Sunday – Leominster – We head for the market. The water level in the River Lugg is falling steadily, the lack of rain drying out the land. Wrens, Robins, Blackbirds and a Blackcap are in song along the river. A large bower of wild rose is in flower. The market is fair sized although it is becoming more and more compressed as Brightwells’ take up more space to store vehicles for auction. I buy some purple sprouting broccoli seedlings as mine have failed again. Kay buys various plants for the borders and pots. The sidewalk along Mill Street has been dug out and the hedges cut back. I had not realised how wide the path was, it has always been overgrown. It may be the wrong time of year to cut the hedges but it has certainly made walking along the street easier. However, Paradise Walk is getting very overgrown. Outside the churchyard, the road is pink with red Horse Chestnut flowers.
Home – Although there are are dark clouds overhead, little rain is forecast, so I water the potatoes. They are then earthed up. The soil is badly compacted and digs up in large lumps. The leeks are all removed. Most have gone over and the stems are woody, they should have been harvested some time ago. After weeding the patch, bamboo canes are used to make bean pole supports and Runner and French beans transplanted. The dwarf French beans have been disappointing, very few germinated. Yesterday, lablab beans were planted out. The leeks and callaloo seedlings in the greenhouse were transplanted into troughs to grow on before planting out. I harvested some spinach last evening, it has bolted unfortunately. There is a short burst of rain at midday but it does not last for long.
Thursday – Home – The skies are grey but the forecast claims it will not rain until tomorrow. Several areas of the vegetable beds need weeding. The two small beds that are used for squashes and courgettes are cleared first. As usual, Couch Grass has spread across them and there is much digging done to try and remove the long rhizomes that head off in every direction. Then three small pits are dug and filled with manure I picked up from a small holding on the Ludlow Road. In go four courgette plants and two squashes, a Chicago Hubbard and a “Jack Be Little”. In another bed, I plant out the purple sprouting broccoli I purchased from the market on Sunday.
Friday – Leominster – The sky is overcast we have weather warnings regarding Storm Miguel. Through Corn Square where the Friday market is set up. There seems to be fewer stalls than ever this week. Along Drapers Lane. Work is underway on the former bank, although we have not seen any planning application approval for this listed building. Into Broad Street. A former estate agents has been several businesses since it closed several years ago. It now appears to be a dog grooming parlour. Most of the shops in Broad Street are currently occupied. Swifts soar high the air. A House Martin darts out from under an eave but there appears to be no nest there. Over Kenwater Bridge, the river level is low. Patches of flowering Water Crowsfoot lay on the surface. It is worrying to see buddleia growing out of the pavement by several houses. Work has commenced on converting The Hop Pole pub into apartments and new houses being built along Mill Street. It is sad to see Walter Jones, the garden machinery firm, has closed down.
Into the old Ludlow Road. The new bridge crosses River Lugg whose water level is also low. More Water Crowsfoot flowers and long streamers of leaves waves gently in the current. A pair of Goldfinches feed beside the road. Potatoes grow in the field opposite Redding Hall. A Greenfinch calls from roadside bush. Purple and yellow Woody Nightshade creeps along the edge of the footpath. A public footpath leads off across the fields. It was cleared not that long ago and a brand new sign put in but it is already badly overgrown. Worryingly, this is a diversion route for the Herefordshire Trail and seems unused. Spital Bridge crosses a small stream. It is in the hamlet of Nordan. Into Croft Lane. To the north is Nordan Hall. I am told this is the site of the original hospital for the Leominster priory. It was also home to Adam Pengelly who was fined in 2010 for offering to heal sick humans and animals by sending healing energy through his hands into a patient’s body, either hands-on or using distance healing. Hogweed flowers by the roadside, the outer petals of each bract clearly larger than the inner ones. The weather is looking more threatening and my leg is getting more painful so I turn back. Rain starts before I reach home.
Sunday – Leominster – The rain has passed. There is still plenty of cloud but also a decent amount of blue sky. A Chiffchaff continues to sing in the riverside woodlands, other birds twitter and chatter. The recent rain has done little to raise the level of water in the River Lugg. Easters Meadow is slowly being covered in towering clumps of Dock. Piles of sawn logs sitting in baskets have sprouted, even short pieces have several shoots rising out of them. It is an example of how tenacious life can be. The market is busy although not particularly large. Around Paradise Walk to the accompaniment of the bells of the minster.
