Thursday – Pwll-y-wrach – Out along Hospital Road from Talgarth is this delightful nature reserve. It is a deep wooded valley, Cwm Pwll-y-wrach through which the River Ennig flows. The Ennig rises on Mynydd Bychan in the Brecon Beacons. A Chiffchaff and Song Thrush are both in constant song. There are high pitched squeaks, probably Long-tailed Tits. A bank beside the path is covered in Common Cow Wheat, which has elongated yellow flowers and long, thin leaves. The trees are of a number of varieties, such as Oak, Ash, Beech, Field Maple and Alder. The red sandy path climbs and falls before coming to a waterfall. The river plunges in two separate streams over a lip of hard rock, Bishops Frome Limestone, into a pool scoured in the softer mudstones of the underlying Raglan Mudstone formation. This is Pwll-y-wrach which means Pool of the Witch, possibly from the practice of plunging suspected witches into pools to test them. If they floated they were condemned as a witch, if they sank, they were found to be innocent, but possibly drowned…
We sit a while watching the water as it crashes into the pool. Sunshine dapples the shade, when it appears. As we return a black and white flash is the best view of a bird I have not seen for many years, a Pied Flycatcher. A weir has been built across the river. The scent of garlic is all pervading. The plants are all dying back and there is a large bed across the river. Hart’s Tongues Ferns are fresh and shiny; Buckler Ferns form large but delicate bowls. There are open areas in the woods, the Wildlife Trust coppices areas on a twenty year cycle. We take the path that runs alongside the river. There is another, much smaller waterfall further down. A steep climb takes us back up to where the car is parked.
Talgarth – We head into this pleasant village. In the main square, in front of the Tower, a horse has gotten itself in a bit of a tizzy, possibly because of a car, and the rider is having a hard time holding on whilst trying to calm it. He finally gets it to gallop on but another car spooks the beast which suddenly halts with the rider just avoiding heading straight over the top. We retreat into Talgarth Mill. As recorded back in February, the mill last milled in 1946 but has been restored and is now producing flour again (which I use regularly now as it is sold locally). The 12 foot overshot wheel was made in Brecon Foundry in the 1800s and has 42 buckets, producing about 6 horsepower. It has been fully restored. We first visit the wheel room where the drive shaft from the waterwheel is turned from a horizontal rotation to a vertical one. On the next floor is the baggery where the flour is packaged for sale. Behind is the stone room where there are two French Burr millstones. Up another floor to the granary where the grain is stored and fed down to the stones below. We are told that unfortunately Welsh organic wheat is no longer available and they are now using Mulika wheat. Outside there is a very pretty garden bounded by the leat on one side which drives the waterwheel and the River Ennig on the other. There are a number of fine examples of ironwork in the garden.
Friday – Builth Wells – Clouds sit on the hill tops and it is raining so my plans of heading into the wilds are changed – just not in the mood for slogging through the mist. Into the car park in Builth Wells to discover the parking ticket machine cannot accept the new one pound coins, which is all I have. So I head out to the road by the Royal Welsh Show Ground where there is a free lay-by. This is Llanelwedd rather that Builth Wells, the two settlements separated by the River Wye. Back towards town in slight drizzle. All has changed. Opposite the entrance to the Show ground stood Builth Wells station, opened in 1864 and closed 98 years later in 1962. Towards the town where there are now car showrooms, petrol stations and a supermarket stood sawmills and a smithy. A long wall across the meadow between the Llanelwedd Arms Hotel and the river still stands. It holds a bank which I assume is flood defences. Sand Martins feed above the river. A Carrion Crow is on large stones be the six arched bridge.
Along the River Wye through Groe Park. In the 19th century, the Groe was an area to graze animals before market. It also served as the town dump and gave access to the Tanning Pool. At the end of the century a boating house and landing stage were built. At the beginning of the 20th century Cllr Abram Davies initiated a scheme to plant an avenue of mainly Horse Chestnut and Lime trees. This was not universally popular and was known by some as “Abram’s Folly”. In 1922 quarry owner Thomas Lant donated the adjoining land to the Groe to be used as a community recreation ground. A sports pavilion, restaurant, bowling green and tennis courts were built. Upon his death in 1945, a further bequest of land extended the park further.
The eroded bank on the far side of the river looks suitable for nest sites for the Sand Martins, although I do not see any approach any of the holes. A stony spit in the middle of the river is covered with reeds, umbellifers and a couple of willows. A Grey Heron stands at the tip of the spit with a number of Mallard resting nearby. A Treecreeper scurries up a trunk of an Alder on the bank. A Common Sandpiper stands on a dead branch on the spit and pipes loudly. Another flies off upstream. The path reaches the confluence of the Irfon and Wye. Rhosferig Bridge crosses the Irfon. It was erected in 1984 to replace the 1839 bridge. The Wye Valley way continues across a sheep meadow. Three huge stones lay by the hedge. A Mistle Thrush rasps in the trees beside the river. A wide “beach” of limestone rocks is almost as wide as the river itself. Woody Nightshade dangles over a rock filled brook. The river rushes through Pen-ddôl Rocks. Over the far side, the disused railway line is squeezed between the river and the main road. Through Wern Wood. A Grey Heron and Common Sandpiper are on rocks out in the river. Both fly off as I pass. A summerhouse sits back from the far bank. Planks cross between rock outcrops over the river, with a large sign saying “Keep Off the Planks”!
The path reaches the Wye Bridge, a box girder construction carrying the Heart of Wales railway line. Back downstream. A Common Sandpiper is preening on rocks near the planks. Small concrete jetties run out into the river, for salmon fishing? Indeed, fish are rising in a pool just down from one jettie. A Green Drake Mayfly, Ephemera danica, lands at my feet. A high pitched screech comes from another Treecreeper seeking insects and grubs in the bark of an Alder. A Chiffchaff calls “wheep wheep” from a branch just above my head. The river has divided either side of a small island. This happened long ago as there is a large Oak on the island along with numerous other trees, including an Elder with a fine crop of creamy Elderflowers. The drizzle resumes. Pink Thrift and yellow Tufted Loosestrife are in flower on the rocks. A pair of Mute Swans with five cygnets have swim up river. Long-tailed Tits search an Oak for food. Swallows sweep over the sheep meadow. A Nuthatch flies into the Oak, calling constantly. Back over Rhosferig Bridge and on along the Irfon. The path ends in a modern estate is mainly bungalows. As the town centre approaches the housing becomes early 20th century and steadily more imposing and expensive. Old Pendre is a late 18th century farmhouse with origins from earlier in that century. Formerly known as “Ystrad” as recorded on 1842 Tithe Map and operated as farm until 1880s. The Old Hall is late Georgian and is thought to have been built as almshouses and used as police station and courthouse before present domestic use. Hafod is an early 19th century house with a large Venetian window in the centre of the first floor. The NatWest Bank is closing in October, will they have any non-city branches soon? Down Market Street. The library is closed and up for sale.
Saturday – Home – We seem to have the village idiot of a Jackdaw fledgling in the garden. A few days ago, Kay drove off one of the cats that infest our garden. It was attacking this fledgling who escaped. Yesterday it was sitting on one of the garden chairs staring at me. It clearly was unsure what to do. Eventually it flopped rather than flew off into the shrubbery. This morning I found it (it has some distinctive white feathers on its rump) with a foot trapped in the wire of the leaf mould cage. I got some gloves from the shed and freed it. As I was doing this, an adult Jackdaw cuffed me on the head. Both flew to the back wall and the adult sat on a post whilst the fledgling clung on nearby. I left them whilst I filled the hens’ water and on returning it flew off onto a branch where I left it, although sharp ticking from a Wren indicated the latter was not happy!
Monday – Leominster – Clouds race across the sky and there is sporadic rain but not the deluge forecast by the Met Office. Everywhere is green and lush. Down to the Millennium Park. Elderflowers are at their peak, creamy plates of flowers covering the trees. Meadow Cranesbills are in flower, a rich blue with pink stamen and white veins. A bumble bee is feeding on the cranesbills; I think it is a Barbut’s Cuckoo Bee, Psithyrus (or Bombus) barbutellus which parasitises the Garden Bumble Bee, Bombus hortorum. It is not a freshly emerged bee as its wing edges are quite tatty. The water level in the river Kenwater is still low. A Grey Squirrel bounds along a fence on the far side of the river. Into Pinsley Mead. Fruit is developing on the pear and plum trees. The bushes on the course of Pinsley Brook and becoming overwhelmed by Elder, brambles, and Stinging Nettles. The rain starts to fall in earnest in the late afternoon and continues throughout the night and on and off during the following day.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A Red Kite circles over the A49 at Wharton. Sunshine is regularly interrupted by clouds. However, the weather is far better than the previous two days when enough rain fell to nearly fill all three of our water butts. A Garden Warbler and Chaffinches are in song near the car park. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. Insects are feeding in Dog Roses, Brambles, Orchids, Red Clover and Meadow Buttercups. The various bees represented are one of the Sweat Bees, Halictus genus, Buff-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus terrestis, Red-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius and one of the Mining bees, Andrena genus. A sawfly is in a Meadow Buttercup; it is probably Arge ustulata, which has no common name, but the insect is covered in pollen so its actual colour is hidden.
Over a dozen Canada Geese are washing and preening by the scrape. A few Mallard are asleep. A Grey Heron stands on a dead branch by the island. A pair of Tufted Duck are nearby. A pair of Mute Swans and six cygnets are across the other side of the lake. Back out to the Alder plantation. A Common Green Shield Bug, Palomena prasin, is on a leaf and nearby is the larva of a Harlequin Ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, an extremely invasive variety that is a threat to our native species. Young Robins fly unsteadily from branch to branch.
Round to the new hide. A male Reed Bunting flies across the strip of meadow between the River Lugg and the lake. The new hide if pretty much opposite the old, which seems slightly odd as it does not give a particularly different view and it is a fair trek round to it. A Water Rail is calling from a small island near the hide. Green dark-winged damsel flits by, a female of the Agrion genus. A Spotted Wolf Spider, Pardosa amentata, suns itself on a Stinging Nettle.
