Monday – Basket’s Gate – I am trying to undertake a House Martin survey for the BTO in this area between Kingsland and Yarpole. There is nowhere to park and I must admit I am not wanting to walk any distance, so I simply pause and check the very few houses which provides suitable nest sites. I find absolutely nothing, although a Cuckoo flies by, so I head off to Aymestrey.
Aymestrey – A village on the Roman road from Leintwardine to Magnis (now the A4110), where it crosses the River Lugg. The name derives from Aethelmund’s Tree and was large parish in the Middle Ages. The village is known for a Bronze Age burial, a beaker cist containing a child, discovered in 1987. On the north-east side of the bridge is Yatton Court, a large pale cream ashlar-built house. Here is some dispute as to the age of the building, Pevsner calls it Georgian, the listing states it is early 19th
century, a number of sources state it was erected in 1780 on the site of a timber-framed hall, whilst yet another agrees it replaced the earlier building but credits Woodhouse with building it in 1728. The Weaver family owned the older building for many generations. On the south west side is The Riverside Inn, a sprawling 16th century black and white coaching inn and barns, formally known as The Crown. The bridge was rebuilt in 1932 widening one built by John and Benjamin Gethin in 1795 after a great flood swept away the earlier bridge. A stone from the earlier bridge which had been found in the river has been incorporated into the current one. It is snowing papery tree seeds over the river in the wind and rain. The rain ceases and it begins to brighten. Chaffinches are very vocal. Heading southwards past the Onneslo School, 1831-1965 according to a large black plaque on the site of the now private residence. This school was endowed by William Onneslo, in 1515, and ran as a charitable trust. The next house has a window that says shop. Next is a farm fully converted into homes. Over the road is an extended cottage, the Vicarage with 17th century core. A number of houses are on the western side, somewhat difficult to date but I would guess they are mainly 20th century. Opposite The Porch House is older, early 17th century although parts may be older still. This brings me to the church. Aymestrey House faces it, Georgian but little can be seen of the church as two large Yews block the view.
The Parish Church of St John the Baptist and St Alkmund is built of local limestone rubble with ashlar and dressings of the same material and some tufa; the roofs are covered with slates and lead. The chancel and nave were built in the 12th century, the nave being aisleless. About the middle of the 14th century the west tower was added. Around 1400 the chancel was extended to the east, and shortly after the chancel-arch was re-built and widened. Around 1540, the arcades were built with the use of earlier material, probably from elsewhere and possibly from the 12th century church at Wigmore Abbey, and the north and south aisles and clerestory added. The south porch was added in the 16th or 17th century, but has been rebuilt and shortened in modern times. The church was restored in 1884-86. Inside the door is a stoup with a broken front probably done in the Reformation and square holes in the door jamb with a piece of timber in one which could be slid across to bar the great mediaeval door.There is a beautiful early 16th century screen. Beside the altar is an alabaster slab set into the floor on which there are the faint incised figures of a knight and lady. These are Sir John Lingen who died in 1506 and Elizabeth Burgh, his wife who died in 1522. Lingen fought with Edward, Earl of March at the battle of Mortimer’s Cross. On the wall is a large tablet dedicated to Robert Weaver, who died in 1728. A curate in 1826 was Revd Thomas Lewis who helped found the Woolhope Club. His investigations into the geology of the area was used, without credit, by Roderick Murchison in the development of his works on the Silurian Period. (Murchison later apologised for this.) A funeral bier stands in a corner presumably made by a local blacksmith although the wheel hubs are marked Hughes, probably G.H. Hughes of St Stephen’s Works, Birmingham. Jackdaws are noisy on the roof. A 15th century preaching cross stands in front of the tower. To the east of the church is another timber-framed house, Aymestrey Court, in a pleasing brown wood and yellow infill. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flies over the graveyard.
Adforton – On up the Roman road, through Wigmore, and up into the tiny village of Adforton. The church of St Andrew was built in 1875 by J.P. Seddon who built the wonderful church at Hoarwithy. St Andrews is a Gothic Revival building with a nave and apsed chancel. The interior is simple with wagon-roofs throughout. The font has circular base and circular bowl decorated with carved fish and a net with wave motifs. The rim has running foliated carvings. The centre of the bowl is supported by a thick shaft, the outer parts by coloured marble shafts arranged as a pentagon. It has an intriguing Victorian ventilation system. It is also used as a community centre now. Nearby Church House is late 16th century. A house in poor condition stands on the nearby road junction, being an old farmhouse, part of which was supposed to have been a brew-house, dating from late 17th century.
Wednesday – Leominster – The sun is shining again, but there is a stiff breeze. Meadow Cranesbills are in flower in the Millennium Meadow. A Great Tit is calling from the Priory graveyard. Elderflower is coming out. The River Kenwater is very low and crystal clear. The Pinsley Mead area has been mowed, somewhat crudely, but it will soon green over again. Round by the old mortuary Hawthorn is still covered in blossom. Red Valerian grows out of the walls.
Thursday – Defynnog – A small village just south of Sennybridge, which is where the A40 to the west forks and a road heads south down Cwm Tawe, the Swansea Valley towards the coast. A large church stands out in white painted render. St Cynogs is old, although its early history is largely unknown. An ogam stone rests against the porch wall bearing a Roman inscription, Rugniatio Livendoni, meaning Rugniatis, son of Vendonius, carved in the 5th or 6th century and a double headed Celtic cross of the latter part of the first millennium. On the opposite side of the porch is a stoup which is probably pre-Conquest. The church itself is late 15th century although the western part of the nave is believed to be earlier, Pevsner believes it to be part of the Celtic church. Some of the vestry wall seems to be 11th century. There was some restoration in 1888. The font is a bowl heavily cut with crosses with faint script on the rim, Runic and Lombardic, Siward + Gwilmer and is probably early 11th century. Oil lamps on posts are placed at the end of pews down the nave. A noted incumbant was Moses Williams, an antiquarian and scholar who oversaw two versions of the Bible in Welsh in 1717 and 1727. A monument in the floor commemorates William Powell of Castle Madock who died in 1637. The Powells were an important Welsh family who traced their lineage back to Llywelyn ap Hywel, father of Davy Gam. In the graveyard are several Yew trees. One is thought to be 5000 years old, older than Stonehenge and the pyramids. A Chiffchaff and a Blackbird fill the air with song. Several graves give the occupation of the deceased, Bootmaker, Postmaster and son of the Superintendent of Police. A group of stones are dedicated to the Lewis family; Sir David William Herbert Lewis who died in 1931, Knight of Grace and First Principal Secretary and Commissioner of the Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem Priory for Wales and his sons, David Carol Flower Lewis, Lieutenant R.A. killed aged 26 at Mhow, India 1930 and Gomer Flower Lewis, Pilot Office RAF died aged 20 in 1927. Pink spikes of Bistort flower near the path. Back on the main road is a row of 19th century estate cottages with Tudor chimneys.