Home – Another area is weeded, they grow so much faster than the vegetables. The compost is then transferred. The “almost done” bin is moved to the now empty bin beside it. The contents of the three plastic bins are then transferred in the large wooden bin just vacated. The stuff is a mixture of partially rotted and still green material. Some is rather dry and there are large ant nests in it with hundreds of cream eggs. I leave the top of the bins open as more rain is expected. The tomatoes in the greenhouse have the shoots pinched out and some organic feed sprinkled over the ground.
Monday – Humber – The second Breeding Bird survey of the year. It is relatively cold. Banks of fog lie down the river valleys. The lane towards Steens Bridge is flooded in one place, there was clearly quite a lot of rain overnight. The usual species are noted, although Whitethroats seem in short supply, just a few “ticks” from within the roadside hedges. Down the Roman road. A couple of fledgling Great Spotted Woodpeckers are on a conifer branch outside the dog kennels. At Hill Top farm a family of Great Tits are at the base of a tree, the youngsters demanding food. Bird song rings out in the woods surrounding Humber Brook. Beyond Humber, the footpath is impossible for me. The stile is now in a thicket of Stinging Nettles and a grain crop covers the field.
Home – More weeding, then cucumbers are planted out under a cloche. Young Nuthatches are making a ticking sound in the Hazel tree near the compost bins. Spring cabbage and winter lettuce are sown. The few dwarf French beans that germinated are also planted.
There have been bees buzzing around the passageway between our house and the old stables, now used a part of the museum. An apiarist has told the museum they are Tree Bees, Bombus hypnorum, a recent addition to the UK’s fauna. They have a natural distribution in mainland Europe, through Asia and up to the Arctic Circle and were first found in the UK in 2001 in Wiltshire. There are two colonies in the stables and we are told they will not cause any problems.
Leominster – Heavy rain falls in the afternoon. Walking down Dishley Street. There is a loud crack and a large branch from what I think is a False Acacia tree breaks. It is across the pavement but not the road. I wander round to the Council offices to report it, assuming they will have a relevant telephone number for whoever is responsible for removal.
Wednesday – Leominster – It has been raining for some 36 hours now with barely a break. I cross the Grange. Wood Pigeons coo and a Robin sings. Through the churchyard as the bells toll six o’clock. A Wren sings. A broken pigeon’s egg lies in the grass. Down the narrow street, The Priory, to Priory Bridge. The water level in the Kenwater has risen although not as much as I would have expected given the considerable volume of rain. Back to the Grange. A group of people are exercising in the playground using elasticated ropes, dumbbells etc. they have brought with them. Along Pinsley Road, past the White Lion, down the alley way and over railway to Butts Bridge. Like the Kenwater, the water level in the Lugg is also less than I had expected, although it has risen slightly since Sunday. I had intended to go further but my knee, which has not been working properly for several weeks now, is simply too painful, so I head home.
Later I pass the False Acacia in Dishley Street. Two branches have been removed leaving the tree rather spindly.
Sunday – Leominster – Across the car park and through the Grange. I am not going my usual way to the market because my leg is still in a very poor condition and I do not want to try and walk across rough ground. There are eight Blackbirds on the Grange this morning searching for worms and other invertebrates. Robins, Dunnocks and more Blackbirds are in song in the trees. A single bell calls the faithful to prayer. A Nuthatch calls from the giant Wellingtonia by the cricket pavilion. Jackdaws chack on the rooftops along Church Street. Now the bells toll the hour.
Rainwater has clearly now drained off of the hills and the Kenwater is much higher. Unfortunately it is getting darker as the clouds thicken and seems probable we have will have yet more rain. In the drainage ditch that runs along between Paradise Walk and DIY store car park a Perennial Sowthistle stands over six feet high. The water level in the Lugg has also risen, flowing grey and rapidly. Cheatham Brook is also flowing rapidly with a dark red-brown hue. The market is smaller than the past few weeks, people anticipating rain I guess. And spots of rain are beginning to fall. The path edge of Paradise walk has been strimmed. Swifts and House Martins are sweeping through the sky over the end of Broad Street car park.
Home – The vines and roses are sending out long runners which I prune back. Rain starts to fall again. A young Nuthatch sits in the dead apple tree watching me. A beetle catches my eye on the wall. It is a Swollen-thighed Beetle, Oedemera nobilis, also known as the False Oil Beetle or Thick-Legged Flower Beetle. It has strange green swellings on its legs, hence the name and is a pollinator of many open-structured flowers including Cow Parsley, Ox-Eye Daisy and Bramble. The light showers turn into a torrential downpour.
