New Year’s Day, Tuesday – Home – It is dark and the sky is partially covered in cloud but a waning moon and Venus shine brilliantly in the east. Both soon disappear behind a bank of cloud but re-emerge much higher in the sky some time later.
By the afternoon the sky is covered in grey clouds. Across the Grange to Grange Court, John Abel’s old market hall. A few people walk their dogs, children are playing on the swings and climbing frames. Down the edge of the Minster graveyard. There are only a few gravestone left now, most have been removed. A Grey Squirrel chatters in the trees, a Carrion Crow coughs. In one small area a mole has been very busy. A gravestone I had not noticed before records the death of the two sons of Edward and Mary Gould; Thomas William who died at the age of 32 in 1872 and was buried in Kansas City, USA and William John Hankins who died in Old Alberta, Canada. The date of his death is worn away but was in the 19th century and as he was not born until 1875, he was still young. Snowdrop shoots are poking through the soil then there is a little patch in flower. They are early. Snowdrops were often known as Candlemas Bells because they flowered at Candlemas, 2nd February.
Through the graveyard to Pinsley Mead and past the old hospital of the priory. It looks like the buildings are not being used any more, I think they are still owned by the council, another wasted resource. The old timber-framed building in the corner of the grounds is now hidden by trees which have grown and buried the fence put around it to protect it. Behind the old priory buildings the Victorian workhouse is still being used by the Youth Hostel Association. Along Church Street. Restoration work on the Forbury Chapel continues. A few people are perambulating through the town although few shops are open.
Wednesday – Home – Again the sky is clear enough to allow views of the moon and Venus. They have exchanged places since yesterday and now the planet leads the moon across the gently brightening sky.
Bodenham Lake – After the days of grey mildness the morning is below freezing, the sky brilliant blue and the sun blazing. Mist hangs over the courses of the Lugg and Arrow. Song Thrushes, Great Tits and Robins are in song. Several Goldeneye. Coot and Mute Swans in the boating area. A Green Woodpecker flies up from the meadow. Several Blackbirds and a Song Thrush seek sustenance on the ground. Another Green Woodpecker rises up from the ground onto one of the electricity poles. Into the Alder plantation. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips.
The level of water in the lake has risen so the scrape is just a mere dome in the water. Around it are Wigeon, Mallard, Teal, Coot and Canada Geese, all feeding. Ten Mandarin Duck chase around in the south west corner. MoreCanada Geese are scattered all across the water. A couple of little Grebe are in different areas of the lake. A silent Grey Heron flaps across the lake to the northern edge but is unable to settle and flies off down to the other end of the lake. Suddenly a lone Bewick’s Swan flies in it. Clearly this does not please one of the resident Mute Swans who raises his wings into an arch and heads towards the newcomer. However, nothing comes of this minor confrontation.
Back along the meadow, yellow catkins shine in the sun brightening the dull hedgerow. Two trees in the desert apple orchard are still holding onto their fruit. Neither is identified on the board, their varieties unknown. As in many places moles have been active in the orchards.
Friday – Bucknell-Chapel Lawns – The world is washed out. Frost covered hedges and fields and over them lays a thin mist. An area of high pressure, staying at 1033mb for several days now, has brought cloudy with dry weather. In to Bucknell. I park beside St Mary’s school, still closed for the holidays. The school was set up by the Sitwell Family in 1870 to provide education to local children. Bucknell Memorial Hall was built just after WWI, of corrugated iron. Beyond is the graveyard still in use the church one being full. St Mary’s church is a short distance up the road opposite is Bucknell Court. This includes Bucknell Cottage, which dates from early 17th century and has been extended and altered in every century since. The Sitwells, Lords of the Manor stayed here when in Bucknell. The post office, in The Willows, a building with a 14th century core, stands next to a bridge under which flows River Redlake. Houses date from many periods from the 16th onwards. A good number of modern properties filling up old meadows. The road bends westwards and continues beside the river. Opposite is the village pub. The road crosses the river via a stone bridge. The sky is now largely clear of cloud and the sun is blindingly bright in the south-eastern sky.
A narrow lane leads off from the main road that runs up the Redlake valley to New Invention. It is still cold, the temperature below freezing. The lane divides as it climbs into Bucknell Wood. This is a bit of a surprise because just a single track is shown on the modern map, although I later discover both are shown on the Edwardian map. The lane climbs between high banks of trees, clearly very old holloway. After a short distance the two lanes rejoin briefly until the left hand side runs off at right angles over the hill to Haye’s house. My track now deteriorates into an old stone and mud surface heading up alongside Hollybush Bank. The wood is mainly conifer plantation with a short strip of deciduous trees between it and the track. Chaffinches flit between old Elder trees and across the frost covered brown Bracken. A Great Tit is puffed up against the cold. The track divides again, my route following a byway up into the wood. An area has been cut back, maybe 10 years ago, and is now covered densely with young birches. The track has been cut through the rocky ground leaving a shattered stone bank beside it, covered in a cascade of verdant mosses.
