Monday – Mortimer Forest – Into a new month but the weather remains the same. The skies are grey, the wind gusty, the temperature cool and everywhere is wet. A Chiffchaff, Song Thrush, Wren and Blue Tits are all in good voice. Every leaf of an Oak has a circular or semi-circular hole in it. Down the path towards Sunnydingle. A Fallow Deer leaps up from a few feet into the Bracken by the path and crashes off across the hillside – a far from discrete or dignified exit. Honeysuckle climbs up Larches, its cream and yellow blossom dense. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips overhead. Carrion Crows call from the other side of the valley on Lower Evans. Unsurprisingly, the brook down the Mary Knoll Valley is flowing fast and noisily. White roses shine out of the gloom down near the stream. They are Dog or Field Roses and are surrounded by bushes and nettles making them little beacons of light.The air is saturated. The leaves of Stinging Nettles, Dock and Coltsfoot shine with condensation. A Common Buzzard flies down the path, jinking over the woods when it observes Maddy and me. As the path gently rises mist forms in the trees and it begins to rain. Although it is not a hot day, the humidity is such that I am soaked. Water rushes down a deep, hidden ditch on the steep hillside and into a pipe under the track. The stream down the valley creates a rushing background to the intermittently singing birds. A Jay flashes its white rump as it silently disappears into the woods. Horsetails grow on the edge of the track. The rain persists. Wood Pigeons coo, a Chiffchaff calls and a Robin sings. The art installation consisting of trees with large bar codes is still in situ – probably appropriately as there are mumblings again from the Government regarding selling off our woodlands. Up the path to High Vinnalls. The path is surprisingly clear of mud, but maybe this is because all the loose surface material has been washed down the hill already. Up here it is rain and cloud. I imagine my donning my over-trousers is an amusing sight, I get more and more frustrated trying to get my muddy boots through the legs. Yellow capped fungi grow in the woods, probably one of the Russulas, possibly Common Yellow Russula, Russula ochroleuca. Sheep are calling mournfully from Hanway Common. More of the hillside has been cleared between Climbing Jack Common and the Deer Park. Not surprisingly there is plenty of water in the ponds now. They were dry after the winter. It is a very wet man and dog that return to the Black Pool car park.
Tuesday – Covenhope – Into Blackthorn Wood between Mortimer’s Cross and Shobdon under leaden skies. The underlying rock, Silurian limestone, the Ludlow band I think, is exposed by the track-side. A hillside rises pink with Foxgloves. The tall yellow spikes of Great Mullein also stand high on the slope. The bubbling song of a Garden Warbler pours from a Hawthorn. Although he is only a few feet away he remains hidden in the bush. Green haws shine. The track rises up the side of a long valley, the Covenhope Gap. Covenhope Farm lays below. The farm is on the site of the hamlet that is recorded in Domesday as previously being owned by Almer and post-Conquest by Roger de Mortimer. It was a small holding only worth 1 geld. It consisted of six smallholders, a slave and a smith. The valley heads northwards to join the valley through which the River Lugg passes on its way to Aymestrey. In the Devensian Period, the Wye Glacier blocked the River Lugg at Combe Moor to the west of Shobden as it flowed south-east. The Lugg flowed to the north-east and down the Covenhope Gap, but then the continued eastwards movement of the glacier blocked the gap and the Lugg took its present course between Mere Hill and Sned Wood to join the River Teme which was still flowing southwards at this time through Aymestrey. Mist drifts across the conifer plantations of Chaff Wood across the dale. Chiffchaffs call from the woods and Blackbirds mutter nearby. Huge Burdock leaves grow by the track, tall stems with relatively small flower heads. Every open space in the conifer plantation is filled with Foxgloves. Tangles of Honeysuckle rise up trees. A gentle dingle rises from the farm to meet the track. Rabbits feed on its edges. A footpath leaves the track and climbs the hillside. It soon becomes overgrown and I regret not donning my gaiters as my trouser legs are soon soaked. The path seems to end in a field by a deer stalker ladder seat. A Common Buzzard sails out of an Oak tree. Whichever way the path goes I am going to get even wetter, so back down the slope. On up through the edge of the wood, now Church Wood. The humidity leaves me saturated. Three to four inch long black slugs, Arion ater glide slowly across the track. The path climbs and curves around Mere Hill Wood, which is mainly Oak with a few Silver Birches. An Elder has gone over but as the flowers drop there are no berries on the stems. It is not surprising as few pollinating insects will have been abroad in the recent weather. Swifts pass over under a darkening sky. The wind is also rising.