Monday – Home – The weather forecast indicates we should avoid rain today, so our decorator arrives and presses on with his work. Environmentalists and naturalists will tell me that everything has an important role to play in our eco-system but as I survey the stumps of my cucumber plants, the demise of slugs would be most welcomed. I will have to sow some more seed tomorrow. A couple of courgette plants are also looking rather unwell, so I sow a few more in a tray and put them in the bathroom. There should be plenty of time for them to catch up. More rain is forecast. There is already extensive flooding in Lincolnshire and, as usual, areas of Tewkesbury are under water.
Friday – Abergavenny-Govilon – The weather is finally changing, The storms and heavy rain that have been sweeping through the country have moved away and now the sun shines brightly from a largely blue sky. At Leominster station, a Chiffchaff is still singing strongly. South of Hereford station is an old carriage washing siding. A young Fox watches us pass from the edge of the fence around the washer.
From Abergavenny station I wander round Belmont Crescent, not a great idea as it is a cul-de-sac. However it does show the back of large houses that front onto Fosterville Crescent, a crescent of large Edwardian villas built by Edwin Foster rising from the A40. One, Asthal House, has a large extension at the back with chimneys rising from a square sloping roof which is topped by a cast iron fence with a small belvedere in the centre. A stream flows around the crescent before running down towards the A40 and on to the River Usk. Back to Holywell Crescent where Blackbird stands on a nicely manicured hedge alarm calling loudly. Down to the A40 and over the Afon Gavenny. The Swan Hotel, now Swan House, is still being redeveloped.
Past the community orchard. A number of trees seem to have been damaged, if they have been pruned it was not very well done but frankly it looks rather more like mindless vandalism. Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker call from the trees on the castle mound. On to Castle Meadow. Blorenge towers ahead. Down to the River Usk. A few Swallows feed over riverside trees. Unfortunately it is clouding over now. A Garden Warbler is singing by the river. A lone House Martin flies low over a sea of Ox-eye Daisies on the meadow. A fly fisherman stands in the river casting his fly cross the water. The flow through the Usk Bridge is turbulent.
Into Llanfoist, Llan-ffwyst. Under Heads of the Valleys road into The Cutting to the village centre. There is plenty of pink blossom on blackberry bushes. Through the village to St Faith’s church and then up the path to the canal. Water rushes down the channel beside the path. The track comes to the tunnel under the canal which leads to Blorange. I climb the steps to the canal. The old working sheds in the canal basin are being converted into residences, the first floor having already been finished. I now have a decision to make. My knee and ankle are both still inflamed on my left leg and are quite uncomfortable. I had hoped to keep pressing on to get to Crickhowell but my progress is far too slow. I decide to push on to the Govilon wharf.
A Blackcap sings in the woods along with Robins and Wrens. A Chiffchaff joins them. Six foot high Foxgloves flower on the opposite slope. The clouds are getting thicker and darker and I think there is rain in the air. More Blackbirds and Robins are singing from the steep wooded slopes above the canal. A Grey Heron stands on the edge of the water. It flies across and land clumsily in the undergrowth on the far side. It seems to realise there is little chance of me getting to it from here so it simply watches whilst I pass then returns to staring intently at the water.
The tow-path comes to the bridge which takes it across to the other side. Paths and old tracks lead up into Coed y Person where there are quarries. Yellow, pink and purple vetches grow along the edge of the canal. Purple Hedge Woundwort is coming into flower. The canal enters Govilon wharf. The towpath passes under the old disused Merthyr, Tredegar and Abergavenny Railway. It comes to another bridge where I leave the canal. Govilon Wharf was derelict by the 1930s. By the latter part of the decade, a small fleet of rowing boats for hire was managed by a Mr Rattigan.