Home – A Cherry Fruit Fly, Rhagoletis cerasi, flutters around the window of my room.
Thursday – Humber – The second round of the British Breeding Bird Survey. It has been raining overnight and the morning is grey and windy. There is more avian activity than I expected – Whitethroats and Yellowhammers in the hedgerows, Skylarks singing overhead and good numbers of Linnets on the wires and flying around. A Red-legged Partridge stands in the lane. The flock of House Sparrows that are always under-counted because they are hidden at the dog kennels and only chirping is heard, are in the road, albeit only nine of them but that is more than usual. Over forty Starlings feed in a house paddock. Things are very quiet around the Humber green burial site but plenty of song rings out from the woods around Humber Brook. The usual flock of Jackdaws are around the church. The stile to the fields that cover the end of my patch is getting more rickety and surrounded by Stinging Nettles that catch me despite my trying to knock them down. The first field is covered in long grass which soaks me to my knees. The bridge stile is also infested with Stinging Nettles. The next field holds a herd of young bullocks that decide to gallop around me. Then one or two attempt half-hearted charges and although I warn them off, they slide alarmingly close as they try to stop. I decide this is too risky, one of these beasts sliding into me could be serious, so I retreat. It looks like this section will be abandoned in future. I do see a single Swallow on my way back to the car.
Friday – Bishops Castle – The drive to Bishops Castle is through frequent showers but as I start to walk the sun is shining brightly. Down the old main street, once called Christ Street, now High Street, towards the church. The houses are from many eras, one is marked as 1510 (although the listing states it is mid to late 17th century), next to one that is late Victorian. On one side of the junction is the Tanhouse barn, on the other the Six Bells Brewery Tap, a 17th century house, now an inn and brewery, and opposite the church of St John the Baptist. Right onto Kerry Lane. Past a couple of large houses in pale grey stone and then modern housing. The road narrows. A side road is named Corricks Rise on one side with an older sign saying Corick’s Rise on the other. The lane rises and the height of the banks each side indicates it is an old route and indeed it is such! Kerry Ridgeway is one of the oldest drovers’ routes out of Wales, last used some 150 years ago. It runs 15 miles from Cider House, a welcome stopping point for drovers, to Bishops Castle and apart from the ends does not drop below an elevation of 1000 feet. A Chiffchaff calls. Buff-tailed and Garden Bumble Bees gather nectar from Bramble flowers. Exposed banks are sandy grey, Bailey Hill Formation sandstone and siltstone laid down in deep seas during the Silurian, 419-423 million years ago. The lane, now the has been having north-west and now turns due west. Jackdaws chack in trees that are rippling in the wind. A sawfly feeds on a Dog Rose. Past Caeglas (which seems to mean “Blue Meadow”), a small farmhouse and outbuildings. The roadside trees are a mixture of Oak, Ash, Sycamore, Elder and Hawthorn. A Robin sings loudly whilst energetically searching an Oak for food. A Chaffinch joins the song. A cat crosses the road followed by an angry Magpie. The lane continues to rise, slightly more steeply now. A Yellowhammer sings in the hedgerow. Whitcot-Style House lays across the fields. A strange name that seems to mean “White Cottage Stile”. Beyond is the great ridge of Long Mynd.
The lane reaches a road running across Aston Hill called Moat Hill. The drovers’ trail continues westwards. The hedgerow is regularly covered by dirty, dense webs draped over the branches, probably created by Ermine moths. The road reaches Bishop’s Moat and Moat Farm. A motte and bailey stand next to the farm. A moat existed around the timber motte. The site was founded by the Bishop of Hereford around 1120, and may have been captured by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in 1233 (the referred to site being named Castell Hitheot, although this siting is disputed). The land falls away to the north giving views across a large flat land then the Corndon hills. To the north-east are the earthworks and hill fort of Roveries Wood. On to the Main Stone lane at a junction of five ways. It starts raining. The Main Stone road bends away and a lane heads towards Cefn Einon. A Skylark sings in the open sky and a Garden Warbler sings whilst skulking in the hedgerow. The lane descends into a valley and starts to rise again. A cloud of flies whirr around horse droppings. An Ash has twelve trunks rising from the bole. A large Carrion Crow lands in a sheep pasture. A lamb comes to investigate but the crow just ignores it. Starlings are noisy as the cross from field to field. A juvenile Pied Wagtail struts along the lane. Garden Chafers, Phyllopertha horticola, with iridescent brown backs and green heads, are numerous. The Shropshire Way crosses the lane at Vron Farm at Reilthtop and I take it eastwards. House Martins visit muddy pools of water in the track. We track passes beside for then drops down a field of long grass that has, fortunately been trampled down a bit. The way now descend beside Henley Wood which cloaks a deep valley. Through Middle Woodbatch Farm onto a track. Strangely, in the 19th century the farm was called Upper Woodbatch, as was the present day Upper Woodbatch which lies to the north near Moat Hill. Over a tiny stream that over the centuries has carved the valley through the wood from its source, a spring on the hillside. The track is now a metalled lane. A mewing Common Buzzard flies over whilst twittering Goldfinches fly the other direction. Over a brook flowing down from Horseshoe Copse. The lane climbs, passing Lower Woodbatch Farm then descends again into Bishops Castle.
The church of St John the Baptist was built in 1860 by T Nicholson of Hereford. The tower was 13th century but only its base remains, the rest being rebuilt in the 17th century. The early church was used as a stronghold in the Civil War and set on fire and destroyed. It was rebuilt in 1648 but was in a poor condition by the mid-19th century. The fine lychgate was erected in 1894 in memory of members of the Griffiths family who lived nearby in The Grange. There are two fonts, one Norman, the other dating from the church’s reconstruction in 1860. In a side chapel are two windows in the Pre-Raphaelite style, one by Henry Holiday. In the nave is a very worn sculptured 17th bust which is said to be of Gervase Needham, a vicar who was ejected from the living during the Civil War for his Royalist sympathies. Nearby is a brass wall plaque commemorating Needham dated 1648. Boards high on the wall carry the Lord’s Prayer and Ten Commandments. Route
Sunday – Leominster – Off to the market. A large mobile digger/excavator is on the railway as workers tamp down the ballast. The digger is moving very slowly so I wonder where it will go before the first train of the day comes through. There are sidings at Leominster and at Wellington gravel pits, but the latter seems a long way at this speed. The River Lugg is still fairly low despite recent rain. A juvenile Grey Wagtail is on the gravel spit. The market is smaller than of late. I purchase a courgette plant to replace one that has died in the garden. Odd because the others I planted out are doing well. Round to the Kenwater where a Mallard is feeding off the bed of the river. The resident Grey Wagtail is giving an aerobatic display as it catches insects over the water. Good numbers of Swifts are chasing over the town.
Monday – Leysters-Bockleton – Into the car park at Leysters, or Laysters, church. Four Goldfinches twitter as they fly between trees outside Church House, a 17th century farmhouse. A stiff wind blows and the sky glares with billowing clouds. House Martins swirl around the east end of the church of St Andrew.
The church was once virtually a chapel to Tenbury. It was appropriated to the Priory of Sheen by Henry V. The walls are of local sandstone rubble and the Nave is 12th century with a roof that is late 14th century – eight bays, with collar-beam trusses, collars with curved braces, wind braces cusped to form quatrefoils, moulded wall plates. The chancel is 13th century. Its roof is probably 17th century, of three bays, with collar-beam trusses; below the easternmost truss of the nave is a tie beam with curved braces. The tower has three storeys. There are three bells, the first and the third from the Worcester foundry, about 1450 inscribed “Sancta Maria ora (pro) nobis” (St Mary pray for us). The middle bell is inscribed “Fecit 1804, J Rudhall, Gloucester”. The font is 12th century, reputedly from Pudleston. The church was partially restored around 1840 and again around 1870 when the organ chamber and south porch were added.
To the south of the church is a mound. A 1935 report states “it was dug open about 40 years ago, (which accounts for its irregular shape) but only ashes, charcoal, and rough stones were found.” It is now considered to be a ringwork and motte castle. There is no evidence that it was ever anything but a timber fortification dating from 12th century. Leysters was probably split into three manors as there are three references in Domesday. Firstly, Laysters in the Wolphy Hundred, Roger of Mussegros holds it. It had been held as two manors by Arketel and Arngrim. There was 1 hide which paid tax, and the value was 4s. By the time of the Domesday Survey it was waste. Secondly, that Laysters was held by Durand of Gloucester and his nephew Walter. There were 2 hides which paid tax, but again it is recorded as waste.The final reference says that Edric holds Laysters from the King [William], who held it himself from King Edward. There were 1½ hides which paid tax. The value had been 15s but it was then waste. There is evidence of a deserted mediaeval village a short way to the east.
A bridleway, a grassy sward in this case, leads to Leysters Lodge farmhouse, which has the storeys to the south and two to the north with a long, sloping roof. There is a fine old barn with a stone section at the end with triangular airholes. Opposite is the old school, a lovely building now a residence. A sheep leads her lambs up the lane. South down the lane. Pound Farm also has a barn with triangular airholes. All the farm buildings have been converted to dwellings. Next to the farm is a large, solid building, the old Vicarage. From the Herefordshire Council Monument record, “During the 18th century and 19th century up to 1858, the livings of Bockleton and Leysters were united; The patrons and clergy were members of the Miller family residing at Bockleton Court. In 1858, the Revd John Miller resigned the living, Leysters and Bockleton were split and Thomas Swinton Hewitt was made vicar of Leysters. There was no vicarage house, but as a result of a glebe exchange, a former farmhouse “The Pound” was acquired. This was a 17th century stone-built house, but it was considered “too small and inconvenient for a clergyman”, so in 1859 Thomas Nicholson designed a sympathetic new wing and made other alterations.” A Chaffinch sings in a large apple tree in the garden of Leysters Cottage. The insensitively enlarged Spring Cottage stands by a tributary to Cheaton Brook. The virtually dry stream, which forms the border between Herefordshire and Worcestershire passes through a stone built culvert beside the house. The lane rises beside a field of broad beans that are in flower. Honeysuckle flowers in the hedgerow from which comes the scratchy song of a Whitethroat. Past Stonehouse Cottage, again enlarged with red brick rather than matching stone. Field Roses are in the hedgerow. The lane enters Cockspur Coppice and crosses Cheaton Brook. The lane reaches the Tenbury-Pudlestone road.
