Monday 6th July – Home – At last, it rains. Over the past couple of weeks there has been flooding in some parts of the country, notably around Sheffield, but hardly a drop has fallen here. Both water-butts are close to empty and the earth is dry and baked hard. However, cropping has been going well. Broad beans have been prolific and are now being picked in batches and frozen. The peas are almost finished, although a late sowing is just starting to produce mangetout. Potatoes are being dug a row at a time and are producing a reasonable, if not heavy crop. Lettuces are a problem as they are bolting quickly in the heat. Runner and French beans are in flower. Annoyingly, something has badly attacked the Purple Sprouting seedlings; I suspect Wood Pigeons and have netted the patch. Courgette plants are growing huge, although it has been male flowers so far. Soft fruit are also doing well, maybe 15lb of strawberries, a fair amount of gooseberries with more to come and black and white currants soon ready. The raspberry canes are over four feet tall and still growing. Fat green figs hang on the bushes. In the greenhouse, the peppers are beginning to appear, after a worrying number of flowers failing to set seed. The tomatoes are a jungle and many little green fruits are appearing. Poor Maddy has had very few walks as she is still in season. This has also resulted in me not going out as much as I should do!
Tuesday 7th July – Brockhampton – Heading south-east of Hereford along the Wye Valley. A narrow lane heads up Capler Hill. At the wooded brow is a view of the River Wye far below wending its way across a wide valley of fields. A carved wooden picnic table and seats are set beside the pull-in. Over the road and up a lane is a mown field. Across the field the ramparts of Capler Camp, an Iron Age hillfort crowned with thick woods. Down the hill and past the road we want which is closed and “around the block”, through narrow lanes where large houses have magnificent views across the landscape. Past Brockhampton Court, a large house rebuilt on the site of a rectory dating from 1759 in the late 19th century by Ebenezer D. Jordan of Boston, Massachusetts who presented it to his daughter, Alice on her marriage to Colonel A.W. Foster. In 1947 the house became a hotel and popular venue for balls, weddings and other social occasions. However, the hotel lost its license because of excessive noise. It is now a nursing home. Nearby is the Church of All Saints, built by Alice Foster in memory of her parents. The architect was Willam Lethaby of the Central School of Arts and Crafts and is a superb example of Arts and Crafts Movement of Pre-Raphaelite Britain. Indeed, Pevsner calls it “...one of the most convincing and most impressive churches of its date in any country.” It was finished in 1902. The church is thatched with a crossing tower. Inside are steep arches which set the form of a tunnel for the nave, chancel and transepts. Tall iron lanterns hang from the ceiling. By the door stands a font, designed by Lethaby in an early Christian style. Hymn books have tapestry coverings depicting wild flowers. A panel of these tapestries is mounted on the west end wall. The windows at the east end and south transept are by Whall, depicting saints. On the south of the nave is a window with a few pieces of 15th century glass from the the old church of the Trinity, Brockhampton, now a private house. Either side of the altar are a pair of tapestries by Burne-Jones made by the William Morris Company. Between is an early 16th century Flemish altar piece. Outside it is strange. although logical, that all the graves are from the 20th and 21st centuries. A notice states that a marriage chapel which is a reproduction of All Saints is being built in an atrium of a tower block in Osaka, Japan.
Monday 13th July – The Black Mountains – A narrow road leads out of Hay-on-Wye and up into the Black Mountains. These hills (rather than mountains) are the eastern most range of the Brecon Beacons. From a car park just before Gospel Pass a track heads up the steep side of Hay Bluff. The peak of Hay Bluff stands at 677 metres above sea level, but the climb is nowhere so long, the road is at 510 metres. However, I am out of condition (another way of saying “getting on in years and too fat”) so I am blowing hard and requiring quite a few moments to “admire the scenery”. Sheep and Welsh Mountain Ponies graze on the hillside. Meadow Pipits flit across the grass. Spear Thistles and a buttercup species are frequent in the thick but well cropped grass. Eroded footmarks head directly to the summit but a sign requests people take the longer but less environmentally damaging route up the valley side. A Wheatear flits up the hillside – the first one I have seen for a long time. The layer of soil on the underlying rock is thin and has been worn away in many places. The rock is stratified, the layers being worn away in tiny steps.