A public footpath runs down the hill through modern housing. It comes to a small bridge over Cwm Siencyn Brook (Llanwenarth Brook) which pours down from the hills. The Tafern y Bont pub stands on the side of the brook. This pub was recorded as trading in 1786. Christ church is up the road. Down the lane is the main road. The old blacksmiths shop stands on the junction of the Merthyr Road. A corrugated iron “tin tabernacle” with modern uPVC windows is beside the brook which continues on down the hillside. The old post office is now a residence. Opposite is the Lion Hotel. In 1900 the were six hostelries recorded in the village. The former Hayes Oak Cottage café was once a front room shop, which was simply that, the front room of the house being used to sell goods. It is now a store again. Opposite is Golivon House, built in the 16th or early 17th century by the Morgan family and the oldest building in the village. Recorded as being the home of Mr John Harries, the proprietor of the Govilon Forge in the late 18th and early 19th century. He died in 1819. It is probable that some form of settlement had been established at Govilon by the medieval period; this is supported by the location of an early holy well, St Patrick’s, and by references of a 14th century date to milling in the area.
I return up the hill to the canal. I have decided to return to Abergavenny via the old railway track. A Swift sweeps down the canal and scoops up beakful of water. The clouds are now more broken and the sun is warm. Tiny white flowers are appearing on Cleavers. Cuckoo spit is on Rosebay Willowherb, which is yet to flower.
Up onto the railway path. Field Roses flower beside the track. They are nearly all white, with the occasional pink-tinged bloom, with varying yellow centres. Past the yard full of road construction machinery. The Old Merthyr Road passes underneath railway. Close by, traffic roars along the Heads of the Valleys Road. The railway track continues on a high embankment between the two roads. Back into Llan-ffwyst. There is a dash to the station which I manage, despite considerable discomfort in my leg, with a minute to spare. Route
Sunday – Leominster – The bells toll eight as I cross the Priory bridge. Below grey water matching the grey sky flows steadily towards the Lugg. A Wood Pigeon flies under the bridge, the white bars on its wings making reminiscent of an old fighter plane performing a stunt. A Ladybird larvae with two rows of orange spots is on a sticky Sowthistle leaf. The tall Sowthistles in the drainage ditch have run to seed. Ground Elder and Stinging Nettles fight for space on the abandoned patch of garden. The market is larger again although the increase in stalls is matched by the increase in junk. I return alongside the River Lugg. A Chaffinch sings in the Hawthorn bush at the end of Brightwells’ compound. Easters Meadow has been mown and the lack of clippings shows that the grass has been taken away for hay. I gather some Comfrey for the chickens. A tiny moth rests on a Stinging Nettle leaf. I think it a rather faded Roller Moth, Ancylis badiana.
Tuesday – Bodenham Lake – Summer seems delayed again as the rain falls, flooding the lanes leading to Bodenham lake. A profusion of Lady’s Mantle covers the woodland edge of the open space beside the track. A Bullfinch flashes across the track. Yellow Biting Stonecrop flowers underneath the hedge. Green sloes are swelling on the Blackthorn. Field Buttercups, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Self Heal and Red Clover flower in profusion on the meadow. There is just the single clump of Common Spotted Orchids this year which is a shame, although there is another single one at the western end of the meadow. Toadstools are appearing in the Alder plantation. The water level in the lake is high, there is little of the scrape showing. A fair number of Canada Geese are out in the water upending to feed off the bottom. There also a couple of dozen Tufted Duck and even more Mallard, the drakes going into eclipse. A couple of Cormorants are in the trees. Enclosures have been created on the far side where the new scrapes have been excavated. There are more at the western end of the lake. I assume these are to keep wildfowl out of areas where the new reed beds being planted. Oxeye Daisies, Meadowsweet and Dog Roses are in flower on the slopes in front of the hide. A Mute Swan has four cygnets. The reed bed in front of the hide is very thin this year and although it has space for a nesting Coot, there will be no Reed Warblers breeding here this summer. A female Blackcap alights in the rose bush giving flashes of her chestnut head. The Osprey nesting platform appears to be unoccupied. A small duck with mainly grey plumage swims into view – a female Mandarin, or possibly a male in eclipse. It starts pulling leaves off of a low growing willow. Mist rises from Dinmore Woods. Back in the orchards, small apples are prolific on some trees, almost completely absent from others. The rain is getting lighter.
Thursday – High Wycombe – Into the Buckinghamshire town of High Wycombe. My hotel is on a steep hill, Priory Road, leading down towards the town centre. The road is lined with Victorian villas, one opposite dated 1889. Many of the houses are in Neo-Gothic style. The Public Elementary School was opened by Lord Carrington in 1873. It is also in Neo-Gothic with a campanile and a round tower. A mainline diesel locomotive pulls a long train over the railway bridge further down the hill. Grace Court stands in the lea of the railway bridge, a fine mid Victorian house with ornate window dressings. The Wesleyan Methodist church is on the other side of the bridge. Towards the bottom of the hill are modern buildings leading into the town centre. The sky is cloudless and it is fortunate there is a breeze to keep the temperature down.
