Sunday – Leominster – The first day of Meteorological Spring, according to the weather forecasters. It is bright although threatening clouds are drifting over driven by a sprightly wind. Down Etnam Street and over the railway. Undergrowth has been cleared next to the old railway fence to give access to a public footpath. This has revealed a massive cast iron beam with old iron railing on top standing between four pillars of black bricks. Access covers to some sort of pit is on this side of the ironwork. It is not clear why this ironwork is here, but a siding ran close to it on the station side and old maps show Pinsley Brook ran close to here and a path led to a pumping station, now demolished, on Lammas Meadow. On over the river which is flowing steadily. Bird song is from all directions. Over the field to the market. There are a couple of Airstream caravans in the Brightwell compounds. These sleek aluminium caravans from the USA are in need of considerable restoration. A Raven cronks as it flies over, there is a gap in its wing where a secondary has moulted out. There are more stalls and people than I expected at the market, the first of the year. A Velocette LE motorcycle is being unloaded in the car park. These strange looking bikes were mainly used by the police. It is said that in the days when police constables were required to salute more senior officers it was considered dangerous for the riders to remove a hand from the handlebars so they were allowed to give a smart nod. The Velocettes became known as “Noddy Bikes” because of this. However, others say it was more to do with Enid Blyton’s character Noddy and his friendship with PC Plod! I find nothing worth buying and wander around to the town centre and back home.
Monday – Rochford – Another bright morning with a brisk cold wind. Snow dusts the higher ground, the Clee Hills are quite white. I park in Burford, near the Tenbury Community Hospital, a group of bright white, square, utilitarian blocks. An earlier wing, dated 1912, had much more style, more like a Victorian villa. It is the Elizabeth Wing of what was St Mary’s Cottage Hospital. Along to the bridge over the River Teme. Two old ladies are crossing with their shopping trolleys. They stop and the Mallard below start rushing to the spot beneath them. Bags of bread come out of the trolleys and are thrown to the excited ducks. Clearly a regular occurrence. Along the bank-side path and into the recreation ground to the shelter above the confluence of Kyre Brook and the Teme. The wind is now really quite strong and chilling. Past the extraordinary pump house and Crow Inn then across Kyre Brook. A path leads off beside the brook. The path passes playing fields on Palmer’s Meadow and meets the Teme by a house called Dorothy’s Rock. An area of woodland where the path joins the road has twenty or more bee hives. The path and this road were known as Rise Lane until sometime after 1970 when the road between the B4204 and Rochford became Rhyse Lane, presumably as that is the name of the farm on its route. Ahead a house, Northwick Cottages, has a large N on the gable ends and again over the upper storey windows. The N and Northwick presumably refers to Lord Northwick, the barony of the Rushout family who had a large house at Burford. Old maps refer to the house as Rise Cottages. Past Rhyse Farm and cottage. Despite the spring-like weather there are still flocks of Fieldfares in the grass pastures.
A low range of hills runs along the edge is the river valley. The slopes are marked with what looks like terracing but I assume they are the remains of old river banks. A Common Buzzard mews in the distance. An old tank is on a rotting wooden structure on the edge of a field. It looks like an old oil tanker tank which was used to store water and looking at the modern plastic pipe going into it may well still be used as such. Past a wood on a steep bluff of Old Red Sandstone where the road rises and then on into Rochford. The name probably comes from “Rock” referring to the bluff and “ford” referring to a crossing of the Teme. The Old Hall, dated 1704 but with earlier origins, stands opposite a path that leads down to a black gate encrusted with yellow lichen and on down to St Michael’s Church. It is not certain when the church was founded. William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford who was effectively ruling England after the Conquest as William had returned to Normandy, gave land to Tenbury and Rochford Chapelry. In the mid 12th century this was passed to the Abbey of Lyra in Normandy. In 1416 when Henry V suppressed foreign monasteries, he gave Tenbury and its Chapelry of Rochford to the Carthusian Monastery of Shene in Surrey. Before the dissolution in 1536, the monks granted the lease of the living to Thomas Acton of Sutton House, Tenbury who was subsequently sold the estate by Henry VIII. Rochford ceased to be affiliated to Tenbury in 1843. Opposite the entrance is a hatchment with the royal arms of the House of Hanover. At that time it was no longer a requirement to display these hatchments and the display of the strongly Protestant Hanovers was a statement of where local loyalties lie. The church is a fine Norman building with a chancel arch decorated with the late Norman zigzag pattern. The windows in the nave display the considerable thickness of the walls. The east window is a splendid early William Morris piece commemorating a death in 1863; Pevsner considers it to be “unaffected by the conventions which chiefly Burne-Jones was to follow later” and “fresh and naïve and infinitely superior to anything done at the time in England or abroad”. A number of large boards hang in the nave on which are scripted the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments and the Creed. Several Yews stand in the graveyard. Behind the church, towards the river is a large grassy mound which may well have been the site of a wooden fort guarding the ford. Beside the church eastwards is Church (formerly Court) House, a 17th century partly timbered farm house. Back along Rhyse Lane to Tenbury. The snow has mostly thawed on Clee Hill. I am now walking into the wind which remains blustery and cold. Back outside the hospital, cherry blossom is emerging. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – A blue sky and bright sunshine again but also a bitter north-west wind. Chaffinches and Great Tits sing in the trees. A Long-tailed Tit, locally once called the “Bottle-Tit” or “Mummiruffin”, is like a tiny ball of wool with a needle sticking out as it searches a branch for insects. Magpies fly along the edge of Westfield Wood.
There are many rhymes associated with Magpies. In Herefordshire the traditional counting rhyme was:
One for Sorrow;
Two for Mirth;
Three for a Wedding;
Four for a Birth;
Five for a Fiddle;
Six for a Dance;
Seven for England;
Eight for France.
Nearly forty Wigeon are on the scrape. The family of Mute Swans sails serenely away. There are at least sixteen Goldeneye and good numbers of Tufted Duck around the water and, of course, noisy Canada Geese. A Grey Heron sits hunched on branches above the water by the island whilst half a dozen Cormorants sit above in the trees. Four female Goosander speed across the water to the scrape, dipping their heads under the water regularly to see of there are any comestibles available. By the island a Moorhen dives like a duck and emerges with something large and pale which it takes into the waterlogged trees. A Cormorant joins the Wigeon on the scrape. The Goosander have also fetched up onto the crowded piece of gravelly mud. Two Great Crested Grebe appear in the centre of the lake, both males. A Canada Goose decides to clean itself by “flying” on the surface of the water and diving with considerable noise and splashing. Three of the Goosander swim off and it is a couple of minutes before the fourth realises she has been left behind and sets off in pursuit. Fifteen more Canada Geese arrive in a cacophony. Yet somehow the Wigeon seem to sleep through all this noise and activity. Back on the meadow a Blackbird seeks worms and a Song Thrush sings from the waterside Alders. A brief burst of sing comes from a Robin as it moves down the Hawthorn and Hazel hedge. A pair of Common Buzzards circle above the woods. The hedge laying in the orchard had been finished and a fine looking job it is! Mistletoe is bright yellow as it flowers. A few of the apple trees have buds just beginning to swell but most are still dormant. The car, which has been parked in the sunshine is recording an external temperature of 12°C, although it certainly does not feel that warm in the wind.
