Tuesday – Home – The weather is finally on the change. Clouds move in and it is a little cooler but a forecast of rain tomorrow sounds rather tentative. The car is filled with bags of garden waste, the stuff we cannot compost. There are at least a third of them left behind. The queue at the recycling centre, the tip as we used to call it, is not too bad.
Home – The water butts have to be filled from the tap again unfortunately.
Wednesday – Home – Light rain falls but hardly enough to get more than the surface of the garden damp. The sky remains overcast. A pair of Goldcrests move rapidly through the fruit trees and away. There are few apples on the Worcester Pearmain and Herefordshire Russet but the crop on the Howgate Wonder looks very heavy. The pear crop looks good too, although these are still small trees and the fruit will need thinning.
Thursday – Leominster – Light rain fell almost continuously yesterday. This morning sky remains grey with cloud and the air is much cooler than it has been for some time. Down the street. I recently saw a photograph showing a large timber framed building, the Waverley Hotel, standing on the site of what is now the modern care home.
The dawn chorus is much less exuberant now as the birds have nest duties to attend to. Elder blossom is at its peak now, dishes of cream covering the bushes along the base of the churchyard and more within the grounds. The grass on the Grange is still saturated. Swifts are feeding high in the sky, just black arcs soaring under the grey clouds.
Bromyard Downs – We have a short walk upon the down common. A few children are playing in the yard of Brockhampton primary school. The grass is long on the common. In it are numerous Field Buttercups. It is the season of yellow and white. The white is various umbellifers and a few patches of White Clover. The yellow is the aforementioned Field Buttercup, hawkweeds, Yellow Rattle and Bird’s Foot Trefoil. One small patch of of a different colour is Red Clover. Field and Dog Roses grow in large briars along the edge of the common. The views are extensive, from the Malvern Hills is the south west, round past Dinedor and the south Herefordshire hills, Sugar Loaf and the Black Mountains which are hazy. To the west, in the foreground is Bromyard, beyond the gentle hills towards Wales. To the north are the Clee Hills.
Friday – Ivington – A depression near Scandinavia has brought clouds and a cold wind. Up Ryelands Road. The town is still quiet although there are a few more people around now. New houses are being built on a patch of land used to contain a small factory unit. Flowers bloom at the bases of front garden walls – bright yellow Stonecrop, Red Valerian and white Daisies. The road drops down past the bank of pink Common Mallows.
Into the hamlet of Newtown passing Dishley Court. A Greenfinch calls from trees and a pheasant croaks in the fields opposite. A tall Smooth Sow-thistle rises high above other vegetation on the roadside bank. Another member of the Daisy family (which includes thistles, hawkweeds and various similar dandelion-like flowers) grows close to the ground at the base of the bank. This one could be Beaked Hawk’s Beard. It is mixed with the shiny, heart-shaped leaves of Black Bryony. A little further along the road’s edge are patches of pretty pink and white Lesser Bindweed. Past several houses of Newtown proper. Old maps show Dishley and Newtown as separate places but now the latter seems to cover the whole area. The roadside bank now has a fine display of Ox-eye Daisies facing into the sun. A herd of cattle lay contentedly in the sunshine chewing the cud. This, of course, is supposed to forecast rain.
The lane leaves Newtown and crosses a small drain which has dried up. A short distance on and another bridge crosses a larger stream which is flowing with water; it leaves the River Arrow via a weir on Ivington Common and rejoins to the south west of this point. Comfrey flowering along the roadside is being visited by White-tailed Bees. A flock of Rooks interspersed with Lesser Black-backed Gulls feed in a field of young cattle. A third bridge carries the lane over the River Arrow. Yet another bridge crosses the mill-race of Ivington Mill. A large cockerel with white shoulders and a bright scarlet comb watches from the mill gardens. A fifth bridge crosses a very small stream on the edge of Ivington village. It may be small but this stream is named on the map, the Little Arrow.
Into the churchyard of St John’s Church. Here I finally find the grave of Prince Iverico and Princess Sophia Mickeladze. The lane turns south and leaves the village. Ahead on the hill are the dark woods which surround Ivington hill-fort. A Skylark sings high above. A Common Buzzard hangs on wind, hovering then drifting away. The sun appears and disappears again behind grey clouds with brilliant white edges which are barely moving. A Whitethroat sings from the hedgerow. A Swift glides overhead.
