June 2014

Strawberry Jam

Sunday – Leominster – On Friday I bought six boxes of strawberries weighing about six pounds for £6 from the market. Yesterday strawberry jam was made, or rather strawberry syrup! This morning it is reboiled to try and get a better set. Off to the Sunday market. The Colas Rail sleeper tamping machine, last seen four years ago, is in the station, creeping forward and giving the sleepers a shake. Behind, two rail workers have a gauge and are checking the rail width. It is a bright sunny morning so the market is heaving with people but as usual I find nothing worth buying. Back home, various patches of the vegetable beds need weeding and a few plants that have not taken are replaced with spares. Then the lawns are mown which means the chicken run has a nice covering of mown grass. It seems all the hens, apart from the oldest one, are in and out of the nest but we end up with only two eggs.

Yellow Pimpernel

Monday – Croft – A grey, overcast morning but this does not deter the Song Thrushes, Wrens, Robins and Blackbirds all in good voice in the woods. Up through the Beech wood. A clump of Yellow Pimpernels, a little yellow star in green foliage, grows out on the bare soil. They are reckoned to be an uncommon flower in this country. Along the track beneath Highwood Bank. It starts to rain, gently yet persistently. Up the track that runs beside Lady Wood. Ahead an almost black Fallow Deer is feeding beside the track. It raises its head, swivels its large ears in my direction and is off. A black Dor Beetle, with touches of iridescent blue, clambers across the stony track. I decide it too wet to go on up to the hill-fort, so I head along the track towards the Keepers Cottage. An electric fence has been erected along the recently clear area, presumably to contain livestock to keep the area open as traditional woodland pasture.

Wednesday – Bodenham Lakes – The spring flowers have gone to be replaced by summer blooms. Dog Roses are prolific as are Bramble flowers. Bird song consists of Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Further down the track a Garden Warbler joins in and around into the meadow a Song Thrush sings loud and clear from the lakeside Alders and a Blackbird from the woods. The meadow is adorned with yellow Field Buttercups and Red Clover. Eight Mute Swans are on the water, one pen with four cygnets. A Reed Warbler is singing jug jug in the reed bed. A Pheasant croaks down in the reserve. Rain falls steadily. Four Cormorants are in the island trees. Drake Mallard plumage is getting duller as they start to go into eclipse. I suddenly realise there is not a single Canada Goose present. The rain gets heavier clattering in the hide roof. After a lengthy pause the Reed Warbler resumes his song. Locating him is not easy, often a twitching reed gives a clue but a slight breeze has sprung up and a lot of reeds are twitching! However, suddenly he flies up into a small willow in the middle of the reed bed and starts searching food before dropping back down again. A pair of drake Mallard preen by the scrape, discarding breast feathers that float away in the breeze. A Cuckoo rises from the island trees with a bubbling call and flies off towards the woods. A pair of Mute Swans lift off the water with loud slaps of their wingtips on the surface and the rhythmic whoosh of beat wings as they flap hard to power themselves higher.

Madresfield Court – This magnificent house lies to the east of Malvern and is the ancestral home of the Lygon family who became Earls Beauchamp in 1815 until the line died out in 1979. The house has always been in the family although passed through the female line on several occasions and thus never bought or sold. We have a guided tour of the house with the Leominster Historical Society. The house is on the site of a great hall built around 1120 and it is known that a William de Bracy lived at the Court in 1260. In 1593 Madresfield Court was rebuilt, replacing a 15th century medieval building. It was again remodelled in the 19th century to resemble a moated Elizabethan house, with the result that it contains 136 rooms. The Lygons were a provincial family until the start of the 19th century. The miserly William Jenners, Birmingham ironmaster and richest commoner in England, died in 1798 aged 97. His property was divided into Madresfield Courtthree and the Lygon portion came to “the equivalent in today’s terms of £100 million”. With this fortune they were able to purchase the Beauchamp title in the late 19th century and rebuilt Madresfield Court as a mock Tudor moated house. In the early 20th century rooms, the chapel in particular was decorated in the Arts and Crafts style by the Birmingham Group artists including Henry Payne, William Bidlake and Charles March Gere. The chapel is an extraordinary space with frescoed walls depicting the family and wild flowers. A gold thread altarpiece was stitched by the daughters of the rector of Madresfield, who were talented seamstresses and went to Belgium to learn the techniques of gold thread stitching called or nué.

