Sunday – Leominster – Early morning. The sun blazes already over the roof tops. Off to the market. Swifts scream overhead. Like many paths around the town, the path alongside the White Lion is becoming overgrown. Another effect of so-called austerity; the infrastructure slowly deteriorates. The water level in the River Lugg is very low. Easter meadow is a wonderful display of grasses – Meadow Fescue, Meadow Grass, Yorkshire Fog, Common Bent and Timothy – wonderful names, although my identifications may be a bit suspect! The market still is not as large as it has been at this time of year. I only buy some fruit, little else of interest. Round to the Kenwater which is as low as I can recall seeing it. A Garden Warbler is loud and active on the Priory side of the river.
Home – A Green Woodpecker flies up from the lawn with a yelp. It alights on the trunk of the Willow tree where it searches the bark for grubs. It is the first time we have seen one in the garden. We cut back the huge rose that collapsed a few weeks ago and fill four sacks of cuttings. Some other shrubs that have spread excessively are also cut. I snip off the tips of some of the tomatoes in the greenhouse that have reached the roof. The sun is hot and burning.
Monday – Woolhope – From the edge of Woolhope village I head up towards Woolhope Cockshoot. Past The Court with its early Georgian farmhouse. Swallows are gathering on wires. It is muggy, slight drizzle from an overcast sky. A Yellowhammer sings from another line of wires. The Butchers Arms is late 17th or early 18th century and was originally the village butchers shop and mill. Through the tiny hamlet of Ford, once Lenacre’s Ford, where most houses are 20th century, one still being built. The road comes to a junction at The Nurdens, where there is more 20th century housing. Further on is another junction, Winslow Mill, overlooked by a fine early 18th century timber-framed house. I start on the Ledbury road. Hemp Agrimony flowers in the roadside ditch. A pickup stops halfway up a hillside track and a Border Collie takes off, galloping up to the farmhouse, Green Hill. The road starts to climb. Brambles, Honeysuckle and Hedge Bedstraw flower in the hedgerow, Bryony is still in bud. It is sad to see a number of sheep in the meadow running down from the road hobbling with foot rot. The land beyond the meadow rises to Round Hill and Nurden Woods and Devereux Park. Near the top of the hill, just before Woolhope Cockshoot, is a reservoir and a bridleway running south along Marcle Hill. The track is clearly an old byway. It enters Green Hill Coppice. A Chiffchaff sings. The view to the east, across the Vale of Leadon, is a bucolic magnificence. Fields, orchard, coppices and hamlets rolling across the Ledbury then rising to Midsummer Hill. North-east are the rest of the Malverns and south-east the land remains flat into Gloucestershire before rising almost invisibly in the haze into the Cotswolds. Flowers along the path are infrequent, a few Red Campion, St John’s Wort, Brambles and Hedge Woundwort. The land to the east drops away more steeply now. At the bottom of the slope is The Wonder, the site of a massive landslip, estimated at 60,000 cubic metres, that took place over three days starting on 17th February 1575.
I nor advise, nor reprehend the choice
Of Marcley Hill; the apple nowhere finds
A kinder mould; yet ‘tis unsafe to trust
Deceitful ground; who knows but that once more
This mount may journey, and his present site
Forsaken, to thy neighbour’s bounds transfer
Thy goodly plants, affording matter strange
For law debates!
The Natural History of Selborne, Gilbert White quoting the words of John Philips
A Coal Tit searches the trees for food. Nuthatches call and a Blackcap sings in short bursts. The ridge that is Marcle Hill is formed of the Amystrey Limestone Formation formed in the Silurian, 421-423 million years ago in shallow carbonate seas. The land below to the east is Upper Ludlow Shales from the same epoch, 419-421 million years ago. To the west it is the Lower Ludlow Shales of similar age to the ridge. Indeed the whole landscape for miles around consists of various Silurian sedimentary rocks originally laid down horizontally in strata then pushed upwards by a central force during the Variscan Orogeny, folding the original strata into concentric arches while forcing the oldest rocks towards the surface at the centre. The top of the anticline has been eroded away. This is the Woolhope Dome. A clearing has been made for electricity lines. Butterflies take advantage of this sun trap, Red Admirals, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Whites. A deep trench runs beside the track for a short distance. Now a bank runs along the side of the path, cut by an old rusting gate. Down the eastern slope is a patch of rough meadow then rows of soft fruit bushes with a tractor moving between them. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. The path joins a track by a cottage at Hooper’s Oak. It then joins a lane that runs along the ridge. It is also part of the Three Choirs Way. To the south-east are the silver, steel silos of Weston’s Cider. It is getting hot. The earth is at its orbit aphelion, the farthest distance from sun today.
Past Jones’s Wood. Pink Yarrow flowers by the roadside host a Spotted Longhorn beetle. The lane heads off south-east down the hill, the footpath continues towards Yew Farm television mast, my route takes a narrow lane westwards off the ridge. An old quarry has exposed the slightly tilted layers of limestone. A Raven cronks overhead. Past a house at Sleaves Oak. A Common Buzzard circles far, far above. Above the road is Knowle Wood. The lane starts to drop more steeply. The Three Choirs Way turns off down a meadow. I disturb a flock of sheep resting in the shade of a large Oak. The meadow descends to a large modern barn, then a track heads off towards Hyde Farm. Under a tree near the track is a large Giant Puffball. The track goes through Hyde Farm. Past Hyde Cottages and on down to the Woolhope lane at the late 16th century Croose farmhouse. Hay making its being undertaken in a field which attracts the attention of five Lesser Black-backed Gulls. On the other side of the lane is a large lake. The lane twists, turns and rises into Woolhope village. A tractor and trailer of hay bales means nearly climbing into the hedgerow. The hay maker passes. The entrance to the village is 20th century housing. To the west is Wessington Court and park. The Gregory family improved this ancient estate in the 17th century. The house was rebuilt and the grounds replanted in the late 19th century by the Booth family. The lane comes to the Hereford to Ledbury road. A large Georgian house has a mounting block. A worn plaque over a second floor window seems to depict George and the Dragon. Opposite is an Oak planted to commemorate the end of the First World War. Up the road is The Crown pub opposite the old mid 18th century Vicarage. Up Martins Close and past the playing field, called “Berryfield”, originally part of the churchyard, and takes its name from “Bury Field”, with a decent modern pavilion and village hall. Round to the church of St George.
The name of the village comes from Wulviva’s Hope (Hope meaning a blind valley).The manor of Woolhope in Herefordshire, along with three others, was given to the cathedral at Hereford before the Norman Conquest by the benefactresses Wulviva and her sister Godiva. The church was built in the second half of the 12th century in Old Red Sandstone. The tower is from the 13th century and the arcade was lengthened around that time. Much of the present fabric, internal woodwork and fittings date from a major restorations in 1848 and 1883 under the benefaction of the Booker family of Wessington Court. The organ by William Vincent of Liverpool (1862). A cylindrical diapered pulpit and font with four columns supporting square basin decorated with trefoil-headed panels are both 19th century. There are two coffin lids on the north wall, one possibly 13th century, of a woman wearing a flat cap held by a chin strap and holding some sort of stick. The other is a man with a book in his crossed hands and is from the 14th century. There is some good Victorian glass. A cushion capital on shaft stands at the door. Outside is a preaching cross restored in 1897 for Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Another near cloudless, hot morning with just enough breeze to make it comfortable. A Chiffchaff sings in the woods by the track; they seem to be the first warbler to sing in spring and the last to stop. Lady’s Bedstraw, Herb Robert and St John’s Wort are in flower. Bramble flowers are beginning to be replaced by little bright green blackberries. Dog Roses have the bright orange fungal infections, Rose Rust Fungus, the same fungus that has meant we have had to remove several rosebushes from our garden. Several fledglings are squeaking from inside the hedgerow, I suspect they are young Song Thrushes. A Carrion Crow is on the meadow, is beak gaping open as it pants in the heat. A copper-winged dragonfly, a Brown Hawker, Aeshna grandis, whirrs past. A Small Copper is feeding on Red Clover. A small Copse Snail Arianta arbustorum, is on a Stinging Nettle leaf. Silver trails map its movements around the plant. Canada Geese, Mallard and Tufted Duck are on the scrape. Reed Warblers sing from the reed beds. Ten Common Sandpipers fly across the lake, land on the scrape and are immediately chased off by a Moorhen. The regroup on an unoccupied area of mud. A large blue dragonfly is on the edge of the water, probably an Emperor Dragonfly, Anax imperator. Common Blue Damselflies, Enallagma cyathigerum, are numerous in front of the hide and on the meadow. Despite the breeding season being over, some Canada Geese and Mallard cannot resist squabbling. A Grey Wagtail struts across another patch of dry mud. Out of the water are a few Coot and a single Cormorant. Outside the hide, a young Oak has beautiful new red leaves against the older green ones. Back on the meadow, a cock Ring-necked Pheasant runs for the trees. Several very vocal Green Woodpeckers are in the new area of orchard above the meadow. Apples in the dessert apple orchard are developing well but are some weeks off ripeness.