The track divides again and I continue to follow the byway. Another large area has been cleared and it looks like hardwoods have been planted instead of the conifers. Some dead trees remain, standing in isolation like totem poles. The track is running along with top edge of the hill, it drops away steeply to the east. The Nuthatch calls from the interior of the wood. Oak trees have short trunks dividing quickly above the ground with twisted branches showing how prevailing winds have affected their growth. Another junction of forestry tracks. The way markers are useful. They have a small picture of a viaduct, Knucklas, Cnwclas, I assume. This is The Heart of Wales Line Trail, from Craven Arms to Llanelli, a long distance path which has recently opened following the route of the Heart of Wales railway line (more or less). There is barely a tree here over 100 years old. The conifers are probably around 50 years old, Oaks and Beeches maybe 100 but probably less. Occasionally there is the vast sawn stump of an old tree. There is a mountain bike course running through the woods. A sign advises riders to walk the course first to assess the difficulty.
The track is now travelling along top of the hill. Sadly the dense conifers make it impossible to see the views of Redlake valley below. A Blue Tit and Nuthatch are seeking food in the leaf litter. A Raven cronks overhead. Suddenly the trees cease and the view spreads over the open fields down to Chapel Lawn below. Ahead is Caer Caradoc hill fort, not the Shropshire hills one. The byway heads on towards New Invention. I take a track which drops down into the valley. Off the track and down a steep hill through a pasture of sheep. Horses and sheep have chewed up the muddy ground which has now frozen making it treacherous to walk upon. The track becomes a holloway. As the track reached the bottom of the valley it becomes less hard frozen and the mud grows deeper. A stream rushes through an old stone built culvert. Track continues up to a farm, Squires. The outbuildings have all been converted into holiday accommodation
A track leads down to the road. Above Brineddin Wood rises steeply. River Redlake runs alongside the road as it enters chapel lawn. The village has a number of houses and several farms, with 17th through 19th century buildings. A Community Stall has some plaster plaques for sale. I buy a Green Woman for Kay putting the money in an honesty box. St Mary’s Church was designed by Edward Haycock of Shrewsbury in the lancet style and erected in 1844 as a chapel of ease of Clun. It was planned to provide 232 sittings, of which 162 were declared free and unappropriated forever. It has polygonal apse and a gabled West bellcote with a chamfered-arched opening. The chapel is sadly locked. Just along the road from the church is the old school which open in 1856 and closed in 1985.
Down road back towards Bucknell. Over the river by bridge where there is a fine old stone wall guiding the water round underneath the road. North facing slopes are still pale with frost. Past the Quern with its timber-framed 17th century farmhouse and mid to late 19th century watermill next to the river. A Magpie churrs. A female Bullfinch sits in the Hawthorn hedge. Goldfinches and Siskins twitter excitedly in the trees. Across the river is the mid 17th century farmhouse of Lower Lye. Up on the hill on this side is an extended cottage with a fine tall ornamental chimney. Further up the hill is the farm of Upper Lye. A Georgian house, Bryncalled is further up the hill still. Its origins date from the 17th century with this house being built around 1790. A stream rushes under the road and in down to join the Redlake. The George VI post box stands by the bridge. Cleavers are already climbing the hedges. The road bends. An old route turns off. On the hillside are two ancient Oaks, certainly over 400 years old and probably part of an old lost boundary. An old bridge takes the road over the river. There is another ancient Oak on this side of the river, clearly in line with the other two. Another, maybe not quite so old, is up the hillside to the west, again in line with the others. The river is running to the east of the road now above it is Bucknell Hill covered in hardwood trees thinning towards the summit where it is almost open moorland.
Into Bucknell, pass the old mill converted into a modern house. The sun has not managed to rise above the woods up on Bucknell Wood so it is cold down here. A short row of mill cottages shows completely different treatment. One retains the old stone work, one has stone work which has been re-pointed in a modern fashion and the third has been completely rendered. Another road enters the village parallel to this one, they are joined by a ford. Many of the houses on this road are modern. Into the churchyard of St Mary’s. One of the first grave is that of Thomas Bevan of Bucknell Mill who died in 1877 aged 47.
The church of St Mary is thought to have been originally built around 1140. Around 1176, Andrew de Stainton, Lord of Bucknell gave the church to the Abbot and Convent of Wigmore Abbey. He was charged with serious crimes by Henry II and needed to leave England. He gave the church in return for the abbot helping him escape to Scotland and caring for his wife, Maud de Portz. The church was largely rebuilt in the 14th century and restored and again largely rebuilt by Thomas Nicholson in 1870. It has a fine early font, possibly Saxon, with carved interlaced cords and a bearded man’s face. The base is 19th century. There are painted legends LORD I HAVE LOVED THE HABITATION OF THY HOUSE AND THE PLACE WHERE THTNE HONOUR DWELLETH over arcade and WORSHIP THE LORD WITH HOLY WORSHIP over chancel arch. An arch by the organ was an Easter Sepulchre now containing a stone credence table. The organ dates from 1880, made by Conacher and Co of Huddersfield. There are encaustic tiles and window glass dating from the 1870 restoration. There is a modern kitchenette in the nave. The bell turret, with three bells, is constructed of oak shingles surmounted by slated spire with brass weathercock. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The pressure falls slightly and it is milder but the sky remains grey making the morning gloomy. A Wood pigeon coos from a television aerial My toe bleeds taffy. Another is replying with a hoohoot hoohoot hoohoot. It flies off and a Collared Dove takes its place with a nasal call sometimes likened to a Black-headed Gull. A pair of Jackdaws are inspecting a chimney pot. The water level in the River Lugg has dropped slightly, the water is clear and grey, reflecting the dull sky. Robins and Song Thrushes sing. Blackbirds perch in bushes watching over their territory. Yesterday there was a fierce fight in the garden between two female Blackbirds, clashing together, wings flapping and altogether violent affair.
