Wednesday – Bearwood – The rain continues to fall but I optimistically think it may stop by the time I get to Bearwood to carry one of my Winter Thrush Surveys. Fields south of Monkland are vast sheets of water. The roads are dangerous with many sections covered with up to several inches of water. Someone did not take enough care on the section between the Eardisland junction and Pembridge as a new looking white car is on its side down a bank in a roadside wood. A little further on a vast flock of winter thrushes explode from orchards; Fieldfares flying up out of the trees, Redwings shooting out of the hedgerow and across the road causing me to brake in case I hit one. Off down the lane to Luntley. I had not noticed before that the 1888 OS map calls the hamlet “Barewood”. Further investigation shows that this name was still being used on the maps a century later, so it is only in the last 20 years or so that the name was changed to “Bearwood”. Of course, my earlier optimism was badly misplaced and it continues to rain heavily. Water is flowing down the lane and rushing into ditches. Down to Longwood where the road is flooded. Tippet’s Brook is burnt ochre in colour as it rushes past. I am soaked and decide this is a waste of time. I have seen a few Wood Pigeons and heard some Rooks and Carrion Crows but nothing else. Back through Pembridge and on to Eardisland. Both the mill stream and the River Arrow are very high and flowing fast but neither have burst their banks yet. Into Leominster and a quick visit to the fields by the A49 south of the town. These are wide lakes with gulls, Mallard and Mute Swans bobbing on the wind swept ripples.
Thursday – Luntley – At last the rain moves away, albeit temporarily. A blue sky with few cirrus clouds and a sharp breeze. At last a chance to carry out the Winter Thrush Survey. From Luntley Court dovecote, off along the Tibhall road. Flocks of finches fly along the hedgerows. The lanes are still awash with water and ditches, at least the ones that are not blocked, are rushing brown torrents. At Tibhall Farm a lorry and trailer is unloading animal feed into a great hopper by a barn. Tractors are moving silage and the smell spreads far and wide! A Pied Wagtail watches. A dog barks furiously at Maddy, although its tail is wagging equally furiously. Maddy disdainfully ignores it.
Back to Luntley and round to Longwood, previously known as Longwood Bar at the end of the 19th century, Longwood’s Bar from the early 20th century until the 1970s when the place is just called Longwood. I have commented before on the local names, wherein Bearwood came from Bearu meaning grove or wood and the source of “barrow”, so it would seem with the alternative spelling of “bar” means this place was Longwood’s grove. In the cottage garden are Chaffinches, Blue and Great Tits, Goldfinches, Greenfinches, House Sparrows and even a pair of Carrion Crows but despite the scattering of apples, no winter thrushes. A Common Pheasant is calling from a garden in the southern edge of Bearwood. A moment later a Common Buzzard lifts off and is immediately set upon by a passing Jackdaw. Back towards Luntley. Past an old cottage called “The White House”. Its paddock is flooded. A quick shower of rain brings a rainbow stretching across the sky. Back to Pembridge where a Fieldfare sits in an apple tree! On the way back past Monkland, the flooding is even more extensive than yesterday.
Friday – Shobdon – Rain pours down as I park in Shobdon to attempt this area’s Winter Thrush Survey. However, the sky looks lighter in the west and the clouds are being blown quickly by a powerful, gusty wind. The rain ceases and we head off along a wet road. Great banks of cloud to the east, the recently passed downpour and to the west, the next storm. Rooks are very active, a large flock swirls across the fields and more in a tree. A few Fieldfare pass over. The scent of wood smoke from a stove drifts down from the chimney of the cottage near the bottom of Belgate Lane. At Belgate Farm, a dog is sitting on his kennel but leaps off in a frenzy of barking as Maddy swishes by. He is chained and eventually yelps in frustration. The farmer is moving bales of hay and silage. Up beyond the old gravel pit there is a decent sized flock of Fieldfare and Redwings in a field. Small numbers of winter thrushes have been flying over but this is the first, and only, flock. Flocks of Chaffinches, Blue and Great Tits are moving between hedgerows and Hawthorns. A pair of Mallard feed on the pond near the farm. Back in Shobden, half a dozen Tufted Duck wing into Pearl Lake.