The Church Street and Castle Street junction is on the edge of the town centre. Shops here have a variety of styles, some are clearly Victorian others are into the 1930s, one having an Art Deco look with a logo “JB 1929”. The town is recorded on the 8th century as Wichama, probably simply meaning “dwellings”. There were six mills along the River Wye recorded in Domesday. In mediaeval times the mills were the basis of local industry, the production of linen and lace. Inns and hostelries developed as the town lies halfway between London and Oxford. The manor and Lordship of Wycombe was given to a member of the Basset family, Thomas Gilbert, Sheriff of Oxfordshire, in 1171. By 1215, the manor was a barony held by Alan Basset who was a close confidant of King John and accompanied him to Runnymede to sign the Magna Carta. In 1271 the barony moved to Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk, through marriage. The papermaking industry was important in the 17th and 18th centuries but it was the development of the furniture industry in the 19th century which led to the expansion of the town. In 1875 some 4500 chairs were produced a day. Its demise in the 1960s led to large scale unemployment.
All Saints parish church lays next to the junction. There has been a church on this site for over 900 years. William of Malmesbury stated that St Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester frequently passed through Wycombe on his way to London. Around 1087 he was licensed by the Bishop of Lincoln to consecrate a new church, built by Smertlin, a wealthy resident. Some of the building materials came from the Roman villa which stands just outside the walls of the town. Henry II gave the church to Godstow nunnery and the abbess appointed the vicar. Only the central tower remains of the Norman church. Around 1273 the church was lengthened and north and south aisles, transepts and the north chapel was built in the Early English style. The south chapel was added sometime later. A screen, dedicated to Richard and Agnes Redehode divided the chancel and chapels from the nave. The nave was rebuilt in the mid 15th century. Between 1521 and 1535, the tower was in a poor condition and William Chapman, a mason of Chertsey, demolished it and built a new chancel arch with a window above. A major restoration was undertaken by G E Street in 1874 to 1877 and by J Oldrid Scott in 1889-9. A great Baroque monument to Henry Petty 1st Earl of Sherburne is in the north Chapel by the Flemish sculptor Scheemakers. William Petty the 2nd Earl of Shelburne and Prime Minister from 1782 to 1783 is buried in the vault. In the south chapel is a large monument to Sophia Countess of Shelburne, 1771 by Agostino Carlini. A window dedicated to Thomas Petty and Benjamin Franklin was installed in 1990.
From the church I walk up to the station. Here there is the Brunel shed, originally the station, built in 1854 by Brunel for the Wycombe Railway which opened from Maidenhead in 1854. It was engineered by Brunel and was worked by the Great Western Railway from the beginning. It was taken over by the GWR in 1866. The station later became the booking office, locomotive storage shed and an engine workshop when the original existing station was built in 1864. In the 1870s it was converted to a goods shed. The current station is rather plain but it still retains its wooden awning. Down the hill from the old railway shed is a brick house stuck between a concrete car park and a modern office block next to it is the Baptist church, in between is the memorial school. Baptist church is dated 1908 but on an earlier site. There is a funeral taking place, clearly of someone of West Indian origin. The mourners are beautifully dressed and a pristine vintage motor hearse stands by the kerb.
Across the road are a line of early 19th century houses. Along the road there is a flint-faced building of 1842 with the royal crest above the door, formerly the Post Office and is now a Thai restaurant. Opposite Indian restaurant in a timber-framed building. Next to the Thai restaurant there is what looks like a modern terrace of offices but behind the façade there is a Georgian roof. Next to it as several Georgian houses including a sizeable 18th century house with a coach entrance, Easton Court. Opposite are modern law courts. St Johns Place is refurbished offices in the grammar school, a fine pale cream Victorian building of 1882. In front of it are remains of the hospital of St John the Baptist. The hospital was founded around 1180 inhabited by a master and the small community of brothers and sisters caring for the poor. First known master was Gilbert, the last being Charles Chalfon, master from 1541 until the hospital closed in 1548. The Knights Hospitallers were major landholders in the town, having taken over the manor of Temple Wycombe from the Templars when the latter were suppressed in the 1300s. The Knights Hospitallers disappeared in mid 16th century as a result of Reformation Act of 1547, which led to the abolition of chantry chapels, and the subsequent closure of St Johns Hospital. The ruins are the columns and a moulded arches of the hall or refectory built of flint and stone and typical 12th century work. After closure, buildings were acquired for the school opened which in 1550. It received a Royal Charter in 1562. The Royal Grammar School used the hospital buildings until 1883 when new buildings were built. The grammar school moved to a new site in 1915.