I head up the river side of Brightwells’ compound. A Wren darts across the confluence of the Kenwater and Lugg. A Great Tit calls, not its usual two-tone song. Small white buds of pussy willow are appearing on the Sallows. Over the bridge over Kenwater from Paradise walk into The Priory. A tree is still loaded with apples and has attracted five Blackbirds, all pecking at the fruit. The minster bells chime 9 o’clock then rings out the call to prayer. It is the twelfth day of Christmas, Epiphany, the festivities are over and now the decorations must come down. Ours, of course, are already packed away.
Home – Our Speckled hen has been getting less and less mobile over recent weeks. She has not laid for a year or so and now is just laying on the cold ground with the other hens pecking at her. So I dispatch her, a job I loathe, but it seems the kindest thing.
Monday – Croft – The grey mild weather continues. Great Tits call in the woods and the sound of Jackdaws comes across the fields. Into the Fish Pool Valley. The sides of the valley and been the pools hold good numbers of fine Buckler Ferns. There is much movement in the bottom of the valley. Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Nuthatches inspect the trunks and branches. The thinning of the Ash trees has continued. Trunks and branches of felled trees litter the bottom of the valley. There are timber stacks beside the track. One wonders what the final objective of the valley restoration. The Picturesque Movement valley was an attempt at a natural landscape but was, of course, anything but natural, being carefully manicured. Up out of the valley. Pair of Song Thrushes stand on piles of conifer cuttings. At the top of the valley it is a huge stack of conifer trunks. Along the main forestry track where there are many more stacks of trunks from trees between 50 and 60 years old. Again, I do not know the full plan, are they to going to remove all of the conifers would be an excellent idea or leave some? Gorse is becoming established under already cleared areas. Unfortunately so is Bracken; there seems to be no way of controlling this pernicious and invasive fern.
Along the track to the Keepers cottage. Past the ancient Oaks. Cattle gather at the end. they are young and feisty. At the top of the Spanish Chestnut field two branches of broken off one of the Chestnuts. It seems likely that an upper branch broke and took out a larger lower one as it crashed down. Down at the bottom of the field another Spanish Chestnut is gnarled and twisted with many dead branches and trunks yet living ones still emerge out of them. Around the pond there a Song Thrush singing with an accompaniment of much twittering. In the trees is a large mobile flock of winter finches – Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Siskin and, I think, Redpoll. Redwing fly up from the ground.
Wednesday – Cheltenham Spa – We are visiting this Gloucestershire town for the first time. It is, of course, famous as a Regency spa town although its development began before and continued after what is traditionally Regency. What I was surprised by was the sheer quantity of fine Regency buildings – street after street, square and crescent, grand and maybe just a little less grand. However, we start at a far older, indeed the oldest building in the town, Cheltenham Minster, formerly the parish church of St Mary. Cheltenham stands on the small River Chelt. The first record of a settlement was as Celtan hom, possibly from the Old English cilta, meaning a steep hill, referring to the Cotswold scarp and hom which may mean a water-meadow. It was site of an Anglo-Saxon minster. In 773 a monastery is documented at Cheltenham whilst a church synod of 803 referred to a priory in the town. In the Domesday Book it is named [Chintenham] and was a royal manor. It also records that the church at Cheltenham was held by Reinbald, Dean of the Canons of Cirencester Abbey. The town was awarded a market charter in 1226.
In 1133, Henry I formally granted the church of Cheltenham to Cirencester Abbey and soon after this the Augustinian Canons built the present church. There is still some 12th and 13th century fabric but the majority of the church was built in the 14th century. St Mary’s was condemned as unsafe and closed in July 1859. Restorations were undertaken in 1859-61 by DJ Humphris, with the spire being restored in 1866 by Ewan Christian. A much more thorough restoration was undertaken by Christian in 1875-77. In 1890 the south porch was added by Middleton, Prothero and Pillott, who also converted the north porch into a baptistery. A vestry was added in the late 19th and the stained glass dates from between 1876 and 1893. In particular there is a fine rose window of 1879 by William Wailes. A guide points out to us that one of the sections of glass has been fitted upside down. There are a good number of other very fine windows by Heaton Butler & Bayne, Lavers Barraud & Westlake, Joseph Bell & Son. The walls have many impressive monuments including a very lengthy one to Captain Henry Skillicorne, the developer of Cheltenham’s first spa. There was formerly a west door with a school room overhead. On Sunday 3rd February 2013 St Mary’s was designated Cheltenham Minster by Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester.
