New Year’s Day, Friday – Hereford – The year starts with a frost, the first for some weeks. The sky is still leaden. Feathery ice covers the cars. The footbridge at the station has been salted. Water still lays on the fields south of Leominster. Gulls are both on the water and on the raised areas of grass, intently looking down at the ground seeking worms which are trying to escape the soggy soil. The fields south of Dinmore Hill are extensively flooded and the Lugg has burst its banks by the church of St Mary the Virgin at Marden. Unsurprisingly, Hereford is quiet. Past where Bye Street Gate stood until demolished in 1798 and into Commercial Street. Here even the discount shops are closing down. Through High Town and into Church Street formerly Broad Caboches Lane. A plaque records that Roger Kemble, father of John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons, both renown actors in the Georgian theatre, lived here. Another remembers Dr George Robertson Sinclair, organist and friend of Elgar. The street ends on the lawns beside the cathedral. Through Cathedral Close to Gwynn Street. House Sparrows flit between an overgrown Privet and the stone wall of the Bishop’s Palace. They must be finding small creatures hiding in the cracks between the stones. Every now and then a passerby causes them to flee back to the bush in a whirr of wings.
The River Wye is flowing fast and high, swirling pale brown water forming eddies out from the bridge stanchions. Along the riverside walk. Wye Villas, built 1915 has a fine row of Godwinson tiles along the façade. Nearby is an old warehouse. The Bishop’s Palace stands on the far side. Then the Watergate of the old, now demolished castle and on to Victoria Bridge. A few Goosander are on the far side of the river. Riverside trees are several yards out in the flow. A row of Black-headed Gulls sit on the bar of a goal. More feed on the pitch. The “scent” of silage is carried on the breeze from Bartonsham farm. There are more Goosander downstream and some frisky drake Mallard harassing a duck. Out of the park and into the Putson estate. Burned out remains of last night’s fireworks lay on the verge. Up to the Holme Lacy road. Starlings mutter and chatter on house roofs and wires.
The road leaves the city at Withy Brook and enters Lower Bullingham. Brook House stand beside the small bridges. St Elizabeth’s Covent founded by the Order of St Vincent de Paul as been bought by the Freedom Church, a cultish group. St Elizabeth’s Cottages stand nearby. Some lovely old barns are falling into ruin. St Charles Court are six almshouses, built 1887 by Peter Paul Pugin for Mrs de la Barre Bodenham of Rotherwas. The South Wales to Manchester train passes over the bridge. A sign welcomes one to the Rotherwas industrial estate (or is it “Enterprise Park”?). A large display sign commemorates the women who worked in the munitions factories here during both Worlds Wars. 68% of the 5740 people employed at the factory in 1918 were women. They were called “Canary Girls” because handling picric acid turned their skin and nails yellow. A few small brick huts and blocked off tunnels are hidden in the roadside trees. The garage where I recall the keys are held for Rotherwas Chapel is closed and besides the keys are now at the new County Archives nearby, which are also closed. Near the chapel is a long bank, probably a blast bank for the munitions factory. Over a dozen female pheasants scurry up it.
A track leads to Church Farm, now divided into several dwellings. Behind it stands the chapel. This area was extensive parkland of Rotherwas House, seat of the Bodenham family from the mid-15th century until the estate was sold off in 1912 to the county council. There have three houses built here, the last in 1731 which was demolished in 1926. King James I visited at least twice and it is said his courtiers liked the place so much they wanted to stay there longer, prompting the king to say, “Non datur cuivis adire Rotherwas” – “Everyone may not live at Rotherwas”, which became a local saying. It is likely there was a chapel here in the 13th century, which was linked to Dinedor church. The present building was constructed by Sir Roger Bodenham in 1583. It became a private chapel for the Bodenham family after Sir Roger’s conversion to Catholicism in 1602. The tower is 18th century and the nave and gallery were replaced in the mid-19th century. Extensive alterations were carried out by Peter Paul Pugin in 1884.