Ynyswen – We are camping behind The Ancient Briton pub a dozen miles on down the valley in Ynyswen. On the way we pass Craig-y-Nos Castle, meaning Rock of the Night, a Victorian-Gothic country house in Wales. Built on parkland on the southern edge of Fforest Fawr, it was the former estate of opera singer Adelina Patti, It is now used as a boutique hotel, catering, conferencing and entertainment venue. At the camp-site, the hills to the north and west are rugged with grey outcropping. To the east is the Afon Tawe, the River Tawe and woods glowing bright green. We are greeted by a singing Blackcap. A Green Woodpecker yaffles in the distance. The pub has a fine range of ales, sadly no Welsh brews although we are told they regularly appear. The food is also good. It is still light when we climb into our sleeping bags, serenaded by a Song Thrush.
Friday – Ynyswen – The hills are misty and a fine rain starts to fall. The village is largely a council housing estate, probably all sold off now, some modern build and just a few older properties. Back on the camp-site, a Great Spotted Woodpecker climbs an Oak, a Nuthatch is in a tree outside the tent and a Cuckoo calls from the trees high up the hills to the west. As we eat breakfast, a Magpie seems to be upsetting the smaller bird life above us.
Ystradgynlais – On down the valley is this town, the largest in the old county of Brecknockshire. A 5th to 7th century pair of inscribed stones suggest a Celtic community here but the population was tiny, only a couple of houses, the church and a pub in the early 17th century. The name Ystradgynlais may be derived from Ystrad – a vale and Gunleus ab Glewsissig – prince of Gwent, who married a daughter of the 5th Prince Brychan and received the district as her marriage portion. Another interpretation relates the name to the vale of the rough-sounding brook from the Nant Gyrlais – a stream which is a tributary of the River Tawe which it enters just south of the town centre. The exploitation of iron ore, limestone and coal and the building of the Swansea canal turned Ystradgynlais from this small rural valley community into an industrial centre in a relatively short period. The Swansea Vale Railway arrived in the 1870s, closing to passengers in 1932 and freight in 1966. The canal fell out of use after the First World War and is now under the A4067. We wander down to the Afon Tawe, and over to the Ystradgynlais Arms. This was once the centre of the village and in 1915 a pavilion was erected here which showed moving pictures for the first time in this area. The street northwards was called Water Street and the river was lined with cottages but they were all demolished after a flood in 1911 except the end one which is now a pet store. Nearby is a huge chapel, one of many around the town. This one announces itself as Sardis Independent Chapel 1861, and was active until a few years ago when serious structural faults rendered it unsafe. Coincidently, it was built to replace another chapel on this site which was damaged by mine working subsidence. We return through the main streets with a decent range of shops and wander down to the church of St Cynog. Annoyingly it is locked and the Celtic stones are inside. This church was built in 1861, completely replacing the older 13th century one. A number of old Yews stand in the churchyard with a fascinating array of gravestones.
Neath – Things do not start well in Neath. The multi-storey car park proves to be too low for our car and roof box, resulting in a careful exit. The in-town car parks are all full so we end up in the supermarket one where all the nearest pay machines are out of order! Anyway, we head up to the castle, Castell Nedd, the castle on the River Nedd, which gave the town its name. The Romans constructed a fort in an area and there have been archaeological discoveries that show a human presence back to the Bronze Age. The history of the town itself started in the early 12th century with the Norman conquest of Glamorgan. Following a castle structure at Neath Abbey in 1129, which was later destroyed by the native Welsh lords, a second castle was built on the east bank of the River Neath, the site of the present castle remains. It was destroyed during the Despenser War in 1321, repaired in 1377 when the gatehouse was built. The Normans developed a small village with market and church in the area around 1150, which later formed the basis of Neath town. A river bridge was built in 1320 and this resulted in increased trade with regular markets. The town grew greatly from the 16th century onwards mainly because of coal and copper. By the 19th century it was also a commercial centre with many substantial civic buildings.
Much of what remain of the castle is behind large fences and there is an absence of information boards. Behind the fences there are some walls and in a small area of garden, in which there are notice boards proudly declaring how the Council have refurbished the garden, is the impressive gatehouse, a series of steps flanked by a pair of towers. Anything behind this façade is missing. Beside the castle is the first Methodist Chapel in Neath, built 1813 and was inevitably visited at some unspecified time by John Wesley. It now seems to house the Order of the Moose... We head into the town centre, which looks typically depressed, even the cheque cashing shop has closed down!
The church of St Thomas stands in a quiet square. It would have been built for the castle and this dates from the early 12th century. It is first mentioned though in 1278 as St Thomas the Martyr referring to Thomas Becket but the dedication was changed to St Thomas the Apostle in Reformation as Henry VIII regarded Becket as a traitor rather than saint. The tower was first constructed in about 1340 and raised using Sutton stones from Neath Abbey in 1691. The aisles were added in 1730. In the nave is the Llantwit stone, an important relic from the churchyard at Llantwit, as recorded here. There are a number of hatchments on the walls bearing the arms of notable Neath families who became enriched as industry grew in the late 18th century. There is some fine modern glass in the northern aisle including one window sponsored by the Showman’s Guild in recognition of Neath Fair. The original Charter was granted in 1280, and is the oldest and perhaps the most prestigious fair in Wales, owing its origin to the granting of the Charter by Gilbert de Clare, the Lord Paramount of Gloucester and a Marcher Lord for whom Neath was a garrison town.
In the church square are Guildhall Chambers, now solicitors’ offices. The Mechanics’ Institute was designed by Alfred Wallace, the collaborator of Charles Darwin. The Town Hall was built in 1820 and the entrance is almost hidden by large metal grills. The market hall is certainly better than many these days with a wide range of stalls and eating places. It is now grey and raining. We decide that a retreat to The Ancient Briton is the only option, where we discover Harvey’s Sussex Bitter is on pump!
