Friday – Glasbury-Llowes – Off eastwards along the Wye Valley Trail from Glasbury Bridge. Sky is full of broken cloud but there are still periods of sunshine. The River Wye flows slowly and is shallow. The riverbank is covered by a large stand of Himalayan Balsam. A sizeable island is in the river. The top of the bank is lined with a row of Black Poplars with large growths of Mistletoe. Past a large sewage plant. A Nuthatch calls overhead. A large cloud of dancing insects are at head height. Maesllwch Castle lays on the hill to the north. Large old Oaks stands in a line down the field. The fields surrounding the Castle have trees clearly positioned to form a Picturesque landscape.
The large island comes to an end and the channel rejoins the main river. A steep bank at the northern edge of the field will be an old riverbank of many centuries ago. A Common Buzzard flies past. The path now crosses the field and climbs the bank, past a dead Oak and onto the main A438 road. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly flits past. The Wye Valley trail now follows the main road on a very unsatisfactory path for considerable distance. However I soon turn off towards Maesyronnen. This lane was the original main road to Hereford. Glan-hen-wye is a large late 18th or early 19th century farmhouse with extensive stables and barns converted into living accommodation. It was the home of Edward Fowke, son of Francis Fowke of Boughrood who had corruptly made an estimated £70-80,000 from bribes, army contracting and opium dealing while in the service of the East India Company in Bengal. On the other side of the road are fine gate pillars and a lodge house of 1830-40, probably by Robert Lugar, for Walter Wilkins II, for the castle which he rebuilt at this time. A Red Admiral rests briefly on the wall.
The lane now climbs steeply. The tall roadside bank is adorned with rosebay willowherb and honeysuckle. The lane winds on upwards. Behind across the Wye Valley mountains Hay Bluff and Twmpa in the haze. To the west the Brecon Beacons are even hazier. A Hare suddenly appears, runs up the road a short distance and disappears. Maesyronnen is a large house in a rather plain Victorian Gothic style.
Maesyronnen chapel is up a short lane. It is a white painted building, still used as a United Reform church, although currently closed by Covid. The chapel one of the earliest buildings in Wales to be created for this purpose. It was developed from an existing longhouse (a farmhouse with an attached cattle-shed), the cattle-shed being converted into a chapel and the farmhouse used by the caretaker. The conversion took place in the 1690s. It was registered as a chapel in 1697 and was used by a congregation which had been meeting in secret in a barn nearby since the 1640s. The chapel was built on land given by Charles Lloyd, squire of Maesllwch. Oliver Cromwell is said to have attended a service here. The building is also associated with Abraham Parry, grandfather of Dr Abraham Parry, F.R.S. editor of the first English Encyclopedia. The chapel is Grade I listed. The caretaker’s house is now a holiday let managed by the Landmark Trust. Through the windows it can be seen that there is a single room nave with the pulpit half way along it. A sundial is above the main entrance. A small graveyard is behind the chapel the earliest grave appearing to be a chest tomb of 1865.
The lane continues up for a short time then levels out passing between hedgerows of Hazel, Hawthorn, Elder, Briars and Brambles. The lane approaches Maesyronnen Cottages. House Sparrows fly along the hedgerow. Into the hamlet of Ffynnon Gynydd (Cynidr’s Well), past manicured gardens of new houses. A large barn stands on on a junction. There are several older houses scattered around the settlement but they are in a considerable minority. Behind the barn is a common occupied by sheep. A cross made of tubular metal is draped with a white silk scarf. Across the common is the school which opened on 3rd July, 1876 and the children paid 4d a week. The school closed in 2012. On the other side is an old telephone box without its phone or door and a row of cottages, one of which acts as the post office. Back to the junction and on up the lane. The village well had a wooden structure, built around 1910, with a stone plaque stating it was Erected in loving memory of Walter Fenwick de Winton age 27 who died in Central Africa March 28th 1890 to serve God, his country and his fellow men. The well is an old stone built basin under a plywood lid. A carved stone states Draw water out of the wells of salvation. The listing states: “St Cynidr was the son of Kehingeyr or Ceingeir, daughter of Brychan, and was probably the patron saint of Glasbury. A pre-Norman church associated with the holy well was probably located nearby and a field across the road opposite is known as Cae Ffynnon. Its former significance was still remembered as a wishing well up to 1949.”
A lane runs north east out of the hamlet. It crosses a stream which is far below the road which flows into Cwm Du. A narrow and very rough lane now heads south east. Past pastures, some with sheep. The lane descends. The banks, which look like they may have been walls many years ago, have pale yellow Pennywort growing out of them. Past a large farmhouse at Gaer. A Small Tortoiseshell feeds on a Bramble flower. The lane does not improve, the potholes grow deeper and the grass in a centre more lush. There are frequent large patches of richly scented Honeysuckle and Dog Roses climbing up through the hedges.
The lane is descending now. Three women on horseback suddenly appear and decide to take a break from riding as I walk on. Through a patch of woodland to Pen-bryn-rhydd. The woodland thins and becomes Bryn-yr-Hydd Common. A Blackcap and Willow Warbler sing. The former is at the top of a dead Hawthorn, his little throat stretched as he pours out the fluid notes. The lane crosses an earthwork, possibly an Iron Age defended enclosure, barely discernible under the dense growth of bracken. Below the church at my destination, Llowes, rings out midday.
The lane joins “The Lane”. A couple of modern houses stand near the junction. The lane drops steeply into the Wye Valley and Llowes. Many of the houses here are modern but older properties are clustered around the centre. Other dwellings are converted farm buildings. The brook from Cwm Du runs down towards the Wye. A bridge crosses it and a lane leads to the church of St Meilog, according to the notice board, but historically St Meilig who is said to have founded a monastery in the 6th century at Croesfeilig nearby and to be buried there. Meilig may have been one of the sons of Caw and brother to St Gildas. He is mentioned in Culhwch and Olwen as one of the knights in the court of King Arthur. The church was completely rebuilt in 1853, though the base of the tower may be medieval. It contains St Meilig’s cross but, like most Welsh churches, is closed.
Back up the hill a short distance and westwards along the Wye Valley trail. Goldfinches feed on oil seed rape. Psilocybin or pixie cap mushrooms are growing in the grass on the hillside; once upon a time... A pair of Common Buzzards fly out over the valley. It takes several attempts to find the route as the gate is buried in Bracken and saplings. The path enters woodland and twists and turns its way through it. An ancient Beech looks like it grew a couple of centuries ago from a fallen one. A large Milkcap grows deep in the undergrowth. The path is in poor condition particularly annoying as it is a national walking route. It joins a public bridleway which descended from the enclosure passed earlier.
Through Bryn-yr-Hydd farm which has a late 16th or early 17th farmhouse, possibly of long-house derived plan. It was remodelled in the later 17th century. A lane heads down the hill. Little Mill is a former corn mill. The stream from Cwm Du runs down in a gully below the lane, disappearing under the main A438 road which this lane shortly joins. The Wye Valley trail now runs on the verge on non-existent path along the main road. Bloodsuckers, the Common Red Soldier beetle, are on Hogweed. Down here the temperature is baking! At Glanhenwye I take the path back down to the river and back to Glasbury Bridge. Overhead the cloud is thickening and is getting muggier. A large stump probably Oak is covered in bracket fungi, probably Dryad’s Saddle, Polyporus squamous. Pheasants croak in the river island. A Grey Heron flies down the river channel. Route
Home – A rather stupid Wood Pigeon has been trapped in the greenhouse. When I investigate it is on the path outside, but for some inexplicable reason, it flies back into the greenhouse. I eventually manage to grab it and take it away across the garden from where it departs. It has broken one tomato plant and caused a bit of damage to some chilli plants.
Sunday – Leominster – Yesterday a thunderstorm and torrential rain swept north east through the town. This morning it is grey and rain is in the air. Squabbling Jackdaws gather around the White Lion. From the railway bridge, a Wren and Blackcap can be heard singing. The water level in the River Lugg remains low. A Chiffchaff calls. Blue Tits dangle from the bouncing branches of a Willow tree overhanging the river.
