Monday – Saltdean – At seven in the morning the sun is already warm. Skylarks can be heard right across from The Tye, a long ridge of grassland being grazed by sheep. Down to the cliff tops. Here again Skylark’s song comes from above. The dewy grass path is jewelled in purple-pink Thyme. Mignonette flowers in the longer grass and Bird's Foot Trefoil in the shorter. Up to the War Memorial. The view out at sea is clear except in the west which is hidden in mist. Starlings and Linnets fly out of the long grass and alight on the fence that keeps people away from the cliff edge. There are a number of ships in the horizon along with smaller craft heading off shore. A Meadow Pipit stalks the short grass looking for insects. A scream alerts to a passing Peregrine Falcon. A Fulmar Petrel passes over, gliding effortlessly. Container ships on the horizon resemble islands with a lighthouse. Meadow Brown butterflies visit the clifftop flowers. A Marbled White flits across the grasses without stopping.
Westwards where the seaweed covered rocks can be seen below. They are deeply gryked chalk, black and green with weed. There is a profusion of flowers on the clifftop side of the fence – Tree Mallow, Sea Beet, Thrift, Wild Mignonette, Greater and Black Knapweeds, Sow Thistles, Lesser Bindweed and others I am unable to identify! On the other side of the busy coast road is Saltdean Lido, one of the best Art Deco lidos in the country but which has been allowed to fall into decay. However, it is now being restored but seems to be beset with problems such as the removal of electrical equipment that later turns out to be essential. However, hopefully restoration will happen and the lido will return to its further former glory.
Friday – Kidderminster – Finally it seems my ankles are strong enough for a walk but it seems prudent to keep to an urban route so I return to Kidderminster. Last time was a visit to the carpet industrial area, now I am in the north of the town. Broomfield Road is mainly 20th century houses and emerges onto Franche Road, the A422 road to Bridgnorth, which has some large Victorian houses, homes of the carpet industrialists and town merchants. Now they are care homes and offices. Into Marlpool Lane. Townsend Place is a terrace of 19th century houses. An old water hydrant sign is on the wall indicating the water source is 14 feet away, which indeed it is. The terrace ends with a pair of higher status villas, and another hydrant sign. Modern housing takes over. Off into streets of 20th century housing. Sweet scented honeysuckle hangs over a fence. Footpaths work their way through woodland. Warblers call their autumn wheep before a Chiffchaff bursts into song followed by a Robin. The path weaves its way, sometimes with tiles and bricks underfoot indicating a former more important user, down the floodplain of the River Stour. A tarmaced path heads towards the town, I head the other direction. Scrub is mainly nettles entwined with Bindweed and the occasional clump of Common Hemp Nettle and Hogweed towering above. Sycamore branches have numerous bunches of pale green keys hanging. A large bramble thicket is covered in pink blackberry flowers. It is sultry and gets even warmer as the sun emerges from behind dark, threatening clouds.
There are now the extensive reed beds of Puxton Marsh across the floodplain. Chocolate Bulrush heads rise above the green spears. Meadowsweet is in flower. A notice board tells that a lot of trees have been removed both to open the marsh and to prevent them drying it out. A footpath runs down to the River and asking is bank back towards the town centre. Wood Pigeons explode into the air. A Sedge Warbler sings. Sadly, Himalayan Balsam is widespread. Hedge Woundwort and Great Willowherb flower beside the path. A cock Pheasant slips off into the leaves of Balsam. A Red Admiral rests on the path. A small herd of cattle (rare-breed according to the notice board, but they look like brown and white cows to me!) lay in the lush meadow over the river. The flora is varied, Red Poppies, Bistort, Sow Thistles, White Dead-nettles, Spear Thistles umbellifers, white and purple Comfrey, Ox-eye Daisies. The path rejoins the main path as it crosses the river via a culvert. It swings around to run alongside the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Purple Loosestrife grows out of the edge of the water. Evening Primrose flowers on the other side of the track.
I leave the canal at Limekiln Bridge. Clensmore Street rises past industrial premises to the back of St Mary’s and All Saints church. Weathered gravestones line the wall dating from the mid-18th century into the 19th. The older are illegible. A tall pillar was erected to Thomas Thursfield who died in 1856 and had been the town surgeon. An interesting letter is held by the National Archives from Thomas Thursfield:
Unfortunately, no record of any reply seems to have survived.
Another pillar commemorates the Grosvenor family whose five children were buried nearby, the oldest being four years old, none of the others making a year. The church is supposed to open at 11 ’o clock so I have a short wait. In front of the church is a large plaza containing two War Memorials. I decide to visit the town centre briefly before the church opens. Church Street would have led to the church before the large dual carriageway severed the link. An old timber -framed house built around 1600 stands between Georgian houses, all now offices. One is a solicitors, Thursfield, but I cannot find any connection with the above mentioned surgeon. The New Meeting House dates from 1782, rebuilt by Payne and Talbot in 1882.
