Monday – Leominster – The year starts with a Supermoon, the Wolf Moon, brightly lighting the night sky. In the morning I head off for a short walk and immediately the heavens open and I am soaked. It turns into a very short walk! The weather is changing by the hour. At lunchtime the skies are blue, by the afternoon it has clouded over again and is getting dark. Within the hour, the sun is back. House Sparrows, Great, Blue and Coal Tits are all busy dashing to the feeders and then back into the trees and shrubbery. Some Purple-sprouting Broccoli is picked for dinner.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another Atlantic depression has swept through, Storm Eleanor. A gale blew all night and there is still a blustery wind this morning. The sun is dazzling, low in the southern sky. Showers are frequent. The meadow is waterlogged. A flock of Goldfinches flies up into the large willow at the end of the meadow and join a Bullfinch, with his pink breast shining in the sun. The water level on the lake is lower than I would have expected. There are still very few winter waterfowl around. A Tufted Duck arrows across the water to the western end where Mallard are sheltering on the back. Around to the south west corner, twenty one Mandarin are under overhanging bushes. Another nineteen are in small groups along the western edge. Five Little Grebes swim across the lake towards the island. There appears to be just a single Cormorant in the trees along with a couple of Carrion Crows. The Little Grebes have moved out to the centre of the lake and are diving. There are more four Tufted Duck and two more Little Grebes at the western end. A Merlin suddenly swoops over from behind the hide to try and catch something at the base of the bank. There is an alarmed twittering and the Merlin departs back across the paddock, unsuccessful in the hunt as the twittering continues.
Back outside the hide, a Jay disappears silently. On the meadow, Blackbirds take advantage of the soft soil to dig out worms. Lime green catkins dangle from Hazel branches. A few sodden Blewits lay along the edge of the meadow. All apples have gone from the orchards and the trees are dormant now. South of Leominster the fields have flooded. A pair of Mute Swans feed and small flocks of Canada Geese are moving around the area.
Thursday – Birmingham – We are in the city for a short break. Into the centre where huge Victorian buildings are losing out their prominence to even larger modern towers and blocks. The cathedral seems to be an oasis of calm in the rushing and bustling. Simon Jenkins in his book “England’s Cathedrals” says, “Birmingham’s older buildings litter the city centre like some poor relation told by city fathers to stay out of sight of the great god Traffic. The result is not town planning but a car crash. Luckily, the Anglican cathedral retains some dignity in its churchyard off Colmore Row.”
The church was built on Horse Field which was in High Town, the highest point in Birmingham and was at the end of the 17th century becoming an exclusive address for the town’s elite. In 1708 an Act of Parliament appointed a commission of create the new parish of High Town and in 1709, the construction of a new parish church of St Philip was started. It was designed by Thomas Archer of Tanworth-in-Arden, his first major church. The main body was consecrated on 4th October 1715 but the tower was not completed until 1725. The building was enlarged in 1884 by J A Chatwin and a substantial donation from Emma Chadwick Villiers-Wilkes allowed Chatwin to commission three stained glass windows designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones who had been christened in the church. The stonework of the nave was replaced but the sandstone used was too soft and was replaced with Hollington stone between 1859 and 1871. A fourth window, the west window, was designed by Burne-Jones in 1897. Etched glass windows were installed by Hardman & Co in the north and south aisles in 1880. There are a considerable number of memorials on the walls which has previously been on the exterior. Galleries with fluted square columns are above the north and south aisles. Six Corinthian columns line the chancel where there is an organ made by Thomas Schwarbrick of Warwick in 1715. The cathedral’s roof and windows were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War but the Burne-Jones windows had already been removed to a place of safety. The church became a cathedral after Queen Victoria granted city status in 1889. Rather than build a new cathedral, Christian Socialist, Bishop Charles Gore decided to elevate St Philip’s church. This really is a delightful building. It is one of the smallest cathedrals in the country but that is part of its beauty. The Burne-Jones windows dominate but they are so magnificent they fill the space with colour and are set off by the simplicity of the Hardman windows.
We then head for the City Museum and Art Gallery which has a fine collection of Pre-Raphaelite art, fine stained glass windows and ceramic and glass. There is also part of the Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold. Outside, the Paradise Circus area is being redeveloped with more grandiose building projects.
Saturday – Home – There has been a sharp frost overnight and everywhere sparkles in the street lights. It is the Old Christmas Day, Twelfth Night. How Christmas changed to its present date is described here. The Old Christmas was observed in parts of Herefordshire right up until the early 20th century. In many places crowds turned out to see the blossoming of the Holy Thorn, grown from a cutting of the Thorn said to have grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea in Glastonbury. In 1949, a correspondent wrote to The Times with gleeful reports that many buds on the Orcop Thorn had burst into flower within a few minutes of midnight on Old Christmas Eve. This particular thorn was claimed to be Herefordshire’s most popular, but it was sadly lost in a storm in 1980. By 9:00 it is raining.
Sunday – Leominster – Another frosty morning. A semi-circular moon is in a clear sky. Starlings chatter on the roof tops. Down to the railway. A pair of Cormorants fly over. Carrion Crows caw in the riverside trees. The River Lugg is still flowing high and fast. Fresh molehills have been pushed up in the meadow. A bitter wind blows from the north. At least half a dozen Blackbirds are in Paradise Walk along with a couple of Dunnocks. A fat Wood Pigeon walks along the fence by the Kenwater, which is also flowing rapidly. Pied Wagtails scurry around Corn Square before flying off, squeaking loudly.
Monday – Croft – Another cold frosty morning. The trees are bare and skeletal at Croft. Off down into the Fish Pool Valley. An alarm call from a Blackbird is the only sound. Groundworks to restore the valley to its former state are progressing. The valley was laid out in the late 18th century in the “picturesque” style. Over the years it has been allowed to become overgrown and many features have been damaged and others obscured by the trees. Beside the pond below the ride down to the valley are excavations revealing stonework that channelled the water from that pool down to the last one in the series. Low Hazel hurdles have been installed around the banks of some of the ponds to protect the edges. More trees have been felled on the slope up to the car park field as well as on the valley bottom. These are mainly the very tall and spindly Ash that dominate the valley. A Robin disappears into undergrowth by the lime kiln, although much of the dense brambles that were surrounding the kiln have been removed. A pair of Nuthatches call. The area around the stone grotto has been cleared giving much better views of it. A large log stack is at the head of the valley. Moving quietly up the path is difficult as frozen mud crunches underfoot. Fresh stems of Euphorbias, Wood Spurge, have appeared. The alarm calls of Wrens come from the woods on the approach to Bircher Common. Half a dozen Fallow Deer with almost black backs are by the track. They disappear leisurely up into Lyngham Vallet. Nuthatches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker call. The steel grey sky seems to be getting darker.