Friday – Long Mynd – Clouds obscure most of the sky and yet again a bitter wind blows. Chaffinches sing in the valley, one drops down to the Carding Mill stream to drink. Up the valley where the hills close in leaving a narrow gorge. Sheep are dotted across the hillsides and down here by the path. They are eating just about everything, grass, moss and one is chomping on wiry heather. Instead of my usual route up the Jack Mytton Way, I turn up towards Lightspout Hollow. A concrete channel funnels water through a metal V, no idea why. The hillsides, Cow Ridge and Calf Ridge, are steep, a few small Hawthorns, Birches, Hollies and Rowan are scattered across them. The stream bubbles and gurgles noisily as it tumbles down the steep defile. Chaffinches are still singing and pinking. Lightspout waterfall plunges down over mosses and other aquatic greenery. Steep rock steps climb up around it. The path continues gently upwards. Another stream joins from the south. The gradient of the hills eases and the stream flows through a deep gully in the peat moor. Ponies are grazing on the skyline. On the top of Long Mynd I pick up the Shropshire Way and head south. A Meadow Pipit uses an old marker stake as a perch and a Skylark sings overhead. Red Grouse call as they fly low across the heather. To the east, the ramparts of the hill forts Bodbury and Caer Caradoc are clear. The ridges continue eastwards, Hope Bowdler, Wenlock Edge and Brown Clee. The numerous paths up here can be a little confusing but I manage to work out where I am and set off south. Boiling Well is indeed bubbling up fresh water. On tarmacadam roads now. Past Pole Bank, the highest point of Long Mynd and Pole Bank Cottage, a corrugated iron shed and on across the barren hilltop. The ancient Port Way has joined the road now, as has the Jack Mytton and Shropshire Ways. Along the verge are five foot long piles of stones, mainly grown over with grass. They are spaced about 15 yards apart, some recently topped with chippings. I have no idea of their purpose. Remnants of snow linger in a ditch. A Raven flies up in an ungainly fashion until it catches the wind and glides off gracefully.
The road begins to descend steeply by the Midlands Gliding Club which lies on Starbroadway, part of the Port Way, which continues along the ridge. A Red Kite glides along the side of the hill. The hillside is precipitous. The view is wonderful of the valley of the East Onney between Long Mynd and the ridge leading to Stiperstones. Rectangular fields with small farmsteads and copses. The lanes drops down into the hamlet of Asterton. The name simply means “East Farm”. Below the hill, a little above the hamlet is Asterton Primitive Methodist chapel, now a ruin. It was built in 1839 and had seating for about 80 people. In 1851 the evening service was attended by 55 people. By 1954 there just two old ladies attending the services. The chapel probably closed during the late 1950s. The village is a number of cottages around Asterton Hall, an early to mid-18th century farmhouse. It has been restored since it was surveyed for listing in 1984 when it was stated to be in poor condition. Nearby farm buildings were also in a ruinous state but have now been converted into residences. Off down the Bishops Castle road. The lane turns by a large pond which had a small island of Alders but no ducks! Over the Criftin Brook and north into Wentnor. The lane passes a large closely packed plantation of Oak, Ash and Hazel saplings. Jackdaws, a Jay and a Magpie fly off. Into the village which sits on a hill. The church of St Michael and All Saints dates from around 1090 although there is some evidence of Saxon foundations. Wantenovre was held by Edric before the Conquest and by Earl Roger Fitz Corbet in 1086. The living is under the patronage of Christ Church, Oxford. The church was in a ruinous state by the mid 19th century but was restored by Henry Curzon after Revd Henry North raised the £1200 needed. A small Norman window and a blocked up Norman doorway are in the north wall. The nave roof is probably 15th century. The pews are oak and have the kneelers displayed on the shelves. The pulpit is carved oak from the reign of James I. The four bells in a wooden turret were recast in 1716 from bells thought to have been cast by the monks of Haughmond Abbey before 1552. There is a custom of ringing a peel annually for a Wentnor man who lost his life on a winter’s night coming home from Church Stretton November Fair, which became known as Dead Man’s Fair. The Hurricane tomb records the loss of Samuel Perkins aged 55, his wife Mary aged 50 and their son Samuel aged 15 in a snow storm of 1779 with the following inscription:
Heating and lighting were installed in memory of the two men from the village who died in the Second World War and is recorded in a plaque on the wall. Off through the village with a stop at the Crown Inn. In Victorian times, church services were held in the malt house at the rear of the inn because of the state of the church. Down the road a farm yard over a wall looks like a children’s book picture of a typical farm, a cart horse eating hay, a couple of donkeys, geese and chickens with a cockerel crowing. My route turns towards Long Mynd across Prolly Moor. A sign points to “Dangerous Hill”. Down the not very dangerous hill. The hedgerow are entirely made of Holly and Ivy. Back over Criftin Brook. Two Red Kites circle above Rose Cottage. A little to the east of the cottage is Robury Ring Farm. The ring was a defensive ditch of a possible Iron Age settlement. However, excavation in 1990 discovered a Bronze Age cremation urn so the site may well have been ritual and a henge. It was apparently well preserved on an open moor before cultivation began around the late 1850s. The site was pretty much ploughed out by the 20th century. Farm buildings now entirely fill the site. The wind hisses loudly though a small Oak that is still converted in dead, brown leaves. The fields here at the foot of Long Mynd are clearly boggy as there is a profusion of sedges. Ravens sail along the edge of the hill. The sun is shining and out of the wind it is quite warm. A Dunnock and Great Tit sing. A ram with a fine set of curling horns looks at me disdainfully and goes back to eating hay. A glider rides the air along the top of the ridge. From up on the hillside little can be seen of any earthworks at Robury Ring. A pair of Common Buzzards circle the fields near the hill now. Behind lies Stiperstones and Long Mountain and the mid-Wales Hills beyond. It is a long hard haul over the top to rejoin the road at Pole Bank Cottage. I am passed by a couple on bikes with a panting Border Collie running alongside. Over the top of the ridge at the head of The Burway. The lines of hills running south-west to the north-east, from Hazler Hill to The Wrekin stand clear in the now much cooler afternoon. They are the Eastern Uriconian outcrops of lavas and tuffaceous rocks ranging in composition from basalt through andesite and dacite to rhyolite. They date from the Ediacaran period, between 635-541 million years ago. Down The Burway, past great gullies, New Pool and Devilsmouth Hollows running down to Carding Mill Valley. Over a cross dyke beneath Devil’s Mouth on Burway Hill to the footpath that runs back into the valley. Route
Saturday – Home – Last night thin cloud glowed in a great circle around a near full moon. The weather is getting milder and today is dry. A certain sign of the slowly approaching spring is a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly feeding on some pansies. One of my least favourite garden jobs needs doing – compost bin sorting. The other job, digging out the chicken run was done earlier in the week and my aching back has just about recovered. The final bin does not have a great deal in it but what is there is pretty rough stuff! So I just aerate it a bit and add the contents of the other wooden bin. Then the really hard job, moving the partially rotted contents of the plastic bins into the now empty wooden one. It always seems strange that apples will rot quickly in the fruit bowl but here after several months many are still whole. After I have cleared up after finishing another digging job. We have decided to replace our white currant with a blueberry. The white currant is very prolific but what does one do with them. They are not pleasant eating, the large pips are a nuisance. Cooked the pip problem remains and the flavour is nothing to get excited about. Some pleasant jelly can be made but there is only so much we can use. So we decide it is better to replace it. In goes a bag of ericaceous compost as blueberries like acid soil and the bush is planted. We put the white currant down in the wild area at the bottom of the garden. If it flourishes here the birds will have a feast. The pond is still cloudy and pinkish owing to bacteria but this does not seem to discourage frogs from mating! The same applies to the Blackbirds who are very frisky, although Spotty, with the white spots, is keener on scarfing down the seed I put out. A Wren disappears behind the Ivy on the ancient pear tree that stands against the garden wall – maybe a nest is being planned.