Monday – Croft – It has stopped raining, briefly. The paths are awash with wet mud. Kicking Maddy’s ball is a thankless task as it is dragged to a half swiftly by the cloying leaf mulch. A Robin sings, Blue Tits chatter and the sound of running water is a constant. Drops of water sparkle like diamonds on every branch and twig. The fish pools are full and water flows down the overflow channels. Over the dam by the pumping house and up the Beech wood. It looks like a mistake as the steep slope is saturated but the climb is not too bad. A Blackbird and a Great Tit have joined in the songs. The sun sings weakly from low in the southern sky. Birch Polypore fungi lay on the ground where they have been washed off the trunks of the Silver Birches. Boughs creak in the wind which is rising. It is still mild. There seems to have been little new damage the trees by the Christmas and New Year gales. Kicking the ball off down the slope is fun as Maddy’s anticipation as to its path is often thrown astray by a ricochet off a tree trunk. Down at the end of the valley streams are bubbling down the hillsides. Luminous clouds gather. Sheep are in the bracken in the Bircher Common valley. A squawking Jay flies over. Up to Whiteway Head. An old Hawthorn has a fine crop of Oyster Mushrooms. The Mortimer Trail along the top of Leinthall Common is a quagmire. It is a slow climb up into Croft Ambrey. Below, Wigmore Moor is widely flooded. Down through the woods. The sky gets darker and the wind rises even more, it seems rain is imminent, but then the sun lights up the whole land. The Spanish Chestnut field is very wet despite being a gentle slope. Maddy goes for her cleansing swim after a little persuasion.
Tuesday – Leominster – The wet and windy weather continues. It is very muddy everywhere and fields are flooded but this does not compare to many parts of the country. The sea front at Aberystwyth where we walked last year has suffered considerable damage; boats motor up roads in the Somerset Levels passing over the tops of cars; the large shingle flood defence at Newgale in Pembrokeshire is now piled across the main road; Tewkesbury is an island again; the sirens have sounded on Chesil Beach calling for immediate evacuation and hundreds of acres of farmland are under water. There is a short break in the rain as Maddy chases her ball across a sodden Grange. The ball just thuds into the mud and lays there but she does not seem to mind. Robins and Blackbirds are singing. The Kenwater is flowing fast and deep, its colour a grey-brown as it carries limestone mud whilst Cheaton Brook is red with the mud of Old Red Sandstone. By late afternoon it is raining heavily again.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – Acres of pasturage south of Leominster is under water. South of Dinmore Hill the land gleams like polished pewter as the River Lugg spreads over a vast area. At Bodenham, the lake has overflowed next to the boat yard and just the top of the bench is above water. Most of the slipway pontoon has vanished and a pair of Canada Geese stand on the remaining exposed section. Round to the hide through a swampy meadow. Something sings a warbler-like sing but only a Great Spotted Woodpecker is visible. The scrape has, of course disappeared, the water being above the level of the reed bed. Most of the Canada Geese have retreated into the wood on the island where some relatively dry land still remains. Wigeon are scattered across the lake in loose flocks. A couple of Cormorants stand on the pontoon drying their wings and a couple more in the trees. There have been reports of Whooper and Berwick Swans at Wellington Gravel pits but they do not seen to venture here. The same applies to Shovelers which I do not think I have ever recorded here. A decent number of Teal are at the western end, circling each other and squabbling with occasional fights breaking out. A few Mallard are in this area too. A Common Buzzard sits in a tree, or at least I think that is what it is, it is in the limit of my binoculars and it is one of those times I regret being too lazy to bring my scope. A Green Woodpecker flies up from the pasture beyond the hide and into the woods. A pair of Magpies flies along the edge of Westfield Wood and the songs and calls of Robins, Song Thrush and Jays comes from the tree on the hillside. Although all the leaves have fallen now, some trees are still decorated by Ivy, Mistletoe and Old Man’s Beard. Back over the bridge over the River Lugg which is a broad area of flood water. A flock of Lapwings pass over, a rather rare sight around here for some reason. The road is deeply flooded in the way back to Bodenham, a rather nerve-wracking drive.