Up to the hill-fort. A pair of silent Ravens fly over, just a whisper from their wings. Mistletoe is bright yellow-green as it flowers. The hill-fort is speckled with frost and tiny patches of snow. Much clanking and rumbling comes from the quarry opposite. Large numbers of Blackbirds fly off from the western end of the hill-fort. A Jay squawks in the distance. Down the track to the newly cleared area. Cattle are grazing the bracken, but the area is being reseeded by conifers. From the Spanish Chestnut field, the Lugg and Arrow valley is misty, the Black Mountains just a dark patch and the Brecon Beacons invisible. White flashes mark the passage of Jays and Magpies along the hedgerow, which is bare of any berries, hence the absence of winter thrushes. The route of Spanish Chestnuts look unearthly – twisted trunks with bizarre protuberances. A Pied Wagtail walks across the ice on the quarry pond. Bullfinches slip away into the undergrowth. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The sun is only slowly burning off thick mist. It is just above freezing. House Sparrows chirp loudly from the large barn beside the car park. A Great Tit calling his rusty bicycle wheel song. Blue Tits cheep. A charm of around ten Goldfinches fly up from the edge of the meadow. A patch of fresh molehills has appeared on the meadow. A recent Guardian Country Diary reported that a survey in 1995 estimated there were 31 million moles in the country. The amount of earth that number moves must run into millions of tons. And apparently, a mole killed a king! William of Orange’s horse stumbled on a molehill and threw the monarch resulting in his death. A Green Woodpecker flies off. The woods are barely viable through the mist, but a drumming woodpecker can be heard. Half a dozen Blackbirds are searching the grass for worms. Having brought my scope with me, I can barely see half way across the lake. Three Mallard are by the scrape, one plunging into the water to clean his feathers. Five Teal disappear into the mist. A couple of Canada Geese are discerned through the murk. A couple of Moorhens are by the reed bed. Maybe half a dozen Cormorants are flying around but they too soon are swallowed by the mist. Something spooks the Moorhens but I can see nothing. More Canada Geese can be heard but not seen. The Cormorants appear and disappear westwards like wraiths. Out of the hide. Two cock Ring-necked Pheasants are in the wildlife reserve. Carrion Crows bark in the woods. Several Chaffinches move through the Alder plantation. There are plenty more molehills in the orchards.
Friday – Leominster-Bush Bank – The temperature is near freezing and a thick fog envelopes the town. Up Ryelands Road. Robins sing and Blue Tits chirr. Everywhere is wet with a few frozen patches. Ryelands, a Georgian house, formerly home of the Lane family. A number of modern dwellings are by the road. Waldin House has a tall, long wall with two modern properties built into it. Open fields follow with sheep barely visible, Rooks feeding around their feet. Blackbirds seek food in the lea is the hedge. A Magpie chatters in a large tree. In the field opposite there are early lambs. Into Newtown. An old marker or mile stone is tilted in the hedgerow. It appears to have script chiselled into it but I cannot decipher it. Dishley Court is a 17th century farmhouse, enlarged in the 19th century, with barns, many now converted into dwellings. It is colder out on the flood plain of the River Arrow. Hedges are tipped with frost.
Bankfield House was for a while the home of Princess Sophia Mickeladze. The Russian Princess is believed to have been related to the Romanovs. She fled her homeland in 1917 as a refugee and arrived in the country but her husband Prince Iverico was imprisoned in Russia and they were never reunited. Her husband died in 1931, and the Princess eventually gained permission to bring his body to Britain. She died in 1943, and they are buried together just to the left of the porch of St John’s Church down the road at Ivington.
Update: June 2019 – We attend a Leominster Festival talk by Joseph Cocker on the “Ivington Princesses” and it transpires pretty much everything written above is wrong. He had found the same source as me but had investigated in much more depth. Sophia, who was usually called Sonia, was the granddaughter of Ivan Aivazovsky, one of the greatest marine artists. He was was Armenian. Aivazovsky’s wife was Julia Graves, daughter of the Royal Surgeon to the Tsar. They lived in Feodosia (Theodosia) in the Crimea. Sophia had a daughter, Olga, with her first husband, the marriage unusually for Orthodox Russia, ended in divorce. She then married Prince Iverico Mickeladze, a Georgian. They had a daughter, Gayane. They were in Russian high society and knew the Romanovs but were not related. They left Crimea after the Russian Revolution and settled in Constantinople. At the breakup of the Ottoman Empire they moved to Cairo. Olga worked for the British Government here and married a Captain Sandford. Iverico and Sophia lived for periods in Bulgaria and Yugoslavia before settling in the French Riviera. Captain Sandford and Olga were posted to Lucknow in India before returning to live in Chelsea, London. Iverico died in 1931 and was buried on the Riviera. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Sandfords and Sophia moved to Bankfield House. Sophia died in 1943. Gayane became a successful actress, Miki Iveria, appearing in many films. She had Iverico’s body disinterred from France and buried with Sophia in Ivington. A second grave here contains the remains of Captain Sandford, Olga and Gayane. The graves are actually on the south-eastern side of the church.
Opposite are sheep with almost black fleeces and a white stripe down their faces. Google tells me these are Zwarbles, a Dutch breed first imported in the early 1990s. A Mistle Thrush rasps as it passes over, to be answered by another. A scattering of 19th and 20th century houses, plus The Cottage, an 18th century house, then bridge HCC92 over a stream that seems to be a detour of the River Arrow, flowing out of the Arrow at Ivington Common via a drain and rejoining the river to the south. A listing states the bridge is 18th century built of sandstone rubble and brick arch with ashlar voussoirs and a keystone and band to brick parapets with ashlar coping. The next bridge, unsurprisingly HCC93, carries the lane over the River Arrow. It is of the same age and construction as the previous one. The fog is even thicker now. A short distance to the bridge over Ivington Mill leet. Part the long barn, gatehouse,16th century on an older base, and the late 18th century farmhouse of Ivingtonbury. The farm was a grange of Leominster Priory. Records show that servants of Leominster Priory at Ivington included overseer, reaper, reapers servant, daya (I have not found what this person did: update 2023 daya was a dairyman), miller, subdaya, hedger, carter, swineherd, shepherd, cowherd, keeper of the lambs and 36 customary tenants. Into the village of Ivington, past the school and church of St John, locked as usual, then off along the Stretford lane towards Ivington Green. The lane bends over Honeylake Brook crossed by a bridge that had recently been repointed. The brook continues alongside the road. Lower House Farm is just dark shadows through the fog. A Grey Wagtail flies up from the brook.
Ivington Green is a mixture of old and modern. The forge has been extended, as have other cottages. A number of dwellings are 20th century. The Primitive Methodist Chapel was built in 1907, but is now a dwelling. There are good sized flocks of House Sparrows in the hamlet. The lane runs between banks of red sandstone soil containing numerous rabbit warrens and other holes. Through Coldharbour, a farm and a couple of houses. Fieldfares fly into an orchard. Hyde Ash is larger, mainly 19th and 20th century houses, one timber-framed house which is difficult to age as the timbers are fairly new. A house in the western edge seems to be built in a much older base. A Woodpecker is drumming from across a field but his tree is hidden in the fog. However, I can see the shape of a telephone pole and it may be the Woodpecker is using that and now there is a second drummer further away. Dorstone, not to be mistaken for the village in the Golden Valley, is again just a farm and several houses. A Lapwing calls briefly not a common bird around these parts. The lane meets the A4110, the Roman road, Watling Street.
