Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Rain fell heavily last night and this morning everywhere is wet but the temperature has risen. Down the track to the lake. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers are chipping furiously at one another. A Wood Pigeon sits nearby apparently unconcerned about the noise. The grass squelches as I approach the sailing bay. A Goldeneye drake is tossing his head in display to a female. A Coot passes by. A pair of Greylags swim through the narrow gap between the long wooded spits that almost divide the lake. A pair of Goosander glide past beyond. Several Robins are in song. Plenty of Blackbirds are still around with half a dozen feeding in the meadow and more in the hedges. A Common Buzzard is patrolling the edge of Westfield Wood. A Song Thrush sings at the western end of the meadow. A skein of Canada Geese descend beyond the far side of the lake, near to the River Lugg. Cloud cloaks Dinmore Hill, tongues of white rolling down the small valleys.
A pair of Little Egrets are on the scrape. Wigeon are scattered around. A Mute Swan flies around the water. A Great Crested Grebe, still in winter plumaged is diving in the west end of the lake. A few Mallard, pairs of Goldeneye and Tufted Duck are here and there. The Mute Swan continues to circle, rising higher and higher before flying off south. The Grey Herons fly around the water in different directions. There are few Cormorant around. A squawking third Little Egret appears and chases off one of the original ones. Eight Mallard fly in. A female Goosander flies down the scrape and starts preening her wing feathers vigorously. The three Little Egrets fly to a clump of dead rushes which clearly annoys a Grey Heron which flies over to move them on. They do not move far but are clearly wary of the bigger bird.
Back along the meadow hedgerow are a clump of what may be Blewits, although I can see no blue tinge on the stems. Yellow catkins hang dripping wet. A pair of Fieldfares and a Mistle Thrush are at the top of an apple tree in the orchard.
Thursday – Home – It is St Brigid’s Day, Groundhog Day, Candlemas or Imbolc. An important day in olden times as it is the mid point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In the USA attention has been on Punxsutawney Phil in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Punxsutawney Phil is a Groundhog who is watched on Groundhog Day to see if he casts a shadow. If he does there will another six weeks of winter. This ceremony has been in existence for some 140 years during which time there have been at least 40 Punxsutawney Phils.
Here however, the day is grey and wet. As evening approaches warnings of Storm Doris (yes, seriously) are repeated on the weather forecasts. In the early hours the stars are shining brightly. (Apparently, it now transpires that this storm was not named, and Storm Doris actually occurs later in the month)
Friday – Martley-Clifton-on-Teme – The drive east to Martley is less than pleasant as the sun is frequently in my eyes. However, it is welcome to see sunshine instead of the predicted rain and gales of Storm Doris. Across from where I park is the former school and teacher’s house, now two houses, built in 1846 by Harvey Eginton and opened by Queen Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, wife of William IV. Behind is the church of St Peter. Across the lane is Martley Court. The road leads westwards. On the hill is The Noak, a large early 17th century farm house with an 1853 addition. This was the principal residence of the Nash family, of which the Worcestershire historian, Revd Treadway Russell Nash, was a member. The Old Smithy is a late 17th century-timber-framed house with brick infill. Robins, Dunnocks and a Song Thrush are in good voice. Down to the road junction. The Crown Inn stands opposite. I head north on the Tenbury road past the Old Tannery. Past several old properties, late 17th century and a former police house and out of the village. The road cuts through worn Bromsgrove sandstone banks of the Triassic. Steps rise to a path that avoids a nasty bend in the road. Past the entrance to The Noak. Either side of the road are open fields of grain shoots or sheep. A Skylark sings above the grain field. Houses and farms are dotted around on hillsides. The road starts to descend steeply. To the west the land drops precipitously down to the River Teme. In the wooded slope above an old wooden fence is rotting away. A Common Buzzard mews. Past Ham Bridge Farm. A little further on is a conversion called The Granary. Beside it, Ham Bridge Farmhouse, a listed building of the late 18th century, is in poor condition, seemingly abandoned.
The road swings round to Ham Bridge, rebuilt in 1908 by J.H. Garrett. Steps leads down to the fast flowing, chocolate brown river. Into a lane by Ham Bridge House, a 17th century farmhouse with 19th century alterations. A large stone milepost had a metal plate declaring “To Worcester Cross 9 Miles”. Great Tits call in the hedgerows. A large flock of Chaffinches flies across the fields and a Yellowhammer watches from wires. Homme (or Ham) Castle farmhouse is a large building with truncated wings. The barns have been converted into a business centre. Across the road the farm still operates. The castle motte stands in an adjacent field. It seems the castle was the property of the owners of the Manor of Ham but was forfeited by order of King John and given to Thomas de Galweya. Thomas was ordered in 1207 to deliver the castle (castellum) to William de Cauntelow to keep during the King’s pleasure. There was a stronghold or fortified manor here which was partly burnt in 1605, and greatly injured during the Civil War. Tradition says it was besieged and much damaged by the Parliamentary army, whose cannonballs were long preserved there. A cannonball which was dug up on the bank opposite Ham Castle was in the possession of the vicar of Clifton in 1924. This house could have been on the site of the present farm. It is recorded that William Jeffrey, the owner of the house during the Civil War, found a chest of treasure buried there. This house burnt to the ground in 1887. The current farmhouse replaced it.
