Monday – Leominster – The first day of the month seems to indicate Spring. Whereas only a week ago it was still dim when Maddy and I head across the Grange, this morning is light under an azure sky. Birds are singing from every direction. There is a covering of frost whitening the ground. The Snowdrops in the churchyard have been glorious this year – vast white drifts of them. A Common Buzzard sits hunched on a gravestone. Only four nests make up the rookery at the Forbury, but the birds are making a considerable racket.
Croft Ambrey – Down the path into Fish Pool Valley. There were Mistle Thrushes up on the driveway to the castle and another is singing high in the trees. The sun is shining and it is relatively mild. If the track froze over night it has melted into mud now. A Great Tit sings his rusty wheel song; Blue Tits chase through the trees. Maddy suddenly rushes off after a Grey Squirrel. She is inches from its tail and I reckon she could have caught it if she really tried. I bellow at her to return when she reaches the top of the valley side, I do not need another episode of her getting lost! I am quite hot by the time I reach the edge of Leinthall Common. The sun glitters through a massive Yew tree at the base of the slope up to the Iron Age fort. The views are splendid, up the valley towards The Goggin with High Vinnalls rising behind. In the other direction Wigmore is bathed in light with the castle nestled in the hillside above the village. The top of Croft Ambrey has erupted with molehills like boils on a face. The sheep are resting near the great southern ramparts – Maddy is far too interested in her ball. A Common Buzzard is sitting on a tall, dead tree trunk just below the ramparts. It lifts off and drifts across the pillow mounds and alights in a tree below the east end of the fort.
Wednesday – Worcester – Despite being only a couple of dozen miles away, this is our first visit to this city. The River Severn flows through the city and is wide. It is bridged by a great iron truss bridge on stone pillars carrying the railway, rebuilt in 1904. Downstream is the road bridge, built by John Gwynn , opened in 1781 and widened in 1931. Black-headed Gulls, Mute Swans and a solitary Lesser Black-backed Gull (the Baltic fuscus variety) are on the water. Warehouses which would have stood on Worcester Docks are now luxury apartments and restaurants. One buildings still carries the signs painted on the brick of Hop and Seed Merchants. We head down to the cathedral. A tall solitary tower is all that remains of the 12th century church of St Andrew. Down the road is the Church of St Alban’s, a Norman building from 1175 on the site of a church from around 720 and, some suggest possibly a Roman church site. A fine terrace of houses lines the Cathedral precinct. A cathedral was first built here in 680 by Bishop Bosel but nothing remains of it. The next building was constructed by St Oswald, Bishop of Worcester, in the second half of the 10th century. The present building was started by St Wulfstan, a Saxon who was retained by the Conqueror, in 1084 and has examples of all English architecture between Norman and Perpendicular Gothic. There have been no major changes to the building since 1504. Inevitably, the Victorians undertook restoration, Gilbert Scott and Perkins, both of whom are buried in the cathedral. The nave is lofty with a fine pink brick ceiling. Many monuments line the walls and the body of the nave. A large white marble shows Colonel Sir Henry Walton Ellis
Inscription on the tomb of Margaret, wife of David Rae of Edinburgh
In returning to SCOTLAND with her husband
From a visit to her Relations in ENGLAND,
While flatter’d with hope, how Vain!
Of soon embracing her tender Infants at home,
And accustom’d to Health and Joy,
The Fruit and reward of Innocence!
She was cut off like a flow’r in it’s bloom,
And meekly submitted to the will
Of the ALMIGHTY.
Who, in this City, put an early period
To the virtuous and Valuable Life
Of this most amiable Traveller,
On the 7th Day of June, 1770,
At the age of 29 years.
