June 2016

Friday – Craswall – Onto Cefn Hill Common. A few clouds are high in the blue sky and the sun is warm but a breeze keeps a cool edge. Bird song is ringing from Mynydd Brîth – Blackbirds, Robins and Willow Warblers. The grass sparkles with dew. Tiny yellow (Tormentil), pink and white flowers – it is annoying that I am sure I have known what these last two flowers are in the past but now cannot recall and can never identify things from field guides! The path is poorly defined so I head off in a north-westerly direction. A row of Hawthorns separate the common from sheep pasture. A few more Hawthorns are scattered around and provide observation posts for Meadow Pipits. A Chaffinch sings nearby. Skylarks sing overhead. A Cuckoo flies down the edge of the conifer plantation and lands at the top of a Beech. He starts to call but soon moves on as a couple of small birds start to approach him. The hill is cut by small stream valleys that are merely damp rather than flowing with water. Flat multi-layered stones emerge from the edge of the little valleys. They are sandstones of the St Maughans Formation laid down in the Devonian, 398 to 416 million years ago.

I cross the common to the summit of Cefn Hill. It is crowned with what looks like misshaped ramparts. To the east is the telephone tower on Vagar Hill walked last week; to the west, the imposing bulk of the Black Mountains. A herd of ponies occupies the summit. There is supposed to be part of the Three Rivers Ride here but it is not obvious. The lumps and pits continue along the ridge, the results of Apseold quarrying. A Black-headed Gull flies over. Skylark song comes from every direction. On along the ridge. The Olchon valley opens up to the west beneath the Black Mountains. The River Monnow runs through it. A boundary marker stone, very like the one on Vagar Hill, stands near the path. I have to turn back and westwards to find the track down towards the valley. Down the hill through a rough meadow cut by tree lined little valleys. Through Abbey Farm yard and on down to the Cwm-y-Canddo brook beside which stands the remains of Craswall Priory.

The Priory of St Mary was founded between 1220 and 1225 for the Order of Grandmont by Walter de Lacy, Lord of Ewyas Harold. The ruins are not maintained so it has an ethereal, ancient feel. Old Yew is growing out of the foot of a wall, although it has been suggested the wall has been built around the Yew which may be more ancient that the buildings. The priory housed three Sedilapriests and ten monks and was subordinate to the Abbey of Grandmont (which was instituted in 1274 at Limosin in Normandy), and existed for more than two hundred years until the mid-15th century when Edward IV seized the property of all “alien” priories. The value of the priory was forty shillings and was granted in 1462 to God’s House College, Cambridge (now Christ’s College), but it does not appear that the grant was ever confirmed. The shaped of the church can be easily Jambdiscerned. An altar of stones still stands in a round-ended apse and in one wall are three sedila, seats of the choir and on the other a slab with three piscina, indentations for water. The bases of two columns stand in the Chapter House, which has rounded carved door jambs. A few pieces of wall define the Cloister. The Warming House, Frater and Western Range are all in a poor state of decay and barely visible. A lot of material was unearthed during a dig by Mr C J Lilwall, of Llydyadyway, Cusop in 1904. This seems to have now gone but photographs by Alfred Watkins taken when 60 members of the Woolhope Club visited reveal arched ribbing, blocks of travertine, some plaster with bright colouring and a stone floor. A Green Woodpecker yaffles, a Chiffchaff calls, a Chaffinch and a Blackcap sing.

Back up onto Cefn Hill Common. Cloud shadows drift across the flanks of the Black Mountains. A Common Buzzard glides over the hills. The ponies have moved on up the hill towards the conifer plantation. Back in Mynydd Brîth, only the slightly mournful song of a Willow Warbler can be heard. Route

Monday – Home – Yesterday I managed one of my occasional but all too frequent ankle-turnings. My left ankle is badly swollen and gradually turning black-blue. So heading out for a walk is not an option. This is annoying because it is a beautiful day although getting hotter every hour. There has been a few patches of Red Mite in the hen house so it gets a spray with disinfectant much to the disgust of Speckled who gets shifted off the nest with loud protests.