I take the Tenbury direction. The road rises past Cockspur Hall, hidden behind high hedges. This was the original vicarage of the combined Leysters and Bockleton living, occupied by the Revd TE Miller who had the building remodelled in 1842 by Thomas Johnson of Lichfield. South, across the field is Bockleton Court, also much hidden behind hedges. In 1865, the Millers disposed of Bockleton Court and the estate was acquired by Col Richard Prescott-Decie (although Pevsner states it was Arabella Prescott who had the house built) who the following year erected a new house on the site designed by Henry Curzon. Past a house called the Old Workshop. A pair of Common Buzzards launch of the telephone poles. Rosebay Willowherb is coming into flower in the hedgerow. Numerous umbellifers are in flower, some have pink or purple flowers just before opening. The lane enters the Tenbury-Bromyard road. Nearby is NewTown farm with two square oast-houses with pyramidal roofs. I take the Bromyard road. Past Foxhall Cottages, probably former farmworkers’ homes, now smart country residences. The Lodge of Brockleton Hall is a fine mock Tudor building undergoing restoration. Its was designed circa 1890 by Henry Curzon for the Prescott family and built by Webbs of Worcester.
A short lane leads to Bockleton Farm, the farmhouse a early 17th century building with 19th century additions, and St Michael’s church. Under the churchyard lawn on the north side of the church are foundation walls that suggest a Saxon church stood here. Turchil had held it in the reign of Edward the Confessor, and had the right of choosing his lord. After the Conquest the manor passed to the Bishop of Hereford. The overlordship remained with the successive Bishops of Hereford, the manor being held of their manor of Bromyard until 1638 or later. In 1292 it was returned as annexed to Ledbury (Lidebury cum Bocklintone). The manor was tenanted by the de Bockleton family, Richard recorded in 1174. In the 16th and 17th centuries the Barnebys held the manor, followed in the 18th century by the Baldwyns, then the Millers and finally the Prescotts. A mounting block stands beside the small lychgate, probably of the 15th century, which has lovely smithy-made latches. The church was started around 1160. The chancel was added in the mid 13th century, the chapel in 1560 and the tower a few years later. The chancel arcade is modern. Beside it, by the modern pulpit is a 16th century tomb recess (unfortunately filled with modern paraphernalia). A nearby window has a fragment of mediaeval glass depicting the Virgin and Child. The east window is by Kemp, 1905 and has his mark, a small wheatsheaf in the corner of one of the lights. The chapel contains a chest tomb with recumbent effigies of Richard Barneby, who died in 1597, and Mary his wife, who died in 1574. The man is in the plate armour of the period, with his feet resting upon a lion; the lady wears puffed sleeves and a rich fur cloak, and her feet rest on an eagle. Both lie upon a mattress and have their hands joined in the attitude of prayer. On the exposed sides of the tomb are shields divided by demi-figures in high relief. Behind the tomb, on the wall, is the legend, with the figures of five sons on one side and of four daughters on the other. Also here is another chest tomb with the effigy of William Wolstenholme Prescott by Woolner of 1865. A charity board declares “In 1783 Henry Morris by will charged his estate with £5 a year to be distributed annually to the poor, or for their use, on Christmas Day. The legacy is represented by £166 13s. 4d. consols with the official trustees, now producing £4 3s. 4d. yearly. The income is distributed among the poor, each person receiving 2s. 6d.”.
A public bridleway runs around the church past another large field of broad beans. The track was a cobbled road at one time. A Skylark sings overhead. The track become increasingly overgrown, around the edge of a wheat field until at Bockleton Grove it is a Stinging Nettle bed. On past a woodland, Golden Grove. The next section is treacherous, tall grass hiding holes made by horses. Swallows sweep past calling their little buzz of a note. The way, which had briefly improved now turns through another bed of nettles. Across a rough meadow is sheep and out into the Tenbury-Pudleston road again at Grafton. This track has rather reinforced my prejudice against public footpaths in this part of the country!
Grafton Cottages are a 17th century farmhouse, now holiday lets. Black diamond brickwork decorates the chimney stack. Grafton is a large red brick house dated 1870. The lane drops down to the Leysters junction again. Back up the road towards Leysters Lodge farm. A tractor is cutting hedges – not the best time with birds still nesting! Route
Wednesday – Broseley – This small town stands on the south bank of the Ironbridge Gorge. A settlement existed in 1086 and is listed as Bosle in the Domesday Book, although it was known as Burgardeslega in the 1194 Pipe Rolls, closer to its origin, Burgheard’s Leah meaning grove of Burgheard (a Saxon personal name). The town of Broseley consisted of only 27 houses at the beginning of the 17th century and was part of the Shirlett Royal Forest. The area was known for mining and there is evidence that wooden wagonways existed in Broseley in 1605, possibly the oldest railways in Britain. The wagonways were almost certainly constructed for the transport of coal and clay and it was these resources that led to the huge expansion of the town during the Industrial Revolution. Broseley was a centre for ironmaking, pottery and clay pipes; the earliest recorded pipemaker was working in the town in 1590. The Broseley pipes became almost synonymous with pipe-smoking leading to the phrase “Will you take a Broseley?” A number of ironmasters made the town their home. John Wilkinson constructed the world’s first iron boat whilst living in the town, and the plans for the Iron Bridge were drawn up in Broseley. Abraham Darby I, who developed the process of smelting iron using coking coal, is buried here. In the latter half of the 19th century the area suffered a decline, as industries moved elsewhere.
We head down Church Street. Alison House is 19th century and was the home of Frederick Hezekiah Hartshorne, 1815-1878, a surgeon who provided the water supply for the town. Raddle Hall is dated 1665 and was the home of John Randle 1810-1910. a painter of Coalport china and an author and historian. Number 31 is a little Gothic style cottage built in the early 19th century by John Wilkinson, with roof structure of cast iron, for use as an office. Whitehall is early 18th with some Queen Anne characteristics and was the home of John Onions, 1745-1819, called The Father of the Shropshire Iron Trade. The Lawns, with a rainwater head dated 1727, in the 18th century was the home of “Iron Mad” John Wilkinson, the ironmaster, associate of Boulton and Watt. Broseley Hall is mid 18th century and was the residence of Edward Blakeway, 1710-1811, and entrepreneur in the coal, iron and ceramic industries. The hall stands next to All Saints church.
St Leonard’s church was the original church of the village of Broseley. It was completely rebuilt in 1716 but in 1842 was demolished and a new church built, completed in 1845 at a cost of £9,000. The church was re-dedicated as All Saints. It is constructed of stone from Grinshill about 25 miles away. The tower contains eight bells, a full peal cast by Mears of London in 1844 and a Sanctus Bell of 1642 cast by Thomas Clibury of Wellington. There were four pinnacles on the tower but these were found to be unsafe in 1950 and removed. The nave had galleries which were removed in 1980. A window in the north aisle has coloured glass only to the level of the former gallery. There is apparently a fine window by Kempe at the western end but this is completely obscured by the organ, built by Walker of London in 1845. In the chancel, the reredos is probably by Bodley. The east window is by William Warrington and dated 1861. A good number of plaques on the walls are memorials to the ironmasters and other industrialists of the town. One plaque records a bequest of £300 by Mrs Mary Cotton of Devonshire Street, Portland Place, London and is written in legalistic language. Outside, some of the gravestones are made of iron. One commemorates Eustace Beard, a Trowman (owner of a trow, a fishing boat) and is decorated with broken anchors.
We return to the High Street. The town is well appointed with real shops – bakers, greengrocers, butchers and a hardware store, many in 18th century buildings.The Victoria Hall was originally the Gospel Hall built as a meeting house for the Plymouth Brethren in 1867. It later became a billiard hall and then it was the local library. The Square is a pleasant green surrounded by coiffured trees and containing the War Memorial. The library moved to its present location in the now closed school in Bridgnorth Road. The building also contains the council offices which were in the Town Hall until it was demolished in the 1960s.
Benthall Hall – The Hall was built around 1580, on the site of an earlier 12th century medieval manor and manor house. The first known owner was Anfrid de Benetala, who lived here around 1100. The family name changed to Benthall. The house was probably built by Lawrence Benthall. It is built of brick and sandstone, and stands three stories high including attic chambers, with a large projecting wing and two double-storey bow windows. On the outbreak of the Civil War, Colonel Lawrence Benthall fortified his house for the King, and, in March 1643, commanded the garrison in a successful attack on a Parliamentary plundering party led by Colonel Mytton of Wem. For two years or more the King’s garrison at Benthall seems to have been maintained, but in February 1645, the Royalist stronghold of Shrewsbury fell in a surprise night-time attack led by the same Colonel Mytton. The area came under the control of the Parliamentarians. They valued Benthall garrison as a base to command the River Severn and to prevent its use for carrying coal to the Royalists at Bridgnorth and Worcester. Its strategic importance was recognised by the King’s men too, and later in 1645 a Royalist force made an attack on Benthall Hall at daybreak. After an hour’s hard fighting the Royalists were forced to withdraw.