Friday – Leominster – Somehow Maddy has split a claw on her front right paw and it was obviously very painful. So a limping dog went to the vet yesterday afternoon who cut off the offending nail which obviously was also very painful for the poor animal. This morning she is still limping but less so and is quite annoyed when I refuse to throw her ball for her. The morning freighter from Port Talbot is held by a red signal outside Leominster station and seems to show impatience with a couple of loud blasts on its horn. This is repeated and seems to wake up the signalman, the lights turn green and the diesel growls and lumbers forward into the dark. Resurs-DK No. 1, a commercial earth observation satellite launched by the Russian company TsSKB in 2006 passes over.
Hereford – Off to Hereford by train without Maddy which seems strange but it would be better to let her paw rest for the day. Flooding to the east of the railway and road continues down to the end of the golf course at Ford. After Dinmore the water is pretty much continuous until Holmer. Goosander swim near the impassable Marden road. From Hereford station I walk through the city centre to the old bridge. There is a fine bronze relief map of the city in the new western end precinct of the cathedral. The River Wye is still high and swirling but the level has dropped considerably since pictures appeared in the press of King George’s Fields under water. Up Bridge Street where I notice an Art Deco building, very angular with a black façade at the base with cream upper floors finely delineated in green. Across Victoria Street to Barton Road. St Nicholas’ church in the corner has locked studded doors. On the opposite side of the road is Greyfriars Avenue. Here, close to the river stood a Franciscan Friary, founded by Sir William Pembrugge about 1228. It stood outside the city walls. Owen Tudor, beheaded in Hereford after the battle of Mortimer’s Cross in 1461, was buried here as was Sir Richard Pembridge, who died in 1375. After dissolution in 1538, the tomb of Sir Richard Pembridge was moved to the nave of Hereford Cathedral. In 1540 the remaining premises were leased out, together with associated land, and then in 1545 the premises were granted to Mr James Boyle in whose family it continued until early in the 17th century. The remaining buildings were probably removed in the Civil War to prevent attacking troops using them as cover. Barton Road has a mixture of buildings, from Georgian to modern. Barton Hall is an old meeting house, dating from 1858. Turnpike House is 18th century, rendered over a timber frame which may be earlier.
The road passes over the old railway line of the Hereford, Abergavenny and Newport Branch of the GWR, now a cycle route. A Japanese Mahonia (mahonia japonica) is in flower, bright yellow spikes. A male Blackcap ticks loudly from a branch. Along Broomy Hill where there are some vast Victorian houses and Barton Lodge, a fine Victorian villa. The old waterworks are now a museum but oddly only open in Tuesdays. Opposite the rugby pitches are flooded. back along the road past another lovely Victorian villa whose windows have open bays with enriched columns and pilasters. Behind is Broomy Hill water tower built in 1883. The lane enters Breinton. To the south is the Wye and beyond the hills of Aconbury and Dinedor, both topped by Iron Age hill-forts. It has been suggested the river formed the boundary between the territories of the Dubunni tribe to the south and the Cornovii to the north and it is easy to see how the forts could have guarded the territory of the Dubunni. (It is worth mentioning that this is pretty speculative. I have commented before on this tribal division when sources indicated that north of the Wye was occupied by the Dubunni and these camps by the Silures. Still other sources suggest it is not possible to distinguish between Cornovii and Dubunni settlements.)