The hills are Old Red Sandstone from the Devonian and consist of a thick sedimentary sequence of sandstones, mudstones, siltstones and thin limestones. The path reaches the plateau and heads north towards the triangulation point, Pen y Beacon. The views are extensive – spreading from the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons, the Pen-y-Fan range round across the Wye valley with the Eppynt Hills almost hidden in the misty haze. North are the Shropshire Hills. Maddy seems only concerned with her ball; she has been on the lead for most of the walk because of the numerous sheep, but there are none up here on top. I head back along the path, Ffynnon y Parc, intending to cross to Twmpa but the clouds seem to be thicken and rain is forecast. So its back down a long grassy path to the road. Wild Thyme blossoms, tiny purple petals peek out beside the path. Of course, on reaching the road the sun emerges.
Wednesday 15th July – Kilpeck – We are taking our friends on a tour of churches Chris has asked to see. I have already written about them recently as we had checked them out to ensure a smooth tour. So first it is over to Brockhampton and then back across country to Kilpeck. Whilst the others look around the church I climb a slope into the separate upper graveyard. Beyond are the ditches of the castle and the motte standing some 27 feet high. There was a fortified enclave here in the 8th century, built as an outpost in the defence of Hereford during the reign of Offa. The Norman castle was built by William Fitz Norman. William’s grandson built the wonderful church here. At the top of the motte are two fragments of wall, all that remains after slighting by the Parliamentarians in the Civil War. One contains a part of a Norman fireplace.
Garway – We head for Skenfrith for lunch and a look around the castle and then up a narrow lane beside the River Monnow to Garway. The church has been described after our previous visit but several things are noticed that were missed before. There is a splendid Green Man on the Norman arch in the nave. In several places around the church, Templar stone grave-lids have been used in the reconstruction of the church. Two lay at the top of the steps into the chancel and one is used as a lintel for a window. Outside, crosses, including a patriarchal cross which had been adopted by the early bishops of Jerusalem, have been scratched into stones in the church’s wall.
Sunday 19th July – Croft Castle – It is “Tudor Day” at the castle. Rather less than we expected though! A display of owls – always nice to see owls but hardly Tudor; a small display of bee keeping equipment – two skeps, one of wicker and one of woven rushes and some wax; and a small display of typical Tudor food. However, it was interesting to talk to the exhibitors. A quartet of musicians play in the church on recorders and other period instruments.
Monday 20th July – The Black Mountains – Set off up the opposite side of Gospel Pass (where St Peter and St Paul are said to have preached) from Hay Bluff towards Twmpa. A rough path climbs steeply, worn to the bones by many boots. Shorn sheep scatter. A pair of Welsh ponies lay in a slight hollow and watch us without any reaction. Meadow Pipits are squeaking. The path levels out and passes a couple of deep combes. A small tree is growing precariously on a small ledge formed by an exposed little bluff of rock. Ravens cronk and soar across the side of the hill. There is now a slight climb and the top of Twmpa is reached. This place is also called “Lord Hereford’s Knob”, for reasons that are not apparent. The views are magnificent and extensive. Back down from the summit – really not much of a summit, just a small cairn a few feet higher than the surrounding moorland to the south, although to the north and west the land falls away steeply. A glider suddenly slips past silently and crosses Gospel Pass and circles Hay Bluff for a while. It returns round the side of Twmpa, sending Maddy into a frantic bout of barking. There are lots of low Bilberry plants on the moorland but no berries. Fronds of Cotton Grass wave in the breeze.