Into the Millennium Park. Rabbits lop off quietly. Another Chiffchaff calls. Wood pigeons coo in every direction. Long beds of Meadow Cranesbills and Black Knapweed flower. It starts to rain properly now.
Monday – Leominster – The sun shines brightly as white clouds drift slowly across the sky. Down the road to the River Lugg. The clear water flows steadily past. Watching the water, sun on my back, thinking the molecules of water flowing past that have been around for billions of years. Did some of them brush past the legs of dinosaurs? They will have seen continents rise and fall. The great water cycle goes on and on; this water will have fallen on Welsh hills, it will flow out into the Wye, out into the Severn estuary and into the Atlantic ocean where eventually it will evaporate up into clouds and fall as rain and the cycle starts again. A Wren sings loudly, nature at the other end of the timescale as its lifespan can be counted in a few years.
The grasses have grown even higher on Easter Meadow although recent downpours have flattened some. Ringlet butterflies flit across the meadow. These delicate creatures’ lifespans will be measured in just a few weeks. A Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler sing nearby. Under Mosaic Bridge. A Beautiful Damselfly moves around a Stinging Nettle patch. A Rabbit sits on the path. Large hover-flies, Pellucid Fly, Volucella pellucens, live up to their name above another nettle patch. A European Turtle Bug, Podops inuncta, a variety of Shield bug, rests on a leaf. Another patch of nettles and Rosebay Willow Herb have tendrils of Cleavers wrapped around nearly every stalk. Bees are visiting tall, frothy white Cow Parsley heads. An iridescent green female Beautiful Damselfly rests on a leaf. Butterbur leaves have grown huge and tall, the flowers long gone. An old Black Lab barks at me, her owner tells me she cannot see me, she can just hear there is someone there.
Leaving the wood the path runs along beside paddocks. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly feeds on Brambles. Then a Meadow Brown visits the same plants. Bees and hover-flies are in competition for the same flowers. A 7-spot Ladybird is on a blade of grass. Pale yellow pimples on the shiny green leaves of an Alder, possibly caused by an Eriopyes gall mite. Another bramble patch is providing food for variety of bees and hover-flies. The path approaches the A44, Worcester Road. A Greenfinch wheezes nearby. A Harlequin Ladybird larva is on a Stinging Nettle.
On to Eaton Bridge. A long tree trunk is still blocking the central and western spans and rubbish has built up behind it. A field of barley is golden yellow. Along the old section of road. Ragwort and St John’s Wort are coming into flower. A Cabbage White butterfly passes.
Up onto the old road bridge over the railway. The signalman leans out of the window of his box taking the air. Large pale yellow flowers of Evening Primrose are dotted along the track-side below.
Tuesday – Ruabon-Rhiwabon – This village is in north east Wales. The name comes from Rhiw Fabon, rhiw meaning a “slope” and Fabon being a mutation from St Mabon, the original church name of earlier Celtic origin. Historically the village was part of Denbighshire . From 1974 until 1996, it was administered as part of Clwyd. From 1996, it has been administered as part of the County Borough of Wrexham.
We park at Ruabon station. The listed station building designed in the Tudor Gothic Revival style by Henry Robertson in the 1860s replacing the original Shrewsbury and Chester Railway Station by T M Penson. It was converted into offices but now seems completely abandoned. Down a ginnel which leads to a tunnel under the railway. The path is above the Afon Eitha which tumbles down a waterfall a short distance upstream. A Grey Wagtail flits about the foaming water. A footbridge crosses the river and a path leads to onto Pont Adam opposite Pont Adam cottages. Over a bridge, Pont Adam, above the river. The road rises to the a new development that is well matched to the old Grammar School which stands alongside. The Boys’ Grammar School was, according to tradition, founded in 1575. However, as all records were destroyed by fire in 1858 there is no record and it is now thought 1618 a more likely date. This building was constructed in 1858 and enlarged in 1895. A Girls’ Grammar School was opened in 1922 opposite and the schools were amalgamated on that site in 1967 to form Ysgol Rhiwabon, a comprehensive school. A short distance up the road, behind an hedge is Offa’s Dyke.
Onto Tatham Road. The much modernised Mill Cottage had a core of 1673. Over a high stone stile onto a path that runs alongside Afon Eitha. A footbridge crosses the river and passes through woodland, then into open land. Goldfinches are on thistles. A Bullfinch slips away. A tailless Jay is in woodland across the rough pasture. Our objective was the Gardden, Caer Ddin, an Iron Age hill-fort, but ahead the the path is crowded by tall, very wet Bracken. We decide against a soaking and turn back.
Down Ruabon Road and back over the bridge. Up Pont Adam and past the Congregational church, built on land was purchased from Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn and designed by W.I. Mason of Liverpool at a cost of £400 opening in 1858. Across a track, at an angle to the road is a row of Alms Houses, said to have been endowed by Vicar John Robinson and built by Vicar Richard Davis in 1711. Originally arranged around a courtyard three sides of which have now been demolished. The houses were renovated and extended by the Trustees of Ruabon United Charities in 1979.
A bridge crosses the railway and the lane descends into Church Street. The old Grammar School was built in 1618, probably incorporating parts of an earlier building. A legacy was left by Thomas Nevitt in 1632. The school was still in use in 1837. Opposite is an early 19th century house, said to be former offices of the Wynnstay Estate, now used as offices. St Mary’s church was recorded in 1253, then dedicated to St Collen. The tower is 14th century as is some of the perpendicular work. The south east chapel was added in 1755, the north east chapel in 1769. The church was remodelled by T F Pritchard, architect of Shrewsbury between 1769-70 and substantially rebuilt 1870-2 by Benjamin Ferrey, architect of London for Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 6th Bart. of Wynnstay Hall. Like the majority of Welsh churches it is closed. A hearse shed is in the grounds.
The lane meets the High Street. Opposite is that large Wynnstay Arms, a late 18th century coaching inn probably incorporating earlier work and enlarged in 1841, now a public house and hotel. Beside the hotel is an avenue leading to Ruabon Gates, the gateway to Wynnstay Estate by John Jones, 1783 replacing earlier lodges on the site. It was aligned with an avenue known to have been planted before 1740, now disused. The gates and railings of 1912 were erected to mark coming of age of the future 8th Bart., Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn. The Cons Club, is the former Village Room. Leading to the gates are four blocks of estate cottages, probably built around 1840.
Along High Street where many shops are closed. The former North and South Wales Bank is an impressive building. Into the New High Street. Here are the convenience store, hairdressers, discount store – all the typical small shopping areas these days. The Methodist Chapel dates from 1895. In Henry Street, a buildings has “The Stores” in white brick between the second floor and attic. The County Constabulary station, like many buildings in Ruabon is built in a bright orange-vermilion brick of Ruabon Red Marl Clay, is dated 1895.
We head back towards the station. At the foot of the churchyard is a round stone building of the late 18th century, probably the former lock-up. Next to it is The Vaults, an inn of some age. Opposite, the lanes descends towards Tan-y-Lan. On one lane is the Rhagluniaeth or Providence Chapel, which opened in 1834 designed for free by Sir Benjamin Gummow. Bridge Street crosses the river. The Wesleyan Methodist chapel looks closed. Back up the terrace to the station.
Wrexham-Wrecsam – We head north to Wrexham, the main administrative centre of the area. Historically part of Denbighshire, the town became part of Clwyd in 1974 and has been the principal centre of Wrexham County Borough since 1996. It has historically been one of the primary settlements of Wales. There have been people in the area since the Mesolithic. The town was probably founded by Mercian colonists in the 8th century. In the Middle Ages, Wrexham developed as a regional centre for trade and administration and became the most populous settlement in Wales in the 17th century. It was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution from the 18th century as a hub of coal and lead mining; the production of iron, steel and leather; and brewing. By the late 20th century Wrexham was suffering from the same problems as much of Industrialised Britain and saw little investment until the Welsh Development Agency (WDA) intervened. A number of large enterprises moved onto the Wrexham Industrial Estate, reputedly the fifth largest in Europe.