Wednesday – Shobdon – Another day of rain. Beside the industrial estate, which is in a somewhat incongruous place by Shobdon Park, is a motte. These motte and bailey castles are common along the Marches and would have been a wooden construction to provide shelter from marauding Welsh. Two vast, ancient Oaks, with diameters of at least six feet making likely to be about 300 years old, stand on the slope of this motte. The stumps of more old Oaks stand around the perimeter along with younger trees. The foot path heads down to where an estate wall rises some ten feet. Opposite is a stile which leads straight into a bramble and nettle patch, but another gate gives access to the route. The path drops down and over a rushing stream. It rises again and has been washed by the recent rain to reveal old cobbles and more recent red brick repairs. The path leaves the wood and passes along the bottom of a field of currants on Chapel Field Plantation. The crop looks heavy but sun will be needed to ripen them. A cock Pheasant disappears into woodland and a Common Buzzard mews as it flies off. The rain comes down harder. Along the edge of a field of barley. The field edge contains vetches – Common Vetch and Hairy Tare, Knapweed and Ox-eye Daisies. Across what looks like a moto-cross track and through deep, rain soaked grass. I might as well be walking through water as my boots get wetter and wetter and a few minutes later so am I as the trail crosses a marsh. Into a paddock. A pair of partridge fly off too quickly to identify which species. The path passes around Downwood. This is not easy walking. The paths have not been maintained and the stiles barely adequate. After another couple of fields we enter another field of barley. I follow around the edge but the path is actually through the crop. A tractor wheel line gets me to a gate and then after another field the path emerges onto Belgate Lane. A massive bull watches over his herd of red cows. The lane goes towards Uphampton. A Yellowhammer sings from wires. Mist glides over Shobdon Hill Wood. The road passes a gentle slope called The Furnishers. Past a house that, strangely is missing from the OS map! The “mystery” is resolved by a plaque stating ‘1997’ – more recent than the survey. On past a coppice called Peggie Powell’s Gorse. Past a factory farming unit at Park Top, it smells fowl and foul. This is at the top of the currant field. Through Uphampton. Uphampton House is a fine Victorian gentleman’s country residence. Shortly a muddy path takes me to Shobdon Arches, then down the Oak avenue back to the car-park. Despite the weather a field of wheat to the south of the long drive has a golden tinge.
Thursday – Bodenham Lake – At last a blue sky and bright sunshine, although according to the weather forecast this is just a short interlude before the next front sweeps in. A new batch of summer flowers have blossomed. Tiny Scarlet Pimpernels peep out from the long grasses. Toadflax rises high. Dog Roses and Brambles are being visited by bees, albeit not many! Robins, a Song Thrush, Wren and Blackcap all are in song. Teasels are still green but rising to over three feet high. Hedge Woundwort also attracts bees. I think there are three different species of St John’s Wort in this area – Perforate, Hairy and Slender. A pair of Common Blue Damselflies are mating on a grass stem. The electric blue male is attached at the end to a pale greenish female. More fly past, weird looking with two sets of wings on a long needle. There are more Mallard and Tufted Duck on the lake than of recent times, the Mallard drakes already squabbling over females despite still being in eclipse. Only a couple of dozen Canada Geese are present. A Chiffchaff calls from the island. A couple of Cormorants stand in the trees. Goose and swan quills litter the scrape. Spiders repair webs across one of the hide windows. A Spiny Mason Wasp, Odynerus spinipes, flies into a web occupied by a Garden Spider. However, the spider does nothing whilst the wasp struggles to extricate itself which it eventually succeeds in doing. It still attempts to climb the glass by the web despite its close escape. A black and white spider, possibly a Zebra Spider, Salticus scenicus, hunts along the sill. A tall spike of yellow flowers, Agrimony, rises above the grasses. Poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631, friend of Shakespeare and wrote lines on the fineness of “Lemster Ore” or wool) regarded it as an “all-heal” and in folk lore, it is said that when placed under a person’s head, they will sleep soundly until it is removed. Back in the meadow, Self-heal is scattered across the grass along with Meadow Buttercups. A Raven cronks over the woods and a Common Buzzard mews in the distance.