We then move on to The Wilson, Cheltenham’s Art Gallery and Museum. Edward Wilson, a son of Cheltenham, was a physician and artist who died with Scott in Antarctica in 1912. The gallery has a fine collection of Arts and Crafts furniture and objets d’art. The building, which houses the library next door, was begun 1888-89. It was designed by WH Knight and Chatters in the Victorian Mixed Renaissance style. In 1899 Baron de Ferrieres donated to the town his collection of Old Master paintings and £1,500 towards an art gallery in which to display them. Originally the buildings served as both a free library and the schools of Art and Science, which upper rooms were, by 1907, occupied by the Museum. A short distance down the road is St Gregory’s Roman Catholic Church, built in the decorated style by Charles Hansom, beginning 1854 to replace a simple chapel which had been erected on the site of the present tower in 1809 by the first Rector, Father Augustine Birdsall O.S.B. The chancel was opened for worship in May 1857. The tower and spire were begun but not completed until 1876, when the present nave, which connected the two existing parts of the building, was built. The church was consecrated in 1877. It is closed but one can admire the ornate tympanum through the gate. It shows St Gregory’s visit to Britain and St Augustine preaching to Ethelbert, King of Kent.
After lunch we head along Clarence Street and Crescent Street to Royal Crescent built between 1806-10 by C Harcourt Masters of Bath and railings and balconies supplied by John Bradley of Worcester. Round past the corner of Cheltenham Ladies’ College to The Promenade, laid out in 1818 as a tree-lined avenue connecting the Colonnade in the High Street to the Sherborne Spa. Here is Neptune’s Fountain in front of the Municipal Buildings. The fountain was designed by Joseph Hall, the Borough Engineer and built by RL Boulton & Sons, Cheltenham in overpainted Portland stone Inaugurated in 1893 it depicts Neptune drawn by four sea-horses, flanked by tritons blowing conches and was based on Rome’s Trevi Fountain. Opposite is Imperial Gardens. There are naturally a fair number of modern buildings in the town. Many fit in well with their Regency neighbours, some outstandingly so, but on the edge of the gardens is an appalling abomination of 1970s architecture. The Quadrangle was built in 1973 and probably quite rightly has been called Cheltenhams’ ugliest building. Next to it is the Town Hall built between 1901-1903 in the Eclectic Classical style by architect FW Waller of Gloucester. It is, frankly quite a ponderous pile, rather kindly called conservative for the date by the listers.
Back up The Promenade where large houses dating from the first quarter of the 19th century are now shops, believed to have been converted from around 1845-75. Outside one row of shops is a large statue of The Hare and The Minotaur by Sophie Ryder. Apparently, it is not universally loved, allegedly because the Minotaur is obviously male! Into the High Street where many national chain stores are in wonderful Regency buildings. We head northwards into Portland Street where there is a monumental Masonic lodge built in 1820-1 by George Allen Underwood. Our hotel is in Pittville Lawn, a converted large town house.
Thursday 10th January – Cheltenham – Pittville was named by its developer, Joseph Pitt (1759-1842), a solicitor and MP for Cricklade. He planned a new Pump Room spa to rival Montpelier spa and a new town of some 500 houses on 100 acres. By 1842, only 177 houses were built and Pitt died, bankrupt. Another 39 houses were built by 1860 but little after that until the 1930s. John Forbes, architect of the Pump House laid out the new estate and Robert Stokes designed many of the houses’ façades. Pitt intended his estate to be exclusive and many members of the military or officers of the East India Company lived there. We head north to the parkland, laid out by Richard Ware in 1827. It is extensive with a large lake crossing it. Early 20th century houses are on the western side in an an Art Deco style that sits comforatbly with the overall Regency townscape. There are other buildings in the distance that do not – tower blocks of the 1970s. The former ice cream hut in Pittville Park is now a multi-award winning park café. A former Air Raid Wardens Headquarters is a squat brick building looking out of place, but with historical importance. It is now the Scout Headquarters. Bridges, both road and foot cross the lake. There is a large play area and aviary with chickens, Zebra Finches, cockatiels, doves rabbits and Chipmunks which are not making an appearance on this cold morning. At the top of the park is the Pump Room, built by Forbes in the Greek Revival style, the details based on Stuart and Revett’s engravings of the Temple of Illissus. It has a magnificent main hall with a domed ceiling and large chandeliers. It appears to be undergoing redecoration.