The family sold the house in 1844 but then bought it back several generations later. It is still used by the family but is in the care of the National Trust. Inside, there are panelled rooms and an oak staircase, built in 1618 and magnificently carved with wyverns and leopards, symbols of the Benthall and Cassy families. Over the porch is a small priest’s chamber – the family were staunch Catholics. The rooms contain some fine furniture. The garden is largely the product of two tenants. George Maw (1832–1912), local pottery manufacturer and crocus enthusiast developed the garden from around 1865 onwards. Subsequently, the Victorian era Romantic painter and sculptor Robert Bateman (1842–1922), who was the son of a famous horticulturalist, added the rockeries and terraces of the current garden.
The church at Benthall was also destroyed during the Civil War along with the original Benthall village that lay to the north of the house. The village was rebuilt to the east, nearer the coal-mines. The medieval chapel was dedicated to St Brice, bishop of Tours (d. 444). It was burnt down to the ground, probably in 1645, and wholly demolished. A new church of St Bartholomew was built in or soon after 1667, probably on the medieval chapel’s foundations. It consists of chancel and nave with a west bell turret, with a hammer-beam roof with carved decoration. It is currently undergoing restoration, mainly because of Deathwatch Beetle. It is a fine Restoration church with boxed pews.
Buildwas Abbey – The Abbey of St Mary and St Chad was founded a short distance from the River Severn in 1135 by Roger de Clinton, Bishop of Coventry (1129–1148) as a Savigniac monastery and was inhabited by a small community of monks from Savigny. A charter was issued in 1138 by King Stephen. In 1147, the Savigniac order was absorbed into the Cistercian order. Under Abbot Ranulf (1155-87), the abbey flourished. St Mary’s Abbey, Dublin and Basingwerk in north-east Wales became daughter houses. However, there was a decline in character of the abbey in the 14th century and in April 1342 the abbot was murdered by a monk, Thomas of Tong who was imprisoned but escaped and it is said later petitioned for re-admittance to the order! The abbey was pillaged in 1350 by the Welsh and again in the mid 15th century by Owain Glyndŵr. The abbey was dissolved in 1536 and the site and lands granted to Sir Edward Grey, Lord Powis. The abbey infirmary and abbot’s lodgings were converted into a country house, which it remains today. The ruins are in good order. It is peaceful here and Swallows sweep across the grass; they are nesting in the east range.
Friday – Church Stretton – From the station, over the A49 and into Watling Street. A lane heads of towards Ragleth Hill. It rises through 20th century housing. Past the Donkey Patch. On upwards. Hazler Hill with its communications mast looms to the north-east with Caer Caradoc beyond. Behind is Cardingmill Valley and the hills up to Long Mynd. The housing finishes and a path leads to Gough’s Coppice. The route diverts around the coppice. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is in a garden backing onto the path, which is the Shropshire Way. The path continues to rise past coppiced Hazels and Oak trees. A tree appears to have fallen many years ago but the trunk has thrown at 90° to its base. The path becomes increasingly steep as it enter Ragleth Wood. A Jackdaw rasps continuously overhead. A Wren sings. Blue and Long-tailed Tits move through the tree tops. There are good numbers of Blackbirds in the woods. A pair of noisy Jackdaws are harassing a passing Common Buzzard. A Chiffchaff calls. The path leaves the wood on the ridge of Ragleth Hill. To the east lies Ape Dale with the rise to Flounders Folly on Wenlock Edge. Below in the lea of the hill is Dryhill Farm. Clouds seem to be passing and blue sky emerging but there is an intermittent breeze.
The hill is covered in Bracken with sheep-cropped grass paths. A female Whinchat hops across a path. Folded rock is exposed, Uriconian Group Tuff, an igneous bedrock formed in the Ediacaran Period, 542-635 million years ago by explosive eruptions of magma. Up one of the paths to the summit at 398 metres above sea level. The views are wonderful. North, the rocky Stretton Hills, then distantly The Wrekin. To the west, the Church Stretton valley and Long Mynd. The valley was created in Ediacarian as a major tectonic fault. This area lay close to the Antarctic Circle at around latitude 60°º south of the equator. Northwards beyond the valley is the Shropshire Plain meeting in the haze with the Cheshire Plain. East are the Clee Hills. Ragleth Hill continues to the south blocking the view. Mesolithic stone mace heads have been found on the slopes of Ragleth Hill. Meadow Pipits with beaks full of grubs sit atop the Bracken. Along the ridge. A singing Skylark rises. Below the hill to the east is Ragdon Manor (on land which belonged to Buildwas Abbey until Dissolution). To the south-east is Acton Scott, a farm that has changed little since Victorian days and is now a tourist attraction that was the subject of a television series “The Victorian Farm”. The path rises to the southern tip of the Stretton Hills where a wooden pole marks the summit. The descent is steep. Briaryley Wood lays at foot of the hill. A Yellowhammer sings.
The Shropshire Way heads down towards Little Stretton then doubles back up the valley to a stile. There is actually a much shorter route straight across the Bracken! Up the other side of the valley to a rough meadow. Across the meadow to where the path ends on Henley Lane at Sheep Dip. Down here there is hardly any wind and the sun is hot. The Shropshire Way heads west, I take the lane in the opposite direction towards Ragdon. Buff-tailed Bees and a beetle visit Dog Roses and Honeysuckle. (When I get home I look at the photograph of the beetle. There are actually two and despite extensive online and book searches I have been unable to identify the species.) Hedge Woundwort is in flower. The hedgerow alternates in Hazel and Hawthorn with the occasional rogue Elder. Down here the bedrock is Cheney Longville Formation sandstone and mudstone from the Ordovician, 453-456 million years ago, when the area was shallow sea. Past Ragdon Manor. It is very peaceful here, the wind, Linnets twittering softly and sheep baaing. Past the entrance to Dryhill Farm. A Chiffchaff calls. A path, the Jack Mytton Way, leaves the road and crosses a gap between Hazler and Ragleth Hills through woodland. A Jackdaw flies to a branch just above me and makes a frightful racket. A stream has cut this valley between the hills. The path divides, one running off around Hazler Hill through Plock’s Coppice, mine on down towards Church Stretton. Several Speckled Wood and a Red Admiral butterflies rest on the path. Out of the wood and into a large pasture under Ragleth Wood. Thistles is the field have blobs of Cuckoo Spit, the foamy protection around a froghopper larva.
The track reaches Snatchfield farm. Stacks of rusting poultry cages stand in a demolished unit. Other buildings are abandoned. A track now runs down the hill past the gardens of houses. Past the old Manse and onto the road by The Sandford. Over the A49 and into the town. I have a pint in the Old Coppers Malt House. Mr Copper built his malt house on the corner of the street in 1587. The Crown Inn was built next to it. In 1865 The Hotel was built on the site. It was extended in 1899 and again in 1906 along the Shrewsbury Road, where the façade still records the fact. In 1968 there was a fire when five people, including three young boys from one family died. The hotel was rebuilt but never operated as a hotel again and is now now a Chinese takeaway and hairdresser. Route
Tuesday – Selsey – We are staying in a caravan park, or holiday park as they are known. A rather alien environment for me! Tom and Kitty are with us, they and Kay are off to do kid’s stuff whilst I wander. Getting out of the place is a challenge, over 1500 caravans in complex “roads”. A small stream runs through the site and as I cross it I am rather surprised to see a juvenile Water Rail searching the lawns. A Reed Warbler is in song, “jug jug” in a dense reed bed. A female Mallard flies over. There are numerous noisy Herring Gulls everywhere, as we discovered last night!
The earliest evidence of human habitation in the Selsey area goes back to the stone age. Various stone implements have been found which date to the Palaeolithic period. It is believed that, in the Iron Age, the Atrebates (one of the Belgae tribes) built a settlement at Selsey. According to Bede the name Selsey is derived from the Saxon Seals-ey and can be interpreted as the Isle of Sea Calves (sea calves is an old name for seals). In the Domesday Book Selesie is mentioned under the hundred of Somerley. The manor of Selsey remained in the Bishop of Chichester’s hands until 1561, when it was taken over by the crown. Over the centuries that Selsey has derived an income from the sea, one of the enterprises was smuggling. In the 1720s one Selsey man ran a regular ferry service to France, traveling back and forth every five weeks, and other prominent Selsey figures made considerable fortunes just from part-time work in the free-trade. Selsey was connected to Chichester from 1897 to 1935 by a rail link initially called the Hundred of Manhood and Selsey Tramway and later the West Sussex Railway.
Out of the site. A large building is being erected in the lane outside the site, probably an hotel. Out is stiflingly hot already, the few clouds present earlier have been burned away. On along Paddock Lane past the playing fields of the nearby school. The housing is all post-war. The lane turns around a bowls and tennis club into Crablands. A large 17th century thatched farmhouse stands on the junction. Along to another junction at West Street. Lynton Villas look early 20th century. Along West Street. Large thatched house is set behind high walls and gates. This is The Farthings, the former home of the late Sir Patrick Moore, astronomer and broadcaster. Brian May, guitarist with Queen, had bought the house and was hoping to turn it into a museum but it never materialised and has now been sold again. West Street House is Georgian. A large cottage has flints set in rows. A stone plaque is almost indiscernible, maybe 1822. A flint barn stands opposite Warner Road which leads to the beach past 20th century houses, some very large and of strange mixed styles – one seems to be Art Nouveau with Palladian features!
The sea is blue and flat. I pause on a “coast protection ramp”. A Cormorant stands on a sewage outfall post. A tern flies by. A large container ship sails out into the haze. The Isle of Wight is almost hidden by this haze, just a white cliff visible. A couple fish off the beach, others are out in boats some way away. I head east along the concrete wall. Tangled masses of Weld and Common Mallow grow beside the path. A good number of House Sparrows are in the plants. The houses behind the beach are often very large with extensive gardens. A fishing vessel, crabber maybe, is heading into shore. A number of Black-headed Gulls bob on the ripples off the beach. A large house looks like a mediaeval manor with a watch tower. It is called The Bill and was built in 1907 by M H Baillie Scott in an Arts and Crafts vernacular revival style. The path runs inland past the Oval Field, designated a public green in 2016.