A footpath heads towards Clifton-on-Teme. Across a very muddy sheep pasture and into Weyman’s or Wyman’s wood. The path climbs an overgrown hillside. The wind is rising. The ascent is difficult on slippery mud and leaves. I would have doubts about the existence of the path were it not for way markers. I find a Hazel stick which is invaluable with my ordinary stick at getting me up the slope. Scarlet Elf Cup fungi Sarcoscypha coccinea are scattered across the leaf mould. A Treecreeper sings. Grain is scattered everywhere and large barrels hold more for Pheasant rearing. The path now disappears completely. It should run along the edge of the woods next to fields but that is just a mass of brambles. So I make my own path following the route of the one on the map as closely as possible. Yellow Brain Fungus, Tremella mesenterica, is bright yellow gelatinous folds on a dead branch. Finally broken stiles takes the path out onto open fields. The sun is now just a follow behind grey clouds. The are fine views back across the Teme valley to a line of hills. Into another woodland, Hamcastle Plantation, where more grain barrels stand. A churned up slippery track leads to Church House Farm. A large flock of Redwings and Starlings is in a sheep pasture. There is water everywhere, ponds and streams cross fields. The route to the churchyard is blocked by a sizeable pond. I follow another footpath and eventually enter the village of Clifton-on-Teme. I have been reluctant to use public footpaths over recent years, especially around Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and this series of paths has only reinforced my prejudice. I fear many will be completely lost in a few years.
The street is lined with cottages and Georgian houses. The road approaches the village green past the late 17th century Old House, 17th century Crown House with the old Smithy, again late 17th century on the green. The green contains the village pump and telephone box, a listed Type K6, designed 1935 by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. An Oak is encircled by an iron seat. It starts to rain. Another part of the green contains a water hydrant with a lion’s head. Past the Lion Inn, 18th century around an older core. It is reputed that the inn stands on the site of the original manor house. The old forge has a coat of arms dated 1874. Opposite is the church of St Kenelm.
A charter from 934 of King Athelstan records the village as Clistun ultra Tame. The village stood on the ancient salt route that led from Droitwich to Leominster. In 1270 Henry III granted to Roger, son of Roger Mortimer, that his town of Clifton should be a free borough and the men thereof free burgesses. He granted also a weekly market on Thursday and a yearly fair for four days at the feast of St Margaret. The church dates from around 1200 with a later broach spire, replaced in the 17th century. The south aisle is 14th century. The building was in a poor condition by the 19th century and a major refurbishment was undertaken in 1843 and again by James Cranston between 1847 and 1853. In the east bay of the chancel is a late 13th century recumbent effigy in stone. On the north wall of the nave are monuments to Elizabeth Jeffreys died 1688, and Henry Jeffreys died 1709 believed to be by Grinling Gibbons. A bier stands in the porch. A tall preaching cross stands outside.
Out of the village past the old Vicarage, a large house as usual. It was built in 1840 by John Collins of Leominster. There are Mallard on the pond that covers the footpath. Off onto the Old Road, although what is the main road is shown on the 1885 OS map, so “Old” is relative! The wind and rain make it bitter. Properties along the lane are a mixture of mainly 20th century, although spanning the entire period. The road descends Clifton Hill, passing the New Inn. It joins the main road a way above Ham Bridge. Past Pitlands farm where rare breed pigs snuffle in the orchard. On down towards Ham Bridge. A stream meanders far below the road through Slashes Coppice. Another milepost, this one with a benchmark, indicates “Worcester 9 miles Tenbury 11½” It is a long, wet walk back to Martley.
The church of St Peter is 12th century with the chancel being rebuilt in the 13th century and the tower in the mid-15th century. The building is of local red sandstone which does not wear well. The church was restored in 1909 by Sir Charles Nicholson when wall paintings of the 13th to 15th centuries were uncovered. A barely discernible one on the north wall of the nave depicts St Martin of Tours on horseback dividing his cloak with a beggar. Beside it is a small panel depicting the Adoration and Crucifixion. In the chancel is a masonry pattern with the joints marked in red ochre, and a small black cinquefoiled flower on the end of a bending stem in the centre of each panel. Round the angles of the window jambs are patterns of leaves. On the east wall is a draped curtain, in the loops of which are the following small animals: a fox, a dragon, a winged monster, a rabbit, a wolf and a hart. These are believed to date from around 1250. Above the curtain runs a green lozenge border into which green and round the whole of the east window is a black and white cheveron enrichment. On the north side of the window are the remains of some canopy work. Round the head and west jamb of the south-east window of the chancel is the quartered arms of Mortimer, Despencer, Clare and Cornwall, and on the east jamb are the remains of a figure. At the base of the south wall of the chancel is a fine alabaster effigy of a late 15th century knight, believed to commemorate Hugh Mortimer, who died in 1460 with Richard, Duke of York, at the Battle of Wakefield. He is wearing a complete suit of plate armour. The rood screen is a copy of one destroyed in 1829. The Millennium west window is by Tom Denny. There is a ring of six bells by Richard Keene, 1673, cast on the spot, and said to be the oldest complete set of six in the country. The sanctus bell dates from 1721. Route
Sunday – Leominster – A damp cold morning. Eaton Hill is obscured by fog rising from the river valley. Wood Pigeons call from roof tops. Jackdaws sit on television aerials looking at chimney stacks in anticipation of nesting sites. Starlings chatter and chuckle. Ice makes the railway bridge slippery. A Song Thrush is in full flow at the top of a track-side tree. A mixture of songs emanate from the woodland. The river flows quickly, high enough to cover all the gravel spits that lurk in its edge. A pheasant calls from near the A49 bridge. There is the usual collection of emergency vehicles, 4x4s, white vans and an enormous caravan called The Savoy, which would have difficultly with any low bridge. Three ex-police BMW motorcycles seem to have been in the compound for months. Cheaton Brook pours red into the Lugg.