Saturday – Ynyswen – Several heavy showers drummed on the tent overnight. The Cuckoo started calling at first light. Down to the main road. A Swallow sits on wires by the pub. Into the village and down a footpath. A Chiffchaff calls from the woods on the river valley below. Foxgloves are coming into flower. Down the river and across a narrow bridge. The river flows over smooth boulders. This is the confluence of the Tawe and the Llech. Up the other side of the valley. It starts to rain again. The path heads up to the Henrhyd Waterfalls but it is too far for this quick jaunt. A way point had a recording of a local man who recalls how 80 years ago he and his school mates would play in the pools tying ropes to trees and swing like Tarzan. Black and chocolate slugs are crossing the path. Blackbirds sing. The path runs round what looks like an old landslip, maybe 150 years ago looking at the trees that have grown on the slope. Below the ground is green with ferns and sedges. I get as far as Llech Bridge but the rain is becoming persistent so I turn back.
Monday – Basket’s Gate – Another attempt at the House Martin survey for the B.T.O. In Kingsland, a father waits at school gate, for his child, as Shakespeare noted, shining morning face, creeping like snail, unwillingly to school. Clouds pass over, cooling the warm air. Greenfinches wheeze, Jackdaws chack. Traffic through the village high street is a pain. Off up lane towards Lugg Green. Out of the village the wind is brisk, cooling things further and I regret not bringing a coat. A Carrion Crow stands on the stag horns of an Oak, the chip of a Great Spotted Woodpecker comes from the thick foliage below. A bridge crosses the Lugg at Lugg Green. On up the lane where the telegraph poles have metal hats with finials. A Chiffchaff calls and a cock crows. A damp, sedgy meadow is yellow with buttercups. Magpies disappear into a bush as a Common Buzzard circles overhead. A pair of Goldfinches tussle in the air before alighting on wires. They are joined by a third, then another. Over the Basket’s Gate crossroads where the Lucton lane crosses. This is now the House Martin survey area. Basket’s Gate is a house, built at the very end of the 19th century and outbuildings. A gouge in the hill beyond marks an old gravel pit. A Swallow passes, House Sparrows cheep, a Great Black-backed Gull flies over but no House Martins. On past Oaker Wood. Across the field a Green Woodpecker calls from a fence post. It flies up the fence to another post and starts calling again, head twisting to look all around. A Jay calls from the depths of the wood. The woodpecker departs and a Mistle Thrush lands on one of the posts before dropping down into the grass below. A Common Buzzard flies over harried by a Carrion Crow. A modern house is on the eastern edge of the quartile. A pair of Swallows feed overhead but no House Martins. I retrace my steps to the crossroads. Up the lane towards Lucton. Becknell House is a modern building but there is the sign of an old House Martin nest in the eaves but no new one. A Whitethroat chatters nearby. Becknell Cottage is an older house near an old well, some distance across a field. A scan through the binoculars reveals no nests and there are no House Martins in the air anywhere. A short distance up the lane is my last hope of nesting House Martins, Clover Cottage, another 20th century build, but nothing. Back down the Lugg Green road. Wild flowers adorn the roadside – Woody Nightshade, purple and yellow; several umbellifers, Cow Parsley, Hogweed and Angelica; Red Campion, Forget-me-nots with the tiniest of blue flowers, Common Milkwork, Red Clover, White Dead Nettle and Stinging Nettle. Green leaves extensively tinged with red of White Bryony sinuously climbs through the hedgerow. There are also escapes, purple pods of Honesty, wheat, barley and oats. Strange electronic noise behind the roadside hedge turns out to be the cockerel that was crowing earlier. Back to the Lugg bridge. Mayflies dance over the surface of the water. A Dipper is upstream on a gravel bank. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The sky has clouded over after a clear and decidedly chilly night. A Song Thrush searches the grass for food. Nearby, Teasels are several feet high but their leaves are drooping in the long dry period we have had. Dog Roses are climbing high into the hedgerow, bright pink faces smiling out of the green foliage. A few Tufted Duck and Mallard are on the sailing area. The wind creates long wavelets that could easily be misinterpreted as something swimming fast just below the surface – The Bodenham Lake Monster! Birds are singing but in shorter bursts and much more tweeting and chatter. The scrape is crowded, two female Goosander; Mallard, drakes tatty as they go into eclipse; Canada Geese, a Cormorant and a Mute Swan. A Great Crested Grebe is on the open water. A Mallard glides by with her six ducklings. A Coot is feeding in the shallows. A Reed Warbler is singing to the right of the hide. Three Coot chicks come out of the red bed to the left, bright red faces and punky orange heads. Both parents are diving for morsels to feed them. A Carrion Crow flies over sending the chicks racing for the reed bed. A pair of Mallard venture into the corner to where the Coot and chicks have moved and are seen off vigorously by the parents. The Carrion Crow is now marching noisily along the roof of the hide. A Pied Wagtail searches the edge of a smaller scrape. Ox-eye Daisies and Birdsfoot Trefoil carpet the bank in front of the hide. A Chiffchaff and Wren sing in the coppice. A Grey Heron flies across the meadow and up to Westfield Wood where it circles to gain height. It continues to fly in small circles whilst drifting westwards and then out of sight. An easterly breeze had risen. The apple blossom had finished and the fruit is beginning to swell. A Green Woodpecker flashes across the orchard.
Thursday – Home – Yesterday Kay was tidying up the border under the garden wall. She was about to remove some dead grass right by the wall when she realised she was looking at a pair of shining black eyes. A Robin has nested in a hole where a brick is missing. Later on I check and she has left the nest and six small brownish eggs are displayed. This morning all is well as she has returned. I put a stake in and tie up some dying agulegias in front of nest to protect it. The female Blackbird is still on the nest by the shed but we cannot decide if the nest in the rose bower is being used or not. Dunnocks have fledged as small versions are hopping around the garden. Pigeon egg shells turn up every so often, we are not sure where the nest is located or if they are Wood Pigeon or Collared Dove eggs.
The garden is very dry. Two of the water butts are empty. However, things are growing well. The broad beans are over three feet high now and pods are developing. Likewise, the maincrop peas are also producing plenty of pods but some water would be helpful to fill them out. One of the cucumber plants, which are still only a few inches long, has produced a tiny fruit. The potatoes, runner and French beans are all growing steadily. Garlic stems are now falling over, they will soon be ready to crop but I suspect the bulbs will be small. The fruit bushes are loaded with berries, hopefully the gooseberries will soon be ready. We have picked nearly all the strawberries in the greenhouse pots which were prolific and hopefully those outside in the fruit cage will follow similarly. In the greenhouse, the tomatoes are rising rapidly and flowers are appearing. The sweet peppers are slow but getting taller nonetheless. The last stem of the winter’s Purple Sprouting is pulled out and given to the hens and next winter’s seedlings are planted out. We are now cropping lettuce, although, as usual the succession crops have not materialised. Bees visit a pot of daisies and feed by circling their bodies round so their heads visit each source of nectar. More bees are disappearing into the pink sheaths of foxgloves and re-emerging with a buzz of wings. It is hot and beginning to get oppressive, thunderstorms may be on the way.