Thursday – South Wales – A couple of days in South Wales. It remains very hot and dry so we have a lot of watering to do before we can set off. We head for Brecon then down the A40 for a short distance before turning off.
Llanfrynach is a village sitting under the eastern end of the Brecon Beacons. The Nant Menasgin flows through the village on its way to the Usk. It comes down from Cwm Oergwm, the eastern-most valley of the Brecon Beacons, with the ridge of Fan y Big and Cefn Cyff to the west and the Bryn and Gist Wen to the east. The village loos are run by volunteers and they are obviously very proud of them! Nearby is a small brick building with a plaque decaring it to be the telephone exchange. The Mizpah Chapel of Particular Baptists, built in 1834 in the Sub-Classical style with a gable-entry plan and now a residence, stands by the church yard. Entrance to church is lined by Yews.
The church of St Brynach is recorded in 1291, but the present church, tower aside, was completely rebuilt in 1885 by a local builder named William Jones, and is in Decorated Gothic style. The tower is often recorded as 13th century but modern day thought is that it is 14th or even 15th century. The interior is, of course, entirely Victorian. The Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments are on the walls. There are painted designs of angels in red, grey and gold. The single manual organ dates from 1872, built by Gray & Davison. Victorian tiles adorn some window ledges. The font is a re-tooled mediaeval one. There are some fine memorials mainly of the de Winton family by John Evan Thomas of Brecon. Many of the family members seem to have died overseas in the Empire. The east window is by Hardiman of Birmingham dated 1861. There are some other good windows, again mainly dedicated to de Winton family members. At the west end is a slab which seems to be just a lump of stone. However, it dates from the 10th century and is carved very indistinctly with a figure and a Maltese Cross. Outside there is a large area by the tower fenced off for de Winton graves. At the other end of the church yard is a large Gothic memorial in Bath stone dedicated to the Revd C.C. Clifton, who died 1847. It is surrounded by Gothic style iron railings. The churchyard cross, 1910, is a copy of one at Merthyr Mawr, Glamorgan, erected to William de Winton of Maesderwen (1823-1907), H. L. Frances de Winton, his wife, died 1862, and Mary J. E. de Winton died 1909. A gateway leads to Ty Mawr, a private house, built in early 19th century for Charles Claude Clifton, died 1841, incorporating a medieval house said to have been built by Howel Gam in the 14th century. Clifton is said to have been a friend of John Nash and the house has some Regency Gothic style but is unlikely to have been the work of Nash. The house passed through several hands before being owned the the de Wintons, a banking family.
Church Row is a terrace of cottages ending in the White Swan. There was another pub in the village, the Victoria, but this has gone.
Pencelli – We travel on to Pencelli. A castle stood here. Pencelli Castle was built in the late 11th century, probably by Ralph Baskerville. Robert, the last Baskerville Lord of Pencelli, died around 1210 and his lands then passed through his daughters to the Le Wafre family, but were seized by Reginald Braose in 1215. The Le Wafre’s regained the estate but lost the castle to rebel and Welsh forces in 1233. The castle was rebuilt and probably taken again in 1262. It was recovered by 1273, after which a twin towered gatehouse might have been built by Roger Mortimer whose father Ralph had acquired the castle. It was seized by Edward II in 1322 and probably fell into decay soon afterwards. A house on the site is dated 1583. It was remodelled in the 18th century to create a Georgian frontage and was further refurbished early 20th century. The road crosses the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. A lane turns back and then away from the canal. It passes Pencelli Court which has a date stone on chimney 1691 with initials IW, possibly referring to the son of William Waters of Llanfeugan who died 1685. A narrower lane runs past Plas Pencelli, a large former rectory, now and outdoor centre to the church of St Meugan.
The church is in a tiny hamlet of Llanfeugan and is probably an Early Christian site. Ralph de Mortimer built a church here around 1272. The church has been built in thin pieces of stone. Although there is a lot conjecture about how and when the building was constructed, it is commonly thought the north aisle was added to the earlier nave in the 14th century. The nave was rebuilt in the late Middle Ages. The church was restored by S W Williams, architect of Rhayader, in 1891. It has a mediaeval barrel roof. The plaster has been removed from the interior walls. The columns in the aisles are also made of the same thin layers of stone as the walls. The former chancel screen has been removed and stands against the north aisle wall. It is an important piece of mediaeval woodwork. Monuments include cartouche to Lewis Gunter (died 1683) incorporating serpents and many early 19th century grey and white marble wall monuments. A plaque commemorates David Vivian Penrose Lewis, Lord Brecon of Llanfeugan, Minister of State for Welsh Affairs in the Macmillan Government of the late 1950s. During the restoration a wall painting of a White Rose of York was found on the wall by the tower. The tower contains eight bells by John Taylor of Loughborough. They were donated in 1921 by the family of David Morgan in his memory, a local businessman who founded a well-known store in Cardiff. By a stone stile is the churchyard cross of a late mediaeval date. The top of the cross is missing and the base is probably re-made. A split in shaft has been repaired with metal hoops.
Talybont-on-Usk – We stop briefly in the village for refreshment. The canal runs above the main road. A draw bridge takes a road across the the canal. A short distance down the road is a large corrugated iron church, one of the largest tin tabernacles I have seen, painted pink. The lane runs down beside Talybont reservoir. We stop at a lakeside hide. Just two small groups of Tufted Duck are present. The lane climbs through the Brecon beacons, passing near Fan-y-Big. The lane then passes Pentwyn and Pontsticill reservoirs. Through Pontsticill and on to Vaynor where we stop at the large cemetery. Many graves are recent. We walk down the steep road past the former Church Tavern. The foundations are believed to date from the 13th century, being a tithe barn. The present building is 17th century. In the 1700s an upper room housed the circuit court, which was housed in a room divided by three oak panels which were raised to the ceiling when the court was in session. Just beyond is Vaynor church. It is said the original Vaynor Church was built in 874 or 714 but was burnt down during the battle of Maesvaynor which took place in 1291. The replacement church became dilapidated by 1867. A new church was built in 1870 to designs of architect G.E.Robinson of Cardiff, paid for by Robert Thompson Crawshay, the Merthyr ironmaster, known as the “Iron King”. The church is dedicated to St Gwynno. It is locked. In the graveyard is an extraordinary grave, that of of Robert Thompson Crawshay. It is a slab of stone of Radyr Quarry stone said to weigh 10 tons. It has the inscription “God forgive me” engraved under his name. This has been interpreted as meaning that he was sorry for his actions (closing the Cyfarthfa Works and making hundreds of his workforce destitute or possibly the way he behaved towards his own family), however, these words were a very common inscription on Victorian tombstones.
Pontlottyn – A somewhat depressing village centre, lots of shops, virtually all closed. A generous interpretation might be that it is early closing day. The A469, down from the Head of the Valleys road cuts through the village. In Victorian times, the road from the south ended here and further up the valley was a huge Rhymney Iron Works, Terrace and New Dyffryn Pits. The works originated in 1824 when Forman & Co built three furnaces on land leased from the Marquis of Bute who actively encouraged the enterprise located opposite the Rhymney Ironworks on the other side of the river. From 1825 both concerns were operated together by Forman & Co and became known as the Rhymney Ironworks. The iron works closed in 1891 and the colliery was the dominant employer. The Terrace Pit closed in 1897 and the New Dyffryn Colliery closed in the 1920s. Maerdy Colliery, directly north of the village, was long known for its militant and communist associations and had a history of employing radicals as checkweighters, men such as Arthur Horner a well known communist who at the time of his election was serving a prison sentence for refusing to fight in the First World War. On December 23rd 1885 an explosion underground in the “East Rhondda” district of the colliery claimed the lives of eighty-one men and boys, sixty-three from suffocation and eighteen from burns and violence. From 1986 the output from Mardy Colliery was raised at the Tower Colliery in the Cynon Valley and the pit closed in 1990.
We book into our hotel then head down into the valley under the railway viaduct, built in 1857 by the Rhymney Railway Company to designs of Joseph Cubitt who also built the Bargoed Viaduct on the same line. The various lines of the railway were built between 1858 and 1895 and the aim of the railway was to gain access to the large iron works and collieries at the extreme north of the Valley. Short extensions, connecting with other railways, gave the Rhymney routes to take its (largely mineral) traffic to the Midlands and the North of England, or opened up connections to collieries and iron works. Some of those routes were worked jointly with other companies, particularly the London and North Western Railway. The Railway Inn was built beneath three arches near the south end, as this was the only land in Pontlottyn free from Temperance Restrictions, as it was owned by the railway company, not the local abstaining Williams family. It was demolished in the late 1990s. On down to the Pontylottyn Bridge over River Rhymney. The stones are bright orange from the iron in the water. Beyond the bridge is a wasteland with a large number of Buddleias in flower. This is the site of the former gas works.