Monday – Croft – A clear night with Jupiter and Spica, a star in Virgo, shining brightly, is followed by a cold, frosty morning. Mist and frost has washed the colour out of the land, albeit from a limited palette of green and grey-brown. At Croft, a Great Tit calls and a Green Woodpecker yaffles. Down the drive into the Fish Pool Valley. A Mistle Thrush is in full song. A Grey Heron flaps down the valley. Despite there being fish in the pools, I rarely see a heron here. Up the valley beside the lime kiln. A Song Thrush sings intermittently. A Wren churrs in the bramble undergrowth before bursting into song. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. The path is very muddy. Some Snowdrops are in flower under the brambles. It is not clear how this clump have managed to seed here so far from any garden. Now there is a garden, about 100 yards on up the hill. Snowdrops are in profusion here. The garden belongs to the Keeper’s Cottage. Daffodil shoots have also emerged. The path joins the track that leads to the Spanish Chestnut field. A Song Thrush and Robin are in adjacent trees, both singing lustily. Down the track to the castle. Park House garden is cheery with Snowdrops and yellow Winter Aconites. By early afternoon rain has arrived.
Friday – Hereford – It is a cold, very grey morning. Fine snow falls for just a minute. The road outside is busy as Mill Street is closed because a lorry has somehow fallen off the road into the old signalman’s house. Trains have been suspended between Shrewsbury and Hereford. The plain of the Lugg south of Dinmore is murky with mist. Snow and sleet falls as the bus approaches Holmer.
No snow or rain in Hereford but it is cold. Down to the River Wye. A pair of Goosander are in the middle of the river and pair of Mute Swans are beneath the old bridge. A little way down stream is a small flock of a dozen Black-headed Gulls. My plan was to head south of the city down to Bullinghope, but icy rain starts to fall and I am easily dissuaded and cross over the Victoria Bridge to Castle Green. Great Tits call and a Blue Tits insects in a riverside Hazel.
Into the great cathedral of St Mary the Virgin and St Ethelbert the King. The cathedral was established in the 7th century when Hereford was the capital of Magonset, a part of the kingdom of Mercia. It held the relics of St Ethelbert, murdered by Offa in 794. The Welsh burned it to the ground in 1055 and it was rebuilt by the Normans, being consecrated in 1142. Peter Aigueblanche was appointed bishop in 1240, a Savoyard chaplain to Henry III’s wife, Eleanor of Provence. The new bishop imported twenty fellow Savoyards to the chapter, much to the anger of local people. In 1263 the Gascon dean of Hereford was murdered and Aigueblanche’s lands plundered. However, Aigueblanche remained bishop and started to rebuild the cathedral in the style of Westminster. In 1275 Thomas Cantilupe was installed as bishop. He was excommunicated and set out to Rome to seek a pardon from the Pope, however he died on the journey. His successor, Richard Swinfield, repatriated Cantilupe’s remains, which were, allegedly still bleeding, and erected a shrine for them. He publicised “miracles” due to Cantilupe’s remains and in the last two decades of the 13th century, the cult of Thomas Cantilupe was only outstripped by that of Thomas Becket. Cantilupe was canonised in 1320. The proceeds from the large number of pilgrims enabled the rebuilding of the church to continue into the 14th century. The cult ended with the Reformation. The west tower collapsed in 1786. The destroyed nave was rebuilt by James Wyatt in the 18th century and the transepts and chancel by L.N. Cottingham in the 1840s. John Oldrid Scott, son of Sir George Gilbert Scott, replaced the front of the cathedral between 1902-08. Simon Jenkins comments that the interior is “disappointing”, due to the alterations of Wyatt and Cottingham. However, there are good monuments – numerous former bishops, including a fine one of Aigueblanche. Cantilupe has a tomb chest but without and effigy which was removed in the Reformation. Over the tomb is a splendid red wooden canopy by Peter Murphy, installed in 2008. A number of tombs have been restored to the their original coloured brightness. In particular is the tomb of Peter de Grandisson, who died in 1352. In the Audley Chapel are windows by Tom Denny, installed in 2007, celebrating Thomas Treherne, the 17th century Herefordshire writer.
Down Capuchin Lane into High Town and then on to St Owen’s Street. The church of St Peter and St James is open, possibly the first time I have found it so. The church is late 13th or early 14th century and was the parish church of Hereford. It was extensively restored in 1885 by Thomas Nicholson. The interior before restoration was criticised by Sir Stephen Glynne in 1854 who stated, “The interior suffers from frightful obstruction by pews and galleries...The chancel is entirely cut off from the nave by a large gallery containing the organ.” There exists a photograph of 1884 and it must be admitted the view down the church is poor. The interior has been further altered recently. The collegiate church of St Peter was founded in 1085 by Walter de Laci who died that year by falling from the church battlements. Nothing of that church remains. The choir stalls are 15th century, possibly from the priory of St Guthlac. On the north wall are the arms of William III. The organ case is oak from around 1700, allegedly by Grinling Gibbons. The 14th century spire contains a bell of a similar age which is thought to have been the “Common Bell” used to give warning of danger to the citizens of Hereford. The church is now evangelical Anglican.