Straight across onto the lane to Dilwyn. Over Venmore Bridge which crosses Stretford Brook. The lane is not the most interesting walk ever; either side of the road, beyond the hedge is a strip of green grass or red mud then a wall of grey mist. After some distance it is enlivened by a passing Bullfinch which flies into a Hawthorn and meeps quietly. A Lapwing calls again. Some Greater Periwinkles are in flower at the base of the hedgerow, their bright blue making a change from the green, grey and brown. Quicksetts is a farmhouse just before a junction has some age. Off south on the King’s Pyon lane. Several modern houses lay down this lane. Over Stretford Brook again. Above, Jackdaws sit in a skeletal tree. The lane passes large modern cider orchards. Fieldfares sit at the top of the trees. A large pond beside the road at Alton Court has a couple of dozen Mallard on it. The farmhouse is a large Georgian brick building. The lane comes to Alton Cross. An abandoned cottage has corrugated iron roofs which looks fairly recently installed. Across the junction and on southwards. A flock of Chaffinches feed in a field. On the other side of the hedge, Wood Pigeons do the same. Chadnor Court, a timber-framed house with wooden barn extension. A park at Chadnor, Chabbenore, was mentioned in 1297, but there is no later evidence of it. Chadnor or Chabnor was the residence of the Chadnor family in the 13th and 14th centuries. Thomas of Chadnor was Member of Parliament for the county in 1297 under Edward I. St Helen’s Chapel at Upper Chadnor Court, has long since been destroyed, but the site can still be identified. A fishpond and kitchen garden first appeared on 19th century maps. A sale held here of Hereford Cattle owned by George Pitt in 1883 realised one of the largest returns ever. The American breeders took a keen interest. The road goes through a series of sharp bends, passing a wood called Dog Leg. A cock Ring-necked Pheasant runs across field like a clockwork toy.
The lane reaches the Weobley-King’s Pyon road. Past The Browns, a timber-framed early 17th century house, extended later that century. More large modern cider orchards lay either side of the lane. Another lane heads to Bush Bank. The Hill is a substantial farm with numerous buildings all of which seem empty. Outside a bungalow are the first Snowdrops I have seen this year. The orchards continue covering many acres. They are all less than ten years old, some have been planted in the last couple of years. Past the roadside standing stone and into The Bush for a pint. Route
Monday – Rochester – Rain lashes down, driven by a blustery wind. In New Road Avenue. Large Victorian houses line one side of the road, the other is a tall grass bank to a recreation ground on Fort Pitt Hill. St Bartholomew’s Hospital founded in 1078 by Bishop Gundulph (now normally written as “Gundulf”) and rebuilt in 1862, was the oldest existing hospital in England until its closure in 2016. A campus of the University is at the top of the bank opposite. Behind the hospital the land drops down to the River Medway which forms a great loop, Limehouse Reach down from the north-west and Chatham Reach up to the north-east, The far shore, Chatham Ness, is covered in stacks of imported timber. Further up this side a crane stands lonely in a desolate flat area towards Gashouse Point, where the gas works stood. Up here, the hospital and road are built over the railway tunnel, once the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. New Road continues with terraces of Victorian and Georgian terraces with alley ways leading down the hill to the High Street below. New Road reaches Star Hill where there are stands a clock tower and St Catherine’s Almshouses founded by Symond Potyn in 1316 at the foot of Star Hill and relocated here in 1805. Down the hill, a house has a plaque stating “Crystal Palace, 1891”, recording the rebuilding of the now closed pub. At the junction of Delce Street stands the Elim Pentecostal church built in 1856 as a Free Methodist Chapel. Down the hill more three storey late 18th century terraces in yellow gault brick. The site of the Theatre Royal, 1813-1879 visited by Charles Dickens as a boy and later featuring in several books. Rochester was a favourite town of Charles Dickens who set many scenes from his books in the town. Inevitably, references to him are everywhere. Opposite, The Star Inn is no more.
Into Eastgate, (or High Street, depending on whether one believes the map or street signs). There is an interesting range of shops, nearly all independent including a green grocer and bakers. Most of the shops are in 17th or early 18th century buildings, formerly town houses. Eastgate House was formerly a large private town house and is now a museum. It was built in 1590-1 by Sir Peter Buck, Clerk of the Acts in the Navy Board, possibly part of an earlier building. It was extended and refurbished in the 17th century. Opposite another house recorded in Edwin Drood. The city walls stand down Free School Lane and the old East Gate stood here in the street, still in use in 1588 but gone in 1708. The walls are mainly 13th and 14th century on Roman remains. The Romans approached Rochester after the Claudian invasion of 43CE. They were met here by the River Medway by the Iron Age tribe of the Cantiaci who fought them over two days in what is now known as The Battle of the Medway. The Iron Age settlement, an oppidum, was transformed into the Roman settlement of Durobrivae. It lay between the present High Street and Northgate and Boley Hill. The Romans bridged the river at the same point as the present bridge.
By the wall was Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School which stood for 1709-1970. David Garrick was a pupil there in 1737. A short distance further on is La Providence, Almshouses founded 1718 for poor French protestants and their descendants. They were built from a bequest from Jacques de Gastigny, a Huguenot refugee, who became Master of Buckhounds to Willam and Mary. The present buildings are mid 19th century, substantially renovated in 1957-9 by Grellier and Sons, who retained the front elevations. Poor Travellers House was a charity hostel for poor way-farers, now a museum with living accommodation above. It was founded in 1586 by Richard Watts “for a nights’ lodging for six poor travellers not being rogues or proctors (i.e. lawyers)”. The building was half-timbered, much renewed in 1604 and re-fronted in Portland stone in 1771.
Behind the war memorial is Rochester Cathedral. Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory I to Saxon England in 597CE where he founded Canterbury Cathedral. In 601 more missionaries were sent including Justus. In 604, Augustine consecrated Justus as Bishop of Rochester and he founded the second cathedral in the land, dedicated to St Andrew. In 644, Ithamer became the first Saxon Bishop of Rochester. Nothing survives above ground of the Saxon cathedral. In 1077, Gundulf, a Norman monk was appointed Bishop of Rochester where he established a community of Benedictine monks and started to build a new cathedral. On Ascension Day, 1130, the cathedral was consecrated in the presence of Henry I. After a major fire in 1137, the nave and West front were rebuilt. Another fire in 1179 resulted in the East end being rebuilt in the Early English Gothic. In 1201, a pilgrim, William of Perth, was murdered near to Rochester and following reports of miracles, he was buried in the cathedral which became a major shrine. Bishop Hamo de Hythe raised the central tower and added the site in 1340. In 1535 Bishop John Fisher was beheaded for opposing Henry VIII’s claim to have replaced the Pope as head of the English church. The monastic community was dissolved in 1540 and the cathedral rededicated in the name is Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. During the Commonwealth the nave was used as a carpenter’s workshop and an alehouse. In the 1870s, Sir George Gilbert Scott undertook a major restoration. Recently a major restoration of the crypt has been carried out. From both inside and out, the cathedral has maintained the appearance of a Norman building. In the nave, arches are carved with the chevron pattern which continues in the Early English Gothic arches which are more pointed. The west window is from the mid 15th century with Victorian glass. Beneath the window are the names of Royal Engineers lost in campaigns, the regiment long associated with Rochester. The font is Victorian Gothic Revival, sculpted by Thomas Earp. Lady Henniker’s memorial is a wonderful example of Coade Stone, an artificial double-fired stoneware produced by Eleanor Coade, depicting two winged figures, an angel and Father Time. The quire is decorated in Royal Leopards and Fleur-de-lys, originally painted in the 1340s to reinforce Edward III’s dominion of England and France. The decoration was discovered in the 1870 restoration and reinstated. The reredos was designed by George Gilbert Scott. The organ was wholly rebuilt by J.W. Walker and Sons in 1905 using parts from the original of 1791 and the additions of 1835, 1865, 1870 and 1875. The company rebuilt the organ again in 1957 and in 1985 was rebuilt yet again by Mander Organs and is now a magnificent instrument spanning the entire width of the nave and quire. An exhibition in the crypt details the history of the crossing of the Medway.
