Their origin is debated. A small herd of ponies stands with their backs to the wind. Across the dead bracken covered hill past another pile of rocks and over a small valley cut by a now lost stream, then up to the old race course. Round the southern side of the course and back down the ridge. Clouds are beginning to build casting shadows across the green and brown hillsides. A Peregrine Falcon glides across the ridge, high in the sky, facing north into the wind so that she can drift slowly without effort. Route
Home – The sun has prompted thoughts of a new season of growing. Daffodils, crocuses, hellebores and snowdrops are all flowering in the garden. Usually, the flowering blackcurrant is contemporaneous with the daffodils but there is no sign of it yet. Cats are becoming a real nuisance in the garden. Today one is in the greenhouse. As I open the door it suddenly appears and leaps at the end windows – and goes straight through, smashing two panes of glass! I get some pots from the greenhouse and fill them with sifted compost and sow broad beans, mainly an East European variety, Karmazyn. I also have a net of potatoes, Kestrel, and these are placed in a tray in the summerhouse to chit. A Robin is in the rose bower and is not moving despite me passing within a few inches. It just continues to fill the air with its song.
Wednesday – Home – After two days of frost and bright sunshine the grey and rain returns. Yesterday I managed to clear the back path of the garden along the old back wall. This wall is probably built on the footings of the mediaeval town wall. The path has been blocked by nettles and brambles for some time now and it takes a lot of effort to get them out. A Holly is growing outwards across the corner and is trimmed back creating a large pile of branches to be chopped down and bagged. These bags go off to the Council dump where they can be recycled in compost on an industrial scale. This morning a tray of lettuces – Bath Cos and Bunyard’s Matchless – are sown. Eight pots of tomatoes are also started – Lilac Giant, Burpee’s Jubilee, Clibran’s Victory, Oxheart and Darby’s Striped – all heritage varieties.
The rain continues as I set off for a wine auction at Brightwells. The limited-stop train thunders under the footbridge and on past the station at full speed. By the River Lugg there are a good number of Great Tits active in the trees, calling and chasing. A Song Thrush sings despite the weather. The auction is a bit of a failure for us, too many people attend now and prices are at top estimate and often over, no bargains. An eleven bottle case of Chateau Latour 1er Grand Cru 1990 Pauillac may be a bargain at £3900, I certainly do not know!
Back along the River Kenwater. There are Greenfinches everywhere, some in the undergrowth, some flitting about the branches of trees and another up high somewhere singing their wheezy and nasal song. A small number of Long-tailed tits are also moving through the trees. The Minster bells call the three-quarter hour.
Thursday – Bodenham Lakes – It is all change again as bright sunshine melts the overnight frost and ice. At home a Song Thrush sits at the top of the Ash trees and serenades the world. At Bodenham the ground is wet from the melted frost and Robins sing from every direction. A Dunnock sings from one of the Lombardy Poplars that line the track to the boat shed. On the sailing area of the lake there are just a few Canada Geese. In the north west corner there is another pair of Canada Geese and a single Mute Swan. From the hide there are another seven Mute Swans and a lot more Canada Geese. A pair of Goldeneye dive by the reed bed. A Dabchick swims across the lake past a Great Crested Grebe. A single Cormorant is on the water. A majority of the duck, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Mallard are at the western end, all asleep. A pair of Moorhens slip out of the reeds. The water level has fallen but the scrape is still submerged. The noise of Canada Geese on the island increases then suddenly they all silent, but this does not last for long. Several Great Crested Grebe are present, one is regaining the glorious head and neck feathers. A mewing Common Buzzard glides along the edge of Westfield Wood. A Common Pheasant croaks from the woodland. The cider orchard has erupted with molehills. Several Redwings are searching the grass under the trees. A few Fieldfare are in the dessert apple orchard. On the way back to town there is a large flock of several hundred Lapwings circling above the fields to the south of the Enterprise Park.