In Testimony to the Affection which Death could not destroy,
And as a Tribute to the Virtues that did Honour her Sex;
He, who once was supremely happy as her Husband,
Erected this Monument in the year 1772.
being helped from his horse by an angel after being mortally wounded at Waterloo in 1815. A fine Victorian plaque in blue, yellow and white marble remembers Richard Woolf, Town Clerk who died in 1877. A large white marble statue of Bishop Philpott (apparently an ancestor of J.K.Rowling) by Sir Thomas Brock is sadly obscured by a large stack of chairs. The ashes of Stanley Baldwin, former Prime Minister lie under a stone laid into the floor. In the crossing is a huge monument by Louis François Roubiliac, to Bishop John Hough (1651–1743). In the chancel is the tomb of King John, who died in Norwich but requested he be buried in his beloved Worcester. The lion at his feet has the tip of his sword in its mouth. The tomb lay between those of Wulfstan and Oswald, but both have been destroyed. Nearby is the chantry chapel of Prince Arthur, elder son of Henry VII. Shortly after his marriage to Catherine of Aragon at the age of 16, Arthur died at Ludlow. Above the chancel is a early 13th century ceiling vault crested by William of Blois and re-plastered, painted and gilded in the 19th century. Beneath is the crypt where parts of Oswald’s building can still be seen, including some painted plasterwork. A chapel lies within the crypt with a statue entitled Pieta by Glyn Williams celebrating the work of forty artists to the restoration of the cathedral in 1991. Outside, the cloister surrounds a herb garden and leads to the chapter house, which is octagonal outside and circular within, with a fine ceiling of ten ribs radiating from a central column. The cloister contains a massive heating radiator which resembles a finned naval-mine. There is some beautiful panes of etched glass for the Millennium by Mark Cazalet.
We then go to the Worcester Pottery Museum where there is an extensive display of Georgian, Victorian and modern pottery from one of the great regions of pottery making. Much of the fine porcelain is decorated in designs which are far from my tastes but interesting nevertheless. We head into the main shopping area of the city. The Guild Hall is a fine Queen Anne building from 1721, probably designed by Thomas White, a pupil of Christopher Wren. Three portrait statues adorn the front, Queen Anne, Charles I and Charles II. Defoe said:
Strangely, Defoe undertook his tour between 1724 and 1727, when the Guild Hall, of which he is so dismissive, was virtually new.
Thursday – Longtown – A village in the Olchon Valley which lies to the west of the Golden Valley under the eaves of the Black Mountains. It is part of the Hundred of Ewyas Lacy. Hundreds were old Saxon land divisions, but no such hundred existed in these wild frontier areas until the Normans imposed their writ. Walter de Lacy was given the land by the Conqueror and established a chain of castles to try and subdue the unruly Welsh. Longtown castle was built inside an earthwork which may be Roman in origin. The road up the valley cuts through the outer baileys of the castle. Some of the inner bailey wall remains with a relatively small but solid gatehouse set into them. Through the gatehouse and into the inner bailey, where one is faced with an impressive thirty five foot high motte surmounted by a round tower, probably built in the 13th century to replace an earlier wooden one. There were two floors within the keep, the upper one containing the apartments for the lord and his family. A garderobe (latrine) remains high on the wall of the tower. After Walter’s death the castle passed to his daughters Maud and Margaret, the latter marrying John de Verdon, who was on crusade with Edward I. His granddaughter’s husband, Bartholomew de Burghersh inherited during the reign of Edward III. Their son, Thomas, sided with Richard II and lost his estates after Richard’s death at Pontefract. The last owners were the Nevilles. The castle fell into disrepair in the 14th century but was briefly refurbished in the early 15th century in response to the attacks of Owain Glyndŵr. The small town Ewyas Lacy developed to the south of the castle but went into decline after the Black Death in the mid-14th century. In 1540, the town was referred to as Longa Villa in Ewias Lacy and then became referred to as Longtown. From the path around the keep there is a magnificent view across the valley and then up the Black Mountains. The hills are still streaked with snow. Below, in a field, very pregnant ewes munch on root vegetables. The daffodils on the sides of the motte are close to flowering but the recent cold has made them very late. Rooks caw noisily in the distance.
Craswall – A village that stretches for miles up the Olchon Valley north of Longtown. The name simply means Cross Stream. There is an old pub which we reluctantly pass and then the road takes a sharp turn and dives down into a valley carrying the nascent River Monnow. Back up the hill stands the little church of St Mary. The date of the church is unknown but it is considered that the earliest parts of the present building date from the early 15th century. It is wonderfully simple inside. A 15th century wooden roof and plain walls. Ornate iron rings stand out from the walls to hold lamps, now superseded by electric lights. The western end of the nave is cut off by a wall built in 18th century, which had an arch in it which has been filled and replaced with a normal shaped door. The bell tower is wooden and probably 17th century. The east window is 15th century, but most of the other windows are 19th century. The church was restored in 1883. Outside is the base and socket for a cross. A ewe and her lamb stand by the edge of the churchyard and watch us.
