New Year’s Day, Tuesday – Leominster – Clouds glow silver and grey as they shroud the moon. A Cosmos rocket body passes over. Then the near full moon emerges casting moon-shadows on the dark, wet ground. Clouds move across again and a circular rainbow appears around the glowing disc. The Minster bells toll the three-quarter hour. Several Robins sing.
Hereford – The plan is to have a short walk at Bodenham Lakes, at least some of the route should be mud-free. However, I cannot get near the car park, every route from the north and east is closed by flooding. The fields are all under water. I decide to head down to the other side of Dinmore Hill and come in that way, but no that route is closed too. So I keep heading south. Just after Sutton-St-Nicholas the road crosses the River Lugg. The course of the river can be seen for a short distance after the bridge where the water is rushing through the extensive flood. The Wergin Stone rises out of a field which, like all those around it, is under water. Eventually, I just continue on to Hereford and go down to Bridge Street. Past the John Gwynn James Memorial Home for Nurses, now offices and onto the old Wye Bridge. The River Wye is a roiling mass of brown water speeding under the old arches. The river-side footpaths are closed, that to the west is under water. There are new flood barriers erected along the walls beside the path to the east. As there is no access to Bishop’s Fields I return around Gwynne Street, up to the cathedral and back down to Bridge Street.
Queenswood Country Park – The park is busy, strollers and dogs everywhere. Maddy has her ball so she is pretty much disinterested in everything else. It is hard to see the extent of the flooding from the look-out as the sun reflects blindingly off the water. Parts of the path are a quagmire, leaves and mud making a thick soup.
Thursday – Leintwardine – A village on Watling Street, a branch of the great Roman road. Indeed, a street still retains the name, heading down to the river crossing. The village is on the site of Bravonium, a Roman settlement. To the south was a major fort, Branogenium. The name, Leintwardine, is believed to derive from Lent, the Celtic name for the Teme, and eurde, an Old English word meaning an enclosure. The Teme is roaring under the five-arch bridge. Up the High Street past the Lion, a sprawling riverside inn, the Post Office, then off westwards along Mill Lane above the River Clun which joins the Teme here. Seedley House, a late 18th or early 19th century house stands on the hill. More modern dwellings stand above the river. Beside Seedley House is another large house seemingly designed to look like a Roman villa. Next to it is what looks like a typically Tudor house, but probably much younger.
The track crosses the river. Blue Tits chirrup. A Great Tit tries out his song. Carrion Crows call across the boggy pasture. Maddy manages to run the wrong direction when I kick her ball, which gently rolls down into the river. She goes in to retrieve it but struggles to get up the near vertical bank, despite my calling her to a less steep section. A bedraggled dog eventually pulls herself out and it is then a struggle to prevent her rolling where sheep droppings litter the ground. After a while I retrace my route to the bridge and now head across the pasture land in the direction of Coxall Knoll, an Iron Age hill-fort. The path meets a series of ditches which necessitates short detours to find the shallowest crossing points. The path follows Pember’s Ditch. The path, not that there is any sign of it, reaches a plank bridge over another ditch and a stock fence with Buckton Park, a large farm, beyond. I know I will have to lift Maddy over the stile as she utterly refuses to jump them. I look at the wet dog and we head back.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – A dark, grey morning. A few Robins sing and Blue Tits chatter. Beyond the Iron Age enclosure it is getting misty. Carrion Crows bark occasionally. High Vinnalls is in the clouds; no views today. Off down the long Forestry track. Willow Tits buzz from the dense conifers. The woodland paths have been churned into quagmires by horses. Why the riders cannot keep to the Forestry tracks is a mystery! Maddy goes straight into the bottom pool for a swim before I even reach it. She gets out, drops her ball which rolls back into the water. She shakes and then looks for her ball. On discovering in the water she is back in and the whole process is repeated. It is only on the fourth cycle that the ball does not float out so far from the bank and she can retrieve it without going in. This time she reaches the path again without dropping the ball and we can move off. By the time we are back down near Woodcroft the sun is almost breaking through the cloud.