The story of the family grows somewhat salacious at this time. William, the seventh Earl Beauchamp, was Governor of New South Wales in his youth, later a Liberal serving in Asquith’s government, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and a stickler for ceremony and precedence, he married the sister of the richest man in Europe, the Duke of Westminster, and fathered seven children by her. However, Lord Beauchamp had another side. He had socialist leanings, he loved doing embroidery, he was a patron of the Arts and Crafts movement led by the homosexual CR Ashbee who created the library now containing over 8000 books, and did himself enjoy an elaborate, sometimes indiscreet gay life. In his Governor days the Australian Star had observed that “Lord Beauchamp deserves great credit for his taste in footmen”. When the Duke of Westminster discovered this, he ordered his sister out of the marriage and hounded Beauchamp first out of office, then out of the country. Lady Beauchamp, “ill and in thrall to her bullying brother”, never recovered. The seven children stood by their father and took it in turns to visit him in his places of exile, principally Sydney which “had bars, hotels, and drag shows for homosexual men several years before there was firm evidence for such things in the United States”. William, having been assured he would not be prosecuted for homosexuality returned to Madrefield in 1937. He was still furious that his wife, Lettice, had in his view ruined the family and threw her bust into the moat. It was retrieved some years later and is displayed in the entrance hall, far from William’s bust. Evelyn Waugh was a frequent visitor and friend of the family, in particular, from his undergraduate days, Hugh Lygon who was the inspiration for Waugh’s character Sebastian Flyte, was also homosexual and an alcoholic in “Brideshead Revisited”. In a stupor he fell, fractured his skull on a kerbstone and died a few months after his mother’s death in 1936. Lord Beauchamp died of cancer two years later in the Waldorf Astoria hotel, New York. As well as spending the bequest on rebuilding the house, the family also spent a large sum of purchasing furniture from all around the world. A large and rather ugly Italian sideboard contrasts with a number of cabinets made by Boulle, a French cabinet maker who perfected a way of making an inlay from brass and tortoiseshell. A large room was made from several rooms on two floors apparently to house a huge fireplace that was the wedding gift of the Duke of Westminster. This room has a staircase with spindles of turned rock crystal, apparently usually only found in Russia. We had hoped to view the gardens but the rain is unceasing.

Thursday – Home – A Goldfinch hops onto the wall outside my study. S/he then flits across to a hanging basket and begins to remove strands of the grass material that makes the liner. Next down to the boards of the patio where bits of Maddy hair are gathered up. This is repeated several times. The French beans are taking a bit of a battering from pests, slugs I assume. But many are growing fairly quickly now. The runner beans are faring better still. I still have no idea which cucurbits are which. Luckily I have several spare plants in the cold frame as a number in the beds have failed or been eaten. A few garlic remain growing well but most of the crop have fallen over and been cropped – rather small bulbs. In the greenhouse, tomatoes keep heading for the roof and there are several decent bunches ripening slowly. The green peppers are doing well and need staking. The spring onions are thinned, they probably needed this several weeks back. More lettuces are sown, the Bath cos in the garden are doing well. Ruby chard is slow but still growing. Small broad beans are appearing now. Flowers are appearing on the potatoes, some white and some purple. Down the side of the garden towards the back are several umbellifers, not sure exactly what they are! But one is truly huge with great, green flower heads; we thought it may be fennel but the scent is wrong. I suspect it is an enormous angelica. We still have no idea which of the hens are laying. Someone’s eggs are a decent size and brown whilst another of the girls is laying something very reminiscent of a pigeon egg, both in colour and size! I give Maddy a brush. It is always a fraught affair as she makes things as difficult as possible. In particular her hind quarters are covered in very thick hair and, like today, have several nasty matted clumps that need cutting out. I put some of the hair in the hanging basket in case the Goldfinch, or any other nest builder, wants it.

Friday – Humber – The second part of the BTO Breeding Bird Survey. The paths out of Steens Bridge have virtually disappeared in long grass and nettles. Everything is heavy with dew and it is fortunate I put on my over-trousers or I would be soaked. When we get to the first stile I notice Maddy has not got her ball. I tell her to find it and she wanders off but it is clear she has no idea where she dropped it. So that is the end of that ball, it actually lasted quite a while! Meadow CranesbillsThe bird count is pretty poor, lots of Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons but not a lot else. I am surprised at the lack of tits or finches in the village of Humber. Indeed, apart from a lot of noisy and very flighty Jackdaws there is little else there. A few Whitethroats and Yellowhammers show in the hedgerows along the lanes.

Leominster – Off down to the Millennium Park. Meadow Cranesbills have come into flower, their china blue petals a delight! The hedges have grown thick and leafy so passing trains can only be heard now. Down The Priory and over the old iron bridge. The Kenwater is flowing fast and muddy. Round to the A44 and across to take the path around Dales. Meadowsweet is flowering along the River Lugg which runs through a straightened channel. Large stones edge the channel and House Sparrows drop onto them to drink from the river. Stinging Nettles are in flower – it is amusing to note the trendy chefs’ columns in the newspaper are giving recipes using nettles despite them now being little used for culinary purposes. With all the talk about seasonality, it is silly how often recipes are printed at the wrong time. Elderflowers are certainly in season and I must soon gather some for champagne.


Monday – Croft – Distant thunder grumbles. A Cuckoo calls from Bircher Common. A Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Blackbird and Robin all sing. The rain goes from a few drops to a more persistent drizzle. The thunder approaches, the rain intensifies, and this is all before I leave the car park. Along the Fish Pool Valley. Wild Garlic is now yellowing but still pungent with that animal scent. Water flows down the footpath up the end of the valley making the exposed bedrock very slick and slippery. Little pink flowers of Herb Robert and the last of the white Stitchwort are being overwhelmed by rapidly rising Stinging Nettles, Bracken, Red Campion and Cleavers. The recent humid weather is ideal for plant growth here. By the time I reach the top of Croft Ambrey the rain has stopped and patches of blue sky have emerged. However to the north-east over the Clee Hills and beyond the sky is still black and angry. Mist rises in columns above the Mortimer Forest. A vast rain cloud passes over but we are spared. The Malvern Hills have disappeared in mist, cloud and probably rain. Suddenly bright sunshine bathes the hill-fort. Minutes later it is all change again, the sky darkens and thunder growls in the south-east. From the top of the Spanish Chestnut field rain can be seen falling in Hereford and the Arrow valley. Wisps of white clouds morph rapidly as they drift northwards against an overcast grey sky.