The path rejoins the coastal path after the eastern tip of Selsey Bill and heads north. The path is now tarmac with seats carrying dedications, one to George Horrod, who it records was the founder of the Selsey Tope Club! The Selsey lifeboat station is an extraordinary structure, a pier with four tall pillars holding the buildings. There has been a lifeboat at Selsey since 1861 and this station has been here since 1958. Sadly it looks like it is being demolished. However a man in a RNLI call tells me they no longer need it and directs me to the new lifeboat station where there is a brand new launching tractor. The new lifeboat is due next weekend. Boards recording the rescues undertaken by the lifeboats over the decades are on the wall of the new building. A fair crowd of people are watching the demolition. A couple of dozen boats are moored around the station. The path continues north-easterly past modern housing, some of it rather ugly. People fish by standing in the water and spin for bass I assume. A Spitfire flies pass doing a victory roll, the loops the loop, then returns low over the sea. Now the beach houses are often timber built, many two storeys with some older when bungalows. Many have reasonable designs! A plaque states the view here inspired Eric Coates to compose “Sleepy Lagoon”, the signature tune of Desert Island Discs. The track leads into Park Grove where the beach houses are sometimes quite eccentric; a number are converted railway carriages. Four Sandwich Terns fly past screeching. The track ends and my route carries on along the beach. Large clumps of Sea Cabbage, Bittersweet (a nightshade) and Red Valerian grow in the hot stones. Wood Sage flowers by a groyne. Behind the beach is dense shrubbery of Gorse, willows, Blackthorn and stunted Oaks beside a lake and reed beds. A Chiffchaff calls and a Reed Warbler sings. Common Centaury and Bladder Campion flowers by the path. On the lake are Coot and Mallard with well grown young. Pale blue Hawkers hunt the reed bed. On the stony edge of the grass area is an extraordinary display of a carpet of yellow Bird’s-foot Trefoils and mass of a silver leaved Rose Campion with bright magenta flowers. The Rose Campion is a garden escape. A Linnet family perch high on an Elder. A Sedge Warbler sings nearby. Large clumps of Brambles on the shingle are being visited by Buff-tailed Bumble Bees and a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly. The path enters Pagham Harbour RSPB reserve. A Great Black-backed Gull flies over.
The track reaches the harbour. An Oystercatcher is on the mud and Little Egret stalks the channels. Several Skylarks are singing high overhead. Four Grey Herons are on a broken concrete wall out in the harbour. One chases off Turnstones that invade its territory. Forty Cormorants stand on a bank. A noisy bulk colony is across the lagoons. A Red breasted Merganser is in one lagoon. Terns rest on a spit. Back along a path past Church Norton castle motte. Earthwork remains of an 11th wooden ringwork castle; traces of possible Iron Age occupation were found; Neolithic scrapers and other worked flints were found during excavations. Roman tile and pottery may indicate the site of a villa. This area is considered the most likely site of Cymenshore, the place where ÆÆlle of Sussex – the first King of the South Saxons – came ashore in 477. There was a monastery here founded by Wifrid (c.633 – c.709). He was born a Northumbrian noble, but entered religious life as a teenager and studied at Lindisfarne, at Canterbury, in Gaul, and at Rome. He returned to Northumbria in about 660, and became the abbot of a newly founded monastery at Ripon. In 664 Wilfrid acted as spokesman for the Roman position at the Synod of Whitby, and became famous for his speech advocating that the Roman method for calculating the date of Easter should be adopted. His success prompted the king’s son, Alhfrith, to appoint him Bishop of Northumbria. He founded Selsey Abbey in 681, on an estate near Selsey of 87 hides, given to Wilfrid by Æthelwealh, king of the South Saxons. This became a cathedral, and 25 bishops served between 681 and 1075 after which the Council of London decided the See should move to Chichester. St Wilfrid’s Chapel, previously called St Peter’s, served as Selsey’s parish church from the 13th century until the mid 1860s when it was partially removed to Selsey. When the removed church was re-consecrated in April 1866, due to an oversight it was not consecrated properly to carry out marriages. The omission was not discovered until 1904, by which time 196 marriage services had taken place. These services although canonically correct were not strictly legal. To rectify the situation an Act of Parliament was required. In 1906 an order was made to finally validate all the marriages celebrated between 12 April 1866 and 25 February 1904. The church is now redundant and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The pews were clearly designed to be uncomfortable to keep the congregation awake! There is a monument to John and Agas Lewis, dating from 1537; a vivid carving depicting the gruesome martyrdom of St Agatha and a modern stained glass window which features a beautiful depiction of a local nature reserve, designed by M C Farrar-Bell in 1982. To the right is the entrance is a small enclosed space. Under some chairs, against the wall is a very worn 13th century grave slab.
A lane leads away from Church Norton past the priory. A field of potatoes are in flower. The hamlet of Church Norton consists of a few houses, move seemingly is any age. A footpath follows a track past a barn that is more of a tower. A Whitethroat sings. At Pigeon House Farm there is another tower, called The Clocktower and has been converted into a dwelling. Past Greenlease Farm, a lovely early 19th century farmhouse and 18th century thatched barn in a graveyard of rusting farm equipment. The Spitfire roars over again. A Green Woodpecker flies silently over a wheat field. The path comes to a field of small green and purple plants, lettuces I assume, being sprayed by an automatic vehicle. A sign says “Please Keep to the Footpath. Harmful substances applied to fields”, which is not encouraging as these are food crops!
The track passes through Park Farm and then on until it enters suburbia. Along roads of 20th century housing. Past the Catholic church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Wilfrid. In 1916 an Assistant Priest in the Chichester Parish appears to have been delegated to serve the Catholics of Selsey. He first celebrated Mass in the village in a “suitable room for Mass over the Fisherman’s Joy” public house. In March 1918 the land on which stands the present Church, Hall and Presbytery was purchased and work immediately began on building a Church. The first Mass in the new Church was celebrated in May 1919 with a congregation of 20 people. The present Church was built in 1961 replacing the older Church. Into the High Street. St Peter’s church is an odd construction. As mentioned above, the nave is that of St Wilfrid’s in Church Norton with a Victorian chancel added. The new church was designed by J.P. St Aubyn. The year in which this happened is given variously as 1864, 1865 or 1866. The Norman pillars and arches, Norman font and a bell cast in 1844 by Mears & Co. of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry were incorporated into the new church. The reredos is by Philip Mainwaring Johnston. A statue of St Peter with the keys stands on the porch.
High Street has a good number of flint-knap faced and thatched dwellings. The old Malt House is a large 19th century building which has been much altered and is now a care home. The Methodist Church was the Bible Christian Chapel of 1867. Selsey Town hall was formerly the “Inventive Factory” of Colin Pullinger, 1814-1894, who invented a mass produced Humane Mousetrap.
Wednesday – Selsey – There is very thin, high level cloud but it does nothing to mask the sun and the morning is already hot. However a breeze is strengthening and this cools things down. Medmerry mill is an early 19th century tower mill built of red brick. It once had an external gallery, unique for the district, and ground flour, feed and finally peppercorns until closing in the 1920s. A footpath travels between the holiday park and a hay field. A Dunnock sings briefly and a Swallow and several House Martins sweep across the field. There is a playground with a shed of ducks! The path reaches the beach and turns towards the town. The sea is steely blue. Thrift grows beside the path although its flowering is almost over. The path enters West Street by the Coastguard radio station. Along West Street, where houses are post-WW1, except for a number is older buildings such as Stonehouse. Down Clayton Road towards the sea. Number 31, one of the few houses apparently without a pretentious name, is Arts and Crafts, most others in the street are uninteresting mid to late 20th century. The road winds its way to parallel the sea front. There are a couple of thatched houses.
There is a Chichester bound bus at the junction of Seal Road, but it will leave too early for me to use my bus pass, so I sit on the promenade and watch the sea. There are pleasure fishing boats, yachts and commercial fishing vessels on the sea. One of the latter, the Shear Water II comes close inshore. The bus arrives.
Chichester – The bus arrives at Chichester bus station. There is much less of a breeze here and so it is much warmer. I try to follow the Centurion Way. Past the Police Station and Excise Cottage to the Chichester canal basin. The Chichester Canal is a navigable canal in England. It runs 4½ miles from the sea at Birdham on Chichester Harbour to Chichester through two locks. The canal (originally part of the Portsmouth and Arundel Canal) was opened in 1822 having taken three years to build. When completed the canal could take ships of up to 100 tons. By 1898 only 704 tons of goods were carried and tolls for the year stood at £18.The last recorded commercial traffic was in 1906 when a load of shingle was carried from Chichester Harbour to the basin at Southgate. The canal survived until June 1928 before being formally abandoned. The canal is now undergoing restoration.
However this is not the direction I should be heading so I head to the other side of the station, past the Crown Court and round to Via Ravenna! Across open playing field, past Chichester College. A footpath crosses a dried up up stream and leads back to the Via Ravenna, the previous section being unsuitable for pedestrians. Across another stream with a trickle of water. Past the main entrance to the college and into West Gate. Bishop Luffa is a large school. The track passes the school and continues on the corner track is route of the Chichester to Midhurst railway line. Opened in July 1881, the passenger service ran until July 1935. Freight was carried until November 1951 when a section of the line collapsed and a train crashed into the resulting hole. Part of the line remained open carrying sugar beet and gravel until 1991 An old electricity pole stands bereft of wires, in brambles. A large rough meadow stands to the west of the trail. A Garden Warbler sings. The brambles here are particularly pink. A Comma butterfly flits past. A fledgling flops between bushes looking confused. The trail passes New Cottages, mid 20th century homes for farm workers one presumes. The lane, Newlands Lane, to the cottages passes under a bridge. To the east of the bridge are extensive estates of modern houses. The stanchions of a bridge loom high over the track. A Chiffchaff sings. A cast iron and brick bridge and a new footbridge carries Exeter Road over the track. Yellow Tutsan flowers on the bank.