Into The Bullring which is mainly concrete brutalism relieved only by the Lloyds Bank built in the Italianate style in 1857. Through the shopping centre, the cheap end, and out to the Birmingham road. St George’s church is closed until August for building works. It was built between 1821-4 by Francis Goodwin in Perpendicular Gothic style using Bath stone. It has an unusual tower with cast iron tracery to the bell openings. The interior was destroyed by fire in 1924 and restored by Sir Giles G Scott.
A row of cottages on the far side of Coventry Street, Avenue Cottages, are dated 1880. Large houses dominate the northern side of what is now Birmingham Road. Smaller dwellings although one has an archway for a carriage are on the southern side. St Ambrose Catholic church was built in 1858. It is fairly plain inside (Pevsner is very dismissive) with coloured plaques marking the Stations of the Cross and an interesting wooden roof.
Back down through the concrete again. The Baxter United Reform Church, just off The Bullring, stands above the River Stour which is deep in a channel now as it flies through the centre of the town. The church is built in red sandstone. It was built in 1884-85 in the Early decorated Gothic style, of concrete faced with red stone and Box Hill stone dressing, with a spire 140 feet tall.
Back to the Church of St Mary and All Saints. The origin of the name Kidderminster is obscure. It is recorded as Chideminstre in Domesday. Clearly minstre refers to a church or monastery, but the prefix is less clear. The “r” in the middle does not appear until 1270, so suggestions that the name comes from old British kid and dwr meaning “a hill” and “water” seems unlikely. Similarly, the suggestion that it refers to King Keder also falls to the missing “r”. Probably, the first part is a personal name, maybe Cydda who perhaps founded the minster. Land was provided in 762 by King Ethelbald to Earl Cyniberht to build a monastery. As in many places, there is a legend that the church was supposed to be built on the other side of the River Stour but the stones laid were mysteriously moved by angels to the present site each night. The present church is mainly 15th and 16th century with a number of refurbishments and additions over the centuries. The chancel is the oldest part dated to 1315. There is extensive coloured glass and several monuments. On the north side of the chancel is a large monument to Sir Hugh Cooksey, lord of Caldwall Manor, and his wife, dated 1445; a tomb with the effigies of Thomas Blount and his wife Margery (died 1500) with their five children; marble effigies of Sir Edward Blount and his two wives (1630) and remains of a 15th century recessed tomb having four panels divided by groups of shafts, the lower panels with as many angels holding shields. Above these the panels are pierced and open on a recess with an effigy of Lady Joyce Beauchamp, who founded the chantry of St Catherine. There is a fine brass in the nave of John Phelip and his wife Matilda, formerly wife of Walter Cooksey. John Phelip died in 1415. Unfortunately, the brass is hidden behind wrappings which are protecting it from building work. The reredos is an alabaster representation of the Last Supper. Off the chancel is the Lady Chapel with a reredos by Scott. The organ was originally installed in 1848 and has been rebuilt several times. The casing was added in 1927 by Giles Gilbert Scott. A chair in the chancel is believed to have belonged to Richard Baxter. Baxter was preacher at St Mary’s church during the Commonwealth. After the restoration of Charles II, Baxter was forced out of Kidderminster and reluctantly pushed into the position of a nonconformist. He was a prolific writer and controversialist.
Off down towards the river past a statue of Richard Baxter. The statue was erected in The Bullring in 1875. The canal passes over the river. Beyond there is an extensive retail estate. Into Mill Street. Ideal Buildings is an Art-Deco block of flats built by the Ideal Benefit Society in 1935. Opposite is Margaret Thatcher House, the Conservative Party headquarters. The West Mercia Probation Service occupies a new building of some architectural merit. Further up the street is the massive old General Hospital built in the High Victorian Gothic style in 1870-1, by J G Bland and extended in 1886, 1888, 1902 and 1926. A weather-worn arch has “Dispensary” over it. The buildings is now flats. At the far end is a little chapel with “The Godson Memorial” carved in the door lintel. It is now a laundry room. I return to Broomfield Road. Route
Monday – Croft – Another dull and overcast day with a strong wind keeping it cool. Off down the Fish Pool Valley. Birds sing is reduced to a few squeaks. Everywhere is green and overblown. Foxgloves tower over sprawling brambles which are overwhelming the buckler ferns. A Chiffchaff sings intermittently. A group of young Bullfinches, all dressed in muted browns and greys, chase through the trees flashing their white rumps. The pools are scummy with algae. A Coal Tit searches a Wellingtonia branch. Up into the Beech wood. A sign has been erected identifying a round, flat piece of ground as a charcoal pit. I have passed it many times without knowing it was here. A rustling sound had me fooled for some minutes until I see a cock Blackbird digging through the dead leaves on the ground. The great old Oak on the slope has a decent canopy of leaves despite the cavernous hole at the base of its trunk. Along the drive. Another sign has been erected by a short ledge which is apparently a Victorian viewing platform overlooking one of the ponds.