Rhymney – Up to Maerdy Cross where we catch a bus to the centre of Rhymney. I suppose I was expecting somewhere similar to Cwmbran, but the High Street consists of a number of charity and bargain shops. Along to the overgrown churchyard of St David’s church. Not surprisingly the building is locked. The graveyard is extensive. The church was built for Andrew Buchan (1787-1870), manager of the Rhymney Brewery 1838-1858 which served the Rhymney Iron Company, between 1839 and 1843 to designs of architect Philip Hardwick of London, in a strong, severe and minimally classical style in rock-faced Pennant sandstone in large, squared blocks. On the other side of the road is the former Castle Hotel, built in 1855 to house some of the workers moving to the district. It is a strange building that flares out at its base. The Royal Hotel Arms has no proper beer and decides that we would be entertained by loud music, despite there only being a couple of other customers. At the south end of the High Street is The Lawn. Three houses built around 1850, were originally occupied by Richard Leybourne, civil engineer and manager at Rhymney Ironworks. The Lawn was a large wooded enclosure of about 20 acres containing the three large houses built for the Rhymney Iron Company, consolidated 1837; one traditionally used by the Directors, another by the Manager and another by the Surgeon. One later became the vicarage. Underneath The Lawn runs Hubbuch’s Tunnel. Hubbuch, a manager of the Rhymney Iron Company, built the tunnel on the route of the tramway from Ras Bryn Oer to Middle Furnace: the track ran from the drift mines at The Ras, along the back of The Terrace, through this tunnel under Surgery Hill, with south portal still visible just outside The Lawn boundary, terminating at Middle Furnace behind Forge Street. The War Memorial stands nearby. We catch the bus back to Maerdy Cross.
Pontlottyn – Back to the village and into The Blast Furnace which has real ale! A map on the wall shows a large number of houses in the village were sold by auction in 1918.
Friday – Tretower – We leave the valleys and travel up the A4077 which passes through Gilwern and up a narrow valley in a north-westerly direction. The road is being converted into a dual-carriageway resulting in extensive roadworks and excavations into the valley sides. As the road joins the A40 at Crickhowell, via a narrow single track bridge, it is hard to understand what the advantage of an expanded road would be. We visit the hardware store in Crickhowell, a shop that seems to stock everything! Then on to Tretower, Tretŵr in Welsh. Here there is a castle and fortified manor house. When Bernard de Neufmarché invaded and took the kingdom of Brycheiniog at the end of the 11th century, this area, called Ystrad Yw or Stadewy, was given to Picard. He built a motte and bailey castle of earth and timber. In the mid 12th century, a (stone) shell keep was created on the motte by John Picard. In 1233, Willam Marshal, ally of Prince Llywelyn ab Iowerth of Gwynedd, captured the castle and “threw it to the ground”. Roger Picard II regained the castle at the end of hostilities and constructed a four-storey circular tower and stone walls around the castle bailey. Although evidence for a late building suggest periodic refortification, the castle may have been abandoned as a residence by the early 14th century. Around 1450 Roger Vaughan settled at Tretower and built a new fortified manor house, Tretower Court, near the tower. Roger was beheaded at Chepstow in 1471 and Tretower Court passed to his son Thomas Vaughan. The Vaughans stayed until around 1700 when the tenancy was offered to the Parry family. In 1786, Charles Vaughan sold the court to William Parry. By 1900, the building was in a dilapidated state but the Brecknock Society realised the importance of the buildings and launched an appeal in 1929 and bought the building. It passed to the Office of Works and now CADW. The court is a building of four ranges around a courtyard. A large model of a dragon and nest is in the courtyard! The rooms are often large and in the western range is the Great Hall with a feast taking place and kitchens with their implements and pots and pans. The north range is open timber-frames with Swallows nesting in the rooms. Outside is a delightful mediaeval style garden.
We walk up the lane to the church of St John the Evangelist which is surprisingly locked. The Clywd-Powys Archaeological Trust comment, “The earlier building on the spot, reputedly dedicated to St Michael originally and was probably a chapel attached to Tretower Castle, was very similar to the present building in as far as can be gauged from an old postcard in the church, with lancet windows, a south porch and light-coloured dressings, the only difference being that the bellcote was over the west end. The overall impression is of a structure that was of no great age. The church fell into disrepair around 1870 and was completely rebuilt in 1876-7 by J.L.Pearson at the time when he was estate architect to the Baileys of Glanusk.”
Monday – New Radnor – The sky is grey and enough drizzle is falling to wet the ground. Up Mutton Dingle, the stream beside the road bubbling merrily. House Martins flash overhead. On up the track. The rain now pitter-patters over the sound of domestic hens, sheep and Chiffchaffs. The track narrows. Only the tips of Hedge Woundwort still have flowers. Honeysuckle tendrils hang over the path. A large, viscous-capped Bay Boletus fungus, Boletus badius, grows beside the path. Despite the rain a Skylark sings over the hillside. My path turns off at Jack’s Green. Patches of Enchanter’s Nightshade flower alongside the path. Up to the Forestry Commission plantation. The rain looks like it has set in, it is light but penetrating, so I head of along the track cut into the steep side of Cwm Broadwell. An open bank shows the layers of Wenlock Formation mudstones of the Silurian, 423-428 million years ago. Of course, half way back down the hillside the rain stops and the sun emerges. Near the bottom of Mutton Dingle is a patch of cranesbills, pink flowers larger than Herb Robert but nowhere a large as Meadow Cranesbills. The petals are barely notched so I am guessing they are French Cranesbill, an escape that is often hybridised.
Back through New Radnor, Maesyfed in Welsh. Along Church Street. The war memorial stands next to a large pink house, Wayside, built around 1850. Wayside Cottage next door is the former service wing. Opposite are a pair of mid 19th century houses that were formerly The King’s Arms Inn. Towards the western end of the village is the old Parsonage, backing onto the churchyard. The building is one of a group of 16th and 17th century houses. Opposite, Swan House is 15th century in origin, a building of one-and-a-half storeys, incorporating the truncated portions of a high quality, late-medieval cruck-built house comprising part of a two-bay hall and the upper end bay. Off of Church Street is Rectory Lane. The Zion Presbyterian and Calvinistic Methodist Chapel built in 1832 in the Vernacular style. It has a plaque quoting Matthew 16:18, “and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” but the date has eroded away leaving only the final 2. Next to the chapel, now a house, is a small graveyard. The chapel is attached to the old Manse, a fine large house. The lane turns east and across a meadow to the south is a long bank, the remains of the old town walls. Where the lane meets the road into the village stands the very large old Rectory built around 1850. Up Broad Street. Yew Tree Cottage is early 18th century, as is Station House. The next few houses leading to The Radnor Arms. All are early 19th century. Opposite is a large house, The Laurels built it is believed in 1847 which was the date of a newspaper used as original wall lining, discovered during renovations. The old stores are now homes. The present small stores are in the old Town Hall building, a Victorian building that replaced the original hall, described in 1562 as “The Buthall” which was the administrative centre of Radnorshire until 1833, after which the hall became very dilapidated. Opposite is a large house, formerly the Eagle Hotel.
Thursday – Little Malvern Court – An Historical Society trip to this house and church on the Upton road out of Little Malvern. It is the site of a Benedictine monastery founded around 1171. There has been a theory that it was originally founded by two brothers, Jocelyn and Eldred, who came here as hermits from Worcester in 1171, but this theory has been disproved by the records of Bishop Simon of Worcester (1125-1150) which indicate that the priory was used as to place Worcester monks as a mean of correction. In 1282, Bishop Giffard visited the Priory and re-dedicated the Church to St Mary, St Giles and St John the Evangelist. The discipline of the house seems to have been good until 1323 when Bishop Cobham found it necessary to write to the monks condemning various abuses which had crept into the life of the Priory. The most famous of the Episcopal Visitations was that undertaken by Bishop Alcock in 1480, when he found “the great ruin of the Church and place”, and when he discharged the Prior and monks “by reasons of their demerits”. According to his own account they “builded their Church and put their place of lodging” into a sufficient state of repair so that the monks were able to return to their Priory in 1482, having spent two years under correction at Gloucester Abbey. The monastery was dissolved on August 31st 1534, when the Prior John Bristowe and six monks subscribed to the King’s supremacy. The Priory and its lands were subsequently leased to John Russell of Strensham, near Pershore and sold to his son, Henry Russell in 1554, the stipulations being made that the Choir of the Church should remain for the use of the parishioners, and that £5 should be paid annually to the Curate. Henry Russell died in 1558, and Charles Broughton conveyed the manor in 1566 to John Russell, son and heir of Henry. John died in 1588 holding the manor of Little Malvern and his brother Henry succeeded. The manor passed to John son of Henry in 1608, and from him to his son Thomas in 1641. John Russell, son of this Thomas, conveyed the manor in 1683 to Charles Trinder and others. John Russell’s sons John and Thomas both died without issue, and the manor passed to his daughter Elizabeth, who married Thomas Berington. She was succeeded by her daughter Elizabeth wife of Thomas Williams of Trellynia, Flintshire, who conveyed the manor of Little Malvern in 1766-7 to Edmund Lechmere, evidently for the purposes of some settlement. She as a widow held the manor with her daughter Mary in 1771. Mary married Walter Wakeman, but died without issue, leaving Little Malvern Court to her kinsman William Berington of Hereford, son of her second cousin Charles. William died in 1847, when the manor passed to his son Charles Michael, who enjoyed it until his death in 1897, when he was succeeded by his son Captain William Berington, J.P. The Berington family still own the property.