Sunday – Leominster – A cold east wind chills and it is as wet as can be without actually raining. This does not stop a Song Thrush by the railway bridge puffing out his chest and singing for all he is worth. The river levels look unchanged. White vans by the compound at Brightwells’ have labels that identify them as former police and other agency vehicles. Past Friday’s accident site. The house looks like it emerged unscathed but the railings along the top of the wall that the lorry crashed over are either missing or flattened. Rain falls by the time I reach the Kenwater.
Monday – Croft – Blue sky and watery sunshine is an improvement in recent days. The temperature is above zero but the east wind still has a bite. Nuthatches call, Blue Tits chirp and a Jackdaw chacks. Down a muddy drive to the Fish Pool Valley. Up the Beech wood. A Coal Tit searches branches. More Nuthatches call. Blackbirds are active. Grey Squirrels scamper away up the tree trunks. A stump is hosting a number of clumps of shiny copper-coloured fungi – Velvet Shank, Flammuline velutipes. I follow the Forestry track up out of the valley. The sun is now warm, out of the wind it is quite pleasant. Robins fly around the bottoms of trees. A Common Buzzard soars over Croft Ambrey. Over the hill-fort. All is quiet. Down the Spanish Chestnut field. Several groups of people are coming up from the castle, the improvement in the weather has encouraged them although they may not be quite so happy when the find the mud. Cows in the car park field have calves. A little grey one sleeps by the fence that separates the field from the path to the café. I point it out to a mother who had not noticed who excitedly calls her boys to see the little creature.
Thursday – Glasbury-Felindre – Off the main Brecon road at Glasbury’s St Peter and St Cynidr’s church. An old corrugated iron hall stands on the opposite corner from the church, presumably the church hall. The lane passes a couple of modern bungalows and then under the railway, the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway which opened in 1864 and closed in 1962. More modern properties before a road junction overlooked by the old Vicarage which has some Arts and Crafts touches. To the west the peaks of the Brecon Beacons are grey and cloud-topped. Robins and Dunnocks hop along the hedge tops. At a junction, I take a left past an electricity sub-station. A large flock of Fieldfares passes over. Along the lane as more and more Fieldfares and some Redwings fly north. In a field are the remains of a long barrow. The barrow lays on a slope down to a small stream which joins the Afon Llynfi, a small river that joins the Wye at Glasbury bridge. Past Little Lodge farm, whose fine grey a stone farmhouse adjoins barns. Pentwyn is a large L-shaped farmhouse on the slope to the stream whose barns have been converted into dwellings. A large Holly hedge lines one side of the road. A right turn leads down to the stream and early to mid 19th century Tregoyd Mill. The corn mill converted to a sawmill around 1920, closing in the 1960s. The mill leet joins the stream at a small waterfall by the road bridge. I detour briefly up a path by the stream but it is collapsing into the water. The mill is large, a miller’s house as well as the mill itself. All are now residences. A Bullfinch flies across a small orchard. A pair of Dippers bob beside the water downstream. Beyond the stream are a number of houses, some modern, others older but substantially extended. Past a number of bungalows, barn conversions and a farmhouse. To the east is a hill, Hay Forest and beyond Twmpa and the Black Mountains. The lane enters Felindre. Past Wood Villas. A bridge crosses Felindre Brook. Past The Three Musketeers, (previously The Three Horseshoes), the village pub and down the main lane of of the village to Old Gwernyfed.
Old Gwernyfed is of medieval origins, claimed to be gifted by Bernard Neufmarché (circa 1050 – circa 1125) to Sir Peter Gunter. It was the seat of Gryffydd Gunter Vychan in the early 16th century, and came into the hands of the Williams family around 1580. It was extensively rebuilt in the early years of the 17th century, probably by Sir David Williams, Dafydd ap Gwilym of Ystradfellte, Gwent, Judge at the Court of Queen’s Bench and the MP for Brecon, before his death in 1613, when Sir Henry (Harry) Williams, knighted in 1604 and also MP, took residence. He later became the first High Sheriff for the county. Charles I stayed with the Williams’ at the house on his flight from Brecon to Old Radnor on the night of August 6th 1645, and is said to have left the cryptic message on the hall screen for Prince Rupert. In the later 17th Sir Thomas Williams was the private physician to Charles II. It was probably during the remodelling of the earlier house in the first decade of the 17th century. The Williams family moved the family seat to Llangoed Hall, near Llyswen around 1730, and around 1780 the south-west wing was gutted by fire and remains a shell today. The house is of the classic later medieval-transitional plan. There are a pair of circular Tudor dovecots with conical roofs in the original forecourt. The reused medieval porch is said variously to have come from Llanthony or Brecon priories, or more locally from Aberllynfi or Felindre churches (the latter being unlikely as there seems to have been no church, only a chapel, in the village). Folklore believes it to be the bringer of ill-luck.