A concrete entrance to an earth mound across the field is another reminder the old factory. It seems to have got colder during the morning. A new footpath is marked on a noticeboard leading to the new Greenway Bridge, opened in 2013 and missing of course from the OS map. The path follows the old Hereford to Gloucester railway route. Several long sheds still stand between the industrial estate and the river, transit sheds and picric acid stores for the munitions. A short underpass runs beneath the railway, but unfortunately it is flooded. I walk through but get filled shoes, I did not think I would need my boots today. I wring out my socks and continue. A lone Mute Swan flies over. A heavily protected bridge across the river carries, I assume, a sewer main to the large sewage plant on the far side. Iron sculptures of local heroes, composer Sir Edward Elgar, French Resistance fighter Violette Szabo GC, executed in Ravensbrück in 1945 and Josie Pearson MBE, Paralympian wheelchair rugby player. Over the new bridge and along Outfall Works Road, past the end of the Bartonsham Civil War defensive earthworks and into Eign road. Past the alms houses and St Giles Chapel and into The Lamb Hotel, now more familiarly known as The Barrels, probably the best pub in Hereford. It is raining again as I return to the station to await another late train. Route
Sunday – Home – The atmospheric pressure has fallen to 950 mm and it is raining heavily again. The Great Spotted Woodpecker flies across the garden. I dig out a patch of the spilled and sprouted wheat from under the feeder and toss it into the chicken run. It is not until the early afternoon that the rain ceases but the weather forecast is bleak. By the evening, the pressure has fallen further and the rain has returned.
Monday – Marden – The sky is a mixture of blue, white and grey. Yesterday’s heavy rain has ceased, but is promising to return soon. The flooding is extensive all down the Lugg valley. Fields around the River Arrow just south of Broadward Hall are flooded. An area towards the hall remains above the water and a small herd of cows are grazing the green sward. The roads leading to Bodenham Lakes are flooded and I decide not to risk driving through them and head down to Marden. From Paradise Green I walk past the 20th century housing and into Orchard Green, the lane to Wellington. This road floods so often there is a permanent sign which can be displayed when the road is impassable. A gate shuts off the road at Laystone Bridge. From the bridge everywhere is water. Chaffinches feed on the short stretch of tarmac before the deluge. Robins and Song Thrushes sing. Jackdaws chack. The flow of the river can be seen through the wide flooded expanse. It has come up to the road level and is flowing across the road into a small paddock which is completely submerged. Mute Swans and Black-headed Gulls feed across the vast lake. Magpies, Blackbirds, Great and Blue Tits are active in trees whose trunks stand in deep water.
I return to Paradise Green and head south out of the village to the War Memorial which stands at the junction of a lane that leads to the church. Starlings sit on wires across the field. A Victorian post box stands by the side of the lane. Mistle Thrushes fly over. Past Church House, a probably 17th century timber-framed farm house. The main house lies north-south with a large old barn and cider house extending to the east. House Sparrows chase around in large numbers at Marden Court Farm. Behind the church and the Old Vicarage, a raised bank protects the buildings from the rapidly following Lugg. Beyond is nothing but water. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from a dead branch. Wrens tick. Daffodil leaves stand on the bank, at least they promise spring. The sky is getting greyer and it starts to rain.
The church of St Mary the Virgin is open so I take advantage of the shelter. I have described the church here. There is a story that in olden times, the bell ringers were paid in cider rather than cash in Herefordshire. It was given to the ringers before the service and it was not unknown for them to avail themselves of this payment before the bells were rung. With their concentration and timing somewhat affected by the cider, the outcome could be at best a cacophony or worse, downright dangerous. Thus the priest at St Mary the Virgin insisted that the bell ropes come to the ground floor, rather than the first floor as is usual, so he could keep an eye on the ringers. There are indeed some plugged holes in the ceiling of the tower, so this tale could be true. Less believable is the tale of a ghost of a Civil War soldier who was chased into second floor room of the tower, cornered there and killed. Route
Friday – Home – A chest infection is keeping me at home today. Up the garden to the hens. As I pass under the Yew tree there is a lot of flapping from just above me. Looking up I see a barred breast and a flash of chestnut brown as a Sparrowhawk decides to depart. There are still Blue Tits in the shrubbery so they seem unworried by the raptor’s presence. The poor hens are stomping about in wet mud. There seems little point in digging out the run and putting in new straw until this wet spell is over – although that may be some time! Dawn, however, is frosty and bright but the weather forecast is not promising and indeed by mid-morning it is raining again.
By late afternoon the sky has mainly cleared and orange and purple clouds linger in the south. At dusk the gardens ring with the crepuscular pink pink of Blackbirds. A pair of males are on the top of the chicken run, eyeing each other. The hens have retreated to the house but as usual I have to turf Silver off the nest box otherwise she will soil it overnight. There are a couple of eggs in it, together with the one I collected earlier today makes a full house, again!