Back past St Nicholas’s church which dates from 1421-3, rebuilt in the 1620s after a fire, restored in 1860-62 and is now diocesan offices, to High Street. The buildings are still mainly Georgian. A fine clock stands out from the Corn Exchange of 1706, erected “at the sole charge and expense” of Sir Cloudsley Shovel MP. George’s Vaults are built on an undercroft of 1325. The next building seems to have been a department store built in 1928, with a plaque stating it is XXIX miles from London Bridge. The Guildhall, now a museum, was erected in 1695-7, with pavements given by Sir Stafford Fairbourne in 1706. Next is the former Medway Conservancy Offices built in 1909 by G E Bond. Opposite is the Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel, a late 18th century coaching inn, The Bull Hotel of “Pickwick Papers”. High Street ends at the Rochester road and rail bridges. Back up the High Street to the Two Brewers, to get out of the rain and a pint.
Up Crow Lane. A short row of cottages from around 1800 have mansard roofs and have the first floors weatherboarded. The Baptist Institute is dated 1890 and had a foundation stone laid by the High Constable of Chatham, H. Browne. Next door the Baptist church has Foundation stone dating from 1907. A plaque commemorates the Rochester martyrs, Nicholas Hall, Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of Rochester, John Yarpole and Joan Beach, all burnt at the stake in 1555/6. King’s School House is a vast pile of Victorian Gothic. Opposite is Vines Hall, a United Reform church built as a Congregational church in 1854. Restoration House was built in 1587, the “Satis House” of Great Expectations. Charles II stayed here 28th May 1660. It was occupied by Nicholas Morgan in the late 16th century and conveyed in 1607 to Henry Clarke, Recorder of Rochester (1621-8). Across a park called The Vines which originally derived its name from the monks of nearby St Andrews Priory who used the area as their vineyard. The park is known to have been a favourite haunt of Charles Dickens and is featured in several of his novels; he was seen walking in The Vines just three days before his death in 1870. Into St Margaret’s Street, lined with Georgian houses, leading down to the west end of the cathedral and the castle.
Into Rochester castle. The first castle was a wooden fortress built soon after the Invasion in 1066. The first stone castle was built for William Rufus by Bishop Gundulf in 1087. It was besieged the following year when the Barons under Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, rebelled. The keep was started in 1127 by Archbishop William de Corbeil. The castle was besieged again in 1215 by King John when it was held by rebel barons. The walls were undermined and had to be repaired in the 1220s by Henry III. The next siege was by the forces of Simon de Montfort, relieved when Henry III’s force arrived. In 1314 Queen Isabel, wife of Robert the Bruce was a prisoner here. Both Edward III and Richard II repaired the castle during the Hundred Years War. In 1381 it was attacked during the Peasants revolt. The castle fell into neglect in the 16th century and a fire destroyed the interior of the keep. James I gave the castle to Sir Anthony Weldon whose family owned it until 1870s when it was turned into a pleasure garden and the outer gate and drawbridge were demolished. The City of Rochester bought the castle in 1884 for £6572. The keep walls are largely intact and stairs wind around to the roof where there are extensive views over the Medway, including a Soviet Project 641 submarine moored on the river. Gandulf’s curtain wall survives to the west side and incorporates remains of the Roman city wall.
Out of the castle grounds and into the Esplanade. The offices of the Bridge Authority are in a fine old building, a chapel built and endowed as a chantry by Sir John de Cobham in 1386-7 at the south end of the bridge he and Sir Robert Knowlles built across the Medway (demolished 1856). The chapel fell into ruin and was restored and partially rebuilt in 1937. The Castle Club stands next door. Built in the early 19th century it was formerly a private house. Back down High Street, or Eastgate and across to St Margaret’s Banks, or again still High Street. An impressive building in High Victorian polychrome Gothic with a tower and spire is now a dentist’s. It was formerly the County Court House and offices built in 1862. Victorian industrial buildings stand next to the terraces of the 18th century middle classes and larger houses of the management. Leech of Rochester is an optical lens and scientific instrument manufacturers. A terrace of houses is raised well above the roadway. Under the railway bridge which is just before it enters the tunnel under New Road Avenue and the hospital. This is a rundown area now, many shops closed down. The North Foreland pub is a building of around 1630 with 1912 neo-Tudor façade, but now closed and looking derelict. A synagogue stands on land endowed by Simon Magnus in memory of his son who died on 9th Tebeth 5625, (7th January, 1865). It was designed by Hyman Henry Collins (1832-1905), architect after the Byzantine manner. This is the only synagogue in the country with an attached graveyard. The High Street now enters Chatham. A flint knapped church is St Bartholomew’s hospital chapel, then a chapel of ease. Founded 1078 by Gundulf as part of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, it was completed around 1120. It was altered in the 13th century, the nave partly rebuilt 1725, restored and north aisle added 1896 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. It is now a gym. Opposite is The Hospital of Sir John Hawkins, almhouses, now sheltered housing. The original foundation was of 1592 but the almshouses were rebuilt in 1789. They were converted into flats in 1983.
Tuesday – Chatham – Along New Road Avenue towards Chatham. Chatham Unitarian church stands at the top of Hammond Hill. The first church was Baptist and built at the end of the 17th century. It was rebuilt in 1802 and again in 1888-9. Opposite is St Andrew’s Presbyterian church, now owned by an evangelical sect. It was built in 1904 in striking red brick on ground granted by The War Department. A foundation stone was laid by the Admiral Superintendent of HM Dockyard, Chatham. As before the street is a mixture is Georgian and Victorian houses and more modern blocks. Off down Manor Road. An ornate building is the Masonic Hall constructed in 1904 to the design of local architect George E Bond. A coat of arms on the pediment had the words “Audi Vide Tage”, meaning “Hear, See, Be Silent”, underneath. Masonic symbols are in carved stone above the lower windows. A little down the hill is another grandiose building, Reliance House, now apartments. It was built in 1930 as a Building Society branch and offices in the Neo-Georgian style with some Egyptian and Art Deco influences with “Established 1888” on the pediment.