Eastwards onto the lane that leads to Brierley. I have to balance on the narrow roadside bank as a tractor and trailer, which fills the full width of the lane, passes. The somewhat indelicate odour suggests it has been muck spreading. Honeysuckle is coming into flower. Green and purple stems carry large white, pink or purplish heads of Hogweed. Cow Parsley has already gone to seed. Behind the hedges now are rows and rows of polytunnels growing strawberries for a Wimbledon which will no longer happen. However whether the strawberry will be picked is also open to question. We have the delicious irony of our Brexit leader, Boris Johnson asking East Europeans to come to this country to pick our fruit.
The lane zigzags into the small settlement of Brierley. A timber-framed cottage is late 17th or early 18th century. Brierley Court is late 18th century. There are a number of barn conversions and some new build. Another timber-framed row of cottages, Old Hall, is 17th century, with later alterations, and an attached Georgian range. The fine farmhouse of Brick House Farm is Georgian. Up the road is the cider house and oast house. The lane winds on out of the hamlet. Across a field is a huge store of wooden pallets and logs. White Bryony is coming into flower in the hedgerow. A Swallow flies past, extraordinarily the first I have seen this year.
The line joins Hereford Road. A short distance up the road is a paddock with four deer in it. Along the road are a series of bridges over culverts which are completely dry. Broadward Bridge crosses the River Arrow. The water level very low, a considerable contrast to a few months ago when it almost reached the top of the arch.
Past Broadward Hall and into Leominster. Roadside has a fine display of Ox-eye Daisies. It seems there will be a heavy crop of sloes this year some of the Blackthorn bushes are covered densely in green fruits. Route
Saturday – Home – The full moon is brilliant like a heavenly searchlight. It is the Strawberry Moon. The Blackbird starts singing shortly after the sky begins to lighten.
Leominster – By dawn the sky is overcast and a blustery cold wind shakes the trees. The recent rain has clearly helped the suffering apple trees in the Millennium Orchard but a lot of new growth remain dead. Birdsong is very much diminished, even the Chiffchaff has fallen silent.
Home – Tomato plants need tying to their stakes and the sideshoots are pinched out. The vines continue their extraordinarily rapid grown and several long shoots are removed and given to the hens. Many greens – rocket, spinach and chard – have bolted and are setting seed. Kay picks the season’s first strawberries. The cherry crop looks good, we just hope we can keep the birds out of the fruit cage and the wind does not cause any damage. Hundreds of tiny horse chestnut conker husks are being thinned by the wind all over the lawn.
Monday – Leominster – The delicate blue flowers of Meadow Cranesbills seem to be fighting with the domineering Stinging Nettles in the Millennium Park. A damselfly darts past. Along the foot of the churchyard are numerous heads of elderflower yet not a single insect – not a bee, nor a hoverfly and even no true flies. Indeed, the only sign of life are a pair of mating Eyed Ladybirds, Anatis ocellata, on a Stinging Nettle. A Sparrowhawk calls from the dense crown of a Yew. Small green balls have formed on Limes. A pair Greenfinches are in bushes in Grange Walk.
Wednesday – Leominster – Jackdaws, Greenfinches and a Garden Warbler are creating the avian chorus around Pinsley Mill. The hoped-for rain proved to be slight drizzle, enough to dampen the surface but not what is needed. Seventeen Blackbirds are searching for food on the Grange.
Friday – Humber – A grey, dull morning with drizzle as I set off to undertake the BTO Breeding Bird Survey. This year only the second part has been possible because of the lockdown. Along the lane between Stoke Prior and Steens Bridge. There is not a lot to record, a couple of singing Skylarks, Blackbirds, Linnets and Dunnocks. A hedgerow of Beech has been shredded, every leaf has a hole in it, some a reduced to skeletons. As I enter Humber the sun lights up the lane with wet leaves shining. A Great Spotted Woodpecker is searching Humber church tower for grubs and a few feet away is a juvenile following its father. On the return to the school, I see a couple of Whitethroats but this is fewer each year. Overall, the count in terms of both species and numbers is poor.
Home – The Rambling Rector rose is at its peak now with hundreds of delicate white flowers. I tie up the climbing beans to help them find the poles. The purple Sprouting broccoli seedlings have been planted out and are looking perky. As I fill the watering cans from the water butts, a female Blackbird appears with a white grub in her beak. She disappears under a large Hosta leaf. Underneath is a fledgling gulping down the grub.
Saturday – Leominster – At long last we have had heavy and prolonged rain. Bright sun this morning is burning off some of the dampness leaving the air vaguely misty. A Blackcap sings on the far side of the railway, a Magpie chatters and Wood Pigeons coo. A Whitethroat soars up beside the railway fence, pirouettes and dives down, through the fence and off. A rabbit gallops along the ballast. Along the Millennium Park. The air is scented with elderflower.