Saturday – Home – The day starts with rain, again. However, it clears by 9 o’clock and I can clean out the chicken house. A little later I prune the fruit trees. I decide the leave the greengage alone and do only a minimum to the Worcester Pearmain. The Doyenne pear was trimmed back to one central leader from three last year. However, this one has grown very long and whippy so I reduce it a lot. Lower branches are lopped off the plum. The problem tree is the Herefordshire Russet. Several broken branches are removed but there are still a number of very low and long branches. I decide to give them just the minimal trim and leave things for this year. Hopefully, it will grow taller and I can removed all the low growth. A trench is dug to be filled with chicken and kitchen waste for Runner Beans. This brief activity in the garden is accompanied throughout by a vigorously singing Dunnock. It starts to rain again and barely stops into the evening.
Sunday – Leominster – The sky overhead is clear but all around the horizon three there are threatening clouds. It rained heavily again yesterday evening and into the night. The temperature has dropped and we are promised even more colder weather in the week to come. Down Etnam Street and over the railway. The River Lugg is flowing high and fast, speckled with white foam from the weir upstream. A Wren slips through bankside brambles. As the sky lightens, Robins begin to sing. Easters Meadow is swampy. A Cormorant flies south. Jackdaws chack in the trees. A few minutes later a Cormorant flies north, probably the same one. Gulls fly south, Lesser Black-backs I would guess. Back south flies the Cormorant; I am fairly sure now it is the same bird. Song Thrushes have joined the morning chorus, not the full-blooded choir of spring but welcomed anyway. As usual, Cheaton Brook is far more red than the Lugg as it mixes in eddies.
Into the riverside walk. More Robins sing and numerous Blackbirds watch from gardens and shrubbery. The Kenwater is also high and fast. Yellow-green catkins hang in pairs on Hazel saplings. Dunnocks and Chaffinches inspect the path for morsels of food. At 9 o’clock the Compline bells follow the Minster’s hour bells. Up through the town. Last January I took photographs of the shops in town and will now do so again to make a record of the changes that occur year by year. There are already a fair number of closed or changed shops in the three streets I snap this morning.
Home – The rest of the morning is taken up by marmalade making. Every time I get the pot boiling and start testing for a set, I swear this will be the last time. Things are not helped by the great variance in recipes; some reckon a set will be reached in 12-15 minutes, others, “Delia” included reckon on 20 to 30 minutes. At the half hour mark I am panicking, have I missed the setting point? At around 35 minutes I decide that it may set and enough is enough. Into the hot jars the vivid orange liquid goes and the tops are screwed down. A few hours later it has cooled enough to persuade me that it really has set and is sparkling and delicious looking. Maybe it is all worth the worry! I celebrate with my last bottle of cider from the 2014 crop. The 2015 vintage is looking good and probably ready for “testing”.
Friday – Stockton – The heaviest frost of the winter has frozen puddles and dusted all the roofs white. The ice is not deep though, one soon cracks through to mud. Wrens, Blackbirds and a Song Thrush are feeding around the bridge over the River Lugg, which is still flowing fast and high although it has a clearer, more grey than brown hue. A Cormorant lifts off the water noisily flapping against the surface. A Great Tit calls his two-tone song. Most of the sky is blue but clouds to the east are moving south. Along the river by Easters Meadow. A few fresh molehills join the older ones. Their rusty red colour indicates the iron-rich Old Red Sandstone of the Devonian era. By the time I pass Hay Lane and head out through the fields the sun is shining brightly. Chaffinches move through the bushes. Carrion Crows fly over in pairs or small groups. The winter cereal crop is several inches high now. Over Cheaton Brook via the concrete bridge. The pasture on the other side is pimpled with molehills like measles. Blue Tits chatter in the brook-side trees. Across a field stands a tree with a tall, dead branch rising from its crown and atop this stands a Grey Heron shining in the sunlight. A Great Tit flies into a Hawthorn beside me and starts chattering furiously. To the west, the Radnor Forest is covered in snow. I reach the Stoke Prior road and have to make a decision, my achilles tendon is hurting just a bit too much. Angrily I decide to head back home. A Fieldfare is feasting on fallen cider apples in the orchard that runs alongside the A49. Near to the Tenbury road junction, three Redwings fly out of the orchard. From the main road I can see there are quite a few more Fieldfares in the orchard grey rumps flashing as the launch up into the trees. I crunch through damson stones, the fruit’s flesh decayed into frozen black mush. A dozen Yellowhammers chase across a stubble field on the north side of the road.