Friday – Humber – The second run of the B.T.O. Breeding Bird Survey. I park outside Stoke Prior school and head down the lane towards Steens Bridge. A Skylark is singing over the big field between the road and where the old railway ran, and the Romano-British village at Blackwardine was situated. Whitethroats are active in the high hedges either side of the lane. A strange noise comes from the field in the opposite direction which has been sown with potatoes – a Red-legged Partridge. A Yellowhammer with a bill full of food is watching from wires, she probably has a nest in the hedgerow but is unwilling to approach it whilst I am there. Cleavers grow up the hedge almost to the top, some eight feet high. Back to the lane that runs from the Bromyard road to Bodenham. A few House Sparrows chatter in the hedges by the dog kennels. A Common Buzzard stands on top of a telegraph pole. Just beside it, on the wires, is a Stock Dove. This is probably the first one I have positively identified for a long time; they are probably reasonably common around here but I dismiss them with a glance and though, pigeon. Down to New Farm where just a single Swallow passes over. Back along the lane, over the crossroads and down towards Humber. A Chaffinch sings on wires beside the Woodland Burial Ground. The trees on the burial ground are now growing tall and not much can be seen within. Down the lane to the brook where there are numerous squeaks and cheeps, not particularly identifiable. One has me thinking for a while but I decide that it is a high-pitched Great Tit. A Chiffchaff calls along with a Nuthatch. Through the village. Twenty Jackdaws are wheeling around the church and houses, making counting fairly difficult. More Swallows sweep through the air. The sky threatens rain but it fails to materialise. The footpath across the fields towards Steens Bridge has disappeared in the first field under a crop of cereal. I batter down Stinging Nettles to cross the footbridge into the second field. Here a herd of cows with young charge towards me. I had a set to with these during my last survey but they did not not have calves then. I decide that I am not risking a confrontation and retreat to the bridge. Scanning the fields reveals little, there seldom is much here. So I return through the village where I meet the same woman I saw last year. She informs me that House Martins, which I have failed to see, are building a nest on her house in the village, the first time since she has been there. She also tells of a large Grass Snake she saw yesterday, how a Cuckoo has been frequently around the village and about a patch of Marsh Orchids she spotted on the Bromyard road (I look as I drive past but cannot slow enough as there is traffic behind me).
Saturday – Home – And finally the rains came. The much needed rain has fallen since late yesterday evening and continues into this morning. An empty water-butt is almost full again and hopefully the last one will start to fill. I add hot water to some layers’ mash for the hens. Only one of the cucumber plants is alive now, Kay thinks that squirrels have been digging at them. There is a Mediaeval Pageant in town today, which makes the rain rather untimely. A re-enactment group in jerkins and steel helmets, led by a piper, proceed down the High Street followed by the various worthies and councillors and finally local Girl Guides.
Sunday – Leominster – The morning is agleam with sunshine, yesterday’s rain just damp patches on the soil. Off to the market which is smaller than last week; nothing like rain to scare people off. One stall has some power tools at very good prices, but bargains are illusive if one has no need of them. The River Lugg is quite low and clear which is a surprise after yesterday’s rain.
Back home there is disappointment when Kay finds the Robin’s nest ruined, lying in front of the hole in the wall. Was it a cat, Magpie, Grey Squirrel or indeed did the bundle of grass and moss sticking out from the wall get so wet yesterday that it pulled the whole out? The absence of broken eggs suggests a predatory demise.
Over to the Minster to the second day of the Mediaeval Fayre. Stalls are set up in the churchyard selling leather goods, cakes and trinkets; things that would have featured in any market half a millennium ago. Around the Minster, in front of the great east window, are tents of crafts of the period. Someone is explaining the varieties of mediaeval clothing being worn. There are fletchers, wool workers, wood turners, smiths’ products, armourers and other artisans. On Pinsley Mead is a beer wagon, serving traditional as well as modern pints. Young people drag through several cannon which we hear booming later in the morning. Back to the Minster where we join Nicolette watching her husband Martin take part in mediaeval dancing. It is strange, ritualised stuff, all carefully orchestrated with no room for modern self-expression and abandonment. By mid-afternoon the sky has cloud over and rain threatens.
Monday – River Arrow and Newtown – The air is humid, the sky dotted with fluffy white clouds. Down Hereford Road and into Passa Lane. The hedgerow is Hawthorn with a lot of Ivy, Cleavers and Stinging Nettles. A Skylark sings over an adjacent field. Lime trees have shiny green leaves, those of Willows are dull grey-green. Carrion Crows squabble overhead. A field lies fallow, in its centre a small flock of gulls, mainly Lesser-black Backed, a few Herring Gulls and some juveniles. A Blackcap sings, whilst the call of Yellowhammer comes from across the fields. A Cuckoo is in the far distance only just audible. The footpath down to the River Arrow is near impassable. I push through with only a few stings. Heart-shaped leaves that look wet climb the hedges, Black Bryony, Tamus communis, a member of the Yam family, whilst nearby palmate leaves also entangle their way up the Hawthorn, White Bryony, Bryonia cretica, a member of the Gourd family (which includes cucumbers). Vast umbellifers, Cow Parsley, Hogweed and Angelica rise above my head. Bees visit the large white heads. Red Campion is in flower everywhere and a few Hedge Woundwort are flowering on what is supposed to be the track. St John’s Wort will soon be in flower. Into a field of young black and white cattle. Whitethroats sing in the hedgerow. A footbridge crosses a ditch which is filled with grasses, Comfrey, both purple and cream flowers, Spear Thistles, Stinging Nettles and a yellow crucifer, probably Black Mustard. Unfortunately, one side of the ditch is full of Himalayan Balsam leaves which will soon take over everything. These flowers hide an old sluice gate which was used to control the water levels on these water meadows.