The track now crosses a boundary between the London Clay Formation formed 34-54 million years ago in the Palaeogene Period when the environment was deep seas and the Lambeth Group of clay, silt and sand, laid down 56-66 million years ago in the same period. Here the environment was swamps, estuaries and deltas. The next bridge over the track is at Brandy Hole Copse. An earthwork runs east-west, late Iron Age probably to define territory. East Broyle Copse lay at the eastern edge of Old Broyle Common. Broyle meant an enclosed park stocked with deer and wild boars. It was designed a royal hunting ground, Brullius Regis in the 13th century. There were gravel pits here in the 18th century, which were used as smuggler’s caves. When the Chichester to Midhurst line was constructed, a barrel of brandy was found in a cave by the bridge here. Alongside the earthwork in Brandy Hole Copse are tank traps placed here in 1940. Off the track and eastwards. A large pond is converted in duckweed and a Moorhen carves a line through it. Up into Brandy Hole Lane which joins Broyle Road just after crossing the course of a Roman road. A short distance down the road is Roussillon Barracks, built in 1803 on ground purchased from the Lord Bishop of Chichester. The barracks were looking connected with the Royal Sussex Regiment. The barracks are now a private residential estate.
The Smuggler’s Stone stands beside the road. A notice board tells the following tale: In the 1740s, a notorious group of smugglers known as the Hawkshurst Gang terrorised the South Coast. Contraband owned by the Hawkhurst Gang and other Chichester smugglers was seized in 1747, and was taken to Poole Customs House for safe-keeping. A group of thirty smugglers from Chichester joined forces with seven members of the Hawkhurst Gang to ride to Poole and reclaim the goods. As there was no resistance put up at the Customs House, the smugglers were able to carry away two tons of tea. After stopping for breakfast at Fordingbridge in Hampshire, they dispersed the goods throughout the southern counties. There was a long search for the smugglers, and eventually, one of them was apprehended in 1748. The Poole Customs House Officer, William Galley, and another witness to the crime, a shoemaker named Daniel Chater from Fordingbridge, were called to give evidence at his trial near Stansted in West Sussex. On their way to the trial, the men were intercepted at Rowlands Castle by the other members of the smuggling gang. Both William Galley and Daniel Chater were tortured and brutally murdered. The public were shocked by the barbarity of their deaths, and when the gang were finally caught they were brought to trial at a special Court held in Chichester’s Guidhall. Seven members of the smuggling gang were tried and sentenced to hang the following day at their trial, which took place on January 16th 1749. As a warning to other smugglers, their bodies were placed at various sites around the major routes to Chichester and the stone was put up here. The stone is now no longer legible, says that Richard Mills, one of the smugglers, died in his prison cell the night before he was executed: “he thereby escaped the punishment which the heinousness of his complicated crimes deserved, and which was the next day most justly inflicted upon his accomplices. As a memorial to posterity and a warning to this and succeeding generations this stone is erected AD1749.”
Across Oaklands Park, Chichester RFC ground. Into Graylingwell Park where another earthwork crosses a vast open space, although it is little more than a slight ridge. Martin’s Farm house is a flint built ruin, apparently awaiting redevelopment. Out of the park and down College Lane. Oaklands Park House was built in the 19th century for built for George Henty of the Westgate Brewery. On the other side of the road is a campus of the University of Chichester. Most of the buildings are modern except University House, is in a lovely pale cream stone. Built as a Church of England training college for male teachers in 1849-50 by J Butler, it has an ecclesiastical style with some French mediaeval influence. An 18th century thatched cottage in flint and brick looks in a bad way. Opposite are the pillars of a blocked gate. The lane ends and right into Oaklands Way. On the south side is Franklin Place, a long, delightful early 19th century terrace.
Into the city centre. The pedestrianised area has a market. The shops are in buildings that cover many periods. Jack Wills shop is in Fernleigh, a cleft-flint faced house from the early 19th century. The church of St Olave was perhaps built shortly before the Conquest under the influence of a Danish settlement, possibly established by Earl Godwin. King Olaf or Olave of Norway was recognised as a saint in the year following his death in 1030, but his cult did not reach this country at once. Early in the 13th century the chancel was rebuilt and enlarged to its present size, and considerable alterations were carried out early in the 14th century. The church was completely restored in 1851. It became a Christian bookshop in the 1950s. Through Crooked “S” Alley. St Martin’s church Into St Martin’s Square. The advowson of St Martin in Hoggelane or the pig market, or St Martin Juxta Castrum, belonged to the crown from 1260 until 1460. It was acquired by the Dean and Chapter of Chichester, who held the patronage until the parish was united. In 1802–3 the church was found to be in a bad state of repair and was rebuilt at a cost of £1,700. The work, however, appears to have been badly executed, almost wholly with lath and plaster, and the building again fell into disrepair in 1906, when it was pulled down. The register books and monuments were removed to the church of St Olave in 1899. St Martin’s House is 17th century timber-framed building, re-fronted with red brick and grey headers in about 1680. The Hospital of the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have been founded in the reign of Henry II by William, dean of Chichester, and was certainly firmly established by 1229, in which year the king licensed the demolition of the poor and dilapidated church of St Peter in the market and the annexation of its only two parishioners to the hospital of St Mary. It became, and still is, almshouses. The almshouses for men were added in 1905. Number 7 is a fine three storey Georgian house.
A couple of pints in the Park pub and then a quick visit to the Priory Park. The Guildhall stands in the park. The building is the chancel of the church of the Grey Friars built around 1270-1280. It has a fine late 13th century east window of lights. It was converted into the City Guildhall in 1541 and is now part of the City Museum. Back down Guildhall Street to catch the bus.
Thursday – Selsey – The sky has clouded over. Through to the High Street. Suddenly there is a thunder and hail storm. I shelter in a doorway. The hail turns to rain then stops. I press on when again quite without warning another hail storm with sizeable lumps of ice falling. Again I shelter in the lea is a building. I find a bus stop and shelter. Plans for a cross country walk are abandoned as thunder crashes again. The storm comes in waves of thunder and rain but seemingly no lightning.
I alight in Market Road in Chichester. St Pancras is a large junction. The Corporation of St Pancras was established in 1689. A late 20th century building is empty but once the Unicorn Inn stood here, a popular venue for RAF personnel during WWII. Opposite is the church of St Pancras, which stood outside the city walls. The present church was built in 1750–51 on the site of an earlier church, partially demolished in 1642. It is constructed of flint with stone dressings in the style of the 15th century. During the Civil War a lightweight leather cannon was mounted on the church tower, firing into Royalist positions in Priory Park. The Royalists surrendered after seven days bombardment. Beyond some modern buildings are the walls. A short distance away are steps up into the walls and I wander along the broad path on the wall. Below is a mid 19th century flint faced former warehouse, now an army cadet hall, in East Row. The wall is interrupted by Priory Road then continues around Priory Park. The large motte of Chichester castle, started in 1067 by Roger de Montgomerie, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury. The Earls of Sussex owned the castle in the period 1154–1176, after which it passed into possession of the Crown. Early in the 13th century, Chichester Castle was used as a court and jail. In 1216, the castle was captured by the French during the First Barons’ War against King John (1199–1216). The castle was recaptured by the English in the spring of 1217. In the same year, Henry III ordered the castle’s destruction. Between 1222 and 1269, Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall, gave the site to the order of Greyfriars for them use as the site of a friary. The walls are now interrupted by North Street. The storm had passed and the sun has broken through the clouds.
Along the North Wall. The walls were started by the Romans around the market town of Noviomagus Reginorum. The settlement was first established as a winter fort for the Second Augustan Legion under Vespasian shortly after the Roman invasion in 43CE. The camp was located in the territory of the friendly Atrebates tribe and was only used for a few years before the army withdrew and the site was developed as a Romano-British civilian settlement. It served as the capital of the Civitas Reginorum, a client kingdom ruled by T. Claudius Cogidubnus. In the 2nd century the town was surrounded by a bank and timber palisade which was later rebuilt in stone. The town was generally improved with much rebuilding, road surfacing and a new sewerage system. By the 380s, Noviomagus appears to have been largely abandoned, perhaps because of Saxon raids along the south coast. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the town was eventually captured towards the close of the 5th century by Ælle of the South Saxons. It was renamed after his son, Cissa, and probably retained as a royal residence. Normans built the cathedral between 1076 and 1108. By the 15th century the walls were in ruin but the threat of French invasion forced them to be repaired. Just before the wall turns south on the western side there is a large tower of flint maintenance, seemingly solid, an old defensive tower? The wall now drops down to the Westgate. A cottage of 1718 stands on its route. A large roundabout stands on the line of the wall. A demolished cottage stood here, the home from 1897-1899 of Eric Gill. Across the road is the site of the West Gate which stood until 1773. Down Avenue de Chartres.