Friday – Mortimer Forest – Despite the threat of rain and indeed, drops on my windscreen earlier, it remains dry as Maddy and I head from Black Pool round to the ponds to the south of the Deer Park. Blue Tits tumble and twitter as they feed on the whisker thin twigs of Silver Birches. From the pond the track leads south and then west to the butts visited a few weeks ago. However, another path heads down the valley carved by a small stream heading down to Hope Cottage. The path soon splits and I head up towards Hanway Common through an old gate. The path passes through dry brown Bracken and old Oak, Silver Birch and Hawthorn. The birches are riddled with Birch Polypore, a bracket fungus, which has killed some and is killing the others. The path turns into a sunken track, probably of some considerable age. At the top of the slope, the edge of the common is covered with gorse bushes. More gorse is dotted across the field. The distant hills can be seen to the south, east and north-east. In the latter direction, Titterstone Clee rises into low cloud. The farmstead of Vallets is at the top of the common. I head up the field then head back down where two Alders stand on the edge of the valley. The path is faintly marked and steep. A Song Thrush is singing in the forest, tits chatter. Cries of corvids, mainly Raven and Carrion Crow drift from the distance; a Common Pheasant croaks. The path passes under some Ash trees and reaches the gate again.
Monday – Croft – Down into Fish Pool Valley. Daffodils are trying to bloom, but they are so late. Only Snowdrops are flowering at the moment. Across the valley past one of the pools and up into the Beech woods that line Bircher Common. A pair of Common Buzzards can be seen through the bare branches, circling the woods and drifting slowly northwards. Bird song is patchy – Great Tits are a constant refrain and a Nuthatch squeaks loudly, but a Robin and Blue Tits are just occasional bursts. Up in the branches there are a few small platforms of twigs forming nests and circular bundles of Grey Squirrel dreys. Up through the woods and across to the old Gamekeeper’s cottage then down the fields towards the castle. Woodpeckers are drumming in the park. Rooks and Jackdaws are noisy. Cattle have hayracks of silage around which they munch contentedly. The sun shines.
Friday – Leominster – The redevelopment of Grange House, John Abel’s Market Hall now standing in the Grange near the Minster, has started. Many objections concentrated on the felling of a number of trees including a large Pine, however, they are now down. Three new conifers have been planted at the far end of the churchyard. Nearby there are numerous molehills which turn up various bits of stone, bone and a small piece of what I think is wall plaster with a red stippled pattern. The glorious display of Snowdrops is slowly coming to an end. Crocuses are now flowering. The shiny dark green arrowhead leaves of Cuckoo Pints are everywhere.
Home – The fine weather continues, although rain would now be welcome as the garden is very dry. Tomatoes and chillies have been potted on and a few of the former have been planted into the greenhouse bed. Peas, despite poor germination of the variety Alderman have been transplanted into the main bed and another batch, this time a mange-tout variety, Reuzensuiker have been sown into the piece of guttering in the greenhouse. Carrot, Oxheart, Parsnip White Gem and Broccoli Raab ‘60 days’ have all been sown into a bed. Potatoes, Maris Bard and Rocket went in at the weekend and the bad blister I gouged into my hand with the dibber has almost healed!
Monday – Bircher Common – The rain has arrived and it is damp, cold, windy and cloudy as I head across Bircher Common. A Great Grey Shrike has been reported here again this year but, as last, I fail to find it. A few Great Tits are cycling their song and some chirping Blue Tits flitting across the gorse bushes, a few of which are in flower, bright yellow against the dark green which is surrounded by the rufous dead Bracken. The path leads through a gap between Bircher and Oaker Coppices. Green shoots of new grass are pushing through the matted pale yellow dead sward. The path then crosses a wide open space of cropped grass before reaching Whiteway Head and Croft Wood. Behind, across the fields of Lodge Farm, a brooding, grey Titterstone Clee dominates the skyline. Mistle Thrushes fly up from the grassland and head into the trees. In the woods, Dog Mercury and Cuckoo Pints are prolific on the edge of the path. Down the old ride, through the Beech woods and back onto Bircher Common. Sheep graze and watch Maddy warily; she is on the lead here as I do not really trust her with sheep. The path passes an old quarry. A Kestrel hovers above.