We return through the park and down Pittville Lawn. Dorset House is a villa built in 1839-40 by Edward Billings, probably to a design by Forbes and sold to Honourable Andrew Ramsey
for £2,800 on the 27th June 1842. It has a narrow façade with large Doric pilasters. Next door is Ellingham House, a villa built in 1841-2 by Solomon Sims, timber merchant, for Susan Dawson, widow, of Brislington in Somerset. Malden Court dates from 1838. Built by Henry Haines to the plans of Rowland Paul and Sons of Cheltenham for Stubbs Wightwick JP in the Tudor-Gothic style. Over Central Cross Drive. Terraces and individual houses are now mainly from 1827-31 by John Forbes. Across Wellington Road. Our hotel, Cheltenham Town House was part of a line of houses built on land that remained unsold at Pitt’s death and was sold at auction to the County of Gloucester Bank in 1845. It was divided into six lots and sold to Thomas Cantell, stone mason who built two houses and sold the other lots to other builders. It was originally known as 1-5 Clarendon Villas. More terraces and houses date to earlier in the 19th century. At the foot of the road are a set of monumental gates installed in 1833. Six pillars of Forest of Dean stone with ornate gates with an overthrow with a coat-of-arms, the name Pittville Park and ornately scrolled cresting. The gates were removed in 1921 to allow easier access for motor vehicles. They survived the wartime scrapping of much ironwork but were badly damaged in 1965 when a furniture van hit a pillar and brought down the overthrow. The gates were patched up and traffic through them was banned in 1969. However, despite being listed they deteriorated and were in a bad way by the turn of the century. In 2011, the Friends of Pittville raised funds and with the Borough Council restoration was undertaken. They now look magnificent.
Friday – Hatfield-Bockleton – After a dull start with drizzle the sun is breaking through the louring clouds. Hatfield is a long village with mainly modern houses at intervals. St Leonard’s church is one of the oldest in Herefordshire. A blocked north doorway is early Norman with a trellised tympanum. Herring bone masonry is incorporated into the north wall. There is a blocked south door. The south side collapsed in 1723 and was rebuilt and buttressed. The church was partly restored in 1878 by the Ashton family. The porch is 14th century porch. The bell turret is 18th century, but the bells are considerably older; one is probably 14th century and the other in a peculiar flower-pot shape dated to the early 13th century. Inside is an anteroom with stairs leading to a Georgian gallery. Here there is a tub shaped font, certainly very early Norman and possibly older. In the nave which was extended in the 14th century are Georgian pew boxes and pulpit. The chancel arch is 13th century. Commandment boards are either side of the altar. Three memorials to Colles family, in neo-classical style with broken pediments supported on Ionic and Corinthian columns are dated 1641 (John Colles), 1669 (Timothy) and 1672 (Sara). The Colles family built Hatfield Court, now demolished and replaced by Hatfield Court Farm. A stained glass window, by Meyer of Munich, commemorates Thomas Ashton, who died in 1869.
Down the lane is the old school of 1862 and the attached schoolhouse. A lane runs south. It comes to a brook and rises again. Ahead is an embankment for the disused Worcester, Bromyard and Leominster Railway. Back up to the school and eastwards. Old Hall farmhouse is a rambling, much altered building. The Woolhope Club surveyed it and came to the conclusion it was a late mediaeval three bay building, with the centre bay being an open hall. The northern bay would have been a parlour and chamber and the southern bay has been replaced by a 17th century two storey wing with a further wing added to the east. The barn alongside has been converted. Across the valley on the other side of the railway is Fencote Abbey farm. Fencote was a manor probably held by Edith, the disgraced Abbess of Leominster before the Conquest. A couple of timber-framed cottages look 16th century. Roughcast farmhouse is large. It is on the edge of the hamlet of Lockley’s Heath, several similar houses, one dated 1877, Dhobie Cottage, another is called the Curate’s Cottage. Next is Lockley’s Farmhouse. Common Farm, 155 acres, is up for sale (£1.6 million). The lane passes out the modern boundary of Hatfield. A blacksmith drives past pulling a trailer with what I assume is an animal-holding frame, apparently called a crush, with a sign Hoof Care – Cow Foot Specialist. Trees in an old orchard are heavily infested with mistletoe. Small flocks of Starlings fly past. A Great Tit is calling from an Ivy-clad Ash. Fieldfares are calling from somewhere across the orchard.
The lane comes to a crossroads. A large early 20th century house stands on the junction with a much older house in the garden. I turn northwards. The sun has disappeared there is a fine drizzle in the air. To the east of the lane is Holloway Common, probably enclosed during the enclosures of 18th and 19th centuries. High Bridge crosses Humber Brook, here a small stream. Plaques indicate this was once the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border and this little bridge was built by public subscription in 1878. A Woodpecker is drumming nearby. A little further on four vast chicken sheds are being erected.
The lane enters Bockleton by the war memorial. It is worn and I cannot see any names have ever been carved on it. I visit St Michael’s church, where I have been before. Bockleton Farm stand beside the church. Down the field is a large pond with over a dozen Mallard. I follow the track to Grafton as before. Despite the cool weather, a large cloud is gnats is dancing over the track.