We park below the churchyard of St Giles and climb steps and pass through into the main shopping area. A mixture of a chain stores, some local businesses (although, of course, not the traditional high street stores) and a large number of pubs! The vermilion brick dominates, although not as intense as orange as Ruabon. Hope Street, Regent Street and Queen Street form the traditional main shopping streets and are wider in some parts than others, resulting from the location of the street markets, which occurred from mediaeval times through to the 19th century. The buildings are largely Georgian and Victorian with modern insertions. There are a good number of interesting buildings, even if their modern usage is not so inspiring. Wetherspoons in a former cinema, McDonalds in an Art Deco building made mainly of windows. The half-timbered Talbot Hotel building, built in 1904 to designs of John H. Davies and Son of Chester, stands in a prominent position at the junction of Hope Street and Queen Street. The Horse and Jockey Public House, was probably originally built in the 16th century as a hall-house and retains its thatched roof. The 18th century Wynnstay Hotel on Yorke Street was the birthplace of the Football Association of Wales. Along Hope Street. A black steel and glass building, looking like a lift building, is the entrance to the Wrexham Methodist church. The first Wrexham Methodist Chapel was built in 1855 by architect James Simpson and rebuilt in 1890 to the design of architect William Angel Waddington of Manchester. This second chapel was partially demolished during the 1960s and rebuilt as part of a shopping development in 1974. The former militia barracks were built in 1857-8 to the designs of Thomas Penson, architect and surveyor. They were converted in 1879 to a divisional police station and magistrates court, and extended in the 1890s. They now house the museum.
Nearby is the Roman Catholic Cathedral Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, also known as St Marys. The cathedral was originally built as a parish church in 1857, designed by Edward Welby Pugin, in a 14th century Decorated Gothic style. The church replaced an earlier chapel, located in King Street, which by the 1850s was deemed insufficient for the growing congregation, finance provided by Richard Thompson, an Iron-master. Further additions to accommodate an increasing congregation were made in the mid 20th century, in the form of the cloister and side chapel. The church was designated a pro-cathedral in 1898 upon the establishment of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Menevia and consecrated on 7th November 1907. It is notable that much information about the church is provided in English and Polish, rather than Welsh. Opposite is a large Italianate villa style house built around 1870, possibly to designs of J. R. Gummow.
Back along Hope Street. The Central Arcade, dated 1891, and built by A. C. Baugh, architect has an ornate terracotta and brick façade. We head for St Giles Church.
Into the churchyard of the church of St Giles through wrought-iron gates, completed in 1720 by the Davies Brothers of nearby Bersham, who had been responsible for the gates of Chirk Castle. It is believed St Silyn founded a chapel in the Wrexham. Both “Silin’” and ”Giles” can be translated into Latin as Aegidius and by 1494 the Church was known as St Giles. The earliest reference to a church was 1220 when the Bishop of St Asaph gave the monks of Valle Crucis in Llangollen half of the income of the church of the town of Wrexham. In 1247, Madoc ap Gruffydd, Prince of Powys, bestowed upon the monks of Valle Crucis the patronage of the church of Wrexham. In 1330, the church tower was blown down by severe gales which resulted in a new church being rebuilt on the site. In either 1457 or 1463, the church was gutted by fire and work on the present building was started on the same site and incorporated some features of the 14th century church, such as the octagonal pillars. The main part of St Giles was built between the end of the 15th and early part of the 16th century possibly under the patronage of the powerful and wealthy Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (Henry VII).
The church is a masterpiece. The richly decorated five-stage tower, 135-feet high, with its four striking hexagonal turrets, was begun in 1506 and is ascribed to William Hart of Bristol. An example of the Somerset type, it contains 30 niches and is graced by many statues and carvings including those of an arrow and a deer, the attributes of St Giles. It is thought that the tower may have been an inspiration for Victoria Tower, at the Palace of Westminster. A Doom painting, depicting the Day of Judgment, is over the chancel arch. The tomb of Mary Myddleton, daughter of Sir Richard Myddleton of Chirk Castle, who died in 1747 is a large sculpture by Roubiliac. A stone effigy of Bishop Bellot, who died in 1596, is built into the sill of the south window. There is also a medieval effigy which was found buried in the churchyard at the beginning of the 19th century. This depicts a Welsh knight, bare-headed with long hair, who holds a shield emblazoned with a lion rampant and the words HIC JACET KENEVERIKE AP HOVEL (“Here lies Cyneurig ap Hywel”). The glass includes on the north wall a large window depicting eight saints designed by Burne-Jones, made in the Morris & Co studio. It was moved from the now demolished church of St John the Baptist in 1988. There are several modern pieces, the rest Victorian and Edwardian. An unusual window consists of small, intricate pictures in areas of clear glass by David Evans, dated 1841. To the west of the tower is a table tomb to Elihu Yale, founder of Yale University in America. Yale is said to have given the money for the chancel gates inside the church in 1707. The churchyard contains some fine Lime trees.
Wednesday – Barton – Our hotel, The Cock o’ Barton, is in the hamlet of Barton to the east of Wrexham in Cheshire. It is a former part timber-framed and stone 17th century farmhouse, much extended now. It has a projecting lateral chimney of red sandstone on the cross-wing with an ornate 19th brick stack of Carden Estate type. It stands on the Wrexham-Nantwich road. Opposite is a lane leading into Barton. The lane forms a loop with the main road and was the original route. A pair of cottages in brick stand on a rocky outcrop nearly a metre high. Millhey farmhouse is early 17th century in white painted brick with timber -framing and stables to the rear. The rafters on the gable indicate the roof has been raised at some point in time. Opposite is another brick house, 18th century, on even higher plinth of old red sandstone, another former farmhouse. At a junction there are at least three former farm houses. Barton farmhouse is early 17th century in brown Flemish bond brickwork. Chapel House stands next to a converted Congregational chapel of 1777. Two blocks of semi-detached houses are probably early 20th century, or possibly much newer, and have pretty painted friezes in the Arts and Crafts style. An iron milestone is dated 1898. The street turns back to the main road past semi-detached cottages probably Victorian with red sandstone block base and brick upper storey. Opposite is a 17th century timber-framed former farmhouse with an 18th century wing, once the dairy. There is modern housing on the junction.
Holt – This village lays on the Welsh side of the River Dee. A much enlarged village with 20th century housing filling every space between older properties. Building continues near the southern end of the village. The centre of the village is dominated by the War Memorial by Mansley of Chester, commemorating the Great War, unveiled on August 1st 1920. It cost over £600 and the money was raised by public subscription. A large Market Cross of a late mediaeval date. It was re-erected in its present position in 1896. Across the road is the Kenyon Hall, a large former meeting and reading room on land donated by Lord Kenyon. It was built in 1892 with money raised by the Primrose League. Across the square is the former Constabulary house of 1881.
Along the road is the old school house of 1875. A path leads to the castle. It dates back to the final conquest of Wales by Edward I in 1282-3, however it is probable that the site had been of strategic importance for many centuries before. Bronze Age remains have been found on the site. The Edwardian lordship castle was built by the Earl of Surrey, John de Warenne. It was completed in 1311. John Noren described it as “nowe in great decay” in 1620. It was a single ward castle, planned as a regular pentagon, with buildings ranged against each curtain wall and a tower at each angle. Four towers were round, with watch turrets and battered plinths while at opposing ends there were square towers, one of which was a gatehouse barbican. The castle was unusual in that the landscape was quarried for the castle to be sited rather than using landscape feature in situ. The design was so good that the castle proved to be impregnable. Richard II stored his treasure here. Owain Glyndŵr failed to capture it. The castle changed hands at least twice during the Civil War and only surrendered to Parliament after an 11 month siege. The castle was demolished between 1675 and 1683 to provide building material for Sir Thomas Grosvenor’s Eaton Hall near Chester.
Back to Church Street and on to the church of St Chad. The first church was thought to have been built around 1280. It was referred to in records in 1379. The church was remodelled by Sir William Stanley, who held the lordship of Bromfield and Holt Castle, in the late 15th century. The rebuilding retained the 14th century nave arches and a piscina of similar date was reset in a chapel. It was restored in 1871-3 by Ewan Christian and John Douglas of Chester at a cost of £4,000. The church is closed despite the “Church Open” sign. A sun-dial in the churchyard was probably erected in 1736 although the column is sometimes claimed to be a re-used Roman column on the basis of its entasis. It has a sandstone shaft, clearly shaped as a column mounted on 2 concentric stone steps. The initials and date “RCW 1736 TP?W” are carved onto the shaft. The upper face no longer retains its dial and gnomon.