Sunday – Leominster – It is still dark as I wander down Etnam Street. The air is cold and damp, chilling despite the layers of clothing. A mist hangs in the trees by the railway. Jackdaws chack and Wood Pigeons coo. One is cooing no longer as pigeon feathers lay on the bridge over the railway, victim of a raptor. Network Rail are fitting some instrument beside the track with a solar panel. A Cormorant is on the River Lugg which still flows fast and grey. A Robin and a Song Thrush sing as a Blackbird flies over the river calling its alarm. Brightwells is empty and dark, the Sunday market will not resume for a couple of months. Along Mill Street and over the railway crossing. A Bullfinch is at the base of a hedge and Long-tailed Tits move through the hedge on the opposite side of the road. Round the riverside walk. The Kenwater is deep and fast. The old hard for launching boats that runs down from the car park is now broken up and becoming overgrown with grass and weeds. Up Broad Street where someone has had a load of logs delivered for their stove and is moving them wheelbarrow load at a time down one of the passages hidden behind doors next to the shops along the street.
Monday – Croft – Near Kingsland, it looks like a fence has been removed in a field of beet, a fence that divided bare soil from the beet and a flock of sheep are all in a line feeding at the edge of the green leaves. It is raining again. Clouds drape the hills. Even the cows in the field opposite the car park seem to be careful when wading through the mud that is their field. A Robin sings and occasionally a Blue Tit chirps, otherwise the only sounds are just the wind through the trees and the drip odd rain off their bare branches. Up to the end of the Fish Pool Valley. Birds are moving stealthily around, a brief glimpse of Wren, Robin, Chaffinch and others to skulking to identify. A black dog appears, runs past then turns to run up and have a sniff to check me out then off down the valley. He returns to have a bark before his owner arrives. Up the path where water flows down, washing the mud and leaf mould off the bedrock. The path gets muddied as it approaches Leinthall Common. Up to Croft Ambrey. Piles of sawn branches and saplings lie beside the paths where the clearance of the hill-fort continues. The eastern gate mound is now more clear and the second defensive rampart can be seen. White rumps flash up ahead as Bullfinches slip away. Up on top, out of the shelter of the trees the wind is strong and cold. Down to the Spanish Chestnut field. The sheep on the field are wet and muddy. A shiny machine is in the strip of woodland left between the newly cleared area of Croft Woods and the fields. It seems to be driving stakes in for new fencing. A Raven barks as it flies overhead. A Jay flies down the hedgerow is which is full of Redwings. Jackdaws are flying noisily around the castle. A log lies on the car park meadow with a large white fungi growth. However, on close inspection it looks like it is rather decayed making identification difficult.
Thursday – Cardiff – It is less cold this morning but barely above zero. However a thaw means the trees are dripping.
We catch a train to Cardiff, which arrives late as usual, leaving us with a longer wait on a cold platform. Heading south it is clear that much of the recent flooding has subsided leaving muddy fields. We arrive at Cardiff Central station. It was opened by the South Wales Railway in 1850 after Brunel diverted the course of the River Taff which had caused flooding on the site. Between 1932 and 1934 its successor, the Great Western Railway, replaced the station building (designed by their architects department) with an impressive new booking hall of Portland stone, with Art Deco light fittings, all topped by a clock cupola. “Great Western Railway” was carved onto the façade (larger than the name of the station).
People lived in the Cardiff area since the early Neolithic. The Romans built a fort here on the site of the later castle and a vicus, a township associated with a fort, built up. Little is known about the area after the departure of the Romans until William I built a castle in 1081 and a town grew around it. By the Middle Ages the population grew to over 2000, the largest town in Wales, although small by English standards. In 1404 Owain Glyndŵr burned Cardiff, but it was rebuilt. In 1536, the Act of Union between England and Wales led to the creation of the shire of Glamorgan, and Cardiff was made the county town. However, the town remained small. In 1766, John Stuart, 1st Marquess of Bute married into the Herbert family and was later created Baron Cardiff and in 1778 he began renovations on Cardiff Castle. In the 1790s a racecourse, printing press, bank and coffee house all opened, and a stagecoach service to London was established. The town grew rapidly from the 1830s onwards, when John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute built a dock, which eventually linked to the Taff Vale Railway. Cardiff became the main port for exports of coal from the Cynon, Rhondda, and Rhymney valleys, and grew at a rate of nearly 80% per decade between 1840 and 1870. King Edward VII granted Cardiff city status on 28th October 1905. The market for Welsh coal declined and Cardiff along with it. However, in recent years the city has recovered and grown again.
