Saturday – Leominster – A plant fair is taking place on the Grange. Kay visits whilst I remain at home because we still have the plasterer finishing off the wall in the corridor that is being treated for damp. She returns with a meagre haul, but everything is so late this year that it is pointless buying a lot of plants that cannot be put in as the spring flowers are still in full flow. In the early afternoon we both return to the Grange. The extensive refurbishment of Grange House has finally been largely finished and it is open to the public for the first time. The new offices have a very pleasant aspect overlooking a grassed area between the rear wall and the house. The Victorian folly made of some reclaimed parts of the old priory has been erected along this back wall. There is an arch which would have been Norman but is missing its keystone so it looks vaguely pointed like early English. A couple of windows are pure Romanesque. More pieces of Norman masonry lay around the perimeter. Inside the building is airy and light. The Mayor’s Parlour and Committee Room have been retained in their original style. Upstairs the main gallery is a splendid space overlooking the Grange. A musician is practising on various mediaeval instruments, some sweeter than others!
Home – Weeds grow without a pause. I spend some time on my hands and knees pulling them and grass out of the vegetable beds. One patch has lots of small Stinging Nettles in it – a fact I discover rather too late. The potatoes are earthed up some more. Slugs have been at my beans, so I reluctantly spread some bird-safe pellets. The pumpkin plants in the orchard area have been munched down to the ground. I have sown some more which hopefully can be planted out in time but precautions will have to be taken to protect them. We have noticed the apricot is looking pretty sick and there is a large canker on the trunk. It looks like it will have to come out; a great shame. The currant bushes are growing larger by the day and full of fruit. White lilac is in blossom. Great Tits search the old apple tree, Howgate Wonder, hopefully finding every last bug! One of the tomato plants in the greenhouse has flowers.
Monday – Ryelands – Horse Chestnuts are prolific this year with stunning displays of candles. This does bode ill for the autumn at home when the lawn will be bombarded with conkers! A clear blue sky, bright sun and pale crescent moon are overhead. Blackcaps sing in the shady hedgerow. Skylarks sing and Swifts scream above the big field behind the school. The field is growing clover. The next field is covered with a crop that has just sprouted and also looks like a legume. Bees visit the bright blue flowers of Green Alkanet, which is complimented by the flowers of White Dead Nettle. The name Alkanet comes from the Arabic, al hinna, which is also the root of henna the dye. The Green Alkanet is an introduced species, uncommon according to older guidebooks but seems to be spreading fast. Down the track back to Hereford Road. Suddenly Maddy drops her ball and stands with one back paw raised and a distressed look on her face. I check the paw and leg but can find nothing wrong. She then seems to walk without any problem. We head down Southern Avenue and along the Worcester Road. Sadly the old water works have now been demolished, another part of Leominster’s history lost.
Kimbolton – The second round of the Woodcock survey. Back to the same corner on the track between two strips of woodland. The expanse of field between the woods is now bright yellow with flowering Rape. Field Pansies cluster under the rape. Blackbirds are the main songsters. Sheep are continuously baaing in the fields beyond the deciduous woods. An occasional Swallow sweeps across the field. Hawthorn is still in flower on the edges of the woods. A Grey Heron passes over. It is officially sunset at 9.30pm. Much of the song has turned into alarm calls – pink-pink. A dog barks in the village. Crane flies are still active flying much to close for my liking. A Robin continues to sing as the light fades. A noisy Carrion Crow lands in a tree close to the edge of the wood and sends a Blackbird dashing across the field calling in alarm. The Robin falls silent but a couple of Song Thrushes take up the song along with Wood Pigeons. The church bell clanks out 10pm. A Robin sings fitfully for a few moments then falls silent. As it grows dimmer other songsters have brief flurries of song with longer periods of silence, at least bird-wise as the sheep never seem to quieten. Finally all give up and only traffic noise is heard. I am surprised at the lack of owls but not, sadly of Woodcock – this area will be returning a zero count.