Church Street becomes Bridge Street and leads to the mediaeval bridge across the River Dee. The centre of the bridge forms the border between England and Wales. In 1368 a trial at the County Court of Chester refers to a bridge between Farndon and Le Holt, with a fortified gateway, constructed by John, Earl of Warenne. It states that the “said bridge was built in the 12th year of the reign of Edward III, i.e. 1338-9. However the present structure, which has no fortified gateway is more likely to be 15th or 16th century. Leland recorded “a great stone bridge on Dee Ryver”. It is in red sandstone. On the English side is an SSSI in respect to the Dee Cliffs made of Triassic sandstone from 200-250 million years ago.
Back to the village centre. I wander a short distance along Castle Street. Holt Hall is a large 18th century town house, now a Chinese restaurant. The Presbyterian church was designed by T.M. Lockwood, architect of Chester, Gothic Revival style with bar tracery and built in 1865. The building was instigated by the Revd Ebenezer Powell who opened the Academy School which is opposite.
Friday – Gloucester – The sky is covered by luminous grey clouds. I start in Highnam and head down the busy B4215 towards Gloucester. Across a field of oilseed rape, the city is misty with the cathedral tower high above the rest of the buildings. On to the A40 and along to Telford’s Over Bridge. It is good to get up onto the bridge away from the thundering traffic. Although the road noise is still intrusive in the background I can now hear a Chiffchaff and a Blackbird singing. The River Severn flows slowly, its water coloured a greeny-brown.
Off the bridge and down to the path alongside the River Severn. Brambles have one of the best crops of blackberries I have seen in years. However it will be at least a month before they are ripe. Beside the track are swathes of Great Willowherb and Meadowsweet. Onto the open pastures of Port Ham. A herd of cows graze whilst enduring the clouds of flies. Good numbers of bees are visiting a large patch of Creeping Thistles. The path comes to Lower Parting, where the East Channel rejoins the main river. The path travels east along the channel. Various bees and hover-flies are visiting flowering Brambles. The riverbank is lined with Willows of every size.
The path crosses a drainage ditch which runs from Richards Wood. It is now just cow-trampled mud, reeds and grasses and looks like it has been this way for some time. The path now runs down the side of Oxlease. It is still following the East Channel. Carrion Crows fly up from the path into a dead tree. The area is criss-crossed by overhead power cables. The tower of the cathedral still dominates over the top of the trees along the edge of Oxlease. Over another two drainage channels and on to Castle Meads. This is Alney Island Nature Reserve. Two ponds drain the land, one full of willows, other covered in an umbellifer, I am guessing at Fine-Leaved Water Dropwort and Water Plantain.
The path now joins the major path that runs on the old GWR Dock Branch railway line. Himalayan Balsam is smothering everything even Stinging Nettles. I realise this is not the path I want and turn back discover I missed my path whilst admiring the ponds. Through a wooden gate covered in flies. Through the old canal Llanthony lock. The footbridge over the East Channel is closed so I have to return to the main path. Under the old railway bridge which is rusting away rapidly.
Off the path and up into the roaring traffic on the A430 and over the channel. Past Gloucester College and onto a track heading south from Llanthony Bridge following the shipping channel. Llanthony Secunda priory ruins are surrounded by modern developments. The Sula lightship is moored here. She was built in Beverley in 1958 and was stationed off Spurn Point. Across the channel are the old maltings on Baker’s Quay with a row of cast iron pillars. On down the track where old railway lines are still embedded. Under High Orchard Bridge.
A large dock, Moor Meadow, lays off the main channel. On the far side is a family of Mute Swans. Building developments are being carried out all around the dock. A large yellow faced hover-fly is on Brambles. It is the Hornet Mimic Hover-fly, Volucella zonaria, a formerly Mediterranean species that is steadily heading north. Through a new housing estate back to the A430. Up the road a short distance to a lane that leads to the landfill site. A Chiffchaff calls overhead and a Sedge Warbler sings in the scrub below the lane. A footpath, the Glevum Way, plunges into woodland. Into a field. At the top of the field is a row of trees. To the north is Newark farm. Beyond is a rough pasture where the map shows earthworks, which are believed to be Pillow Mounds, in the possession of Llanthony Secunda Priory, for the breeding of rabbits in the mediaeval period. With a bit of imagination I think I can discern them. This is the outskirts of Hempsted, a village that I think I will leave for another day. Back to the tip lane.
A short distance back up the lane and the Glevum way heads off towards the hill created by the tip. A footbridge crosses a weed and rush choked stream and the path turns north. A line of gas release valves runs along the edge of the tip. A pair of Marbled White butterflies are locked in mating. A good number of Ringlets are flying through the longer grass. The sun is out now and it is getting very warm. The path passes a sports ground and then a yard of rusting old skips and containers. Onto a lane and back to the main road opposite Llanthony Secunda priory.
Back over the East Channel and down onto the old railway path. A Wren and Dunnock are both in song on on a dead tree. A flood relief channel must remain damp as Sedges and damp loving flowers – Purple Loosestrife and (I think) Bog Asphodel – grow. Further on it is clearly dryer as Ragwort, Teasels, carpets of Hop Trefoil, Scarlet Pimpernel and Evening Primrose flourish. Nearby are large patches of a yellow umbellifer, Wild Parsnip. Past a large reed bed where a Sedge Warbler sings.
Back over Over Bridge. A path passes Over farm and heads back to Highnam, a following for a way the old railway track of the GWR Gloucester and Ledbury Branch, which closed in 1964. Cricket Bat Willows are being grown in a field along with nectar producing flowers. The path re-enters Highnam. Route with glitch at end
Sunday – Leominster – Sunbeams are trying to push their way through clouds, with some success. Mist lays over the river valley. Bird song had ceased, just the screaming of Swifts now. Then a Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from a conifer behind the houses in the northern side of the street. A Chiffchaff still calls beside the railway track. The water in the River Lugg is clear and the level remains low. Wood Pigeons coo and a Wren sings.
Back over the railway bridge. A pair of Goldfinches fly away over the plant hire yard. A wind is rising. Into the Millennium Park. A group of shiny capped toadstools, possibly Snowy Waxcaps, grow in the grass. For some reason, my knees are causing some discomfort so I head home.
Home – Yesterday I planted out the remaining cabbages and chard. Today, under Kay’s instruction, a dead Flowering Blackcurrant is removed from the mound, the centre of the garden that divides the two halves. A self-sown Hazel also comes out. I finally replace one of the perches in the hen-house. The old one has been bowed for some time and in danger of breaking.
Monday – Bodenham Lake – The morning after England lost a penalty shoot-out in the European Cup Final. It is humid after a night of rain. Wet leaves shine. A Song Thrush sings across in Westfield Wood and pigeons coo. Eight cygnets and an adult Mute Swan swim past behind the islands. A few Mallard occupy the these islands but little else, except for the furthest west where a few Canada Geese have congregated, many upended, feeding off the bottom of the lake. There are also a couple of Coot and Tufted Duck here. The lake water is gaining a green hue.
Grasses and flowers on the meadow are fading now, the orchids have finished flowering. A few Ringlet butterflies flit among long grasses. A Coot and Moorhen squabble on the scrape. A couple of Mandarin Duck are sleeping and preening here. Several Mute Swans are sleep by the western end of the island. Another dozen are out on the water. Two Reed Warblers are in song. A Green Woodpecker calls from the island. Selfheal, Ox-eye Daisies, St John’s Wort, Ragwort, Meadowsweet and Agrimony. A Mandarin Duck picks insects off of the water’s surface. Four Cormorants and a Little Egret are on the island in front of the new hide. Eleven Greylags are at the western end and over fifty Canada Geese are scattered across the water. Purple Loosestrife flowers on the scrape. One of the Reed Warblers flies across the reed-bed before disappearing into its interior. A Zebra Spider, Salticus scenicus, scurries along the hide window ledge.
Back to the meadow. A Chiffchaff song is now,“Chiff, Chiff,Chiff,Ching Ching”. One of the Hawkweeds is in flower in the meadow. Apples are getting bigger in the orchards but it will be some time yet before any are edible.