From the station we stroll along to our hotel which is near Atlantic Wharf. Opposite the entrance to the hotel is the long curved Spillers and Bakers building, a mill and warehouse building constructed by milling company Spillers in 1887. We start by walking down Atlantic Wharf, a long rectangle of water with narrow channels creating a small network of waterways. The Bute East Dock was constructed to relieve pressure on the existing Bute Dock in the 1850s. It was opened by the 12 year-old 3rd Marquess of Bute on 14th September 1859. The new dock was 1,310 metres in length and up to 152 metres wide. It was surrounded by railway sidings and large warehouses. The dock was closed in 1970 and the railway sidings removed. There are a lot of Coot and Tufted Duck, a couple of Great Crested Grebe, a few Mallard and a collection of gulls. Some converted warehouses remain but a lot of new build offices and apartments line the western side. At the head of the dock is The Bonded Warehouse, built in 1861 using a frame of cast iron columns, in classical proportions. To the east is a vast shed of Castle Steel Works. A single old crane stands across the water, built in 1933 by Messrs Stothert & Pitt Ltd, for the Great Western Railway Company and was last used in January 1987. At the end of the wharf is the large County Hall. Along Lloyd George Avenue, full of modern buildings, including the Red Dragon Centre and round to the iconic Welsh Assembly building. Opposite is a splendid craft centre which has many lovely pieces of glass, ceramics, pictures, leather and clothing – all rather expensive although fair enough prices for such bespoke items.
We have a pint in The Packet Hotel, a fine old pub, little tampered with. Next door is a Portuguese bakery where we get a stuffed piece of bread and one of that country’s famous custard tarts, pastéis de nata. Down to Cardiff Bay, maybe not at its best on a rainy winter day. There are few of the original buildings here, Cardiff being the largest coal port in the world during the Victorian era. This area is the famous Tiger Bay, renown for its multiculturalism for several centuries. The Pier Head is a Grade One listed building, built in 1897 and designed by the English architect William Frame. It was a replacement for the headquarters of the Bute Dock Company which burnt down in 1892. The building incorporates a French-Gothic Renaissance theme, with details such as hexagonal chimneys, carved friezes, gargoyles, and a highly ornamental and distinctive clock tower, known as “Baby Big Ben”. Its exterior is finished in glazed terracotta blocks supplied at the end of the 19th century by JC Edwards & Co of Acrefair near Ruabon in Wrexham. Nearby is the Norwegian Church, not on its original site and now a café and arts centre. Carl Herman Lund from Oslo, built the church in 1868 on land donated by the Marquis of Bute, to serve the religious needs of Norwegian sailors and expatriates. The Wales Millennium Centre has been built on its original site, so on land donated by Associated British Ports, the church was reconstructed on the current site and re-opened in April 1992, the church by Princess Märtha Louise of Norway. Across the bay is a long, slug-like building housing the Dr Who Experience. A blue police box, the Tardis, stands on the edge of the dock by a huge lock, rotting away, which held water in Roath Dock. Wooden dock stanchions stand out in the water on which Cormorants stands motionless. A few Coot, Mallard and Great Crested Grebes are in the bay. We pay a brief visit to the Welsh Assembly building, probably taking longer to remove everything metal from our persons at the security check, going through the scanner and being checked with a scanning wand! The debating chamber is much smaller than we had expected. Outside is a statue of Ivor Novello, sitting in a chair and looking back over his shoulder at the assembly building.
We head back up Bute Street, full of the typical huge office buildings that housed companies whose businesses stemmed from the docks. However, unlike Liverpool where the buildings are often still in use, here many are empty and decaying. Some have been restored, one still with the sign “Provisions Curers Bonded Store Merchants”. Up past Cardiff Bay station and Butetown. It was originally a model housing estate built in the early 19th century by John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute, for whose title the area was named. It was one of the first multicultural areas of Great Britain with large Yemeni, Somali and Greek communities. The estate was demolished in the 1960s and the present estate built. Metal posts by the road record the presence of shops along the road, now gone. On the east side of the road is a very long wall retaining the bank on which the railway runs. On up to the town centre. A towering Art Deco building looks out towards the bay, however, it is not 1930s but completed in 2005 and called Altolusso. It is worrying that much new development going up but lovely old buildings which define the history of the place are being left to rot, at least with Altolusso, the façade of Victorian New College which stood on the site was retained.