Belmont Abbey stands on a hill over the river. Fieldfares call from a large orchards at Hereford Community Farm at Warham Court. A Great Spotted Woodpecker displaces Great, Blue and Coal Tits on a peanut feeder. Greenbank is an ancient field consisting of Lower Cow Pasture and Brick-Kiln Meadow on the banks of the Wye owned in the Middle Ages by the Bishop of Hereford. To the north is Warham House, built in the 1700s and altered substantially in mid 19th century by Francis Richard Haggitt, who changed his name to Wegg-Prosser and established the Benedictine community at Belmont Abbey. A Jay is chattering near the gateway to Warham House, far different calls to its normal harsh squawk. The lane passes field and large orchards and comes to Lower Breinton. A cluster of buildings consist of Breinton Grange (formally the rectory built by the du Buisson family), school and St Michael’s Church, unfortunately locked. The church dates from 1200 but was substantially rebuilt by F.R. Kempson between 1866 and 1870. In the churchyard is Canon Gorton’s grave. Gorton, a canon of Manchester Cathedral and Rector of Morecombe, was a friend of Elgar. There is also the grave of Dr Henry Graves Bull (1818-1885) founder of the British Mycological Society. He was also a founding member of the local Woolhope Field Naturalist’s Club and a friend of Charles Bulmer, the cider maker. An orchard of eating apples stands next to the church and at least one windfall is still very edible. Beyond the churchyard are earthworks that are probably the mound of a castle from around 1150 but abandoned in the 13th century. More lumps and bumps to the north indicate the site of a mediaeval village. Lanes lead through more orchards, pastures and even past a field of rows and rows of small conifers. The sun shines watery but the grey clouds are not bringing rain yet. Greenfinches watch from a Silver Birch as Breinton Lane meets the main road, the A438 to Brecon, at Swainshill and I turn towards King’s Acre and the city.
King’s Acre consists of a very long stretch of mid-20th century semis with some bungalows and detached houses and the odd older property, a huge Wyevale garden centre and a couple of car dealerships. This is classic ribbon development along what looks like a Roman road but is not. The road enters the city where the housing contains more early 20th century properties. The road comes to Whitecross, where the tall cross stands on a roundabout. The cross was built by Bishop Charlton about 1362 to mark a market place that was set up on waste ground outside the city on the Hay road because people were too afraid to go into the town because of plague. It was extensively restored in 1864. A pint of Strongbow in an indifferent pub and in towards the city centre. A row of villas is dated 1864. The houses on this road seem to be of various periods but any date on them are all the same 1864. It is interesting that large villas and rather older, meaner looking cottages were all built within 12 months. One has a fine blue ironwork noted by Pevsner. Past Holy Trinity church built in 1885. Oddly the dated houses now are later. 1870s and 1880s except for a delightful row of almshouses dated 1849 with a plaque declaring the foundation stone was laid by the honourable Lady Emily Foley of Stoke Edith Park. A larger group of sixty almshouses stands set back from Whitecross Road. The site was the Lazarus Hospital known as the “Sick Man’s Hospital”. Endowments date from 1595. Next is Price’s almshouses, founded in 1665 for twelve aged men, a bequest by one William Price, a citizen and merchant of London. His will, of November 3rd 1604, states that... “being sick in body but perfect of memory do make and declare this, my present will....that out of moneys coming from the sale of said messuages, lands, tenements, etc., they shall procure and purchase sufficient corportion and licence of mortmain for the erection and establishing of an almshouse.” They were not completed until 1665 and consisted of ten dwellings, a chapel and a short wing at each end containing additional cottages. A detour down Ryelands Street, a street of late Victorian houses and the entrance to Hereford Cider Museum. The street brings me back to Breinton Road. Up beside the old railway brings me to a massive Sainsburys which I did not know existed. It stands on the site of Barton Station which closed in 1893 and was demolished in 1913 although the goods yards were used until 1979. On the western side of the site stood Bulmers Cider Mill, started by Percy Bulmer in 1889 after he moved his operation from Maylord Street in the city centre. The entrance to the mill is now the museum entrance. Apples were brought into the mill by rail (as well as horse and cart) and cider taken out the same way. Back into Whitecross Road and past the Victoria Eye Hospital, but now apartments. Through the city. One of the East European delis has closed but two new ones have opened. Weatherspoons have six local ciders on draught, oh dear.
