Sunday – Leominster – Unsurprisingly the water level in the River Lugg has fallen further. Easters Meadow has been cut. There are fewer traders at the market despite the dry weather but there are a good number of potential purchasers. A British Army Ferret scout car has joined the Russian military vehicles at Brightwells.
Home – The garden is dry, of course. But the recently planted out kale appears to have survived. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are doing well. Chilli peppers are being produced in good numbers. I dig the first potatoes, not a bad crop from a single plant. Some of the lettuces are starting to bolt. All the radishes have bolted with hardly any producing anything edible. Numerous young Blue and Great Tits visit the feeders along with an occasional young Nuthatch. Several Wrens are around the patio, so I suspect they have bred in the Ivy behind one of the old pear trees.
Monday – Croft – And the heat wave continues. The meadow at the entrance is pale brown just a bit of green under the trees. A light breeze makes it more bearable this morning. Enchanter’s Nightshade flowers at the top of the drive down to the Fish Pool Valley. A Blackbird sings loudly but a Chiffchaff calls far more tentatively than its spring song. Brambles are covered in blossom. The pools lay still and dark under the shade of the surrounding trees. Insects dart around above the water and in dancing little swarms higher up. The occasional splash marks a fish gulping at the surface. A tarpaulin tent had been erected by the lime kiln. Rangers are using the spot to make cleft chestnut gates. The water level in the pool here is very low. Adult and young Grey Wagtails are in the lower branches of the tall Ash trees. High in the canopy, Spotted Flycatchers look around for insects. Nuthatches call and Wrens burst into song. A Red Admiral flutters in the sun at the foot of the path up out of the valley. There are Speckled Woods further up the path. A Raven barks in the distance. On up the path to the singing of a Song Thrush. A fritillary flies around a sunny patch of Bracken, never settling.
The path reaches a forestry track. Ringlets flit through the grass. A Large White butterfly feeds on Bramble flowers. Up to the next track where a Meadow Brown feeds. Up to the hill-fort. An emerald coloured Sawfly lands on hand but is gone before I get a proper look. A Blackcap sings on the south side of the hill-fort, without the vigour shown earlier in the year. A Common Buzzard mews as it glides across the hill. The air above the grasses shimmers with the heat. The surrounding hills are hazy. Lady’s Bedstraw flowers by the path along with delicate china-blue Harebells. A Small Skipper feeds on Brambles. Foxgloves flower, standing high above the grasses. The Spanish Chestnut field is parched. A flock of Swallows feed around the Chestnuts. Only one of the trees is completely dead, all others have some branches still covered in foliage. Little red spots on the hard, dry track are Scarlet Pimpernels.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Broken cloud has resulted in a slightly cooler but still dry morning. Bird song is far more muted now. A Green Woodpecker flies up from the cider orchard with a loud yaffle. A Garden Warbler sings in the trees by the meadow. Ringlets fly through the grass. A fair amount of the scrape is exposed. Three young Coot scurry across the mud and shallow water to the reed bed. Two adult Mute Swans are on the main scrape with three cygnets. A small flock of Tufted Duck fly across the water. Three Cormorants take off and depart. A dozen Canada Geese, including a hybrid are preening by the scrape. Another seventy plus are on the lake. Mallard are scattered around. Two small ducks, females or in eclipse are by the island, Mandarin Duck A Grey Heron stands on a small branch by the island. Purple Loosestrife flowers on scrape, tall spikes of intense purple. Flowers on the bank, St John’s Wort, Ox-eye Daisies and Meadow Sweet are all turning to seed. Just a few Black Knapweed are in full flower.
Agrimony is flowering beside the path behind the hide. An old bi-plane is doing acrobatics rather noisily overhead. Bank in the meadow only Leafy Hawkweeds are in flower, everything else is in seed. Vermilion berries of Wild Arum are by the hedge. Green elderberries are appearing, it will be a heavy crop.
Friday – Glasbury-Boughrood – The hot dry weather continues. I park at St Peter’s church in Glasbury. Back along the busy main road. The verge is parched a pale brown. Umbellifers are running to seed. Purple Meadow Cranesbills are in flower. A footpath down to the River Wye has vanished as is often the case these days. Large houses stand between the river and the road. One is called “The Abbot’s Ferry”, another “The Ferryman’s Cottage”, references to the ferry that crossed here, first recorded in 1311. Past the entrance to a campsite where a large rat runs across the track. A junction splits the road, one road to Hay on Wye, the other to Hereford and Leominster. I take the latter. The Treble Hill Baptist Chapel of 1866 closed in 2010 and is now a canoe centre and bunkhouse. A bridge, built in 1922 and widened in 1966, crosses the Wye. The other end of the footpath is signposted here but claims there is no through right of way, contradicting the map. Over the river and westwards into the village. Modern houses lay either side of the road. Crescent House was built around 1840 in a late the Georgian style and was formerly the Crescent Stores and post office for Glasbury. Glasbury House is a large country seat of the 18th and early 19th century, now owned by the London Borough of Redbridge and used as an outside centre. The War Memorial stands on a small green, inevitably called, The Green. The surrounding houses are all Victorian or older. The lane by the memorial leads to the United Reform church of 1866, now apartments. A Congregational church was built here in 1682. The church could seat 200 and has tall pointed arch windows down the sides. A small green is surrounded by houses. A large house built at the turn of the 19th century has two stone chimney stacks. A brick dwelling opposite has a fine circular window. It was the stables and coach house, built around 1860, to Parc Gwynn which stands behind it. Parc Gwynn was built around 1800 and bought as the vicarage in 1922. It was sold again in 1940. Beside the church is a terrace of 19th century cottages. A lane leads to the river past the old mid 19th century police house. The footpath along the river here has been closed due to bank erosion. There are earthworks on the opposite side of the river, the site of the original St Peter’s church. Swifts, House Martins and Swallows are all feeding overhead. In the opposite bank are Sand Martin nest holes and the birds feed nearby.
Back to the road. Lamb House is a former inn built in the second half of the 18th century. Opposite, Foyles is a hotel and restaurant also built in the late 18th century formerly known as Maesllwch Arms Hotel. The lane continues with older properties and a lot of modern infilling. The Wye Way turns off down a track by the sports ground. Over a raised ridge that protects the village from flooding then over a brook. The Grange lies upstream a short way. The track passes pastures of sheep and cattle. Skylarks sing overhead. The river has come closer now. Three Mallard swim. A small wooden hut with a corrugated iron roof stands on the bank side. Upstream are shallows with Water Crowsfoot in flower. Two Mute Swans feed nearby. More Mallard dabble and a Muscovy duck preens. Numerous Beautiful Damselflies, Agrion virgo, flit around. Good numbers of bees are in Bramble flowers. Small Tortoiseshell, Small White and Meadow Brown butterflies are active along the hedgerow. Great spreading Oaks provide some welcome shade from the relentless sun. A Chiffchaff calls. Past Glasbury Farm. The track becomes overgrown and uneven. Young Partridge fly up and away. Jackdaws and Rooks are noisy around a wheat field. On along a dusty track. Mallow and Honeysuckle flower. A Common Buzzard glides of across the fields. A spotty young Robin watches from one of the great Oaks. These trees would seem to indicate this was a more important route several hundred years ago when they were planted.
An old abandoned track, very overgrown joins this one which now splits. Past heads south-west to Glangwye. The Wye Walk heads westwards. There are some old sleepers by the track, but this was not the route of the railway. Past a ruined stone building, Ddol Hîr. The track joins a lane at Pystill Farm. The lane enters Boughrood Brest, Brest Bochrwyd, a hamlet formerly called Breast Bâch, with a scattering of houses. A track heads westwards. It become difficult as the inconsiderate farmer had sown wheat over parts of the track and other parts are impassable because of weeds. Across a rough meadow and back again to the River Wye. A path and steps lead down to the river but only into a thicket of willow. Yellow Monkey Flowers, a garden escape originally from the Americas, are in a large stand by the water. The river is flowing through small boulders. Oaks, maybe a couple of hundred years old are surrounded by young pretenders, Sycamore, Beech, Ash and Holly. Another flight of steps takes the path down to the river. Fry swim in a small inlet. Past a large house with a beautiful view of the river; somehow inevitably the old rectory. Planes of rock stick out of the path at 45° angle. The bedrock is Pridoli mudstone, siltstone and sandstone of the Silurian Period, 416-419 million years ago.