Back to the village. I have a decision to make. There are back roads and tracks that should lead to Talgarth but I will either have to come back that way or up the main road. I do not really fancy either so I decide to return to Glasbury and drive down to Talgarth. The morning is now very pleasant with sunshine and some blue in the sky. Back in the village a lane passes the pub. A short distance down the lane is the Ebenezer Welsh Presbyterian chapel of 1869, now a dwelling. A majority of the houses in the village are modern. The route back is more direct. More large flocks of Fieldfares are moving around the fields. There are lambs in the fields. The Warren is a large villa standing alone on the lane. A line is pine trees stands by an orchard in front of Caeronen farm, which stands on the site of the keeper’s Lodge of Gwernyfed Park, the large deer park originally connected with Old Gwernyfed, then part of a late 19th century house, now a school, with formal terraced gardens designed by William Nesfield. Behind the farm is an Iron Age settlement. The road descends past a huge Sweet Chestnut to a bridge over the brook. A pair of Common Buzzards circle over the bridge before during up the valley. Over the crossroads by the electricity sub-station. A Red Kite is overhead and four Common Buzzards are over the hillside. Maesllwch Castle lays across the Wye valley. It was built close to an original hall house of the Vaughan family which was later owned by Charles Lloyd. The house was rebuilt by the Howarths in 1715, when the surrounding park was also established. The current building was designed in a castellated by the architect William Lugar for the de Winton family in the mid 19th century. In the Second World War it was used as a Canadian hospital and then by the Land Army.
Into the church of St Peter and St Cynidr. There is a sign by the door, “All Seats Free”. The importance of this early church was such that Glasbury was made a diocese. A list of the bishops of Glasbury still exists and gives the last bishop as Tryferyn, who died in 1055. The diocese was subsumed by the bishopric of Glamorgan, later Llandaff. The original church was near the confluence of the Llynfi and Wye rivers. It was a monastic church although there is no trace of the monastery now, but it was probably on the site of an abandoned Norman church. The name Glasbury, Y Clas ar wy means “the monastery on the Wye”. The Norman church was probably damaged by Glydŵr and rebuilt but always under threat from flooding. Land, known as Clôs dan y Bolein, the site of the present church, was obtained in 1662 and a new church built. No picture or drawing exists of that church which was pulled down in 1836. The present church was designed by Lewis Vulliamy and consecrated in November 1838. Internally it was further restored in 1881. A three tier pulpit was removed and today’s much simpler one installed. The floor was paved with tiles by William Godwin and Son of Lugwardine. A wrought iron chancel screen was given by the Vaughan Morgans in 1882 and a new organ in 1887.The glass is all after 1884. In the sanctuary is an oak boss carved with “IHS” which came from Aberllynfi church and is dated to the 15th century. The main font is dated 1635.
Talgarth – Into Talgarth. The town was the royal residence of Brychan King of Brycheiniog in the 5th century CE. It backed the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie in his attempt to retake the Crown for the line of Stuart. In 1735 Talgarth saw the birth of the Welsh Methodist revival when Hywel Harris, probably the most influential person to come from Talgarth, was converted in Talgarth church while listening to a sermon by the Revd Pryce Davies. Narrow streets of housing from the 18th and 19th centuries. Up Bell Street. The Tabernacle, Baptist Chapel is dated 1837. Down Heol las, a small lane only 5½ wide. Another lane passes the Manse and then a track leads to the Bethania Congregational church which is in a poor state but in the process of restoration, but possibly not as a church. Just inside the burial ground is a grave with a life-sized angel on the stone. There are also several large monuments in front of the church. Back through the town and over the River Ennig via a bridge of probable mediaeval origin, widened in the 20th century. On the far side of the bridge is Talgarth Mill. The mill is said to have started as a weaving mill for the production of “brecknocks”. Latterly it was used for grinding corn and beans for local farms. The mill ceased operation in 1970 but is now operating as a flour mill. Opposite is The Tower, probably built in the 14th century to guard the river crossing and town. It was described by Leland as “a little prison”. Extensions were added in the 19th century on both west and east sides to provide shops. It is said locally to have underground passages to Talgarth Church, to Bronllys Castle and even more improbably, to Cardiff. On another corner stands the Town Hall with the Memorial Town Clock. It was built 1877-8 as an Assembly Room with a produce market under, by T Lawrence Lewis, architect. The clock tower added 1887 for Queen Victoria’s jubilee. It is being restored. Off the Hay Road is Back Lane which leads to the church passing the United Free Church. It was built as the Bethlehem Chapel in 1821 (or possibly 1828), and re-fronted in 1870 by architect George Morgan of Carmarthen. Trebowen is a large house in red sandstone. The school is modern but built beside the earlier one, sadly boarded up. At the top of the lane is the church of St Gwendoline, locked. Back through the town centre and out towards Bronllys.
Bronllys – Past the Castle Hotel. Opposite is the livestock market. Over the river again and past the much enlarged New Inn. A bungalow is built in corrugated iron. The River Ennig flows alongside the road and meets Afon Llynfi at Bronllys Bridge. The River Dulais joins the Llynfi a short distance to the west of the bridge. Just beyond is Bronllys Castle. Richard FitzPons, a supporter of Bernard Neufmarché probably built the first castle at Bronllys, a typical Norman motte and bailey stronghold. While the castle saw little military action, it did play a role in maintaining Norman dominance in the region. Richard’s son changed their name to Clifford. The Cliffords were required to pay knight’s fee for the right to own the castle and its surrounding estates, and when necessary, the lord of Cantref Selyf paid the Lord of Brecon the sum of five and a half armoured horses (according to Smith and Knight, 1981) plus provided a number of soldiers. There was a stone keep here in 1165 as it is recorded that it caught fire and a stone fell off the battlements killing the lord’s youngest son. The circular stone keep on a mound was built around 1220 by Walter de Clifford. In 1311, Maud Giffard, the last surviving heir to the Clifford estates, died and the castle was granted to Rhys ap Hywel, a native Welshman who had supported the English in their campaigns in Wales. In 1326 he supported the Marcher Lords led by Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, in their campaign against Edward II. Rhys ap Hywel died in 1328, passing ownership of the castle to his son, Philip ap Rhys. In 1351, Humphrey de Bohun became sole Lord of Cantref Selyf and the castle at Bronllys. In 1399, after the Earl of Derby was crowned King Henry IV, all property held by the de Bohuns reverted to the monarchy. It remained so until 1478 when it passed to the Duke of Buckingham although, due to his rebellion, it was confiscated between 1483-1509. In 1521 another Buckingham rebellion led to the final confiscation and the castle remained a Royal property thereafter; albeit one allowed to decay into ruin. A large hall stood next to the keep but nothing remains of it. Steps rise to the entrance of the keep. Then stone stairs wind around up to the battlements. The views are spectacular. Here was a third floor added in the 13th century, a chamber for the lord and lady with painted walls, with wall hangings for both decoration and insulation and brightly coloured furniture.