The hall was built around 1480, and in addition to the prior’s residence, includes monks cells and other monastic rooms from the old monastery. The roof is beautiful, wind-braces are cusped, trusses have knee-braces to lower collar, and cusping to upper collar which forms trefoil at apex. The hall was used as a chapel, the family being Catholic. The roof was hidden by a barrel ceiling until restoration in the 1960s. It remained a chapel until the family donated land in Little Malvern to build St Wulstan’s church in 1862. At one end is a large reredos made from several sources of richly carved oak from 15th and 16th centuries originating in the Low Countries. At the other end of the room is a large painting by Paul Delaroche, of Thomas Wentworth, who was the 1st Earl of Stafford, on his way to the scaffold in 1641. A small side room has a stub of a railing which shows there were stairs here which led down to a door, now gone. We mount some stairs to small room, formerly a dormitory room for monks. More stairs leads to a previously hidden chapel from the period when catholic worship was illegal. There were additions to the house in 1860s by Charles Hansom, brother of Joseph Hansom, inventor of the Hansom cab, and architect of many churches and Malvern College.
The gardens are dominated by large ponds. Water lilies are in flower, pink, white and yellow. Dragonflies fly strongly over the water where fish rise. Numerous specimen trees are in full leaf. Flower beds contain some fine hostas and heucheras. A large walled vegetable garden lies on the lower slopes of the hill that leads to British Camp.
The church of St Giles is rather strange. One enters under the tower and into the quire and chancel. The nave has been destroyed. The ruined chapels and transepts are situated on the north and south of the church and are denoted by standing walls up to about 3 metres high composed largely of red sandstone with some ashlar blocks. The southern transept abuts the southern wall of the tower and has a 12th century cloister doorway on the western wall. Hatchments adorn the walls. There is some 15th century glass fragments in the windows. On either side of the chancel are five stalls with carved elbows, one of which represents two pigs feeding from a bowl, another two fishes, but all the misericorde bosses have been cut away. Squints are on either side of the chancel but now blocked. The chancel screen has lost its cross.
Friday – Berrington – A badger lies dead in the gutter on the A49 by Berrington House park. Two Red Kites are attempting to get to it but the traffic is too regular. As soon as one swoops down it wheels away as a car passes. I am driving so I add to the kites’ frustration.
Bewdley & Ribbersford – I park at Blackstone Car Park and set off down to River Severn. It is windy with much of the sky covered in clouds but quite warm. Good numbers of Small White butterflies are feeding on flowers in the ditch by the path. On the river a pair of Mute Swans swim hard to remain in the same spot against the fast flow. The opposite bank is yellow and pink with Marsh Ragwort, Himalayan Balsam and, I think, Monkey Flower, the last two being invasive non-natives. Here Burdock and Comfrey are coming into flower. The path, The Severn Way, passes through a strip of woodland. Speckled Wood butterflies are flitting through the dappled shade. A modern footbridge crosses a dried up stream bed. It is not exactly peaceful here as there are schools and a leisure centre (on the site of Netherton House, now demolished) beyond the wood. Here is a woodland encampment belonging to one of the schools. A young Song Thrush barely makes it over the fence. More Mute Swans guide rapidly with the current. Tall Purple Loosestrife rise from the water’s edge. A fenced off area is full of dead stalks, someone is killing Japanese Knotweed (as required by law!) The path joins the B4190 on Riverside. The houses have some age. Where the path meets the Stourport road are three houses that are 14th century but remodelled in the 18th century with later alterations. Styles Warehouses from the mid 18th century has been converted into apartments. A house stands on Beales Corner, where the Kidderminster road leads off, which again looks like an old warehouse, but in fact was a mid 17th century house now divided into two. Next to it is an early 17th century timber-framed house, the three mid 18th century houses and a timber-framed house dated 1633. Over bridge and along the old port side of Bewdley. Up Lax Lane past a long terrace of 18th century cottages (at least one claiming an earlier date). Opposite is the Craft Centre in an old school which was next to a tannery. Set back is Fairfield Terrace, an early 19th century terrace of homes.
Into formerly Upper Street according to the sign. On the corner is Lower Park House, mid 18th century and the birthplace of Stanley Baldwin in 1867. Opposite a large house is set back from the road with high walls leading to the stables and a coach house. It is the late 18th century rectory. Back of this summer is Sayer’s Almshouses of 1625, rebuilt in 1897. Up an unpaved lane beside a house called Peacock, formerly a pub. On one side drives drop down the large houses, on the other the land rises with modern housing. The lanes passes onto public footpaths, which seem well used and well signed. A tree has been brought down near the path and a tree ring count indicates it was around eighty years old. Now a field lies below the path with the course of a stream from a spring at the end of the pasture. The land is undulating with little valleys. The path is on the junction of the Kidderminster Formation of Triassic Sandstone from 246-251 million years ago, the Etruria Carboniferous mudstone from 307-313 million years ago and the Bridgnorth Sandstone Formation from the Permian, 271-299 million years ago. Past some Dexter castle being harassed by flies. The path is a track again, the Worcestershire Way and Ribbesford Circular Walk. The trail crosses a lane then drops down under the Bewdley by-pass. Pale blue flowers are growing in a cereal crop, Chicory or Wild Succory.
Into Ribbesford. Two manors of Ribbesford are mentioned in the Domesday Survey, both berewicks of Kidderminster and belonging to the Crown. They were granted to the Mortimers of Wigmore, and thereafter only a single manor is mentioned. Walter de Ribbesford was the tenant in the mid-12th century. Simon de Ribbesford, Roger Mortimer’s steward, held the manor in 1176. A vast house and very long barn in beautiful red sandstone, Home Farm stands opposite St Leonard’s Church. The walk had been punctuated by the whistle of a stream engine on the Severn Valley Railway. The graveyard of the church is extensive and, sadly less common these days, the headstones are all in place. The church is Norman probably around 1100. The porch is carved with “TM 1633 HW”. Beyond is a door with superb hinges in wrought iron swirls in a magnificent Norman doorway. It has carved columns with swans, serpents and knots with a tympanum of a hunter with a bow and arrow aiming at an unknown creature. The hunter is wearing a Norman helmet. The carving is 12th century by the Herefordshire School of carvers. The north aisle and chancel were destroyed in 1877 by a violent storm and restored by Frederick Preedy in 1877-1879. the south aisle is unusually built of wood and is from the 15th century. On the west wall are several coffin lids including one believed to date from about 1300 and to have belonged to one of the Mortimer family. Also here a small piece of stone depicting Judgement Day, the separation of the sheep from the goats. It has been described as part of a headstone but now it is thought it is a plaster cast of a door capital of St Giles Hospital Church, Hereford which was demolished in 1682. The capital was built into the wall of Williams Almshouses in the same street. Above is the west window designed by Burne Jones and made by William Morris in 1875. The pulpit is relatively modern but contains pieces of the old 15th century rood screen with carvings depicting the strange imaginations of the mediaeval mind, including a pig playing the bagpipes. The piper is flanked on the left by a sow feeding her litter. Another is a fox is preaching to geese. One of the geese seems to be already secreted within the fox’s clothing. Yet another is possibly a Green Man.
From the church a lane leads past the entrance to Ribbesford House, which cannot be seen from the lane. The house was described in 1627 as “pleassant for the somer, but not healthful for the winter”. The lane is lined with Horse Chestnuts which has been extensively attacked by Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner, Cameraria ohridella, first reported in the UK in 2002. It leaves large areas of pale damage on the leaves. The lane joins the B4194 road to Stourport which runs alongside the Severn. A path leads into the Blackstone Riverside Park. Most the trees are relatively young and Stinging Nettles are in abundance. Black winged damselflies, the Beautiful Demoiselle, flit across the nettles. Bloodsuckers, Rhagonycha fulva, are on Ragwort. Across the river are high New Red Sandstone cliffs, Blackstone Rock, where a hermitage was carved into the rock. Raptors’ screaming is being emitted from them. From the riverside, a Peregrine Falcon can be seen on a guano coated ledge. Another adult flies into a cleft in the rock and the screaming rises to a crescendo. However, there are two more fledged Peregrines on another ledge below squabbling over something. The path passes under the bypass again. Along the river. At least five Goosander are on the water, all either in eclipse, females or youngsters. There is now a cliff on this side of the river across a cereal field. It is heavily wooded and the river would not have flowed past it for many centuries. Past the cricket ground which is being mown.