Out into a meadow where Ox-eye Daisies adorn the base of a hedgerow that disappears up the slope. A possible mediaeval settlement stood in this field. Four-winged Beautiful Agrion, Agrion virgo, rest on blades of grass, males intensely sapphire blue and olivine females, hawk across the grass. The track runs alongside the Arrow. A path leads off to a meander that has been partially blocked by a fallen tree. Wrens bob and tick in the branches. The Cuckoo is closer now. A Song Thrush is singing nearby. Mayflies dance over a sunlit patch of water. Vegetation is thick between the track and the river. Rising above the Stinging Nettles and Cow Parsley are soaring heads of Hemlock, a dangerously poisonous member of the umbellifer family. The track swings away from the river and then crosses a ditch via a footbridge with a slightly worrying number of planks missing. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs sing. Across a field where rogue potatoes from a previous crop are dotted. A large house, Bankfield House, the home of Andrew Duncan JP at the end of the 19th century, is beyond another overgrown track and public footpath. Andrew Duncan was in partnership with Alexander in ironmonger manufacturing at the Lion Works, 15 Broad Street; and iron and brass founders, Vulcan Foundry, West Street and Kington; and 10 New Market Street, Hereford. The company still exists as part of a John Deere dealership in Southern Avenue. A Common Buzzard flies out of trees around the house and off across the fields, chased by a Carrion Crow which catches up and starts to harass the raptor. My legs are soon sore from the gentle but vicious caress of Stinging Nettles. I head down the road a short way into Newtown. It is a scattered hamlet, some older 19th century houses, with the 18th century The Cottage, conversions and newer builds. Old Hall has the shape of an old building but looks new and indeed has a date of 1988 on the wall. Back up the road to Ryelands and Leominster. A Kestrel sits atop a pole, flies off and begins hovering above the nearby field. Past Dishley Court which according to a sign is still part of Newtown. The road then rises to Ryelands then drops down to Leominster bus station, on the site of the old market. Route
Tuesday – Kington – Small, white cotton wool balls of cloud do little to stop the burning sun which beats down, heating the land. We have taken Kitty to the Small Breed and Owl Centre near Kington. We enter under the droop-eyed gaze of several owls and start by touring the owl section. The various species are both beautiful and seemingly totally detached from their surroundings. A notice explains that as a species, owls are happy to just sit and do nothing and it is only hunger that rouses them to do anything and these owls have regular supplies of food so they just sit and contemplate the world in their own way. Several species are under threat in the wild, mainly from encroachment on their territories by humans. Without exception all of these birds have immaculate and exquisite plumage. We leave the relative shade of the owl cages and out into a field of pens, containing sheep, goats and pigs. We have bought some animal food and the goats in particular are expecting a treat. They stand with their forelegs up on the bars of the fences looking at us in anticipation. Kitty generally throws the food at them, not that they mind. The sheep and pigs are less enthusiastic. Up the hill are large cages of pheasants. I watch a gorgeous Golden Pheasant which retreats to its shelter when the others arrive. I wanted them to see this amazingly coloured bird – scarlet, cinnamon, black, green and yellow – which I had seen in Norfolk with the Compuserve birders many years ago when it appeared out of a thicket of brambles in a wood where it is now a feral species. Another large cage contains Red Squirrels which are chasing each other manically around the ledges and ladders. Down to an area of ponds where various duck species are kept. The males are mainly going into eclipse so have lost their glowing colours. A pair of very small Canada Geese, I assume the Alaskan minima race, scream angrily at us as we pass – they have a nest close to the path. Another area has llamas, a pair of Black Swans and some white Silkie bantams. Finally, we visit the small mammals – chipmunks, chinchillas, rabbits before seeing an incubator of chicks. As we leave we notice a pen on the way out where there are three Reindeer resting in the shade of a barn.
Friday – Cwm-y-bont – A breeze keeps the morning cooler despite the strong sunshine on my back. Through Gladestry where Swallows dive under eaves and into porches to their nests. House Sparrows chatter in good numbers, Collared Doves sit on wires and coo. A trotting rig passes pulled by a proud looking, shiny coated bay horse. Up past the church and the new builds. House Sparrows are still present in numbers and House Martins sweep low across the road. Up the narrow land where the banks are six feet high and the hedges add another five or six feet. Red Campion, yellow Buttercups and white Stitchwort and Cow Parsley brighten these banks. Chaffinches sing and a small flock of Goldfinches flashes over and into the crown of a Beech. On a short distance and there are Foxgloves, white Garlic Mustard with long, thin, green seed pods, pink and purple vetches, a single flowering Wild Strawberry, pink Herb Robert and at the bottom of the bank is a very late Bluebell. The land runs along the side of a small valley created by Pen-faen Brook. Willow Warblers sing in the trees down near the water and Chiffchaffs are in the trees here. The variety of flowers on the bank changes as I wander along, now Stinging Nettles, Docks and Cleavers, a little further, yellow Crosswort joins in and the vetch returns. Foxgloves only grow on the north-eastern side of the lane. Past Cilbigyn and Lane House farms, although I do not think that the latter is an active farm.
From a gate beside Lane House farm the view is eastwards towards the gentle humps of the border hills – Hergest Ridge, Hanter, Bradnor and Herrock. Blackcaps sing from Oaks, the power of their song belies their tiny size. The lane starts to drop down towards Gwaithla. Another Oak is ringing with sing but this time it is a Garden Warbler, flitting through the branches seeking insects whilst pouring forth is song. From Gwaithla, a path runs through sheep pastures under the steep slopes of Caety Traylow. Common Buzzards float above the edge of the hill. Ravens bark in the distance. Two score Carrion Crows fly along the hillside. A Blackbird sings in a copse into which a Common Buzzards drops, almost certainly nesting there. Orange Common Yellow Dung-fly, Scathophaga stercoraria feed on sheep dung. I generally loathe flies but cannot ignore the essential job they do breaking down the waste and detritus of life. (Later I look at a photograph I took of these flies and notice that nearly all of them are actually mating pairs.) A Cuckoo calls across the valley. I cannot remember a year when I have heard so many Cuckoos. A notice informs that the open access land is closed to protect game birds. This is a pain as there is no public footpath over the hill back to Gladestry, so I will either have to retrace my steps or walk all the way round. I will decide later. Above Common Buzzards mew, down here Willow Warblers sing, Mistle Thrushes rasp and on the slope, Meadow Pipits pipe. A Small Heath butterfly rests in the sun. The wind is rising. A Jay flies off across the valley below. A tchk tchk alerts me to a pale breasted male Wheatear with a bandit mask stripe across his eyes sitting on a dead Hawthorn branch up on the slope. The track rises and I puff upwards. I nearly reach the top when I realise this is the wrong way, a quick look at the map confirms this. So back down the hill and around its base. A Pied Wagtail flies along in front of me. The path crosses a ford. There is only a trickle of water and much of this is appearing from under rocks by the ford. A Tree Pipit parachutes down into a Hawthorn, singing continuously.