Monday – Gladestry – A light overnight frost soon disappears leaving a grey morning. Yet again a cold wind blows. Through Gladestry to the church of St Mary and up the lane beside the graveyard. My route is straight ahead instead of the normal left turn towards the hills. Bird song is continuous with Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Wood Pigeons, mewing Common Buzzards, chattering Magpies, Blue and Great Tits. The round discs of Pennywort leaves are green and fresh in the old brown grasses on the banks. This is an old lane, the banks are between eight and ten feet high, then topped with hedges. At Foyce there is a modern bungalow by the road but set back is a far older house, mid-18th century with a long slate catslide roof that nearly reaches the ground at the back with a number of dormer windows. Much of the house has been altered in the 20th century. A dovecot stands nearby with a lead cupola. The lane turns a couple of times before ending at the Court of Gladestry. The listing records, “The present building appears to form the truncated remains of a much larger house. The property once belonged to Sir Gelli Meyrick who was hanged in 1600 for aiding the Earl of Essex in his rebellion against Elizabeth I. It was seized by the Crown and an inventory recorded a very substantial and well-furnished dwelling on the site. It was reputedly fortified and unexplored earthworks in the grounds point to perhaps a moat or landscaped gardens. The house as it stands incorporates part of a cruck building but is largely box framed and was extensively remodelled in 18th century.” The house stands next to a busy farmyard.
I retrace my steps to the first turn. The top of Caety Traylow hill is obscured by mist. At the first turning a track passes Grove Cottage and Llanhaylow Wood. The woods are a remnant of the great ancient forests that covered Wales and were part of the Ormathwaite Estate until 1945. A few years later many of the native trees were replaced with conifers. However, these were removed in the 1990s but without any thought to the remaining native trees, almost all Oak, which were badly damaged by being suddenly exposed to the powerful winds that blow down from the hills. Coed Cadw took over the woodland in 1996 and now run it as a managed site with public access. The dominant trees are Sessile Oak, Silver Birch, Rowan and Hazel with remnants of the conifers. The track enters a field and across the fields is another track to Gwern-dyfnant. Here is the entrance to the wood. The path starts to descend into a hollow-way. A tree had fallen across the track and numerous new saplings rise from the prone trunk. Steps take the path up above the hollow-way before rejoining it further down the slope. Trees here are covered in mosses. The path reaches the bottom of the valley where Gilwern Brook flows. The path follows the meandering brook until it comes to a sharp turn when the path returns up the hill. Tiny Scarlet Elfcups, Sarcoscypha coccinea peep out of the leaf litter. A calling Dipper shoots past travelling upstream. The path takes a rather direct route up the steep muddy hillside. Tree branches and trunks make useful handholds as I slither upwards. A track heads back to the entrance beside a sheep pasture. The house of Gwern-dyfnant unfortunately cannot be seen behind barns. The house is a T-shaped building of three phases, 17th, 18th and early 19th century. From 1817-1845 it was owned by Thomas Hutchinson (of Hindwell Farm and later Brinsop Court) brother-in-law to William Wordsworth, and often visited by the Wordsworths. Gothic style rooms at the south end were probably added by Hutchinson. A Song Thrush sings sweetly on the edge of the wood. Back down to the lane back to Gladestry. The cloud has thickened on the hills and it is beginning to rain. Lambs watch my passing, ignoring their mother’s bleating. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – Grey clouds cover the sky. A cool wind blows, so despite yesterday’s sunshine, we seem back to the gloom of March in the Marches. A Dunnock is in good voice by the car park. Carrion Crows, Magpies and Jackdaws call. The lake seems deserted but then a drake Goldeneye bobs up. Another half dozen are at the western end with a similar number of Tufted Duck. Canada Geese are on the shores of the lake and a few Mute Swans glide around. A Sparrowhawk circles overhead. Half a dozen Cormorants are in the trees. The resident Mallard seem to have disappeared. A couple of Coot swim out into the middle of the water, looking around as if lost. A single drake Mallard appears from behind the island. There are only twitterings from Great and Blue Tits, the occasional caw or chack from Carrion Crows and Jackdaws in Westfield Wood and the inevitable Canada Geese yelping from the lake. No concerted bird song yet. Heading back to Leominster, there is much pruning and thinning of riverside trees on Easters Meadows.
Friday – Leominster – A foul morning. Off down Etnam Street in the rain. Not sure where I am headed. Over the River Lugg which is flowing rapidly and up Easters Meadows where the ground has been churned up by vehicles being used in the tree works mentioned on Wednesday. The wind is blowing from the north and is cold. My cheeks begin to ache and I am soaked. I decide this is ridiculous, what is the point of walking in this? So I head back down Mill Street and along the riverside path. It is sheltered here and has attracted many birds who also want to keep out of the wind – Goldfinches, Song Thrushes, Wrens, Greenfinches, Dunnocks, Robins and House Sparrows. Back through the town and the Friday market in Corn Square. The market traders look cold. I purchase a pair of Arbroath Smokies (whole smoked haddocks) and some tulips and retreat home.
Sunday – Leominster – Patches of blue are few in a grey sky. The River Lugg is also grey and flowing steadily. The freight train rumbles past has hauling Network Rail wagons. Cheaton Brook is low and red-brown. Two Mute Swans feed upstream from Ridgemoor Bridge. There is an old marker stone on the bridge, “LB” and a badly worn height mark.