Past Highwood Bank quarry. It is interesting that trees in the quarry are the same size and thus the same age as most of the largest trees on this hillside. Given the quarry was used in the 18th and probably early 19th centuries, it shows when the landscape was laid out. Before this, the land would have been very open woodland with a few Oaks, the rest
To mark the Swift in rapid giddy ring
Rush round the steeple, unsubdued of wing:
Amusive birds ! say where your hid retreat
When the frost rages and the tempests beat;
Whence your return, by such nice instinct led,
When Spring, soft season, lifts her bloomy head?
Gilbert White – Summers Evening Walk.
being kept down by grazing. Off onto the path between Lyngham Vallet and Bircher Common. Fine rain falls. A Wren sings loudly. Ringlet butterflies feed on bramble flowers. A Nuthatch calls. The path edge is home to many flowers – Wood Spurge, Hedge Woundwort, Selfheal, Birdsfoot Trefoil, St John’s Wort, Herb Robert, Yellow Pimpernel, Hedge Bedstraw, Spear Thistle and many others. Here in the woods, out of the wind, it is humid. I attract flies as soon as I stop. The path enters Bircher Common at Whiteways Head. Numerous Swifts twist and turn above the common, feeding up for the journey back to Africa which they will undertake very shortly. We think of Swifts as a quintessential English summer bird but really they are an African species that spends barely three months of the year here. Along the top of Lienthall Common. Delicate china-blue Harebells peek out of the grass. The path is its usual poor state, badly rutted, muddy and overgrown with brambles and bracken – this is supposed to be a National Path, the Mortimer Trail! A boletus fungus grows near the path but the slugs have left little of it standing. A Blackcap sings nearby. Up onto Croft Ambry. It looks like rain to the south-east where Ridge Hill on radio mast stands in the gloom. The also appears to be rain over the Wigmore Moor. A croaking Raven flies over. The Radnorshire hills are topped with cloud. Yellow Lady’s Bedstraw flowers in the grass beside the path. On the western side of the hill-fort, a limb has been torn off a large ash tree by the wind, probably quite recently as the wound is pale and fresh looking. Down from the hill-fort. One of the recently cleared areas is a pink sea of Foxgloves where dormant seed had spring into life now the suffocating darkness of the conifers has gone. Spanish Chestnut saplings which have been growing in wooden enclosures near the old, dying ones have risen up above the protection and now look like trees. Scarlet Pimpernels peep out of the wheel ruts in the field by Croft Castle.
Friday – Hereford – Yesterday’s sunshine was a brief interlude between the days of grey. The sky is leaden, a slight breeze rustles the leaves. Off to a Hereford by train, which according to the notice board is running on time for a change. Then a disembodied voice from the air informs that the train is running late, albeit only by a minute. Fine rain starts to fall. Harvesting of a ground crop is taking place across the fields south of the industrial estate. Workers, almost certainly eastern European walk the field. Calves and mothers laying in the green sward.
From Hereford station I head through to the Blackfriars garden. Cutbacks in ground maintenance are evident. The borders contain not only large brambles but Ash, Horse Chestnut and Elder saplings. At least the roses are still a fine sight. Past the Coningsby Hospital and on up Widemarsh Street. Widemarsh hoardings are wooden panels decorated by young people from the College of Arts. I presume this is the site through which the new link road will be constructed and a few yards further on there indeed is the path is the road pretty much cleared from the station. Across a vast car park beside the football ground. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are on the ground and circling noisily. They are all the graellsii sub-species of Western Europe. Along Prior Street. Moor Walk passes between football pitches and out onto the recreation ground of Widemarsh Common by the Holmer War Memorial. A Magpie squawks from a Horse Chestnut and the wailing of distance gulls accompanies the noise of traffic. Past St Mary’s Church and along the road past the race course. It starts to rain again.
A V22 Osprey “heli-plane” flies past. They have two engines at the end of their short wings that can be swivelled, so they can vertically take off like a helicopter then move the engines and propellers into an aircraft configuration. Apparently, they are assigned to move the SAS rapidly from Credenhill to where they may be needed. The road enters Bobblestock. Grandstand Road comes to Three Elms Road and a short distance down this road is Huntington Lane. Swifts scream overhead. The hedgerows of the lane are full of pink and white bramble blossom and orange-yellow Honeysuckle. A woman, Jan Smith, waxes lyrical about the area, particularly the threat of 1200 houses planned for the hamlet of Huntington. At Domesday, there were thirteen households in Huntenetune and the land was in the ownership of the canons of St Peter’s Church, Hereford. The name comes from the farm of the hunters, probably that of the Bishop of Hereford. Ms Smith tells me that the area was then owned by the Guy family, of whom Thomas Guy founded Guy’s hospital in London. It is hard to find the connection of the Guys with the area but references are made to the Guy’s Hospital Charity owning estates here. They sold them to the Church Commissioners who still own the land. A field by Newcourt Farm was the site of the first Three Counties Show. There are several important sites of interest from a nature point of view, newts, badgers, otters, owls etc. and much of the area is designated a conservation area.