Wednesday – Leominster – After breakfast I have the fun job of scrubbing out the chicken house. It is getting progressively dirtier so a bucket of Jeyes Fluid solution does the job. Of course, I get plenty of it on myself! So after a shower Maddy and I head off down to the river. It is still flowing fairly fast and moderately deep. The meadows have been mown but it looks like the hay will not be gathered, rather a waste. Under the A49 bridge beside the River Lugg and into the Millennium Wood. A rifle range lay to the north in the 19th and 20th century but has now disappeared under the by-pass. In the hedge are rich pink-edged Dog Roses with yellow filaments holding orange anthers. Tiny pink Cut-leaved Cranesbills are almost hidden by grasses. It is warm which has brought out the insects. A damselfly lands in a thicket of Cleavers (Goosegrass or Stickyweed); I think it is a female Blue-tailed Damselfly, Ischnura elegans, but they can be so variable. A fat chocolate brown slug Damselflyappears to be eating a crushed snail. Snails of the Helicidae family, the banded snails having pale yellow shells with brown bands are common. A few Seven-spot Ladybirds are on Stinging Nettles; there seems to be a shortage of them this year. Near a small footbridge, large Butterbur leaves cover the ground. Beyond the path runs between a thick growth of Stinging Nettles and Brambles by the river and a pasture where a pony comes trotting across to see Maddy, who hurries on with a worried look. Six or seven foot high Cow Parsley attracts bees and flies. A lot of the bees are White-tailed Bumble Bees, but there is another I am unable to identify which has a broad white band in the middle of its abdomen. The flies are mainly either Green Bottles or a very similar species with a turquoise iridescence. A lacewing flits in, Chrysoperla carnea, known as the Common Green Lacewing. It has large delicate wings, clear with a hint of greenish-blue. Another bee is causing identification issues, I suspect one of the Colletes family. A Small Tortoiseshell butterfly lands on some nettles. It looks recently hatched as it is very bright and perfect. Large patches of Himalayan Balsam are growing fast. Here, just before Eaton Bridge, there was a large loop in the river until the late 1960s when it was straightened. Up the Worcester Road, not easy as the hedges are becoming very overgrown and with the never ending cuts in the budgets they are likely to stay that way. Up Eaton Hill via the old drovers’ steps. The path up to the field is also getting very overgrown with Brambles aiming themselves across but in vain as I knock them down with my stick. It seems rabbits have been helping themselves to a fair sized patch of the wheat crop on Eaton Hill, it has been nibbled down to a few inches high. Elder is in flower so I gather some for champagne. Off down the track where Foxgloves flower in various shades of pink through to pure white but all with throats spotted in dark pink. Round to Mill Street. The Holyhead train passes at some speed.

Pauper's Grave

Thursday – Lampeter – We stop at this university town in west Wales on our way to a couple of days break. Lampeter or Llanbedr Pont Steffan, the Church of St Peter by Stephen’s Bridge, first was recorded as a Norman castle at a strategic crossing of the River Teifi, erected in 1095 by a Norman knight, Stephen. The bridge which held his name was constructed around the same time. The castle was destroyed by Owain Gwynedd in 1187. A settlement had developed here as Archbishop Baldwin, accompanied by the historian Giraldus, preached the crusade in the town the following year. The University developed from St David’s College founded in 1822 by George IV at the suggestion of the Bishop of St David’s (Dr Burgess). Its purpose was to help Welsh students who could not afford to travel to England for their further education. Lampeter is the smallest university town in the United Kingdom with a population of around 3000, one third of which are students. The town centre is small but contains a decent range of establishments. A David Jones Bank, the Bank of the Black Ox, was established here in 1853 by Jones’ son, as this was an important drovers’ town. It stands at the end of the high street, although no longer a bank. Round the corner and up a hill is the Grammar School, one of four in the diocese licensed by Bishop Burgess. It, like many building in the town, is constructed of grey slate blocks. Opposite is the church of St Peter. It is believed that a small monastery was established here in the 6th century and this site was a burial ground which became the parish church in the 12th century. This building, however, was erected in 1867. There is an extensive graveyard including an area of identical, small headstones carrying a set of initials and a number – the graves of paupers from the workhouse. We wander back around to the university site where the motte of the castle stands. The castle would have been wooden, no stone castle was ever constructed here. The surrounding buildings date from every period from the mid-Victorian to modern lecture theatres.

Sweet Ayron’s vale, unknown in song,
Demands the warbling lyre:
Shall silver Ayron glide along,
And not a bard inspire?
What bard that Ayron sees can fail
To sing the charms of Ayron vale.