Monday – Gladestry - Michaelchurch-on-Arrow – Dark grey clouds glide across a grey sky. Rain is hinted. Two Red Kites fly over fields east of Lyonshall. From Gladestry I head off along the Huntington road. Past Broken Bank which rises up to Hergest Ridge. At Tregarden, a funeral directors with a green burial ground opposite, a Sparrowhawk is hunting around the bird feeders but retreats rapidly at my approach. The rain starts in short bursts. Sheep are noisy in the fields. The darkening sky persuades me to don my over-trousers. The road splits, one way off to Kington, my route drops down to Gladestry Brook which is crossed over a small stone bridge. The road then climbs around a hill over which a Common Buzzard and a Red Kite soar. The road enters Huntington and crosses Belleau Brook, which feeds Gladestry Brook and back into England. The road skirts around the castle mound. Over the crossroads and onto the Brilley road. Behind, Hergest Ridge dominates the skyline. The wagon and Fordson tractor are still in the old barn. Robins and Chaffinches flit through the roadside hedges. Jackdaws chack. On along the Brilley road. A pond near Greenfield Cottage contains a pair of Mallard and is surrounded by rather too many rhododendrons. Past the Penllan junction. Across the fields is a vast acreage of polytunnel frames. A few sheep in a field come running towards the road as I pass. This sets the whole flock running down towards me, baaing loudly, all in vain as they soon realise. The road runs through high banks which have the first Primroses in flower that I have seen this year. Lower Hengoed is a fine farmhouse. Another large house stands on a road junction. A little way down a narrow lane is the old mill. But I head on down towards the River Arrow. Over the river at Pentiley and back into Wales. Dog Mercury is about to flower on banks. Opposite Lower Gaer, another large farmhouse thought to be late 17th century in origin, a track heads off, a rough mixture of some and mud. It fords a couple of small streams. The rain is now more persistent.
The track enters Michaelchurch-on-Arrow, Llanfihangel Dyffryn Arwy in Welsh, beside St Michael’s church. The church stands in an old manor which the mid-18th century the lords were the Trumper family. It seems to be a post-Conquest settlement, Michaeleschirche around the year 1257 and Mihelescruch alias Mihellescherch in 1309. It is possible there was a castle here, William fitz Osbern established several castles up and down his borders after invading Brycheiniog in the summer of 1070 and defeating the regal rulers of South Wales, but nothing remains apart from a references to “Castle Orchard”, “Castle Meadow” and “Castle Wood” as 1844 field-names. Fences in the graveyard controlling the sheep which clearly are used to keep down the grass. There are iron wire frames over a couple of graves; are these mortsafes, protection against grave-robbers? A lamb stands on a recumbent gravestone and stares at me. The church possibly dates from the 13th century although much of the original architecture was destroyed in an extensive restoration in 1869 by Thomas Nicholson. The interior retains a screen and a ciborium (a canopied shrine for the reserved sacrament), both late medieval and the latter particularly important, together with a medieval font. The ceiling over the reredos is mainly from 1869 but the bosses are original and depict a bishop of Hereford, Henry IV and Joan of Navarre indicating a date around 1410. A gravestone in the nave floor records the death of Elizabeth who died in 1684 aged just 10 years old. Back round the roads to Lower Hencoed. A lane heads north-east. Turret Tump is the motte of Norman timber fort, probably another of William fitz Osbern’s. Nearby is Huntington School House, Goff’s Endowed Day School, dated 1791 and the United Reform Church (Congregational) and graveyard. The church is a small stone building with no features, built according to Kelly’s in 1804. On along the lane past Cae Cwm and School Green. A circular wooden platform has been erected in a patch of woodland and garden furniture sits on it. Near Shop Farm a house has a swimming pool, full of green water, in view of the road! At Lower Llanbella is a modern house with a cacophony of House Sparrows. The lane tops the hill and starts to descend towards Gladestry. Sheep feed in a sea of mud but a couple have managed to dodge the jolts of an electric fence and get into the beet field and are busy munching on beet tops. Hergest Ridge is now hazy through the rain and mist. The Offa’s Dyke Path joins at Stone House. At Burnt House the models of deer have gone but hounds have joined the model of a galloping horse. Route
Wednesday – Bodenham Lake – The area is misty, almost a fog south of Leominster. Bird song is loud around the car park, House Sparrows, Blackbirds, Robins, Blue and Great Tits. The dawn chorus is noticeable now, starting shortly after 4 o’clock in the morning. A Green Woodpecker yaffles. Two Great Crested Grebes are in the bay off the meadow. A number of Goldeneye are still present. Another Great Crested Grebe is in the western end of the lake. A Cormorant is atop the trees with its wings outstretched. Three Mute Swans, all cobs, circle one another with their wings arched. Ten Tufted Duck are together, a couple diving, most the others sleeping. Just a single Wigeon remains of the large flocks of winter. Canada Geese are displaying to each other, inevitably with a lot of noise. A Greylag Goose glides out of the mist, probably a feral bird. A female Goosander appears, stretching and exercising her wings. A Song Thrush is singing loudly and beautifully from the top of an ornamental evergreen on the edge of a garden beside the paddock. Another is searching the grass on the meadow. It seems strange that it is not yet spring really but the hazel catkins have already turned brown. However, the first tiny flowers are opening on the Blackthorn, leaves are just appearing on Hawthorns and grey Pussy Willow is out but yet to develop into the fluffy yellow grey masses. A Pied Wagtail tsips as it flies over. A Redwing is on the edge of the orchard, just single birds are seen now, the majority have returned north. A Greenfinch calls nearby. A woman lets five Labradors through the car park gate and they thunder off down the track gleefully. Along the Gloucester road the warmth of the tarmac has brought out Primroses and Blackthorn.
Thursday – Croome Park – This National Trust house, park and former RAF base is in Worcestershire, a few miles north-east of Upton-on-Severn. The reception area are converted RAF Sick Quarters attached to RAF Defford which lay to the east. The station was responsible for the development of radar. Towards the end of the Second World War, the base saw the world’s first demonstration of an aircraft making a “hands off” automatic blind landing, using equipment that was the forerunner of modern Instrument Landing Systems. From here a path leads to the Wilderness Walk to the church of St Mary Magdalene. From here the vast park stretches eastwards with Croome Court in the foreground, almost completely covered by scaffolding. The house was built by George William Coventry, 6th Earl of Coventry (26th April 1722-3rd September 1809), styled Viscount Deerhurst from 1744 to 1751. He succeeded to the earldom at the early age of 28 following the death of his older brother in 1743 and his father in 1751. Croome was an unkempt bog and a friend recommended he bring in the head gardener of Stour Head, Lancelot “Capability” Brown, to redesign the house and parkland, his first major work. Brown designed a Neo-Palladian house and in 1759 Coventry employed the up and coming Robert Adam to design many of the interiors. In the park Brown created a lake and mile and a half long serpentine river to drain the bog. Several houses and a church were in the way of his plans, so they were demolished, the houses being rebuilt in the village of High Green and the church on the hill. Four huge monuments to Coventry’s forebears were moved into the chancel of the church whose interior was designed by Adam. One, of the 4th Earl who died in 1687, shows the earl reclining and having cast away his coronet which lays beneath his sarcophagus, reaches for a crown from a figure of Faith. Unfortunately, the whole monument was too wide for the space, so it was truncated with the result that the earl appears to be reaching for Faith’s armpit and the crown has been lost. Adam used some of he best craftsmen to carry out his design, Joseph Rose plastered the ceiling; Sefferin Alken and John Hobcroft carved the pulpit.