The track meets the road into Boughrood, Bochrwyd. The name is a strange one, possibly meaning a “jaw-shaped net”, a fish trap in the Wye. Modern housing developments give way to older buildings as the lane reaches a long bridge over the Wye. It was built in 1838-43 by T H Wyatt and D Brandon for the de Winton family of the Maesllwch Estate to carry coal, coke, lime and other goods into southern Radnorshire. It replaced the earlier ford and the ferry and was a substantial stone bridge with four segmental arches, with a semi-circular arch at each end. A two storey toll house, now enlarged, was added to the northern end in 1843 and the occupants in 1850, John and Elizabeth Meredith combined the collection of tolls with a cobbling business, as was common practice, especially if they were supporting a large family. In 1875 it was run by James Portnell.The bridge toll continued to be levied up to 1934. Three lamp posts are on the bridge. Below are the occasional silver flashes of fish and swirls as they snatch something off the surface. The water has an almost orange colour. Downstream from the bridge, a Common Sandpiper bobs on a rock. Back into the village and along Station Road which runs north parallel with the river. To the west is Llangoed Wood rising steeply up from the river valley with the A470 at its foot. Clouds are obscuring the sun although it does not seem any cooler. The road passes a row of former council houses and the modern developments. The modern housing is on the site of the Boughrood and Llyswen station on the GWR Mid-Wales line. The station opened in September 1864 and closed in December 1962.
The road turns by more modern houses which stand beside Village Farm. The farmhouse is early 17th century and was owned by the Haines family for over two centuries. Opposite is the church of St Cynog. The church is Victorian. The circular graveyard suggests an early site, but the present church was built in 1854 by C.H.Howell, in the manner of H.Woodyer, to replace an earlier building. The spire was removed in 1978 but had now been rebuilt. The interior is a pleasant Victorian church in the decorated Gothic painted white with some gold relief and intricate carvings. A preaching cross stump in the graveyard has the remains of a sundial, possibly an original 13th century. A bier house stands in the corner of the graveyard probably contemporaneous with the church.
Boughrood Court is north of the church. It is a large cruck-built farmhouse of the 16th century or earlier, the north end of which was converted and raised to two storeys with attic in a high-quality early 17th century remodelling. A lane rises and turns beside Castle Farm. A fairly large although not high motte stands beside the farmhouse, which was built in 1870. The castle was probably originally a timber tower on the motte, thrown up in the late 11th century. The stone castle was referred to in 1205 and was in the hands of the Gamage family. A substantial wall encloses what was formally a vegetable and fruit garden. The lane starts to descend. In the distance are Castell Dinas and Mynydd Troed. Ornate gates open into a drive to Boughrood Castle, built in 1817 by Francis Fowke Snr, and was altered by the replacement of the crenellated roof with the present form in 1820-30 by his son, Francis Fowke Jnr. The lane heads back towards Boughrood Brest. Fields of barley are golden. Now Hay Bluff and Twmpa last ahead. The Bramble flowers around this area are a rich rose pink. I do not return to the Wye Way but stay on the road. Past Sgynlas Wood. Nearby is a mirid bug, Deraeocoris ruber, black with bright scarlet spots. The farmhouse at Pwll Patti Farm looks modern. A huge pear tree stands in front of it. A bird hide is beside the road, courtesy of the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust but it is closed as there is a wasps’ nest inside. Two C130 Hercules aircraft roar over.
The lane enters Cwm-bach. The Methodist chapel dates from 1818 and still in use. A small graveyard stands behind is, again still in use. One stone records James Bynon, the preacher agreed 47 and James his son, aged 17, who were drowned in the River Wye with three others on 28th September 1850 while attempting to cross the river in a ferry boat after the fall of Glasbury Bridge. Also buried here is Margaret who “witnessed the untimely death is her husband and only son and oppressed with grief died October 24th 1850 aged 57”. The road bends and by the drive to Maesllwch Castle is the church of All Saints. The church is an estate church for the Maesllwch estate. It was built on a north-east by south-west alignment in 1881-2 to designs of Haddon Bros, the plans worked up by E.P.Vulliamy. Stained glass includes works by Christopher Whall (1916) in the nave with Arts and Crafts styling and colouring. The east window, is by Heaton, Butler & Bayne from around 1880. A set of windows of the Apostles set in a circular stone decorated style in the chancel are particularly fine. Another is a rendition of Holman Hunt’s “Light of the World”.
On towards Glasbury. Woodlands is an outdoor centre in a large early 19th century mansion. The stables have been butchered by the addition of awful dormer windows. A Common Buzzard stands on an electricity pole. Past the Grange, seen earlier. A large granary has been converted into several homes. Back into Glasbury. Route
Sunday – Leominster – It seems ridiculous that there is a bit of a sigh when looking out of the window in the morning and seeing a clear blue sky. However, we are desperate for rain and the hot nights are becoming tiresome. It is heating up fast as I head for the market. The water level in the River Lugg is low but not down as much as one might expect after this prolonged drought. A Robin and Blackbird are still in fine voice. The market is still smaller than one would expect in such fine weather.
Home – The garden is heating up rapidly. I do some weeding, they always find enough moisture to grow! A trough in the greenhouse is filled with compost and basil seedlings planted out. Little courgettes are appearing. A few Gladstone apples have turned red. They are sweet and flavoursome but I do not really like the soft texture of the flesh. Kay picks 16lb of black currants. We strip them off the stalks but do not remove the little remains of the flower – far too much bother. A couple of kilos are boiled up and into a jelly bag, well most of it with some splashing over the wall and paintwork. Luckily we have more wall paint to touch up the splashes. The rest of the berries are bagged up and put into the freezer.
Monday – Home – The black currant jelly is made. The set is softer than I thought it would be but the flavour is lovely and sharp.
Leominster – High, thin cloud and a light breeze mitigate the incessant heat a little, but there is no prospect of rain yet. Up Ryelands Road and into Ryelands Orchard by the toll house. Jackdaws chack and Wood Pigeons coo. Along Cockcroft Lane, once a cobbled lane, now a footpath. Juvenile Great Tits fly along the hedgerow. The fields to the east has ripening barley. The pasture to the west is parched and yellow. A Chiffchaff calls. The field at the south end of the pasture is also barley. There has been a hatching of Large White, there are dozens over the field and bushes. Pink Field Bindweed and scarlet Field Poppies flower either side of the track along with a number of other plants typical of cultivation – Fat Hen, Mayweed, Greater Plantain, Smooth Sow-Thistle and Lesser Burdock. A Skylark sings above the cereal crop. These fields are farmed organically so there are some “weeds” in the crop but really not very many. The next field, leading down to the Hereford Road at St Botolphs Green had a good looking potato crop in it. A Small Skipper is on thistles. Along the edge of the track is Greater Bindweed. Whilst it is a nightmare plant for gardeners, it is hard to deny the beauty of the pure white trumpets.
Along Southern Avenue. The high clouds are thinning and the sun now beats down. Over the modern road bridge across the railway. Cinnabar moth caterpillars, tiger-striped orange and black feed on Ragwort. A Gatekeeper butterfly flits through the vegetation. On to Eaton Bridge. Numerous Banded Agrion Damselflies, Agrion splendens, chase across the surface of the Lugg, pausing on emerald water-weeds. Up Widgeon Meadow. A rabbit scurries across the path. Up Eaton Hill past the drovers’ steps. Centaury flowers by the path. A Grey Squirrel yammers its strange strangulated call. The old Crab Apple by the track is devoid of fruit, it is a strange year for apples, some heavy with fruit, others barren. The big field in the hill had been left to hay this year and which has been cut and removed. A Blackcap sings in the hedgerow. The large solar panel array on the hilltop must be coining it for the landowner this year! More rabbits scatter from the path, including some very small juveniles.