There golden treasures swell the plains,
And herds and flocks are there;
And there the god of plenty reigns
Triumphant all the year;
The nymphs are gay, the swains are hale:
Such blessings dwell in Ayron’s vale.

While every toast through Albion vies,
In dubious competition;
And female charms contend the prize
Of beauty’s high ambition;
Sweet Ayron’s beauties must prevail,
For angels dwell in Ayron’s vale.

Were I possessed of regal state,
Presiding o’er a nation,
With crowding senates at my feet
In humble adoration,
I’d envy, if envying might avail,
The happy swains of Ayron’s vale.

Unknown circa 18th century

Friday – Ystrad Aeron – We are camping in this village in the west Welsh valley of the Afon Aeron; River Aeron. A dawn mist chills the air. Up to the main road. Swallows chatter excitedly from a bungalow roof whilst many more sweep around a grey slate barn. I follow the A82 towards Aberaeron. A stream bubbles down a step after passing under the road. Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons call. Chaffinches sing. Turn into a lane by Brynog Lodge. The lane is straight and runs between a continuous Rhododendron hedge. There is a brief break in the hedge where Beech and Oak take over before the rhododendrons resume. The lane, which is clearly a driveway, crosses the River Aeron over a fine stone bridge, Pont Brynog, marked CCC, 1935, although the OS map refers to it as Pont Fawr. A Dipper stands in river gravel before whirring away down stream. Across the field is the rather odd sight of tall industrial chimneys pouring out steam, Green Grove creamery. The lane passes between fields before entering an avenue of Sycamores leading to Brynog Mansion Farm. A three-legged Pen-y-Gaerspaniel barks excitedly. The Mansion is a large, rambling affair. A slate house has considerable additions. It was owned by David Lloyd who was the principal accused in the Lisburne paternity dispute in the late 18th century. The estate passed to Edward Vaughan of Green Grove, son of Dorothea, Viscountess Lisburne and he may have been David Lloyd’s son. Back down to the bridge to the cask of Nuthatches. Maddy’s ball hits some roadside grasses which emit a clouds of white pollen. Beside the bridge is a footpath which follows the river. A field of heifers chase along the fence after Maddy who is in an utter panic. The path crosses a field of long grass and soon my legs are saturated and covered in grass seed. The mist now forms a ring around Pen-y-Gaer, a hill topped with an Iron Age fort to the south. Even younger calves are in the far bank. Mallard and a Grey Heron fly off, the latter evacuating its bowels rather spectacularly. Out of the long grass and into a riverside path. Red Kites are moving down the valley and Nuthatches are vocal. Across the field is a herd of Welsh Black cattle. They are interested in Maddy and start trotting but not actually towards us. A Grey Wagtail flies upstream. The path joins a track. A tractor stands with a trailer of logs. Nearby is a circular saw bench driven by a shaft which would attach to the tractor. The track reaches Tal-sarn where a bridge of three arches and looking of considerable age crosses the water. It is listed as mid to late 18th century. The road is fairly busy, people going to work in Lampeter I guess. Down past Llanllyr, where a large house is on the site of a Carmelite nunnery of the White Sisters, a cell to Strata Florida Abbey. The road divides at Hendrelas and I take the westward branch. The tiny hamlet of Ty’ n-y-Gwndwn consists of a house and another attached to a chapel. Opposite is a graveyard, still in use. The lane crosses the small river, Afon Tŷ-cam at Pont Tyn-y-Lôn before it joins the A482 at Felinfach. This village is continuous with Ystrad Aeron. The Vale of Aeron pub stands on the junction in the village of Ystrad Aeron and was one of the drinking holes of Dylan Thomas.

Aberaeron – A delightful Regency seaside town on Cardigan Bay. Tourism is obviously a major industry for the town but it is done with style. In past days the town was very popular with Glamorgan miners taking their brief holidays. The town was a tiny fishing port, supposedly around a fort designated Castell Cadwgan constructed by Cadwgan ab Bleddyn in about 1148, until the first decade Aberaeronof the 19th century when Colonel Alban Gwynn and his architect Edward Haycock designed the layout of the town, built the harbour and developed it into a major trading port on the west Welsh coast. This trade diminished with the coming of the railways and tourism took over. The railway was the Lampeter, Aberayron and New Quay Light Railway, a scheme built after the demise of the Manchester and Milford Railway, which never connected either of these places. The line closed to passengers in 1951 but continued to run freight trains, mainly to the creameries until 1973. The high street and side streets have shops, some that sell tourist tat, but a good number have good quality goods. There is a good number of decent eating places and we indulge in fish and chips. There are also a couple of fine food shops. We walk around the harbour along with many other visitors. It is very hot with the sun now blazing in a clear blue sky. Across the harbour is a row of houses painted in different colours making a pretty pastel backdrop. The Harbour Master’s house is now a hotel and bar, in bright purple. A number of houses are painted in intense shades as well as others in gentler pastel colours but it all works as a whole. A look-out stands near the end of the harbour. From here New Quay lays around the bay to south. To north, small coastal villages leading to Aberystwyth. Beyond is Snowdonia, Snowdon clear and high above others. The Lleyn peninsula is in mist. The tide is out revealing a rocky shore with some patches of muddy sand. The level of water in the harbour is low, the bottom is clear to view. A few juvenile gulls pick around the rocks but there are but no waders on the shore. A Gannet, far out at sea, turns in the air and dives and a tall plume of water erupts. It is the school sports day in a park. A huge holiday park lies to the north.