We leave the church and follow a path down to the river. A flash of yellow reveals the departure of a Green Woodpecker as it flies up from the banks into one of the many cedars in the parkland. The path runs alongside the river then through a gate. A path leads down to another which runs under a bridge faced in Coade Stone with the heads of river gods as keystones. The Coade Stone, an artificial double-fired stoneware produced by Eleanor Coade who was the most successful business woman of the late 18th century. A path circles the lake. A pair of Tufted Duck, a couple of Coot and a family of Mute Swans are on the water. A grotto of limestone, tufa and Daglingworth stone has a Coade stone figure of Sabrina, Goddess of the River Severn. At the moment nearly all the statues and features in the park are covered to protect them from frost. The path passes a pavilion. A shrub with small yellow flowers, probably a berberis, is humming with numerous bees. We return under the bridge and walk round to the Temple Greenhouse past a covered statue of a druid. The greenhouse was designed by Robert Adam with a bothy at the rear to hold a fire for underfloor heating. The path returns following the Croome River and then to the house, Croome Court. The house had been allowed to deteriorate over the years and is in a parlous state. Much work has been done and continues to stabilise the interior plaster work and substantial work is necessary on the outside. Thus many of the rooms are without contents and the upper floors are closed. We head up the hill to the Rotunda built in 1754 to a design by Brown. Coventry held dinner parties in here although we imagine the food could not have been particularly warm by the time it was hauled up here from the kitchens. A path leads back to the reception past a bird hide where Great, Blue and Coal Tits feed on peanuts and seeds.
Friday – Eardisley-Clifford – The sun is bright, but not for long as there will be a partial eclipse soon. I park behind the church in Eardisley. Rooks are noisy from a rookery beyond the churchyard. Drumming of a woodpecker can be heard coming from behind some modern housing. There is little left of the castle, a few bumps with anything else hidden in a wood from which a Chiffchaff calls. A brook flows under the lane, Park Road. The fields either side of the lane are brown soil scattered with root crops for sheep. Skylarks sing from above. A Wren ticks from the roadside hedge. A Robin sings in an Oak. Over a third of the sun is now covered by the moon. The lane reaches Eardisley Park. The original Queen Anne house built in the early 18th century was completely destroyed by fire in 1999, but has been rebuilt. The house was built in a former mediaeval deer park created for the Baskerville family by William Barnsley, a lawyer married to a local heiress. Barnsley died in 1736 and in 1738 Mansel Powell, a Hereford attorney, and others, acquired the property by a forged will disinheriting Barnsley’s only son, a lunatic. He enjoyed the estates until 1749 when the will was proved a forgery and a decree of restitution to young Barnsley was made in Chancery by Lord Hardwicke, under which Powell and his co-defendants had to pay costs and refund all the rents and other money they had received from the estate. It is said that this case was the inspiration for Dicken’s “Bleak House”. The eclipse is as near complete as it will get in this part of the country. Although the sun remains far too bright to look at without thick layers of dark plastic, the light has a strange quality, not gloomy but subdued.
The Herefordshire Trail is now a path along the edge of a pasture. It meets the road at Red Gates. A tiny spot of sulphur sits on a hedge across the field, formerly called The Grove and from it rings out “A little bit of bread and no cheese”, a Yellowhammer. From Red Gates a road leads to Woodeaves, a small hamlet with a number of pleasant old buildings. The Herefordshire Trail crosses fields now. Dunnocks are very numerous in the hedges around the area. The trail has, as is usual, been completely ploughed out. Across a field and now the trail has brand new gates and signage! Sheep and lambs come running to me as I cross paddock at Welsh Wood farm but in vain. The trail crosses a road by Green Farm then heads across fields following an old sunken hollow-way. A large flock of Redwings pours out of Hazel trees, they have not all departed north as I suggested earlier in the week. The path joins a road which runs into Brilley. Past the Old Hall and school house and into the graveyard of St Mary’s Church. The bells toll 11 o’clock as I enter the building. The chapel of Brunley (Brilley) was recorded as part of the rectory of Michaelchurch in 1281. In 1290, John Pychard of Stradewy had the advowson of St Michaelchurch and the chapel of Brunley passed to Philip ap Howel, for which Pychard received a Sparrowhawk! The nave, chancel and north transept are thought to be late 13th or early 14th century, although the font is 12th century suggesting an earlier building on the site. The church was restored in 1865. The original wooden tower, with a clock dating from 1890, burned down on 19th January 1910 and was replaced with a new clock and a carillon of eight bells in 1912. In the churchyard a preaching cross off the 14th or 15th century was reputedly broken by Puritans in 1643. At the gate there was the “funeral stone” recorded by Ella Mary Leather, a coffin being carried three times around the stone to prevent the Devil obtaining the soul of the deceased. Also by the gate is a red granite war memorial stands recording the name of 23 year old Lance Corporal Alan Leonard Lewis who was awarded the Victoria Cross for ensuring the men under his command made cover under intense machine gun fire having led them at a charge through a withering barrage during a brutal battle at Ronssoy on September 21st 1918.
The road drops down past the village pump and the entrance to Brilley Court to a wood through which flows Millhalf Brook under a moss covered some bridge. I pick up the Herefordshire Trail again and head through Whitney Wood. The path is muddy to the point of swampy in places. Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits flit through the trees, a Song Thrush serenades and a Jay squawks harshly. Over the crest of the hill that overlooks the Wye valley. Down to the main road, the A438, the Leominster to Brecon and South Wales road. Over the Whitney Toll Bridge. The original toll bridge was enabled in 1774 as a more convenient crossing to the River Wye, other than by ferry. It was built under the authority of two Acts of Parliament 1780 and 1797 which were ratified by King George III and the Prime Minister of the day William Pitt the Younger and which are still in force today. Any increase in tolls requires a new Act to be passed, the last in 2009. The first bridge built completely in stone in 1779 washed away in the strong river flood waters, as was the rebuilt bridge, therefore in 1797 the owners at the time asked Parliament to agree a further Act which enabled the bridge to be built in Oak which would survive the flood waters. Therefore in 1797 a part stone, part timber bridge was constructed and it that that design that still stands. Full reconstruction of the Oak sections took place in 1993 at a cost of £300,000.