Bronllys – On into Bronllys, meaning “Court of rushes”. Bright yellow Lesser Celandines shine from under a hedge. In the churchyard of St Mary’s is a small marble scrolled shaped war memorial. Unusually more died in WWII, five than in WWI, only two. A plaque in the porch started that 52 served, which was a good survival rate! The church was largely rebuilt in 1889 by Nicholson and probably conforms to its much earlier, 12th or 13th century plan, retaining its original font and a 16th century rood screen. The original church was probably established by the Clifford family and may well have been a new foundation following the building of Bronllys Castle, rather than a rebuilding of an existing structure. The church and much of its land were subsequently given to the Cluniac Priory at Clifford, in Herefordshire, and were still held by them at the Dissolution in the mid 16th century. The font, is probably 14th century, moved to this position position in 1969 It has a shallow bulbous bowl with heavy projections, raised on a stepped circular base. The rood screen of three segments has been moved to the west end of nave, screening a vestry. It dates from the late 15th century. A moulded sanctuary rail stands on iron scrolled stanchions. The pulpit is 18th century, fielded panelling with bracketed book-rest, brought here from Llandefaelog Tre’r graig. Set in a rectangular churchyard, the church has a free-standing 13th century bell-tower or campanile which does not share the church’s orientation. A “Table of Benefactions” in stone stands by the porch. It starts with “Person Unknown” who “gave ten pounds to be lent out at interest for use of the poor of this parish”.
The Cock Hotel stands on the old Brecon road. Behind some modern housing is a moated site, a typical example of the small group of probably eight medieval moated enclosures east of Brecon. It comprises a raised rectangular platform surrounded by a single bank and partially water-filled ditch. Its date is unclear, around the 13th or 14th centuries. A house would have stood on the platform. Red Kites float over the village. A military aircraft, a C130, flies over very low. Back to Talgarth. Route 1Route 2
Sunday – Home – It is dry and rather mild so some work in the garden can be undertaken. First I wash the greenhouse windows – greenhouse does not mean that the glass has to be green! The algae washes off easily enough. Then the diggings from the chicken run that were piled on a couple of beds are moved into the greenhouse bed. Next task is digging out the run again. The hens have mixed feelings about this – they are not keen on me clumping around their run but the digging exposes worms that they devour greedily. When all the rotting straw and manure are removed, fresh material is scattered around. Then some grain is scattered on it and the hens get scratching whilst clucking contentedly.
The rose bower should be pruned regularly, and has not been. It is now badly overgrown and I spend a good while cutting the thick branches and stems to remove all the growth. It piles up on the path – a huge amount. I have badly scratched arms and blood running down my face. It will probably take a week to cut up and bag this lot for removal to the recycling centre. There is far too much for us to compost and really our bins do not get hot enough anyway. The Robin looks on, possibly wondering why one of his favourite singing spots has been removed. A Dunnock sings almost continuously whilst I struggle with the tangle mass.
Tuesday – Home – Into the second day of cutting the rose prunings into small pieces and bagging them. There are about eight bags now with maybe a quarter to a third of the prunings still to be processed. The resident Robin watches to see if anything edible emerges from our labours. It (I have no idea about its gender, they are non-diamorphic, i.e. both sexes look the same) hops along the wall, emitting bursts of song and pecking at crevices in the brickwork. A Dunnock is at the top of one of our trees singing loudly. A Long-tailed Tit passes through. There is a Great Spotted Woodpecker nearby, calling. When I approach the feeder a Nuthatch eyes me warily before grabbing one more seed and dashing off.
In the afternoon I fill some pots and a length of guttering with compost in the greenhouse. Broad beans go into the pots and peas into the guttering. I mix some of my incredibly foul smelling Stinging Nettle juice with water and pour it on the purple sprouting broccoli. The purple sprouts are there but are tiny and do not seem to be developing. Then more pruning. Gooseberry bushes are reduced a little more. Then some of the branches of an old pear tree by the summerhouse are lopped off. I do not know if it will improve the crop; every year there are masses of small pears that never come to much.
Thursday – Home – Storm Doris has now arrived. The storm that failed to materialise in the early days of the month may have been named “Doris” by the press but not by the Met Office. However, this is the real thing. It is a “weather bomb”, an area of rapidly falling pressure, resulting in intense winds that have lashed the coast. Trees are down in many areas, including a few miles away in Kingsland. The wind may be a constant but otherwise the weather changes frequently from sunshine to rain.
I failed to replace the lid properly on the bird food bin yesterday and this morning a small mouse was racing around on the seeds. It took some time to capture it in the feeder scoop and place outside the shed, from where it dashed off into the undergrowth. It must have thought all its birthdays had come at once (although most mice only have a couple of birthdays at best), but may not have been so happy when it realised it could not get out of the bin.