Tuesday – Monkland – The old road gently winds through the village. A mixture of timber-framed cottages, Georgian and Victorian houses and more modern properties. The village is by-passed by the A44. The name Monkland comes, like other villages down the Leon Valley and indeed, Leominster, from the name of the landowner, coupled with lene meaning a low-lying or marshy ground – hence Kingsland, low-lying land owned by the king; Leominster, owned by the minster; Eardisland, owned by Earl Harold and here, of course, owned by monks. Opposite the forlorn looking, shut down pub is Pleck Lane. Past Monkland dairy, a cheese-making enterprise with the successful Mousetrap cheese shops locally. The road passes the village hall and enters Monkland Common. The common is surrounded by a scattering of dwellings of differing ages. At the far end a track fords the Moor Brook, which runs off from the River Arrow, to the north-west of the village, to rejoin it again to the north-east. A Kestrel sits on wires, surveying the field below. A Blackbird alarms and Robins, Wrens and Great Tits sing. Sheep graze an orchard. Some of the trees look less that 20 years old, others are cloaked in Mistletoe. Another ford gives access to fields. An artesian windmill revolves but pumps nothing as the shaft is broken and the differential gears look a rusted mess. Calling Fieldfares pass over.
Back to the common. It is hard to judge the ages of the houses. One looks timber-framed but is clearly late 20th century. Another pair of typical farm workers houses look 20th century but the base of the chimney climbing the end of the house is very old. Others have so many extensions and alterations that the core building is hard to discern. Back at the eastern end of the village, on the south side of the A44 is the church, the old school house, a fine example of Victorian Gothic and Manor farm with a Georgian farmhouse. The manor is far older with some 16th century remains and indications of buildings back to the Conquest. The church is now dedicated to All Saints but it was, until about a century ago, St John the Baptist. Originally a cell of Benedictine monks was established here subject to the Abbey of Conches in Normandy by Ralph de Tondeni, who carried Duke William’s standard at the Battle of Hastings. The cell was suppressed as alien by Henry V in 1415. Edward IV gave the manor to the Dean and Canons of St George’s Chapel, Windsor around 1475. The church is late 11th century and although the nave was rebuilt in 1866 by George Edmund Street, the stones were replaced in their former positions so the nave remains essentially late 13th century. The door windows are dressed with Tufa, a limestone which is very soft when quarried but dries to a hard but porous stone. The 1866 rebuild replaced the chancel and installed the reredos, an alabaster crucifix under a Purbeck marble canopy. The pulpit, depicting St Ambrose, St Jerome, St Augustine of Hippo and St Gregory, the organ and the east window were also installed at this time. All of this was undertaken by Sir Henry Williams Baker, Bart, the first chairman of the Compilers of Hymns Ancient and Modern. The font bowl is Norman, the stem and base both Victorian. Outside, the spire has a rather odd partially stepped shingle roof.
Friday – Presteigne – From the church Ford Street leads over the Lugg Bridge, a 17th century construction. I guess that before this there was a ford here, hence the street name. The River Lugg is flowing fast but is clearly far less deep than of recent weeks. Sun beams shimmer through mist. Beyond the bridge is Stapleton Farm and this is Stapleton County Parish, and England, the other side of the bridge being in Wales. An old clock, sadly not running, is in the wall of a long house with maybe a barn attached, called The Old Grove. Up to the Kinsham junction. In the shade the ground is covered in frost. Above the sky is clear and azure. A deep roar gets louder and after a minute or so a large four engined transport plane passes over just above tree height. Maddy, of course starts frenzied barking although I am not sure she knows at what she is protesting. The plane also upsets some Fieldfares which fly about calling. The road passes the municipal cemetery where a Robin sings. Three rasping Mistle Thrushes fly over. Firth Wood rises up ahead. The road runs each way under the eaves of the wood and I turn right. Past Baker’s Farm and nearby Pear Tree Cottage of 1854 with flowering Lungwort on the garden wall.
Stapleton Castle sits high on a hill overlooking the valley. Sadly there is no access. In 1143, Richard Port of Kington Castle took Presteigne Castle from either Hugh Fitz Osbern or his son, Osbern Fitz Hugh. Lords of Richards Castle. In response they built Stapleton Castle as a siege fort but failed to retake Presteigne. In 1223 Osbern Fitz Hugh’s successor, Margaret Say, received the right to hold a market at the fledgling village which clustered beneath the castle’s walls. Margaret’s third and final husband was Robert Mortimer of Essex who founded the line of Mortimer of Richards Castle. The Cornwalls, illegitimate descendants of Earl Richard Plantagenet of Cornwall, the second son of King John obtained the castle. John Cornwall fought at Agincourt in 1415 and for many years the castle walls were hung with armour looted from the fallen French. However, in 1643, Sir Michael Woodhouse feared that the Parliamentarian forces at Hopton and Brampton Bryan may take the castle and use it as a garrison so he slighted it. The castle stayed in ruin for evermore. The road leads round to Stapleton Castle Farm where there are several fine old houses including a timber-framed farm house in original natural wood and pink panels (originally coloured by ox-blood), not the black-and-white Victorian affectation. A stream runs under the round, bubbling merrily. Cocks crow and Collared Doves coo. A Common Buzzard flaps over the woods beyond the castle. Back to Presteigne and past the church and Garrison House, former headquarters of the Radnor Militia and then the Royal Radnor Rifles. The church hall opposite was previously the school. Round into St David’s Street where stands the splendid Manor House which once served as the judge’s lodgings and was formerly the residence of the Bradshaws, an important merchant family. Up the High Street, known as the King’s Highway in the 16th century. Then back down Broad Street, the mediaeval link between the High Street and the early settlement by the river, previously called Great Street, to Ford Street.