Church of St Mary Magdalene, formerly known as Church of St Bartholomew was rebuilt around 1850, by B Cranstoun. Nearly all the monuments are of the Tully family, who lived at Haywood before moving to Huntington Court. In the early 18th century, the Tullys developed a herd of Hereford cattle of immense size and also carried a greater proportion of white colouring than other herds. One red-and-white-faced bull that the Tullys bred from produced grey- or roan-faced calves but they were persuaded to keep them and these were the foundation of the famous “Tully Greys”, the line by which the Huntington herd is best remembered. Of the Tully family T.C. Yeld wrote “Old Mr Tully left three sons in business at Huntington, Clyro and Grafton and these possessed by far the best of what could be called the white-faced Herefords ... there is not a Hereford alive in the 20th century which cannot be proved to be a direct descendant of some of Mr Tully’s cattle”. Several of the family are entombed under the main aisle, now covered in carpet. The Gentleman’s Magazine of 1820 records how wassailling took place on the Epiphany and concluded with all going to the barn where the cattle were kept and addressing each of 24 “oxen” with:
Benbaw was a common name for a bull. It also records how Samuel Tully was killed by one of his bulls!
Beside the church is Huntington Court, an 18th century house with a delightful lake surrounded by specimen trees. Lived at Haywood before moving to Huntington Court. Huntington House is an 18th century conversion of a 17th century house and barn, although parts are probably older. Here the road bends to cross Yazor Brook. Mallard swim around, the drakes in eclipse. The lane turns south past Huntington Court Farm. A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips, a Greenfinch wheezes. A bridge crosses the old railway line of the Hereford, Hay-on-Wye and Brecon Railway. The lane enters a green tunnel of trees. A Green Woodpecker calls overhead but remains hidden in the canopy. The lanes joins the busy Kings Acre Road. Approaching Whitecross, there is a large boletus and still green Wild Arum berries on the verge.
Along the main road, Whitecross Road then off into Guildford Street. Providence Terrace is dated 1855, Lisbourne Terrace 1866, Westbourne Terrace, Hay Road, 1834. Into Bedford Street. Blenheim House is undated but looks mid-19th century. Into Oxford Street which leads back to the main road. St John’s Villa is undated, Coila Cottage is 1855. Into the city centre and on to The Barrels for a liquid lunch. Back at the station where a long goods wagon takes up the middle track. The wagons are French. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Off down Etnam Street. I had registered a row of houses towards the bottom of the street as a House Martin site in a BTO survey. There are five nest under the eaves but since registering them not a single Martin has been seen. I have no idea why this site has been abandoned. Swifts still feed overhead, yet to depart for Africa.
Over the railway and round to Butts Bridge. A large branch has broken off a Hybrid Black Poplar and partially blocks the bridge. Below the River Lugg flows quite swiftly but is shallow and clear. The market is busy but nothing catches my fancy. Back around Paradise Walk. The edges of the path have been strimmed but the small sitting area is getting completely overgrown. For the first time in quite a while, the High Street is clear of scaffolding.
Tuesday – Home – The sky is cloudless and it is hot. The sun radiates down mercilessly. By the time I have mown the grass and strimmed the nettles sweat is pouring off me. After lunch I try to prune the Cambridge Gage. This tree has failed to give a crop since it was planted and has only put out longer and longer branches. I thin them out but do not do too much. Some branches are as also removed from the Hazel where it is covering the plum. There are plenty of pale green hazelnuts which hopefully will ripen in the autumn. Swifts are still present flying high. There are several young Blackbirds in the garden, daft things that stand and stare at one in the hope they have suddenly become invisible. Apples on the Gladstone tree are falling. They are slightly sharp but already softish. Raspberries and Black Currants keep coming, bags are frozen for the winter. The Swifts have suddenly come much lower and scream across the rooftops. It has been a bad year for butterflies and just a few Small Whites flit through.
The town is understandably quiet but on the way back from the shops four young men are chasing up the street holding their phones and one calls to the others, “The Co-op!” It is the new phenomenon of “Pokemon Go”, hunting monsters on the street. I suppose it is a logical extension from board games, through computer games to the “real” world.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The mini heatwave continues although the forecasters predict it will end by the weekend and before then dire warnings of thunderstorms and torrential downpours. However this morning, whilst it remains warm at around 27ºC, a gentle breeze cools me slightly and there enough clouds to filter the sun somewhat. The hedges are full of bramble flowers. Old Man’s Beard, our only wild clematis, is still in bud. Below on side of the track are Ragwort, St John’s Wort, Selfheal, Century, Evening Primrose, Dark Mullein and Great Willowherb in flower. Small, soft, spiky heads of Teasels have appeared but yet to flower. A Meadow Brown butterfly flies past; a pair of Small Whites dance on the air. The sailing club have been evicted after an argument about rent and the compound is empty. A Rabbit slips off into the undergrowth.