Thursday – Dudmaston Hall – We visit this National Trust property at Quatt Malvern near Bridgenorth. The house is closed but we came to have a wander around the gardens. The Dudmaston Estate has been Wolryche family or the related Wolryche-Whitmore family since 1403, when William Wolryche of Much Wenlock acquired it by marriage to Margaret Margaret de Butailles, the heiress of the former owners. It is likely an older house stood here to be replaced by the present house, attributed to Francis Smith built in 1695 for Sir Thomas Wolryche. It is a nine-bay house of red brick with stone quoins and stone-framed windows with a recessed five-bay centre. Alterations were made in 1826 by John Smalman for W W Whitmore. Outbuildings date to 1789. The surrounding gardens and park are probably from a plan produced by William Emes in 1777.
The grounds from the house drop down to the Big Pool. There are numerous beds of flowers and specimen trees. Two large water lily beds are in this end of the lake. Various pieces of sculpture are around the estate. A wooden construction, “Spaceframe”, 1973, by Anthony Twentyman is on top of the slope with a stone sculpture, also by Twentyman, “The Watcher” 1969, stands beside the lake. We go from the lake back up the slope to the south, past a large bed of huge Gunnera, fondly called “Giant Rhubarb” by us. There are some wonderful flowering Dogwoods. Through the stable yard and into the orchard where we have tea and cake. Then a visit to the kitchen garden before leaving.
Friday – Stourport – The sky is clear blue and the sun is warming the land rapidly. Down Betty Davies Hill, on Dunley Road to the Stourport bridge over the River Severn. As the bridge start steps descend and through arches in the stone section of the bridge through onto to a footpath heading south alongside the river. Scullers row along the water. Opposite is the bridge over junction of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and the river. Beyond the path are sports pitches. A meadow of Ladies Bedstraw, Black Knapweed, one of the Hawksbits (or a Hawkbeard or a Catsear – sorry do not know), Yarrow and Meadow Thistles runs to a great spreading Oak. A Knapweed by the path hosts small green bugs – one of the Miridae. On further the path-side plants have changed to Comfrey, Creeping Thistle and Meadow Cranesbill all growing through beds of Stinging Nettles. Blackbirds take advantage of the mown grass on the footpath to seek grubs and worms.
A large caravan park is beyond the trees now. An angler passes moaning: “It’s getting too warm and I’ve had enough”. There are several large patches of a pink flower. I struggle with identification – there is nothing like it in Fitter, Fitter and Blaney. Eventually, I work out that it is a Spiraea, a garden escape. A bronze winged green damselfly, female Banded Agrion, rests on a leaf. Static caravan sites occupy both sides of the river now. The path comes to great red sandstone cliffs that come right down to the river and the route has to be diverted around them. Redstone rock caves disappear back into the cliff. They are The Hermitage and fenced off. Steps climb the cliff. A pair of Peregrine Falcons screech overhead. At the top the edge of the cliffs is protected an eight foot spiked fence. The footpath joins the Geopark Way.
Off along the way. Ringlet butterflies flit past. Far across the field are the cliffs of old quarries on Abberley Hill. On the edge of the woodlands of swathes of Wood Sage. Track now runs alongside an embankment. On the other side of the embankment is a large industrial site. This area is called The Snipes and was formerly Larford Sand Quarries. In the other direction are the houses on the edge of Astley Cross. The track joins a lane. It appears the industrial site has been acquired by a caravan estates company. Tall pines stand between the lane and the site. A Common Buzzard sits in one of the trees.
The line passes Larford Farm Barns, a housing conversion complex. Beyond is a large area of lakes whose banks are full of anglers. The lane passes between in an area of rough pasture called Seedgreen Park and a large flowering potato field. Seedgreen farm stood in the area of rough pasture, its location shown by large tracts of Stinging Nettles. A wooded domed hill, The Plantation, rises above the scattered cottages of Astley Burf. The hill is crowned with flowering Sweet Chestnuts. Poppies and Yarrow grow on the verge. It is now very warm. A singing Skylark rises into the clear skies. Past The White House a Green Woodpecker yaffles nearby.
The lane enters The Burf . A lot of the housing is modern with a couple of old farm houses. Burf Cottage is a large late 18th century house, painted white over what the listed calls “an unusual brick bonding”. On a junction is a late 17th century cottage and the late 18th century Woodlands Farmhouse which has a blind window. A lane leads to the river and pub at Hampstall where there formerly a ferry, previously observed from the far side of the Severn. A track continues southwards. Past The Old Grainstore, which looks very modern. Beyond is a large corrugated iron arch barn. The bridleway narrows and runs through Lower Astley Wood. The air that a slightly unpleasant musky smell. A Comma butterfly lands on the path. The eastern side of the path now passes a large open field of Meadowsweet, Meadow Thistles, Purple Loosestrife and Birdsfoot Trefoil. A Beautiful Damselfly flits past and white butterflies are dancing out over the flowers. The path divides one leg comes to a footbridge over Dick Brook then enters Shrawley Wood. I return to the other leg which heads westwards.
The woodland to the north of the bridleway is now mainly conifers. This area is called The Forge which may explain where the older broadleaf woodland went. Blue Tits flit through the Birch saplings on the other side of the path. A footpath heading north separates The Forge from Upper Astley Wood. A branch sticks out over the path carrying small Wild Plums. Nearby is a patch of Dotted Loosestrife, another introduced flower. A channel runs along the foot of the wood. A small area of stonework has a stone plaque stating, “1652 Astley Forge Mill”. The brook has drawn close and it looks like a mill leet once led off to the channel. A Fritillary passes without stopping. Indeed, stopping is a bad move, as soon as I do, the flies descend. A Common Buzzard mews overhead. Through some rough grasses where there are a good number of butterflies, mainly Meadow Browns and Small Tortoiseshells. Past a modern house on the site of Woodend Farm and then onto the B4196 road. Glazenbridge Cottage is a much extended 17th century house.
The road heads north. It winds through high banks climbing steadily. Delicate pink and white Lesser Bindweed climbs through bracken on the banks. The lane enters Astley. Past Crundles Lane which leads back to The Burf. Woodstock is a timber-framed farmhouse with modern buildings added. A lodge house for Astley Hall stands by the road. It is late 19th or early 20th century, presumed to have been built by the same person as Astley Hall, a single storey in stone ashlar with slate roof in the Jacobean style. Through the trees is the hall itself, also late 19th century and in the Jacobean style. The hall was bought by Stanley Baldwin in 1912 and he lived there until his death in 1947. It is now a nursing home. The village of Astley is just too far away way so I continue north. The road passes strips of woodland. Common Buzzards mew overhead, a Jay squawks.
Past a roadside memorial to Stanley Baldwin in red sandstone. It records he was Prime Minister three times and was born and died in Astley Hall. The lane is now lined by a Hazel hedge. A Whitethroat and Dunnock sing. Astley War Memorial of 1921 stands in a junction. Past mainly modern houses including the former Police House. The road finally leaves Astley. It divides, one road leading to Bewdley, the other to Stourport. On towards Stourport. Helpfully there is a tarmac footpath along side of the road.
Into Astley Cross to the songs of Whitethroat and Greenfinch. Housing here is 21st century. The houses become 20th century but on a crossroads here is a 19th century pub and a short terrace of similar age. Another pub lies down the Redhouse Road. On another corner of the junction is a tin tabernacle, the Methodist chapel. On along the road, now Areley Common, which is now in Areley Kings. Late 19th century terraces are mixed with 20th century housing. Past a large area of allotments.
The road, now Windmill Bank, descends past Gorse scrub to the A451, Dunley Road which leads on down to Stourport Bridge. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The hot weather continues. Yesterday temperatures rose into the 30sºC. Twenty minutes of tying up and picking out the tomatoes in the garden left me drenched in sweat. Today will be no different, already the sun is blazing down from a cloudless sky. Swifts sweep overhead screaming as I proceed down the street. The Chiffchaff continues to call in the trees beside the railway. Evening Primrose, St John’s Wort and Rosebay Willowherb flower beside the station platform. On the other side of the line Great Bindweed flowers on the shrubbery. A Rabbit sits motionless below the footbridge.