At Grafton, a lane heads south. Past fields containing some Oak trees that are some three to four hundred years old. The lane descends. At a junction of several footpaths is Rock Cottage. Behind it is a larger house – The Rock. At the foot the hill is Humber Brook. Hatfield Mill lies downstream, hidden by trees. Upstream is the timber framed farmhouse of Dunhampton farm. It dates from the 16th century with 17th and 18th century additions and alterations. The lane rises past Wingfields. A cottage stands closer to the lane looking somewhat derelict. Several Jays are flying about. Through Hatfield Court farm where there is a large pond with several Mallard. The house, dating from the mid 19th century is brick-built and incorporates some of the old court. One former resident was Major Arthur Chambers was born at Leamington Spa who moved to Hatfield Court in 1904. In his youth he had been a Rugby player and cricketer, playing for England in the Rugby international match against Scotland in 1874, and it is said that he kicked the longest drop kick on record.
Saturday – Leominster – Over eighty folk gathered in Corn Square to watch the Jenny Pipes Morris Dancers. This is a women’s morris named after the last woman to have been ducked using the town ducking chair which is on display in the Minster. Then, led by the Town Crier and dancers, we proceeded down Grange Walk, around the Grange and on to the Millennium Orchard. Her ewe stood around a cider apple tree and had a Wassail. A Wassail song was sung and recited, a libation of cider offered to the tree, pieces of toast soaked in cider hung on its branches and then a loud clamour was raised to drive away any evil spirits from the tree.
In come we, wassailers we,
Drawing near around the tree
In winter’s cold the spring is near
Wassail, good health for the coming year.
Andy Davies 2017
Apple cake, juice and cider were then enjoyed, a lucky few had a taste of my own cider made from the apples from this orchard, not this tree, variety Dabinett, as it happens because it was so late in dropping its fruit this year!
Sunday – Leominster – The morning is dark but mild. Thick clouds hang overhead and there is a slight breeze. Unusually there is not a bird in sight nor is there a sound from one. It is not until I reach the bottom of the street as I see the resident Wood Pigeons and Jackdaws. I can hear a Song Thrush singing, a Wood Pigeon cooing and House Sparrows chattering. From the railway bridge to breeze seems stronger and the clouds are drifting slowly from the north-west. The river level continues to fall. It is strange there are so few water birds around the river; occasionally a Dipper, sometimes Mute Swans but hardly ever are there Moorhens or Mallard and even the Grey Wagtails are very intermittent. A Dunnock squeaks continuously above Cheaton Brook. A lorry passes on Mill Street carrying two vintage tractors.
Monday – Leominster – It is New Year’s Day in the old Julian calendar. The sky has a luminous look. Through the town. Although it is 9:30 in the morning very few shops are open, indeed many do not open on a Monday. Up Green Lane. House Sparrows chirp, a Blue Tit tumbles and dances through the twigs seeking food, three Starlings chattering on an aerial are joined by two Wood Pigeons which does not seem to impress the Starlings very much and a couple of Collared Doves land on the nearby roof. Jackdaws chack in the distance. A large house at the end of Perseverance Road seems to have been abandoned and boarded up. There are a number of specimen conifers in the area including Wellingtonias and Cedars. Into Ginhall lane. A boundary stone, just a small stone with LB on it, sits at the base of a wall. Past the entrance to Wegnalls farm. Long-tailed Tits seek food in Ash trees. Down a lane past the allotments. Behind them is a large electricity substation. Across a field which is marshy in the centre. On the far side of the field the path joins a track at the foot of Cursneh Hill.
The track runs back up to Ginhall Lane. A Robin sitting on a stump watching me has a little white feathers down the centre of its back. Past the rather grandly named Cursneh Hall. The lane joins the A44 at Ebnal. Back towards town centre. The Barons Cross Inn is again up for letting. Building has started on the field next to Morrisons where four houses are to be erected. On down into town.
Friday – Stourport-on-Severn – Towards the town across Stourport Bridge over the River Severn. It is chilly around about freezing. Puddles on the pavement are frozen into ice. Down the spiral staircase and into Beatrice walk and then along beside the river Severn on the Severn Way Long Distance Path. The river is heading south. Past the pleasure ground with its fairground rides. Over the towing Bridge beside the lock gates where the basin links to the River Severn. The Tontine stands on the hillside. Across the main lock between the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and river. Past the Angel Inn, a mid 18th century building, probably always an inn. There are references to an inn in Stourmouth before the town developed and it is likely an earlier inn on this site. The Angel was shown in an engraving of 1773. Large factories stand beside the path on the other side other remains of old docks. One, at the end, now seemingly empty, was the vinegar works. A small brick bridge crosses the River Stour as it enters the River Severn. A concrete barrier runs down the river for 50 yards, referred to as a breakwater on the 1955 map and not present on pre-war maps. Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed gulls and a few Mallard are on the river.