Friday – Bache – After a bright, frosty start the skies are now filling with clouds. The River Lugg runs grey-green and swift. Again the Song Thrush sings by the river bridge. Blue Tits chatter nearby. A Magpie squawks and flies off. Along the A49 to Hay Lane. The houses opposite are on the site of a wharf, the furthest that the canal, that was supposed to link Kington with Stourport-on-Severn, reached. The canal was never anything like completed. The section between Mamble and Leominster was opened in 1795 but it only carried domestic coal – financially hopeless. All sorts of schemes were put forward but all failed. In 1858 the Shrewsbury & Hereford Railway agreed to buy the canal for just £12,000 but even at this low price they still had to be compelled by Parliament to honour the agreement. Receipts for the first 5 months totalled just £29. The S&HR soon drained the canal and sold off the land. Part of it was sold to the Tenbury Railway which laid its track on parts of the old canal bed. On Hay Lane, where there is now a stile stood the Machine Cottage. The “machine” was used to weigh goods carried on the canal. It was demolished in the mid-1960s.
Over the stile. Dark green arrow-shaped leaves of Cuckoo Pints are growing amongst the Ivy and sprouting Cow Parsley. A Chaffinch pinks, Robin sings and Blue Tits squeak. A Great Tit is a bundle of energy, darting here and there, looking everywhere, never still for a second. Across the field which are empty of sheep, most unusual. A single Fieldfare alights on a molehill. Suddenly a large flock of Starlings, Fieldfares and Redwings erupt from the ground at the top of the field and fly down to the trees and pasture on the far side of Cogwell Brook. A rasping call indicates there was a Mistle Thrush with them. A flock of chacking Jackdaws flies over. A Skylark sings in the distance. Up the Grantsfield road. A Yellowhammer brings a flash of sulphur to a grey hedgerow. There are sheep in the field beyond, all of whom are accompanied by a sleeping lambs, sometimes two. More Cuckoo Pints are growing under the hedge and a few Red Dead-nettle are in flower. The wind is picking up and the distant view behind towards the Welsh hills is gloomy. Near dwellings the banks are spotted white with snowdrops. A patch of blue Lesser Periwinkles is in flower along with yellow Lesser Celandines. At the Pyke Crossroads, creamy Primroses nestle in the grass. Past more fields of sheep and lambs, just a few days old and some only a few hours.
At Bachefield Farm I take the Gorsty Hill lane. Bache comes from the Old English baece meaning stream. Farm houses lay across the hillside, prosaically named, Gorsty Hill Farm, Bache Hill Farm, Upper Bache Farm. There is plenty of new growth under the hedgerow, Cleavers, Red Dead Nettle, Tufted Vetch and Stinging Nettles. More Primroses are in flower. Gorse blooms chrome yellow on the edge of a field. The road turns into a track. At Upper Bache is a lovely old farmhouse dated to the 16th or 17th century with its magnificent early 18th century dovecote, still with 700 ledges and nests inside. Across the field lays Bache Iron Age hill fort. A broken old cider apple crushing trough lies on the verge below the dovecote. The sky is darkening and there is rain in the air, so I head back down the hill. A flock of Fieldfares flies over. Spring flowers may be appearing but our Scandinavian winter visitors are yet to be persuaded it is time to return north.