The water level in the River Lugg has fallen just slightly, enlarging the shingle bank. Blackbirds fly up and down the water’s edge and across the river. There is no bird song just the occasional tweet and twitter. Few flowers are out now. Beyond Butts Bridge Cow Parsley is going to seed but Enchanter’s Nightshade will soon flower as will Burdock. A Red Soldier beetle flies past, proceeding slowly through the air before alighting on a grass stem. Plants such as Cleavers and grasses are setting seed often with little hooks on them to catch passing animal fur and human clothing to spread the plant far and wide.
Into the Millennium Park. Meadow Cranesbills are setting seed, little skulls with long bills looking very similar to the heads of cranes. Greater Knapweed are also going over but a few Field Scabious have come into flower. The water level in the River Kenwater has also fallen and is now very low. Wood Pigeons are calling from every direction and there are are a fair number in the churchyard. A Carrion Crow sits atop a tall conifer watching silently. A Chiffchaff starts calling. The day is heating up rapidly. Red Valerian rises out of a grave under the Yew by the church entrance. Four Jackdaws stalk the grass.
Home – It is now hot. The vines by the eastern wall have gone mad as usual and I cut them back, pulling long runners out of the trees. The hens get a large pile which they start munching whilst clucking contentedly. The rest go into the compost bins. Another large courgette is picked. Another potato plant is dug and there is a quite decent crop under it!
Monday – Croft – My first visit here since the pandemic began. I am immediately fooled by the reconfigured car park! Into the Fish Pool Valley. Much has changed. A large number of Ash trees have been removed, many because of Ash dieback, and the valley had been opened up. Heavy machinery is being used to repair the channel between two of the pools. A quick visit to the Gothic Pumphouse which has been opened so the rusting machinery can be seen.
Large blue Emperor dragonflies, Anax imperator, move over the water, sometimes hovering and then darting away rapidly. They rise up into the air, chasing one another. A Mandarin duck flies in. Blackcaps are in song. Ferns, Stinging Nettles, Rosebay Willowherb, Brambles and many other species have rushed in to occupy the newly opened up areas. Common Buzzards are calling from conifers on the western slope.
The next pond has had a very large boulder placed on a frame in the middle of the water. The rustic shelter is now completely exposed across the valley with all the trees in the bottom of the valley removed. New water channels have been constructed between the next pools, although in the present conditions, no water is flowing. Nuthatches call in the Beech woods in the eastern slope. Meadowsweet and Marsh Bedstraw flower on the banks of the dry stream that runs down from the spring at the end of the valley. Enchanters Nightshade and Hedge Woundwort are in flower on the bank. Blue and Coal Tits move through the remaining Ashes at the end of the valley. Fritillaries pass at speed, annoyingly without stopping. Ringlets move more sedately. A green and black Southern Hawker dragonfly passes. A red-eyed fly with black marks on its wings lands in my arm. It is probably a Thistle Gall Fly, Urophora cardui.
Up the path at the end of the valley. There are far more nettlebeds up the path now, in fact they are almost continuous. Up onto Croft Ambry hill-fort. A Whitethroat sings in the bracken. Speckled Wood butterflies visit path-side plants. Onto the main part of the hill-fort. There is barely a breath of air and the heat is intense. Dust rises from the quarry below. Yellow Lady’s bedstraw, China blue Harebells and orange tinged yellow Birdsfoot Trefoil flower beside the path. Many of the fields below are yellow or brown, stretching up Wigmore Marsh towards the Shropshire Hills. More Whitethroats and a Chiffchaff sing. The rasping sound of grasshoppers can be heard from the long grasses, but remain hidden.
Into the Mortimer Trail at the western end of the hill-fort. A Grey squirrel hops along the path. A young Robin, its breast barely red and still with a few spots, watches from a tree. A toadstool, probably a Fragile Brittlegill, Russula fragilis, is by the path. On down the track towards Croft. A shrew dashes across from one side to the other. The large old Oak growing by the track is now completely dead and so is the conifer that grew on one of its branches. Bracken is taking over the whole area.
Onto Spanish Chestnut field. A Red Kite glides past. The young Spanish Chestnuts planted a few years ago are considerably larger since I saw them last. The old chestnuts are all in flower. A Broad-bodied Chaser or Broad-bodied Darter, Libellula depressa, flies around the quarry pond before resting on a branch sticking out of the water. Down to the farm. It is very surprising there is not a single Swallow or House Martin in sight, a lot more humans though.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The temperature is rising; it will be another hot day. The forecasters think storms are coming, possibly as soon as tomorrow, but for now there are “Extreme Heat Warnings” being issued by the Met Office.
Down the track. Teasels are rising to eight feet high and their misty purple heads are popular with hover-flies. A Hawthorn sapling is collapsing under the weight of a dense tangle of Travellers’ Joy, or Old Man’s Beard. Tall Purple Loosestrife plants are flowering on the new islands. There are just a few Coot and Mallard here. Round to the meadow. Seven Mute Swans are in the meadow bay. The meadow and the cider apple orchard have been mown and large cylinders of hay have been left behind. Meadow Brown butterflies flit through the grasses that have been uncut around the edge.
From the hide, another 25 Mute Swans can be seen around the lake. Three Cormorants are on the islands, beaks gaping as they pant in the heat. Several Great Crested Grebe, a few Tufted Duck and more Mallard are scattered around the water. A flotilla of over 50 Canada Geese are heading for the west end of the lake. A Little Egret is by the scrape, snatching edibles off the surface. A Reed Warbler sings briefly from the reed bed. Again, there are no Swallows or Martins in sight. Damselflies skim the water’s surface.
Agrimony is in flower in the Alder Plantation. Back along the meadow. A Small Skipper flies past. Through the orchards. There are still no apples ready for eating. The temperature continues to rise. On the way home, I call in at Newton’s Farm cider house. The owner gives me a taste of his new blend – much too sweet for me. He tries me on his dry cider, still a bit too sweet really. He then goes into the barn and draws off a taster of the hard stuff – perfect! I purchase 5 litres which will keep me going, for a short time!
Friday – Cheltenham – Thin cloud cover is keeping the temperature down to very warm at the moment. Along the A4019, the main road in to Cheltenham town centre. The road is lined by a mixture of car dealers, fast food drive-thru’s and larger stores. I head away from the centre to Wyman’s Lane, once called Cate-Gate Lane. A large industrial estate is called Kingsditch. The King’s Ditch was a boundary ditch between King’s Manor of Cheltenham and Swindon. Some of the units are empty but new ones are under construction. Out of the industrial area into, on the eastern side, a modern housing estate, Wyman’s Brook. The Birmingham-Bristol mainline railway, formerly the Midland Railway, runs north-south through the estate. To the west is a strip of woodland and then playing fields. A house looks like a Victorian Gate Lodge. The Swindon Village playing fields were opened in 1953 by the Duke of Beaufort. Oaks, over one hundred years old, look carefully placed across the fields. A fence separates the fields from a private lane running to Swindon Hall and Manor Farm. Runner beans grow up the fence. The Hall can just be seen over the hedge. It has late 17th or early 18th century origins, but was considerably rebuilt and extended in 1845-50 for J. Surman Surman. It is an L-shaped building, the former main façade faces the park. A long wing faces north and contains parts of the original hall. It was divided into four residences in 1949.
A stile exits the park opposite Quat Goose Lane. Another large Lodge House stands beside what must have been some impressive gates. Along Church Road. Most of the houses here are 20th century. On a bend the long range of houses, Queen Anne Cottage from the late 18th century is attached to Old Swindon House, also dating from the late 18th century On the other side of the road is a substantial late Georgian or early Victorian house , the former Rectory. Church Cottage is a small 18th century timber-framed house with painted brick infilling and a thatched roof. Next to it is the church of St Lawrence.