Onto the track down through Comfordt Wood. Across Easters Meadow, slowly disappearing under more tarmac, to Butts Bridge. Two Mute Swans swim upstream on the Lugg. A Grey Wagtail bobs in the shallows, snatching insects off the surface of the water. Over the railway. By the far side of the bridge is a large buddleia in blossom. It is called the “Butterfly Bush” but there is not a single Lepidopteran to be seen. Route
Friday – Abergavenny-Crickhowell – A grey overcast sky, something of a change. From the station, down to the A40, then off down a small lane, Mill Street, lined with sizeable Victorian houses. The house before the lane turns is early 19th century, probably a redeveloped earlier building and likely to have been the miller’s house as the water mill stood adjacent. The lane passes through a small industrial estate to the foot of the hill on which the castle stands. Past Mill Street storm overflow and treatment works and the Laurie Jones Community Orchard. Across Castle Meadows. The path runs alongside the River Usk. Mallard sleep under Old Usk Bridge. Formerly known as Tudor Bridge because it has been recorded as being built by Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford and Baron Abergavenny in the reign of Henry VI (1422-61). Whilst this is the medieval river crossing, the present bridge is stylistically later, probably 17th century, and seems to be a complete rebuild of the original sixteen arches, with substantial evidence of subsequent alterations. An information board suggests this bridge is the combination of the mediaeval bridge and a tramway built beside it. However, CADW dismiss this as an engraving by Gastineau shows William Crossley’s bridge as both separate and higher. The bridge was widened again in 1868.
Over the bridge and into Llanfoist Fawr, Llan-ffwyst Fawr. A subway passes under the A465, The Heads of the Valleys Road. A quiet old lane, The Cutting, heads towards the centre of the village. The start of the lane was originally on the track of the Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway which opened in 1862 by which time it was owned by the London and North Western Railway. It closed in 1958. Casaba Terrace has a shield denoting the builders, TCT, 1878. There are more houses and short terraces of a similar age. Waterloo House, which stood on the other side of the railway line, was formerly known as Maerdy, a name that suggests it was an important local building. It was originally a mediaeval farmhouse. In 1820 it was sold to John Price, solicitor of Abergavenny and became an alehouse, known as the Waterloo. The lane joins Merthyr Road. A large house has a vaguely Arts and Crafts look but could be much newer. The village lies at the foot of a large hill, Blorenge. A car sales site and housing has been built on the route of the railway. At Llanfoist Crossing, a lane leads to the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal.
The name of the village derives from that of Ffwyst, an early Christian Welsh saint, although the anglicised name is St Faith. It was home to the ironmaster, Crawshay Bailey. The church of St Faith is sadly locked. The building is possibly 13th century but was largely rebuilt in 1872 at the expense of Crawshay Bailey II to the plans of John Pollard Seddon. In the porch is a gravestone of Calap James dated 1697 and a sepulchral slab depicting a woman in Elizabethan or early Stuart dress dress with a worn shield. The churchyard cross is mediaeval. The churchyard is circular with a Lime tree avenue.
A path climbs the lower slopes of Blorenge to Llanfoist Wharf. A tunnel runs under the canal whilst steps climb to the tow path. A stream flows down beside the path. A Song Thrush with food in its beak stands on a stone in the stream. On the far side is the wharfinger’s house, a three storey, rendered building of the early 19th century. The wharf is where the tramroad from Garnddyrys Forge, built by Thomas Hill of Blaenavon in 1825 reaches the canal. Near the house is a boathouse, formerly known as Hill’s Warehouse and was built to store iron pending transit along the canal. It went out of use in 1860’s when the tramroad was superseded by the railway and later became a boat-repair yard. The canal is effectively in a terrace cut into the hillside. Buddleia flowers on the edge of the path and is providing nectar for a Dark Green Fritillary, Argynnis aglaja. Jays squawk. Far below is Llanfoist House, home of Crayshaw Bailey. A path passes under the canal into woodland, Coed y Person. The woods are a mixture of Oak, Beech, Sycamore, Sweet Chestnut and Ash. Repairs are being undertaken on the steep slope down from the canal, plastic mesh reinforcing the soil. Houses and gardens interrupt the tow-path and the route crosses a bridge to continue on the other side. An old quarry had been dug into the hillside. The clouds have partially cleared leaving blue sky and some towering cumulus clouds. An old hollow way heads up into the woods to the abandoned Govilon quarry.
The canal reaches Govilon Wharf. This was a busy juncture of the canal with two tramroads. Bailey’s Tramroad ran from Nantyglo Ironworks, down the Clydach Gorge to the canal bringing pig iron and coal. The Llanfihangel Tramroad was built to take coal, line and general goods to Hereford. The Govilon Boat Club building dates from 1821 and was probably the wharf office. Further along the wharf is an early 19th century warehouse. The railway came close to the canal with sidings, then crossed it by a bridge at the north end of the wharf. It climbed then the Clydach Gorge to Brynmawr, nearly 1000 feet in eight miles, one of the steepest gradients in the country. On Tuesdays extra services took locals to the market in Abergavenny. On the far side of the canal is Llanwenarth Baptist church, recorded as the oldest Baptist chapel in Wales; the cause being founded in 1652. The existing building is the result of several remodellings but has its origins in a chapel of 1695. In the 18th century it was doubled in size, remodelled again, principally in 1869-70 with further renovation in 1893. The west side is slate-hung to the ground. A “change-over” bridge crosses the canal taking the towpath to the other side. The canal bends its way past modern and older properties. A bridge crosses a deep gorge carrying water from an overflow and a stream which drove a mill, Upper Mill. A short spur is I assume a turning point, but there is a building on the 1881 OS map which may have been a workshop as there is a reference to this being a dry dock.
Christchurch lays below the canal. Steep steps descend to a road which passes under the aqueduct carrying the canal. The church is locked. It was built in 1847 to designs of architects Wyatt and Brandon of London as a chapel of ease and enlarged by J.D.Sedding into the parish church in 1869. Opposite is the former bakery which closed in 1965. Back up to the canal. The land is levelling out now and the canal had widened. Carrion Crows haunt fields of yellow, parched grass. Carreg Gilwir rises to the north-west with a tall communications mast. Sugarloaf is far to the east. Boats are passing regularly now. A large stand of flowers rises by the water; Meadow Sweet, Purple Loosestrife, Great Willowherb and Cowbane already turned to seed. A lift bridge crosses the canal, its counter-balance mechanism removed now. It rattles alarmingly as a post office van crosses it, coming from Llanwenarth House, is recorded as having been built in mid 16th century for Sir Morgan Lloyd, who became rector of the parish in 1539. It is where composer Cecil Alexander is believed to have written the lyrics to the hymn, All Things Bright and Beautiful. The heat and humidity are rising and the sky is darkening to the west. The wind is rising. Storms have been forecast! A large clump of Arrowheads are in the water, an aquatic with arrow-shaped leaves and a pure white flower with a purple centre. A little further on is a patch of Branched Bur-reed with yellow and white mace-like flowers. Past a winding hole then under the A465.
Bridge 102 has been reinforced with railway rails. The canal is passing the town of Gilwern. The houses below the canal are 20th century. The Black Mountains beyond are either misty or rain is falling. Then suddenly it is raining here. The A465 is being enlarged considerably. A tall footbridge is being constructed over it. The canal bends and crosses the Afon Clydach by an embankment built by Thomas Dadford Jr at the end of the 18th century for the sum of £1840. A tunnel passes under the canal to take the Clydach tramroad leading to Glangrwyne Forge, now a footpath up river. On the far side is Gilwern wharf. The canal bends again and to the west is Auckland House, built in 1819 as an iron-warehouse for Joseph and Crawshay Bailey of Nantyglo, ironmasters. The erection of the warehouse at Llanelly Wharf (completed 1817) was given permission in 1819, and was sited at the end of the tramroad from the Nantyglo Ironworks, the tramroad being completed in 1814. The new building was one of the world’s first railway warehouses. It was sold to the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal Company in October 1821 for £80, with the agreement that the Baileys would give up possession in twelve months when the building was to be adapted house the Llanelly wharfinger. It was extended soon after January 1820 when the ironmaster George Brewer of Coalbrookvale required storage space; in 1820, the Beaufort Ironworks was also using the warehouse. It was then extended again after 1822 to house the wharfinger and subsequent workers at the wharfage. The rain has stopped. The canal passes through Pen-y-bont. A row of six limekilns were built in 1817. The canal runs on, now through a wooded slope. Sheep baa from the fields above. Past what I suppose is another winding hole although the boat would have to be rather short to use it. A Chiffchaff calls. Traffic noise from the A4077 below is constant. A female Mallard has four still fluffy ducklings. Bridge 18 has been removed, just the stanchions remaining. A cast iron post holds an oval plate stating simply “25”. Still travelling through woodland Coed Perth y Piod. Past a marina at Pen-Pedair-Heol.