Friday – Leominster – At least the Met Office were correct! Just after 3 a.m. a rolling crash of thunder awoke me and it started to rain. Throughout the pre-dawn the rain came in waves, heavy and torrential. Water was flowing down the street like a mountain stream. I slept for another hour and was up to take Maddy out just after 6 o’clock. The rain was steady and the stream in the street was reduced to a rill down the gutter. Over-trousers and coat were donned and off around a sodden Grange and Millennium Park. Maddy was, of course oblivious to rain and chased her ball and trotted along gaily, and soaked. The rain continued all day. Flood warning are being issued for many parts of the country. In the afternoon Maddy and I head back over to the Grange. There is laying water on the grass. The path around the Millennium Garden is more puddle than clinker. A freight train growls past, blasting his horn loudly. The River Kenwater is flowing high, fast and red. I am asked by two separate young persons for direction to the Priory; both are carrying instruments. I assume there is a concert and a Google search reveals the Academia Musica Orchestra is playing tonight – not the best advertised event! The passage between the Grange and Corn Square has a large flooded patch. I splash through accepting my feet are going to get soaked. A young person in flash trainers complains loudly as he wades the flood. The sun is shining at Wimbledon!
Sunday – Home – Despite the poor weather, the soft-fruit crop is doing well except the gooseberries have been stolen by birds yet again despite netting the bushes. Raspberries, black and white currants are all ripening. Birds are also attacking the Gladstone apple again. CDs have been hung in the branches in an attempt to scare them off. The broad bean plot has been cleared with a decent crop in the freezer and it is now ready for the next sowing, pak choi and lettuces. The potatoes are still looking small. Some will have to come out soon so the leeks can go in! Courgette and squash plants are also small but flowering. The first chillies have appeared on the plants in the bathroom. The cucumbers there are producing well. The peppers in the greenhouse are looking weedy and stunted though. Radishes and spring onions are starting to be ready for cropping. The red onion crop is looking excellent and will be ready for lifting in a few weeks. It is interesting to note that Nicholas Watts of the bird food supplier, Vine Farm, has recorded that the temperature on the day of the Diamond Jubilee was lower than last Christmas Day – what a strange year.
Tuesday – Croft – No surprise that it is raining. Reports state the normal monthly amount of rain has already fallen across the country. Areas such as the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire are flooded again. Many flood warnings remain in force, but all hosepipe restrictions have been lifted. In the spring, commentators were calling for continuous rain to replenish the water levels and ensure vegetables could grow. They have now had the rain and reservoirs are full but vegetables are rotting in the fields. As the old saying says, “Be careful what you wish for”! The track down to the Fish Pool Valley has been scoured again. The sound of a rushing stream can be heard all up the valley as water pours down from pool to pool. The pools remain that strange blue colour caused by rotting leaves. A Song Thrush seems to ignore the rain and keeps singing. The path up out of the valley at its northern end is flowing with water. So I go round to the forestry track. It stops raining but remains very humid. A Common Buzzard takes off through the trees. Down through the sodden fields. Two more buzzards are atop trees some way apart around the car park field. Both of them are driven off by harassing Magpies.