Back across the bridge and up Kidderminster Road. Sydney Place, attached to the back of the corner house of Beale Corner, have rainwater hoppers dated 1747 with letters underneath, maybe CIE. The next large range of homes was the old Police Station, although unlikely to be older than the early 20th century, closing in 2013. The Bewdley Hotel has a decent range of ales and ciders but I am limited by having to drive later! The building is late 17th century and formerly known as The Black Boy Inn. A lane runs behind the hotel past a stone building with diamond airholes, the coach house and stables. Minster House is a vast early 18th century pair of houses now one. An old churchyard has the base of a mediaeval preaching cross with a modern cross. The church, Christchurch, was demolished in 1879. A very few gravestones have survived, the only legible one from 1845. A timber-framed house backs onto the churchyard, a 17th century malthouse. Opposite is the Boys School of 1850, restored in 1927, in a purple brick with cream brick trimmings. The lane turns into a street of Georgian terraces, Westbourne Street, formerly Whispering Street. This joins the Kidderminster Road where the railway bridge crosses it. Behind the bridge are the Holding Pens where animals were held prior to slaughter for a butchers’ shop in Westbourne Street. It is said there was a cottage here before the railway was built and the stone caves were possibly used as shelters by the navigators building the railway. On up the road. Great Western Terrace is dated 1877. A little up the road is the Tollhouse. Past a timber-framed house standing isolated on the roadside. On the other side is a small row of early 18th century cottages. The housing then becomes 20th century. This area is Wribbenhall, from the Saxon Gurbehale. The All Saints church is locked. It was built in 1878 to replace Christchurch by Arthur Blomfield, who was assistant architect to Thomas Hardy, the novelist, in rock-faced red sandstone with a machine tile roof.
Back down the road and under the bridge. The Red Lion pub stands on the corner of a lane. Down the lane is Lowe’s Rope and Twine Manufactory, dating from the beginning of the 19th century, closing in 1972, now a house. Nearby is Ropeworks Cottages, late 17th century. The lane leads round to the station, now of the Severn Valley Railway. Back to the bridge past the site of the mill. Up Load Street. A quick visit to St Anne’s church, a classic 18th century church visited before. Then back over the bridge, yet again and back along the riverside path. A fair sized herd of Mute Swans are near the bypass bridge, feeding off the bottom of the river, an indication of how shallow it is.
Sunday – Leominster – Grey clouds drift across the sky. The wind was blustery overnight and still rises and diminishes. The River Lugg is very low, the gravel spit downstream from Butts Bridge is exposed almost to the middle. There is a mugginess about the air. The threat of rain means the market is smaller than of late. Cheaton Brook is shallow and clear. Pond Skaters have returned to the Lugg, under the Ridgemoor bridge. The Kenwater’s level is as low as I can remember. A Wood Pigeon walks out to the centre of the stream to bathe. There is rain in the air as I head back into the town centre. A cherry-picker is being used to put up bunting made by local shopkeepers. This, combined with the flower tubs and baskets, makes the town look very bright and cheerful.
Home – There is steady cropping now – lettuces, potatoes, courgettes, a few tomatoes and peppers, raspberries, blueberries and, this morning, a tub of gooseberries. The strawberries have finished as have the broad beans and peas. There are some mange-tout but they have suffered from the near drought. French beans are progressing slowly, they could do with a decent amount of rain. Callaloo, a Jamaican leaf, is growing well. The leeks are looking good in their temporary bed; they will be moved as soon as the potatoes are lifted. The vines around the garden walls are pruned yet again. We are making every effort to keep them under control this year and we may even get some grapes! There are plenty of figs but whether they ripen is another matter. The Gladstone apples are now edible, but any that are even near ripeness are attacked by the birds. Fortunately, the crop is quite decent this year so there are some for us.
Tuesday – Brecon Beacons – I park high above Talybont reservoir near Torpantau Station. The station is the terminus of the Brecon Mountain railway, a narrow gauge tourist line. It is near the old station on the Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil Railway, opening in the 1860s and closing to passengers in December 1962 but the line was retained for freight workings to Brecon until 4th May 1964. The old line followed the route of the road before passing into a tunnel. The old station was just north of the place I have parked. High cloud mottles the sky and there is a breeze. Up the road. Past some bushes full of Chaffinches. Of the road and across the hillside. The area is crawling with squaddies with big packs and guns. Meadow Pipits fly here and there, squeaking as usual. Stonechats are chick chicking in the scrubby patches of Gorse. A few water courses have water running in than but many are dry. Across a larger stream, Nant Bwrefwr, that disappears off in a high waterfall into a glen below. The path joins the Brecon Way. The path has been reinforced with large stones to try and slow down erosion. Another high waterfall takes the stream into a deep cwm. Up past the edge of Talybont Forest. Young Chaffinches everywhere. The trail is made of pieces of sandstone on their edges. Out had now become steep as it approaches the summit of Craig y Fan Ddu. There is a murky pool on the summit. The views go on forever. The wind is blustery up here. A Lesser-Black Backed Gull circles the summit. Along the edge of the beacon. The side is precipitous. Soldiers are running across the moor beyond! Cotton grass and heathers rise through the coarse grass on deep peat.
The trail reaches a cairn at Blaen Caerfanell, a stream that descends the hill through a deep defile. The trail turns back a short distance before heading out over the peat moor to a second cairn. The Beacons way heads north-west across Gwaun Cerrig Llwydion. Along this path the ground is great slabs of rock, Plateau Beds of Devonian sandstone, 359-385 million years old. The moor comes to the edge of a large glacier-carved valley, Cwm Oergwym heading north. To one side is Craig Cwarelli, to the other Fan y Big, then Cribyn and Pen y Fan. Down in the valley to south is Upper Neuadd Reservoir with a Gothic dam, opened 1902, designed by George F. Deacon engineer of London, assisted by T. F. Harvey, Borough Engineer Merthyr Tydfil. The reservoir is empty, apparently to protect the listed dam which one supposes is in poor condition. A lower reservoir, beyond Neuadd House has a little water in it. The path runs around the top of the cwm, along Craig Cwmoergwym . The path is being restored and large sacks of rock have been airlifted and left beside the path. A Wheatear lands on a cairn. The path reaches Bwlch ar y Fan and the path continues around the lower slopes of Cribyn. Up the path of rough stones. A black beetle and a spider scurry across the dust. Several Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme groups pass. The climb up to Pen y Fan, Craig Cwm Sere, is brutal. The top is busy. I cross to Corn Du where the path up from the Storey Arms, Canolfan y Bannau, is crowded. It is gentle climb to the tops. A misty haze is closing in. The Black Mountains are slowly disappearing. The wind is ferocious. Off the top and down the saddle where I realise there is a small path that crosses the moor back towards Bwlch ar y Fan. This means I will not have to climb Pen y Fan again and scramble down the steep path which I came up. Below is Blaen Taf Fechan, the stream that feeds the reservoir.
Back along the track under Cribyn the wind has dropped and it is now much warmer. The path meets a track, the Taff Way, at Bwlch ar y Fan and I head off along it. A lamb has found an outcrop of rock on Tor Glas to have a good scratch on. The ewes have all been shorn but the lambs have thick fleeces. Thistles are greatly varying in colour, deep purple, pink and white and shades in-between. The track passes Neuadd House then drops down into a ravine cut by a stream, Nant y Gloesydd. On into Forestry commission plantations. A bird briefly perches on a fence, the disappears almost instantly. It is pale underneath with a brown back, smaller than a Song Thrush but bigger than a warbler. My immediate thought is, Nightingale, but there is little evidence that any are present around here, so it must go down as one that got away. A Common Buzzard flies along the edge of the trees. Great Willowherb flowers beside the track. A wet ditch contains Blue Water-speedwell, one of the buttercups and a tiny Willowherb, possibly Alpine Willowherb. Small Skippers and Meadow Browns flit along the grasses. The track emerges beside the car. Route
Wednesday – Pontypool – Pontypool station has just a small shelter on the single platform. This was formerly Pontypool Road Station. There was a complex network of lines through the area and a large marshalling yard with some fifty lines. Pontypool station was some way away nearer the present town centre. So much has changed it is very difficult to place the old sites on the modern map! Part of the County Borough of Torfaen, Pontypool is situated on the eastern edge of the South Wales coalfields. Richard Hanbury of Worcestershire acquired and developed forges and furnaces within the Pontypool area during the 1570s. He also acquired leases and rights to utilise the raw materials of the wider area, including a large expanse of woodland to produce charcoal and some 800 acres of land to extract coal and iron-ore at Panteg, Pontymoile and Mynyddislwyn. Furthermore, he secured the rights to extract coal and iron-ore on Lord Abergavenny’s hills in and around Blaenavon. Major John Hanbury (1664-1734) was an industrial pioneer. He and his leading agents, Thomas Cooke, William Payne and Thomas Allgood, made significant developments within the British tinplate industry in Pontypool, including the introduction of the world’s first rolling for the production of iron sheets and black plate at the Pontypool Park works in 1697. Tinplate was being produced at Pontypool from around 1706, with an important tin mill in operation at Pontymoile during the early 18th century. During the 1660s, Thomas Allgood of Northamptonshire, was appointed manager of the Pontypool Ironworks. Allgood developed the Pontypool “japanning” process, whereby metal plate could be treated in a way that generated a lacquered and decorative finish. Allgood’s sons, Edward and Thomas, established a japanworks in Pontypool, which was producing large quantities of Japanware by 1732. Throughout the 18th century Pontypool retained a niche market of tinplate as the South Wales economic development expanded based on iron and coal. The decline of heavy industry in South Wales has affected Pontypool badly, like many other towns here. It consists of a number of smaller districts.