The war memorial stands by the path. Nearby is a very large stone cross marking the tomb of the March Phillips of Garendon Park, Leicestershire. Charles March-Phillips (28 May 1779-24 April 1862) was a British Radical politician who sat in the House of Commons in two periods between 1818 and 1837. Why he is buried here I am unsure. Another tomb is a very large oval stone laid flat with completely illegible carving on it. A large grey marble monument surrounded by an ornate iron fence marks the grave of Michael Belcher of Swindon Hall who died in 1888. Nearby is a full-sized carving of an angel. In between these large and, even then, expensive monuments are smaller, simpler gravestones, some older from the mid 18th century, others of ordinary people such as John Young, gardener, who died in 1846. Hard against the wall is the grave of Sarah, daughter of Lieutenant-General Sir George Thomas Napier. Nearby is that of James Fallon Barrister at Law and Recorder for Tewkesbury from 1860 to 1885. Near the church door is an unidentified 17th century chest tomb.
The church was locked but as I leave the churchyard I see the door is open. A cleaner is inside and lets me look around. The church is 12th century, largely rebuilt around 1845 in neo-Norman style by Thomas Fulljames for John Surman Surman who had received a large inheritance from Gloucester banker, Jemmy Woods, a relation of Surman’s mother. The tower is an unusual unequal hexagon, one of only two in the country and both in Gloucestershire. The interior of the church is a mixture of 12th century and 19th century. The west window is perpendicular and probably dates from the 15th century. The east window is by T Willement dated 1843. The font is octagonal and from the 15th century. There are six bells, a treble of 1974 by John Taylor of Loughborough, Second, 1905 by James Barwell of Birmingham, Third by Alexander Rigbe from 1679, the only one by Rigbe in Gloucestershire, Fourth by Abraham Rudhall in 1713, Fifth believed to have been made in Bristol in the 15th century and the Tenor dated 1630 made by Thomas Hancox of Walsall.
Next to the church is Swindon Manor, a 17th century house, largely rebuilt in the 18th. On along Church Road. It seems odd that a sizeable modern estate has no street lighting. The lane, now part of the Cheltenham Circular Footpath, leaves village past extensive allotments. The footpath runs alongside a field of barley. The day is becoming hot. Sow Thistles grow at the foot of a Bramble, Blackthorn and Hawthorn hedge. A number of Gatekeeper butterflies fly along the base of the hedge. The path now cuts straight across the barley field. A footbridge crosses a small stream which turns out to be the River Swilgate. Into a field of wheat. Across a larger path called Dog Bark Lane; on 3rd May 1471 King Edward IV and his Yorkist army passed through the village and along Dog Bark Lane, on his way to the Battle of Tewkesbury which took place the next day.
Into another wheat field and along path which is lined with Scentless Mayweed and occasional Redshank or Persicaria. Large cracks are in the surface of the path, a sign of the extended lack of rain. Across the field is a large house and outbuildings called Fairoaks. Red Pimpernels are in flower along the edge of the rough path. Out of the field and along a path then between pastures to Church Farm. One of the pastures contains a herd of over 30 horses. Past Chosen View Farm and into the village of Elmstone Hardwicke. The name Elmstone is thought to have been in use by 889 in the form Almundingtoun, and the name Hardwicke occurs separately in 1086. The two elements are not found together before 1378, and not before the 16th century to describe the whole parish.
The church of St Mary Magdalene is closed. A “Gala Tent” is in the churchyard, maybe used for services at the moment? There is evidence that there was a church at Elmstone in the 12th century, though the earliest documentary evidence is from 1283. The church was then a chapel of Deerhurst church, served by a chaplain who received a pension from Deerhurst Priory. By 1296 the cure was served by a vicar, and the benefice remained a vicarage. In 1922 the vicarage was united with that of Swindon to form the united benefice of Elmstone Hardwicke with Uckington and Swindon. Hardwicke was detached from that benefice to become part of the united benefice and parish of Tredington with Stoke Orchard and Hardwicke in 1937. The nave, south aisle, and chancel were largely rebuilt in the 14th century. The west tower was built in the 15th century, opening to the nave with a high, narrow arch. The tower is of three stages and embattled, with an internal stair-vice and gargoyles at the each corner. A niche containing an eroded figure (probably of Our Lady) is below the west facing belfry window. The vestry, nave and south aisle were restored 1871-8 by John Middleton.
A pleasant breeze has sprung up. A short distance up the road is the old school of 1864. The hall is the school is now the Bethel Slavic Evangelical Baptist church. Most other buildings are 20th century. The circular footpath runs through churchyard and heads south. Across a pasture, then into a ripe barley field. A combine harvester is at work in a neighbouring field. Alongside another pasture containing a few sheep. The grass is long beside the path and indeed on the path and Lesser Bindweed and white Clover flowers in it. The next field is rough grasses. A Yellowhammer sings nearby. Hear the Lesser Bindweed is completely white where is earlier it had pretty pink candy stripes.
Path joins the lane south of Church Farm at Chestnut Farm. The lane enters Uckington. A tin Tabernacle in poor condition stands by the road. It was a Methodist chapel at Beckford, but moved to Uckington in 1940 for use as a Baptist chapel but had closed by 1964. The building was afterwards used by the Uckington Free Church, founded in 1946, which in 1964 held services every Sunday. 20th century houses line the road. Opposite is Uckington Farm, its barns and dairy converted into residences. The farmhouse is a fine timber-framed and brick building built in the early 17th century and extended in the 19th century. Opposite the village hall is relatively new. The lane comes to the A4019 Cheltenham-Tewkesbury Road again. Some houses on the junction are probably older than they seem, one although I do not know which, was recorded as a beer house and shop in 1839 but had gone some 50 years later.
Across busy main Road and into Moat Lane. Newhouse farmhouse stands short distance down the road. Opposite is an old farmyard with a wooden building with tiled roof disappearing under Brambles and trees. Ahead are gates and a bridge made of cast iron from Coalbrook Dale in 1851. A moat completely surrounds this house. Two small lodge buildings stands either side of the gate. Moat House is a house whose core probably dates to around 1600. It was extensively altered in the early 19th century, probably by John Buckle of Cheltenham, who was said to be lord of the manor. Along the lane is the fine Manor Farm house and opposite the Old Hall. Back to the Circular Walk heading south running down past Mote House although very little can be seen through the trees.
A concrete bridge crosses the River Chelt. A footpath runs alongside the river in an eastwards direction. The thatched 17th century Moat Cottage lies hidden behind hedges on the other side of the river. Annoyingly the footpath is completely blocked by undergrowth and nettles so an alternative route down the bottom of the field has to be found. A Kingfisher flies passed across the field.
The footpath joins the B4634, the Old Gloucester Road, beside a large abandoned nursery which may explain the condition of the footpath by the river. Across the road is a large housing estate effectively the north east boundary of the town of Cheltenham. The road becomes Hayden Road. An empty and unused plot has as several large stands of Tansy like plant, which has much smaller florets then normal wild Tansy although the scent is the same. An ornamental shrub has numerous funnel spider webs across it, the spiders darting down the tunnels into the interior of the shrub as I approach. Hayden Road turns into Swindon Village, largely modern developments, although somewhat oddly including a small static caravan park.
The road comes to an older junction just before it joins the Tewkesbury road. On the corner is the Bedlam Forge, dated 1905, although it is closed. On the main road roundabout is Appletree Cottage, a late 17th century thatched timber-framed house. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The sky is grey and the air much cooler than the last few days but the forecast rain has not materialised. Swifts are screaming from on high. A pair of Wood Pigeons are conducting an affair on the railway tracks. The water level in the River Lugg remains much the same as last week. A Blackbird searches the gravel bank for food. A Robin and Wren dart across from bank to bank. A Dipper, the first I have seen for some time, flies downstream and lands on some stones used to reinforce the bank.
Round to Pinsley Mill. A Goldcrest moves energetically through a Silver Birch, hovering in front of bunches of leaves before diving in. A Magpie is chuntering nearby. Rosebay Willowherb is in flower beside the railway track. Through the Millennium Park. Bunches of Hazel nuts are bright green. The water level in the River Kenwater remains very low. Nearby a Dogwood is coming into flower. A Large-leafed Lime is also in flower. Into the churchyard. Several Carrion Crows are very noisy. Swifts are so high in the sky they look like a cloud of flies. Wood Pigeons coo. There is rain in the air.