Along St Mary’s Street. To the east is the modern shopping centre, to the west old arcades of artisan shops, boutiques and other unusual establishments. There is the first shop I have ever seen specialising in vinegars. The Welsh Baptist Tabernacle stands in the main shopping area. A chapel existed on the site from 1821, enlarged in 1840, then further enlarged and rebuilt between 1862 and 1865 in an Italianate style under local architect J. Hartland and Son. We pass it again in the evening when the stained glass windows are lit from within. We have a pint in the Duke of Wellington, then the Queens Vaults before ending up in The Goat Major, (the soldier who parades the regimental goat mascot of the Royal Regiment of Wales). The pub specialises in pies. Virtually every pub is a Brain’s house, whose beer is fair but not special.
Friday – Cardiff – The rain is pounding down so we sit tight on our hotel room for a while. We set off but fine drizzle continues.Outside the hotel entrance, in front of the Spillers and Bakers Building is a waterway. This is the Junction Canal, also called The Dock Feeder Canal. A listed bridge crosses the canal, built in the 1850’s when last phase of Bute East Dock was under construction and formerly carried road traffic over Junction Canal which connected Bute West and East Docks. It now passes through the Atlantic Development of gated communities and offices. We walk into the city centre passing under a railway bridge bearing the advertising slogan “Brain’s Beers” and above “It’s Brain’s You Want”. Down a couple more arcades in the city centre and through the market where there is an impressive fish stall. We then visit the castle.
Cardiff Castle is a medieval castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion located in the city centre. The original motte and bailey castle was built in the late 11th century by King William or Robert Fitzhamon on top of a 3rd century Roman fort. After being held by the de Clare and Despenser families for several centuries the castle was acquired by Richard de Beauchamp in 1423. Richard built the main range on the west side of the castle, dominated by a tall, octagonal tower. Following the Wars of the Roses the status of the castle as a Marcher territory was revoked and its military significance began to decline. The Herbert family took over the property in 1550, remodelling parts of the main range and carrying out construction work in the outer bailey, then occupied by Cardiff’s Shire Hall and other buildings. During the English Civil War Cardiff Castle was initially taken by Parliamentary force, but was regained by Royalist supporters in 1645. When fighting broke out again in 1648, a Royalist army attacked Cardiff in a bid to regain the castle, leading to the battle of St Fagans just outside the city. Cardiff Castle escaped potential destruction by Parliament after the war and was instead garrisoned to protect against a possible Scottish invasion.In the mid-18th century, Cardiff Castle passed into the hands of the Marquesses of Bute. John Stuart, the 1st Marquess, employed Capability Brown and Henry Holland to renovate the main range, turning it into a Georgian mansion, and to landscape the castle grounds, demolishing many of the older medieval buildings and walls. The 3rd Marquess, John Crichton-Stuart commissioned an extensive programme of renovations under William Burges who remodelled the castle in a Gothic revival style, lavishing money and attention on the main range. The grounds were re-landscaped and, following the discovery of the old Roman remains, reconstructed walls and a gatehouse in a Roman style were incorporated into the castle design. Firstly we visit the Museum of the Welsh Soldier. Then we walk around the castle walls. Within the walls is an exhibition of how the walls were used as bomb shelters during the Second World War. Outside the walls are busy roads, inside is peace and quiet, despite the presence of several large infants’ school parties. The house is extraordinary, the Gothic Revival taken to its ostentatious extreme. In particular the Arab Room is a confection of Moorish art and gold leaf. It is all quite wonderful but how one lived in this utterly over-the-top suite of rooms is beyond me. It is noticeable that commentators at the time and since have been divided on the rooms, some praising them lavishly, others deploring the garishness. I alone climb to the top of the Norman keep from which the city spreads out beneath.The walls along Castle Street have stone carved animals seeming to be about to climb over into the street.
We return into the centre, past a statue to Aneurin Bevan, to visit the Parish church of St John the Baptist. The first reference of the church is in the 12th century charter of Bishop Nicholas ap Gwrgant who confirmed “St John’s Chapel” to Tewkesbury Abbey. The church has been closely connected with the Herbert family and the stained glass windows in the Herbert Chapel contain the shields of all of the lords of Cardiff Castle. The church was badly damaged during Glyndŵr’s attack in 1404 and it was rebuilt during the 15th century. After the Reformation, the church passed to Gloucester cathedral and became the parish church. The building was extensively restored and enlarged in 1886/7. A reredos by William Gascombe John was dedicated in 1892. There is a fine organ by Henry Willis, installed in 1894 and restored in 2005.