Sunday – Leominster – Frost has finally hardened the ground. A Song Thrush pours forth its liquid notes before dawn. After breakfast I head down the road and over the railway. The River Lugg is still high. Under road bridge is several inches of clinging mud where the river has overflowed and deposited. High clouds are lit by the sun which is yet to emerge over Eaton Hill. Paddocks near Eaton Bridge are flooded. Eighteen Pied Wagtails scurry around the ice. Blue Tits, Blackbirds and Bullfinches flit along the river side Hawthorns. Up to Widgeon Meadow and up into Eaton Hill. At the top of the drovers steps and north a little is a new name board declaring the field beyond as Pinsbly Wood Pasture, Private. Along the top of the hill where rabbits and Grey Squirrels dash across the part. Down to Easters Meadow. The sun has now risen and is melting the frost on the trees and drops fall pitter-patter onto the frozen leaf litter below. The Minster bells ring out.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The sun shines brightly in a mainly blue sky although the hills are topped with cloud. A Robin sings and a Blue Tit squeaks. Up to the Iron Age enclosure which had been cleared a few years ago but is rapidly disappearing under hundreds of Silver Birch saplings between three and eight feet tall. The paths are inevitably squelchy with wet mud and saturated leaf mould. Along the long track towards pond. Mist rises like smoke from the conifer plantation. Up the path to High Vinnalls. Horses have made a muddy path into a quagmire. High Vinnalls is shrouded in mist. There has been little to see in regards of wildlife for some time now, just a few squeaks come from the trees. Down out of the clouds into sodden woods. Drops of water sparkle on twigs and branches. The sky is beginning to cloud over.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – Another grey and damp morning. The flood waters are falling but the lake on the field south of Leominster is still large enough for a small herd of a Mute Swans. The level of the River Lugg at Bodenham has fallen slightly as has that of the lake. A Song Thrush sings strongly in the lake side trees. Wigeon are scattered across the lake, well over one hundred, mainly sleeping. The Canada Geese are still inside the island copse. Mallard, Teal and Goldeneye are also present. A couple of Cormorant stand on the pontoon and a pair of Mute Swans glide into view. Coots bob up down as they dive for food.
Friday – Leominster – A few stars peep through the clouds. A Tawny Owl calls despite the lightening sky. Snowdrops are flowering in the churchyard. At home several male Blackbirds are fighting in the Yew tree. At home, the fallen Elders, honeysuckle and rose have been cleared now (over 30 bags of cut up branches, stems etc.) and the House Sparrows have got used to the new landscape and wait for me to fill the seed feeder.
Ludlow – Out of the station and up to Gravel Hill. Past houses with odd names – The Rumbles, The Cedars (without a Cedar in sight). Into St Julian’s Road and then Livesey Road which divides about a tree which has what looks like a stone built tomb at its base. This is St Julian’s Well. The well head is made of rubble with dressed coping stones and quoins, probably 18th century although, of course, the well is much older. The history of the wells of Ludlow is not easy to follow. Thomas Wright in his book “The Histories and Antiquities of Ludlow” published in 1826 refers to the “far famed well of St Julian in Ludford”. This site is not in Ludford and indeed he refers to the “Hospital” which would have been St Giles on the south side of Ludford Bridge. Notes by Laurens Otter state that wells have been attributed to St Julian (Mother Julian of Norfolk) or St Juliana of Nicodema. Up to the main road and into Whitbread Road and a housing estate. The former council estate becomes a modern private build. A footpath, which takes a bit of finding runs down to the Rocks Green roundabout in the A49.