The wall now encloses the Bishop’s Palace Garden which has stood here from when the bishop moved from Selsey to here in 1075. The garden contains some fine specimen trees. The line of the wall turns east. Through an arch in the Bishop’s Palace. Along St Richard’s Walk from the Deanery to the cloisters and the cathedral. As stated above, the cathedral was built between 1076 and 1108 and was consecrated in 1108 under Bishop Ralph de Luffa. An early addition was the Chapel of Saint Pantaleon off the south transept (now the Canons’ Vestry), probably begun just before an 1187 fire which burnt out the cathedral and destroyed much of the town. That fire necessitated a substantial rebuilding, which included refacing the nave and replacing the destroyed wooden ceiling with the present stone vault, possibly by Walter of Coventry. The cathedral was reconsecrated in 1199. In the 13th century, the central tower was completed, the Norman apsidal eastern end rebuilt with a Lady chapel and a row of chapels added on each side of the nave, forming double aisles such as are found on many French cathedrals. The spire was completed about 1402 and a free-standing bell tower constructed to the north of the west end. In 1262, Richard de la Wyche, who was bishop from 1245 to 1253, was canonised as St Richard of Chichester. His shrine made the cathedral a place of pilgrimage. The shrine was ordered to be destroyed in 1538 during the first stages of the English Reformation. In 1642 the cathedral came under siege by Parliamentary troops. The south-west tower of the façade collapsed in 1210 and was rebuilt. The north-west tower collapsed in 1635 and was not rebuilt until 1901. The masonry spire was built in the 14th century and was repaired in the 17th century by Sir Christopher Wren. It survived a lightning strike in 1721 and stood for 450 years before it fell in on itself on 21st February 1861. I wander around the building, which like most cathedrals is busy and noisy. An art exhibition displays the work of Frieda Hughes who created a painting every day for 400 days which hang in a single block. There are a number of glorious windows, including a masterpiece by Marc Chagall. A John Piper tapestry hangs across the space behind the high altar. The remains of a Roman mosaic pavement, can be viewed through a glass window. The treasury contains plate from all over Sussex. It is sad it has to be collected here instead of being in the original churches (where of course, it would be stolen in the blink of an eye).
Back to the cloisters. A Peregrine Falcon is standing on a pinnacle beside the main spire. Peregrines have bred here on the tower for 17 years. Out into South Street. The South Gate was also demolished in 1773 and there is no sign of the walls here. Along Theatre Lane to a car park where the south wall starts again. Here there is another flint built mounds but this one has a look out tower reconstructed on to of it. These are in fact Roman bastions which were double the height of the remains. They housed ballistae, large crossbows which could for iron bolts five hundred metres. The reconstruction is Victorian. The wall disappears again into Friary Close. The wall is lost again as Market Road curves round to St Pancras where I started. Through the shopping centre to the Park Tavern again for a couple of pints. Back down towards St Pancras. The heat is building again although there is a breeze. Down The Hornet where the shops become more specialised or cheaper. Then housing takes over, mainly modern. The old Manse is Victorian. Into Whyke Road by the Four Chestnuts, a pub dated 1878. Into Bognor Road. One side are boring inter-war semis but opposite are mid 19th century flint cobbled houses in short terraces. In Cleveland Street is St George’s church, High Anglican. St George’s Church was built in 1901 in Rumboldswyke (now Whyke) as a successor to the Norman church of St Mary’s. The arrival of the railway in 1846 led to a rapid growth in the population of Rumboldswyke. Thomas Peel Brandram, rector of Rumboldswyke, had plans drawn up for a new church to accommodate the rapidly growing parish. By 1902, under the direction of a new Rector, Charles Farthing, St George’s Church had been built and paid for, mainly with small donations from local people. Around the walls are the Twelve Stations of the Cross. Twin sets of organ pipes are high above each side of the chancel. This is a Nicholson organ installed in 2013. By the railway crossing is a large house that was clearly once a pub. Beyond the crossing is another former pub now a Mexican bar. The church of St Mary has a nave and chancel dating to the 11th century. It was refenestrated and given some new liturgical fittings such as piscinas in the early 13th century. The church was very little changed until 1866, when a north aisle was added. An organ chamber was added in 1890. It was restored again in the mid 20th century, but was made redundant in the late 1970s and is now offices. The graveyard is large but getting overgrown. Old graves by the eastern end are becoming hidden in a nettle bed. Graves near the entrance are of a churchwarden, died 1937 and an assistant bishop of Chichester and provost of Lancing, also laid to rest in 1937. A small cottage from the 18th century, the Old Priest House, stands outside between the footpath and road. Opposite, Trimmers House has an odd pink tower with stepped crenellations.
Across the other side of the A27 is a vast Gothic building. The Carmel of Hoogstraet was established in Holland in 1678 for young English women who wished to follow a religious vocation but were forbidden from doing so in England by law. Although Catholics had effectively been emancipated by the early 19th Century, it was not until 1870 that the Carmel was able to find a permanent home in England. A suitable site was here and purchased for £1,300. Catholic architect Charles Alban Buckler was appointed for the job and building began in August 1870. In 1930 a legacy allowed the building of a new church, which was done under direction of Sebastian Pugin-Pewell, grandson of the Augustus Pugin. In December 1994 the last sisters having left, the convent was sold for £650,000 to a recruitment agency who used it to house EU migrant workers on neighbouring farms. This carried on until 2007 when the workers were moved elsewhere. In 2009 a deliberately started fire tore through the chapel leaving it roofless and derelict. The convent is now being completely refurbished as a Free School.
Friday – Selsey – There is a strong wind this morning and a large amount of cloud. West out of the holiday park. A track runs alongside with grasses with Common Mallows, Common Fleabane and various umbellifers. Next to the strip of rough grass is a water channel with very little water. A Shelduck drops down behind the sea defence. Skylarks sing. A bridge crosses the water channel. To the west are mown hay fields. The other side of the bridge is the RSPB reserve, Medmerry. Linnets sit on a fence. The sea defence is cloaked in flowers, Oxeye Daisies, Field Scabious, Tufted Vetch, Hawkweed Ox-tongue, Bristly Ox-tongue, Yarrow, Lady’s Bedstraw and Selfheal. Carrion Crows, Swallows, Oystercatchers and various species of gull fly by. A Burnett moth whirrs through the flowers. A Red Warbler sings from a bed of Bulrushes. The track rises into the bank. Beyond is an area of mud a sea inlet. Carrion Crows, Shelduck, Black-headed Gulls and half a dozen Avocets, several juveniles, are on the mud. From the bank, the Isle of Wight is much clearer today. Great Ham Farm stands across the fields. Little Egrets stand in the channel that runs to the sea. A Sedge Warbler sings from the reed bed area. A Meadow Brown butterfly is buffeted by the wind. The track runs for some way back along the sea defence then turns down to Toe Point. Along the beach to the holiday site. The beach is pebbles, strange the holiday site is called West Sand...
Monday – Mortimer Forest – The sun is shining despite a considerable amount of high cloud. Tutsan and Enchanter’s Nightshade are in flower by the car park. A Blackbird sings and various discuss twitter. Buff-tailed Bumble Bees; several Hoverflies including Pellucid Flies, Volucella pellucens and the Dead Head Fly, Myathropa Florea; Mining bees, Colletes succinctus and a Beautiful Demoiselle formerly Agrion virgo now preferably called Calopteryx virgo buzz around bramble flowers. On a leaf is a Spotted Longhorn Beetle, Rutpela maculata, formerly known as Strangalia maculata. A Chiffchaff calls. Forestry operations are underway in the woods, crashing, clanking and cracking of wood. A Chaffinch searches for food in the dark, dense conifers whilst a Chiffchaff wheeps despite large insect wings protruding from its beak. Towards the enclosure, felling has taken place with logs piled in the plantation. Some trees have plastic tape around them, I assume they are to be retained. Trackways have been cleared through the trees. Out into the enclosure. Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat are all in song. Good numbers of Speckled Wood butterflies are on the wing, as are biting Horse Flies. Up to Climbing Jack Common. A Willow Tit buzzes. Out on the common, Meadow Brown and Ringlet butterflies floor across the dense Bracken. Tiny white stars of Heath Bedstraw lie under the bracken. Silver Birches and conifers that were seedlings not so many year sago are now 15 feet or higher. Foxgloves are in flower. The rasp of grasshoppers comes from the long grasses. One of the dandelion-like flowers, possibly Common Catsear has minute beetles in the yellow flower-heads.
The view is less hazy than I would have expected. The cone is Skirrid stands at the end of the Black Mountains. The Malverns are a dark mass on the horizon. Singing Whitethroats seem to be everywhere. Down the track from High Vinnalls. A Common Spotted Orchid flowers beside the track. Round towards the Deer Park. There are many chewed up patches of ground where heavy logging machinery had been. A pair of Grey Wagtails fly up from one such dried out area. A previously cleared area, back in 2010 is already colonised by Elder, Hawthorn and Birch. The tree rings in logs towards the top of the hill indicate they are some 25 years old. Further down the trees trunks here are over 60 years old. The short cut down to the bottom of the Deer Park had been narrow and overgrown, it is now a broad ridged track created by machinery. The track around to the pond is lined with bracken. Silver-washed Fritillaries rest on the leaves including a mating pair which fly off still locked together. The pond still had some water over which are clouds of insects. A dragonfly, Southern Hawker, Aeshna cyanea, hunts over the water. Another Beautiful Demoiselle moves through the reeds. Water Boatmen are on the surface. Common Water Crowfoot is in flower. On the edge is a Flowering Rush with an umbrel of pink flowers. A panting black Labrador appears and flops into the water.
Along the dry dusty track. The cloud is thickening. Yellow Creeping Cinquefoil is frequent beside the track. Further along is an exquisite white Butterfly Orchid, a first for me. Wood Sage is not quite in flower yet.
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Much needed rain fell during the night and showers of drizzle continue. Everywhere is wet and refreshed. A Chiffchaff calls. Dark green sloes have formed on the Blackthorn. Dog Roses have faded and hips are emerging behind the decaying brown petals. Hedge Bedstraw and Centaury are the only flowers along much of the track. Further on bristly heads are appearing on Teasels and solitary pink Common Mallows flower almost inside he base of the hedge. Near the boat compound are a few Meadowsweet. Field Buttercups are finishing on the meadow but the yellow theme continues with Bird’s foot Trefoils and similarly, Selfheal is replacing the Red Clover. The long stalks of Agrimony are coming into flower.
Harvestman spiders scurry away as I open the hide window. The Canada Geese numbers are rising again, at least 100 are in immediate sight. Mercifully they are relatively quiet. One is probably a GreylagxCanada Goose with brown breast, neck and head. At least a dozen Mallard are around the scrape with more across the lake where a few Tufted Duck are preening. A Reed Warbler sings in the reeds in front of the hide. Purple Loosestrife flowers along the edge of the water. The bank is covered in Oxeye Daisies and St John’s Wort. The drake Mallard have moulted into eclipse. A moth is against the frame of the hide window. I think it is Dark Arches, Apamea monoglypha. A pair of Reed Warblers appear and chase through the reed bed. Another flotilla of over 60 Canada Geese drift into view on the far side. Now there are two singing Reed Warblers. Back through the Lady Close orchards where the apples are developing nicely.