The street joins High Street. The buildings here reflect the wealth of the Victorian era. On one corner is a large block with an ornate frontage and raised pediments. On another is the former Theatre Royal, built in 1899 by G E Bond, now a Turkish restaurant. Next is a former bank built in the Edwardian Baroque in the first decade of the 20th century. Across car parks to St John the Divine church clearly disused. It was built as a Commissioners church in austere grey stone blocks in the Italianate style in 1820-21 by Sir Robert Smirke with an apse added by GM Hills in 1863. A Commissioners church, also known as a Waterloo church and Million Act church, is an Anglican church built with money voted by Parliament as a result of the Church Building Acts of 1818 and 1824. A road bridge carrying the A2, built in 1901 is further up the road. This bridge replaced an earlier one which was also a defensive gateway. Under the bridge to a large junction with an old Street sign pointing to Dover and Maidstone. On one side is a small park with a statue of Thomas Waghorn, erected in 1888. Waghorn developed a new overland postal route to India, reducing the former 16000 mile three month journey to about 35-40 days.
On up the hill to Chatham station built in yellow brick. The station was opened on 25th January 1858, when the East Kent Railway (later the London, Chatham and Dover Railway ) opened a single line eastwards to Faversham. On 29th March 1858 the link with the North Kent Line at Strood was opened and the new railway reached Dover Priory in 1861. The Chatham Dockyard branch connection is made near Gillingham. Chatham station is squeezed within a 50 yard long chalk cutting, with tunnels at either end. The road turns into Ordnance Terrace where Charles Dickens lived as a child. Rochester Street is a long terrace is small houses, the workers housing up the hill from where the bosses and middle classes dwelt. St Michael the Archangel Catholic Parish church stands on land below the terrace. It was built from 1862-3 and designed by Henry Clutton. In 1935, an extension was built, designed by the Frederick Walters and Son firm. Back down the hill, Railway Street, into the pedestrian precinct. The Wetherspoons is the former post office, built in 1902. Into the High Street again. The National Westminster Bank was built in 1903 by W Campbell Jones in the Arts and Crafts style. The Central Theatre was originally Chatham’s Wesleyan Central Hall. The building opened in March 1908 on a site that was previously occupied in part by the London and County Bank. From 1932 it was known as the Methodist Central Hall and remained so until it was sold by the Methodists in 1966. It was then used as an entertainment venue. It stands next to a splendid Art Deco building, ruined by the shop front. A former public house, built in the Free Renaissance style in the 1890s is now a bank. Up a side street, named on old maps as Meeting House Lane, is the Jubilee Memorial hall of 1860 next to a large church, the former Ebenezer Chapel, erected in 1810 and is almost certainly closed. Back to High Street. A number of the homeless and those with social and substance problems are in the street, many looking in a bad state. At the top of Church Street is the Salvation Army Citadel.
The street meets the main road, Brook, around the town centre. A war memorial stands on Slicketts Hill. Built in 1929, the Old Brook Pumping Station, originally called the Brook Low Level Pumping Station in Solomons Road, has been open as a museum since the early 80s. Past a brutal modernist multi storey car park. Opposite, the Job Centre and Magistrates Court have a late 20th century harshness to them. The Churchill pub is a Victorian building, now closed following the revoking of its licence. The Brook Theatre is even more opulent, built in 1899 by G E Bond as the Town Hall, it is now a theatre. It is built in Bath limestone and has a copper cupola. Into Dock Road. A large building of 1879 housed the military recruitment offices.
Deep channels run down the hill from Fort Amherst to the road. The fort was constructed in 1756 at the southern end of the Brompton lines of defence to protect the south eastern approaches to Chatham Dockyard and the River Medway against a French invasion. During the American Revolutionary War (1778–83), the lines were enhanced and strengthened. The strong point of the design were two Redoubts - “Amherst” (at the southern end) and “Townsend” (at the northern end). Amherst Redoubt later became Fort Amherst. Each was equipped with 14 42-pounders, 10 9-pounders, 8 6-pounders and 2 4-pounder guns. During the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15) the Chatham defences were enlarged and considerably strengthened. Further batteries were added (such as the Cornwallis Battery) and the ditches revetted (lined with brick), to the plans of General Hugh Debbrieg, chief engineer for Lord Amherst. Debbrieg had originally helped in the “Cumberland Lines” planning with Captain Desmaretze. His plan for the Chatham lines were drawn by Joseph Heath and dated 1755. In 1802–11, prisoners, mostly convicts from St Mary’s Island, were set to work on extending the tunnels and creating vast underground stores and shelters, new magazines, barracks, gun batteries and guardrooms. More than 50 smooth-bore cannon were also mounted. The last building works were completed in about 1820. A maze of tunnels, used to move ammunition around the fort, were dug into the chalk cliffs. The site is now a museum. Paths wind up to the top of the fort where there are extensive views across the Medway.
Back down from the fort. Kitchener Barracks are being redeveloped. Back down to Dock Road. A statue of Lord Kitchener on horseback stands beside the road. It once stood on Khartoum. Opposite is the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, now evangelical and locked. The chancel was built in 1884-87, the tower in 1897 and the nave between 1901-03, by Sir A W Blomfield. Gun Wharf was designed by Arup Associates and was built in 1976-8 for Lloyd’s of London as their administrative headquarters. The listed building became the Medway Council offices in 2006. The day is now dry and sunny but a cold wind is strengthening. A short Street runs down to the river at Gun Wharf. Council employees use the area to feed their nicotine addiction. It is not possible to continue along the Chatham Dockyards so I return to the main road. The entrance to the barracks stands alone and bricked up. The road bends past the entrance to the dockyard, built 1718-22 which is adorned by a large, shining Royal Coat of Arms of George III, erected in 1811. The road enters Brompton. It drops down a hill between high brick walls. Old bus stop signs are in a wall. At one time over 10,000 people worked in the dockyards and many would have caught buses here. Over the wall is a “Prohibited place in terms of the Official Secrets Act”. Large rolls of razor wire top the wall. The church of St George, now offices, was a chapel, part of the complete early 20th century HMS Pembroke naval barracks. It was built around 1905, the chancel being remodelled 1948 by Edward Maufe. The church stands beside the former entrance to HMS Pembroke, the gates being built in 1902 by Sir Henry Pilkington and now the Chatham Maritime campus of the Medway University.
The Dockyards are now a visitor attraction rather than the military base they were. A large retail outlet stands on the dock sides continuing on the other side of the entrance to the Medway Tunnel. Over the road to the tunnel and in towards St Mary’s Island. A Dunnock hops through the ornamental vegetation, one is the few birds, apart from feral pigeons I have seen. Even gulls seem in short supply. An area of grass is being searched by a Pied Wagtail and a Jackdaw. A bridge divides the marina. A number of historic vessels are moored here. “Kent” is a steam tug built in 1948 by Richards Ironworks of Lowestoft for J. P. Knight, Rochester. “Barking” registered in London was built in 1928 by Jas Pollock Sons & Co Ltd at Faversham for the Gas Light & Coke Co yard. The Dreadnought was a tug TID 164 built towards the end of WWII for the Navy. Touchstone is a tug of welded steel construction built by Cooks of Wivenhoe for the Cory Tank Lighterage Co in 1963. Until the early 1980s she was mainly employed towing petrol lighters from Thameshaven to Aylesford on the River Medway. VIC 96 was an ex-Admiralty Victualling Inshore Craft, built in 1945. The marina is packed with millions of pounds worth of pleasure boats.