A massive Wellingtonia marks Llangattock Park. Past a boat hire marina. I attempt to leave the canal at Llangattock Park House but the eight foot wall of Lower Yard Bridge has small blocks projecting from the wall as steps, so I pass Llangattock Basin and take the lane from Upper Yard Bridge towards the village. The Bethesda Chapel of 1835 has a bier house by the road. 20th century houses line the road then they become Victorian as the road drops towards the River Usk. A large house stands overlooking the river plain, Plas Llangattwg, an early 18th gentry house probably built for the Morgans, a well known Llangattock family. It was constructed on the site of a former Tudor house, features of which still survive, and which is said to be shown on a 1538 survey of the Park of Cillellan. Over the River Usk by the bridge, first recorded in a survey of 1538, but rebuilt in 1706 with more arches. Later alterations included widening in 1810 to the north-west side, having been criticised by Theophilus Jones for its narrowness, and reconstruction to the north-east end when New Road was built in 1828-30. Up to the centre of Crickhowell to the bus stop and back to Abergavenny.
Rain starts to fall shortly after the train leaves Abergavenney station. It is a downpour at Hereford. Shortly after leaving Hereford water starts coming through the sealed window unit next to me. I get soaked walking back from Leominster station in a full blown thunder storm and cloudburst. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Swifts scream overhead under a clear blue sky. The recent storm has done little to raise the level of the water in the River Lugg which remains very low. It is not surprising as in our garden the water the rain deposited only affected the top inch or so, thus very little would have flow through to the ditches and down into the tributaries to the river. A dead mole lays in Easters Meadow. The Communion Bell tolls at the Priory. The market is larger than it has been of late. Some interesting bits and pieces but I have to keep reminding myself, do I actually need this? The answer is almost invariably, no! Water Boatman have returned to the Lugg under Ridgemoor Bridge. The clarity of the water tends to confirm there has been no run off from the storm. Three Mallard glide down Kenwater, heads under the water now and again, inspecting the weeds. Another four Mallard are dabbling further upstream. A Lesser Black-backed Gull struts around the car park. It has a grey back indicating it is of the west European race, graellsii. There were a number of Lesser Black-backed Gulls on the roof of Hereford station on Friday and these all had the black backs of the Baltic race, fuscus.
Home – The broad beans are cleared. There is a trug full of pods that are shelled and frozen. Some dwarf French beans and Borlotti beans are cropped and most are frozen. The small leeks in a trough and pot are planted out. They will be moved to their permanent site once the potatoes have been dug. I venture to the bottom of the garden and remove new Bramble shoots. We are making an effort to keep these down this year and are succeeding so far. White Bryony is spreading again so that is removed. A few gooseberries are ripe in the little bush that grows near the pond. Lettuces that have been in seed trays in the cold frame are finally planted it. The long dry spell made it pointless earlier. The chilli peppers in the greenhouse are getting unruly and are tied up to try and control them a bit better. The crop is good and some are beginning to ripen. A few tomatoes are also beginning to turn orange. Courgettes are now appearing and as usual almost growing larger before ones eyes.
Later in the day some Chinese vegtables are sown, Pak Choi and Choi Sum, and some carrots.
Monday – Clee Liberty – From Yeld Gate, a track heads across Clee Liberty Common. I last walked this area over seven years ago. Newly shorn sheep watch. It is cooler than of late as the sky is covered in clouds and there is a breeze. To the north west, Caer Caradoc and Long Mynd are misty. Ahead are the masts on Brown Clee and below Nordy Bank hill-fort. A Yellowhammer sings from across the common. Down the hillside, smoke rises from near the large farmhouse at Glebe Farm. Sheep have been marked with red dye, some so liberally they look like the victims of a mad axeman. The route leaves the track and heads up a wide grassy path. A rabbit dashes between clumps of Bracken. The path crosses an area of banks, gullies and mounds, the results of many years of mining and quarrying. The geology is Devonian Lower Old Red Sandstone beds above the Ditton Series, chiefly sandstones with subordinate silt-stones, conglomerates, limestones and dolomitic rocks. They are divided into the Abdon Series overlain by the Woodbank Series. The beds are folded into a shallow asymmetrical syncline of caledonoid trend and are overlain unconformably by eastward-dipping Coal Measures. The path joins the Jack Mytton Way, here a tarmacked road. Skylarks sing. To the west a flock of around 100 Rooks fly south down Corve Dale.
The track starts to descend passing a large abandoned quarry. Concrete posts line the track, bearing rusty metal disks that would once have been either white or red to delineate the edges of the track. The track meets a lane at Quarry Cottage. Through Cockshutford, a small scattered hamlet. Bramble flowers are fading and little green blackberries are forming. Past a post box and telephone box, the latter now housing a defibrillator. A track leaves the lane and heads back onto Clee Liberty Common. Over a dried up stream bed which runs down from Rose Cottage and Batch Farm. A small Primitive Methodist chapel of 1869 is now a residence. The track runs up Pole Gutter. Water can be heard in the stream hidden below. A track runs down and across the stream then up again to Coneybury, an ornate chimney of which stands above the trees. The far side of Pole Gutter is Woodbank. Blue and Great Tits cavort in the branches of large Alder trees. Twittering flicks of Swallow pass over. A barking Raven flies by. A Common Buzzard mews from an electricity pole.
The track starts to climb, passing Pole Gutter Cottage which is hidden in a dense thicket and seemingly abandoned. Houses stand on the opposite hillside. A mountain biker stops for a quick chat, both of commenting on the fact we are each the only person we have met. Behind are yellow fields leading up to the dark line of Wenlock Edge. Below are Five Springs, their routes shown as channels in the sea of Bracken. The path tops out at Burwharton Pole in Brown Clee. To the north are two area of land, Monkeys’ Fold and Sandy Nap leading to Abdon Burf and radio masts. Several poppy wreaths are laid against a memorial to British and German pilots whose aircraft crashed into Brown Clee. It is recorded that more aircraft have hit this hill than any other in the country. My route lies the opposite way across the common. The path passes high on the southern side of Pole Gutter, under Clee Burf, also topped with radio masts. Both Abdon and Clee Burfs have hill-forts on them but they have been almost obliterated by quarrying and mining.
The path follows a deep drainage ditch. At one point a sedgy, very wet channel runs down the hill and it takes a few moments to find a crossing point. The path rejoins the Jack Mytton Way again. A Red Kite passes over. Thistles flower on the edge of the track, one has pure white flowers. Heath Bumble Bees, Bombus jonellus, Red-tailed Bumble Bees, Bombus lapidarius and hoverflies visit them. Meadow Pipits flit through the Gorse. Also on the Gorse is a male Stonechat, chattering as he moves from one vantage point to another. The track heads towards Nordly Bank, then another crosses the common back to Yeld Gate. Route
Wednesday – Portmeirion – We head up through the Cambrian Mountains to the north-west coast of Wales. Here, a short way south of Porthmadog is the fantasy village of Portmeirion. It was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village. The main building of the hotel and the cottages “White Horses”, “Mermaid”, and “The Salutation” were part of a private estate called Aber Iâ developed in the 1850s on the site of a late 18th century foundry and boatyard. A few remains of a mediaeval castle (known variously as Castell Deudraeth, Castell Gwain Goch and Castell Aber Iâ), recorded by Gerald of Wales in 1188, are in the woods just outside the village. Sir Osmond Williams owned the Victorian crenellated mansion Castell Deudraeth, built in the 1840s, was bought by Williams-Ellis in 1931 with the intention of incorporating it into the Portmeirion hotel complex. In the event this did not happen until 2001.
For us, this is a sort of “bucket list” place. Memories of the late 1960s television programme with Patrick McGoohan, “The Prisoner” which was largely set here and the intrigue of the strangeness of the place is what draws us. We walk down past the Italianate buildings, painted in bright pastel colours, to a point overlooking a giant chess board set in gardens. Small villas, all rooms which can be booked, stand often on the rocky bones of the land. There are typical tourist shops and cafés.