We have a pint in the City Arms which is opposite the Millenium Stadium and has the best range of ales we have found so far. Off the to the National Museum of Wales. We pass an ornate drinking fountain set into a wall depicting a religious scene and presented by William Alexander, Mayor in 1850. The plaque was made in Coalbrookdale. Up a flight of steps where a bird has walked across several of them whilst the concrete was still wet. The museum is one of a range of magnificent public buildings in Cathays Park, which Pevsner regarded as “the finest civic centre in the British Isles”. It includes Edwardian buildings such as the Temple of Peace, City Hall, the National Museum and Gallery of Wales and several buildings belonging to the Cardiff University campus. It also includes Cardiff Crown Court, the administrative headquarters of the Welsh Government, and the more modern Cardiff Central Police Station. The museum has a small display dedicated to the well preserved fossil of a dinosaur found in Wales, a juvenile of a small raptor related to Tyrannosaurus rex dating from 130 millions years ago. There is also a display of the geological maps of William Smith, whose ground-breaking discovery was that the strata of southern Britain always occur in a regular order and are all tilted in the same direction. He also recognised that he could use fossils to identify where a layer of rock occurred in the sequence. There is also a superb collection of French art assembled by Margaret and Gwendoline Davies, granddaughters of the wealthy industrialist David Davies and bequeathed to the National Museum in the 1950s and 1960s.
We then have a few pints in The Cardiff Cottage, a pleasant city centre pub, before having a very good meal at Jamie Oliver’s.
Sunday – Leominster – The sky is grey and angry, but it is much milder. Robins, Song Thrushes and Great Tits, call and sing. Carrion Crows fly over, sweeping eastwards on the wind. Dark brown buds are forming on Ash trees. The River Lugg flows green-grey, rippled by eddies. A Cormorant flies low over Easters Meadows. The Kenwater is also a dirty dishwater colour, reflecting the sky. The Minster bells ring nine o’clock and then the Compline bells ring.
Monday – Bitterley – The day started brightly and for a while there was sunshine but now it has clouded over and the greyness returns. Bitterley lays some four miles east of Ludlow. It is recorded in Domesday as Buterlei. In 1165 Roger de Esketot held the Manor as a Knight’s fee, and he granted 4s rent out of his mill of Butterleg to Haughmond Abbey (founded in 1135) near Shrewsbury between 1173 and 1177. His descendant Roger de Bitterley was succeeded by Stephen de Bitterley, who in 1240 was recorded has holding one Knight’s fee in Buterleg of Walter de Lacy.
Several Georgian houses including the Old Rectory, built in several stages in 1740 and 1793 around an older core, Bitterley House from the late 18th century and the villageBitterley Bitterley under the Clee Devil take me if I ever come to thee
From Nooks & Corners of Shropshire H Thornhill Timmins school lay around the road junction in the village. A listed K6 telephone kiosk stands outside Bitterley House. Wood Pigeons coo and Robins sing. Bitterley Brook passes under the road beside Bridge Cottage. On the other side of the road a pen holds a pair of black pigs. A little further is a cockpit and moat. The moat ran around an Elizabethan manor house, Park Hall Mansion, allegedly occupied by Katherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII. On up the lane. Across the fields the brooding mass is Titterstone Clee stands crowned with cloud. An old iron fence runs through the hedge at the top of the roadside banking. Part of the village of Bitterley is now lost. It lay in the fields between the Court and the present village but changes in routes in Norman times cut off some of the village and it disappeared.
At Court Lodge, an extended old house, a pair of gate pillars leads to a metalled driveway, now green with moss, the original entrance to Bitterley Court. At the end is a fine pair of ornate gates and parkland before the court. A ha-ha runs round to the church. A large Cedar stands above the ha-ha. Church of St Mary is late 12th and early 13th century in date with 17th century alterations. It was restored in 1876 and 1880. Sadly the church is locked. A tall 14th century preaching cross stands in the graveyard, one of the best preserved in the county. Snowdrops are in flower. Another smaller preaching cross stands in the other side of the church. A lane goes back part the extensive garden of Bitterley Court, dated from 1655, was the long-time seat of the Walcot family, who had previously sold their Walcot Hall to Clive of India. In 1899, Bitterley Court was purchased by James Volant Wheeler, younger son of Edward Vincent Wheeler of Newnham Court, Tenbury Wells, and remains in the ownership of the Wheelers to this day. The lane leads to the main road, a lane itself. Up a short distance in the direction of Clee Hill to a bridge over the disused railway line, now with a stream running down its bed. The Branch line ran from Clee Hill to Clee Hill Junction, just north of Ludlow, on the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway, a LNWR/GWR joint line. Just before the bridge is a yard of agricultural equipment. It used to be a marshalling yard at the end of the Titterstone Clee Inclined Plane which carried stone down from the quarries up on the hill. Up on the hillside above the railway line is a cottage had a large gateway in a tower at its end. A Song Thrush sings, Robins chase each other and a large flock of Chaffinches flies off. Back down the lane, past the old schoolhouse which sits below the former marshalling yard and on to the village. A flash of pink, grey and white marks the passing of a cock Bullfinch. The wind is rising and it is getting darker.