This path now rises and crosses into Cwm-y-bont. This is a valley of hunters, overhead are Red Kites, Common Buzzards, Ravens and a little later a pair of Kestrels, all searching the moorland for food. The track drops down to Pant-glas, a stone shepherd’s hut still being used by someone. A windmill spins furiously in the breeze. Another Wheatear is calling just a short distance up the slope. I sit by the cottage and look back towards Caety Traylow. A raptor circles slowly in the distance, it is large, possibly too large for a Common Buzzard, possibly a female Hen Harrier? But it drifts away and I cannot decide. What I have decided however is top return the same way I came, my feet are a bit sore still pressing on may be a bit silly. A Skylark sings high over the bracken covered hillside. A Wheatear takes off from the fence flashing its white rump (or white arse, which gave it its name). Nearby is a bird I have not seen for a very long time, a Whinchat. Looking up the valley past Pant-glas towards Black Yatt is an expanse of marshy moorland with a single flowering Hawthorn in the centre. Small metallic copper beetles, one of the chafers, stumbles across the path. Across Cwm-y-bont, from my position now I can see the house platforms clearly in a large field next to Gilwern Brook. There are also pillow mounds recorded in this field but these remain elusive. Skylarks have now come out in force and the sky is full of their song. A Red Kite circles higher and higher and then drifts away. Small brown, leathery looking balls lie by the track, the empty, desiccated remains of last year’s puffballs. An angry cry comes from the deep defile below, a Peregrine Falcon is attacking a Common Buzzard. Unfortunately they keep dropping into the bottom of the gorge and cannot be seen. The Peregrine then flies up and down the valley, circling over a coppice of conifers, calling continuously. A female Peregrine is sitting on a fence post at the bottom of the house platform field watching these events.
The track descends back to the foot of the slope down from Caety Traylow. Several Tree Pipits are displaying and calling. Back near the ford, a female Redstart sits on a fence then joins another, possibly a juvenile in a Hawthorn bush where they both watch me, the adult ticking and twitching her rufous tail. On along the path where a male Redstart with his black mask, (are they all bandit birds here?) is in a tree. The path returns to Gwaithla and back down to Gladestry. I can see a Ghanaian flag is at half-mast in the school playground and I wonder who has died, I will google it in a minute. However, when I get to the school a teacher is struggling with the flagpole. It’s stuck and won’t go up or down, she tells me. We wiggle the rope a bit and she pushes at the flag with a forked pole and then it comes free. My right foot is now very sore, although my heel feels alright, so am glad to change out of my boots and sit down. Route
Monday – Deerfold – The sun emerges from scattered cloud. Yet again no rain and the garden gets drier and drier. Several fine houses stand around the junction in the centre of Wigmore. Court House is an 18th century house, The Queens House is 17th century. A building on the opposite corner has been rebuilt over several years, however now it is finished and had become The Oak, a pub which it was in the past, possibly called The Castle then The Olde Oak. A lane leads into the churchyard where a Great Spotted Woodpecker chips and a Dunnock sings. The weathering of the stone on the south side of the church leaves a rough look. The preaching cross base is 14th century, square with upper edge chamfered to form octagon and with moulded angles and an ogee-arched niche in the west side. At the other side of the churchyard a lane passes the old school and cottages, including the 17th century house, Callis Close, then narrows to a footpath to the castle. At the foot of the castle mount a path runs around to the south of the run. A dense wilderness of Elder, Stinging Nettles and Comfrey lies at the base of the mound. The path enters a rough meadow and runs through a corridor of Stinging Nettles. A Swallow feeds overhead and a Chiffchaff calls in the wood beside a ruined tower. The path rises through the field. Most of the thistles in the field are splattered with Cuckoo Spit. The route of the footpath is vestigial to say the least and passes through several more large patches of Nettles which I plough through rapidly in some unwarranted belief this will result in fewer stings. In fact I do not have that many stings when I climb a broken stile into another grassy meadow. Swallows, House Martins and Swifts all feed over the grasses. A Blackcap sings in a row of trees below. A Small Skipper butterfly feeds on a buttercup. Another stile stands alone in the meadow, the fence it once crossed long gone. Behind the wooded hills rise above the Wigmore plain. The tops of the sails on the mock windmill near Leinthall Starkes built in the 1990s can be seen above the trees. A Common Buzzard flies up the meadow and across the valley. It lands at the top of a conifer, bobbing in the wind and calls.
Over another stile and into a lane. Dark clouds keep obscuring the sun. Past White House Farm where the lane descends by Tucknell Bank through Barnett Wood. The lane is sunken and above gnarly roots of felled trees make numerous small holes in the stony bank. The trees above are probably less than a century old. A brook runs under the road, a small low stone wall on one side, just a railing on the other. The lane is now on the southern edge of Wigmore Rolls. To the south side of the lane, chromium yellow glows through the trees, the meadow beyond is awash with buttercups. The first spots of rain fall. Past another meadow and from the gate I can see buttercups, Red Clover and pink Common Spotted Orchids. A little further on more Common Spotted Orchids are flowering on the verge. The lane swings around. A sign points to Tree of the Cross. Although I check the map, I take this lane despite it not being the route I had planned. Meadow Cranesbills and Crosswort flower on the verge here. The rain is a bit more persistent now and I shelter under an Oak to see what is going to happen. Like all the trees here, this Oak is less than a couple of centuries old as the whole forest, Deerfold, was stripped bare by the ironmasters in the 18th century. The rain seems to ease so I move on. The verge is largely green but subtle colours are here, dark red Hedge Woundwort, purple Cranesbills and Tufted Vetch, yellow Birds foot Trefoil, Agrimony, Meadow Buttercups and pinkish white umbellifers of several species. A Wren watches and ticks from a nearby low branch. A Blackbird also mutters in alarm from the hedgerow. Past another White House Farm. Darvol (an old name for Deerfold, probably meaning Dangerous Wood) House and Wheatcroft Lodge are barn conversions but also look brand new. A small plaque refers to 1309-2009, with a lion on a tower, the symbol of the Harley family of Brampton Bryan, this being part of their estate. Northwards the views look towards the Shropshire Hills across fields of sheep, wooded hedgerows, copses and farms failed in sunlight and shade. The bucolic moment is rather spoilt by the sky being ripped apart by a passing military jet. Another field contains a shed of corrugated iron which seems to be standing mainly by luck. Ravens croak overhead. Honeysuckle is coming into flower. Two china white Field Roses peep out of a Beech hedge. A flower like a large all yellow daisy grows in a large patch by a hedge. I later identify it as Leopard’s Bane, not a native so probably planted by someone but who knows for why. A Red Kite appears and disappears just as quickly. A Yellowhammer sits on wires. Past The Mount. The hedgerows are old with a good number of species in them – Beech, Hawthorn, Field Maple, Holly, Elder, Blackthorn, Hazel and Ash. A Whitethroat calls briefly. Along the ridge above Lingen, past Woodbatch Farm and on to Tree of the Cross. Deerfold House looks mid-19th century. Nearby is a modern build with a brick centre and wood clad wings. High above the door is a plaque holding a pair of deer antlers.