Llanerchaeron – A farmhouse on the road back towards Lampeter run by the National Trust. There is a problem with a lack of shade in the car park so we are unable to leave Maddy and thus unable to go into the gardens or house. We take a walk along the River Aeron. Trees have been coppiced some years ago and now one has ten large trunks out of a single stool. I am bitten on my arm by a Cleg-fly which results in a half-crown sized swelling which lasts for several days.

Monday – Bodenham Lake – Several singing Blackcaps are along the track to the boat house. A Robin and Chiffchaffs are also in song. A Cuckoo is calling from West Field Wood. Around 60 Canada Geese are on the lake. A Reed Warbler is singing vigorously in the reed bed by the scrape. Mallard are preening as the drakes enter eclipse. The pair of Mute Swans still have four cygnets. Another Cuckoo is calling in Dinmore Woods. The sky is overcast but it is mild. A gentle breeze rustles the leaves. There appears to be no Cormorants present. A Coot emerges from the reed bed with a long strand of weed. He takes it to a clump of Willowherbs on the scrape. Another Coot comes out of the clump closely followed by the first. He follows her to the end of the scrape where mating takes place. A Common Buzzard circles the island then heads of towards Dinmore Hill. A pair of Tufted Duck dive near the reserve reed bed. A Large Yellow Underwing moth is disturbed when the window is closed. Back by the meadow my first Ringlet butterfly of the year flutters through the grass. A spike of yellow flowers is the first Agrimony of the season.

Wednesday – Ryelands – Three Magpies, several Carrion Crows and a Rabbit are in the pasture by old quarry. The footpath is still difficult to walk along due to fallen trees. Off down the field to the south of Little Rye. Black cattle graze in field below pasture. The grain crop has a large amount of Oilseed Rape growing in it. A Chiffchaff calls. It is overcast but warm. Down to hedge and through a hole down a bank and into a field of oats. Along the edge of the field to a corner behind White House. Then down the other edge of the field. This edge of the field is a dense growth of Stinging Nettles, Brambles and purple flowering Hedge Woundwort. A gun is fired in the next field. The path leads into Passa Lane. A Whitethroat flies up from the roadside hedge, twisting and turning, singing its scratchy song throughout. A Yellowhammer is singing nearby as are Skylarks overhead. The lane is busier than I expected, several supermarket delivery vans and a truck with a cess pit on the back. Several more singing Whitethroats are displaying above the hedgerow. The track down to the water-meadows is very overgrown, indeed it does not look passible. It is possible to get to the bridge from Broadward Hall but it is sad to see a public footpath in such a poor state, although nothing unusual around here! Passa Lane joins the Hereford Road opposite the cemetery where a man is calling for his dog which ran off after rabbits.

Winkle trails

Thursday – Oxwich, The Gower – We drive across the Brecon Beacons and down into Swansea, cutting across the north of the city. Westwards for a while and then down very narrow lanes to Oxwich on the Gower. The Gower peninsular is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (the first to Sunsetreceive this designation in 1956) and a popular holiday area. Our campsite occupies a hill top position overlooking Oxwich Bay. The camping fields are extensive and we are the only tent here, although more are expected according to the owner. Magpies stalk the closely mown site and numerous Swallows sweep low collecting insects. Off down a fairly steep hill to the village and onto the beach. After an ice cream, we wander around the rock pools finding sea anemones and tiny shrimp like creatures which dash across the sandy bottoms of the pools sending up trails of sand. In the open beach, winkles trundle across the sand leaving trails. The rocks under the eaves of Oxwich Wood are rounded and pitted by wave erosion. Some of the deeper ones are full of weed, others have water pouring in from higher up and trickling out down to the beach. These rocks are Carboniferous Limestone of the Oxwich Head Limestone Formation (formerly called Hotwells Limestone) laid down between 337 and 327 million years ago. We have an expensive pint in the pub and head back up the hill, which is shaded by woodland, to the tent. After dinner we sit and watch the sunset with an earpiece each listening to another England World Cup failure. A Merlin flashes past, gone in an instance.

Friday – Oxwich – From the campsite a footpath crosses a field to Oxwich castle. A track passes a farm yard and then heads south east. The sun is breaking through high thin clouds. Past a triangulation point in a field of sheep. The footpath reaches the sea cliffs, although they are a mixture of jagged points and collapsed cliffs leaving slopes down to the sea rocks below. Only a few gulls and four Oystercatchers occupy the rocks. The sea is calm although there is a breeze. Common Rock-rose and Thyme flower on the clifftop. A Gannet passes close inshore. A ship is heading east; it is some sort of specialist vessel with a bridge bristling with communications equipment and a large frame at a short aft end. Back the way we came. The fields are irregularly shaped with old stone walls. They are mainly small, as fields used to be before industrial farming destroyed them. Whitethroats sing in the hedges. A Fox walks up the track towards us, s/he seems unconcerned about Maddy. S/he stood about 50 yards away then approaches. Maddy finally notices him or her at about 25 feet and they stare at each other. Then the Fox decides to leave and gallops off back down the track.