The meadow is full of flowers – one of the dandelion family in large numbers (Mouse-ear Hawkweed or maybe Rough Hawkbit), Self-heal, Lesser Bindweed, Centaury, Red Clover, Agrimony and Meadow Vetchling. Electric blue Common Blue Damselflies hover around the grasses in good numbers. A Small Skipper, a copper jewel, flits past rapidly. Common Buzzards call from Westfield Wood. A Green Woodpecker squawks occasionally. Spotted Flycatcher sits on wires, its head turning this way and that, seeking insects, and then launches into the air to grab one before settling again on the wire. Into the copse where Bugle flowers. Much more scrape exposed now. The scrape is crowed – a Grey Heron, a pair of Greylags, Canada Geese, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Moorhens. Two Great Crested Grebe are far out on the water. The bank is a riot of colour; yellows made up of St John’s Wort, Meadow Vetchling and Agrimony; purple Knapweed, creamy white Meadowsweet and pink Centaury. Out on the water are several small flotillas of Coot and a line of ten Mallard, probably all this year’s brood. Four Cormorants sit in the trees. Sheep shelter in the shade of lakeside trees on the far side. Mute Swans are at the western end. Like some prehistoric flying lizard, a Grey Heron flies down and lands by the scrape. The original occupant, which is hunched down between two large bunches of Purple Loosestrife, is instantly alert and stalks around the edge of the scrape to confront the incomer who decides to move on.
Outside the hide is a teasel some seven feet high. Gatekeeper butterflies patrol the brambles. The apple orchards, both cider and dessert are decided patchy in their crops. The dessert apples are late, the Irish Peach which I sometimes pluck at this time of the year are nowhere near ready.
Friday – Stoke St Milborough - Clee St Margaret – Whilst the threatened storms hit the north, here there was so little rain the ground was barely wet. Today the sun is shining again in a sky of wispy cloud and it is getting hot. Stoke St Milborough is a small village near the Clee Hills. The main street winds past red sandstone houses and the old National School of 1856. The buildings are spaced well apart with much greenery between. A short lane leads to St Milburgas church which is locked but a woman arrives to decorate with flowers and gets the key.
The village was known before the Conquest as Godestoche or Godstoke and was part of the Liberty of Wenlock. St Milburga, daughter of Merewald of Mercia (who is credited with founding Leominster Priory) was abbess of Wenlock abbey. An 8th century charter records endowments made to Wenlock around the Clee Hills. It is likely that there was a church on this site at that time but no traces remain on the ground. No church is mentioned in Domesday when Godstoke was assigned to the chaplains of Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Shrewsbury. It reverted to Wenlock after a few years. The name Stoke St Milbrough was in use by 1270 and it is very likely the church was present then. After Dissolution the manor was given to Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury. It passed to John Smyth, a Baron of the Exchequer in 1575. From 1583 to 1767 it was in the hands of the Briggs family and then passed to Lord Boyne.
The church dates from the early 13th century and has little altered since. There was a major reconstruction in 1424 and another around 1700. It is constructed mainly from local red and grey sandstones although a fair amount of dhustone from Cleehill is present in the chancel. The first two levels of the tower date from the mid-13th century, with a third stage, the belfry added in the 15th century. The upper part was rebuilt presumably in 1711 as this is engraved on its eastern face. On the south is “TH”, presumably the builder. There are eight bells, a treble cast by William Clibury in 1622 and three of 1637 by Thomas Clibury. By the Millennium they were in unusable condition, but the parish raised £50,000 and restored them and added another four! The nave has an oak roof. The chancel shows signs of the various rebuildings as all the walls are clearly of different dates of construction. There are a number of monuments in the chancel dating from the 17th and 18th centuries and dedicated to local families. A gravestone of Richard Wier who died of “THE 14 DAY OF IVLY : 1676” lies against a wall. The font is 12th century. The porch is cruck-framed and in 1911 the plaster was removed to reveal the timbers. The Hanoverian royal coat of arms hangs over the south door. A bier is in the corner next to the Norman font. The organ is by the Positive Organ Co. of London and dedicated in 1914. Opposite the south door is the large early 19th century vicarage which has a large lake in the garden. As I have commented before, the old time clergy knew how to live!
From the church lychgate, a path runs up the hill to the road. Nearby is a small of steps down to St Milburgas Well. It is related that St Milburga was fleeing her enemies when she fell from her horse here and struck her had. Men who were sowing barley nearby ran to help, but there was no water at hand. St Miburga commanded her horse to strike a rock with his hoof and water flowed and she declared that it was holy and would flow forever. She stretched forth her hands over the field where the men were sowing and green shoots appeared. She told the men that when her pursuers arrived tell them she had passed this way when they were sowing the barley. She then left and by the evening when her pursuers arrived the barley was ripened and the men were harvesting it. On telling them that St Milburga had passed when they were sowing this barley the pursuers were confused and gave up the chase.
The spring was reputed to be good for sore eyes (I tend to think that is the case for every holy well around here!) It was certainly used for clothes washing until it was largely covered over in the 19th century and much water is now pumped up to the local reservoir.
The road climbs Stoke Bank. The Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1842 is now a holiday let. There are fine views behind across the valley to Titterstone Clee. Great Willowherb and pink shrub like a bottle-brush flower on the verge. Another chapel, this time Wesleyan, also dated 1842 is now a private residence. Bullfinches appear and disappear in a flash. The road crests the hill. To the east lies Brown Clee. A timber framed thatched cottage lies beyond a meadow. The road passes Yeld Gate, the entrance to Clee Liberty Common. A Raven cronks from across the bracken filled common. The road drops steeply. The view to the west now stretches across miles of field of green grass and golden corn. The road seems to descend forever. A lane turns off into Clee St Margaret.