At the crossroads an old Oak stands, recorded as one of the only, if not the only, tree not felled for the furnaces. Much of it is dead now but some small branches are in leaf. Left off down Ongar Street. An overhanging Oak branch has been removed and sawn up and now a chap whose t-shirt declares, chimney sweep, firewood and about a dozen other trades, is chopping the logs and throwing them into his trailer. Past a number of houses which are difficult to date although most are on the 1886 OS map, they have been modernised and probably extended. The lane was also called Hunger Street then. Greenfinches are in a Yew, Linnets on wires. A meadow has been planted out as an orchard maybe ten years ago. The flowers have not long set so I suspect they may be cider apples. Next is a much older orchard, some trees almost dead from Mistletoe. Then another younger one. The lane drops steeply down past Dickendale to the brook, then starts climbing through Oakley Hill Wood. Bugle grows on the banks with swirls of blue flowers. A rather tatty looking Willow Tit with matt black cap is preening in a bush. The road rises again. At one point both edges of the road are carpeted in thousands of green Ash keys. The road now descends steadily until it meets the main road into Wigmore at Lower House Farm. Wigmore Hall stands opposite the secondary school. The house is 16th century, extended in the 18th century and again with restoration in the 20th. The Old Court House has an interesting outbuilding looking like a gaol, which it probably was as the building was formally the Court, police station and gaol. The Old Post Office is late 16th century. As befitting a rural community, in what is close to the centre of the village is a large automobile garage and opposite a farm machinery garage.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A warm summer’s day. Flowers bloom either side of the track towards the lake. Under the edge of the copse is a large patch of Lady’s Mantle, bright yellow bunches of tiny flowers on matt green stalks and leaves. A few pink Red Campion and Herb Robert stand even closer to the undergrowth, their season almost done. Teasels are still growing taller and now the vestiges of the heads appear. Ox-eye Daisies are fresh and pristine in yellow and white. Dog and Field Roses clamber up the hedge. There is just a single Common Spotted Orchid standing in the grass. The meadow is still a riot of splashes of yellow, red and white on green – Red and White Clover, Field Buttercups, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Selfheal and one of the Hawkweeds (or possibly Ox-tongues). This meadow is still relatively young having been part of the gravel pit, thus flowers like orchids and Yellow Rattle have yet to colonise it. Wrens, Blackcaps, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs are all in song. The water level in the lake has fallen. A dozen Canada Geese and a couple of Mallard sleep on the scrape. A pair of Great Crested Grebe and a good number of Canada Geese are at the far western end of the water. A Coot picks through the stones, feathers and dust on the scrape. A Moorhen appears from the reeds briefly from within which a Reed Warbler sings. Dragonflies dart here and there, several Blue or Southern Hawkers, Aeshna cyanea, Four-spotted Chasers, Libellula quadrimaculata, and blue damselflies too far away to pin down their exact identity. A Pied Wagtail flies across to the scrape and bobs his tail as he seeks insects. A pair of Carrion Crow descend onto the scrape. Although they look alike, one seems to be demanding food from the other so they may be parent and fully grown offspring. A single Mute Swan glides across the western end. We look into the closed off area to see a great swathe of Ox-eye Daisies. Back in the orchards, apples are beginning to swell.
Home – There are always messy jobs in the garden, the compost being a regular chore, but today was one of the least pleasant. The original water butt has leaked around the tap for some time. We have jammed it in, upside-down, but wanted to use it so moved the tap round and the leak returned with a vengeance. So a new tap is purchased, one with a nut on the inside to tighten the tap in properly. The butt is emptied but this leaves the thick, black slime in the bottom that has been building up for years. A lot comes out when I invert the butt over a compost bin but some is retained by the rim. So I lay the butt with its insides dripping with slime on the lawn and half climb inside. I cannot get both shoulders through but can just reach far enough to get the nut on. My head is rubbing against the slime. A mole-wrench tightens the nut and the butt is placed back, the overflow pipe that feeds the next butt is reattached and the pipe from the gutter and lid replaced. I hook up a hose and pour in some water. The leak is cured! I clear up and am straight upstairs and under the shower.
Friday – The Begwns – Rain finally fell last night, not enough but any amount is welcome. It is still very dank and slightly misty on the Begwns, a large upland common. Begwns means Beacons in recognition of the beacon fires that were lit here. From the cattle grid a track leads out onto a bracken covered common. Ravens croak overhead. Cattle and sheep graze in a field whilst Swallows flash past their feet. Skylarks sing above, a Blackbird sings from a small copse and a Magpie chuckles nearby. Various types of footpath and track after marked on the map but I just pick one at random and head off. A Yellowhammer calls across the common and Curlew’s bubbling cry comes from the distance. Across the common is a ruined stone barn at the top of a field in which a dog is rounding up sheep to the shouts of the farmer. A track climbs to a peak above Yr Allt. Several earthworks are shown on the map and there seem to be more but all are hard to distinguish beneath the cloak of bracken. Meadow Pipits and a male Reed Bunting are active between clumps of gorse. The hills in the distance are difficult to discern as mist and clouds cover them. There are breaks in the clouds evidenced by the bright patches on far off fields. Groups of Carrion Crows pass over. The rock is Raglan (Pridoli) Formation mudstone from the Silurian. To the north is Painscastle, the earthworks of the castle clear to view. A flock of Starlings flows over the hilltop, swirling around before dropping to the ground. To the south lies the Talgarth gap where the road cuts through the Brecon Beacons to South Wales. Across a narrow road and on up to the Roundabout. Two minibuses of school children are being instructed on safety in the hills. A gaudy, black-headed, male Stonechat is calling to a duller plumaged female, both perched on top of gorse. A chunky piebald pony grazes across the common.