Oxwich Castle

Oxwich Castle – This is a sumptuous Tudor mansion built by Sir Rice (Rhys) Mansel and his son Edward. There appears to have been an earlier true castle on the site. Philip Mansel is recorded as holding the site in 1459. However, these remains are of a mock-fortified manor house, built during the peaceful and prosperous years of the 16th century. The Mansels were one of a number of minor gentry families in south Wales who gained in power, prestige and property under the Tudor monarchs. We enter the ruins through a large gatehouse emblazoned with the arms of Rice Mansel. There are two ranges, a southern one built by Sir Rice around 1530 and a more magnificent eastern range built by Edward some thirty or forty years later. The eastern range has three floors and a long gallery on the top floor. A six-storey southern tower probably housed the servants. A dovecote stands at the end of the range. The area was known in the 16th century for “wrecking” and one of the best recorded wrecking incidents occurred on December 27th 1557. Sir Rhys Mansel plundered the possessions of a French ship that had come to grief off Oxwich Point during a gale despite the fact that the salvage rights actually belonged to Sir George Herbert of Swansea, a very important and powerful local man. Sir George and his men descended on the castle and a fierce argument broke out between the two sides. Sir Rhys Mansel’s daughter Anne tried to intervene but in the ensuing melee was hit on the head by a stone thrown by Sir George’s servant. She subsequently died six days later. Sir Rhys took Sir George to court over the affair which resulted in Sir George being heavily fined and the servant stood trial. However the court decided to pardon the servant and Sir George managed to avoid paying the fine imposed. This resulted in a feud between the two families which lasted for many years until the Mansel family left Oxwich Castle for their new residence at Margam. Oxwich Castle was leased out to tenant farmers but subsequently fell into ruin. CADW (Welsh Government’s historic environment service) has made a splendid job of the site. It is still undertaking renovation. There are a number of interactive displays, including various Elizabethan items of clothing that can be tried on, I resisted the doublets, beds and quills for writing.

Oxwich Head – Off along the same track I took earlier. The Fox is further up the track and trots off towards the triangulation point. Down the path at the top of the slope down to sea. The slope is covered by gorse with a bit of bracken and brambles. Several Stonechats are flying around from bush to bush. Two males are calling whilst a female is more secretive, diving into the bushes. Bloody Cranesbills are a rich pink and stand out against the dark green gorse. Scarlet Pimpernels wink through the grass. Blue and white butterflies flit around never stopping to allow identification. Small Tortoiseshells and a Comma are easier. Round through Oak woods and around Oxwich Point. Beyond us a deep defile which is passed by steps which climb up around it. A split in the ground shows where the land slipped many years ago. The path tops the defile and passes only a few yards from the triangulation point we passed earlier. Steps then dropped back down through woods of fallen trees, moss and Hart’s Tongue Ferns to the Church of St Illtyd. It is a 12th century building on a probably 6th century hermit’s cell. Sadly the church is locked. After lunch at the hotel we head through the village. John Wesley apparently visited and preached here five times, one cottage has a plaque starting here stayed there whilst another is called Wesley Cottage. An old hollow-way climbs the hill back to Oxwich Common. It is relatively cool and shady. A juvenile Blackbird stands by the path thinking that if it remains motionless we will not see it, despite us standing a few inches away staring at it. It is not until we move away that the bird slips off into the undergrowth. The campsite is getting busier and more people are arriving by the minute.

Saturday – Oxwich – West of the campsite is the small village of Oxwich Common. A large farm, several houses, a Wesleyan chapel, now a residence and a little green with a bus stop. Jackdaws watch from the wires. Red and white Valerian flowers by a wall. A path leads down to Slade Bay past Sealands, a farm and a collection of chalets. The effects of the warm climate produced by the North Atlantic Drift are evident in the flowering palms and other exotic plants. A deep gorge cuts down to the sea. The rocky shore is named Holy’s Wash. Devon is a grey shape on the horizon. The sea is calm and azure despite a stiff breeze. The sky is nearly cloudless. Across another field to a patch of flowers, Foxgloves and Mullien are in flower but Spear Thistles and Ragwort are yet to emerge. Beyond the path drops down to The Sands, not a very original name for a patch of sand in between the rocks. Beyond is Port Enyon Point with a ruined Salt House. Below is a slope of gorse and brambles from which a Whitethroat sings frenetically and a rabbit sits motionless in the sun. Yesterday I managed to cut two toes tripping over a tent peg, today they are rather sore so I decide to curtail my walk. Back at the tent, a Kestrel hovers over campsite.