A short distance along the road is the United Reformed church with a toothed Norman doorway and two towers. These and the entrance are in ashlar blocks whilst behind the main body of the church is in brick. The founding stone was laid in 1850 by the Rev John Hayden and the architect has Charles Searle. Early 19th century houses lay to the east of the church. Opposite is the Rye and Holywell Mead, a large park. Bones of Woolly Rhinoceros and Mammoth been discovered here along with human bodies believed to be of Celtic origin. In 1722 the remains of a Roman villa from circa 150 CE was discovered. On the far side is The Dyke, part of landscaping undertaken by Capability Brown. The entrance crosses the River Wye. Beside the river is the Pann Mill, built in 1759, with a water wheel. This building is a modern reconstruction after the mill was demolished for an ultimately abandoned road scheme. Next to the mill is Pann Pumping Station built in 1911. A large building of 1936, now a nursery, was the Children’s Health Centre.
A footpath leads back towards the town centre. The Heritage Trail runs under the road but is unfortunately under several feet of green water. Wycombe Abbey is a large private school. Originally known as Loakes Manor, built in the early 17th century and enlarged circa 1755-59 by Henry Keene for Lord Shelburne. The building was bought 1798 by Robert Smith, first Lord Carrington (1752-1838), politician and renamed Wycombe Abbey. Across a busy and complex road junction to Bucks New University. Opposite is the fire station. Through to the town centre where there is the Guildhall, restored in 1859 by Sir G H Dashboard, one of the members for this borough. Across the Corn Market is another market hall, known as the Little Market House or The Shambles. It was built in 1604 and remodelled by Robert Adam in 1761. It has lettering in the frieze saying to London 29 miles to Oxford 25 miles. Inside is a replica of the list of tolls set under the Chepping Wycombe Improvement Act of 1874. Behind it is The Antelope pub in a 17th century building re-fronted in the 19th. The Falcon Hotel is late 17th century, re-fronted in the late 18th century. The street is lined with Georgian houses, now commercial premises. The former Red Lion hotel has an entrance portico with a large red lion statue on it. The hotel is early 18th century, enlarged and remodelled between 1772 and 1847. Disraeli made his first political speech here, possibly from the portico. Churchill also spoke here in 1945. It held the inaugural meeting of the Round Table in 1946, according to a plaque sponsored by Woolworths. The hotel has gone, Woolworths has gone, let us hope the Round Table still exists. Next to the hotel is a building on the site another Antelope Inn where the Royal Military College was founded in 1790. Wycombe Bank of 1901 is now a bookies. 1930s buildings surround the large crossroads with the main Post Delivery Office of the 1920s.
Back through the centre and then into a vast shopping mall. Out and past the bus station. The Rose and Crown is a proper pub in which I enjoy a pint. Off along a street with several Asian grocers. The late Victorian church of St John the Evangelist and church hall is now an Arts Centre. The church was designed by William Douglas Caröe (1857-1938) was a leading church architect at the end of the 19th and the early 20th century. The listing states, “he was articled to Edmund Kirby of Liverpool in 1879-80 but transferred his articles in 1881 to the great Gothic revivalist, J L Pearson, until 1883. He travelled extensively on the continent in 1877-82 before setting up in practice in London in 1883 after which he developed a prolific church-building and restoration practice and became architect to the deans and chapters of Southwell, Hereford, Brecon and Exeter. He was architect to the Charity Commission and to the Ecclesiastical Commission from 1895. Caröe is noted for his freely-treated and inventive Gothic as seen, for example, at St John’s in the unusual differential heights of the choir and sanctuary and the details of, for example, the pulpit and treatment of the chancel arch.”