St Mary’s Island is covered in brand new housing. Across the centre runs a rampart, the East and West Bunds. The path through the houses reaches the north point of the island, the Look Out. The channel opposite held numerous hulks in the 18th and 19th centuries, ships used to house prisoners in the most appalling and inhumane conditions. Opposite is Cockham Wood. Downstream is Hoo Marina where old disused admiralty lightships are moored. Beyond are vast areas of marsh with forts from the Napoleonic wars. Round the island to Finsborough Ness slipway where a millennium statue by Sam Holland commemorates the Mariners. A rotting hulk lays off the island, Hoo Salt Marsh, opposite. There was a Roman ferry close to here and a ferry still updated by rowing boat into the early 20th century. During the Napoleonic Wars, St Mary’s Island was used as a burial ground for the French POWs who died on the prison hulks moored in the Medway. The bodies of the prisoners were exhumed, and then re-interred in the grounds of St George’s Church. Between 1854 and 1856, St Mary’s Prison was built on the island. It had approximately 1700 prisoners and staff of 232 (including 117 armed wardens). The prison was demolished in 1898. In the 1860s the basins forming today’s marinas were dug out using convict labour. The spoil filled in the marshes on the island. The seawall was also constructed at this time. In 1940, during the Second World War, the island was used as a training ground for mock battles, which were staged against the dockyards. In 1984, the dockyard was closed. The island was a place to change the reactor cores of the Royal Navy’s submarines and a nuclear waste dump. From the late 1990s the island was developed for housing, after removing 1,300,000 tonnes of contaminated soil.
Back to the bridge and over to the main road again to catch a bus back into Chatham.
Thursday – Home – Gales blow furiously through the night bringing blizzards across Scotland, trees down across most of the country and extensive power cuts in East Anglia. Here the wind flipped the roof off our shed leaving it resting on the Laurel thicket on the far side. We knew the shed would soon need replacing, there was plenty of rot in the timbers and the roof leaked, but it will have to be sooner rather than later.
Friday – Mortimer Forest – A clear blue sky and a frost have replaced the rain and wind, although a light breeze still moves the tree tops. A Great Tit sings his monotonous song. Where the trees have been cleared one slender and tall conifer no longer has the support of surrounding trees and has bent over so its top touches the ground. On up the paths. Fortunately they are partially frozen so the churned mud is not too difficult to cross. Often there is not a sound apart from the rustling trees. The wind seems brisker now. Higher up the hill the ground is dusted with snow. A Nuthatch flies into a Hawthorn on Climbing Jack Common, its chestnut breast gleaming in the sunlight. It emits a couple of brief whoops before scurrying along the branch probing every nook and cranny for food. From High Vinnalls I can see clouds are building over the western hills and it looks like rain is falling.
Back down to the Deer Park. The short cuts through the woods are still in bad condition from when heavy machinery for logging moved up to. Churning up by horses does not help. The pond at the top of the Hanway valley has the thinnest layer of ice on it.
Sunday – Leominster – it is snowing before dawn but does not seem to be laying. Water pours down the drains. However, an hour later and a layer of snow has settled. Flakes continue to fall across the Grange. Two lots of people are walking dogs, both have Springer Spaniels which are getting giddy with the snow, chasing around sniffing here and there. Both Robins and Blackbirds are singing from trees. The temperature is rising and a thaw is setting in. By mid morning the snow has turned to rain and nearly all has melted away.
Monday – Morton-on-Lugg-Hereford – It is getting warmer but the sky remains grey. The fields south of Leominster are flooded, as are those Lugg plain south-east of Dinmore. Eastwards out of Morton-on-Lugg. Robins are in full song. Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves coo. A Mistle Thrush rasps as it flies over. Over a small stream, one of a number draining from Wellington marsh. Then over another, this one clearly a drainage channel as it is straight. The lane now crosses the South Wales to Manchester railway line. The station was opened in 1866, closed to passengers in 1958, but the signal box is still staffed. It is said that a huge old Oak tree acted as a waiting room. Over Morton Bridge, which is probably 16th or 17th century, altered in mid 19th century, crossing the River Lugg, the level of which is high. The bridge is narrow with two refuges. North of the bridge there is a small island where the Lugg divides and rejoins itself. A flock of Rooks feed or on a large field. A herd of around sixty Mute Swans are grazing in a field. Another herd of about thirty are in an adjacent field. Yaies Cottage stood at a slight kink in the road but has disappeared completely. The lane reaches a junction. A large timber framed house was the old school house, according to a plaque, was “founded in 1610 by Jane Shelley, widow of Wm Shelley, who suffered for plot in favour of Mary Queen of Scots, 1583”.
The next lane heads south past Walls End, a terrace standing below Sutton Walls Iron Age hill fort. Past a 20th century house called “Offa’s Dene”. It is believed there was a Mercian royal palace somewhere around this area but it had never been located. To the west is Freen’s Court which was long to believed to be the site of the palace but a Time Team dig there revealed mediaeval remains, not Saxon. In Sutton St Michael, Downfield, formerly called Busy Hill, is a Victorian farmhouse with an 18th century roadside barn whose wall is leaning alarmingly outwards. Opposite, Pool House is a large timber framed property. St Michael’s church is on the edge of Sutton St Nicholas. Sadly it is locked. It was formerly the parish church, mainly 12th century, restored 1865 and 1909. The parishes of Sutton St Michael and Sutton St Nicholas were united in 1876. The fields below the church are flooded by the River Lugg which flows at the foot of them. A flock of Fieldfares are in a tree in a neighbouring garden. Overcourt was used as the master’s house for the attached school in the 19th century. It is now a house. It was probably built in the 17th century and has late 19th century alterations and extensions. Ordis Farmhouse is early 19th century with an 18th century cider house and barn. The Cresswells is a 17th century cottage, timber framed with a thatched roof. It had a cider press in part of the building. The White House is similar, also with a slightly later cider house. Seabourne House, built in the 18th century and at one time used as the post office. The village centre is on a junction with a pub, the Golden Cross on one corner. Opposite is Court House Farm farmhouse, late 17th century. On another corner is Sutton Mission Hall. Through the centre of the village, past the church of St Nicholas and on down the lane. Conical roof at Upper Farm decaying further. On down Ridgeway Road. Another herd of thirty five Mute Swans are in a field, of what I assume is oilseed rape. A circular hill, Thing-hill rises from the flat landscape to the east. It is thought it may have been used as a folk-moot, where people met in Saxon times to discuss business, resolve disputes etc. A pair of Skylarks are chasing, one singing a truncated version of their song. Long-tailed Tits are moving down the roadside hedge. Two C130s fly low over the fields. A Goldcrest is searching the hedgerow whilst a Great Tit in an apple tree is emitting a strange squeak. Appletree Cottage in Sutton Marsh is a much enlarged black and white.