Sunday – Leominster – The stars begin to fade as the pre-dawn sky turns blue. A heavy frost has covered the grass and the many puddles are frozen. Later in the morning we search the Grange for Maddy’s ball which she lost in the pre-dawn gloom earlier. We head down School Street and then along a ginnel which runs below the Forbury and what was the old fish ponds of the priory. A high wall prevents any view of the Forbury and in the opposite direction is a housing complex then Broad Street car park. Down Bridge Street and up on the Richards Castle road. A sign on the corner reveals this to be called the “Old Ludlow Road”. However, it changes its name regularly within a short distance, Sunnydale, Stanley Terrace and Bridge Street. Past the Sports Centre with its solar panelled roof, installed as a community co-operative. Over the football pitches with Briarwood, Leominster Towns’ pitch on the far side. The area is The Marsh. A wide bridge crosses the Kenwater and a path follows the river westwards. Up onto an open field called Pinfathings. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drums on the branch of a large dead tree whilst another watches. A third flies over and the watcher chases off. All three are involved in chases across the field with loud squawks. Redwings fly around, Robins sing, Carrion Crows caw from a tree festooned with balls of Mistletoe and Blue Tits twitter. Across the field following the line of an old hedge, now mature Hawthorns. An old footpath travels up to a housing estate – The Rugg (the old name of the area between Green Lane and the River Kenwater), Radnor View and Mappenors Lane. This emerges onto Green Lane. Green Lane lies well below the level of the houses lining it; a classic ancient sunken track-way. The houses are a fascinating mixture of Victorian and twentieth century. The Rosary stands at the rear of the Catholic church, other older houses are hidden. Behind large walls and hedges. Many have interesting little architectural features, such as finely carved porches, odd little doors and Gothic pediments. Townsend House dates from the early 16th century building. Two projections to the north were added around 1604 along with other alterations. The building was much changed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Thomas Court is a fine old timbered terrace of cottages, maybe even an old barn now converted. Past the Methodist Chapel and down to the main road past a terrace of cottages. One has its rendering removed to reveal the timber frame of the building. The bells of the Minster ring out.
Monday – Leominster – A thin covering of snow lays on the grass on the Grange. Much of the roads, pavements and tarmacked areas are just wet but there is enough snow here to get Maddy excited. She bounces along with her tail held high. Excitement grows when I kick out her battered, old football. With a sound similar to purring, she chases the ball, pounces on it and lays in the wet snow with it between her paws. She then picks it up, it is so deflated that this is easy and trots it back to me for another kick. A little later it starts to rain.
Wednesday – Leominster – The snow cleared quickly on Monday afternoon. When taking Maddy out for her late evening constitution on Monday night, I badly turned my ankle, yet again, on the front door mat, of all things! Yesterday was largely written off by immobility. This morning it is still swollen and very sore. Walking is slow. There has been a sharp frost. The grass on the Grange crunches underfoot. A mist ghost hovers over the far side but disappears as I approach. The paths sparkle with tiny diamonds of ice. A Robin sings sweetly from one of the great Copper Beeches. I cannot walk far and Maddy is pretty unimpressed when we do not head over to the playing field to play ball. She gets a couple of chases but then loses the ball and I am not impressed I have to totter across the grass to retrieve it! The dawn lightens the sky but it remains gloomy and grey. I struggle to sort out the chickens, they have a new, expensive run but I bought it by looking at one in the chicken farm and guessing what size I needed. Of course, I got it wrong and the run is much too small. I cannot get to the back of the house to clean the nest boxes out properly and worse cannot put the panel in place to block off the nesting area at night to stop one of the hens roosting in there and filling it with droppings (apparently, over 60% of a chicken’s daily droppings occur overnight!) There is a plan, some more panels which will greatly enlarge the run but they have to be made and delivered. A Robin and Dunnock turn up immediately when I put out some fresh seed. A Blackbird with white spots on its head is another regular visitor.