Wednesday 22nd July – Birmingham – It is difficult to get bulk supplies of Asian foodstuffs around Herefordshire, so it is off to Birmingham. It is a pleasant drive until we reach the outskirts of the city, around the Hagley Road. It seems that city mode driving takes over, i.e. bad driving! We are held up by an accident at a junction being attended by all the emergency services. A short distance beyond we are overtaken by a car far exceeding the speed limit despite just having witnessed the accident. We crawl our way through the city and down to Small Heath. Here there is a profusion of Asian supermarkets and shops. We buy our goods at one of the supermarkets and then look for somewhere to eat. Normally we would, of course, head for an Indian, but an Arabian restaurant catches our eye and so in we go. The food was good and cheap but probably not very authentic – a salad of iceberg lettuce and tomato does not seem too Middle Eastern! We then head south, past another accident at a junction, and on towards the M5. That motorway is at a complete standstill so we take in the back-roads of Warwickshire whilst steadily heading in a more or less westwards direction. We eventually pick up the M5 again and leave it shortly again to head back into Herefordshire – slow lorries but relatively quiet traffic.
Wednesday 29th July – Leominster – A wet morning, much like the rest of the month. A Raven flies low over Etnam Street, cronking loudly. It does not look a particularly large specimen but its massive bill is clear to see. Down in the Millennium park the apple trees are loaded with fruit. The meadow has been mown for the first time this year. It has not really developed a “proper” meadow look yet, too many rank grasses and thick growths of Dock, but a few meadow flowers had bloomed, including Meadow Cranesbill with its bright blue flowers. By the time we reach the Grange again it is raining heavily. This has no effect at all on Maddy who is only interested in her ball, although she does steal a glance across at the council workman’s collie by the steps.
Home – Cropping from the garden has been productive. The broad beans have finished. The potatoes are all dug and stored. Courgettes are now emerging steadily. French beans and Polish climbing beans are cropping well. Unfortunately all the lettuces bolted, fine for the chickens but too bitter for us. The next batch are a few weeks off yet. A few tiny tomatoes have ripened but the majority are still green. There is something of a surprise when Lara (Kay’s son Tom’s girlfriend) points out the large crop of damsons on the “dead apple” trees – how we have missed them is a mystery. The purple-sprouting has responded well to being netted and are now growing rapidly. The couple of late pea plants have been prolific and there are still some mange tout on them but many more tightly packed, fat pods. We have a couple of figs that seem to be ripe and are covered in fruit flies. Most the early summer fruit is now finished and we await the main raspberry crop.
Tuesday 28th July – Shobdon – We take Tom and Lara to see the church and Arches at Shobdon. There is actually a break in the rain. We walk up the gentle slope to the Arches, the old Norman arches from the original church, past the cricket ground. One of the Russula fungi – probably Russula parazurea, grows in the grass. The slope leads though an avenue of Oaks, many probably about a century old, a few much older. The others visit the wonderful rococo church, but I wait outside with Maddy.
Croft – A brief visit to see the 350 year old Spanish Chestnuts. There are cows in the field and they start taking an interest in Maddy. Also, to the the west we can see rain approaching so we retreat quickly. One dead tree in the field by the car park has been entirely wrapped in scarlet silk as part of an exhibition.
Thursday 30th July – Whitcliffe Common, Ludlow – High above the River Teme, the common is tree covered, much of it now part of the Mortimer Forest. We head down the path which turns into large flat steps made of the layers of siltstone of the Upper Ludlow beds of the Silurian Period, 420 million years ago. Below the river is brown with silt washed down by the recent rains. Along the path beside the banks of the river. A long weir lays diagonally across the water. Everywhere is lush and verdant. Maddy manages to drop her ball over the edge of the slope down to the river – twice! Fortunately, I manage to retrieve it each time. Water trickles down a small gorge in the rocks, full of ferns, leaves of Herb Robert – the flowers having already set seed and Meadow Sweet. Meadow Brown and Green-veined White butterflies and the Red-tailed Bumblebee, Bombus lapidarius feed on thistle flowers. Dinmore Bridge crosses the river is graceful stone arches. Below Mallard, males already in eclipse, dabble near the bank; above the castle towers with visitors peering over the parapets. A path climbs back up the hillside. By the Wigmore Road are the long trenches, the purpose of which is not agreed. A likely explanation is they were dug by the Parliamentarians during the siege of Ludlow in 1646.