A pair of fine breeding plumage Blackbirds are fighting outside the back door. One is on the passage wall whilst the other is on the decking. The latter flies up to the wall every now and again and a brief aerial fight ensues. It then transpires there is a female gathering old leaves from behind one of the flower containers and when she departs with her beak full of leaves, the two males follow.

By the early afternoon it is very warm. The sky is clear apart from wisps of cirrus clouds high, high in the blue. Tiny green Horse Chestnut seed cases that will be conkers in several months time litter the lawn. A Blackbird and Dunnock sing. Over recent weeks Goldfinches have become frequent visitors, often sitting at the top of the ash tree and singing. Into the afternoon the Blackbirds are almost constantly singing. One comes down to the birdbath for a drink. A Robin visits the other birdbath, also to slake his thirst. The weather gets more muggy as the sky starts to cloud over.

Friday – Humber – The second round of the BTO Breeding Bird Survey. The morning is misty and grey but still very warm. There seem to be Blackbirds everywhere – three sit on telephone wires, a couple more flit from one hedgerow to the other, all within a few yards of road. Down the lane towards Steens Bridge. A Skylark is singing loudly overhead despite being way up in the sky. Yellowhammers call, “A little bit of bread and no cheeeese” from across the fields. A single Raven calls from near the brook. There were several here last month and there still may be but only one voice is heard. A Whitethroat clings to a stay-wire of a telegraph pole. Another is singing a little further on. I return to the main lane and head down towards the Humber turning. House Sparrows are noisy in the hedges just before the dog kennels, counting them is impossible as they flit around in every direction and tick off every sighting would clearly result in double or treble counting, so a best guess is made. Down to Hill Top Farm, more Blackbirds. Then back and off to Humber. Down into the cool of the woodland surrounding Humber Brook. An area has been mowed. A lovely old blacksmith forged gate leads to it but there is no indications on the old maps that it was a park or anything other than an area of woodland and a couple of sandpits and quarries. A Chiffchaff calls from the woodland. The village is fairly quiet until the Jackdaws lift off of St Mary’s church roof and fly around calling. Round beside Humber Court on the lane to the farm. Normally I would now cross the fields but the footpath has vanished beneath crops and the alternative I use, around the field edge, is far too uneven to risk with my damaged ankle. So here I stop and return. A Garden Warbler sings explosively from the dense undergrowth and Yews by the churchyard.

Sunday – Home – Finally there is some rain. The garden has been bone-dry and the water-butts are emptying quickly. The rain starts around about five o’clock in the morning and has moved on by ten. It does mean that it is pretty pointless going to the market.

Later in the morning I plant out a couple more courgettes, two of the first planting have failed to take. I also make up a small trough of compost and plant the three remaining cucumber plants into it. It is too small really but in the greenhouse they may produce a few cucumbers. Many taller flowers, shrubs and trees are bending low under the weight of the water that has fallen on them, making getting around the garden a wet affair. It seems like a pair of Blue Tits have been successful in raising a family as there are a number of juveniles flitting around the feeders and trees.

Friday – Home – My ankle is still very sore and makes walking any distance too painful. It has been very wet this week; great grey cumulus clouds sweeping through dropping large amounts of rain. All three water butts are full again – two were empty. The vines along the garden walls have, as usual, started sending out long runners across the paths. I cut them right back and tie back roses that are collapsing under the weight of water on their leaves. A few more dwarf and climbing French beans are planted out, but yet again, some of dwarf beans that were planted out a couple of weeks ago have been misleading about their parentage and are sending out long shoots seeking something to climb. I put in some more bamboo canes for them and will have to get new seed next year. Lettuces can now be cropped on a cut and come again basis. A few peas and broad beans are ready. The potatoes are looking grand, some are beginning to flower, so different to last year’s disappointment. The red onions and garlic are both looking weak and small, there will not be much of a crop from these, but the beetroot is looking very healthy. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are getting tall. They need watching carefully as they will send out side shoots at every opportunity. The sweet peppers are also looking fine. The berry bushes seem to be doing well in fruit cage. Red currants are ripening and it looks like both the black currants and blueberries will crop well. However, the cherry and apricot trees look less successful.