Down the road to Stockton. A pair of military jets roar over setting off dogs barking. A large old house probably dating from the early 16th century was the old workhouse. Across Cogwell Brook. Beyond is a field of lumps indicating the house platforms of the lost mediaeval village. A flock of Long-tailed Tits buzz as they move through the trees. I have a couple of pints in the Stockton Cross. Along the road towards the A49. A row of trees by the entrance to Stockton Bury Gardens has been felled. The large cider orchard, being grazed by sheep, is now visible from the road. Many lorries travel along the A49 and A44 but one of the more unusual today is a low loader apparently belonging to the RNLI for carrying lifeboats. A convoy of four diesel locomotives speed over Mill Street crossing.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A freezing morning with the temperature crawling up to -1°C by 9 o’clock. However there is brilliant sunshine and an azure sky. Bird calls fill the air – Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, a Wren and Robins sing, a Green Woodpecker yaffles, Wood Pigeons coo, a Common Buzzard mews and Canada Geese gabble in the distance. The sun is burning off the frost rapidly. A Great Tit sings his two-note song at the end of the meadow. Most of the Wigeon flock appears to have departed although it may be down the valley at Wellington Gravel Pits. Just a small flock are with Mallard, Tufted Duck, a couple of Grey Heron and a pair of Great Crested Grebes at the western end of the water with Canada Geese grazing the field behind. More Canada Geese are creating a row beneath the island trees. A pair of Goldeneye are across the south side of the lake and Mute Swans are scattered throughout. A few Cormorant, one juvenile with a white breast like a dress-shirt in a black suit, are in the trees or on the water. Another ten Wigeon appear, they have probably been in the field with the Canada Geese. Outside the hide a Dunnock is singing and flicking his wings excitedly. More Dunnock song comes from a nearby bramble patch. A Blue Tit dangles off a slender Silver Birch twig high in the canopy. Emerald green leaves are opening on just a few Hawthorns along the top edge of the meadow. The Mistletoe in the dessert apple orchard glows yellow as it flowers.
Sunday – Leominster – It is a cool and slightly misty morning. Off down Etnam Street. Wood Pigeons coo and a Great Tit calls from the Grange. At the White Lion I take a photograph of a piece of road where once Etnam Street bridge crossed the Pinsley Brook. A loupe, a watering place for horses, also was here. Over the railway to the bridge over the Lugg. Getting photographs means standing in the undergrowth on a muddy and slippery bank. Then on to Ridgemoor bridge. The north-facing view is reasonable from the edge of Easters Meadow but to see the south-facing view again means fighting through undergrowth. A Herefordshire County Council plaque is on the southern wall and a boundary stone for Leominster Borough, marked L B and with a faint benchmark on the top stands beside the northern wall. On to the walk around by the Kenwater, known as Paradise Walk. A short distance down the path from Mill Street is a pair of railings on either side of the path. This marks Paradise Bridge. The bridge is not visible as it is in private gardens on either side and filled with rubble. On to Priory Bridge rebuilt in 1844 by Worcester Foundry for the sun of £60. The path runs beside the cricket ground. In the corner where it joins Mill Street three mill stones lay in the grass, a reminder that a corn mill stood here. There was also a leet than ran alongside the road and turned down where the road runs along Paradise Court. To the roundabout at the junction of Bridge Street and Mill Street. There was a major bridge here but was lost long ago. I am unable to ascertain where it stood. Up to Kenwater Bridge and into the fire station compound to photograph it. A little way up the road is Vicarage Street. It was here that the Pinsley Brook passed Brook Hall, a loft has been shown to have a lift from the brook below showing it was navigable to shallow draught vessels. The road passed over the Pinsley by Red Cross bridge and passed under the house opposite. No trace of the brook or bridge remains.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The extra day of a leap year – somehow seeming a strange idea in these days of electronic precision. A complete orbit of the earth around the sun takes exactly 365.2422 days to complete, but the Gregorian calendar uses 365 days. The Roman calendar used to have 355 days with an extra 22 day month every two years until Julius Caesar became emperor in the 1st Century and ordered his Alexandrian astronomer Sosigenes to devise something better. Sosigenes decided on a 365 day year with an extra day every four years to incorporate the extra hours, and so February 29th came into being.
It is a chilly morning with the temperature at only 1°C. A Song Thrush sings but whilst bird calls are fairly constant as I walk up the paths through the woods, they are sparse. Robins sing on Climbing Jack Common and Skylarks are overhead. Carrion Crows call from High Vinnalls. The area approaching the summit had grown up considerably. A few years back the Larch, Spruce and Silver Birch were saplings a couple of feet high. Now they are young trees standing ten feet or more. From the summit the distant hills are blue with a hazy mist. Closer, the Clee Hills are clear. Thin clouds are high but mist lays more thickly along the courses of the rivers Teme and Arrow. Back down Climbing Jack Common where Bluebells leaves appearing. On down to the mature woodland. A lot of conifers are growing in the oak wood; they could do with clearing. The temperature has now risen to 5°C.