Home – The day proceeds through short periods of hot sun and cooler cloudy intervals. The beans I tied yesterday have already started to circle the poles. I check the apple and pear trees to thin out the fruit if necessary. The two trees on the eastern side of the garden – the Worcester Pearmain and Herefordshire Russet have hardly any fruit at all. The greengage here also seems bare of gages. This may simply be a coincidence. The perry pear and the cordon Cox are on that side and both have fruit. Kay harvests some strawberries and I pick a few wild ones that grow all over the place.
Tuesday – Leominster – The sky is grey and spitting rain falls. The chorus from across the railway consists of Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blackcap and Wood Pigeon. House Sparrows and a Dunnock feed beside railway. An Ermine moth rests on a car windscreen.
The day continues warm and sticky. In the early afternoon a thunderstorm breaks out to the east. A House Sparrow standing on the gutter of the old stables at the back of the house quickly disappears into a nest under the eaves. Jackdaws in the trees fly up into the air with much squawking. A few drops of rain fall then it turns into a heavy downpour with raindrops bouncing off of surfaces.
Wednesday – Leominster – A damp misty morning more reminiscent of late September than June. Wood Pigeons, House Sparrows and Jackdaws all call. Swifts scream as they speed low over the rooftops. A Chiffchaff and a Blackcap sing on the far side of the railway. The mist condenses on the trees in the Millennium Orchard dripping gently. A Chiffchaff’s song has changed, it is now more a series of just chiffs rising and falling slightly in tone. I sweep aside some water laden Hogweed that is leaning over the pathway into the churchyard. However in looking down I do not see the saturated Elder overhead and end up with wet hair.
Home – The afternoon is warm and close. I dig up a couple of volunteer potato plants. These rogues are from last year’s crop, a couple I missed. There is a decent number of new potatoes under them. Small black beetles are annoying, Pollen beetles. An Airbus of the RAF out of Brize Norton flies over. The air grows thicker. Gulls are noisy. Suddenly a Common Buzzard flies over, low and fast, heading east, harassed by three screaming Lesser Black-backed Gulls.
Thursday – Home – After such a dry spring, the rain returns with a vengeance. The water butts are now full to overflowing. The tomatoes in the greenhouse need another session of tying of their sticks. There is a good amount of green tomatoes developing. The peppers are all growing well although there are no flowers yet.
Sunday – Home – The summer solstice. The gathering at Stonehenge was reduced to a handful but over three millions watched online. Sadly for them it was a cloudy affair and soon started raining. Here dawn was blazing sunshine but it has now clouded over and the wind is rising. The compost is sorted, one wooden bin emptied into the other then the three plastic bins emptied into the now empty wooden one. One of the plastic bins had a large ant nest in it with thousands of white eggs. It is clearly too dry, so both the wooden bins are watered. What seems like a Sunday morning ritual now is clipping back the grape vines. A large pile is thrown into the chicken run and the girls start gobbling down the fresh leaves. Brambles are coming over the wall near the patio so they are cut back. We had a good crop of cherries yesterday and there will be plenty more over the next week. Summer raspberries are ripening as are strawberries. Peas and broad beans both need cropping. Three beetroot are dug for dinner.
Monday – Leominster – A bright sunny morning. Jackdaws chack from the rooftops. Beyond the railway a Chiffchaff and Song Thrush are still singing strongly. By the gates to the Millennium Park I can now hear Wren, Blackbird and Wood Pigeon. Hogweed rises above Stinging Nettle beds to at least 7 ft high. Elderflowers are almost all finished now just the tiny green berries remaining.
Home – Nettles are spreading over the wide area under the plum tree. I pull and dig them out thick yellow roots snaking through the ground. I finally get around to readjusting the hand holds on the strimmer that is far more usable now. A short path is strimmed into the wild area and much of the grass under the greengage and Herefordshire russet is cut down. In setting up the strimmer I managed to pour petrol over the shed floor – I am preserving the wood I tell myself. A breeze has arisen, shaking the leaves. As ever, some weeding needs to be undertaken.
Tuesday – Leominster – The morning started cloudy but now the sun is heating up the air. This in turn means a blustery breeze has sprung up. Down to the Worcester Road. Businesses are opening up, but all second hand and charity shops here remain closed. Two large artics are loading silage film at the Berry works. Up the ramp to the old road bridge. Perforate St John’s Wort and Mullion are coming into flower. Towards the top, a Sow Thistle and a Spear Thistle are also beginning to flower. Small green blackberries are now appearing on the brambles. Large heads of Ragwort are glowing yellow, visited by Marmalade Hoverflies, Episyrphus balteatus. A Manchester bound train passes under the bridge and draws into the station.