The Roundabout is a clump of Firs, probably Spruces, and Rowan within a six foot high, circular dry-stone wall. The wall was originally erected by the De-Wintons to enclose trees planted to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1887. The family gave the common to the National Trust in 1991. Inside is a semi-circular stone bench some twenty feet across and a stone engraved Painscastle Castellpaen 2000. Over the years the plantation has been attacked by beetles and provided fuel for the First World War Home Guard spotting enemy aeroplanes. The remaining trees were further devastated by an ice storm and the site was replanted with trees provided by the Maesllwch estate and fenced by Rhosgoch YFC in 1977. Nearby is a triangulation point with a National Trust plate, red Welsh dragons and a plate stating it is 414 metres above sea level. To the south, the full range of conical peaks and humps of the Brecon Beacons are shadows on the horizon. Below is the Wye plain in which Brecon lies, its cathedral clearly visible above the town. To the north is the long back of Llandeilo, Rhulen and Llanbedr hills. The westwards track descends to a pool scattered with white Water Crowfoot flowers with pretty yellow centres. Skylarks are everywhere and their song is continuous. The track carries on to a rocky outcrop from which it descends to the edge of the National Trust owned area. To the north-west is Pentre-Jack, a farm that is the site of a deserted mediaeval village. A Red Kite drifts overhead. Ravens play in the wind. The Red Kite has gained height and heads west again. I decide to turn back here. Back up to the Roundabout and over the top. Small gullies run down the hill full of sedges but no water. The wind has risen, silencing most of the Skylarks. Small Heath butterflies flutter without much control I would think in this wind. The school children are returning to the minibuses seemingly passing no attention at all to their surroundings. A 4x4 is crossing the common causing excitement to the sheep, they are expecting food.. A collie is bounding along before the vehicle clearly loving every moment. On the southern edge of the common is Monk’s Pond, sparkling when the sun appears. Route
Tuesday – Anglesey, Ynys Môn – Beaumaris – A village in the south-eastern corner of Anglesey and dominated by Edwards I’s impressive castle. Much of the castle’s walls remain and it gives out an aura of invincibility. The outer wall has fifteen towers. The sea gate is offset from the barbican and main south entrance ensuring any attackers managing to breach it are exposed to the withering fire of archers within. The inner gate has several murder holes which must be passed before getting into the inner ward. Anyone in the outer ward has a tall curtain wall facing them, again manned by archers. As if the walls were not enough of a deterrent, there is a moat which was controlled by a supply of sea water.
After the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282 and his brother Dafydd the following year, Edward consolidated his control of Wales by building a string of impressive strongholds around the coast. Beaumaris was the last, started in 1295. There were plans for five suites of accommodation but building ceased in 1330 and the castle was never finished. It was however garrisoned and was besieged by Owain Glyndŵr in the early 15th century. It was utterlie decayed by 1609 and in 1642, Viscount Bulkeley spent £3000 on repairs to hold it for the king. However, the castle was surrendered in 1646 to Major-General Thomas Mytton. In 1842, the ivy-clad ruins were visited by Princess Victoria for a Royal Eisteddfod. In 1986 the castle was placed on the World Heritage List as a site of outstanding universal value.
It is still possible to walk around most of the outer walls and look down on the luminous green moat where a flotilla of five cygnets has set off on a tour leaving their mother to preen on the far bank. Inside the chapel still has a peaceful quality, painted white with plastered triple blind arcading rising to a ribbed stone vaulted ceiling. Originally the walls would have been brightly painted and a small vestibule was built to the side up stairs so the king could watch masses without entering the chapel. A number of latrines were built into the curtain wall but were in a poor condition when John de Metfield surveyed the castle in 1306.
Dafarn Rhos Camp-site – The camp-site is a little north of the village of Moelefre on the east coast of the island overlooking the Lligwy Bay. We are in a corner beyond which is a large area of hedge, rough meadow full of Cow Parsley then an expanse of reed bed. Whitethroats, Willow and Sedge Warblers are in song. Swallows sweep overhead.
From the camp-site we head down to the beach on Traeth Lligwy, Lligwy Bay. A vast arc of sandy beach is being lapped by a gentle, blue sea. Out in the bay is island, Ynys Dulas on which stands a round tower with a conical roof built in 1821 by James Hughes of Llys Dulas Manor to store food and provide shelter for shipwrecked seamen. A large painting stands above the shoreline. It is by Anthony Garratt, undertaken this year as one of four paintings he has left in situ at impressive island locations. We climb the sandy coastal path to the south. Past Gorse bushes and Red Campion. Beyond are fields with cows lying down in the heat. A pair of Linnets fly off. Thrift is everywhere, often turning brown from their delicate pink as their season ends. The cliffs are built of large cracked blocks of rock turning dark at their base where seaweeds grow. A large arc of rocks across this end of the bay is an old fish weir. This is a large arc of rocks with a deep pool to the land-side, so that fish are trapped by the falling tide. The beach below is rocky with expanses of golden sand. The path turns inland just before headland, Trwyn Gribin, which enclosed a tiny inlet, Porth Forliwyd. The path passes Cae’r Borth, a large house that looks very ordinary from the outside, indeed almost a council estate block, but was designed by the architects Colwyn Foulkes in 1965 for the 8th Lord Boston. A large patch of Pyramidal Orchids grow over a fence on a slope, there are many Common Spotted Orchids all along the cliffs.
The path returns to the cliff tops. Oystercatchers seek molluscs in the sand. Sandwich Terns pass, suddenly turning and diving with a splash after fry. A stone stands on a plinth commemorating the loss of the Royal Charter. On the night of 25th-26th October 1859 the steam clipper Royal Charter was making its way across the Irish Sea towards Liverpool, after a brief stop in Queenstown (now Cobh) in Ireland. It was returning from Melbourne, Australia, with around 375 passengers and 112 crew. Among the passengers were many miners returning from the Australian gold fields. In the hold were boxes full of gold £322,440, which in today’s money would be many tens of millions of pounds. Much more gold was being carried by the passengers themselves, in their luggage or sewn into their clothes. One of the fastest ships at the time, it had left Australia on 25th August, 59 days previously. However, an exceptional storm, considered the worst in the 19th century, hit Anglesey and the rest of Britain. The ship came within sight of Holyhead by early afternoon, at which time the sky had taken on a hazy and unusual look, however, they pressed on towards Liverpool, despite the increasing wind. The ship rounded the corner of Anglesey and headed east along the coast towards Liverpool, fighting against the easterly winds. Soon the 100mph gusts turned to come from the north. This blew The Royal Charter towards the Anglesey coast and then her rudder failed. Anchors were dropped but they too failed and the ship beached at Porth Heleath, just below us. A Maltese seaman, Guże Ruggier (also known as Joe Rodgers) swam out in pounding seas and got a line to the ship and with the help of a human chain of people from Moelfre started bringing the passengers ashore. However, the tide was rising and the ship came off the sandbank it was resting on and dashed against the rocks. Only forty people were rescued. Another 133 ships were lost that night with over 800 souls lost. We turn into Moelfre and head down to the tiny harbour and the pub.
Camp-site – I had hoped for a decent view of the night sky as there is little evidence of light pollution, but in the event the heavens are flooded with light from a brilliant full moon. The sea whispers in the distance and Oystercatchers pipe long into the dawn.