Tuesday – Croft – Down the ride to the Fishpool Valley and then down towards the lowest pool. A drake Mallard watches over his ducklings and sleeping mate (who is actually watching quietly). Grey Wagtails flutter around from one dead branch perch to another. Blackbirds, Robins and Wrens sing. The sun us bright but a breeze cools the air. An open area is spotted pink with Red Campions but there us a worrying lack of insect life. A Blackcap sings from bushes. Across the dam of a pond where fish jumps and up through the woods to Bircher Common. The lambs on the common are almost as big as their mothers. A gorse has wool hanging off it where sheep have sheltered beneath the bush and some fleece has been left behind. Skylarks sing overhead, Willow Warblers sing in the valley and a Chaffinch sings from the trees. These trees are all in leaf now imparting a shining viridescence to the valley. A large Horse Chestnut is festooned with white candles. Thistles are spaced on the common with almost mathematical accuracy. A Cuckoo calls from Oaker Wood. The top of Leinthall Common is carpeted in Bluebells with white patches of Stitchwort. Blackcaps sing all along the top of the steep slope with the occasional Garden Warbler. The view from Croft Ambrey is always inspiring. Even in thick mist and rain there is a haunting and ancient atmosphere, but today with the sun shining on the vivid, verdant landscape it is sublime. A pair of Speckled Wood butterflies dance and pirouette above the forestry track. Further down a white butterfly passes but does not stop to allow identification.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Clouds cover the sky, so different to yesterday’s sunshine. A Green Woodpecker flies up the orchard as we go through the gate. The sheep in the orchard are all laying down and ignoring Maddy. The meadow is washed yellow with buttercups and spotted pink by Red Clover. A Blackcap sings in the trees in the far corner. A dozen plus Canada Geese and four Mute Swans occupy the shingle bank. Another young Mute Swan seems intent on seeing off a Coot, not by attacking but just swimming parallel and close enough to make the Coot uneasy. There are more Mute Swans on the water. No Cormorants are to be seen and the nest appears to be unoccupied. Similarly, the Coot nest also seems to be abandoned, although the eggs may have hatched and the young are off with their parents. There is the constant angry buzz of a chain saw coming from the woods to the west. A few Mallard dabble and a small number of Tufted Duck dive at the south end of the lake. Two of the Mute Swans squabble with wings outstretched and slapping at each other. Bird song is constant – Blackcaps, Blackbirds and Robins. A drake Mallard appears, its feathers becoming dull and dingy as it enters eclipse. A single Common Vetch with a single reddish-purple flower grows in the grass of the Alder plantation. Hawthorn blossom is still looking fresh and pristine, no-one has told it that it is called May and we are now in June! The sailing club section of the lake is completely deserted.
Thursday – Monmouth – We have not stopped in this town since 1999. This border town has a wealth of history. A Roman fort stood here, we saw excavations of it in 1999 when a Monnow Street building was being demolished. It now stands under a Lloyds Bank. Nearby the remains of a pre-Conquest wooden tower has been found with large defensive ditch crossing the street below. Monnow Street leads down to the River Monnow where stands a bridge with a town gate tower in the middle. This was constructed around 1270 and is the last remaining mediaeval bridge with a tower in Britain. Beyond the bridge is a Millennium Monument, a round table of segments containing the history of the town. Beyond is the market cross. Back over the bridge stands the Robin Hood Inn, one of Monmouth’s oldest buildings with a doorway from the 16th century. An upstairs room was used in the 18th century, before Catholic emancipation, to celebrate Mass. Unfortunately, the view next to the inn is the modern walls of a supermarket. The main shopping street is much the same as most towns these days – too many stuff and charity shops and chain stores closing down. However, there is a decent enough number of independents. A castle was built between 1067 and 1071 by William Fitz Osbern. This was followed by the establishment of a Benedictine priory in 1075 by Gwethenoc, a Breton who became Lord of Monmouth. The priory was granted to the Abbey of St Florent at Saumur and was consecrated in 1101. The town was laid out with burgage plots around 1100. There is not a great deal left of castle. It stands beside the Great Castle House, built in 1673 by the 3rd Marquis of Worcester. Since the mid-18th century it has been the headquarters of the RMRE (Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers). Large war machines stand outside.