Rocks Green is a small hamlet with a pub, The Nelson Inn which has a fine old barn at the back. Next door is Nelson Cottage which looks Georgian at least. Otherwise nearly all other properties seem to be 20th century. A new road heads north through a housing association estate of timber clad houses built a few years ago. At the bottom of the road a lorry unloads wood chips into a building which contains two 150kW woodfuel burners providing underfloor heating to the 91 houses. Fields lay beyond but there appears to be no footpath so it is back to the A49. Past the cemetery and into another housing estate. Some way through the estate, an alley leads to some wooden steps up into a footpath that runs alongside the A49 above the estate. The path joins Fishmore Road and round down to the 18th century Corve Bridge. Mallard swim in the river below. Lower Corve Street leads back towards the town centre. The houses along this street are a delightful mixture of styles with a number of timber-framed buildings including the various premises of the old tannery, the Merchant House and the Unicorn Inn, an 18th century inn around a 16th or 17th century core. Round to the station to wait for Kay. A Class 86 diesel freight train growls past with its long load of wagons. Once upon a time, locomotives used to stay in defined areas and usually on more or less the same routes, however, this one has been recorded pulling loads through Rotherham, Salisbury, Birmingham, Didcot, Acton and North Lincolnshire.
Sunday – Leominster – The sky has cleared after another night of rain. The waning gibbous moon is luminous and creating sharp moon shadows. Dark shadows of rabbits, usually hidden in the dark at this time of year, lollop off showing little concern for Maddy which is reasonable considering her complete lack of interest in them. Satellites pass over, firstly the USA 182 Military Reconnaissance satellite, then CZ-3A RB, a Chinese rocket body and finally, brighter than any star or planet the International Space Station crosses the firmament. Later in the morning, Maddy and I head down Etnam Street and over the River Lugg. Mist lays over Lammas and Easters meadows. The rising sun turns the mist into golden smoke. A Cormorant flies south. The river is high. It is cool and the air sharp. A Song Thrush seems tentative in his song. The waters of the River Lugg and Cheaton Brook mix slowly creating a divided flow, one half red, the other grey before mingling downstream. A Robin dashes across the river into the undergrowth. Ivy berries are ripening to black. The Kenwater is flowing even faster than of late and swirling around the submerged bases is bank-side tree trunks. A number of houses are for sale in Bridge Street. Hopefully, new owners will tidy them up and start a trend as the street is a sorry sight, which is tragic for such an important area in terms of Leominster’s history.
Tuesday – Croft – It is barely above freezing and the whole area is wrapped in fog. Wood Pigeons, Nuthatches, Jackdaws and Robins are all calling or singing. Drips of condensation plip-plop from the trees. On the far side of the Fish Pool Valley, opposite the lime kiln, water is gushing down the channel between two ponds, far more than usual. Up the footpath at the end of the valley which is more stream than path. It is like a real river in miniature – areas of shallow, slower moving water where it has spread across the path, here it dives into a little gorge and cascades down and there, a small island where the flow is divided. A Willow Tit’s nasal calls come from a lichen covered tree. The area of the ancient Oaks has been cleared down to soil to create an open woodland, the type once common across England; a real forest as the Normans understood it. There is no sign of fencing but unless grazers such as sheep are put on the land next spring, the bracken will soon be back. Large Birch Polypores grow on a fallen Silver Birch trunk.The mist has lifted somewhat and the land from the Spanish Chestnut field lies dull green and grey across to the hills to the south of the Arrow plain. The track that crosses the footpath by the new gate has been churned by farm vehicles into a thick, soupy mud. Maddy needs persuading to cross it and then little persuasion to wash off in the quarry pond.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – A grey sky over a wet landscape. Fields in the area remain flooded although the levels continue to fall slowly. A high volume of cackling heralds the arrival of a skein of Canada Geese which turns out to be just three birds! A dozen Goldeneye are in a tight group, several males flicking their heads back to impress the females. A scattering of Wigeon are at the western end of the lake, far fewer than previously here. There is also a small group of Teal and some Mallard. Another noisy skein of geese arrive, eight this time. Just two Cormorants are in the trees. A pair of Mute Swans glide serenely across the water. A pair of Goosander drift into view then take flight. A single drake Tufted Duck preens. A few Fieldfares call in the orchards.