The lane crosses a brook, the Little Lugg and meets the A465. A bungalow in the junction is called “Orchards View” but the view now is of polytunnels. A short distance eastwards is Cross Keys named for the pub, where the landlord proudly tells me they are shut. Off down the Withington lane. The Stallenge is a small settlement. Into Withington and along Duke Street past the school. Housing is a mixture of modern with a scattering of older properties. Round to St Peter’s church. The sign states it is open daily, except it is not! A restored preaching cross stands in the graveyard. The church is 12th century, but the only evidence of this date in the chancel is the thickness of the walls. The West Tower was added and the nave lengthened early in the 14th century and the church was restored in 1858. Beyond the church is Withington Court, where John Phillips, 1676-1709, lived. He wrote the poem Cyder and other verses. He has a memorial in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey. Back to the centre of the village. The old school stands at the junction of Veldo Lane. Large houses are around the junction, The Green, early 19th century and Style House which is mid 19th century. Tiles had been made at Withington since 1848 but the works have now closed. Encaustic floor tiles from earlier years have been used in many cathedrals, including Worcester where there can be seen a floor depicting all the seasons. In 1857 these tiles were used for restoration work in Hereford Cathedral. In the final years glazed decorative wall tiles were produced.
South out of the village and down to the A4103 Hereford to Worcester road at Whitecross. New developments are being built down the lane towards the junction. Apparently, “finely crafted houses” but with little architectural merit. A lane, now closed to traffic, leads down to the Bartestree road. Past The Green, an early 18th century cottage and Whitestone Business Park. Over the Hereford-Birmingham railway line. A large cider orchard looks about five years old. Past Black Hole Lane which is on the course of the Roman road from Gloucester to Llandovrey. On the junction is the Old Rectory, a mid 19th century timber framed building. The orchards continue. Wilcroft, a large late 18th century mansion now divided into three residences. The house was built by J. Williams, formerly a solicitor from Dartford in Kent, who died in 1823. The lane meets the A438, Hereford-Tewkesbury road in Bartestree.
The name Bartestree originates from Beorhtweald’s Tree which by the time of the Domesday Book had become Bertoldestreu. Hagley Hall is a 17th century timber framed house that was remodelled and largely refaced with brick in the 18th century. It has a mansard roof. Victorian villas and a few Georgian houses line the road with modern estates behind them and filling in any gaps. The New Inn, a mid 19th century Gothic style pub is now a hotel. Following the route previously rambled. Penkelly is decorated with tiles which would have been made in Lugwardine by William Godwin. The road descends gently into Lugwardine. Hereford Cathedral lays in the distance. The Lugg Meadows are extensively flooded.
St Peter’s church is open. The building is mainly 13th century although a 12th century window remains from an early building. During the 13th century a tower was built on the site of the present north transept, and during the following century the south transept was added. In the 15th century the upper part of the tower was removed, its thick-walled ground floor becoming the north transept, and in 1484 the Perpendicular west tower was built. It has a ring of eight bells. A south aisle was added in 1815 and a north aisle in 1843. Several internal walls were replaced by arches to improve audibility and visibility during major repairs in 1872. Just inside the door is an impressive monument to William Reed, Gvlielm Reed Armiger who died in 1634 aged 68. It is a freestone monument with base, effigy and canopy. Four figures, two sons and two daughters kneel on the base in contemporary dress; a semi-reclining effigy with head propped on elbow also in contemporary dress a semi-circular surround to rear panel with rectangular inscription panel and decorative detail; coats of arms are above the inscription panel and in spandrels formed by semi-circular surround; the canopy is supported on Ionic columns with entablature and further decorated by shields of arms and a large shield with arms above canopy. On the west wall of the south aisle is a tablet to Jane Best who died in 1622 and on the south wall of the south transept is a stone surrounded slate plaque to John Best, Canon of Hereford and vicar who died in 1637. The organ was built in the late 1800s by Sweetland of Bath and had been restored by F W Hutchins & Co in Hereford. However, the organ was becoming increasingly unreliable and a replacement organ was commissioned. In 1994, Nicholson & Co built a free-standing organ situated in the South Aisle.
The High House is 17th century and the adjoining timber-framed cottages on the slope down to Lugwardine Bridge are probably 18th century, one supposedly being a former malt house. Small flocks of Mallard and Tufted Duck fly high across the meadows. Out near the flood water are a number of dark-backed Lesser Black-backed (fuscus sub-species from the Baltic), several Black-headed and Herring Gulls. Seven Goosander are on the flooded Upper Lugg Meadows. A metal detectorist is scanning a slope rising from the meadows. On across the meadows then through Tupsley to the city centre. Route
Friday – Bewdley-Stourport-on-Severn – The grey weather continues. From the car park near the River Severn outside Bewdley, a path runs past a deserted caravan site to the river and the bypass road bridge. The water level in the river is high and it is flowing rapidly. Robins and Blackbirds are in song. A large brick and timber framed house, Lower Blackstone Farmhouse, built in the early 17th century and extended in early 18th century is nestled in trees beside the road. A lane to the north leads to Upper Blackstone Farm, early 18th century. The great red cliffs of Blackstone Rock where Peregrines nest rises up behind the farm. There is no sign of the raptors today. Doors in the lower parts of the cliffs are bricked up. They are part of the old hermitage. The paths are wet and muddy. A pair of Mute Swans are in a small bay of calmer water. The track climbs up over another cliff passing through a cutting in the sandstone, red on one side, green with moss on the other. Roots are deeply entrenched in the mossy side. Back down to river level again. The cliff here is covered in small trees and Ivy. Into Stokes Wood, a new plantation started in 2009. A Jay with squawks nasally. A raptor calls in the distance. The track, which had been cinder converted is now slippery red mud. A path climbs into the woods slopes and continues in parallel with the river. Pussy Willow is budding like little grey furry caterpillars on the branches with sparkles of rainwater. Onion domed towers of Ribbesford House rise above the trees on the far side of the river. The slope this side is now dark brown with rotting Bracken. Nuthatches, Blue and Great Tits call.
The river is now hidden behind an extensive flooded willow carr. A grunting Grey Heron is in the willows and flies off with an annoyed squawk. Wrens sing and a Pheasant chuckles on the hillside. The path returns to the riverbank and into a mobile home site. However, the walk this way comes to an abrupt end as the area ahead is under water. However back up the slope slightly there is a path into the caravan site. A road returns to the river and the Severn Way. On the opposite bank, playing fields are squeezed in between the hillside and river. Large scale excavations are being carried out across the fields. A small pontoon in the river carries a sign stating “Construction Work Look Ahead”. There is a diversion around more construction work and a notice that informs it is about the installation of a pipeline over the 26km between Lickhill and Frankley reservoir. Back to the riverside. The opposite bank seems to be used as an illegal dump with fridges and other rubbish scattered everywhere. The Severn Way is in poor condition for a national recreation path. I meet a fellow walker who is clearly is the same view! Opposite Ribbesford Woods rise up to Stagborough Hill.
Into Lickhill Manor Caravan park. Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and a Herring Gull search the empty site. The Song Thrush flies up into a tree and bursts into song. Lickhill Manor is a large country house built by the largest landowners in the district, the Folliott family, possibly in two stages starting around 1700. The Folliotts moved out in the early 19th century and the Craven family took possession. The manor was commandeered in the Second World War as a maternity home for expectant mothers from Birmingham. It later became the headquarters of the Stourport Yacht Club and then a retirement home.