Thursday – Home – Bright sunshine greets the day. And for the first time in what seems like weeks, it stays sunny and dry. Much weeding is done in the vegetable beds – if only all our crops grew as well as the weeds do! Some lettuce is planted out and Chinese cabbage and Rainbow chard sown in the newly cleared bed where the broad bean crop stood. I weed around the golden beetroot and feel a stinging sensation on my arm. I am momentarily surprised as I did not see any Stinging Nettles but quickly realise I am getting covered in ants. They get brushed off and I am a bit ashamed to admit, some ant killer is put down. The first French beans are appearing, thin little things but hopefully they will soon bulk up. Which is more than can be said for the potatoes. Two rows of Red Duke of York produce a measly crop but it is no good leaving them any longer as the tops are succumbing rapidly to blight. By early afternoon the lawn is actually dry enough to be mown. Raspberries are producing now but the strawberries are finished. Gooseberries are also finished but I still have the scratches on my hands from gathering them. Sweetcorn is planted in two places and one pair of rows is doing much better then the other. Courgettes and pumpkins are flowering but the plants are still small, however, there is plenty of time yet assuming we see the sun again this summer.
Sunday – Leominster – The weather forecast is promising better weather, for today only! Yet the sky is still grey and heavy clouds loom. Fair numbers of Swifts are high above zipping this way and that as they fatten up for their migration which will start soon. A noisy flock of seagulls passes over heading north-west. A Chiffchaff sings in the trees by the River Kenwater, which is flowing fast. Maddy sniffs at something which turns out to be a rabbit sitting motionless on the Pinsley Meads where the old priory stood. It has fur missing from its back and must surely be a victim of myxomatosis, something I have not seen recently. After breakfast it is off to the market. A patch of waste ground by the railway station is covered in flowers – St John’s Wort, Hedge Bedstraw (or is it Northern Bedstraw? I cannot tell from the bridge above this corner of flowers), Rosebay Willowherb, Teasel, and Hedge Woundwort. Like the Kenwater, the River Lugg is high and flowing fast, the water a dirty brown. The market is busy. Someone is selling part of his collection of late Victorian and early 20th century ceramics – nothing rare or unusual – but a few pots take my fancy and they are very cheap! Back home, leeks are finally planted out in the bed from which the potatoes were dug. There is a brief spell of drizzle, but the weather does start to improve despite a gusting wind. A bee cleans itself whilst standing on a deep purple Buddleia. A tiny spider with a white egg sac, almost larger than itself, attached to its abdomen is in a delphinium flower. Almost hidden underneath it is what is probably a hover-fly, although it has a strange tube-shaped abdomen with neat black and yellow stripes. Foxgloves are nearly finished now and a white-tailed bee is checking every last remaining flower but finding them all “used”.
Tuesday – Mortimer Forest – Every day now seems dominated by the weather. Is it going to rain today or often, when is it going to rain today? The sky is grey but luminous. The track from the Black Pool car park looks scoured with ridges of debris in places. A warbler wheees in the woods. The trees whisper in the gusty wind. Ringlet butterflies flit over the nettles and grasses, pausing briefly. Occasionally two meet and there is a flurry of wings before they go their separate ways. A Willowherb, possibly Broad-leaved Willowherb, has a single almost white flower with just a blush of pink. High frequency squeaks herald a small flock of tiny Goldcrests. Along the long track from the Deer Park to Sunnydingle, there are reasonable numbers of Ringlets and 6-spot Burnet moths on the thistles but nothing else. The Blues and Fritillaries of past years are absent. It has been a very bad year for many species. Insects have fared badly; sea birds have had a poor breeding season, terns on Strangford Lough in the north of Ireland may fledge no chicks at all, the majority of Puffins on the Farne Islands have been flooded out; garden birds and other insect feeders are having difficulties finding sufficient food; many of the more delicate summer flowers have been battered down by the rain with only the stronger plants such as nettles, bracken and brambles doing well; even amphibians are having a bad time! A Jay squeaks. Clouds sit on top of Titterstone Clee. The Oak woods leading down to Overton are silent apart from the wind rustled leaves.