The Indian restaurants all serve dosas, a southern Indian dish. Along the main road are isolated Victorian houses, others which have been converted into shops and more modern properties. Victorian terraces run off of the main road. The hillside to the North covered in modern housing. In Green Street School has been turned into a youth centre. In Leigh Street, large old factories are still being used but others, such as the Old Works being redeveloped into apartments. The Saracens Head is a fine neo-Jacobean building formerly a Charrington’s house according to a rusting old sign hanging on the wall. The name is scribed on the side of the building although most of the letters have now fallen off. Apartments occupy the building now. There seems to be an extraordinary number of barbers, all Turkish barbers of course.
Down a side street is Oakridge Baptist church of 1939. Behind stands a mosque. Back along Dashwood Avenue. Past the factory of William Hands a furniture manufacturer since 1906. The Half Moon pub closed and being converted or possibly even being refurbished. The road rises to Desborough Castle. Church of St Mary and St George or “SMG” as it seems to be trendily called, is a Free-Byzantine building by Wellesley and Wills, built 1935-8. Wellesley and Wills exhibited at the Royal Academy in the 1920s. They included Lord Gerald Wellesley (1885-1972), later 7th Duke of Wellington. It has a large copper dome that can be seen from a considerable distance. All the doors are barred. At least three Red Kites are flying over head. A track leads away from church. A house has an Arts and Crafts look with panels of flint in the walls. However it was built in 2000. A road, Rutland Avenue, passes allotments when continues up the hill towards 20th century housing. To the west is a wood on the site of Desborough castle. The site has some earthworks which are Norman. However, finds here date to all periods back to the Mesolithic. There is evidence of a Bronze Age barrow, an Iron Age hill-fort and a mound possibly used as a Saxon moot. It is only speculation that it could have been a siege castle in the Anarchy (the Civil War between Stephen and Matilda 1135-1154).
My problem left leg is aching so I decided to head back to the town centre. Rutland Avenue turns into Copyground Lane. There are Asian supermarkets and shops all over the place just as once there were “English” corner shops, now almost completely gone. Cutlers Court has some age. A lot of the walls are flint faced. It was Copyground Farm, several building dating from the 18th century. Oakridge Road takes me back down to Dashwood Avenue. Leinster cottages are dated 1898. Copyground Lane Cottages are 1896. Much of the other housing is 20th century. Side streets however are all late Victorian or early Edwardian. Back near the Saracens Head there are at least half a dozen Red Kites overhead, some diving down into gardens.
I return to the Rose and Crown for another pint then head around the vast shopping centre. On the other side of the road that there is extensive building site with hundreds of flats and apartments being constructed. Back through the High Street. A building is being restored by the Buckinghamshire Historic Buildings Trust. It was probably built in the 1500 as a timber-framed building with jettied your floors, which it still has. During the 17th and 18th centuries the building was known as The Wheatsheaf public house. The first publican was a Thomas Butterfeild. During the Civil War no coins were minted, so many traders issued tokens. Thomas Butterfeild issued coins with the Wheatsheaf sign on them. In the 1800s the Wheatsheaf was owned by Wheelers Wycombe Brewery. Robert Wheeler and his son Thomas were influential the affairs of the town serving as mayor for many years and owning the Savings Bank. Robert Wheelers’ tomb lies beside the parish church. The building was badly damaged by fire in 1903. It was sold to William Butler, a chemist and he turned the property into a pharmacy and stationers. In the 1930s it was divided into two shops, a tobacconist and a cleaners.
Past the church and into Frogmore. Another part of the street is both modern and early 20th century as well as a group of 17th and 18th century buildings, including The Bell pub, which may be older, but is now shut down. The block which contained the Red Cow pub and The Palace Theatre has been replaced by modern buildings. The Salvation Army Citadel is early 20th century. Another theatre, closed in the early 1970s, was in an imposing building with a large clock tower with a copper roof standing in the lea of a black brick railway bridge.
Up Castle Street and into Castle Place, where one house is dated 1871. A cast iron footbridge crosses the railway. Into Priory Avenue. The houses are relatively narrow with steep roofs over gable attic rooms. The Vicarage stands in its own grounds. In one large house, now doctors’ surgery, Dame Frances Dove lived from 1930 to 1942. She was founded and was headmistress of Wycombe Abbey School.
Friday – High Wycombe – The sun is up and it is already getting hot. My neck is bright red, sunburnt from yesterday. Outside the hotel and down Priory Road is chaos as people park everywhere without any consideration to deliver their children to school. There is a market in the High Street. The fruit and vegetable stalls clearly cater for the Asian and West Indian community. As I walk around town centre as usual here are things I missed yesterday. Buckingham House has a very eroded plaque which takes a few minutes to decipher the name. Pilasters either side of the modern shop rise with floral design rising to a sheep’s head, above is a pediment surmounted by a pig.