Up a slope into woods. It is cooler here. Specimen trees mingle with native species and rhododendrons. A small lake has chinoiserie jetties standing over lily pads and flowers. The path continues then suddenly it is overlooking the sea in the estuary of Afon Dwyryd. It is a beautiful coast is blue sea and rocky shores. The rocks are Ffestiniog Flags Formation – mudstone, siltstone and sandstone, formed approximately 485 to 499 million years ago in the Cambrian Period. The path takes us to a small metal lighthouse then in round the headland and back into the village. A “boat” in concrete is by a “dock”. Back up past the hotel and into the gardens by the giant chessboard. A pond is full of pond weeds and rushes. Another has a fountain shooting water into the air. The village is now getting crowded and the air is getting hotter from the beating sun.
Porthmadog – This popular tourist destination Porthmadog came into existence after William Madocks (1773-1828) built a sea wall, the Cob, in 1810 to reclaim a large proportion of Traeth Mawr from the sea for agricultural use. The earth sea-wall ran from Trwynygraig, Prenteg to Clogyberth, now Porthmadog in a semicircle around around two miles in length. The diversion of the Afon Glaslyn caused it to scour out a new natural harbour which had a deep enough draught for small ocean-going sailing ships and the first public wharves were built in 1825. Individual quarry companies followed, building a series of wharves along the shore almost as far as Borth-y-Gest, and slate was carted from Ffestiniog down to the quays along the Afon Dwyryd, then boated to Porthmadog for transfer to seagoing vessels. In the second half of the 19th century Porthmadog was a flourishing port, its population expanding from 885 in 1821 to over 3000 by 1861. As the cities of England grew in the Industrial Revolution they needed high quality roofing slate, which was transported to the new port by tramway from the quarries in Ffestiniog and Llanfrothen. The Ffestiniog Railway opened in 1836, followed by the Croesor Tramway in 1864 and the Gorseddau Tramway in 1856, and by 1873 over 116,000 tons were exported through Porthmadog in more than a thousand ships. A number of shipbuilders were active at this time, and were particularly well known for the three-masted schooners known as Western Ocean Yachts, the last of which was built in 1913.
We wander down to the old docks, now a marina. Cornhill is the group of buildings around the original Porthmadog harbour (Cornhill Wharf), which was built 1821-4. The houses around the docks are built of large blocks of slate-stone creating a very distinctive solidity to them. Old steps lead down from Cornhill Wharf into the water. They are no longer in use which is probably a good thing as they are sloping and worn, certainly slippery when wet. On the dock is the Madoc Yacht Club which was built in the mid 19th century, probably partly as a house and the harbour office. The earliest section was built in 1852 at the expense of David Williams of Deudraeth Castle. The upper storey housed a seamen’s newsroom and library. By 1856 it subscribed to several newspapers and journals and had a library of 250 books. Oakleys and Greaves Wharf was a single construction for John Greaves (who opened his own quarry in 1846) and the Rhiwbryfdir Slate Company (founded 1838) in the mid 19th century. Next to the Harbour Master’s office is the Maritime Museum in a former slate warehouse built in the mid 19th century by Matthews & Son, owners of Rhiwbryfdir Slate Company. It is the only one of many such warehouses still in existence. Up Oakley Wharf to the Britannia Bridge, built 1808-11 contemporary with the Cob, probably supervised by John Williams, agent to Madocks. The bridge acted as a tidal sluice, and retains its slots for tidal gates. Across the bridge is Cob Records, a mainly second hand record shop that started trading in 1967. I visited several times in the 1980s when we brought Duke of Edinburgh Award children to Snowdonia for their expeditions. Opposite is the station of the Festiniog and Welsh Highland Railways. We head along the main street. A row of shops are in the Georgian style in slate stone built in the mid 19th century. Further on the shops are less tourist orientated and become a shopping street for local people. It is good to see that all the typical high street shops are still here, even if there are a number of closed businesses. Capel Salem is a large chapel on the High Street. A plaque states a chapel was originally built on the site in 1827 and was enlarged in 1841. It was rebuilt in 1860 by the chapel architect Reverend Thomas Thomas (Thomas Glandwr) of Landore, Swansea. The chapel features Thomas’ trademark motif, described in the listing as “the central giant arch breaking through the pediment (derived ultimately from Renaissance facades, possibly by way of Wren’s Greenwich Hospital and St Paul’s Cathedral)”. On a junction is an old fashioned department store, Kerfoot’s, originally Roberts & Co, said to have been established in 1874 (date on building), probably as a chandlers.
We return to the Britannia Bridge, passing The Park, just in time to see a train pull into the station. It is drawn by an ex-South African Railways NGG16 Class Garratt in green livery. This was the last locomotive built by Beyer, Peacock and Company in Manchester.
Thursday – Harlech – This small town lies in two parts, low and high town. High town is dominated by Harlech Castle. Low town contains the station, industrial units, the swimming poll and leisure centre and then towards the sea, a golf course, large caravan park before the dunes that line the coast. We are in the high town which contains the high street where there are cafés, antique shops, the local stores and churches. The former Particular Baptist Church has scaffolding up and may well be undergoing conversion into a residence.
St Tanwg’s church, Harlech is situated within an irregularly shaped churchyard. The church was opened in 1841 and was built to replace St Tanwg’s, Llandanwg, which had fallen into disrepair and was abandoned in 1845. It was designed by Thomas Jones of Chester and constructed in a simple lancet, pre-ecclesiological style, on land provided by Sir Robert Williams Vaughan of Nannau and Hengwrt Bart, a prominent North Walian landowner and benefactor. It has a three-bay nave with small two-bay, step-down chancel, and a short north aisle. The interior walls have been previously plastered but are now exposed stone. There is a gallery at the west end. Above is a gabled bell-cote, corbelled-out slightly to the west and with a segmental chamfered bell opening. The font is 15th century and from the predecessor church. A young lad comes in and starts playing the organ, an early 20th century instrument. The glass dates from the 1940s. Outside the church on the roadside is the site of old town washery.
Opposite is the Spar supermarket in a mid-Victorian shop. The Wesleyan Methodist church is now the St David in Seion Catholic church. We then go down a side street, Twtil, to the castle. This magnificent stronghold, on a great rocky headland overlooking Tremadog Bay was built by Edward I following his conquest of Wales. The main construction was between 1283 and 1289 with additions of 1295 and 1323-4 at an overall cost recorded as around £9,500 (in the region of £9.5 million in current terms). It was designed by Edward’s chief military engineer, the Savoyard Master James of St George, which rank amongst the most highly sophisticated and innovative examples of military engineering in contemporary Europe. Master James was himself created its first constable in 1290, and received a salary of 100 marks a year. The castle is of the concentric type. The main defences consist of a four round towers placed at the corners of a roughly rectangular high-walled inner ward, with a lower-walled outer ward forming a narrow secondary line of defence. The latter broadly follows the line of the inner ward, though its walls have been reduced in height. A large square gatehouse block faces the town. As well as a heavily defended entrance it also contained the relatively luxurious apartments of the constable, his family and honoured guests. On the north side is a postern gate with small D-shaped drum towers. On the west side is a door onto a formerly walled and defended track, known as the “Way From the Sea”, which winds its way down the east and south sides to the foot of the rock, where, at the north-western point, is the “Gate-Next-the-Sea”, where supplies were landed by ship. This gateway had its own drawbridge and portcullis system and was further covered by two rock-cut engine platforms above. The low town, the golf course and the Morfa sand dunes were all under the sea at the time the castle was built.