Across the railway. A flock of at least a dozen Long-tailed Tits flypast into the trees opposite, squeaking excitedly. Rosebay Willowherb flowers. Opposite of small patches of pale pink Musk Mallow. Across the A49 tall spikes of Weld grow beside the old road. Common Mallow, much darker pink than the other species seen earlier, flowers nearby. The River Lugg is shallow and slow under Eaton Bridge. A rusting shopping trolley lies to the south of the main arch. Black winged Beautiful Demoiselles chase around the reeds. A Comma butterfly flits around the bank and then rests on the bridge stonework. A Garden Warbler is singing beautifully and loudly right next to the roadside. It is just a couple of feet away from me but I am unable to locate it in the dense hedgerow.
Up Widgeon Meadow. A well picked carcass of a rabbit lies under the hedge. Ringlet butterflies are in the long grasses. Up the drovers steps on to Eaton Hill. A large bank of field roses has almost finished flowering but enough remain to attract hoverflies, Honey Bees with bright yellow pollen sacs on their legs and Buff-Tailed Bumblebees and a Red Admiral butterfly. The large areas of thistles around the field on top of Eaton Hill have been cleared away. A mound of soil is topped by Fox droppings. Numerous Meadow Brown butterflies are flying along the edge of the field. The breeze has reduced somewhat and it is now very warm. Through the woodland. A patch of St John’s Wort flowers attracting good numbers of hoverflies. This flower looks different to that seen earlier and may be Hairy St John’s Wort.
Down the track to Comfordt House. Agrimony flowers on the bank. A Field Rose climbs to the top of a Hawthorn with flowers all the way up. The field that lays between the track and the A49 is not as I thought to be for potatoes but is now covered in a crop of broad beans.
Along Mill Street and across the bridge over the Kenwater. This river is also flowing shallow and slow.
Home – Wood Pigeons have been tearing lumps out of my cabbages, so they are netted. Another row of peas and one of carrots is sown. We are cropping good quantities of soft fruit. A Common Buzzard flies over being harassed by several screaming Lesser Black-backed Gulls. The gulls have been noisy all afternoon.
Wednesday – Home – The bottom of the garden has, on one side, been left as a wild area. There is a white currant which was “dumped” in it. At present there are numerous Stinging Nettles around it which I have left as a number of butterfly species’ caterpillars use nettles as a food source. However, as usual we now have White Bryony growing through everything and so it is a conundrum, do I remove it or not? I decide to pull some of it out but clearly it is as it is growing through the nettles I am not going to dive in and get it all out. Great Tits and Blue Tits are visiting the feeders. It looks like both species have successfully raised good sized broods this year. House Sparrows chirrup noisily in the shrubbery behind the shed. Swifts soar high in the sky, twisting and turning as they harvest insects. A young Blackbird has a thorough wash in the bird bath, spraying water everywhere. A young Great Tit comes down for a drink but decides things are too frenetic and flies off. A few minutes later Blackbird departs so the Great Tit takes its chance.
The back path has become overgrown so it is strimmed back. The temperature is rising. The sky is completely cloudless, it will probably be one of the hottest days of the year. Suddenly the first House Martin I have seen around here this year flies over.
The afternoon grows hotter. A Great Tit takes a seed from the feeder back to a branch and is immediately approached by a fledgling that squeaks continuously. However the youngster is completely ignored by the adult bird which then flies back to the feeder and grabs another before heading off to a different branch. The fledgling immediately follows and sits next to the adult squeaking again but with the same result.
In the early evening I discover I should have watered the greenhouse earlier – many of the tomatoes are showing considerable stress. Several spare purple sprouting seedlings have shrivelled.
Friday – Clee – The night was hot and humid. Dawn was grey and still very warm. Here on the edge of Clee Common the sun is shining down. Stretching away below the common is North Herefordshire, covered in a haze. Skylarks sing high above. Across the common are numerous stands bright pink Foxgloves. Past Clee Hill plant a large site of heavy machinery rather than greenery. A fine old road roller sits at the entrance. A road turns off towards the quarries. Craven Place stands on the corner. A sign is inscribed into the wall stating “Office”. A weighing machine once stood opposite to check the weight of wagons leaving the quarry.
House Martins, Swallows and Swifts pass overhead. Linnets sing from boulders which mark out a car park. Meadow Pipits are sitting on wires. To the north of the lane are large banks behind which lay a vast disused quarry. Up the bank and past a small artificial pond around which Pied Wagtails flit. Weld grows around the sides of the pond. A tarmac road is on the far side of the pond. Beyond is the flooded quarry with high cliffs to the north side. Once there was a complex of railway lines across the quarry taking the basalt to the Ludlow and Clee Hill Railway terminus a short way to the west. At the east end are the modern quarry buildings. A near continuous stream of lorries carrying road chippings enter and emerge. In the north east corner is a waterfall pouring down into the flooded lake below. High on the north-west side is a radio mast and houses. Juvenile Pied Wagtails fly around the edges of the grey-green water.