Home – Gladstone apples are falling in quantity now. They are not the best eating being very soft textured. However, the hens find them fine! Brambles coming over the wall are cut back. A Pyracantha needs training along a wall instead of being allowed to keep growing skywards. A string is attached and the shrub pulled towards the horizontal. A large branch that remains heading upwards is removed. It remains to be seen if this will work. I am failing to keep up with the courgettes and several more large specimens are harvested. The potato plants in bags are emptied. They have a decent crop of little potatoes but clearly could have done with more water. There are some left-over seed potatoes in the summerhouse so these are put in the bags in fresh compost. As usual, I have failed in successional sowing of lettuces. The original crop has now gone to seed but I have no young ones to plant out, so a belated sowing is made in modules. We are using a commercial peat-free compost for sowing but is very poor quality – there are even small stones in it! It is not helpful as we try to wean the public off peat to have such bad alternatives.
Monday – Newchurch-Llanneuwydd – Another hot day, a very light breeze hardly helps. I park by the Ebenezer Welsh Calvinistic Methodist chapel and head past St Mary’s church and the splendid Great House from around 1490. Onto the Offa’s Dyke Path. Through a farm yard. A large flock of House Sparrows flies out of the hedgerow. Many settle ahead in the track seeking dropped seed. A Raven croaks in the distance. Rosebay Willowherb rises above the hedgerow which is filled with tangle of Stinging Nettles and Cleavers. The last of the Foxgloves flower on the bank. A Green Woodpecker flies up from a field into trees.
Into a shady section of woodland where Cwmila Brook flows under the lane. It will join the River Arrow a short distance downstream. The trail leaves the lane at Gilfach-yr-Heol and continues up the side of Little Mountain. Disgwylfa Hill lies to the north across the Arrow valley. To the west is the village, south of it rises Newchurch Hill and beyond further to the west is Brangwyn Hill. The path reaches the top of Little Mountain. Ahead are the Black Mountains along the horizon.
The path joins a track which starts to descend. Green hips are forming on briars. The song of a Yellowhammer rings out from the top of a Hawthorn. The track joins Red Lane. Cloud is building which reduces the intense heat slightly. Small birds, almost certainly warblers, dash between banks of Bracken. Grasshoppers rasp. Ravens honk and growl. Over a crossroads. An overgrown track follows the Offa’s Dyke Trail. Pen Twyn, an Iron Age defended settlement is hidden in a clump of conifers to the east and inaccessible. The trail is now on boardwalks although the track is currently dry. The track descends towards the Wye Valley and joins a lane, Crowther’s Pool, at a modern bungalow at Pen-y-van. On down the lane. A grey stone house, Pen Brilley, lies across the fields. A Small Heath butterfly flits around my feet.
The trail diverts across a field at Cae Higgin but I stay on the lane, which twists is way downwards between banks some six feet high with hedges of Hawthorn, Hazel and Bracken on top. The lane joins Hergest Road at Nash Dom. A tall chimney stack appears to be detached from any building. A modern house is nearby. I take the lane westwards. Woods fall away steeply to the south. A deep dry ravine is now below the road with a bridge over it. A family of Wrens watches from below. Two more modern houses stand on a junction.
Down the side lane a short distance, across a field of barley, is the Holy Trinity chapel of Bettws Clyro in splendid isolation. Sadly the door is locked. The church is a single cell chapel of rest, with mediaeval roof although it was completely rebuilt in 1878 by F R Kempson. The first written record comes from 1566, when it is referred to as “y bettws”, or “the prayer house”, The bell turret is a simple square louvred turret with a pyramidal cap. To the east it is a small area with six large stones and a wooden seat. One stone is engraved, “Tom, Our Darling Boy, 2004-2010. One of the other stones may have been engraved once but is now illegible. The church was a favourite of of diarist Revd Francis Kilvert.
Back up the lane. A Red Admiral rests on a Holly leaf. On westwards, then northwards. Penrhoel is a modern house and barn conversions. A mewing Common Buzzard flies over. A squeaking Chiffchaff seeks insects in an old Oak. The line joins a larger road. A cottage, Ty Nesa, stands on the junction. Off northwards. I nearly stand on a grasshopper which bounds of the tarmac into the verge. A dragonfly searches for prey high in the trees. Past Clyro Hill farm. That symbol of the modern middle classes, a shepherd’s hut, stands in the field. From here there extensive views back into Herefordshire. There have been Small White butterflies everywhere today along with good numbers of Meadow Browns.
Past the lane to Crowther’s Pool. A Small Skipper flits through Meadowsweet, not stopping. A lovely vine covered farmhouse stands by the road. A large pond has been excavated in a field but is almost entirely empty. A white painted farmhouse, Cwmithel, lays down the hillside. Through an offset crossroads at Newgate. Past the Elizabethan house of Dolbedwyn and a castle motte. I recognise this place from some six years ago when I tripped over the broken tarmac, still not repaired, and did a graceful roll, saving myself from injury, but destroying my tablet which was in my pocket! A bridge crosses Cwmila Brook. A little further on is a slightly smaller mound that looks like another earthwork and was marked as such on the 1880 OS map but early in the 20th century was rejected as a natural feature. The lane comes to the B4594 back to Newchurch.
A Violet Ground Beetle scurries across the road. The road undulates and there is a punishing climb past Pontvane farm, particularly as it is getting very hot again. My last mouthfuls of water are warm as tea. A twittering Linnet flies past. Finally the road descends into the village. A Red Kite floats above the village. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The weather has finally broken here. The intense heat has gone and overnight there was rain, not enough to do any more than dampen the ground but it has made everything fresher. Along with track. Teasels, St John’s Wort, Ragwort, Dark Mullein and Old Man’s Beard are all in flower. No birdsong, just a few cheeps. Some blackberries are almost ripe.
A few Tufted Duck, Mallard, the Mute Swan family and a Great Crested Grebe are in the sailing bay. A Brown Hawker dragonfly, Aeshna grandis, searches the hedgerow for prey. Thirty three Mute Swans are in view from the hide. There seem to be only a few Canada Geese around today. More Mallard, Coot, a Mandarin Duck, Moorhens and two Great Crested Grebes are on the water. A Cormorant flies across, another is in the trees on the island. A Grey Heron stands on a log on the newly built up shingle bar. A raptor cries from a tree at the far west end of the lake, it is too far away to make a positive identification, but I reckon it is a young Peregrine.
Back through the meadow. Tufted Vetch climbs the hedgerow. Leaving the village I pass Swallows lining up on wires first preparation for their return to Africa. A large flock of Rooks flies here and there over fields at Bowley Court Farm.
Home – A plan! Just before my normal afternoon shower, I will dig some potatoes, hard digging before a refreshing clean down. As I get the fork and trug out of the shed a serious thunderstorm rolls in. A quick dash to the greenhouse and the tomatoes and cucumbers get tied and generally sorted whilst torrential rain lashes the glass above. The thunder is close to continuous. It is all over in less than quarter of an hour, but now the ground is really wet for the first time in what seems like weeks, so digging the spuds is out.
Saturday – Home – A combination of closed roads and rain thwarted my planned walk yesterday. In the end I just visited the Hop Pocket retail unit, which seems to have contracted – the butcher has gone and the deli diminished. There is still a sizeable range of beers and ciders and the usual “stuff”. I return towards town, dropping in to Newton’s Court cider barn and purchase some farmhouse cider. The man reckons I was overcharged last visit and as I have brought back the gallon container to be refilled he charges only £12!
Also yesterday several pounds of Gladstone apples were gathered up, chopped and reduced to pulp, then put through the jelly bag. A cauliflower and a large courgette are chopped and salted. This morning the juice is mixed with some finely sliced chillies from the freezer and chilli jelly is made. Then courgette and cauliflower piccalilli is produced.
This afternoon I dig the first of the second early potatoes – Kestrel. The crop seems reasonable but I will leave it another week before digging any more. I go through the cabbages crushing the numerous little groups of Cabbage White eggs and the few caterpillars that have hatched. They have already done quite a lot of damage. The carrots, beetroot and chard need weeding. All three are doing very well and I may crop some for dinner tomorrow. A couple of tiger-striped orange and black Cinnabar moth caterpillars are feeding on some small Ragworts. They will probably strip these quite quickly and will need moving to the much large plants in our patch of meadow.