Friday – Hergest Ridge – White water cascades over weir at east end of town. Much has changed here in the last one hundred years. This weir was a sluice that could feed water around to an iron foundry, now a small estate of businesses. The stream, Back Brook continued, the A44 Kington bypass was not constructed until the mid-1980s, around the station, which closed in 1964, now a housing estate. A wet, bedraggled Common Buzzard stands in a field. Hergest Ridge is cloud-bound. Rowan trees stand like ghosts on the hillside. A few Carrion Crows call across the fields. Up the ridge where only the wind is heard. Then a loud, brief piping as a wader darts off – its call and departure is too brief for identification. Past the Araucarias whose branches writhe in the wind like the serpents on Medusa’s head. A few sheep break off grazing to keep a watch on Maddy, she just watches her ball. There are occasional calls from invisible Meadow Pipits and Fieldfares. The wind is bitter. Just before the descent a large flock of sheep have gathered. Grain has been spread on the ground which has attracted them here. Down Broken Bank to Gladestry. Blue Tits churr. The cloud barely thins at all. Sheep baa from the valley below and a tractor engine growls. Rooks caw in the distance. The junction with the Huntington road is surrounded by Blackbirds all calling pink pink alarms. The Gladestry Brook is flowing fast. It is raining. The brook is high and fast under the bridge down on the Huntington road after it divides from the road Upper and Lower Hergest. A large flock of Starlings whirrs into flight from a pasture. More flocks of Starlings chattering in the trees. At Upper Rabber, a flock of Jackdaws chacks as it flies out of a hedgerow. Back up towards the ridge from Upper House. Thickly hanging yellow catkins hold the promise of spring, although that seems a distant hope at the moment. A vague track traverses the southern slope of the ridge. An area of ground is covered in molehills. The cloud is thick again here. Across the end of the valley at Bage and up through the mist. It is difficult to know exactly where one is in the cloud so I am pleased to see the Araucarias again. Back down towards Ridgebourne Road, a steady trek with little to see. Maddy seems keen to get back to the car and we have words about her jogging on ahead into the mist.
Sunday – Home – Rain and wind lash the garden. By 11 o’clock it has vaguely improved so I start the Great British Garden Watch. The first arrival following the filling of the feeder is a Blackbird with a spotted head. Shortly after a female Blackbird arrives and attacks the male. Chaffinches and a Dunnock soon appear. A Wood Pigeon barges in and Jackdaw makes a brief appearance. House Sparrows arrive and eventually there are eight. Great, Coal and Blue Tits also join the feast, then all depart for a while and then the cycle begins again. Looking carefully at a Blackbird with a white spotted head I am sure the pattern of spots is different to the bird I saw earlier. If so, this means two with similar partial leucism which would indicate a genetic trait in the local population. The rain eases and a Robin pours forth his song.