Back to the road leading to the quarry buildings. To the south Herefordshire is becoming ever more hazy. The road divides. Another flood pond lies to the south east. On its banks are Creeping Thistles, Foxgloves, Evening Primrose, Weld, Thyme, Ragwort and one of the dandelions, possibly Rough Hawksbit.
The road moves away from the quarry. A clicking Stonechat flies past alighting at the top of a gorse bush. To the south side of a track are large mounds and tussocks with gorse bushes scattered around. On the other side for a large areas of sedges. Lambs are well grown but still staying close to their mothers. The air is full of the songs of Skylarks and squeaking of Meadow Pipits. Pure white Creeping Thistles grow by the road.
The road comes to Random. Ahead are Random Cottages. To the north east is another set of cottages at Random Farm. The junction was called “Stooping Stone” and a tramway ran through it from Catherton Colliery on Magpie Hill down to Clee Hill Works. Up the track leads towards these cottages then a post surmounted by a Meadow Pipit out on the rough ground indicates the route of a public footpath. The path heads towards a dead tree standing in the middle of moorland. It is Three Forked Pole. A Curlew suddenly rises from the ground and flies off with yelps. To the north is the great quarry above which stand the domes, masts and offices of the National Air Traffic Control station. A Red Kite glides over. A Carrion Crow perches on one of the two limbs of Three Forked Pole. The path divides by the tree. I take the path south-westerly over Hoar Edge. A cooling wind has sprung up.
The path divides again and my route lies westwards. The number and complexity of the old routes across this indicates the area has been important for so many years. Large numbers of Carrion Crows are flying around. The seem to flash white and brown as the sun glances off their shining black feathers. The GPS on my map indicates I have drifted south off the path so I cross the open moorland to seek the correct route. A smart black-headed, white-collared Stonechat calls from the top of a bush. It flies up, hovers and pirouttes for a few moments then descends again to the top of the bush. I find the path again by a small circular enclosure some five feet across. The remains of another curved wall is a huge jumble of stones. It is marked on the map as a cairn. Another a short distance away has been grassed over. The monument was first recorded by C Hartshorne in 1837-8, who described it as, “four remarkable carnedds and the base of a fifth on Hoare Edge”. Ring cairns are interpreted as ritual monuments of Early and Middle Bronze Age date. Two stone rings and a string of amber beads believed to have been found in a barrow on Hoare Edge were exhibited by the Revd Henry Brown to the Cambrian Archaeological Association in 1851.
Down the steep hillside to the road from Dhustone to the summit of Clee Hill. Another Stonechat is calling from the top of a Foxglove. Now views are across South Shropshire. To the north west is Ludlow, its castle barely discernible in the haze. Down the road towards the hamlet of Dhustone, (named after the basalt quarried here, from the welsh for “Black Stone”). The sky is clouding over and darkening. Old walls are on either side of the road some barely discernible under a coating of moss and grasses. Rouse-Boughton Terrace is a row of cottages which are rather plain in red brick but with exquisitely patterned chimney stacks. Sir Charles Rouse-Boughton of Downton Hall, along with the Earls of Powis and Craven, Richard Knight of Downton Castle and Thomas Botfield were the proprietors of Clee Hill.
A bridle path heads back towards Clee Hill village. It is the old trackbed of the Ludlow and Clee Hill Railway. At a gate on the path someone has kindly hung a spray of disinfectant, a sign of these days of the virus. Old stone brick and concrete walls and other constructions indicate the end of the inclined plane from Dhustone quarry where the stone was loaded onto trains. Below the track is an old quarry called Treenpits. A narrow lane crosses the track. A large concrete shed stands on the site of an old chapel and graveyard. The lane heads down the hill then a road passes former council houses and leads to the village of Clee Hill.
Into Clee Hill village. Centre of the village is a row of shops mainly 20th century with St Peter’s church in the centre dated 1881. Route with error at end on main road!
Sunday – Home – Rain hammered down overnight. The morning is very changeable, a few periods of sunshine then the sky darkens again. The red currant bush is striped – 3.4Kg of berries that are puréed, sieved and frozen. More blackcurrants, raspberries and strawberries are also into the freezer.
Rocket the hen is looking decidedly peaky. Hopefully she is just off-colour and there is nothing serious. Egg production is still very slow with just Emerald laying five times a week.