In the car park is an Oak tree from the French grave pits of Agincourt presented by Major Ynyr Probert M.C. whose ancestors fought at the battle. The castle consists of the Great Tower in which it is likely the future Henry V was born, and the hall which was built by Henry III’s son, Edmund Crouchback when he was given this castle along with the Three Castles, White, Skenfrith and Grosmont, when he became Earl of Lancaster. The church of St Mary’s could be on the site of a Celtic church. St Mary’s was the church of the priory, however most of the present church dates from the 18th and 19th centuries. The interior dates from 1882 but a memorial and Lady chapel have been added later. There are some mediaeval tiles but I cannot find them! The rood screen has been split and part of it moved to the western end to form a narthex. The reredos is a large altar painting entitled The Adoration of the Magi, is by James Watney Wilson, RA, painted in 1888. Back towards Monnow Street. Agincourt Square where a house stands built around 1624 (the date on the apex of the gable along with the initials of William Roberts). Further down the road is the Shire Hall built in 1724. A statue apparently of Henry V was installed in 1792. In front of the hall is a statue of Charles Rolls, who co-founded Rolls Royce and whose family came from the vicinity. Nearby is a nice Victorian post box. We return home via Grosmont and Pontrilas. The roads pass valleys, green and lush. The roadside is lined with frothy white heads of umbellifers.
Friday – Humber – The second round of the BTO Breeding Birds Survey. The field beyond Steensbridge has been sown with maize. Rabbits dash for the thickets along the stream. Rooks are flying hither and thither, cawing loudly. Maddy manages to get over a stile but leaves her ball on the other side which means I have to clamber back to retrieve it. The public footpath is non-existent and walking through the long grass makes me grateful I put on my gaiters, water is flowing off my legs and boots. Several Yellowhammers are calling, a Pheasant croaks and Song Thrushes sing in the nearby woodland. Across a pasture and over another stile into a field again sown with maize. House Martins skim around the farmhouse. Nineteen Rooks are on the garden fence of the house. Into Humber where Jackdaws call around the church. The breeze is strengthening. There is little in the small village which is surprising. Down the lane and over the stream where a Mallard is dabbling. Again, very little in the lane or in the woodland burial ground. Down to the farm where again little moves – no House Sparrows which is odd. As I head up to the second transept the school coach comes down the road being driven by Mark, a neighbour. His mass of white hair and big, bushy white beard make him look like the driver of Harry Potter’s night bus. In the lane that heads back to Steensbridge there are a number of small birds suddenly appearing and disappearing over the hedge in a flash, no chance of identifying them. A family group of Long-tailed Tits passes, squeaking excitedly. The survey ends with a single Linnet on the wires.
Hergest Ridge – Chiffchaffs and Chaffinches greet at the top of Ridgebourne Road. The sun beats down on the open ridge. Skylarks sing blissfully. The bracken is only a foot high and the Gorse is looking dull and lifeless. The distant hills are misty, the closer ones green and vibrant. The squares of yellow rape seem normal these days although somewhat intrusive. Over the top of the ridge, passing into Wales over Rabber Dingle. A breeze keeps the temperature down, better for walking. Tadpoles scurry in pond at risk of being drunk by Maddy. The path drops down the western end of the ridge joining an old rutted track which passes The Camp and an old quarry and then descends descends Broken Bank. Ash, Beech and Hawthorn line the track. A Willow Warbler and a Chaffinch sing. Up on the hillside a Rowan is in blossom.
Gladestry – The track descends steeply into the village of Gladestry. Gladestry appears as Claudestre around 1250, and Glaudestrie a century later. This probably means Claud’s tree. The Welsh name of the manor was Llanfair Llythynwg, documented as Lanfeyr Lonthonnok in 1291 and Llanfair-llwyth Dyvnog in 1566, and indicating the church of Mary in Llythynwg. Philip de Braose took possession of much land around the area including New Radnor and Builth. The lands were previously held by King Harold. Philip’s father had been awarded the feudal barony of Bramber in Sussex for his part in the Battle of Hastings. Philip is believed to have died on Crusade in 1104. The pub, The Royal Oak, is closed indefinitely which is disappointing. Behind the pub is Gladestry Court, a large house built on the site of the manor house. The Post Office looks long closed and is now a private dwelling. The church of St Mary stands at the western end of the village with Cefn Hir, a hill higher than Hergest Ridge rising further west. The church is 13th century, enlarged in the 14th century with further restoration and additions in the next couple of centuries. It is very pleasant to find that refreshments are left in the church for walkers for an appropriate donation. South of the church the road crosses Gladestry Brook, a pretty little stream. Back up the track, seeming much steeper now. A beautiful male Redstart flies over the hill and perches in a dead tree. On top of the ridge are a number of dead dung beetles on the grassy path. The wind is quite strong now.