In 1294 the English garrison withstood a siege by the Welsh under Madog ap Llywelyn. In the spring of 1404 Owain Glyndŵr and his forces took the castle which, for the next five years became his court and capital. The siege of Harlech Castle (1461-14 August 1468) in the War of the Roses, is famous as the longest siege in British history. The garrison of Harlech was commanded by Davydd ap Ifan ap Einion, a veteran of the Hundred Years War. The castle also became a refuge for English Lancastrians, included Sir Richard Tunstall, a member of Henry VI’s household. In July 1461 Edward IV decided to lead a campaign in Wales in person, and on 12th July he mobilized his artillery. Lord William Herbert of Raglan and Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers, were ordered to raise an army in the borders. Edward then decided not to lead the army himself and placed Lord Herbert in command. The castle was the only stronghold in Lancastrian hands but Edward considered it an unnecessary effort to capture it. Herbert offered terms to the garrison, but Davydd ap Einion is said to have replied that in his youth he “held a Castle in France so long that all the old women in Wales talk of it, now he would hold Harlech so long that all the women in France would speak of it”. If this quote comes from this period, then it was largely bluster, for the formal siege only lasted for about a month when in 1468 Lord Herbert decided to end the resistance with a force of over 7000 men. Supplies were running short, and on 14th August 1468 the garrison surrendered on terms. David ap Eynon and most of the garrison were pardoned in December 1468, although a few of the English Lancastrians were executed in London. Davydd ap Ifan ap Einion disappears from history after the siege. The famous Welsh anthem, “Men of Harlech” is said to have been derived from this siege. The castle went into decline and by 1564 was mainly used as a prison, especially debtors. It appears the gatehouse was kept in repair and it was here that the justices of the assize visited seasonally to conduct hearings. The castle’s last action was in the Civil War. In 1647 the Royalist garrison under Colonel William Owen surrendered to the Parliamentarians; it was the last mainland British castle to hold out for King Charles I. Most castles were slighted on capture but it was limited here which accounts for the fine condition of the building. It is possible to walk around the top of the walls which gives wonderful views, although my stomach is continuously fluttering through vertigo!
Outside the castle is a statue of the Two Kings (sculptor Ivor Robert-Jones, 1984). Bendigeidfran carries the body of his nephew Gwern, following the latter’s death at Efnysien’s hands. The story comes from medieval Welsh literature, Red Book of Hergest and White Book of Rhydderch and the second of the four branches of the Mabinogi. It concerns the children of Llŷr; Bendigeidfran (literally “Brân the Blessed”), high king of Britain, and his siblings Manawydan and Branwen, and deals with the latter’s marriage to Matholwch, king of Ireland. Matholwch’s mistreatment of the British princess leads to a mutually destructive war between the two islands, the deaths of most of the principal characters, and the ascension of Caswallon fab Beli to the British throne. More of the tale is here.
Friday – Eyton – High, fluffy clouds bring no hope of rain. Nor does the forecast. Through the town. The River Kenwater remains very low. Into the Old Ludlow Road. At the New Lugg Bridge there is a display of of milk churns with a railway plaque stating, Summergills Leominster-Kington Line, 1857-1964. A Common Blue and Ringlet butterflies rest on grass stalks. Over the River Lugg, also low although flowing enough to make it hard work for Water Boatmen to paddle upstream. Large fields of golden wheat must be close to harvest. Young Blackbirds are chucking as they hop around the branches of old Oak trees. Onto the Eyton Lane by Crowards Mill. A new fence is being built on the bridge over the stream.
Past Coxall farm. The farmhouse is 17th century, remodelled in the 18th century. White Bryony and Honeysuckle flowers in the hedgerows. Dozens of Bluebottles buzz around the corpse of a roadkill rabbit. Trees in an old cider orchard look to have a good crop. A Nuthatch whoops, Jackdaws chack and Wood Pigeons coo. The pods on Lime trees are opening to expose the balls of seeds. The pond at Pondside Cottage is green with weed. Moorhens splash across its surface. For sale. Keys on a Sycamore are beginning to turn yellow. Eyton Common is quiet. A tractor rumbles past pulling a trailer of dung for muck spreading. Eyton Court had been painted entirely white including the normally black timber frame. I assume the wood will be painted next. The early 18th century Eyton Hall was formerly the home of the Dale family, whose business and charitable works were extensive in Leominster.
The church of All Saints, formerly a chapel of Eye, stands opposite Eyton House, an 18th century house, seat of the Coates family. Dating the church is difficult as it was extensively restored in 1853. It is believed to be originally a 12th century building, enlarged in the 14th
century and refitted in the late 15th century. The porch is 17th century. Its main feature is the splendid oak rood screen with carvings of foliage and fleur-de-lys. There are monuments to the Coates family on the walls. The font is retooled mediaeval. The east window is in memory of Edward Evans of Eyton Hall who died in 1852. Other glass is 20th century.
Back to the main lane where the former school is now a residence. Up the hill past Hill farm and Coombs Hill Coppice. The lane descends gently to the junction with Croft Lane, which I turn down. Up past Lydiatts and down to The Broad on the Ludlow Road. Back over New Lugg Bridge. A decent sized Brown Trout moves sinuously, holding its position in the flow.
Sunday – Leominster – The hot weather continues. A little rain has fallen, which is very welcome but not nearly enough. However, whilst the heat may turn our lawns yellow and make gardening a bit of a chore with the regular watering, we are having it easy compared to many places. Sweden has called for international help to combat the numerous forest fires it is experiencing, fires are also afflicting the USA and Brazil, many have died from the heat in Japan, there is a severe drought in Australia, even Canada is experiencing an unusual heatwave. A weather station in Ouargla in Algeria has recorded the highest confirmed temperature in Africa of 51.3°C. Here it is just muggy. A large gang of Swifts rocket over the roof tops, screaming loudly. The River Lugg remain crystal clear and shallow. The market is busy. As usual I find nothing to buy but Kay gets some plants.
Home – I clear the Stinging Nettle patch in the orchard area. It is hard and hot work. After bagging up the nettles I dig out some of the yellow roots, which are large and extensive. Courgettes are coming fast now. Piles of soft Gladstone apples are composted. A young, spotty Blackbird is feasting on one in the tree. A Copper Underwing moth, Amphipyra pyramidea, is on the bush tomatoes by the summerhouse.
Some French beans are cropped. A cabbage is cut. It has partially bolted but there is some that is edible and the hens enjoy the rest. I am digging potatoes as I need them. The ground is bone dry.
Monday – Tettenhall, Wolverhampton – The Civic Society trip to Wightwick Manor, however I have visited it twice in recent years, so I head off to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. Built by James Brindley. This section opened in 1771. Up Windmill Lane, crossing Smestow Brook and onto the canal tow-path at Wightwick Bridge. Feathery mare’s tail clouds do nothing to mediate the heat the sun and the day is already hot. A shoal of Dace are on the surface of the water. A keeper’s cottage stands next to Wightwick lock. The cottage has retained its wooden window shutters. Himalayan Balsam is spreading along the canal sides. There is still Great Willowherb and Purple Loosestrife but the thuggish Himalayan Balsam may soon take over. Copper coloured dragonflies hawk over the water, soaring into the sky and gliding back down. The next lock is at Wightwick Mill. The mill is now all residential. The canal overflow pours through a circular drain called a “Morning Glory” spillway, possibly because it resembles the flower, and out below the lock. A young Moorhen seeks food in the reeds. At Compton Bridge, new houses have been built in the old wharf. A large building stand by the canal, part shop and part pub.
I leave the canal and head towards Tettenhall Wood. Onto the main Wolverhampton road, Henwood Road. The Oddfellows has timber frames but is 20th century. Just down the road, The Swan is much older, mid 18th century. The Holloway climbs towards Tettenhall Wood. A house looks like an old chapel with the tall, round topped windows filled in, but it is not indicated as such on the old maps. Other houses here are modern. One had been built in a large old quarry. Opposite is Compton Lodge, a gatehouse, where imposing some walls lead to a wide entrance but beyond are modern houses. This was the lodge to Compton Hill, a large house which was home to William Bruford at the turn of the 20th century. He quarried sand from the opposite side of the road. He may also have been the owner of Wolverhampton Brewery. Older properties stand in a bend. The Coach House, with has ornate Queen Anne gables, served “Afcot”, which lay directly behind Christ Church and Church Road. It was the home of Sir Charles Marston from 1902 to 1928.
Christ Church has a foundation stone laid by John 2nd Baron Wrottesley on the Festival of St Philip and St James, May 1st 1865. The church was designed by the Birmingham firm of Bateman and Corser with glass by Kempe. A War Memorial stands outside the locked church. At the top of the hill is a junction on which stands the Working Men’s Institute of 1893. A clock was installed in 1956, but is an hour out. In Mount Street are Victorian houses and terraces with modern infill and the United Reform church opened in 1873, was designed in a Gothic style by George Bidlake (1830-1892), and built in red Codsall sandstone. Back along School Road. The Christ Church Nursery school is in a Victorian hall. Further on the old school is being converted into homes. Beyond is extensive modern housing. I return down towards Holloway and then along Ormes Lane. A modern estate stands in Vicarage Gardens. There are some large Victorian properties, some with small housing developments in what were once gardens. Bromley House is a vast mansion with an Italianate tower. In a recent sales brochure (on the market for £1.5 million) it is described as Georgian but actually dates to around 1850. Nearby are the lodges and coach house to Southbourne, an even larger house which has been demolished and replaced by a modern estate.