Wednesday – Leominster – Round the early morning circuit with Maddy. It is very damp underfoot. The dawn chorus which a couple of weeks ago was just beginning at this time of morning is now beginning to peter out. However, that herald of spring, the Chiffchaff has arrived and is singing his onomatopoeic song.
Ryelands – Up Ryelands Road to Fairlawns and off along Cock Croft Lane on the top of the ridge. The lane is just a muddy path. A pair of Dunnocks are in a singing competition, one is on the path-side hedgerow, the other over in a large thicket of bramble. Out onto the open fields with the sounds of Sky Larks singing from high above. Back down to the Hereford Road by Town End Cottage. Hereford Terrace is a small cul-de-sac with a terrace of cottages on the south side and the end of the gardens of the houses in the next street. At the bottom of the street is a large house, Fairleigh House, built in pale tan stone, set well back from the road. On the opposite side is the Coach House with a large garage door and a door to a hay loft above. Living accommodation appears to be at the back of the building. Planning permission is being sought to convert the coach house into a cottage and build three more dwellings in the garden.
Friday – Croft – Down the slope into Fish Pool Valley. Recent rain has made the track slippery with slick mud. Sunlight brightens the rapidly greening understory. Robins sing and a Chiffchaff calls. Tiny lime-yellow on green flowers cover the verge of the path, Opposite-Leaved Golden Saxifrage Chrysosplenium oppositifolium. Beyond them, up the slope the green is mainly Dog Mercury. A pair of Grey Wagtails flit around the edge of one of the pools. Another pool seems to have gained a tub of ferns. Fish jump, disturbing the mirror-like water. As I approach the next pool, three Teal fly off and head down the valley. Maddy loses her ball down a steep slope where it buries itself into a bramble thicket. She keeps trying to go straight into the mass of brambles and, of course, gets stuck. I try to tell her to go down the slope and approach from the bottom end where the ball is resting. This simply results in her barking crossly at me. Eventually, she pushes through from the side, gets the ball and tries to turn round. She actually succeeds and gets herself out – I was beginning to think in terms of a difficult climb down to release her. Hart’s Tongue ferns are shiny dark green in the little quarry by the lime-kiln. Opposite Daffodils are beginning to emerge down the slope from the stone shelter. Up the path towards the top of the ridge. Prints in the mud reveal the passing of horses, dogs, deer and man. On Croft Ambrey a Hawthorn has fat, pink buds about to explode into leaf. The wind here is strong, blasting across the Iron Age fort. Back down to the Spanish Chestnut field. Mistle Thrushes fly off and a Sky Lark sings overhead. The sky is getting greyer and rain looms.
Monday – Mortimer Forest – Heavy overnight rain has declined to a gentle drizzle which soon peters out. Everywhere is very wet. Leafless twigs are adorned with jewel-like drops of water which sparkle despite the lack of sun. Maddy’s underparts are soon covered with dripping mud. Robins and tits call in the woods. We head from the Black Pool car park round to the pools near the Deer Park. I lob a large stick out into the pool and Maddy quickly follows. She is actually clean for a few minutes, but it does not last long. A striated fossil seashell lays on the edge of the track. The world has shrunk around us in a thick mist as we head up the long slope to High Vinnalls. Coltsfoot is coming into flower, one of the few plants that flowers before the leaves emerge. A woodpecker is drumming in the distance. Down by Climbing Jack Common. The path is slick mud and makes unpleasant walking, so it is a relief to get onto the gravel of the forestry track.
Wednesday – Mortimer Forest – It is very damp as I plod up the forestry track. For some reason I am not feeling enthusiastic about walking today. Wrens are churring their alarm call as they dart into thickets of bracken and bramble at the base of the pines. A lone Long-tailed Tit feeds overhead; the large flocks seem to have disbanded now. A clump of Primroses blooming in a sheltered ditch shine like jewels in a mire. In the distance the Clee hills are snowcapped.