Monday – Croft – Another beautiful summer’s day. A small brown bird with a black crown flits by. It then starts calling – a Marsh Tit. Robins are singing and a Chiffchaff calling his two note song. Up the valley between Bircher Common and Lyngham Vallet. Willow Warblers and Wrens sing. Beech trees are loaded with mast. Everywhere is intensely green in the sunshine. Bracken has now enveloped the whole area. On up to Whiteway Head and along Leinthall Common. The bird-life continues, more Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Great and Blue Tits, Song and Mistle Thrushes, Yellowhammer, Nuthatches, Wood Pigeons, Common Buzzards, Chaffinches, Carrion Crows and Blackbirds. There is a gentle breeze on Croft Ambrey, very welcome. Tiny Haws are already turning red.

Wednesday – Dee Valley Way – Through Llangollen and over the bridge across the River Dee or Afon Dyfrdwy built in 1345 by John Trevor, later Bishop of St Asaph. Castell Dinas Brân gazes down eyelessly. The deep V-shaped valley of the River Dee was carved out by a glacier from Snowdonia 12,000 years ago. The underlying rocks are slate deposited as mud and clay about 425 million years ago. Up to the canal and westwards. There is some thin cloud but the sun soon breaks through and it gets hotter. Several groups of fully grown young Mallard feed beside the canal, soon slipping into the water in Maddy’s approach. The pavilion is being set up for the International Musical Eisteddfod. The road to Valle Crucis Abbey crosses the canal. On along the tow-path. The River Dee is tumbling across large flat rocks. The canal water is gin clear and lots of fry dart to and fro, some with vertical stripes. Past the Chain Bridge Hotel. The first chain bridge was built by Exuperius Pickering to transport coal and lime to the canal. The inn was built around the same time. There had been a crossing here built by the monks of Valle Crucis. The chain bridge was badly damaged by floods in 1928 but rebuilt a year later, along with the present hotel. WindowThe tow-path continues on to Horseshoe Falls. The path rises to Llantysilio church. A large patch of yellow flowers eventually gets identified as Monkey Flower, a naturalised plant of the Figwort family from the Americas. The original church was founded around the 6th century, the present building was erected 1180, but extensively rebuilt on several occasions. Dedicated to St Tysilio, who lived around 500 to 580CE, son of Brochwell Ysgythrog, a Prince of Powys. The font and eagle lectern are 14th century as is some of the panelling. The west window is pre-Raphalite, whilst there is a narrow window dated to 1460. A plaque is dedicated to Helen Faucit Lady Martin, a famous Victorian actress who lived with her husband Sir Theodore Martin nearby. She placed a plaque in the church commemorating her friend Robert Browning who visited and read the lesson in 1886. A wooden plaque of beneficiaries from 1753 is by the door. Outside a blasted Yew stands in the graveyard which contains a number of interesting tombs and graves. Across the valley a whistle blasts and deep growls of steam are emitted as the Llangollen Railway steam engine, Foxcote Manor, pulls out of Berwyn station.

The road rises from the church past Llantysilio Hall and farm into the centre of the village. Thomas Cupper built the original Hall at the beginning of the 18th century, and through his daughter and sole heiress it passed to Jones family by marriage with Thomas Jones. Thomas Jones’ son and grandson, both also called Thomas, continued to own the estate, with the last Thomas Jones dying in 1820 leaving no will. In 1822 the housekeeper of the vicar of Oswestry dreamt that the will had been buried with Thomas Jones and a party of seven or eight people, including a lawyer and a surgeon, broke into the tomb and opened the coffin, although the will was not found. In 1867, Charles Frederick Beyer had purchased the Hall. He was a locomotive designer from Manchester who founded the company Beyer and Peacock who made the famous Garrett locomotives. In 1873, S. Pountney Smith, architect from Shrewsbury, constructed a new building of snecked Ruabon Ashlar stone in the Victorian Jacobean style and, in 1875, demolished the old brick-built Hall. He left the Hall to his godson, Sir Henry Beyer Robertson, and the house remained in the Robertson family until the late 20th century.