I drive back past the marshalling yard and up Bitterley Lane past Hilluppencott Farm. A Primitive Methodist chapel lies beside the road as it rises near Hillcott House. Angel Bank chapel was built of polychrome brick in 1880. The chapel has closed, the last service was held there on 17th May 1998. Across the Clee Road and through Farden to Knowbury. Here I visit the church of St Paul, built in 1839 and altered in 1884. There is a large reredos in the Early German style and above is the east window with stained glass by Mayer of Munich. A plaque records the village’s appreciation of Harry Oswald Watson of Knowsbury House, who was a physician who “ministered to the needs of the people of this village and surrounding district”. He died in 1939. The organ is by Wedlake of London. The church clock is by Joyce of Whitfield.
Opposite the church is the Old Vicarage. Old maps show a coal mining shaft nearby. There is a long history of mining around Knowbury. A public company, the Knowbury Colliery Co, was registered in 1899 with John Pearson, a well-known Ludlow engineer as promotor and Edwin Askey, who owned an adjacent brickworks, as a director. Although this was wound up in 1902, Knowbury continues to feature in the Lists of Mines until 1907, when an abandonment plan was also lodged. The main colliery was to the east of this site.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The rain and flood warnings return, although it is holding off at the moment. Robins sing and Blue Tits chatter. Ragged and torn clouds race across the grey sky. A large flock of Wigeon circle overhead seemingly uncertain whether or where to land. They circle lower and are lost behind the trees. I squelch across the meadow. It starts to rain. High above West Field Wood a Jackdaw is harassing a far larger Raven. Long-tailed Tits and a flighty flock of Redpoll feed in the Alder plantation. The Wigeon have landed in the middle of the lake, over 160 are whistling and drifting around. The whistling increases in volume suddenly as a female Peregrine flies over. Mallard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye are present. I scan the Wigeon flock and find a drake Pintail. There are also Six Mandarin Duck in the far bank. Suddenly two Peregrines appear, chasing a Lapwing which twists and dives to avoid the sweeping raptors. Eventually it disappears southwards. This activity has driven the Wigeon into a tizzy, whistling loudly. The water level is high, the scrape has vanished. A couple of Cormorants are present. Only a few Canada Geese are on the pontoon or the banks and four feral Greylag swim around. A few large and rather soggy Blewits are growing under the meadow hedgerow. A Jay slips away out of the orchard. Several of the old dessert apple trees have fallen. Bullfinches are in the hedge. A Mistle Thrush rasps. Up on the Dinmore Road, water is flowing off the hill down the rocks where it is laying down fresh tufa.
Sunday – Leominster – January ends grey and damp. Jackdaws chack from the roof tops and Wood Pigeons coo from the great spreading Plane tree opposite The Chequers pub. Nearby a Starling chatters from a gable end. A Song Thrush sings from a tree beside the River Lugg which remains high and coloured. Five Canada Geese fly over and a Cormorant drops down onto the river. Cheaton Brook is flowing fast and a bright rusty red. More Song Thrushes are in good voice down the river and in Mill Street. Mill Street is a very different place today compared with a century ago. The River Lugg flowed down to where the Hop Pole pub (a building of considerable age – once a mediaeval hall) still stands at the bottom of Broad Street. A bridge stood here, Leland reports this as being one of the three stone bridges in the town “and, as I remember, it is the greatest of the three [bridges], and hath most arches”. It was demolished around the mid-1830s when the river was culverted.
The Lugg then flowed beside Mill Street, past a corn mill which gives the street its name. A stream ran down behind the burgess plots behind Bridge Street to join the Kenwater opposite a large gasometer of the gas works, now the site of the fire station and car park. The Lugg bent south around about where Focus DIY store now stands, where Roman-British smithing remains have been found, and flowed down to join the Kenwater in line with Poplands, a large house on Mill Street. The course of the Lugg was diverted in the 1960s and 1970s to alleviate the regular flooding around the Marsh area and these waterways were filled in. The resident Bullfinch flies across the street by the level crossing. Early blossoms are appearing on shrubbery. A flock of Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits all feed in just two Hawthorns at the entrance to Arkwright Close. There is a very fine drizzle in the air.