Monday – Whitton – Out of the village of Witton which lies to the west of Presteign in Radnorshire in a valley carved by the River Lugg. Past Nant-y-groes, where it is said Dr John Dee’s father came from. A small bridge crosses a stream that flows down Cwm Blewyn. A silly sheep has got itself on the wrong side of the fence and is in a tizzy. It tries to get back through the fence but fails. The amount of brambles, leaves and twigs in its fleece indicate it came through somewhere where there is a lot of scrub, but not here. I wonder if I open the gate which leads to a lane that runs up the hill alongside its field maybe it will get back, at least it will not be going onto the road again. However, my gentle approach merely send the sheep scurrying off up the drive of Nant-y-groes Hall. I give up. The road carries on into Pilleth. The name comes from two Old English words, pyll and hlið, meaning slope by the pool. Domesday records it as Pellelei. To the west of Pilleth rises Bryn Glâs, the green hill, where in June 1402, Owain Glyndŵr and his general, Rhys Gethin, destroyed an English force commanded by Edmund Mortimer. The English leader was captured for ransom and among those killed were Sir Walter Devereaux of Weobley, and Sir Robert Whitney, who was Henry IV’s Knight-Marshal. Glyndŵr had taken the top of the hill and the English were at the bottom. He had also hidden a part of his force in a hollow on the hill’s south side, now covered in Forestry Commission conifers. On the hillside stands the church of St Michael and All Saints which Glyndŵr burned before the battle. The English charged up the hill, often a tactical mistake when wearing heavy armour and were surprised when the hidden Welsh appeared on their flanks. Bad went to worse when their archers, who were Welsh, turned on them started shooting. It is said that after the battle, the hatred of the Welsh women who accompanied Glyndŵr’s force led them to mutilate the bodies and they were left rotting on the hillside. Further up the hill are three Wellingtonias which mark the spot the English dead are supposed to have been eventually buried, although bodies have been found since and are in a grave next to the church. The king refused to pay any ransom for Mortimer who promptly defected to the Welsh and eventually married Glyndŵr’s daughter, Catrin. Shakespeare makes mention of the battle:
Outside the church is a slate plaque which marks out the hills to the east, Litton Hill, Gumma Wood, Cilfeach Hill Hawthorn Hill, Hengwm Hill and Craig Hill. The church of St Mary has a 14th century nave and chancel, 13th century stoup and 15th century tower. The roof is early 20th century after a fire destroyed the earlier one in 1894. The door to the tower is open so I climb some very steep steps up a circular stair case to the top, which is thoroughly dark under the roof. Great old wooden beams are present shown up only in the flash of my camera. The church both inside and out is painted white. An old harmonium stands by the chancel. Outside on the north side is a Holy Well. Steps lead down to the water which appears to come through a channel in the side wall coming from a spring. One grave in the churchyard is of John Randolph Whitehead who was born in Esher, Surrey and died in 1999 in Onslow, Shropshire. He wrote much on literature and was buried in the same place as his grandparents. Below the terraced graveyard is Pilleth Court, a much enlarged house, parts dating from 1600 and farm buildings. House Martins sweep out from under the eaves of converted barns. In the far side of the main road is a bridle-path down towards the river. It passes a castle mound, Castell Foel-allt, almost certainly a wooden motte and bailey. Black-winged damselfly, the Beautiful Demoiselle, Agrion virgo, flutters by. Along the course of the Lugg, westwards there is a large mound with trees growing on top. Some say that this is a burial mound of the English slain, indeed some maintain the actual fighting happened here on the plain of the Lugg. Experts do not believe it dates from prehistoric times.