Thursday – Home – A light covering of snow fell overnight. The new sections to enlarge the chicken run arrived yesterday and today we erected them. It started early by removing the hens from the hen house before dawn, easier than trying to catch them once they are out, and housing them in the greenhouse. They soon make themselves at home, jumping up onto the staging and inspecting every nook and cranny. Getting the panels bolted together is really a three person job but Kay and I managed. The house needed to be moved and that was a fine effort as two strong people can lift it but that hardly describes Kay and I; but a bit of lifting and shoving gets it in place. I can now cut a section out of the wire to access the nest box and get it cleaned. The hens are put back in and they are soon scratching and pecking as if it was somewhere they had never seen before, except for one of the new girls who has obviously been “holding on” and rushes straight in to the house and onto the nest. Throughout it snows very lightly but persistently. Spotty-head the Blackbird is hopping around the bushes after having emptied out an apple leaving just the skin. Blue Tits flit down to grab a seed from a pile placed on the great tree stump. A Dunnock slips in a takes one too. A Wood Pigeon swooped down as soon as the seed was put out but I see it off, it will gobble down the lot if it has a chance. A Raven passes over calling. Jackdaws sit high in the Ash and the chatter of finches and House Sparrows comes from the next-door garden.
Friday – Leominster – The Meteorological Office has been issuing “red” and “amber” warnings about snow here and in Wales for some days. (Apparently, people are not clever enough to understand a simple statement, “There is going to be a lot of snow and travel will be difficult” these days, they need colour-coded warnings....) There is the barest sprinkling of snow when Maddy and I wander over the Grange first thing. I am still moving very slowly as my foot has yet to recover from Monday’s wrench. It is now snowing fairly steadily and this continues into the afternoon. By now there are several inches covering all. The Friday market was a meagre affair, just four stalls. Barry the Book is opening his shop but says if he has no customers by midday he will close and go home – I fully expect that to be the case. Mid-afternoon Maddy and I set off again with the remains of her football. Tail high, snow swirling in every direction, face spotted white, she is in ecstasy. I take the ball away for a while whilst we walk around Millennium Park and she takes to rolling on her back in the snow. Round by the old Priory hospital where the shrubbery leaves are covered with domes of snow. High above a Sparrowhawk glides over then pivots as though one wing-tip is suddenly fixed in space, then glides rapidly away again back in the same direction it arrived. Icicles hang from the Norman arch of the west door of the Minster. At home the hens have not moved all day from under the house, no footprints anywhere across the run. More seed is put out on the great stump for the local birds. A Robin and Dunnock are down within an instant. It has stopped snowing.
Wednesday – The Highway – Heading home from Surrey. There have been flurries of snow overnight but little but a dusting on the ground. Along the M4 motorway towards Swindon. A Red Kite flies over, gliding on still wings on which the white panels can be clearly seen. Shortly another passes over then one drops down in a spiral ahead on the other side of the road. Unfortunately, 70mph is not the speed to start trying to locate anything across the motorway so whether the Kite found a meal or not remains a mystery. It starts snowing more heavily up on the Cotswolds. The roads remain clear but just before The Air Balloon pub at Emma’s Grove great banks of snow hang on lips high above the road. It continues to snow steadily all the way round Gloucester until Ledbury. Trees on the hills are heavy with fresh snow and the landscape is white and pristine. The snow peters out by the time I get to Leominster. A little more has fallen here since we left yesterday morning but not enough to cause any problems.
Thursday – Bodenham Lakes – Snow still covers the orchard and path sides but the track is mainly clear. House Sparrows chatter by the car park barn. A Raven cronks in the distance. Blue Tits call from the hedges from which a Greenfinch and Robin watch silently. Wigeon whistle from the lake then they take to the air growling. Trees in West Field Wood are delicately outlined in white. Black molehills poke through the snow in the meadow. The ground under the snow is sodden. Rabbit paw prints are everywhere. A small flock of Siskin buzz noisily in the Alder and Silver Birch saplings by the hide. Wigeon, Mallard, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye are on the water. A Little Grebe rests on a nest of reeds by the reed bed. A large flock of Wigeon circle the lake. A flock of Canada Geese arrive, having been heard long before they are seen. A lone Cormorant stands on the pontoon. The flock of Wigeon reappears still circling, suddenly wiffling as one to lose height before eventually coming in to join the flock already on the water. A Green Woodpecker shoots up with a startled cry from outside the hide as I emerge. A few Redwings flit around the hedges.