The church is again probably of Saxon origin as this is also part of the Wenlock estates, so it is likely to date from the 1050s when Earl Leofric gave money which the Clyniac Order from Normandy used to rebuild many Saxon churches in the area. There is a reference to Robert de la Marc being Lord of the Manor in 1189. Later the manor was in the hands of the Thursby-Pelham family. The church has much herring-bone masonry which is either early Norman or possibly Saxon. A pair of lovely Jacobean wooden gates separates the nave and chancel. The roof has been dated to the 14th or 15th century. The south door is certainly Norman, a fine relic! The east window dates from 1871 and the church was restored in 1872. The belfry was built in 1897 for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The place is simple but very peaceful. A timber-framed Church House, a 17th century farmhouse, stands beside the graveyard, but the vicarage is some way up the Clee Marsh road.
The village hall, school and post office are all residences. Clee Brook runs across a side road forming a ford. Up the road towards Clee Marsh and then into an old lane called Marsh Gate. Past a short row of what look like council built semis and on along a rough lane. Past a much modified timber framed house and the track becomes grassy and overgrown. It then becomes much rougher and muddier. A brook crosses it at Brookbank and another flows down the track itself. There are several small stone barns beside the track. Towards the end of Marsh Gate are several large stands of Gunnera. The track joins the road at Burnt House. Back up the hill to Yeld Gate and Clee Liberty Common then down Stoke Bank into Stoke St Milborough.
Saturday – Home – Swifts are still here, screaming as they feed. I harvest the potatoes. I had already dug a row and a half and have another three rows to dig. It is not a huge crop but they fill the trug. Many of the lettuces have bolted, but that does not put off the chickens who come running when I approach the run with the greenery. Quite a number of recent sowings have failed in the dry and heat and I really need to try again as there are now quite sizeable empty patches in the vegetable beds.
Malvern Hills – In the afternoon we have a Civic Society trip to Perrycroft, an Arts and Crafts house designed by C F A Voysey and built in 1895. It was commissioned by Midlands industrialist and Liberal MP John William Wilson. Charles Francis Annesley Voysey was descended from John Wesley’s sister. His father was a well-known dissenter who was expelled from the Church of England. He was put on trial in the House of Lords and defended by people such as Darwin, Ruskin and Huxley.
The house is notable for its clean lines both outside and inside. Voysey hated Victorian fussiness with its nooks and crannies, numerous ornaments and anything that would gather dust. Furniture was simple with lovely hinges with bird motives. Fittings are simple and everywhere there is light – rooms designed to maximise the available light. The views are magnificent, especially to the south where British Camp rises on the top of the hills. The house was designed with a hilltop castle theme, windows high along the top of the walls, an inner courtyard, although this is now opened out. The servants’ quarters had an entrance close to the main entrance, almost unheard of in that period. For many years the building was a base for the Birmingham Boys Brigade who had changed the internal layout and painted the outside features black. Mark and Gillian Archer purchased the property in 1999 and have spent years restoring it to its original vision. The extensive gardens had disappeared when they moved here but they have developed 10 acres of garden, some formal and some natural, on the steep hillside.
Sunday – Leominster – A lone Chiffchaff is calling. No Swifts are around here. The River Dearne is flowing low and crystal clear. The market is fairly busy. Out onto Mill Street. Pond Skaters are clustered around what I assume to be some kind of Eelgrass under Ridgemoor bridge. Nuthatch calls from over the river. Field Maple keys are beginning to turn brown. Rowan berries are turning orange, Haws turning red. There are Swifts over the town, so they have not departed yet. Lesser Black-backed Gulls are calling from rooftops.
Home – In go the leeks into the vacated potato patch. They have been in a couple of large tubs awaiting the potato harvest and are looking good. I then start shifting the compost about, tipping from one wooden bin into the other then emptying the plastic bins into the now vacated one. The compost is very dry, the lids need to be kept off more often during rain.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The sky has clouded over and out is a little cooler but still rather muggy. Up the Forestry track. Enchanter’s Nightshade flower profusely along the edge of the track. Wood Pigeons coo insistently from the wood along with various squeaks and squawks from hidden birds. Purple thistle-like flowers are opening on a large Burdock. Along the top path. A substantial flock of Blue and Coal Tits and Goldcrests move through the conifer plantation. They are very flighty, disappearing as soon as I get anywhere near them. A barking Raven flies over. A few Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper butterflies flit over the Brambles but seldom settle. However, a fresh looking Red Admiral is feeding on Bramble flowers then a magnificent Silver-washed Fritillary rests on a frond of Bracken. This is the first one I have seen here for several years. It is odd how Tufted Vetch suddenly starts and now flowers thickly through the Brambles where there was none earlier down the track. Hare Bells wave in the slight breeze around the wooden post of a waymarker. Down the path across the enclosure. Wood Sage is flowering abundantly. Rosebay Willowherb is coming into flower.