Orme Lane joins Wood Road. Again, here large entrances in stone walls lead not to great mansions but modern developments. Highgrove is a large housing estate on the site of White Lodge. In 1911 White Lodge was owned by Charles Shaw who was managing director of John Shaw & Sons Ltd of Wolverhampton, a member of Wolverhampton Council, a captain in the South Staffs Regiment, and Liberal MP for Stafford from 1892-1910. The house was demolished in the 1980s. One large stretch contains a modern private hospital, retirement apartments recently finished and a private school. Tettenhall Towers stood here. The gate lodge is still the entrance to the school. Tettenhall Towers was the home of Colonel Thomas Thorneycroft. His father was G. B. Thorneycroft, ironmaster, of the Shrubbery and Swan gardens Ironworks in Walsall Street, which was established in 1857 and used the Emu brand. Colonel Thorneycroft sold the ironworks and spent much of his time and money improving the building.
St Thomas of Canterbury Catholic church, built in the 1960s, stands next to possibly the oldest house around here. Gorsty Hayes Cottage said to be originally hunting lodge of the 16th century and is now presbytery to the church. The road bends at the older part of the school. Opposite are allotments. A small terrace is dated 1884. The road enters Tettenhall. The Battle of Tettenhall in 910 was the turning point in the battle against the Danish Viking invaders by the united forces of Edward the Elder of Wessex and Ealdorman Æthelred of Mercia. It saw the defeat of the last of the large Danish Viking armies resulting in the deaths of the Danish Kings, Eowils and Healfdan. Past a small shopping area to a road junction. A pair of early 19th century cottages are nearby, one stated to be the home is the Staffordshire County Council District Nurse. Opposite is a large park, Upper Green, being well used by children and their parents. A drinking fountain is dated 1890. A clock tower, built in 1912 in a baroque style to commemorate the coronation of George V has pithy quotes on its sides. On the edge is the park is Limes Road, named I imagine after the numerous Lime trees here. The road is lined with small Victorian terraced houses. Back to the road junction and along Upper Street. This becomes Old Hill which descends steeply and was the old Holyhead to London road. A large pub stands on the top of the hill. Woodfields, half way down is late 18th century with a rear wing of the 1820s. Another house stands in what may have been a quarry. Small caves have been dug into the sandstone. The rock is red sandstone with stripes of white, Wildmoor Sandstone Member ormed approximately 247 to 252 million years ago in the Triassic Period. At the bottom of the hill is a large Georgian house.
The lane joins a busy road, The Rock. Tettenhall is halfway between London and Holyhead. After the Act of Union with Ireland in 1801 which created 100 Irish MPs, who used the Holyhead to London road to get to Parliament. They had sufficient political clout to ensure that the Holyhead Road was improved and in due course Parliament authorised Thomas Telford to improve the whole road. His plan for dealing with Old Hill was to make a new line of road out of Wolverhampton to Aldersley and then on to the Wergs, thus by passing the ridge altogether. However, the local Turnpike Trustees disagreed with his route and The Rock is the cutting and embankment they built. A cottage stands on the corner of Church Road. Opposite is a park. A large Georgian house formerly the vicarage, built in 1820 with a later 19th century rear wing, and 1890s work by Guild of Handicrafts, stands by the entrance to the Collegiate church of St Michael and All Angels, Tettenhall Regis. The tower is 15th century but the main part of the church was destroyed in a fire in 1950 and the church was rebuilt by Bernard Miller in the free Gothic style with a strong Arts and Crafts feel. There a some typical Victorian monuments in the graveyard, including a bronze life-sized angel sitting in front of a cross. As I approach the church, the vicar emerges, locks it and departs....
Down past the park, Lower Green. Several houses are Georgian. Another had a mitre on the gable and a No Right of Way sign for the Springfield Brewery, Wolverhampton. This was The Mitre, a 19th century pub, closed in recent years and converted to apartments. Next to it is Mitre Terrace of 1878. At the bottom of the park is a busy road and the National School, established under the terms of a Deed of Trust made by John, Baron Wrottesley, on 7th July 1858 and still a primary school. On to the A41. The bridge was built in 1820 and widened in 1939. Down to the canal via the old road bridge. Along the tow-path and under the railway bridge of the Wombourne branch (also known as the Wolverhampton and Kingswinford Railway). The line opened in 1925 but closed for passenger traffic in 1932. It continued as a goods line until 1965. A couple of non-breeding Mute Swans, probably last year’s brood, preen on the water. Feral Mallard bathe. Past Compton lock, the first lock built by James Brindley, the wharf and bridge. By some allotments there is a strange combination of calls, Magpie and what sounds very much like a Water Rail. Clouds have built up during the early afternoon and it is very muggy now. A Grey Heron stands on the tow-path by Wightwick lock. Route
Wednesday – Home – The bedroom windows are wide open in an attempt to cool the room, so the yelping and screaming of gulls just before dawn easily awakens me. They are followed by the persistent cooing of Wood Pigeons. Every morning more Gladstone apples have fallen into the netting over the chicken run. It is a pity their texture is so soft and spongy. It is overcast and rather cooler at the moment. Screaming Swifts flash overhead, in some years they have already departed for Africa.
Bodenham Lake – And the heat continues. Again a bit of a breeze helps to cool one slightly. Everywhere is dusty and tired. Bird song is now just Wood Pigeons and a mewing Common Buzzard up in Westfield Wood. Elderberries are ripening. Agrimony and Great Willowherb are in flower at the end of the meadow. Canada Geese numbers seem to be increasing, more than eighty now. A couple of dozen are on the scrape along with a Lesser Black-backed Gull and a few sleeping Mallard. More geese are on the lake, splashing as they preen. Young Coot squeak. More Mallard are scattered across the lake. A Cormorant flies in. A Great Crested Grebe, the first here for a while, is out in the middle of the water. Three cackling Canada Geese fly in which set the rest off in a cacophony. A second Great Crested Grebe appears. Purple Loosestrife is still in flower, tall spikes of purple in the green reeds and large bushy bouquets on the scrape. Common Blue butterflies flit around the Black Knapweed in front of the hide.
Behind the hide the large thicket of Brambles is loaded with blackberries. Some are purple-black but still rather sharp tasting. Bank in the meadow, a Kestrel perches on the electricity wires. It then flies along the lakeside trees provoking a yaffle from a Green Woodpecker which is answered by another some distance away in the woods. I check a few apples in the dessert apple orchard, but they are all firmly attached and thus not ripe yet.
Friday – Bridgnorth – Nine o’clock in the morning and it is hot. The sun beats down from a cobalt sky. I park at Severn Park and cross the Telford road to a lane leading to the cemetery. There is a large lawn in a house on one side of the lane and a meadow to the hill in the other, both are yellow with barely a hint of green. Goldfinches call in a Hawthorn. Into the cemetery. The gatehouse and two chapels are in the Victorian Gothic built in 1850 by George Truefitt and James Edmeston of London. Late 20th century graves are on a very steep slope. The cemetery is well kept with fine floral displays. A footpath climbs the slope outside the cemetery wall, which is built of large smooth sandstone blocks. Towards the top the wall is much higher and underpinned with brickwork. The path runs along the head of a valley containing a farm, Tippings Cross Coppice and the former waterworks which were Pendleston Woollen Mills before that. Known as Fort Pendleton it was built circa 1845, for Thomas C. Whitmore of Apley Hall with an engine-house and boiler-house added in 1866. On the far side of the Severn valley is a large country house, Hoards Park, part of the Apley estate from the late 16th century. The Apleys restored the house in 1873, and eventually sold it on in 1999. The path rises through woodland, part of Morfe Forest. A Chiffchaff wheeps.