The sun is shining brightly now. The path enters a chalet “village”. Motor cruisers are moored by the bank. Onto the riverside path in Stourport-on-Severn. Daffodil shoots are appearing under the trees is the park. A large part of the children’s play park is flooded. The path reaches the cast iron road bridge over the Severn, built in 1870. Over the bridge which is nicely painted in blue and gold. The Old Beams claims to be a 15th century pub but the listing states it is a late 16th or early 17th farmhouse. Into Areley Lane at the foot of Betty Dawes Hill. Areley House, built around 1820 is now a residential home. Areley Hall mainly dates from the late 16th century, though extensive alterations were carried out in the 1820s and 1870s. Prince Rupert is said to have made the house his headquarters in 1644 when marching from Worcester. Rectory Lane is a steep hill up to Areley Kings. The Old Rectory is an early 17th century house with a triple-gabled front, remodelled in the 18th century, when sash windows were inserted. It stands next to the church of St Batholomew.
The village is called Areley Kings. It formed part of the manor of Martley until 1654, when the latter was sold by the Mucklows. They retained Areley Kings, and William Mucklow made a conveyance of it in 1671–2. He died in 1686, and was succeeded by his son William, a citizen and fishmonger of London. He was followed in 1713 by his son Selby Mucklow, a merchant of London, who died in 1746. It later passed to the Zachery family who lived at Areley Hall. An estate at Areley Kings, called in the 16th century the manor of Areley, originated in a fishery at Ernel with the land belonging to it, granted by the Empress Maud to Bordesley Abbey on its foundation in 1136.
A church was recorded here in at the end of the 12th century by Layamon, a poet of the late 12th century, in a history of England, Historia Brutonum, or Brut, a notable work that was the first to present the legends of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in English poetry. J. R. R. Tolkien valued him as a transmitter of early English legends. He stated he was a priest here in Areley Kings. The chancel is from the 12th century, the tower is 14th century but the rest was entirely rebuilt in 1885-86. The east window of the chancel dates from the late 18th century, and is designed in the Chippendale Gothic style. The organ is from the rebuild although some pipes date from 1849. The font is on a base that purports to be of Layamon’s time but the script is no older than the 16th century. There are two notable windows, one in the west wall, a glorious swirl of reds designed originally by John Petts of Abergavenny, but following the theft of Pett’s full size cartoon and the artist’s death soon afterwards the window was realised in glass by Jim Budd and installed in 1991. The other is a small Norman window in the sanctuary with a Victorian representation of Layamon. On the east side is the building is the Out-stout, built by Rev Richard Vernon in 1728 as a retreat. There is a curious monument in the churchyard to Sir Harry Coningsby, who died in 1701. According to tradition he lived a solitary life of retirement here after the death of his only daughter (although a note in the church says son), whom he accidentally let fall into the moat while playing with her in his moated Herefordshire home. However, research by J. Stanley Leatherbarrow shows that this Sir Harry came from North Mimms in Hertfordshire, noting as well that there is no evidence of a moat at Hampton Court, the Herefordshire seat of the Coningsbys. It is recorded that Sir Harry had a wall built with an inscription in a mixture of Greek, English and Latin saying, “Why a Stone Monument? Sir Harry lies here” and three walnut trees were planted close to his grave that the boys of the parish might have the walnuts and crack them on the gravestone, but that the trees were cut down by a late rector, allegedly in the Napoleonic Wars because walnut wood was so valuable for gunstocks. The present tree was planted in 1948. On the roadside outside the church is the war memorial and Church House, a black and white building of 1536, built as a village hall.
Back to the centre of Stourport-on-Severn. Through the town. Beyond the bridge is a fun fair. This area caters for tourists with cafés, amusement arcades and cheap toy shops. The High Street is a long row of buildings dating from around 1800, a few years after the town came into existence with the arrival of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in 1768. From here I catch a bus back to Blackstone. Route
Sunday – Home – Small numbers of Canada Geese fly over around dawn. This weekend is the RSPB Garden Bird Survey. I fill the feeders and retreat to the summerhouse to carry out the hour long count. Blue Tits are the first to arrive to feast on peanuts. They are almost certainly under-counted as they are dashing to and fro singly. Totals can only be those observed at one time to avoid double-counting. One can be a bit more accurate with sexual-diamorphism, i.e. where the males and females look different. If three Blackbirds are counted, two males and a female, then two females are seen then one knows at least four individuals are present. However, if it is Robins, then one cannot know which bird is which as the are all identical. House Sparrows arrive, just five and never more than six throughout which is a low number as there are more than that locally. A Goldfinch sits on one side of the feeder, House Sparrows on the other. A Robin chases the House Sparrows off but does not disturb the Goldfinch. Greenfinches and Chaffinches arrive but are very wary. A Nuthatch dashes in, grabs a seed and retreats. Another is counted as it is calling overhead in the great Horse Chestnut at the same time. A Great Spotted Woodpecker makes two brief appearances, whilst a Goldcrest comes and goes. The list ends up with nineteen species but fairly low numbers of all of them.
Monday – Home – At long last it seems the egg drought is coming to an end. We have the first egg of the year. Although Blue was around the hen house, I am not sure it was her that laid this welcome offering. We now hope the others will follow suit and we can stop buying eggs, a bit of an anathema!
The first of the season sowings also were made today. Chili peppers are sown in a tray and put in the bathroom to germinate. Unfortunately, the greenhouse is difficult to use at the moment as it is full with the contents of the stricken shed. We are awaiting a date when the new one will be built.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A watery sun breaks through dark, bulbous rain clouds. Blackbirds and Robins are on the track. A Great Tit calls his repetitive two notes from trees and woodpecker drums nearby. On down the track. The cackling of Canada Geese comes from the lake. Wood Pigeons clatter in the trees. Another Robin is in song. About a dozen Goosander arrow past high overhead. A small charm of Goldfinches is in the Alder trees by the meadow bay. A long line of molehills stretches down the meadow. Although it is likely we have not seen the end of winter, the constant and varied bird calls and song give hope of spring. The yellow rump of a Green Woodpecker undulates as it flies off from the grass. Further along the meadow are many more molehills. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies between trees.
Thirteen Wigeon are on the scrape, the first I have seen here this winter, and a surprisingly small number. Mallard are in greater numbers scattered around the lake. Coot are present but again in smaller numbers than usual. A single Mandarin drake is on the island. Three Cormorants are in the trees. A female Mandarin joins the drake. A lone female Goldeneye is diving out in the centre of the water. A few more Wigeon arrive at the west end of the lake. The Wigeon on the scrape depart leaving two sleeping individuals who wake a few minutes later and swim off. A Little Grebe appears from behind the island. A Common Buzzard passes over.
Back to the orchards. The cider apple orchard is covered in molehills like a severe rash. A small flock of Chaffinches feeds on the ground. Moles have been busy on the dessert apple orchard too. One of the old apple trees had been felled, its core utterly rotten.