Friday – Cwmbrân – Off the train at Cwmbrân station. Cwmbrân is a new town, comprising the villages of Old Cwmbrân, Pontnewydd, Upper Cwmbrân, Croesyceiliog, Llantarnam and Llanyrafon which was established in 1949 to provide new employment opportunities in the south eastern portion of the South Wales Coalfield. There is evidence that Neolithic and Bronze Age people used the area, with the Iron Age Silures tribe also occupying the region before being subdued by the Roman legions based at nearby Usk and Caerleon. The name of the town derives from the Welsh Cwm Brân, meaning “valley of the river Brân”. This was the name of a village located in the valley, which had grown up around the tinplate works of the Cwmbrân Iron Company. Brân means “crow”. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Cwmbrân was the site of heavy industrial development.
Down a path to the Central Recreation Fields. A buddleia is in flower but the only insect is a solitary ladybird. The Afon Lwyd flows along the eastern edge is the ground. Afon Lwyd means “grey river”, but before industry came to the area and turned the water grey it was called Torfaen, meaning “rock breaker” because of the fast flow. It is now clear and sparkling again. The path runs through parkland of rhododendrons, Yews, Maples, Walnuts and many other shrubs and trees. There are some worryingly dark clouds heading in from the west. A path leaves the main park track and continues beside the river.
The path comes to the main road to Newport. Over the bridge and into Llanyrafon. A high wall conceals Llanyrafon Manor, one of the very few buildings around here of any age. There is evidence of a medieval, wooden, cruck-framed building on the site before the construction of the stone building that we see today and this may have served as food storage for the nearby Llantarnam Abbey. the land was sold on and the first evidence of an owner dates to 1616 when a gentleman named Walter Griffiths, an attorney purchased the “great mansion” with 1000 acres. At this time, only the far left side of the current building existed, forming a stone “two-up, two-down” building. The Manor was added was most likely added to between 1590 and 1673, including what is now the Entrance Hall, the café, the Great Chamber and the attics and this now forms the central bulk of the House. Around 1670, a grand Porch was added to the front of the Manor. In 1886 Florence Griffiths, the last of the Griffiths line, died in Gloucestershire. In 1892, the estate, its buildings and the Mill, along with 235 acres of land were sold to Richard Laybourne for £3,000. He then granted the estate to his daughter Edith and her husband Alfred Massey Pilliner on their wedding day. They lived at the Manor briefly before moving into Llanyrafon House just 500 yards away. At this time, Mr Pilliner split the entire Manor into sections for labourer accommodation. The Farm was used during both World Wars as a base of food production. During the First World War, the site hosted three prisoners of war, two Austrians named Andrew and Karl and one Pole named Paul. During WWII the land was largely farmed by the Women’s Land Army. During the 1950s the Manor was recognised as a grade II* listed building and was compulsorily purchased by the Cwmbran Development Corporation despite being occupied by the Willis family until the mid-1970s. It is now a Heritage Centre with rooms laid out mainly in the Victorian style.
A footpath follows the road southwards. To the west is a golf course, to the east a 20th century housing. Into a wood beside the river. An overflow from a boating lake pours into the river. The path reaches a stile beyond which is a field of long wet grass. The public footpath is supposed to be next to the road and this path is not. So rather than getting wet I decide to retrace my steps to the road and use the pavement of the opposite side. At Crown Roundabout a road leads to Llantarnam. A fine cast iron bridge crosses the river. Another cast iron bridge lies to the south. Over the railway. Over the other side is a Burton Biscuit factory. Opposite is North Lodge, the lodge of the Llantarnam Abbey estate. A lane leads alongside the river into the estate.
The lane comes to the abbey. Around 1179, Hywel, Lord of Caerleon gave a gift of money and land to found the Cistercian Abbey at Llantarnam as a daughter house of Strata Florida Abbey, Ceredigion. It was to remain active for over three hundred and fifty years before being suppressed on 27th August 1536. Later that century, the abbey’s vast tracts of lands, including the immediate abbey environs, were sold to William Morgan of Pentrebach. His son, Sir Edward Morgan, 1st Baronet was a noted Royalist during the Civil War. The second baronet, also Edward, sheltered the Jesuit priest who was executed at Usk in 1679, Saint David Lewis. The house was only intermittently occupied from then until it came into the hands of Reginald Blewitt. He rebuilt it in Tudor Revival style to the designs of Thomas Henry Wyatt in 1834-36. The property was sold the abbey in 1895 to Sir Clifford Cory, colliery owner, shipping magnate and Liberal politician, who lived there until his death in 1941. It then became a depot for the American Army during the Second World War. In 1946 it became again a monastic institution, in the hands of the Sisters of St Joseph of Annecy.A small cemetery has rows of small, identical slate gravestones. The abbey is not open for visitors although there is supposed to be a chapel that is, but there are no signs to indicate where it may be.
I decide to press on using an alternative route away from the estate. A stone bridge crosses Dulus Brook. A Robin sings. The lane leaves the estate under an arch of a wonderful lodge, Magna Porta, built in the Tudor in 1836, by T.H. Wyatt, for R.J. Blewitt. Along Newport Road. A large estate is being built of bog standard houses. A lane leads past the Three Blackbirds Inn, sadly too early to stop. Past a large care home that has a semi-circular room at the front, clearly the only remaining part of an older building, probably Oak Villa. Houses line the lane, mainly 1930s. Behind these houses are modern housing estates. A bridge crosses the busy A4051, which uses the route of the Monmouthshire Eastern Valleys railway line, which closed in 1963. A Jay screeches in the trees. The road, Pentre Lane now passes through farmland. Off along the tow-path of the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. The canal terminates here. The edge is the canal is covered with Hogweed, Meadowsweet, Stinging Nettles and thistles. A bridge at Cidermill still had its Great Western Railway diamond, cast iron weight-limit sign. Beyond is a deep lock around which House Sparrows chatter. A duck Mallard leads her five ducklings away. Another mother Mallard appears to have just two ducklings. The canal has been abandoned for boating since 1962. The next lock had been partially filled and would be inoperable. A patch of Yellow Waterlilies have small yellow flowers. Yet another Mallard leads her two much larger ducklings through the duckweed whilst a pair of Moorhens feed three tiny chicks. Up to Wellington Bridge where there is a flight of four deep locks with a winding bay and possibly an old yard between them. A large barn houses the canal restoration team. The equipment on the locks is new. The next locks are missing, replaced by concrete barriers. The canal then passes under Ty-coch Lane through two concrete culverts. Restoration here is going to be very costly.
Beyond the lane is another large bed of waterlilies. There are numerous families is Moorhens of all ages. Mallard rest on a green.A pair of feral duck stand on a plank in the water. The waterlilies continue to what should be the next lock but it has been converted into a series of waterfalls. A Grey Wagtail struts along the lip of one step. Farmyard geese rest on the bank at the top of the waterfall, moulting so the grass is scattered with white feathers. This area is called Two Locks. Between the locks is Llandowlais Street. Beside the canal is the Ebenezer Baptist Chapel of 1860, built on land donated by the Cocker family using bricks from the Hanson Brick Works Company. Before the Second World War, concerts were held here by the chapel choir with many international soloists appearing. The second lock is also stepped into waterfalls. A crying baby Moorhen has got itself trapped in an eddy under the top step. I climb down onto the step and gently ease it away across the canal. It manages to find a shallow spot to rest, however there is no sign of its parents. The canal now is culverted under roads. A park has a quite extraordinary pyramidal climbing frame. The canal reappears. A shoal of fish are feeding off the surface but the water is too murky to see them. This is now Old Cwmbrân. Up to Wesley Street (formerly Rose Terrace). Our Lady of the Angels church was originally an “Iron church” built in 1867. It was rebuilt in stone in 1882 to accommodate a larger congregation. Gothic in style it is red sand-stone and was designed by Paul Andre of Horsham and built by William Jones and Son, Newport. Unsightly additions from the 1970s surround it. Another disused hall is dated 1878 and was the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. The Mount Pleasant pub is probably of a similar date. A little further on is St Gabriel’s church designed by F.R.Kempson. The chancel with south chapel was built in 1907-8, the first two bays of the nave in 1914-15, and the remaining two in the 1950s with the development of the New Town. There was a smaller, earlier church on the site. The church is locked.
Down Commercial Street. The Elim Independent Chapel is 1844 with an 1872 extension. The Halfway Hotel is late Victorian. There is a mobile butcher in the car park. Over the A4051 again. Into Victoria Street. A cast iron framework clock tower erected in 1936 stands in front of The Council House. Back down up the road and down to Southville. A path leads to the concrete brutalist town centre built between the mid 1960s to 1977. There is a sunken garden which is planted up quite nicely with statues but the pond is dry. The shops are the usual chains with just a few exceptions. In “Menkind”, toys for the boys shop, an assistant on a Segway, operating a tiny drone whilst another is driving a model car up and down the window! However, cynicism must be put aside as round the corner are stalls mainly of local community groups and producers. Out of the centre and back across the Newport road at Forge Hammer. Much of the housing near the centre looks like standard council housing, but often of the lowest standard. Some innovative estates have weird pressed steel walls and mini towers. Into Chapel Street. Here the houses are older. The chapel is the Hope Methodist Chapel, built 1866 and still in operation. This is Pontnewydd. A row of shops, the Oddfellows Arms, an odd little pub and then the main road passing under a bridge. On the other side is the Trinity Presbyterian Chapel of 1905, rebuilt in 1934 and recently rendered and modernised again. The houses here are like many others seen today, probably late Victorian. Back along St David’s Road to the station. Route