Saturday – Leominster – A Mediaeval Fair is being held today centring on the Priory. The southern side of the minster churchyard houses various stalls selling vaguely mediaeval themed goods and the usual craft fair products. Around the east end, where the old apse stood before the Dissolution, there is a tent village housing mediaeval craft workers and the armouries of the re-enactors. Wood fires add a touch of authenticity to the atmosphere. The re-enactment of local actions take place on Pinsley Meads. More craft stalls are in the nave of the Priory.

Tuesday – Home – In the early hours of the morning clouds are lit by a full moon, the first time that the full moon and solstice have coincided since 1967. This is a “Strawberry Moon” according to the Algonquin tribes of North America as it signalled the strawberry picking season. In Europe this full moon is known as the “Full Rose Moon” or “Honey Moon”. I will not see another full moon at the solstice as the next one is not until 2062! The sun actually puts in an appearance in the early morning but it soon clouds over again.

A drive back from a meeting in Ledbury to drop Nico off near Croft. A deer slips off the road near Bodenham and into the woods lining the River Lugg. As we pass through Bircher the western sky is an enormous rich blue golden raspberry ripple as the sun sinks below the horizon. It is nearly 10 o’clock in the evening. Down Croft Lane and up behind another doe that has no intention of getting off the road until she has found the spot she wants to disappear into the woods. Further on a young rabbit dashes this way and that across the road, undecided which way to escape, causing me to come to a stop before it eventually (a relative term, it is all over in a few seconds) dashes into the long grass.

Sunday – Leominster – Off down the street with Kay to the market. It seems almost certain now that the House Martin nests on the terrace towards the bottom of the street has been abandoned. Over the River Lugg which is flowing rapidly but is very shallow. Everything seems at its summer peak now. The umbellifers are overblown and blousy, the trees in full leaf, the grass rich green. Bird song is much diminished, many will be concentrating on feeding their chicks. The market is much smaller than we expected, maybe the weather forecast of rain moving in from the west has put people off. The East European strawberry pickers have arrived en masse and groups move from stall to stall examining everything, especially electricals. We find a small picnic basket for Kitty.

Home – I clear away brambles and Stinging Nettles – yet again – and yet again have arms covered in scratches and stings. The tomato plants need attention again as more side shoots appear. We are picking strawberries and a very few summer raspberries. Red currants look ready to harvest but we will leave them for a few more days.

Monday – Home – A large flowering shrub (a Jasmine, I think) had slumped a bit by the door of the shed making it difficult to open. Yesterday I suggested it needed sorting but Kay was reluctant as it is about to flower and she has little faith in my pruning. We have different views, I am a “chop it all down type”, Kay is rather more conservative. I would note that there was criticism of me a couple of years ago when I removed the numerous stems of a large Hazel (I called it coppicing) but the tree has regenerated superbly although it needs coppicing again as it is at risk of over-shading our plum tree! Anyway, overnight things got moved on a bit when the trellis over the door of the shed broke and the whole shrub collapsed. One large trunk was broken so I have removed it and then stretched some wires along the shed and tied the rest of the shrub to them. However, it will need a serious prune when it finishes flowering.

I also take the secateurs to the various grape vines and tame them a bit. Along the side wall long branches of vine were climbing into both our and next-door’s trees. Four sacks of cuttings are filled. The Flowering Blackcurrant has also grown rather too large for its own good and we will need to cut that back too.