Out of the station and up to a bridge. The station is separated from the town by the A4042, the New Inn bypass, opened in 1982. Up The Highway past large 20th century houses. The large municipal cemetery, Panteg, has a delightful garden of remembrance around the War Memorial. Beside it is the chapel of rest with the superintendent’s house, now looking unoccupied, attached. Opposite and alongside the cemetery is the Brecon and Monmouthshire Canal. I drop down to the tow-path and head south towards south-west then south. Unlike Cwmbran, there are boats on the water here, although most look like they have not moved in a long time. An overflow takes water down to the Afon Lwyd which passes under the canal and over a large weir at Lower Mill, Y Felin Isaf. A boat appears moving slowly as a woman has to stand at the stern with a pole to clear weed that will foul the propeller. Junction Cottage has a rounded end facing the canal. This toll-house was built at the junction between the Monmouthshire Canal and the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal, made necessary by the transference of cargo from one to the other. After amalgamation in 1865 it would just have charged standard tolls to all users. This junction was engineered and the house thus possibly designed by William Crosley. Under an old canal bridge. The other side was the canal junction. There is now a large modern road bridge carrying the busy A472, which formerly would have carried the Taff Vale and Aberdare Extention of the GWR. Beyond the bridge is another dock. The canal continues south. There are plenty of Mallard on the water. A rugby pitch is covered in knee high grass. The air is scented by a large stand of buddleia, but just a single Red Admiral is taking advantage of the bounty. The sky is getting greyer. A Border Collie passes proudly carrying his stick, which he dumps in front of his owner to be thrown.
The path comes to a bridge over the canal and over both is an old railway bridge. This carried the Monmouthshire railway (Eastern valleys section). The bridge was constructed in the mid 19th century but rebuilt in steel in 1905. Further on old buttresses would have carried a bridge, not so old as they are concrete. That bridge is shown on maps from the early 20th century carrying a sort of railway line into the infirmary. Another road bridge carrying Coed-y-Gric Road, formerly Union Road, a modern replacement, and beside it is the old part of Griffithstown hospital, dated 1900, when it was the Pontypool Union Workhouse and Infirmary. Griffithstown is named after the first station master of Pontypool Road station, Henry Griffiths. Griffiths founded a “terminating” Building Society to finance the construction of houses in the village so that his workforce could become freehold owner-occupiers, rather than constructing rental or leasehold housing. Back to the tow-path. Another large buddleia is devoid of butterflies. House Sparrows chirrip and a flock of Jackdaws fly over. Swifts are screaming. A little dock has a small crane, the dock now used as a patio. A Moorhen appears to be making a nest, which seems a bit late in the season. Another road bridge. Just before it is an old chapel. The back wall facing the canal had a number of stone plaques inserted into it carrying names. The side of the chapel next to the road has been rendered. I leave the canal and walk up Kemys Street. Sunny Bank Cottages look early 19th century. Of along Commercial Street. The chapel is clearly still in use, the Griffithstown Baptist Church. There are numerous Jackdaws around. Back to Kemys Street and up the hill. Along Eastview which has a solid terrace of houses leading to what I thought was a park but is a school.
On up Kemys Street. The Congregational Church is dated 1885. The Community Council offices are in an old church hall. Beside them at the top of the street is St Hilda’s Church. Opposite on Sunny Bank Road is Ravenscourt, a large house with one side castellated with a shield. The black birds on the house are more Jackdaws, not Ravens! Sunny Bank Road becomes Greenhill Road with more stone built semis, late Victorian. The houses opposite are large, set back in extensive gardens. The road enters Sebastopol. Panteg House was once the residence of Panteg Steelworks’ manager and is now the home of Panteg Employees’ Club. The building (previously known as Belvedere) was passed to Panteg Employees’ Club and Recreational Institute on 21st August 1920, for use by the workers at Panteg Steelworks, located just down the road. Along The Avenue, past the bowling green, tennis courts and park with working fountain dating from the early 20th century. A local tells me everything is maintained by the local community as the council abandoned it some years back. Outside the park is a strange little road arrangement called The Ellipse, a circle road with the roads entering and three crossing at the centre. Down the hill again to the canal. The Crown is a late Victorian pub backing onto the canal. Crown Bridge was rebuilt in 1994. Along the tow-path. St Oswald’s church is the daughter Church of St Hilda’s, a red brick building, originally an infant school. It became surplus to the requirements of Monmouthshire County Council in the early 1900s and was handed back to the parish. After twelve months conversion work the Church was dedicated on 29th March 1915. Houses have been built along the canalside. A Mallard is on the bank with some very young ducklings. The Open Hearth pub is on the canal-side. Back to Kemys Street and back along past the Baptist church along Commercial Street. Many houses have suffered awful modernisation with pebble-dash and rendering. The plastic doors and windows do not help. The Great Western Railway Staff Association club, known as the Oily Rag, was built in 1873 as a mechanics’ institute and was used by the local railway workers. It is now in a sorry state. Up the High Street a bit and into Windsor Road. The Hanbury Hotel is closed and dilapidated. The road becomes Broad Street. Houses are dated 1868. Another house is 1892. Another terrace is 1871, the 18 on one gable end and the 71 on the other. At the end of the street is the County Hospital. Coed-y-gric Road climbs up beside the hospital to Stafford Road. Looking over the wall at Victorian hospital buildings including what must have been the chapel.
Along Stafford Road. A Victorian post box is in the wall outside Middle Farm, a 17th century house, which faces away from the road because when built the road was before it, and this was moved behind when the railway came through in 1858. The road enters Pontymoile and comes to a roundabout. Opposite is a terrace of three almshouses in the Tudor Revival style which dates from 1845 and were built by the Pontypool Park estate for employees. They do however appear to be marked on the Panteg tithe map of 1839, so the estate may have refurbished them in 1845, or rebuilt them or just taken them over. Down Maesderwen Road. A Regency style villa dating from 1819 was built by Pontypool Park estate during the time of Capel Hanbury Leigh’s ownership, and used as the agent’s house 1840-1945. Next to it is a single storey building with a shaped Dutch gable supported by grooved and partly panelled qouin pilasters. The hall is the estate office and was built for this purpose in the first decade of the 20th century. Down the end of Maesderwen Road and under the A472. Down a side street is a fountain and trough erected in 1885 by neighbours and friends of Elizabeth Catherine, wife of Alfred Addams Williams. A walker tells me when he was young the fountain was on the main road but moved when all the roads were enlarged. Next to it is a fancy lamp standard. He also tells me that the house opposite was a Truck shop, where workers were paid in tokens that could only be spent in the shop, a practice banned by the Truck Acts of 1831 and 1887. It was already the Hanbury Arms Inn in 1852 when the Ironworks were first leased out. The terrace of houses next to the Hanbury was built around 1825. A bridge crosses the Lwyn. It is finally starting to rain. I arrive at the extraordinary gates of Pontypool Park. The gates are said to have been given to Major John Hanbury of Pontypool Park (1664-1734) by his friend Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744). This would date the gift between 1722-1734, but not necessarily the date of manufacture. However I decide to leave the park for another day. Back over the river and towards the town centre. A builders merchants has a splendid old warehouse in their yard. This building is marked as a Foundry on the 1882 O.S. map, and as an Iron and Brass Foundry on the 1901 O.S. map, by which date it had been enlarged to its present dimensions. The older section is the sole survivor of the Upper Mill. Both were later a part of the Pontympoile Tinplate Works. Pontymoile Undenominational Mission is a modern church, late 20th century.
Clarence Street winds towards the town centre. Up a side street is Upper Trosant Baptist Church, built in 1826 and was enlarged and altered in 1896. Most the graveyard now a car park. The next church was the Mount Pleasant United Reform Church built in 1904 and is now The Mount Pleasant Welsh Revival Centre. St James vicarage is large and dated 1923. St James Hall is 1909. St James church is closed down and in poor condition. It was built in 1821 to provide for the English speaking congregation of Pontypool, who were then having to attend Welsh speaking services at St Cadoc’s, Trevethin. It was enlarged in 1854 by T.H. Wyatt. Next is a large monolith dedicated to the Civil Defences of World War II. Next is the Town Hall with an inscription that states it was erected by Capel Hanbury-Leigh, Lord Lieutenant of the County, opened for public business on January 5th 1855. The architects were Bidlake and Lovett of Wolverhampton who won the commission in competition. It was built by William Prosser of Abergavenny. Part has been demolished and rebuilt in 1991 to form Torfaen Borough Council headquarters. Opposite is the public library built in the Edwardian Baroque style built of red brick, by the Andrew Carnegie Trust in 1908. It was designed by Messrs Spiers and Bevan of Cardiff and cost £1,889. A Solicitors’ office, Glantorvaen House was built in 1860-1870 with characteristic Ruskinian Gothic details on the porch which date it to post the publication of “The Stones of Venice” in 1851-3. It was the headquarters of Pontypool Urban District Council (1894-1974), and possibly of the Pontypool Local Board before that. Opposite are large stores, 1930s Art Deco, the former Co-op completely closed. The market place has buildings from the early 19th century. The town centre reeks of poverty. Every shop seems to be a discount store. The market is cheap veg and meat with many other cheap stalls. I stick my nose into a pub but the disco music is deafening. The next emitted shrieks. I end up in a down market Wetherspoons clone, most the hand pumps off and one person serving slowly. I assume there must be a major retail estate somewhere, the people living in the houses in Sebastopol are not going to be shopping here.