The path comes to the top of wooded cliffs, which tower above the river valley with rocky prominences. Over the valley is Bridgnorth with Telford’s church dominating the skyline. Beyond is Titterstone Clee. At the top of these cliffs the Triassic Chester Formation of 247 to 250 million years ago overlays the Permian Bridgnorth Formations of 272 to 299 million years. An exposed face is a mass of river smoothed stones in grey mudstone with red sandstone below. The path divides, I head south. The woods are predominantly Sycamore, Oak and Ash with many trees covered in Ivy. The path cross down to cross the Wolverhampton road, the A465, here called The Hermitage, which lies in a deep cutting. Up on the other side are well eroded cliffs, the conglomerates on top of the sandstone. Deep fissures have been blocked with sandstone block walls, presumably to do small boys getting stuck and needing rescue. Indeed a fatality was recorded in 2009 after a rockfall. Around the edge of the slope is a series of caves blocked by a substantial steel fence, although this is clearly little deterrent to those who want to make camp here. The path drops to more caves.
The first record dates from the Saxon period when Æthelard (a Mercian prince and grandson of King Alfred) retired here in 924 for solitude and contemplation. During the 14th century, the caves were under the patronage of Edward III and John Oxindon, a hermit lived there. Another hermit was recorded in the Magna Britannia of 1727. The land was enclosed as the Forest of Morfe in 1806 and one of the caves was converted into a cottage to house the custodian. In 1877, the Town Clerk Hubert Smith recorded that there were two cottages in the Hermitage Caves and one had a fireplace, chimney, window and door. His records show that the Hermitage consisted of 4 carved caves, one of the caves being 33ft in length and used as a chapel of St Mary Magdalene. Legend has it that there is a witch trapped in a large cave beyond the chapel and that at night you can hear her groaning. The legend of the witch tells that, in the old days, carters using the road had to drive their horses up the hill past the caves, (a hollow way still rises from the valley) but the horses would stop half way up the hill, right next to a cave where a little old lady lived. It was believed the old lady was a witch and that she was hexing the horses, freezing their hooves and not letting them by. They first offered the old lady money but she refused, demanding half their load. When the carters submitted to her demands their horses began to move, albeit slowly, up the hill again. Cyril Taylor was born in the caves in 1928 and raised there. In 1939, he moved out to live at a cottage at the bottom of Hermitage Hill. The other cave neighbours, Bill and Jinny Norton and Jack and Dora Jarrett, moved into new houses on Stourbridge Road. Bricks lay scattered around in the leaf litter showing that dwellings were constructed against the cliff. There is also the remains of plaster on the walls of cliff.
I backtrack and take a path that leads to the top of the cliffs and in southwards. The path comes to a triangulation point which has panoramic views of the town and beyond. A Common Buzzard glides across the cliff face below. The path runs on through Hermitage Hill Coppice. Past a covered reservoir. Out onto the reservoir service track. The public footpath runs the other side of the hedge but it is clear everyone is the track and the footpath is disappearing into the undergrowth. The track turns and descends gently to Hermitage Farm. The cereal crop is being harvested. Across the bypass road and on to Brook Lane and past The Hobbins, a large housing estate rather in the middle of nowhere. This is because the site was the married quarters of RAF Bridgnorth. Opened in 1939, it was a training camp rather than operational airfield. Opposite is Stanmore Country Park. This area near The Hobbins was part of the NAAFI, the recreational organisation off armed forces. Through the young wood to an open area with a nearly dry pond. This area was one of the four parade grounds. The camp closed in 1963. Part became Stanmore industrial estate whilst the rest was derelict until 1992 when it was turned into the park. Paths continue through the woodland and come to the community orchard on the site of the hospital, mortuary and ambulance garage.
The path exits the path into a track. The track comes to a crossroads. Down to Hoccum Pool, a fishing lake, leased to the Bridgnorth Royal British Legion club, with some delightful lily pads and flowers. A path rises from the pool up to a field of crisp stubble. Down an overgrown path to Barnsley Lake, again with beautiful patches of water lilies. A rose dangles over the path with Robin’s pincushions or Bedegaur galls caused by the wasp, Diplolepis rosea. Into Barnsley, which consists of a large farmhouse with some cottages and modern houses. The lane joins a minor road. Lesser Bindweed flowers on the bone dry verge. A pear tree is in the hedgerow and I try a fallen fruit but it is mouth puckeringly dry. A lane turns off passing a large house, Roughton Grange then Manor, with tennis court. It was formerly Worfield Grammar School. At a junction is a small square gatehouse built in the early 19th century for Roughton House. A little further back down the road is a 17th century timber-framed cottage. Towards the hamlet of Roughton. A small square, two storey building has little pillars in each corner of the roof with a pilaster. A door is in the second floor. On the opposite side are two pointed windows. Behind the high wall and gate is a yard with a cottage on the far side. Beyond the cottage is the main house, Georgian in appearance. Roughton farmhouse is a very substantial property. The barns and on the other side of the lane, the stables and coach house are all residences. A short distance is yet another very large house, Willowbrook which is 18th century and has a large bowed projection at the rear. Little can be found about Roughton. Pesvner and Mee ignore it completely.
The lane joins the Wolverhampton road. A short distance along the road a lane runs off. It will be longer than travelling on the main road but a lot quieter. The lane climbs a hill. As it levels out, Burcote House, late 18th century, lies across fields in one direction and Swancote in the other. The clouds are thickening. Rain and storms have been forecast but whether they materialise remains to be seen. There is mush rustling in a hedge in a field. Out comes a cock Ring-necked Pheasant that runs off, croaking. There is something rather ridiculous about them when the run like clockwork toys making that daft noise. Gatekeeper and Comma butterflies for along the hedgerow. Past a couple of houses at Lanesend, an odd name as this is pretty much the middle of the lane! Then Burcote Villa farm, with an early 19th century farmhouse. The lane joins another which joins the Wolverhampton road. Back down the cutting through the cliffs. Bridgnorth comes into view across the valley. Route
Home – There is the longest eclipse of the moon this century tonight. A red moon will rise and remain eclipsed for 1¾ hours. Of course, we see nothing as there is complete cloud cover! The wind is now blowing hard, cooling everywhere rapidly. A little rain falls overnight.
Saturday – Home – The heatwave has broken. By mid afternoon rain falls and at 5 o’clock there is a brief thunderstorm. The rain is torrential but only for a short period of time before it passes through. The rain starts again in the night producing a decent amount for the first time in weeks.
Monday – Croft – Half a dozen Mistle Thrushes are at the top of a tree in the lane south of Bircher. They seem to be in a bit of a tizzy fluttering from branch to branch. Into the long drive into Croft Castle. Heavy plant is working on the dam of the bottom pool in Fish Pool Valley, as the restoration of the Picturesque Movement landscape continues. Down into the valley from the car park. There is barely a bird call to be heard, until Wood Pigeons start cooing. It is both cooler and much fresher today after the weekend rain. A slight breeze shakes raindrops off the trees above. A Wren and a Whitethroat seek food in the undergrowth. A Chiffchaff calls, works out seems much enthusiasm. A Great Tit is rather more persistent. The trees are past their best now. A large Acer stands by the pool with the old pumping station. After some searching I think it must be a Caucasian Maple, Acer cappadocicium. Ashes stand tall on the other side of the pool and then the slope of the Beech wood rises steeply. Fish are splashing out in the pool. Gentle ripples distort the reflection of the trees in the water. A dragonfly with blue and black stripes and yellow green head, a Southern Hawker, Aeshna cyanea, darts along the edge of the pool. Up past the charcoal pit, the towering Wellingtonia species which is being embraced by the branches of a Beech, then past the ancient Oak with its rotted core. The Oak had lost several of its smaller branches, weakened by the drought then got by the weekend’s gales. A Hard Fern, Blechnum spicant, grows out of the bank.
Along the track to the end of the valley. All that can be heard is the pitter-patter of water drops on the leaves and the tapping on bark of a woodpecker high in the canopy. Clouds are thickening and it is getting darker. The humidity, heat and lack of any wind means flies are a particular irritation today. Onto Bircher Common. The grass is, of course, yellow-brown. The whole common is covered by Meadow Thistles standing several feet high about a yard apart. Through the gate at Whiteway Head and onto the Mortimer Trail along the top of Leinthall Common. I am not sure why I come this way as this path is always a problem. Usually it is mud made worse by horses but today it is rain soaked Bracken that had collapsed across the path. My trouser legs are soon soaked. A Silver-washed Fritillary lands on a Bramble. It has particularly tatty wings. Up onto Croft Ambrey. There is a breeze here which I had hoped would keep the flies off but no, they are still buzzing continuously. A Yellowhammer sings. The surrounding hills are fairly clear apart from the Brecon Beacons which look like they are covered in rain.