Monday – Ryelands – The weather remains changeable with a brisk wind and the almost constant threat of rain. The path along beside the paddock of Ryelands, a Georgian house, is almost a tunnel with ivy covered broken branches across it. Jackdaws call and Robins sing. The house was the home of the Lane family in the Georgian and Victorian eras. The Lanes were a well-to-do family, Sheriffs of Herefordshire and Robert Lane enabled the building of St John’s church in Ivington in 1842, after his death. The Lanes owned Ryeland Street in Hereford where Bulmer’s Cider Mill stood. A large bramble patch that encroached into the field has been cleared. Pieces of old concrete indicate something stood here once. The old maps show something on this site in the 1920s but nothing by mid-century. A vast acreage to the west and south of the ridge is flooded. Blue Tits squeak and Rooks caw. The new school is going up quickly with a tall crane dominating the site. Down to the Hereford Road and around the industrial estate. There is still a large area of this estate vacant and with the present disputes over supermarket building in the town, it seems likely that these empty plots are here for some time.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – An overcast sky and easterly wind makes for a cold day. Although the floods are reduced there are still millions of gallons of water in the fields. A small flock of Lesser Black-backed Gulls stand in one flooded field on the edge of the village. They all have black backs indicating they are probably the Scandinavian sub-species, Larus fuscus intermedius. A Great Spotted Woodpecker calls and drums in the trees. Small groups of Goldeneye swim about, males following females. Wigeon are scattered across the water. Some small groups of drakes are courting the ducks with much whistling. A few Tufted Duck feed. There is the usual cackling of Canada Geese. A mixed flock of Blue Tits, Chaffinches and Redpoll feed in an Alder. A pair of Canada Geese are mating, maybe a bit optimistic? Only a single Cormorant is present. A Gadwall is near the island, the first I have seen in a long time. A few Teal emerge from behind the island. A large flock of finches flash by but do not settle. The usual complement of Mallard, Coot and Mute Swans are also present. A Little Grebe pops out from the reed bed. It seems nervous in the open water looking this way and that constantly. The mud around the plantation and meadow is deep and very wet. In the dessert apple orchards something, presumably deer, have taken the bark off the bases of a majority of the unprotected young trees. It is surprising in deer country that they were left without any meshing around the trunks to protect them.
Friday – Brockhampton Estate – Up past the church where Robins sing and a Great Tit calls. A lot of rhododendron has been chopped down. Out into the parkland. A large flock of Wood Pigeons rises from the trees, divides and departs. A distant Common Buzzard mews, Rooks and Jackdaws caw and chack. It is colder than of late, near freezing. Down past the gatehouse in the Worcester road and on down the hillside pass towering redwoods. A light mist hangs over the woods. The great house stands across the hillside. An old cider mill, a circular stone construction with a deep channel for the rolling crusher, seems to have been converted into a drinking trough although there are no animals in the park. Down to the lake, Lawn Pool and up a zigzag path through the woods. A woodpecker taps. There is, as usual mud everywhere and water flows down the paths. The path comes to a hilltop above Holy Bank. The old maps call this “Holly” Bank and it is hard to see why one of the “ls” was dropped. To the east lies Bond’s Dingle. Down in the dingle a stream runs north to join Paradise Brook that heads east to eventually join the River Teme near Knightwick. A cold wind rustles the branches. Through a conifer plantation and the path starts descending. A wooden carved arch stands by the path.
Past Holy Bank Cottage where Snowdrops flower on the pathside. It starts to rain. Walking is strenuous as feet slip and slide on the slick mud. The track comes to a steep drop of steps down to a stream. Up the other side of the valley, slipping and sliding in caramel crème mud. At last a gravelled track through Hyde Wood to Hyde Dingle. A stream tumbles down the valley crossed by numerous fallen tree trunks. A Grey Squirrel runs across one of the trunks. Hart’s Tongue ferns grow beside the water. A road leads to Lower Brockhampton where the moated farmhouse stands. The name Brockhampton comes from “Brook Settlement” and was first recorded as Brochant, in the possession of Bernard. A family took the Brockhampton name in the 12th century before Richard de Brockhampton passed the manor to Robert de Furches in 1283. The manor was owned by Lawrence de Sollers in 1389 and then Sir Thomas de Moigne in 1350 before ending up in the hands of John Domulton who built the house that stands here today. Beyond the house is a ruined chapel. The fabric dates to the mid-12th century with alterations to the windows indicative of the 13th and 15th centuries. It probably went out of use when the new chapel was built at the top of the park in 1799. Back up through Look-out Wood. Nuthatches whoop. Back onto the road and past the rear of Brockhampton Mews. In 1756 Bartholomew Richard Barneby, who had come into the estate in 1731, married Betty Freeman. It was probably her marriage portion of £3000, and in due course money inherited from her father, that allowed a new house to be built under the direction of Thomas Farnolls Pritchard here south of the old manor house, and a landscape park to be created. The estate descended in the family until 1946 when John Talbot Lutley bequeathed it to the National Trust. The new house is now a private development.