A group of school children supporting the Extinction Now campaign march down the High Street and have a “die-in”. I make my way up towards the railway bridge again. Priory Avenue stands high above the railway. A small local commuter train passes through. Into the museum grounds. The museum is housed in a flint-faced building. The house, Castle Hill House, is late 16th or early 17th century. It was purchased by the Council in 1962. It was a Saxon farmstead and a burial from the period has been found near the entrance. Behind the house is a motte, probably dating from the Anarchy. It is now a splendid little museum mainly detailing the history of the area.
West Wycombe – Kay and I last visited this village over twenty years ago. Through the village to park on the far side. I head back down into the village past abandoned Garden Centre. West Wycombe Park is closed on Friday and Saturday, which must raise questions about how the National Trust is run. Along the High Street the houses are all 18th century at the very earliest, many far older. It is possible the newest building is a chapel whose founding stone was laid by Viscount Curzon MP in 1894. Ashton House has a fine chequerboard façade of black and red bricks. There is a good traditional butchers, a shop and post office and a number of pubs. Village lies on the busy A40.
In 1929 West Wycombe village was put up for sale by the Dashwood family, who lived at West Wycombe House in the park, to raise cash following the Wall Street Crash. It was bought in its entirety by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (better known as the Royal Society of Arts, or simply the RSA). In 1934 the Society handed the property over to the National Trust.
Through the archway of The Church House, late 15th century, into Church Lane. High Wycombe Christadelphian Ecclesia is a flint-faced building. It has a brick inscribed: “I. Bigg, Mason, 1815”. Opposite is Browns of West Wycombe, furniture makers. A row of houses climbs the hill the first is dated 1722. The Rectory is hidden behind 12 foot high walls. Up West Wickham Hill. Common Blue Damselflies, Enailagma cyathigerum are, as their name suggests, common on the chalky Chiltern paths. A Marbled White butterfly, actually in the family of brown butterflies, flies past. The grasses are full of Bedstraws, both Ladies, which is yellow and white Heath Bedstraw. Scattered all over the hillside are Pyramid Orchids, Dark Mullein which are yellow with purple centres, Yellow Rattle and towards the top of the hill, Common Spotted Orchids, Field Scabious and Yellow Rattle. Red Kites and Swallows use the wind moving across the Dashwood Mausoleum which dominates the crown of the hill. The mausoleum was constructed in 1763-4, designed by John Bastard the Younger of Blandford. It has hexagonal tall flint rubble walls, ashlar dressed with entablature and panelled parapet surmounted by stone urns grouped in threes at angles. On the walls are inscriptions to Sir Francis Dashwood, Lord Le Despencer, and friends. Behind the mausoleum, in woods is St Lawrence church built in the 1750s on the site of an older church. Sadly the church is locked. The hilltop has been occupied for millennia. There have been suggestions there was a bronze age monument here, not dissimilar to Stonehenge. There certainly was an Iron Age hill-fort, followed by a Roman settlement and possibly another temple. In mediaeval period a village called Hæferingdune (Hill of Hæfer’s people in Old English) was here. A church said to have been erected by St Birnius (who later became the bishop of the West Saxons in 635CE) occupied the site. The village of Haveringdon was abandoned in the 18th century.
I start back down the hill. Ringlet butterflies are numerous, dancing over the Brambles. On down the hill. Below is the striped tile roof of the school. Down the hillside are numerous Marbled Whites, Meadow Browns and the occasional Small Heath. Agrimony, Ox-eye Daisies and a tall Musk Thistle flower in the long grass. It is now very hot.
Sunday – Leominster – The weather has changed dramatically overnight, thick grey clouds cover the sky with just few patches blue and the temperature has dropped considerably. Gangs of Swifts scream as they chase over the rooftops. A Chiffchaff is still singing in the riverside woods. The wind is rising and the shimmering leaves of the Black Poplars rustle loudly. The water level in the River Lugg remains similar as it has been over the last few weeks. A Song Thrush flies up from Easters Meadow carrying food back to a nest. A Blackcap sings loudly at the confluence of the Kenwater and Lugg. The market is average sized. I purchase some cheap beetroots, mine are not doing very much so far!