Home – The gooseberry bush near the pond is has hardly ever been tended but always provides a punnet of fruit every year. They are dark maroon and soft but still very sharp. I dig up the garlic. It is almost a complete failure with just a few tiny bulbs. The red onions are not much better. I clear away some sunflowers from around the Hereford Russet apple. The sunflowers are very attractive but also very invasive. More and more Gladstone apples fall. Oddly the chickens seem half-hearted about them and give them a few derisory pecks so I clear most of them out of their run. A few small yellow courgettes and green-striped Maltese Marrows are picked to encourage further growth.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A breezy overcast day but the much needed rain has failed to materialise again. Teasel flowers have emerged creating a purple mist around the spiky heads. Tall Rosebay Willowherb is also in flower. A large patch of Lady’s Mantle has tiny green-yellow flowers in abundance. I have trouble identifying Lady’s Mantle – I ought to remember it really but… Two books both show the distinctive leaves with strongly marked veins but they are really are not. It is only when I find pictures on the internet I can be positive about my ID. My third volume of flowers does not even feature the species! A few purple-black Blackberries have appeared. Old Man’s Beard, also called Traveller’s Joy, is in flower. A single Moorhen stalks the mud on the far side of the sailing bay but otherwise there are no waterfowl to be seen or heard. Small fish are jumping. A pair of Carrion Crows sit atop a Silver Birch. Below are several Bullfinches, a male resplendent in his pink and grey coat like John Bull.
Above the rest
The noble Buzzard ever pleased me best:
Of small renown, ‘tis true, for, not to lie,
We call him but a Hawk by courtesy.
Dryden – Hind and Panther
A few Canada Geese and Mallard occupy the scrape. A Grey Heron sits in a fallen branch on the edge of the island, a Cormorant is in the trees above. A Great Crested Grebe are diving for fish out on the lake. A pair of Mute Swans with five cygnets glide across the water and come ashore on the scrape. Back on the meadow, Common Blue Damselflies are fewer in number then last week. Small Blue and Small Skipper butterflies are few in number, Meadow Browns are slightly more numerous and there are some Gatekeepers. A Common Buzzard, dark brown and gold, flies up with slow but powerful wing beats from a tree in the dessert apple orchard. Green Woodpeckers are calling from ahead. The Irish Peach apples, usually the first to be ready, are still small and sour.
Friday – Golden Valley – Vowchurch is a scattered village in the Golden Valley. Although a number of local manors whose names are reflected in modern farms and estates are recorded in Domesday, Vowchurch does not appear until 1291 as Fowchirche. The name probably derives from the Old English fāh meaning “decorated” and cirice, a church. The church of St Bartholomew stands by a three arch bridge of 1815 (although the listing suggests it is late mediaeval) over the River Dore. A battered preaching cross stands beside the porch. The church is 12th century Norman with many alterations in the 14th century so that the church was rededicated in 1348 by Bishop John de Trilleck. A wooden bell turret was built around 1522 with a bequest from Thomas ap Harry of Poston. The roof was reconstructed in the 17th century possibly by John Abel or one of his apprentices. Major refurbishments were carried out by Revd Beresford Lowther between 1836 and 1874. The font is Norman. There are two empty recesses in the north wall of the nave. They are short but it is assumed they once contained tombs but nothing is known. Beside the chancel screen is a wooden plaque of a diamond shape from the early 17th century, almost certainly made by a local carpenter stating:
There is another plaque on the opposite wall dated 1613 with a badly carved phrase “Vive ut postea vivas”, “Live so that you may live hereafter” and a barely visible “Green Man”. Dragons are carved above the central arch of the screen. The altar rails date from around 1675. On the chancel wall is a marble wall plaque in the style of Canova containing a head, to Sir Edward Boughton of Poston Court who died in 1794. The church possesses a rare wooden chalice from 1625 and a silver chalice and paten of 1686. Heraldic shields are hung on posts by the screen placed there by Revd Lowther. They are of local people and may not actually be true coats of arms. Some remnants of wall painting have been discovered including a scroll stating the “The Kings Armes have been painted, Anō Dōm 1664 (William?) Prichard & John Smith (Churchwardens?)
Over the bridge and almost immediately is the hamlet of Turnastone. Down the road the passing of summer is shown in the umbellifers and dock which have turned to seed. Cranesbills, Bindweed and Great Willowherb are still in flower. Turnastone Court Farmhouse is a fine early 19th century building in pink-orange brick with black brick decoration. Turnastone Court was where a 16th century landowner, Rowland Vaughan, a member of a well-known Border family, was inspired to undertake a feat of water engineering by observing the endeavours of a mole. Apparently on a March day, after a dry and cold winter, Vaughan saw that a strip of verdant pasture stretching out from the bank of the brook. He found a channel had been dug by a mole, which allowed the brook’s water to melt the frost, fertilise the soil with silt and irrigate a valuable first flush of grass. Inspired by this discovery, Vaughan devised a system of trenches and sluices linked to brooks and to the River Dore. His Trench Royal, 10ft wide and 4ft deep, eventually stretched three miles, from Peterchurch to Abbeydore, and was navigable by boat. His “drownings” of the meadows in spring and summer yielded early grass and an extra crop of hay. His scheme was so successful that his 1,500-acre New Court estate rose in value from £40 a year to £300. The farm is now in that hands of the Countryside Restoration Trust.