Friday – Worcester – Storm Doris had moved off onto the continent. The morning is cool but bright, a cloudless sky and shining sun. I park in Lower Wick in the south is the city. This is a well-to-do neighbourhood of large early to mid 20th century semis and detached houses. The area was previously St John’s Nurseries, extensive cider orchards. At the west end of the road a footpath runs south by the wooded edge of the golf course. Magpies chatter and a Great Tit sings his monotonous song. The path emerges in a large housing estate from the second half of the 20th century. Past a parade of shops and a school, half term apparently so the place is silent. Past a pub and through the maze of roads. A cul-de-sac leads to Laugherne Brook. I have to retreat and find another way through to the road to the south of the estate. Through to the main Malvern road and into the Old Road. Past some old stables, now residences. Southwick Lodge is a neat house of 1830. Far Netherbury is a later house whilst Teme Court is a large Georgian mansion from around 1820 now much extended and residential home. The lane passes Powick Mills. In 1086, the Bishop of Worcester had two water mills in Wick, one on this site. In the 1720s a water driven iron forge was built here. Around 1760 Sampson Lloyd bought the forge and built a rolling and splitting mill next to it. In the 19th century the mill was used to grind materials for the porcelain potteries. In 1894, a hydro-electric power station was built to provide electricity to the city. When opened it was the largest in Britain and the first to be owned by a local authority. The generators were shut down in the 1920s and the Metropole Laundry took over part of the building. An “overhead traveller” from the turbine hall is preserved in the car park. Hydro-electricity was still produced until the 1950s. In the 1960s an engineering firm occupied the premises and they were turned into apartments in 2000.
Round the corner is Old Powick Bridge over the River Teme. This wonderful bridge is mediaeval with 17th century alterations. The two northern piers were destroyed by the Royalists in 1651. Beside it is a stone commemorating the Scots who died in their thousands at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, in the Civil War. There were two battles, in fact the first in 1642 started the Civil War and the one in 1651 ended it. The 1642 battle took place to the north of here, close to where I have parked! It was more a skirmish but decisively won by the Royalists under Prince Rupert. The battle of 1642 was fought over the fields between the bridge and the confluence of the Rivers Teme and Severn to the south-east. It was a resounding victory for Parliament and Charles II had to flee into exile. South on a footpath, the Monarch’s Way, a 615 mile long-distance path following the route taken by Charles II into exile from Worcester via Bristol and Yeovil to Brighton. The path passes under the modern road which is carried by the fine sandstone and cast iron Powick New Bridge of 1837 with a main arch surmounted by the City Coat of Arms and two small side bridges. It was designed by William Capper of Birmingham. The contractors for stonework were Mr Faville of Harrogate, and for ironwork, Mr Yates of Birmingham. Across the river meadows is the southern bypass and that and the busy road into Worcester make such a different sound to the shouts, screams and clashes of steel that would have filled the air during the battles 350 years ago. The top of the river bank is thick with the pale dead stalks of Stinging Nettles. New nettle shoots cover the ground beneath the stalks. Manor Farm lays to the east with the remains of mediaeval fish pond extending into the meadow. A farm building here incorporates the remains to the chapel of St Cuthbert, built in 1165 and last used as a chapel in 1371. The path follows the Teme southwards. To the west is the tower of Powick church and beyond the dark, smooth humps of the Malvern Hills. The river forms a large loop, coming back on itself with the returning water just some 50 yards from where the loop begins. It then proceeds eastwards. A pair of Mute Swans are on the bend. The path does not follow the loop but cuts across to the resumed river route. To the north east is the city and the cathedral dominating the view. A Grey Wagtail flies its undulating flight along the edge is the field. An old trees has several large clumps of Mistletoe, which has turned yellow and has little yellow flowers and some white pearly berries.
The Teme arrives at its confluence with the Severn. A stone marks the boundary of the City of Worcester. The path now heads north beside the Severn. The field here is the eastern end of site of the 1651 Battle of Worcester. It is a rather unprepossessing field of maize stubble. Across the river, modern houses look down from a high bank. A rusty sluice gate stands above a deep drainage channel with a small ditch of water in it, feeding into the river. Clouds are building and a wind blows now. A flash of chestnut as a piping Kingfisher shoots upstream. A Dabchick near the bank dives leaving a ring of water. A new footbridge, Digilis Bridge, opened in 2010, crosses the river. A small crane is rotting away in a mass of brambles by the river. The river divides with two sets of large lock gates at Digilis. Digilis is first recorded as the place name Dudleg in 1232 and Dudley in 1490. The name is probably from the same root as the town of Dudley, “Dudda’s Leah, or open woodland”. Opposite are a small terrace of three lock keepers cottages of 1844 and long low canal workshops which were built as part of the river engineering works and included a chapel or “Bethel” for the navvies engaged on the site in addition to its further use as accommodation and workshops. The locks and weir on the River Severn at Diglis were completed in October 1844 under the direction of the Worcester engineer, E. Leader Williams. A large barge is moored further up the river. To the east was the cricket ground from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1960s. The path crosses Oil Basin Bridge. Tanks lined the cricket pitch during the 20th century. A pair of Mute Swans are beneath the bridge, probably the pair from the Teme as they flew past earlier. A small flock of Black-headed Gulls are bathing. Some have regained their black heads for the breeding season. Blocks of new apartments now stand back from the river.