Back to bridge over the Lugg. Into a field of buttercups where a Blackcap sings and a Common Buzzard passes over harassed by a pair of Carrion Crows. Up the edge of the field where the path doglegs around Upper Litton. It then starts to climb through woods up Llan-fawr. A deep defile runs down the wood, a stream bubbling far below, shaded by large Sycamores. Great Spotted Woodpeckers call and a Song Thrush sings. Elder is beginning to flower. The sun is occasionally breaking through the cloud and a breeze keeps it cool. Towards the top of the wood a Willow Warbler sings. Out onto the open hilltop covered in nascent bracken. Tiny speedwells are blue jewels in the grass. Skylarks sing. The path skirts the summit and crosses the moorland. Meadow Pipits and Yellowhammers flit across the ground and up into the occasional Hawthorn or Rowan. A path follows the edge of the moor through a pasture, passing a shallow pool. The muddy areas are dotted with yellow-centred white petalled Water Crowfoots. The path drops steeply down the hillside through Sycamore and Hazel. Bleached sheep bones interest Maddy. The path becomes difficult, passing under many low hanging branches and dividing frequently. Inevitably I take a wrong path and have a fraught time finding the route again. Eventually I find an old quarry and can navigate from there down to Pentre and then into Cascob.
The name probably derives from the mound overlooking the Cas, the name of the nearby stream. The church of St Michael is one of the four guarding the sleeping dragon in Radnor Forest. A tump around tower has been fancifully thought to be a Bronze Age barrow, but is more likely the base of an earlier tower. Nearby is a large Yew tree under which sheep are resting. The church dates from the 13th century. It has a simple 14th, century oak screen, a stone font and a bell tower with one bell, dated 1663. Inside the church is a plaque on the south wall of the nave in memory of a former incumbent, who was very prominent in Welsh literary circles in the nineteenth century, William Jenkins Rees who was Rector of Cascob from 1806-1855. He was noted the part which he played in the revival of the Welsh National Eisteddfod at the end of the nineteenth century and was the author of The Lives of Cambro-British Saints, editor of the Welsh Manuscripts Society, and a contributor to the Liber Landavensis. On the north wall is a tablet, the ABRACADABRA. This is dated circa 1700 and was an accepted means of exorcising evil spirits at that time, and was used at Cascob to deliver one Elizabeth Lloyd from demon possession. Beneath the tablet is the legend containing the signs of the Zodiac, and the incantation that was used. Back past Pentre, across the bridge over Cascob Brook. Down the minor road for a way. A herd of goats including some little kids are in a field. Up a lane that leads to The Rectory, which seems a long way from the church. At the junction with the main road is a piece of agricultural machinery. On this is a Grey Squirrel. Maddy sees the squirrel and trots over. The creature seems utterly unperturbed and stands at nose height staring at the dog, who has no idea what to do so just stares back. The lane continues up into the hills. Across open moorland, Litton Hill which was in Herefordshire until the mid part of the 18th century. Jackdaws fly around summit of Llan-fawr to the west. The sun is beating down now. Across the top of the moor and then down a hillside of emerald green bracken and Bluebells to Whitton Bridge. The road crosses the River Lugg and takes us back to the village. The name comes from Hwita’s Farm and the village is called Llanddewi yn Hwytyn in Welsh. St David’s Church is rather disappointing as it was completely rebuilt in 1874 and extended in 1905. There is some earlier masonry but of an undetermined date. Inside the most interesting object is a monument of 1597 brought from Pilleth church after the 1896 fire. It is a memorial to John Price and his wife Catherine, daughter of Roger Vaughan.
Wednesday – Leominster – House Sparrows were common when I was young. They formed a constant background noise to life; their friendly chirps were heard everywhere. Then they slowly disappeared. The reasons seem to be various, I tend to think that houses became sealed around their eaves and the spudgers lost their nesting sites. However, recently they seem to be making a comeback. There are several regularly around the garden and their calls are often heard from gardens further down the street. This morning, as Maddy and I cross the Grange, their calls are all around Grange House and the area down to the Scout Hut. Good to see them back! Later in the morning Maddy and I set off down Etnam Street and over the railway and river. Across the meadow and under the A49 to Millennium wood. A Chiffchaff sings by the river and a Blackcap joins in briefly from the wood. The sun breaks through the clouds although it will disappear again soon. The verge of the path has been mown a fortnight back but the Butterbur leaves have regrown. Guelder Rose is in flower but the Wild Cherry already has small green fruit dangling from its branches. A long stretch of the bank top is covered in