I head back to the station, but I have misjudged the distance and have to run (more of a slightly faster wobble) the last half mile. Of course, the train is running late and turns out to be the wrong one. I had misread the timetable and this is the Holyhead train which does not stop at Leominster (despite stopping almost everywhere else!) So I have a long wait at Hereford for the next one. Route
Thursday – Shrewsbury – Another day, another train, late as usual. It rained overnight which was very welcome as the garden was turning into a dust bowl. Out of Shrewsbury station and down the Castle Foregate. A building like a theatre with a green tiled entrance stands in the lea of the railway bridge. Up on the railway is a gantry of semaphore signals. Beyond the railway bridge block of shops are clearly all Turkish owned, kebabs, continental groceries and a Turkish barbers. A terrace of late 19th century shops starts with a three storied pub, the Rock and Fountain. The middle of the terrace has an arched entrance with the date above of 1884. It is the offices of Morris Lubricants and opposite is their fine main premises in a long factory with a clock tower dated 1876. The building was formerly the Perseverance Iron Works and was gutted by fire on 20th November 1905. A short way along is a bricked up entrance above which is the exhortation “Speed the Plough”. The sun is now out and it is getting warm. The bus stop is called Shrewsbury Gas Works. The road becomes St Michaels Street. On the corner is another fine Victorian building of 1884, the offices of the gas works and the only things that remains of them. It has a tiled frieze of roses and leaves and pilasters of curls and leaves. The next block is of a three storied terrace, the end house next to an arch for carriages, had a pillared entrance. An entrance of St Michaels Gate stands an old piece of machinery. Now a long terrace of small houses with tall chimney stacks and square pots. The other side of the road contains a lot of modern industrial or retail units. One blocks the front of Derfald House, which contains Council offices. The name Derfald is derived from “deer fold” and goes back to the time when the land was part of Edward Elsmere’s “New Park” (as opposed to “Old Park” which was in the Coton Hill area). Derfald House started life in 1832 as the School of St Mary and St Michael. By 1935 it was being used as a “municipal lodging house”, a hostel for “down and outs” and “travelling people”, i.e. the spike. The more modern extension in front of Derfald House was a “British Restaurant” serving a meal with two vegetables for seven (old) pence from 1942. Opposite a number of old terraces formed Oakley’s Square, later known as Derfald Court, now demolished and the site of the modern offices of the Fire and Rescue Service. Outside this building is a water pump from around 1870 with a faun’s head spout. Under the spout is a worn sign, “Waste Not Want Not”. On the domed top is another almost illegible sign, “Turn the Handle”. Of course, there is no handle. The bricks of the long terrace suddenly change to a red and cream chequer pattern. An entrance to the back names the terrace as “Primrose Terrace,1907”. St Michaels Street Board School is a tall red brick building of 1897, designed by AE Lloyd Oswell, now a clinic. Opposite a large building, Ann’s Hill is undergoing restoration. It was part of a terrace of 4 houses (now 3), built around 1800 by John Simpson, architect and builder and named after his daughter. They were formerly the apprentice house for Benyon and Bage’s flax mill. Another long terrace of late Victorian houses with substantial chimney stacks. By Crewe Street are the Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings, a large set of buildings undergoing restoration by Historic England. The site comprises seven listed buildings, including the Main Mill, which was built in 1797 and, as the world’s first iron-framed building, is the forerunner to all modern skyscrapers. The flax business thrived and the site developed rapidly for nearly 100 years, but in the 1870’s business declined, and the mill closed in 1886. The complex stood empty for over a decade before in 1897-8 the site was converted into a maltings by William Jones (Maltsters) Ltd. The site ceased trading in 1987 and became derelict. The housing is now becoming progressively more modern.
The wind is rising and dark clouds forming. Back towards the town centre via the old canal path. Blackberries are ripening. A Grey Squirrel runs along the fence on a garden. A young Blackbird is squeaking and flopping, rather than flying, after its parent, demanding food. The path runs beside a large modern estate. The path is the route of the Shrewsbury Canal, begun in 1793. It reached Shrewsbury in 1797 making coal and limestone much cheaper. In 1835, the Newport branch opened at Norbury Junction connecting the canal to the national network. Traffic continued until 1931 with the canal being abandoned in 1944. Hazel trees beside the path have crops of green hazelnuts. Past the back of the Canal Tavern which was called the Navigation Inn until at least 1837, was built soon after the completion of the canal in 1797. A painted notice on the wall, almost faded away, advertises Wem Ales. The path ends opposite the large works of Morris Lubricants, where there was a canal basin. Along Beacalls Lane. Narrow lanes of Georgian and Victorian terraces run off it. Past a short row of cottages dated 1875. Number 14 was the house of Mr Owen, builder and undertaker. He offered a complete funeral for just one guinea. In 1896 the couple had lived in the house to the left where Mrs Owen ran a small grocery shop. At the end of the terrace is the Methodist Church of 1853. It is now apartments, after being squash courts in the 1980s! On the opposite corner is the Shrewsbury British Schools, Established in 1813, enlarged 1889. The school started as the Lancastrian School. Joseph Lancaster was an educationalist who inspired the creation of a number of schools around the country. It changed its name to the Shrewsbury Higher Grade School (1891) and again to Shrewsbury British School (1896) before reverting to the Lancasterian School in 1906. It closed in 1988 and was taken over by the Prison Service but is now empty, following the closure of the prison. Down Albert Street. The terrace is of mixed height houses, some with Fire Insurance Marks. Sadly one house has been ruined with faux stone cladding. Into The Dana. Another Victorian terrace of three storeys. Dana House is a large cream brick building. Up the road is The Dana, Shrewsbury Prison, the long wall punctuated with stone columns. Opposite is a steep bank leading down to the River Severn. The prison is now a tourist attraction, offering tours. Steps lead down to the riverside path.
Under the railway bridges, two of iron, one stone. St Mary’s Water Lane has an arch in the wall across the bottom, the water gate, part of the 13th century town walls. Beside it is Union Wharf House. The Guildhall stands high above the river. Up into English Bridge and up Wyle Cop. Up into the town centre. The centre is more fully described here Beside The Crescent is another water pump, this time with a lion for a spout. A fortified watch tower from the 13th century stands by the road. The Methodist New Connexion chapel was built in 1834 by Fallows and Hart of Birmingham. It became part of the High School for Girls. The main school was in an ornate building of 1897 by A.E. Lloyd Oswell. Officially opened by H.R.H. Princess Louise, Marchioness of Lorne, the gable of the porch to the entrance of the main school building is carved in stone the motto of the Girls’ Day School Trust “Knowledge is now no more a fountain sealed“. Across the road is Kingsland Bridge Mansions, the former Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital built 1879-1881, by Ellison of Liverpool and extended in 1926, now apartments. Opposite is a solicitors in Allatt House, once Shrewsbury Corporation Health Centre. It started as a school, around 1800 designed by John Hiram Haycock for John Allatt. The Wesleyan Chapel on St John’s Hill, built in 1879, is now apartments.
The journey back is quite pleasant, apart from the child without a volume control. The train was on time, not crowded and better still the annoying on board announcements are missing. It is raining in Leominster.
Sunday – Leominster – Finally there has been a decent amount of rain. The water level in the River Lugg is still low but the shingle spit has been submerged again. The morning feels more like autumn than high summer. The market is the smallest for some weeks. The cheap fruit man is back so I purchase some. It is always very ripe and will only last a few days but is very edible and cheap!
Home – The tomatoes in the greenhouse need a lot of attention. A lot of rogue shoots are removed and leaves chopped off to allow air movement and light to reach the fruit. Some lettuce seedlings are planted out along with some Borlotti beans that have grown rather leggy in the greenhouse. Some more Callaloo is planted into the bed. Great swathes of Golden Rod and Michaelmas Daisies grow beside the central path and these are tied up to stop them falling everywhere when wet. A lot of noisy Black-backed Gulls are around. Two are harassing a Common Buzzard as it passes over the town. A Parent Shieldbug, Elasmucha grisea, is on a thistle. There are regular black “spots” around her, eggs, which she guards hence the name. Kay harvests raspberries and blueberries. I have been harvesting courgettes regularly and digging potatoes. A lot of apples have now come from the Gladstone, some have escaped the attention of the birds! The hens are still laying well.