The Severn way passes an area of scrubland beyond which a large modern housing estate. The cricket ground was here in the late Victorian era then a power station, opened in June 1927 by the Prime Minister, and MP for Bewdley, Stanley Baldwin, closing in 1984 and demolished. It had railway lines branching down from the main line, all closed now. An old rusting notice faces the river Danger cross currents from works discharge. A row of cottages stand by the path below which are new landing platforms for their boats. The first house was formerly The Cross Inn. The path is now mud but there is evidence of the old industrial sites along here. It was fields in the 19th century but in the 20th century industry built up. Now just some worked stone in the river and a single large mooring ring in a block is all that is left. Now the path runs past woodlands where Jays squawk. A lake is in the woods. This site was a large fuel depot with landing stages. Beyond are more large modern housing estates. Across the river has a large static caravan site and a little further on there is one this side as well.
The site on the far side ends at large cliff where is red, green and white sandstone red stone cave and other caves are in this cliff. In 1160 the Bishop of Worcester gave hermits who lived in the caves, recognition and protection as a Hermitage. In 1200 it was home to the monk Layamon, 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 middle English poetry. In the 18th and 19th centuries the caves were used as a Cider House and a School and then accommodation for seasonal workers like fruit and pea pickers. In the 1920s three local business men attempted to turn them into an Amusement Arcade, however despite many hundreds of tons of ashes from the power station being dumped there, the land was too boggy.
Severn Side Marina is a boatyard. Cruisers here would cost many, many thousands of pounds. There is also a river trip boat which may have been converted from one of the Harker oil carriers which brought oil from Avonmouth to the Harker Oil depot here. and a large steamer VIC 99, a Victualling Inshore Craft, steam powered and built circa 1946. It was a World War II supply ship from Scotland and is now a three storey houseboat. I speak to the owner of Apache, a 72 ft boat that was used for iron ore carrying in Australia. He had her a built 12 years ago in German steel because he could not get the correct specification of steel in Britain. A bridge crosses the entrance to a marina where there are millions of pounds worth of boats stored.
Now I pass Aston Manor cider works, a new building. Across a field is a broken old tree on which a Common Buzzard sits, watching and not liking me, flies off. A boom of orange floats blocks the river. Gulls and a Grey Heron sit on the floats. A weir lies behind the boom All craft are required to use Lincomb Lock, completed on the 30th December 1843. The lock keeper’s house is a large square building with a central large chimney stack. It has been described as Georgian but it would seem unlikely that it was constructed before the lock. There is a modern house behind it. These houses are on an island formed by the river and lock. The only access is across the lock gates, so getting anything large to them must be a nightmare. The path continues. Old stones rise to a relatively modern bridge over deep gorge full of fallen trees. A stream from Titton runs through the gorge. Once there was a fair sized body of water in this gorge. A sandstone cliff rises above the path now just covered with ivy and trees sticking out a precarious angles. Hart’s Tongue ferns and fresh new Wild Arum leaves are growing on this steep slope. The bright red sandstone is the Bromsgrove formation from the Triassic 237 to 251 million years ago. A Wren bursts into song and Long-tailed Tits flit through the trees.
Old pumping station looks abandoned. It seems to have been a fuel pumping station to feed a large former oil storage depot up beyond the top of the wooded slope behind it. Through a scattering of static caravans most of the work they have not been used for some time. A flock of Canada Geese waddle across the grass and down onto the river. Further on there are more static caravan sites although these look in better order. An area called The Burf lies across the river with The Hampstall Inn beside the water. A ferry crossed here. A tragedy took place on August Bank Holiday 1919 when the ferry was overloaded, seventeen people instead of the permitted twelve, and the wash from the passing pleasure steamer, May Queen, tipped the ferry. Nine people died. A footbridge crosses a muddy, choked stream. Beyond is a large area of field laid for equestrian activities. The path continues on down the river floodplain through open pastures. Three military helicopters fly over in formation. A Cormorant flies upstream. On down beside the river through pasture after pasture not the most interesting walking. Lyth farm lays across the floodplain in the woods. A flock of mixed sheep have some all white, rather off-white to be accurate, and others looking like Jacob sheep.
I decide I have had enough of this part of the walk and turn back. There is rain or even snow in the air. Remains of what may have been an old cart is laying in the field, almost certainly locally made. Another Cormorant flies upstream. It starts raining. Near the abandoned static site there are three Little Grebe on the river. For Jackdaws are noisily chasing through the trees above the floodplain. Near the pumping station there is a large block of stone with a heavy-duty iron mooring post. It is on the wrong side of the path so how it got here seems a mystery. The whistling whoosh of the wing beats of a Mute Swan flying downstream is followed by a loud clap, clap, clap of its feet on the water as it lands. It grunts several times.
At the foot bridge at Lincomb Lock I take another footpath which runs due north up the side of the gorge. Large chunks of bright red sandstone have been falling off of the cliff for sometime now. Some are freshly fallen, others already covered in ivy. The path enters a static caravan site which has beehives, composting bins and bird feeders. The path now gets lost. I follow a track to Titton Barracks. This block, now residences, has a plaque, GN 1802. Footpath passes a pumping station with a tall, viciously spiked fence. The path then comes out on to a lane passing exclusive houses and then a Punjabi restaurant on the edge of Hartlebury Common. A road passes through large industrial estates in Lower Heath.