A lock lies off the river where the Birmingham-Worcester Canal joins the Severn. 29 miles long and 58 locks, it was opened in 1815. It provided a route for goods from Birmingham to get to the Severn and then out to the sea and was an important cargo route for chocolate crumb destined for Cadbury’s factory at Bourneville. The bells of the cathedral toll midday. Another large set of lock gates leads into the Digilis Basin. The sound of woodworking comes from the Grist Mill Boat Yard. On along the canal. Many buildings of apartments are new but some are old converted warehouses. An amusing sign carries a message to dog owners to clear up after their pets and a message to dogs – “Grr Bark Woof”. Half a dozen Mallard fly swiftly down the canal. Another massive pair of lock gates, the locks here are really deep! Here is the Commandary which is said to have been founded (possibly 1085, although it may have been up to two centuries later). It was an almshouse and a place of hospitality for pilgrims and other travellers and was most probably founded by the Order of St John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitallers, who named their administrative areas commanderies. Following the Dissolution, The Commandery became the residence of the Wyldes, a family of clothiers who remained in possession of it until 1785. During the Civil War, when The Commandery was used by Charles II’s forces as headquarters during the Battle of Worcester. After its sale by Thomas Wylde in 1785, The Commandery was split into several family homes. In the 19th century, The Commandery housed a pioneering school for the “blind sons of gentlemen”. In the 1950s, when it was a printing factory of the Littlebury family. it is now a museum. On each side of the bridge over the canal are some sculptures of Civil War helmets and pikes in metal.
Into the city centre. Danesbury House stands on the corner of the City Walls Road. It was rebuilt in 1889, and was, in the early years of the 19th century, the home of the Price family. Their grand-daughter, Ellen Price (later Wood), lived here when she was very young. Ellen Wood became better known as Mrs Henry Wood, which was the name under which she wrote melodramatic novels and short stories from around the 1850’s until her death in 1887. The present building is named after one of her novels, and has a commemorative stone. Through the city centre. Maybe there are a few more empty shops but much is the same. Down Bridge Street where terraces of three storey Georgian houses line the street, enduring the constant traffic. These terraces were built around 1771-99 in two stages, possibly by John Gwynn of Shrewsbury, architect of Worcester Bridge.
Onto the Worcester Bridge. There is a large herd of Mute Swans just down stream, some seventy plus birds with a few more on the other side of the water. The large flock is apparently in a swan sanctuary. Someone is feeding a few of them and Black-headed Gulls fly around excitedly. Over the bridge and into Cripplegate Park, opened in 1932 Edward, Prince of Wales, who planted a Worcester Black Pear. Some cherry trees are in flower a glorious confection of white. A fountain is dated 1858. It is believed to be by Hardy and Padmore, Iron founders of Worcester. The iron foundry of Robert Hardy and Co was established in 1814, becoming Hardy and Padmore in 1829 and ceasing trading in 1968. Worcestershire County Cricket Ground lies across the road. Out is the park and up the road to the Bull Ring. A pair of properties, one a pub, have interesting architectural features. Into St John’s Street. The ages of properties is a complete mixture. One house is the surviving cross-wing of large medieval hall-house with two cross-wings from around 1550. A former bank is now a kebab shop. However, there are two butcher’s shops although a bookies may be the largest premises! There is also a micropub, but I am driving soon.
The church of St John is, of course, locked. The land was granted to the monks of Worcester Priory in the 12th century. The church is late 12th century in red sandstone with plain tile roofs. The chancel arcade and south chapel are early 14th century; the south chancel arcade, chancel arch and west tower date from 1481; the north aisle was rebuilt and south porch added by Parsons in 1841; the east end extended and the north chapel with vestries built 1884 by Ewan Christian.
Age Concern occupies a fine 16th century house which was nearly demolished in the 1970s, only saved by ministerial intervention. Out of St John’s and on down towards Lower Wick. The road is lined with short named terraces and villas, all similar terraced houses of the early 20th century. A metal plaque on a gate post states “To Worcester Cross 1 Mile”. Side roads often have smaller houses in terraces. A short distance on and the side roads consist of inter-war housing. Pitmaston House was home to John Williams, (1773-1853), a horticulturalist, plant breeder and meteorologist. The house was built around 1805 in the Regency Gothic style with Victorian Gothic additions. Pitmaston was an ornamental nursery where hybrid fruits were developed. The extensive grounds now form a public park, bordered to Malvern Road by walls, piers, gates and gate lodge to Pitmaston House and Pitmaston Park. It is now a school and apartments. The houses become less old, some have Art Deco touches. The larger houses still retain architectural features of interest but the homes for the middle classes are becoming less and less interesting. Route
Sunday – Leominster – A grey morning with a brisk wind. Rain clouds approach from the west. Over the railway and onto Butts Bridge. The Lugg flows swiftly, gurgling over the masonry debris beneath the bridge. Blue Tits chatter, Chaffinches and Dunnocks sing, a Carrion Crow caws menacingly from a low branch and a Great Tit sings an odd song, somehow the notes are the wrong way round. A Nuthatch whoops and I wonder if they have always been as widespread here? Certainly in Sussex when I was young they were uncommon, it was many years before I saw my first. Brightwells’ compound is the usual mix of 4x4s, white vans and emergency service vehicles. It is surprising that Humberside Police find it worthwhile bringing their vehicles right across the country to sell them. And there is a Rolls Royce. Round to the Kenwater. A woodpecker is drumming nearby. The river is coloured and swift.