Monday – Croft – A windy morning with bright sunshine. A Nuthatch and Carrion Crow call near the car park. Down the ride into the Fish Pool Valley. The tall, thin Ash trees away in the wind. Fortunately, it seems that the Ash Dieback Syndrome has not been as devastating as predicted, although I hope this is not tempting fate. A cronking Raven flies over. The alarm calls of Wrens are all over the slopes. The clearing of the old quarry around the limekiln has left a clear view as to how the quarry workers left buttresses of stone in the face. A fossil, maybe something like a flattish limpet, is in a lump of limestone on the ground. A young raptor calls from the woods above the path up out of the valley, a Common Buzzard responds. Both are hidden by the dense canopy. Up the path where Enchanter’s Nightshade is one of the few plants in flower. Up to the path crossing, where the removal of some trees had allowed bracken, Stinging Nettles and Rosebay Willowherb to establish. A Ringlet butterfly flits past. Up into the top of the hill-fort. A young Hornbeam has branches full of fruits, small nuts with papery wings. A Bloody-nosed Beetle, Timarcha tenebricosa, is motionless on a piece of bracken. Cows have cleared the area around the Ash tree “seat” but it not pleasant sitting there today as flies are an irritant. The clouds have increased as has the strength of the wind. A female Silver-washed Fritillary and good numbers of Red Admirals are along the north edge of the hill-fort. The views are clear all around. Dried cow pats have holes in them made by Dung Beetles, Geotrupes Stercorarius. Down towards the southern ramparts. The herd of cows are standing here waving their tails against the flies. Down to the track where a pair of shire horses are pulling a ridged roller. Following are the handler and two lurchers. It is a scene that could have occurred any time in the last few hundred years – except for the handlers plastic safety helmet instead maybe a cap. Where the conifers have been cleared, bracken had taken over. A Marsh Tit calls in the woodland at the bottom of the Spanish Chestnut field. The quarry pond is almost dry.
Wednesday – Avoncroft Croft Museum – The Civic Society trip to this museum near Bromsgrove. The museum is based on a substantial collection of buildings rescued from the West Midlands area. Information can be found here. Several buildings are from the Leominster area including a threshing barn from Cholstrey. Possibly the “star” from Leominster is a three seat toilet from Townsend House. There is also a working windmill and a collection of telephone boxes, including the inevitable “Tardis”. A touring show caravan is a stunning exhibit. Built at a cost of £1000 for Tom Clarke by the Orton and Spooner company of Burton on Trent in 1910 and was used as living quarters until 1977. It is luxurious inside, with leather seats and furniture of Spanish mahogany. Clarke operated a fairground ride of Galloping horses, and travelled to fairs in Worcestershire, Warwickshire, and beyond. His family lived in the wagon, which served as a combination business office and home. The wagon was made to be hauled by a traction engine. The year following the wagon’s construction Clarke bought a pair of engines, named King George V and Queen Mary. Other exhibits include the court cell block, built in the 1870s in Ledbury, a chainshop, formerly the Scotia Works, standing at Colley Lane in Cradley, Staffordshire, an elongated rectangular workshop first used to forge nails, but later used to make chains and some wonderful timber roofs.
Friday – Leominster-Ludlow – The sky threatens rain although the forecasts claim it will not arrive until late today. Plans of heading for Wales are abandoned as the wet weather is promised far earlier. Off through town and along the Ludlow Road. Past the Prince of Wales, an early 19th century three storied building possibly with an earlier core. It was formerly an inn but is now a residence. Redding Hall is an 18th century farmhouse with attached barn. Broad Farm has an early 18th century farmhouse and possibly earlier farm buildings. A stone chimney indicates the farmhouse is a rebuild of an earlier one. Corrugated iron barns are by Alexander and Duncan, C. Davies and George Bros, all of Leominster. Opposite the hedgerow is full of House Sparrows. Over Spittal bridge, standing near the site of the old hospital of the Priory. The next farmhouse has been recently restored and I assume the farm buildings behind the house no longer associate with it. The buildings are brick barns and another Alexander and Duncan corrugated iron barn, a rather short one. Off along the Bicton road, Croft Lane. Along the roadside purple-blue Meadow Cranesbills and a few umbellifers are still in flower.
Across Pool Cottage crossroads. Fields of grain stand golden, awaiting harvesting. Up the road a group of farm buildings look abandoned. Barn suppliers here are FH Dale and Mifflin. Past The Riddle. The road rises then drops down to Bicton. At the crossroads I turn for Yarpole. A Common Buzzard calls as it crosses the fields. It starts raining. Through Yarpole and on to Bircher. Up Leys Lane. Brook Farmhouse is 17th century, Leys and Stone Cottages are probably 18th century. A military jet splits the air. The rain is intermittent but never quite ceasing. The lane enters Bircher Common. Off the lane and onto a footpath with slippery stiles. A Bullfinch slips away. The path crosses fields and enters Ashley Moor where there are several large houses and some cottages. The lane passes Ashley Moor Farm and rises. The Teme valley to the east is misty. Past Spout House, a vast Victorian building. Various lanes then take me through to The Goggin. The rain had become persistent and I am resigned to getting wet. The rain eases and a large number of House Martins feed over the hillside. Yellowhammers are singing.
I overshoot my planned route up to Vallets by some distance and have to cross a field to Brush Wood. Into the Mortimer Forest. My legs are getting tired, this is heavy going. The grassy field has overcome my boots and my feet are now wet. The track takes the route under High Vinnalls to Peeler Pond. A track runs through Sunny Dingle Wood, anything but sunny today! The woods are quiet, dripping water, an occasional coo from a Wood Pigeon, even more occasional mew from a distant Common Buzzard and baas from sheep again in the distance. Down Mary Knoll Valley and then up past the cliffs of limestone. The track passes Starvecrow, a former farm and continues as a path. This was once the route between Ludlow and Wigmore and Lientwardine. Bindweed is everywhere often being visited by bees. The rain has eased again. A raptor is calling and flies away, maybe a Kestrel but I am unsure. The calling however continues and then a juvenile Jay comes from the same spot under a tree. I wonder if the raptor was attacking the young Jay? The path joins another track. This track was formerly the main stage coach route between Ludlow and Leominster but the Turnpike Trusts of Ludlow, 1756, built a turnpike road, now the B4361, the Overton Road, and this road diminished to a track and path. The path emerges at Mabbits Horn on the Overton Road. Down to Ludford Bridge. The River Teme is low. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Despite recent heavy rain, the water level in the River Lugg has fallen again, the spit is exposed. Large white cattle graze in the sunshine. One suspects the sun is only temporary as dark clouds are building. The old track off Butts Bridge is now impassible with a dense barrier of Stinging Nettles. The Black Poplar by the River has large bunches of Mistletoe. A Green Woodpecker flies across the car park to riverside trees, calling as it bounces along. The market is small, both in the number of vendors and purchasers. Out onto Ridgemoor Bridge. Long green tongues of waterweed have regrown. They are spotted black with pondskaters.
Home – The vine is trimmed again. Blink and another shoot seems to appear. There are plenty of grapes, too many in fact as they are small. Another two rows of potatoes are dug. These are Wilja, a second early and producing over 10lb a row. Cavolo Nero, Durham Early cabbage and Paris Island Cos lettuce are sown. A Large Yellow Underwing moth appears from nowhere and lands on the garden furniture. Now most the potatoes have been harvested, the leeks can be planted out from their nursery bed. Indoors a weevil is on a door frame, possibly a Pine weevil, Hylobius abietis. Given its propensity to cause severe damage to trees, I dispatch it.
Monday – Croft – Voluminous clouds, some dark, others towering against the blue sky. Dappled sunlight brightens the woods. It is humid. Hardly a single bird makes a sound. A female Blackcap flies up into the canopy. A Wren bursts into song briefly then the silence resumes. It is strange, clouds scurry across the sky and the sound of the wind murmurs but there is no movement in the leaves. Over the dam by the pump house. A fish splashes. A Raven barks and grunts overhead. Up past the charcoal pit and the old Beeches. Suddenly the wind rises and the branches now do start swaying. It is also getting darker. The wind creates little mysteries; what was that flash of pale wing? Just a leaf vibrating in the breeze. A sudden sound, something moving but there is nothing there, again just the wind shaking a branch. It is easy to understand how, in the distant past, our forebears, who lived in even more uncertain times and had strong beliefs in the weird and strange, could imagine elves and other spirits were present in these woods. A Common Buzzard mews in the distance, a Great Spotted Woodpecker chips nearby, a Blue Tit chirrups, Wood Pigeons coo. Up the track between Lyngham Vallet and Bircher Common. A fritillary speeds by, flying powerfully. It lands on a sunny branch of bracken, too far away to see the markings. Another appears and lands nearby. As usual I have difficulty in identifying fritillaries. I think this one is a Dark Green Fritillary. It has a large chunk out of its lower wing. Another lands which is a male Silver-washed Fritillary. Small Whites and Speckled Woods are also flitting over the bracken. Buff-tailed Bees feed on thistles. A Parasite Fly, Phasia hemiptera or Alophora hemiptera, is on a flowering Angelica. A strange looking fly with large bright red eyes and dark patterns on its wings. Corn Mint flowers next to the track.
Westwards along the Forestry track. More butterflies, Red Admiral, Peacock, Ringlet and Speckled Woods. Wrens call with staccato buzzes. A good hatching of Red Admirals means a lot in pristine condition. Up to Croft Ambrey. Two military aircraft fly along the Arrow valley, Lockheed C-130 Hercules C.5s. The second is ZH883 which has a brightly coloured tail fin with a stylised Union Jack, RAF roundel and “50 Years” to Commemorate 50 Years in RAF service of the Hercules. House Martins feed over the hillside. It starts to rain but it is a brief light shower. Down to the castle which is busy with visitors.