Into another static caravan site and again the footpath has been moved. At least this time there are clear signs. Back on the riverbank and heading towards the town. Past the canal basins and over the bridge where there is the lock keepers cottage. On up to the high street. By the time I cross the bridge again over the River Severn there is a wind blowing and it seems to be getting colder. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The morning is dark, damp and misty but mild. Jackdaws chatter on the rooftops, Wood Pigeons coo and a Robin is singing somewhere. The water level in the River Lugg seems about the same as recent weeks. Along beside the river, fresh mole hills have been thrown up. Little seems to be happening in Brightwells’ compound, just a few Welsh police, Heddlu, vehicles have arrived. A female Goosander flies up the Kenwater. She then flies back downstream, rising high and away. It appears that work has almost finished on the renovation of the Forbury Chapel. Opposite the chapel is a lane that leads down to the back of Wetherspoons in Corn Square. The lane does not appear on maps until the 1960s. Previously a garden occupied the site. The partly timber-framed houses here are obviously mid to late 20th century as they are on the site of the garden. A Georgian house stands down the lane. Burgage plots lying behind the shops in Drapers Lane are now being used as parking and delivery sites. Buildings behind houses in Church Street are probably old stables. One large one stands behind The Gatehouse, an impressive early 19th century house around an 18th century core.
Home – Yesterday our Bluebell hen laid her first egg for many months. It is amusing to see how much larger it is than the new hens’ eggs. A few weeks ago I put new perches in the hen house but only Russet would use them. So I make one much lower in the hope they will all use it and not the nest box, which I have to block off every night or it gets occupied and fouled. It is drizzling now.
Monday – Croft – Last night there was a wolf, blood, supermoon eclipse. A wolf moon using an old First Nations of America name for the January full moon, a blood moon because the moon turns red in the eclipse and supermoon because the moon is at its closest to earth for this cycle. However thanks to the cloud I see none of this.
This morning although the temperature is several degrees above freezing it feels cold with the dampness creeping into the fingers and bones. Sky still covered with cloud. Bird song greets me at the top of the Fish Pool Valley – Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Wood Pigeons and Nuthatches. Down into the valley where a Great Tit is in good voice. Across the dam by the old pumping station. Grey squirrels are chasing around everywhere. A woodpecker is drumming. Mist condenses on to the tree branches then pitter-patters down on to the saturated leaf litter. The hillside is mottled in green and copper – mosses and beech leaves. Chaffinches and Blue Tits fly up from the leaf litter into the trees. Near the quarry it seems that large leaves are floating rapidly down to the ground. They are a flock of over fifty Brambling are seeking Beech mast on the hillside. The beautiful little finches, similar to Chaffinches but with striking orange breasts are visitors from Scandinavia. They fly off in a tight flock. A lorry carrying a load of logs climbs the hillside out of the valley. There are large stacks of logs at the end of the valley. The track up between Lyngham Vallet and Bircher Common is a quagmire, churned up by the heavy machinery.
Four Fallow deer rise from the Bracken in the bottom of the valley and chase up the hillside towards the common. Hazy sunshine lights up the misty woods. Along the top track there are more large stacks of logs from trees up to 50 or 60 years old. Mist drifts up from the Fish Pool Valley like smoke. Climbing up to Croft Ambrey hill-fort is exhausting as every footstep slides on the thick, greasy mud. The views in every direction are obscured by low cloud and mist. Below sheep are in a straight line as they move into a new area of green-topped beets. To the west there are pillows of cloud laying over the course of the River Lugg. Down the Spanish Chestnut field. Trees are black and skeletal against the grey sky.
Tuesday – Leominster – Venus and Jupiter are low in the south-eastern sky. A faint lightening of the blue-black creeps in from the east. The temperature has dropped overnight, enough to cover the cars in frost and ice but not enough to freeze puddles in the road. A skein of seven Canada Geese in file fly over, heading north-west.
Friday – Worcester – I park near the railway on a damp morning in Worcester. Down back streets of Victorian terraces. A Magpie sits on an aerial chacking gently, its tail waving up and down to maintain its balance. Into Nelson Road where each pair of houses has its own name, Clifton Villas, Wellington Terrace, Nelson Terrace, Northville and so on. One is dated, 1896. When the names stop as the houses become slightly later. Some houses now have individual names Sandhurst, Kingsland, St Clair etc. The road ends but the footpath carries on there down a ginnel, Grosvenor Walk and into Bromyard Terrace. The older houses have more ornamentation, cream and black edging bricks or plaster fittings around the windows. Opposite there are newer houses up to the late 20th century. The Grosvenor Arms stands at the foot of the terrace. Into Henwick Road. Here are modern houses then St Clements House and the Old Rectory both Georgian. Next to them is the parish church of Saint Clement. A large Celtic cross outside is a war memorial with three long rows of names. The original church of St Clement dated from the 12th century, at least and was situated on the east side of the River Severn in the north west part of the city centre. It was demolished in 1823 following many years of problems caused by flooding. The new church was built between 1816 and 1823 here. It