A road runs through the flat fields of the Wye floods plain. The railway had crossed the Wye near the road bridge, a stanchion still stands by the river. Along the way a lovely old wooden railway bridge stands moulding across a field. The road enters Clifford. The village is a typical mixture of older properties with modern infill. At the end of the village stands the remains of Clifford castle. It is on private land and can only be viewed from a distance. The castle was started by William fitz Osbern shortly after the Conquest on a steep knoll overlooking the river and a ford, hence the name Clifford. After William’s death his son Roger inherited until his revolt in 1085, when it passed to William’s brother-in-law, Ralph Tosny and his heirs, who turned the building into a substantial fortress. During the wars between Stephen and Matilda between 1138 and 1154, Walter fitz Richard, Tosny’s steward, who had named himself, Walter Clifford, was in control of the castle and, whilst acknowledging Tosny as the overlord, he refused to return the lordship. He cunningly introduced his daughter, Rosamund the Fair, to Henry II and she became the king’s lover and ensured her father kept the castle. In 1233, Walter’s grandson also Walter Clifford, rebelled against Henry III who besieged the castle. The elder Walter had already retreated to Wales and the castle was surrendered after a couple of days. As often in Marches politics there are a number of twists and turns before the king again marched on Clifford in 1253. The now ancient Walter still managed to regain favour with the crown before dying in 1263. In 1271, Walter’s daughter Matilda was kidnapped by John Gifford of Brimpsfield. Matilda smuggled a letter to Henry III telling him of her capture and rape. Henry set forth but shortly received another letter saying all was well and she had married John Gifford! They had two daughters. The castle was in the hands of the Mortimers in 1311 and the castle was neglected.
Back to the toll bridge and along the road to Whitney-on-Wye and The Boat Inn. After refreshment, I take a lane through the tiny village. On the hillside is West Hills. The Revd Henry Dew was made rector of Whitney in 1843, his family were patrons to the living and resided at Whitney Court. In 1847, the old rectory house was inspected and reported to be in a decayed condition; Henry Dew was criticised for “wilfully allowing the building to become derelict”. However it was decided to build a new house and the architect James St Aubyn prepared plans for a rectory which was to be built of stone with a Welsh slate roof. The cost was £1500, but St Aubyn produced an excellent gabled design (perhaps with a hint of Cotswold Tudor) and distinguished by some prominent brick chimneys. The Revd Dew was said to be a “perfect gentleman” and connoisseur of fine arts who died in 1901 after a visit to London, his death was attributed to “Heart Failure, Old Age and the London Fog”! The lane passes a pond created by a sluice. A Moorhen slips away into a patch of brambles. A little further up the stream is again blocked by a wall with a gap with iron bars like a prison window. The lane passes through the stone sides of an old railway bridge. It looks like the track is being used as a walking route though a notice declares “No public right of way”. Past Millhalf, known as Millehaugh, a large old farm and mill, and on up Millbank. Euphorbia flowers on some rough ground. The last couple of days of relatively mild weather have brought Primroses and Lesser Celandines on rapidly and they now adorn the banks everywhere. The latter sparkle as little stars in the green, lovely here although rather less welcome in our garden! The lane arrives at Red Gates again and I take the track back to Eardisley. It is clouding over now. Back at Eardisley Park, House Sparrows and Starlings are helping themselves to the chickens’ pickings in their run. Route or at least as far as the pub! I forgot to restart the app....
Sunday – Leominster – The grey returns but it is not cold. Down Etnam Street and over the railway and river. The Lugg is flowing steadily, the level has dropped after a few dry days. A Chiffchaff is calling from the trees by the bridge, they are here in numbers now. It is a rather nice coincidence that Chiffchaffs arrive in numbers around the equinox, it makes it seem spring really has arrived. The market gets larger every week now. Not that the range or quality of goods for sale changes much, still large amounts of children’s toys and clothes and numerous pieces of cheap and nasty household goods. Back through the town which is quiet.
Home – The automatic chicken door has failed to open. I raise it and the hens come out and rush over to the bowl of green I have put down. I change the batteries but still nothing happens. So I order a new mechanism, not cheap! After cleaning the car (a rare occurrence!) I return to the hen house to put a nail in so I can hook the door up until the new unit arrives to discover the mechanism is working again.... I just get on with some gardening. In go the potatoes, Winston, a first early, a cross between Kismet and DXMP70, which is a Desiree x Maris Piper, introduced in 1992; Charlotte, a second early I have grown before, a Hansa x Danae cross from France and introduced in 1981 and finally a main crop, Sarpo Mira, again a variety I have grown for its blight resistance, introduced in 2004 by the Sárvári Research Trust in North Wales. The peas that have been started in a length of guttering in the greenhouse are transplanted into a bed. Nearby, a couple of rows of parsnip seed are sown, Countess, a modern F1 variety and a heritage seed, Guernsey, a French variety dating from before 1826 and popular in the Channel Islands. A tray of cabbage is sown, Golden Acre, a Danish variety introduced early in the 20th century. Finally, the pea guttering is refilled with compost and another row sown.
Monday – Dilwyn – Dilwyn is a village off the A44 half a dozen miles west of Leominster. The name comes from the Old English dïglum the plural of dïgle, meaning “a concealment, secret or shady place”. Pre-Conquest it was held by Edwyn and by Domesday was in the hands of William D’Ecouis. In 1259 the manor was granted to Simon de Montfort by Henry III. After de Montfort’s rebellion and death at Evesham, the manor was in the hands of Edmund, Earl of Lancaster. In the 16th century the Tomkyns of Monington had the lordship. A lot of the buildings in the village were constructed in the 17th century, often reusing great timbers of earlier properties. The first school opened in 1865. In October 1872, two representatives from the National Agriculture Workers Union arrived and enrolled many workers. From the centre of Dilwyn, I walk past the church and Church House, a 14th century house extensively rebuilt in the 19th century, opposite and down a lane. The old Police Station is now a private house. The school rings with screaming children. The morning is grey and cool. The housing is mainly late 19th and 20th century. Glebelands is a crescent of what look like former council houses. The “Glebeland” was land that supported the parish priest. Woodstock Cottage is a timber-framed house whose end wall frame shows the roof has been raised at some time. The Tan House is set away from the main village, the odours engendered by the tanning process would not have been wanted near the bulk of the population. Bird song and calls are ever present, Chiffchaff, Wood Pigeon, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Robin, Greenfinch, Magpie and Blackbirds. After some time, the mixture of modern and older properties ceases and the pastures of Dilwyn Common border the lane.
At Sollars Dilwyn, a lane runs off to Bedford House, Middleton Hall, Bytack Cottage, Yew Tree Cottage, Sollars Cottage and Old Sollars Cottage. Sollars was the name of a Norman family who were lords in Herefordshire after the Conquest. Only Yew Tree Cottage is a listed building although the others all look similar. Cider orchards are scattered across the area. A large generator is running in a field entrance and Western Power, the electricity distribution company, Land Rovers are running around, presumably because of supply issues. Primroses flower in the ditches. I recall as a child the family would go out into the countryside and pick large bunches of wild flowers and it was not until the latter part is the 20th century that this became a taboo. Back on the Dilwyn lane two new cottages have been built with timber frames. A hop field lays across the way. Large modern sheds and a tall metal chimney stand behind the fine house of Tyrrell Court, home of Tyrrell’s crisps, now a major player in the business. The lane crosses a small bridge under which Tippet’s Brook flows. The brook flows into Stretford Brook a little to the south. A large pond lays in front of the house. On along a narrow lane, I am downwind of the factory now and the scent of hot coming oil is in the air.