Further up the road the valley below is wooded, hiding the river. Ahead Llantysilio Mountain rises with its three peaks, Moel y Gamelin, Moel Morfedd and Moel y Gaer. On along the road and the school and the village proper of Llantysilio. A narrow lane leads to Llandynan where a track descends to Capel Horeb. The Calvanist Methodist chapel was founded in 1829 and rebuilt in 1877, but is now a residence. Across a field and down to Rhewl (from Yr Heol meaning simply the road or street). The Wesleyan Methodist Hebron Chapel was built in 1904, replacing a building from 1826. The Sun Inn, a drover’s inn supposedly from the 14th century although the building is likely to be early 17th century, is sadly closed and the road starts to climb so I have an uphill slog instead of a pint! There was once six other drovers’ inns in this tiny village – the Butcher’s Arms, now Dee Farm, The Holly Bush, Plas Bilmon, Ty Ida, Brynn Ffynnon and The Conquering Hero. The view is bucolic, a black and white cow drinks from the river as it winds gently through intensely green meadows and rising hillsides. The roads passes lovely stone built, white painted farm houses, Acer ddu and Cymmo. Acer ddu is reputed to be the place that, in the 13th century, Farmthe retreating army of Prince Llewelyn was caught by Henry III’s troops in the nearby wood, Coed y Gadfa or “battle wood” and slaughtered here at Acer ddu, “black acre”. The bird life is sparse, a few noisy Carrion Crows and Wood Pigeons, a Jay and some Meadow Pipits towards the top the hillside. A Violet Ground Beetle clambers across the dusty, dry track. The climb up to a saddle Mynydd Bychan, between Moel Morfydd and an unnamed headland that sticks out into a loop in the Dee, is particularly brutal. I did not weigh my pack before setting out but I reckon it is probably around 30lbs and it now seems like a ton. There is a disused tip in the saddle which looks like a small quarry filled with wooden posts – strange. The track heads south down the edge of the unnamed hill. It meets a track which heads north again. There are sheep everywhere. Past Wern-ddu farm then the track zig-zags whilst slowly moving west. A Common Buzzard mews nearby. Through some gates clearly locally made from tubular iron and iron rod. Some sheep panic as Maddy wanders up the track and bolt straight into the gates, bouncing off. They stand looking terrified despite Maddy doing nothing, then dash up a bank and stand on top. We pass quietly. The whistle and chuffing of the train sounds across the valley. As well as zig-zagging, the track also climbs and climbs. Eventually the hilltop is reached and the road descends. Below is a valley of small fields and scattered homesteads, Coed-drwg, Ty-canol, Plâs-y-y’nghoed-drwg. A stream, Nant Coed-drwg runs down the valley, hidden in trees. Oddly, drwg means bad or evil! The lane continues to descend steeply until it meets the road that follows the river on the north bank. Shortly there is a path leading back to the hills up the west side of Nant Coed-dwrg but I decide it is a hill too far and keep to the lane. Instead of school buses or mothers collecting their children, it is taxis around here. Across the valley is a fine old stone farm house and barns, Carrog Uchaf. The house was probably reconstructed over a number of years in the 17th century from a mediaeval house. The house is traditionally associated with Owain Glyndŵr, whose Glyndyfrdwy manor was sold to Robert Salesbury in 1549. Another mile or so and the road arrives at Carrog Bridge, formerly Llantsantffraid Glyndyfrdwy (Church of St Bridget at Glyndŵr’s mount or motte). This church was washed away by the river in the early 17th century, as recalled in an old rhyme:

Into The Grouse Inn, very welcome! Have a few pints whilst Maddy makes friends with a young lad who is initially surprised at her bizarre snarling when she is petted but soon gets used to it. He has a refreshing view of world cup players as he comes from a rugby background and cannot understand why players would want to allow the world to see them cheating by diving! A Grey Heron glides down and lands in the river. Off to the campsite where I set up, feed Maddy (who has already had plenty of snacks from young lad in pub) and sort out some food. The sky is now grey and threatening. As evening closes in a large flock of Rooks flies around a field, cawing noisily as they seek to roost. As they settle another flock appears from the west. (The map starts some way into the journey as the GPS switched off for some reason.


Thursday – Dee Valley Way – Up after not the best of nights, Jackdaws argued throughout. There are a few spots of rain falling. Back along the lane to Glyndyfrdwy. A bridge crosses the Dee to the village, the only bridge between Carrog and Llangollen. There actually manages to be a traffic jam when a tractor with a large septic tank emptier meets cars and 4x4s coming from both the bridge and Carrog. Chaffinches perch on wires, beaks full of grubs, Chiffchaffs are still calling, as of course are Wood Pigeons. The road starts to climb as it heads north around the great horseshoe loop of the river. Foxgloves are coming to their end, the flowers now cluster around the top of the stems with seed pods below. However the pink theme continues as Rosebay Willowherb comes into flower. Mullen rises pale green like luminous radium. Pure white roses with yellow centres grow among brambles. Clumps of Wood Sage are coming into flower. Pale green Cob nuts emerge from their ruffs. The road continues on up to a small ridge at Hafod-rhîsg. Ahead is Moel Gaer and Moel y Gamelin on the skyline. A Common Buzzard flies out of the woods. Ravens pass over barking coarsely. Yarrow and various members of the pea family flower in the verge. The road drops back down to the river past Fron to Glan-yr-afon. A little ruined cottage, I think the old corn mill cottage, stands on a bend where a stream gurgles down. The cottage had almost disappeared into the undergrowth. Inevitably the road rises again past the Sun Inn. It is humid now. On upwards to Llantysilio school then it is all down hill, past the church to the canal again. Back along the canal. At the bridge where the road crosses the canal two horse-drawn tourist barges are passing. It is pointless trying to get Maddy past this so we go down to the main road and back into Llangollen past some impressive late Victorian and Edwardian town houses. The town is busy with tourists. Map

Friday – Bodenham Lakes – There was heavy rain last night, the first for several weeks and desperately needed in the garden. The morning is fresh and clean. Chiffchaffs are calling along the track. Bird song is now more muted, it has lost the urgency and vibrancy of spring. The sun is shining but looming black clouds abound. Little froglets hop across the path in danger of being trodden underfoot. Mute Swans with cygnets, Mallard in eclipse, Canada Geese and a bobbing Common Sandpiper are on the scrape. A Reed Warbler is in good voice in the reed bed. Wildfowl numbers are increasing, More Mallard and Canada Geese, Tufted Duck, young Moorhens and Coot. Six cormorants, mainly juveniles are in the trees.