Holmer – Holmer was a village on the Roman road that runs east-west two miles to the north of Hereford. It stands on the junction of the Roman road and the road to Leominster, now the A49. Hereford has now spread north to encompass Holmer although it still is on the edge of open countryside. The name simply means “Mere in a Hollow”. Along Church Way where the houses are Victorian or later. A set of gates is an entrance to Holmer Park. Here a house was built in 1860 by Charles Watkins, father of Alfred Watkins, a local photographer and author of books including the “bible” of ley lines, “The Old Straight Track”. Charles Watkins came from farming labouring stock from Mitcheldean in the Forest of Dean. He ran a number of pubs in Hereford including The Imperial in Widemarsh Street. Here he brewed his own beer and later bought the defunct Hereford Brewery which stood on the site now occupied by Tesco Supermarket in Bewell Street. This became the Imperial Brewery and was very successful. He supplied beer to the navvies building Dinmore Tunnel. The gates and railings in front of me once adorned St Paul’s Cathedral, Charles bought them when visiting London and discovered they were being replaced.
Along Church Way getting snowed on as it thaws and falls off the overhanging branches. There is much new housing here. A footpath runs down a ginnall which is flowing with water and mud. Wild Arum leaves are unfurling. Along Roman Road. The north side of the road is all new build, the south side houses a large industrial complex. Up through the new estate to the entrance of Holmer Park. The house is faced with yellow bricks with red ones to the sides and rear. In the entrepreneurial manner that characterised Charles Watkins, he dug the clay for the bricks from the park using the pit as a sunken rose garden. Along to the roundabout where the A49 meets Roman Road. On the corner is a dwelling called the Cider House. A barn conversion stands next to it and another conversion called “The Cider Press” behind it. Thus it looks like an old cider makers stood here, or maybe a perry maker as there is a perry pear called Holmer. The church of St Bartholomew is from around 1200, just as the Norman style was giving way to Early English. It has a lovely detached tower, the lower section concurrent with the church and the upper stage is timber-framed, dating from the 16th century. Unfortunately, the doors are locked.
Monday – Leominster – Milder weather has replaced the cold as a deep depression moves in from the Atlantic. Inevitably it brings high winds and rain. The snow has now all melted away leaving a sea of mud. A vast ivory moon lays just above the western horizon. Rabbits which were exposed by the white blanket of snow are now invisible again in the pre-dawn gloom. A Robin stands on a sign post and sings loudly. Yesterday’s RSPB Garden Bird Watch produced nothing unsurprising although it was good to see a Nuthatch drop in briefly to grab a seed and then arrow off over the garden wall. Onions and garlic seem to have survived the snow well. Purple-sprouting broccoli is now doing what its name suggests. One plant has been sprouting regularly over recent weeks but now the rest of them are joining in. Trenches dug for runner beans are now filled with kitchen waste and the newspaper and droppings from the chicken house and covered over.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Bright sunshine has replaced the early morning rain. There is a blustery breeze blowing, raising a roar through the tall Poplars and Willows. The woods beside the track are flooded. The whole world seems freshly washed and shines. The water level of the lake has clearly fallen as there are rotting piles of Elodea on the track and wood debris at the base of the orchard hedge. The base of the seat by the yacht club is still under water though. Water pools on the meadow despite the slope. A Pied Wagtail bobs on the wires that run over the meadow. The slope down to the hide coppice is slick mud. The path to the hide is also a quagmire and one’s feet slip and slide. It is not too difficult when one expects every step to be a slide, it is the sudden slipperiness that catches out. The Canada Geese flock is on the island, initially noisy but falling quiet just leaving the occasional yelp, whistling of Wigeon and a singing Robin behind the hide. The reed bed is completely submerged. Sapling tops rise above the water. Eight Cormorants occupy the pontoon. A Common Buzzard passes over. A Green Woodpecker flies up from the meadow as I retrace my steps, kicking Maddy’s ball through the sodden grass. Several more Common Buzzards are above the trees of West Field Wood. At the east end of this part of the village (Bodenham is in two parts separated by some considerable distance) is The Pigeon House. A large building built between 1761 and the end of the 18th century by the Sirrel family of Marden. It was sold by the Rev Thomas Wynne and his wife, née Sirrel, to the Arkwrights in the early 19th century. They sold it in 1913. The dovecot, after which presumably the house is named, is a tall hexagonal building. The pigeons would enter through the open top.