The name Turnstone comes from a Norman settler, Ralph de Tournai, and an early chapel dedicated to St Leonard is thought to have been near the bridge further up the Slough valley, south-west of the present church. In 1322 the manor was held by Roger Mortimer of Chirk. The church of St Mary Magdalene is barely a quarter mile from St Bartholomew. It is a smaller, simpler building. Venerable Yews stand in the churchyard, one having two old bracket fungi at the base. House Martins twitter overhead. It is also Norman with a wooden bell turret. A wagon-roof covers the nave. The pulpit is Jacobean and the font Norman. On the wall is a fine effigial slab of Thomas ap Harry, who died 3rd December 1522, and his wife, Agnes. It probably was made in Burton-on-Trent using Tutbury alabaster. On the opposite wall is a memorial to Mary Traunter, daughter of Nicholas Philpot of Poston and wife of William Truanter Gent., who died aged 18 in 1685. Another records the death of John Roberts Jun who died on December 29th 1767 aged 22, his wife Catherine who died on January 10th 1768 and their daughter Ann, who also died in 1768. There was a major influenza outbreak in 1767, and one wonders if this was the cause of these sad, early deaths. The first recorded incumbent was from 7th March 1259, the wonderfully named “Hamo de Sandwich”!
Just beyond the church is Glendore, the West End Garage. The house dates from the early 19th century and has been in use as a petrol filling station since 1919 and is believed to be the oldest surviving petrol station in England. It was granted a second licence to sell petrol in Herefordshire in 1922. The garage was founded by H James Charles Wilding and, following his death in 1948, was taken over by his sons Hedley (1915-2007) and Percy. Following Percy’s death in 1990, Hedley continued to run the business into his nineties. There are two petrol pumps in the front garden, one a Wayne, dating from the 1950s, and the other an Avery-Hardoll, probably dating from the 1930s. I think it is still a going concern as there is a current newspaper poster by the door. On a bend is a strange house, The Cross House, consisting of an early 18th century timber-framed house with an extension of 1895.
Finding the Herefordshire Trail is not easy, it must be one of the worst marked National trails in the country. It leads across a field of sheep. A new fence had been erected to allow the sheep access to a stream. A footbridge over Slough Brook is badly overgrown with brambles, nettles and thistles. I batter my way through nicely lacerating my hands in the process. I cross a field but this is all wrong, this cannot be the right direction. I return and check the rest of the field edge but the footbridge is the only marked footpath. So I return to the first marker on the road which confirms I was heading the correct direction initially but I have no idea where the trail is. Feeling sore and thoroughly discouraged, I return to St Bartholomew’s church. Small fish dart upstream when I peer over the bridge. The clouds are thickening. I head into Hereford which is a traffic disaster area.
Sunday – Leominster – Off to the market under a luminous grey sky – still no rain. The River Lugg is now very low and clear. The market is fairly busy. It is fascinating to see some of the items for sale. Much is rubbish – china, glass, metal and plastic ornaments and knick-knacks that should never have been made in the first place or children’ clothing and toys. There are also “stalls” which consist of a large number of cardboard boxes on the ground filled with all manner of what really can be called rubbish. However, some stalls that have much more useful things – if one actually has a use for them! One has lots of tools that I have no idea how to use or their purpose. A little pack of diamond tipped (so the pack says) objects that I suppose are drills for something. Scalpels of different shapes to cut something, but what?
Home – French beans, both climbing and dwarf are picked. The plants need water so the get it – from the tap, something I do not like doing. The mange-tout peas needed to be picked some time back and have all gone over, but they can be podded. On Friday afternoon I picked up six large punnets of strawberries for £3 in the market. Yesterday I made strawberry jam – or at least that was the idea but it is like syrup instead of set jam. So I put the jars in the oven has warm the contents while I prepare the beans and peas for freezing. The strawberry jam mix is then reboiled. I decide to go for the temperature method as testing for a set by dripping or on a cold plate never seems to be right where strawberry jam is concerned. Most the recipes reckon to test for a set after 10 minutes boiling. The jam was boiled for about 20 minutes yesterday and this morning requires another 35 minutes before the thermometer reaches 105ºC. I have lost a large pot of jam in the reduction and it has caught the bottom of the pan. But I hope the considerably darkened jam will set – I think it will be a first!
Finally, I empty a bag in which a couple of seed potatoes were sown. The crop is meagre, lots of very small potatoes, but at least there is a meal here. There is a broken egg in the chicken run, no idea what the girls have been doing. Kay harvests some more raspberries and blueberries. She also finds a couple of near black gooseberries off a plant we get very little as it suffers from severe mould. I must get around to trying to move it – it is too near the greenhouse and I reckon the air circulation is insufficient.