The lane comes to a T-junction and my route turns south. Past Boxer’s Castle, a small cottage. The lane converges with the Roman road, Watling Street on the section from Bravonium (Leintwardine) to Magnis (Kenchester) at Stretford Bridge. The Roman road has also been heading south, a little to the east of this lane. The road is now the A4110. Shortly a lane turns off and heads back westwards. A raptor seems to have a long tail, but despite my best efforts it refuses to be anything other than a Common Buzzard. The lane crosses the Stretford Brook which is turning towards Stretford Bridge. Either side of the road, green fields roll off into the distance. A Skylark sings high above. A wind is coming up and the sky grows greyer. The Venmore, a Georgian farmhouse, lays back from the lane. Hylofield is a vast, modern house that looks strangely deserted although it is not. A number of fields are sown with oilseed rape and yellow spots are beginning to appear as some plants flower early. The lane re-enters Dilwyn by Townsend House, a rambling, white-painted Regency house with a rather fine verandah with swept glass roof supported on wrought iron pilasters, with pendant anthemions at the eaves of cast iron. Across a field is the remains of a moat and a castle. The castle is just a motte and cannot be accessed. The castle was a ringwork type with a square tower on a motte and a bailey now almost entirely built on. Who built is just guesswork. Pottery of the 12th century has been found, so it may be assumed that William D’Ecouis may have had some hand in it. Across the village green, a modern construction, is the community owned pub, The Crown, in a 17th century building, the last of three inns in the village once.
Back up the road is the church of St Mary. The tower and nave are a bad fit because the former was built to connect to an entirely different main church. A church was recorded here around 1190 with Henry de Vere as Rector. The tower was built around 1250. In 1274 the avowson was given to Wormsley Priory. The main body of the present church was built around 1290 with the north transept in 1334 and the fine stone perpendicular south porch in 1450. Inside the church, in a corner, is the original Norman font from around 1310 and some foliated coffin lids. A tall rood screen divides the name and chancel. Within the chancel is a recess with the tomb and effigy of a knight, maybe either a Talbot or Tyrrell dating from the first decade of the 14th century. A major restoration took place in 1867. Apart from one mediaeval window, the glass is Victorian. In 1733 the peal of six bells was installed in the tower after having been cast by A. R. Rudhall, of Gloucester and a wooden spire possibly around the same time. The church has a grandeur which seems a little strange for the village. This may be partly explained by the fact it was a collegiate church with six priests and a vicar. The priests lived in a house next to the church called “the college”, now a large private house called “Perrymeads”. Martin Johnson was vicar from 1651, when the Civil War was being fought and remained there for 48 years. He attributed the longevity of his parishioners to their local cider! He claimed the local ten man Morris totalled a thousand years in age. William de Penebrugge, vicar in the 14th century, was pardoned of his outlawry for non-appearance before he justices regarding an unpaid debt in 1357. In 1360, he was ordered to appear before the exchequer charged with assaulting a chancery official called Nicholas Goldene who claimed the vicar had run off with 20 marks worth of goods and chattels, the property of Dilwyn parish. Ella Mary Leather brought Ralph Vaughan Williams to the village to hear local songs in the early years of the 20th century. Cecil Sharp also visited to collect songs. Route
Wednesday – Hereford – A short wander around from the city centre. Up Widemarsh Street to a junction. The road ahead climbs up to an embankment, crossing the route of the now filled-in Gloucester-Hereford canal. Below the embankment is the railway line that runs north to Manchester. The house on the corner is called Ailesbrook Place. The brook ran from a millpond at the Monksmoor Mills on Commercial Road, now the site of Morrisons supermarket and car park. Off to the left is Newtown Road. A long row of houses built in the early 20th century are now a continuous bed and breakfast. The terrace was built as detached houses but has been in-filled. The road passes Newtown Inn, now a private residence then a large roundabout. A small retail estate is opposite and Edgar Street runs off to the left towards the city centre. Widemarsh Brook passes under the road, a scruffy, overgrown small waterway. Down a side street of pleasant late Victorian semis (Myrtle Villas is dated 1902) and over the brook which has been channelled by old stone walls. This area was the Widemarsh but has been drained when it was Widemarsh Common. The tracks of the old railway line to Abergavenny and Newport are overgrown and gated off. The path joins and follows the route of the railway line that branched off to Hay-on-Wye. Playing fields, Widemarsh Park lay to the south. The path passes Holmer War Memorial. Moor House (also known as Prior’s Court) is an early 18th century building now used by the Health Authority. There were extensive gardens which are now car parks. Across the way to the south are tall steel containers for the production of Strongbow cider by Bulmers, once a traditional Herefordshire cider maker but now sold out to the Dutch giant, Heineken. To the north was the works of William Evans and Co, Cider Makers, who built the factory in 1884 when Evans sold the business to W.F. Chave, who owned Moor House. In 1946, the Chave family sold the business to Webbs of Aberbeeg, who in turn sold to Bulmers in 1960. White Cherry blossom adorns the edges of the car park. The path winds over the brook and then hits a huge industrial plant. In front is Cargill meat processors with a rather nasty odour permeating the air. Along past high mesh fences and disused railway tracks then over a footbridge crossing Bulmers’ vast yard and along another path. Large areas of brownfield are on either side, making one wonder why developers have to try and use greenfield sites for housing when there is all this land close to the city centre. A small bridge over the brook is fenced off with fearsome railings. A Chiffchaff calls. The path eventually leads into Gruneisen Street. The painter John Stanton Ward (1917-2007) was born at Number 2. Through streets of late 19th century housing. In Baggallay Street, a house, now a nursing home, has verandahs built on iron columns with extensive windows in a half-arch above the doors which stand at each end corner of the building. The street runs down to Whitecross Road and back into the city centre.