Wednesday – Leominster – After a grey morning there is a blink of sunshine, but it is raining heavily before Maddy and I get across the road. The showers continue as we head across the Grange. It is utterly sodden underfoot. Down to the Millennium Garden. The cider apple crop is looking poor, indeed there appears to be only one tree with anything like a decent number of fruit on but I have not examined the others closely to see if their fruits are just a bit late. The song of a Garden Warbler explodes out of a thicket of Buddleia, Hawthorn, Elder and Rose. The churchyard is lush, which is hardly surprising. Winged fruiting bodies hang thickly from a Sycamore. Up the playing field in bright sunshine which is quickly extinguished by another towering bank of grey cloud and the rain rapidly follows.
Home – In mid-evening the heavens open. Just when one thinks the downpour is at its most forceful, the rain sweeps down in even greater volumes. The gutters and drains are soon overwhelmed. Pools appear in the road outside our house almost joining across the carriageway. There is a “weir” below with standing waves radiating down the road. The rain eventually stops but returns with thunder and lightning an hour later. Although much of the water has drained away by the time Maddy goes for her late evening walk, the Grange is still saturated with water laying on the grass.
Monday – Hereford to Birmingham – Off to Birmingham for a minor heart operation. Minor does not mean without stress, so the first train running late giving only a couple of minutes to get the connection does not help. The line runs out of Hereford towards Ledbury. Past fields mown for hay sometimes dotted with Lesser Black-backed Gulls, fallow fields being nibbled by rabbits, hop fields where the vines have just reached the top of the poles, apple orchards for cider being grazed by sheep and horses and small woodlands. Swallows are already gathering on wires. Common Buzzards glide out of hedgerows and sail across the fields. Small villages and their churches, large country homes and the smaller dwellings for farm workers dot the landscape. Past Ledbury, British Camp stands high into an azure sky. By Colwall the ridge of the Malverns dominates the skyline. Beyond the station, on waste ground once railway sidings there are numerous Buddleia bushes in flower but not a single butterfly can be espied. Through the Malverns so they are now on the other side and into Great Malvern’s picturesque station. Past Worcester Beacon and these ancient hills are left behind.
Out across the Severn plain to Worcester. Past style-free new builds and industrial estates but then the cathedral and river appear. Someone thought it was a good idea to cover the library in gold panels, not so sure! A Lesser Black-backed Gull stands next to a plastic Eagle Owl on the rooftops. It will take more than a model to intimidate one of those aerial pirates. At Worcester Tunnel junction, the line from Oxford joins this line. Out through more industrial estates and suddenly into the countryside. One gets the sense this is now the great West Midlands conurbation as the countryside soon disappears again as Droitwich approaches. Over the canal and past allotments with blocks of colourful dahlias. However there is a larger expanse of rural land before Bromsgrove. A small pond has a mass of white water-lilies. Track-side flowers appear in blocks, Great Mullein, St John’s Wort, Weld or Dyer’s Rocket, Ragwort and Rosebay Willowherb. At Barnt Green overhead lines appear at the junction of the cross-city and cross-country routes out of Birmingham. Past Longbridge once one of the great centres of the motor industry. More extensive, neatly kept allotments. The Worcester and Birmingham canal appears at Bourneville where George Cadbury built a chocolate empire and a model village for the workers. Those were the days when there were some large companies which thought that workers are more than disposable cash donkeys. Inevitably, there is a flock of Canada Geese on the canal. The train pulls into my destination, University. Past the art-deco medical school and then the huge, modern edifice of Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
My hotel is a short way to the west in Harborne. The area is recorded in Domesday. The Hall was built at the end of the 18th century by Thomas Green, known as Squire Green, for his daughter Elizabeth. It passed into the family of Elizabeth’s husband George Simcox in 1795. It was a hospital during the First World War then became a private school. Harborne Hall became a convent in 1925 by the Sisters of La Retraite; a movement founded in France and Bruges. They still own the Hall but it is now a multi-faith conference centre and hotel administered by the Voluntary Overseas Service. Nearby is St Peter’s Church, where St Chad is said to have preached in Saxon times. It is bell practice night.
Friday – Leominster – Early morning in the Millennium Park. The songsters have fallen silent. The main call is cooing Wood Pigeons. Greenfinches’ nasal wheezes and Blue Tits’ chatter comes from the churchyard. Swifts scream somewhere. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. It is vaguely misty. Rabbits bounce back to their warrens by the railway. Honeysuckle grows through a Guelder Rose which has translucent red berries. Creamy Meadowsweet, pink Spear Thistles and china blue Meadow Cranesbills stand high and Teasels even higher in the overgrown pond. Small green fruits hang on the Walnut tree. The Minster bell tolls six. The stolen slabs from the church wall have finally been replaced. A scattering of corvids flies over, high, heading west. Swifts soar, also high in the sky. Rowan berries are glowing red.
Home – By 8 o’clock the sun is high and the early morning clouds have been swept away. Three airliners pass southwards high overhead. Unfortunately, the digger has started up on the building site over the garden wall which rather spoils the tranquillity of the moment. The area near the pond will need some fairly robust clearance soon. A grape vine has sent out runners across the path, grasses have grown over four feet tall and lean over the water which is green with duckweed. Courgettes and pumpkins are developing well with many nascent fruits. Runner and French beans are coming fast now. One of the sweetcorn seems to have bolted and has a large flower head and a tiny cob with bright brown tassels. The tomatoes in the greenhouse have gone mad and take some sorting out. The peppers are still looking rather sad. Most of the radishes have bolted without forming a bulbous root. Some are pulled for the chickens. The other salad bed is very disappointing. Lettuce seedlings have disappeared and Chinese salads have not germinated. Another sowing is required and fortunately, there are some more lettuce plants in the greenhouse that can be planted out. In the early afternoon we dig the red onions. It is a fairly good crop, several quite large specimens and a lot of smaller ones. The small ones go straight to the kitchen whilst the better sized onions are strung up in the shed.
Tuesday – Bodenham – After a week of medically enforced absence from the countryside, the warm, sunny weather has, of course gone. Rain fell all night and the morning is sodden. Dinmore and surrounding hills have clouds drifting across the woods. Rosebay and Great Willowherbs, Himalayan Balsam, Dark Mullein, Teasel, Toadflax, Ragwort, Common Centaury and Mallow are in flower. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips. There has been a hatching of Gatekeepers, not a great number but this year any butterflies are a welcome sight. Purple Loosestrife rises from the water by the edge of the lake. Nearby, Traveller’s Joy, also known as Old Man’s Beard, a clematis, clambers and flowers. Beside the meadow, Tufted Vetch climbs the Brambles. Yellow spikes of Agrimony rise from the grasses under Alders in the plantation. The water level in the lake is still high with all of the scrape submerged. A flock of Canada Geese is uncharacteristically quiet. Over 80 Mallard, all dull brown as the drakes are still in eclipse, are scattered over the lake. Six Mute Swans glide serenely. Nine Coot and a single Cormorant occupy one of the pontoons. Suddenly the volume from the Canada Geese rises and a majority take off and head south. A Great Crested Grebe is at the far southern end of the lake. A couple of Moorhen and a Tufted Duck wander through the drifting Mallard. Four more Tufted Duck wing in at high speed, one lands and the other three do a circuit before alighting on the water. Outside the hide, Red Bartsia flowers in the grass outside the hide. Flies and gnats like the muggy weather and cloud the path. A few Ringlets flutter by. Last year there were a few apples ready for eating but not this season. Many trees are barren and others have small fruits. A Green Woodpecker calls.