Friday – Radnor Forest – The sun is trying to break through the thin cloud on a chilly morning. Saxifrage is in flower by the stream. A Chiffchaff calls, House Sparrows chatter, Jackdaws chack, Wood Pigeons coo and Blue Tits squeak. On up Mutton Dingle. Near the top of the climb a Fallow Deer jumps over a gate onto the path and surveys her surroundings. She then catches sight of me and is off. Up into the woods. Woodpeckers drum from two different directions. Chaffinches sing loudly. From the plantation the hills rise ahead scattered with sheep. Here the bird song is Linnet, Wren and Yellowhammer. A Common Buzzard sits in one of the dead pines. Blackbirds call alarms, Robins sing and a Nuthatch is in the saplings. Across Bache Hill. A Red Kite is sitting on a fence watching but objects to me watching it, so flies off across the hillside. A few moments later it is soaring high above Walton Basin. Skylarks are singing above and Meadow Pipits flit across the rough grassland. A Grey Heron rises from a tiny pool on Stanlo Tump. Open avenues have been cut through the dense forestry commission plantation and the Cascob valley can be seen far below with the farmhouse at Fron straight across the fields under the plantation on the far side. Tiny patches of snow are still lying in the ditches. A loud bird call, a ringing whoop, passes over but I cannot see where or who it is coming from. I think it was a Curlew, but remain unsure. Around to the top of Ystol Bach valley. There are more patches of snow on the path to Black Mixen, Wednesday night’s rain must have fallen as snow up here. A Mistle Thrush flies across the heather. A Stonechat disappears over the edge of the hill. A Raven croaks above. The wind is rising and the sun appears to be losing its fight to break through the clouds. A Kestrel flies across the valley. Bird song is loud and continuous at the top of Cwm Broadway, mainly a substantial flock of Goldfinches and Chaffinches. A Jay flies silently down the valley. Route
Monday – Knighton – Patches of blue appear in a cloudy sky. There is a cold, strong winds blowing. Up Llanshay Lane out of Knighton. A stream flows down the hill in a gully, Llanshay Dingle. At Llanshay Farm, the stream is being feed from a shallow pond formed by a stone dam across the entrance to what looks like an old quarry into which a pipe pours water. A lane passes over the pipe and deeper pond, Llanshay Pool, is on the far side. William Morgan was on trial in Presteigne in the 1860s for stealing ducks from this farm. The sun breaks through the clouds now and again. Common Buzzards fly high over the valley. The hill goes up and up. A disused Royal Observer Corps Fallout Monitor bunker is in a field near the site of an old spring up near Law’s Barn. Across the fields is the observatory of the Spaceguard Centre. On top of the ridge the road divides, one route going south-west down the far side is the hills and my route, Reeves Lane, east along the top of the ridge. A Red Kite floats effortlessly on the wind high over the hill. Firstly West Wood and then Long Wood are Forestry Commission plantations of conifers stretching along the northern side of the ridge. Chaffinches, Great and Blue Tits fly along the edge of the dark, gloomy woods. Skylarks sing over the fields on the opposite side of the road. A Raven passes over croaking. The sound is drumming woodpeckers comes from the interior of the wood, different tones depending on the condition of the tree being used as a sounding board. There are Beeches and Oaks as well as the conifers now. Three Grey Squirrels dart across the road. A late Victorian cottage, Maryvale sits on the edge of the wood. A little further on on the southern side of the road is Folly Farm. Plenty of rabbits are scurrying about, in the fields and dashing across the road into the wood. By a road junction a footpath descends the hillside. A short distance down the path and over to the west is an enclosure marked on the OS map. I find a bank with a corner which appears to be in the right place. Conifers have been planted over it so its shape is hard to discern, particularly as the bottom edge is hidden in a rhododendron thicket. The Coflein listing states it is mediaeval, possibly associated with Stanage Park before its 18th century reformation. Ravens are noisy overhead.
I return to the road and retrace my route along the ridge top. I am struggling a bit with a painful heel. It had been a problem for several days and I assume I have injured the base of my Achilles tendon somehow. In the fields around Folly farm there are very young lambs. Some, my expert eye tells me, are a little older (the blue markings put on by the shepherd are a clue!) In another field a ewe has a newly born lamb and another on the way. She is straining and laying down, then getting up and squatting but it will not drop. After half an hour it is all getting a bit stressful, probably more for the sheep than me, but there is nothing I can do and there is no one around so I have to move on. A narrow lane, Pitts Lane, drops down into the valley just before the end of Long Wood. Past Upper Pitts Farm and on down. The base of the hedgerows either side of the lane are riddled with rabbit warrens. Past Middle Pitts where streams join and tumble noisily on down the hill through Pitts Dingle. Inevitably the lane comes to Lower Pitts Farm. The farmhouse is solidly buttressed on one side, a single storey with former windows in the roof. It is thought to be 17th century with later alterations. A very long barn runs alongside the road. The lane reaches the A4113 at Milebrook. There are a number of modern dwellings here, once there was a smithy. Across the road and a lane leads down to a bridge over the River Teme. The bridge is probably mid-20th century and here one crosses into England.
A little beyond is an older bridge over the single track of the Mid-Wales Railway line, the former LNWR line from Craven Arms to Swansea. Another crossroads and the lane ahead starts to climb to the tiny village of Stowe. A stream flows down beside the lane. The hedgerow has been severely pruned leaving large volumes of branches and some quite large trunks. The hamlet is mainly a large farmhouse and associated buildings and a number of smaller dwellings. At the far end of the hamlet is the church of St Michael which is locked. Slightly down the hill is the large Old Vicarage, rather larger one notes than the church itself! The Old Vicarage was extended and modernised in the 1870s, for the incoming vicar, the then younger son of the Stanage Estate, which still owns much of the land surrounding Stowe today. I could go and get the keys from this house but I decide to leave it for today. Back down the lane and right along a lane beside the railway. White Wood Anemones (also called Windflower, Thimbleweed and Smell Fox), yellow Lesser Celandines (sometimes known as Spring Messenger and Pilewort) and Primroses flower on the step wooded banks. A modern house has been built against the ruin of Stowe mill. I can finds little information about this mill. It was a corn mill but the records do not state any dates. In 1880, William Baldwin of Stowe Mill was declared bankrupt. Red-legged Partridges are in a sheep paddock. They seem disinterested in my presence so I assume they are domesticated. A large purple Spurge, one of the Euphorbia family is beside the road. The lane enters the A488 road from Clun at The Lee, a large Victorian Gothic house in cream brick with maroon stringing. It has an extensive walled garden. The area was formally known as Woodville and there was a mediaeval farmhouse here called The Lea. Kinsley Wood rises high beside the road. The road enters Knighton at the railway station, an empty, sad looking building built in 1865. Teme Bridge, widened in 1928 crosses the river and the road leads into the town centre. Route
Tuesday – Home – Gales blasted through the county last night bringing down trees. In the garden an old pear tree that is covered in a thick, voluminous shroud of Ivy has been damaged. It appears some smaller trunks at the back of the tree, it is up against the garden wall, have broken and the crown has tilted somewhat. We have called on a tree surgeon to deal with the problem. Clearly, although the tree is still upright and the main trunk appears undamaged, it will have been weakened and unless some Ivy is removed and the broken wood removed it will be at risk in the next big blow. Things are beginning to happen in the garden. The broad beans have been planted out and a couple of rows of parsnips sown. The sweet peppers in the bathroom have finally begun to sprout, I had almost given up on them and had purchased some fresh seed. Tomato plant are progressing well indoors and cucumbers have sprouted. The latter are a variety called “Dekah”, developed by the Crimea Station of Research and Plant Breeding of the Soviet Union.